7 Copywriting Strategies the Great Copywriters Wish You Knew

7 Copywriting Strategies the Great Copywriters Wish You Knew

Reader Comments (60)

  1. Sonia, in #5 you quote ‘No matter how skillful you are, you can’t invent a product advantage that doesn’t exist’.

    Well actually you can!

    I don’t know how many times I’ve worked with copywriting clients who really can’t think of anything that specifically makes them better, special or different.

    So what I do is say ‘let’s invent one’. Then what we do is create something that does make them different.

    I’ll say something like ‘From now on you’re going to be the only local window blinds service who does a FREE child safety audit’.

    But what I then tell them is that, not only are they going to include this in their copy, they’ve actually got to do it IN PRACTICE.

    In other words, if you’re a little more proactive in your role you can actually create a product advantage that wasn’t there previously.

    • I like the idea Kevin. And I’ve got a couple of window blinds clients of my own – they’re awesome.

      You’re definitely onto something.

      I think Sonia’s point is that advertising can’t invent a product advantage. The advertiser can suggest one, or even help the client to build one. But they can’t invent a hollow product advantage with content alone.

      I reckon your beasty approach is more in line with creating an irresistible offer: https://copyblogger.com/kids-eat-free/

      What do you think?

      I liked your post on crafty conversion tricks btw.

      • Hi Rob

        I’ve just checked out the kids eat free post. I reckon that line ‘You must then live the story and fulfill the offer’ just about sums it up.

        Yeah, I also once worked for a load of window blinds clients who were all part of the same chain. It was a real challenge coming up with a different message for each individual franchise.

        But when it’s hard like that it makes you think harder too. And, as a result, you actually come up with better ideas.

        • Agreed, sir.

          In a way – the ‘boring’ clients are often the best for your own development.

          Turns out, I know all kinds of interesting crap about blinds these days (and I bet you do too).

          Maybe that could be a post in itself …

          “10 Things Your Neighbour Doesn’t Know about Window Blinds … Yet”

          Cheers for the add on G+ btw.

    • You can, and really good ad agencies (or smart writers like you) have a history of doing it. Mary Wells Lawrence tells a great story about convincing Braniff to paint its fleet of planes in intense rainbow colors. This was in 1965, and it instantly made the airline look cool and youthful.

      But as you say — if you add the new point of distinction in, the company has to be willing to live it. Braniff had to be willing to be a cool, youthful airline, which worked well for them at the time.

      Lawrence’s book A Big Life in Advertising has tons of examples of finding the big idea for brands we know well, very interesting read.

    • But, technically speaking, by changing the business in and of itself, you have only chosen to highlight the advantage created. You can’t create something that isn’t there, so you CREATED a new layout to the business so that then you could advertise them with the specific change in mind. Had you just simply advertised the business as such without making the actual change, then you wouldn’t have been highlighting anything, you would have been lying to the client.

      Don’t get me wrong, I like the fact that you did this, and you should continue to do this. It’s always about filling a niche. I am in my third year in college, and I love finding sites like this that help me determine what I want to do within the business world. 🙂

  2. Hi Sonia

    Some great tips, I think I am guilty of writing some very dry content! I really appreciate the advice on finding an audience, ‘Find your starving crowd – then listen to them’, which of course makes perfect sense. 🙂



  3. Sonia,
    (from the perspective of a content marketing agency)
    I am so glad you highlighted RESEARCH here. So many content marketing service providers forget that truly insightful content requires LOTS of research, in any industry.

    I look forward to referencing this article in my next blog about the importance of research when providing content services. Unfortunately, agencies are in a situation where they will need to be armed with articles just like this to justify the “extra” work that goes into creating truly valuable “content” for clients.

    Thanks Sonia, great work!

  4. Great list, Sonia, and powerful reminders. As a long time blogger, I’m currently putting together more in-depth articles and your #4 really hit home. I tend to look for unique and undiscovered content, and you have given me some new places to look. I have fallen into the #6 trap of publishing “to see what happens,” way too much. My creative side tends to get bored, so I’m always experimenting. Unfortunately, this leads to a lot of rabbit trails. As a member of the Copyblogger community, I’ll have to download the Content Marketing eBook you talk about. A little FOCUS never hurts. 🙂

    • Focus is good!

      A little experimentation is great — maybe make a decision about how much “see what happens” content you publish, in the general mix. Maybe it’s 10% (it could be higher in the early days of a blog, to see what works for your audience).

      The content marketing book will really help, though — it gives you a framework for the different types of content and the way they set your site up to become successful.

  5. I love this headline, Sonia. It reminds me of your classic, “50 Things Your Customers Wish You Knew”

    I’ve swiped that headline and used it for one of my best performing pieces of content – “What Your Boss Wishes You Knew About Personal Branding”

  6. Yep, research is always handy. Lots of it, too, not just perusing over Wikipedia like it’s some amazingly accurate resource. Actually read some books on the subject, as lots of online articles on subjects can be spun.

    Be visual is something else I’d rely on – the internet is all about aesthetics, and most people on it aren’t ardent readers wanting to be lectured. It’s a skimming world, so bright colourful content can draw them in. Innit, as the trendy folk say.

    • Good tip Alex M.

      Its true I skim a lot through articles, headings and look at subheadings as well before I decide if I continue to read on or not. Spending a lot of time on an article that doesn’t get read is a paralyzing fear of mine.

