20 quick ways to improve your web copywriting


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If you’re new to copywriting, then congratulations. You’re about to spend some of the most useful time you’ll ever spend learning something.

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20 quick ways to improve your web copywriting

  1. 1. 20Quick Ways to Improve YourWeb Copyriting by Damien Elsing Freelance Copywriter Melbourne www.DamienElsing.comCopyright © Damien Elsing 2012, All Rights Reserved.
  2. 2. Welcome to the sausage factory…If you’re new to copywriting, then congratulations. You’re about tospend some of the most useful time you’ll ever spend learningsomething.You’re about to take a crash course in communications that will serveyou well for long into the future and, if put into action, will earn youmoney while establishing your trust and authority in your chosenniche.All through the power of simple words on a web page!Here are the 20 fundamentals of writing effective copy for the web(and in general for that matter):1. Avoid “I” and “we”; focus instead on “you” and “your”If you find lots of sentences in your copy starting with “I” and “We”,you’re not focusing enough on the “what’s in it for me” at theforefront of every prospect’s mind. Rework your copy to focus on thereader, not you or your business. Tip: Make sure you have at least 2“you” words for every 1 “we” words.2. Be a good listenerEugene Schwartz famously told a story about how one of his mostsuccessful ads consisted of about 90% of what the client had toldhim, just written down. Listen to your clients and prospects; find outwhat they want, and then tell them what they need to hear. Tip:Write down what your audience wants to read – NOT what you wantto say.3. Focus on benefitsDon’t make the reader do any work when it comes to joining thedots. You need to spell out why having 8GB more RAM is a goodthing. A common mistake is listing features and expecting yourreader to somehow know why they should care. Always bring it back 2
  3. 3. to the reader and how the feature is going to improve their life.(Important: Don’t list standard features and benefits that arecommon knowledge around your product or service – it’s a waste ofspace)4. Don’t do too muchIt’s easy to overdo it. Ask yourself if you’ve done more than what’snecessary to achieve your goal, and if you have, cut the rest. Don’tfall into the sunk cost fallacy of thinking “I wrote all this extra stuff soI may as well include it.” If you just want your reader to sign up for afree newsletter or ebook, you don’t need a 3000-word long-form optin page.5. Put yourself in your reader’s shoesPerhaps the most important ability in being able to write compellingsales copy; imagine you are reading your own writing, in the situationof the prospect. What would you want to know? What would makeyou take action? Would you be convinced?Michael Fishman sums this up by saying “Don’t think OF the market –think AS the market.”6. Avoid lazy words like “things” and “stuff”Any time you say “things”, or “awesome” you are being lazy andmissing an opportunity to use a word that has more meaning. Today Iwrote a sentence which went “When you hire an agency you arepaying a premium for unnecessary things like project managementand marketing.” What things?! A better alternative to “things” in thiscase is “expenses” or “fluff”, both of which further the argument farmore than “things”.7. Use a thesaurusIf you have to write a lot of copy about a small subject, there is adanger that you’ll use many of the same words and phrases over and 3
  4. 4. over again. Using a thesaurus will add some variety and colour toyour copy.Get in the habit of using a good online thesaurus.8. Write as if you’re talkingDon’t get too hung up on the rules of grammar when you’re writingweb and/or sales copy. To connect with the reader you have to beless like their 6th grade teacher and more like that little voice insidetheir head…9. Use colourful adjectivesAn adjective is a describing word. Using quirky or unusual adjectiveswill help ideas stick in your reader’s mind. That’s why so many greatcopywriters write in a way that seems unorthodox. Instead of writing“spending a great deal of money”, write “spending freaking bucket-loads of cash!” … it will make much more of an impact and stop thereader from losing interest.10. Don’t use industry jargon when dealing with newbiesMaybe everyone in your industry knows what acronyms like DBTstand for, but don’t assume members of the public do. Same goes forwords and phrases specific to a particular niche. If they aren’thousehold words, don’t use them. (If you are writing for a specificniche which uses jargon then using some can show that you knowyour stuff, so don’t avoid it under all circumstances).11. Never use a long word when a short one will doYou are not out to prove how smart you are. You are trying tocommunicate with people as clearly as possible. Don’t say “utilise”when you can say “use”. Same goes for phrases – don’t say “in mostinstances” when you can say “usually”.12. Get to the point 4
