To say we’re overwhelmed with content is an understatement. Social media. Email marketing. Videos. Streaming services. The technologies available to consume content are growing fast, but even more concerning is how quickly the platforms change. Many of us have complained about algorithm updates affecting reach and engagement. It seems like every time we make traction, a new change happens, and we’re starting from square one.
However, despite all the technological and marketing strategy shifts, one thing still rings true: you need effective copywriting skills to make an impact.
Long form content or short tweets. Persuasive or emotional. Writing compelling copy is an important skill to master. Whether you’re trying to sell a product/service or you’re trying to recruit great talent to join your team, your pitch and supporting stories need to be rooted in great writing.
Both novice and experienced copywriters can benefit from consistently honing this skill. But, for this post’s sake, let’s focus on the here and now, and specifically on digital marketing. The point of writing copy is to tell a story. Doesn’t matter if you have space enough to fill a magazine spread or only a sliver to write two words. Every word matters.
In my experience, here are some of the most helpful tips I learned as I built my skills as a writer and a published fiction author.
Tip 1: Define your audience and goals.
You need to know who you’re speaking to in order to understand what matters to them and what you want them to feel. Talk about the benefits first and tap into their wants, needs, hopes, and fears to show them why whatever you’re promoting is the thing to help them.
But don’t stop there. Keep in mind what action you want them to take. Do you want them to sign up for a webinar? Join your email list? Apply to a job? Schedule a call? Share with a friend? Leave a comment? Make sure whatever you’re writing leads them on a journey that will make them want to take this action without hesitation. Knowing what your “ask” is helps you consider how to layout your content and what key points you need to make.
Tip 2: Write headlines first.
Hate to break it to you, but no one will read your beautiful, clever, well thought out content if you can’t hook them first. New content pops up at warp speed, competing for your ideal audience’s limited attention span. Your headline or hook needs to be interesting, exciting, curious, or shocking to make them stop scrolling and click to learn more.
Writing professionals suggest crafting anywhere around 25 headlines before you even think of writing your copy! Use this space to summarize your message in an engaging and clear way so people take action.
Bonus: you can repurpose those unused headlines for things like social media posts or Pinterest pins. This is a great way to see how well certain headlines perform so you can reframe future headlines.
Tip 3: Write in your audience’s language.
In fact, keep it simple. Unless you’re writing for some prestigious scientific paper for the world’s greatest geniuses, you’re safe to keep it around a fifth-grade reading level. The thing is, if you try to get clever or use unnecessary big words, you’re going to lose your audience.
Think about the language they comfortably use. Write it conversationally. Read what you wrote out loud to make sure it sounds natural. Not only will this make it flow easier in their minds as they read, but the natural breaks and emphasis people use as they speak will build in seamless pauses so your reader can better consume the information.
With the popularity of social media, text messaging, and email, reading casual language is the norm. Think about it. You’re consuming content and thoughts from regular people every day. Your parents. Friends. Colleagues. Idols. Celebrities. They’re keeping it real. They (hopefully) don’t sound like an uptight, pretentious robot.
(Okay. Maybe some of them do. Thankfully, we now have mute, hide, and delete buttons!)
Tip 4: Don’t bury the lead.
Like I said, people have zero attention spans these days. I highly doubt many of you have read this post word for word, and I won’t be offended because I know that’s how it goes. Therefore, it’s important to make your message clear even if people are scanning your content.
For longer content like a blog, whitepaper, ebook, and so on, spend the first few sentences getting clear on the purpose of your content. Don’t make them guess. Let them know what they’re in for and what they’ll learn if they continue reading.
Then, use call outs, subheads, bullets, and the like. Not only does it make your piece scannable so people can get the core idea without having to read it in full, it makes the content more digestible. How many times have you read an email or a book with insanely long sentences or endless paragraphs and you were just like “nope” and clicked out of it?
I’m guilty of it, and I’m both a writer and an avid reader. Big blocks of text without white space are overwhelming, so do what you can to break it up so it’s easier on the eye. Whether that be the suggestions I just made or even changing up your font, line spacing, and/or sentence or paragraph length (if you need help with this, here’s an app to help you).
Tip 5: Be okay writing a horrible first draft.
You want to know why some people think they can’t write? Because they’re too busy trying to be perfect. They’re overthinking every word they put down. They’re editing as they write. Before they know it, they’ve spent three hours writing one exceptional paragraph, and then they’re too burned out to finish what they’d started.
As Jodi Picoult said, “You can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page.”
Get the words on paper and fix it later. When I was writing my first novel, it took me years to complete it because I was too worried about making it perfect. It wasn’t until I wrote the thing with a reckless abandon that I finally finished. Now I’m able to write the first draft of a full novel in 3 months or less.
As much as I hate revisions and editing, I’ve learned it’s part of the process. It’s my least favorite part of writing, but it’s how it goes. I know it’s a necessary evil I can’t avoid, and because I know it, I just write. I write dumpster fire pieces. Some of my first drafts are cringy. Hell, some of my eighth drafts are still rough. But by knowing that the first draft isn’t the last draft, it helped me be more productive.
So, kick your ego out the door because even the best writers in the world have terrible first drafts, and you will too. Don’t let it be your reason to stall and overthink it.
Tip 6: Let it breathe.
You could be a wiz at editing. Maybe you are an editor. Maybe you work with editors and hire them to edit your work. I’m going to tell you right now: it still will never be perfect. When I got deeper into publishing books, I was told there will still be 10% of publishing errors even after going through several rounds of editing.
Want to know why? It’s because you’re human (and so are your editors). It’s also because your eyes get fatigued and your brain automatically fills in words it’s predicting them to be there. If you’re too close to the content you created because you just wrote it, it will be fresh in your brain. You will guess what the next word will say, completely overlooking the fact that you missed two words or you spelled something wrong.
If you have time, take it. For social media, I try to give myself at least a day or two before I double check it. For blogs, at least a week. For novels, at least a month. Just give yourself enough reasonable time to forget what you wrote word for word so you don’t miss something.
Tip 7: Cut it out.
By “it” I mean unnecessary words. When editing, cut the fat to make it concise. If anything seems vague or if you’re getting too fancy with your words, overly complex when trying to be creative, or cliched, nix it.
This also means getting rid of common filler words. You might not realize these are filler words, such as that, very, just, actually, absolutely, and so forth. Here’s a list of potentially redundant/ filler words if you’re curious.
However, know you don’t have to cut every filler word. There needs to be a balance between the conversational tone and distracting words dragging the piece along, distracting, or boring people. Use your discretion.
Copywriting is an art and a skill, and is something you need to practice constantly. I’ve been writing for what feels like forever, and I still learn something new every day. I thank my wonderful book editors and copy editors for illuminating areas I’m weak in and helping me build knowledge and skills every day.
I know that everyone has editors on hand, so I urge you to study! Take courses (I did a ton on Udemy), get books, read blogs, or pay attention to your favorite writers. Study. Study. Study.
But also remember that writing is subjective (I’ve heard that a zillion times in the publishing process), so stay true to your own voice or the voice of the brand you’re representing. These tips are just a small amount of suggestions for effective copywriting, but for my most important tip of all: keep practicing. Writing consistently will help you become the best you can be.
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