  5. 5. Your reader has a million distractions. You have about 3 seconds tohook them. If you fail to do that, you have missed an opportunity.This goes for websites, print, emails, whatever. If your reader sees aninsurmountable wall of text, she ain’t gonna read it.Better to write 5 lines that get read by 90% of your audience than 50lines that only 20% of people will read (an exception to this is if that20% are your true prospects and you’re asking for a relatively largecommitment of time or money).13. Avoid clichésThere are times when a cliché can really hit the nail on the head(groan…) but, for the most part, they should be avoided if you canfind a more direct alternative. Clichés are clichés in the first placebecause they are so overused – they are just white noise to yourreaders. Instead, find a term that will make your point memorable.14. State the obviousWhat does your business do? What should the reader do when theyget to the end of the page? Don’t assume they know. You need to tellthem to pick up the phone and call now, or email now to reserveyour seat. Action words, funnily enough, lead to action!15. Use formulasSelling isn’t creative. It consists of tried and true elements which,when used together in the right combination, achieve predictableoutcomes. Like a recipe. You wouldn’t try to bake a cake off the topof your head, would you? Unless you’re a master chef and you do itevery day, get a formula for writing sales letters, landing pages,whatever, so you know what structure to follow and what elementsyou need to include.16. Be preciseAvoid making general statements like “…saving you time” or “…saveyou money”. It’s much better to say “…will save you 1hour per week 5
  6. 6. that you would have spent….” or “… will save you $95 you wouldhave spent on a graphic designer.” The latter statements meansomething because they are quantifiable, unlike the formerstatements, which are vague. If you don’t know for sure how muchtime it will save, just take your best guess.17. Be specificThis is a huge bugbear for anyone writing about a topic with whichthey are very familiar. They have a tendency to write in very generalterms without realising they’re not actually getting to the point andspelling out the facts that the reader needs to know. Your readerwants concrete information – facts. So give it to them, fast; and be asspecific as possible.18. Cut out unnecessary wordsBe ruthless. There’s an old copywriting adage which says to take outwords til it stops making sense. Removing unnecessary words willmake your copy much tighter and more powerful – not to mentionless like an insurmountable wall of text.19. Write in the language your prospects use every dayIt’s tempting to sanitise language when we write, making it uniformand generic for fear of offending. This urge should be avoided. Yourprospects are looking for signals that you are one of them, that youunderstand their needs. By using the everyday slang and thelanguage patterns they use, you connect with them and build trust.This is what establishes you as a unique brand! You show that youunderstand their problems and so just might be able to solve them.20. Headlines are importantOnce you realise just how important they are, you’ll look at a pagewithout a headline and shudder. A page without a headline is amissed opportunity. It’s like a beer without a head, or a steak with nosizzle. A headline draws the reader into the body copy. It signals what 6
  7. 7. it’s going to be about and sets up a promise. That’s a lot of heavylifting for 5-10 words, so use it!Remember to come back to this section and go over what you’velearned. These are 20 fundamentals of effective web copywriting.You’ll need to practice and review to make sure it’s all comingtogether.Now, onto some more strategies for writing copy that will makeEskimoes buy ice from you…While you write…As well as the above tips, there are a couple of things you can dowhile you’re writing, that will make your copy that much better.Imagine you’re writing to your best friendYou know when you find something awesome and you really want totell your buddy about it? You write or talk so fast you have to slowyourself down, and you are busting to spell out the best things aboutit so your friend will see how awesome it is and check it out.That’s how you should write copy! A big ask, I know. But when wewrite like that we get to the heart of what’s good about something.And we inject the writing with raw energy. We don’t filter it throughuptight language, and we don’t write the stuff we think “should” begood copy.We just launch into sheer, unbridled enthusiasm. We know our friendis gonna like it. It’s just a matter of how urgently we can get them tocheck it out.So let the copy flow like that, then come back and tidy it up – butonly as much as you have to. You don’t want to edit and polish it somuch that we lose that enthusiasm and urgency. 7
  8. 8. Avoid “White Noise”White noise is the stuff you used to see on old TVs when there wasno signal. It’s a kind of background noise that people just tune out.There’s a danger when you write that you will create white noise ofyour own.In writing, it’s embodied by messages that are overused and general.When you write something that could be used by any company forany product or service, there’s a good chance you’re generatingwhite noise. These messages will slide over the reader’sconsciousness. You’ll be missing a chance to actually say something.Examples of white noise in your copy: “We’ll be there when you need us.” “We care about you.” “Complete solutions for every need.”It’s very tempting to write statements like this when you’re firststarting, because you want to appeal to everyone and explain howmuch you do care and how you will actually be there. But thesemessages are so overused that they become meaningless.Instead, focus on how you’ll be there, how you demonstrate that youcare, and what those solutions actually are. Your messages will bemuch stronger and will actually start to mean something to yourreader instead of just sliding off. (Maybe these should be calledTeflon messages!)By trying to sell to everybody, you sell to nobody.Don’t be afraid of offendingWhen we censor ourselves and make copy generic and inoffensive,we also make it watered down and insipid. It’s like getting all our 8
  9. 9. readers into an ice cream shop and then saying we only have vanilla.There are 100 other shops along the strip who also sell vanilla.Find a flavour that’s unique, like boysenberry ripple! Sure, you’ll loseall the vanilla fans, and maybe the strawberry and chocolate too, butthey were already getting pretty awesome ice cream next door. Youwill build a loyal customer base of boysenberry ripple fans just likeyou, who identify with your choice.You only get one flavour – don’t make it vanilla. 9
  10. 10. Proof reading your copyOkay so you’ve written a landing page or a kick-ass blog post and youreally want to get it out there right now. You don’t want to make theworld wait a second longer.Wait!Sorry to tell you this, but you’re work is probably not the best it canbe … yet. In fact, it might be waaaaay off, even if you’ve cast your eyeover it, found the spelling mistakes, and taken out some of theunnecessary words.Now you should put the piece aside for at least 24 hours, then comeback and read it with a fresh pair of eyes. Believe me – you will noticetons of things you missed in the first reading.Next, you should step out of your own shoes and do some role-playin your own mind. No, not like the time you dressed up like Batmanat Comic-Con, but role-play your own reader.Picture your ideal reader in your mind, then imagine they don’t knowyou or your product at all, and are reading the copy you wrote.What’s the main thing you want to know, the thing that if you don’tfind it within 5 seconds you’re going back to the search results andtrying the next entry.Got it? Good, now write that down first. Rinse and repeat with thelesser points.Tip: Remember in the 20 fundamentals section how we were talkingabout turning your benefits into features? Well here’s a way tomake sure you’ve done it well. Go through your benefits and readthem out loud. Can you imagine saying these to somebody you knowin actual conversation, and would you feel good about it?If the answer is no, then they aren’t good benefits. Back to thedrawing board. 10
  11. 11. FormattingBelieve it or not, the way you format your copy is almost asimportant as the actual content.ParagraphsEver looked at a page and just seen one massive wall of text withoutparagraphs? Did you read it??Paragraphs help us move on from one idea to the next. They help uskeep our place, and they fulfil our innate need for patterns. They arekind of like the breadcrumbs in the Hansel and Gretel story, exceptthey don’t just tell us where we’ve been, but also signpost wherewe’re going (and they are unlikely to be eaten by birds…).If you find a concept or idea being expressed in a paragraph morethan 4-5 lines long, it means you’re probably including irrelevant oruninteresting information that the reader doesn’t want or need toknow.Use paragraphs for emphasis too. If you’ve got something importantto say…Make your point on a single line.Forget the rules of formatting and grammar – do whatever you needto do to get your reader to keep reading, and to be convinced intotaking action. Anything goes!ScannabilitySorry to break this to you, but most people will just be scanning thecopy you write, not reading every word. You need to break yourwriting into easy to navigate sections, with signposts such as topictitles, just like you’re seeing here.The more scannable a piece of writing is, the more chance someonewill put in the effort to scan it, and the more chance they will find theinformation they can use and read it. 11
  12. 12. ContrastFor the same reasons we use paragraphs, we also need to break upthe patterns of those paragraphs themselves. Too much of anythingon the page is bad, whether it be bullet points, paragraphs,headlines, or whatever.If you’ve got a whole page of short paragraphs, try to incorporatesome bullets to highlight key points. But don’t overdo it, more than 5bullet points in a row makes them lose impact and overwhelm thereader.Also use contrast on your lines of copy – break up sentences by usingdashes, brackets, and ellipses (…). All these methods make your copymore attractive and easier to read and comprehend.Use of space and graphical elementsWhen writing for the web in particular, you have limited attentionspans to work with. For this reason, make sure your copy is brokenup by plenty of space and other elements like graphics – icons,buttons, images, etc. Blank space between sections is also great forletting your copy breathe.HighlightingIt’s fine to highlight key concepts and phrases to ensure someonescanning your copy notices them. Just don’t overdo it or you riskthem missing the really important points. 2-3 highlighted key phrasesper 300-word page is ideal. Use colour highlighting and bold whereappropriate (in emails for example), and just bold where highlightinglooks tacky (on your web pages).If you found these tips useful, feel free to share this Ebook with afriend. And be sure to head over to my website for more detailedtips, examples, and actual case studies of putting these methodsinto action to produce real results: www.damienelsing.com 12