      I am trying to see how this can apply to an incentive for an email optin landing page for my audience. I mean it has to have a good opening but also needs to get read as well. I guess thats where #6 know where your going comes in well 🙂

  7. Finding the starving crowd! Golden!

    I recently started a Facebook group for newby bloggers and it started as a ‘commenting tribe’ type set up. Now, I, along with the two that are managing it with me, want to take it to a new level.

    Our crowd are starving, but we don’t know for what! So we’ve decided to send out a survey to find out, serve them better, and add this to our marketing copy.

    Why try and find the food ourselves? Ask them what tastes good!

    (ok, starvation analogy over)

    Love it!

    – Razwana

  8. I totally agree with the fundamental of perceptive presentation; making the image your copy conveys match the desires of your audience. It’s selling the people what they want to buy. Even more beautiful is selling them to the point that they didn’t realize they wanted to buy.

    I love the mining reference too. A lot of good work goes into writing copy. If you have good facts, good resourceful information you’re going to get a great bang for your buck.


    • What also makes the mining reference so good is what else can be done with it.

      Where I come from in Montana it was the people that sold shovels to the miners who were still around long after the gold rush of the 1860s had come and gone.

  9. Yeah. Headlines I have come to discover is one of the most important if not most important part of an article because if it doesn’t get read it doesn’t matter if the article is crap or great it just won’t get any attention.

    Jon Morrows headline hacks is another great example I think he used an old style copy of “who else wants (insert)…” as one example. I’d say that one example is onw of the most useful.

  10. Great post!

    I have two swipes files: one is in Evernote and the other is a folder. I’ve collected many samples in the last few months. The pieces, ranging from magazine ads to direct mail, help me with my copywriting. Plus, if I need a bit of inspiration, I review my files and feel energized.

    My favorite old-style copy tip that works brilliantly in the new world of content and social media is from Leo Burnett, “Make it simple. Make it memorable. Make it inviting to look at. Make it fun to read.” Copywriting doesn’t have to be complicated. 🙂

  11. All seven of these points allude to something less tangible, yet well worth developing. That is to say, trust. Now getting someone to trust you isn’t easy. I met a chap on a train a while ago, and on asking him his work he flinched from me! Now I might be a fifty something divorcee, but I’m not that dangerous.

    Okay, so perhaps I am?

    Anyway this reaction puzzled me, because normal people don’t react this way. A banker might bluff, a politician offer you something you don’t need, that sort of aversion behaviour – but outright fear? There was only one answer.

    So I took a risk and asked him “Are you a marketer?”

    A little face appeared from under his metaphorical shell, nodded briefly – and on hearing that I was too, warmed considerably. In the space of three minutes I’d managed to establish a rapport with someone who was truly terrified of the reputation that preceded him.

    The issue here is to trust the person you’re speaking with – or your reader. That means you need to take a risk of some kind, and in doing so, you’ll establish a bond far more swiftly.

  12. Great article Sonia, thank you! I’m grateful for my early experience in direct marketing. Learning from Adland legends like these (nearly 20 years ago, yikes!) helped craft my copywriting skills which are so relevant to writing across today’s digital channels. Point #3 on research is a critical one. It mystifies me how some of the “content creators” out there can offer “well-researched” blog posts for $50-$100. I will spend anything from 6-12 hours completing a well-researched, well-crafted original blog post or article and I can’t compete with those prices. Am I just too slow for today’s market?

  13. The applicable reminder for me in this article is to center your content around your big idea. To make sure that it fits within the framework of your big idea.

    Great reminder. Thank you.

    Personality in content is important as it makes otherwise boring topics come alive. I blog about merchant services and that can get kind of dry if I’m not careful.

    I’d love to comment on each of the points made in this post but I’ll end it there. Definitely a great article to keep handy and use as a reference.

  14. Hi Sonia,

    These are great tactics for writing great content. My favorite one is, “Even if you have a decent-sized audience, you still need to persuade them, day in and day out, to continue giving you their attention.”

    I often forget the things I already have (or in other words: I tend to take them for granted). This doesn’t only apply in business relationships, but in all relationships in life.

    Thanks for the reminder that a relationship is a continuous effort – not just an email subscribe or a post comment.


  15. Sonia, one big takeaway for me tonight after reading this is your point about “building a hungry audience.”

    I’m in process of launching two different niche blogs, and I need to make sure I “ask (or observe) them (my audience) to find out what, specifically, they’re hungry for,”

    Definitely need to schedule time to gain that knowledge through listening to what my audiences needs through the websites they frequent and in forums or social media, as you recommended.

    Are there any other ways to building a hungry audience that were not covered in this article?


  16. Nice read Sonia! I agree with everything you have said. A good headline is essential because your audience use it to decide whether or not to read your article. Though crafting catchy headlines is considered an art, but there are few simple tricks to concoct a grabby headline.

    I also want to add a point here: When developing your web copy keep in mind that it should persuade your readers to take a specific action.

    Maybe you’d like them to download an eBook/ sign up for a newsletter/like you on Facebook etc. but be clear what you would like to achieve out of it. Focus on one action at a time otherwise you will confuse your audience and they will not take the desired action.

  17. Hi Sonia!

    Thanks for sharing. Really enjoyed the article and more importantly, it’s refreshing to read all the comments made.

    I think the most awesome copy tip I got was from The Robert Collier Letter Book. He basically sold a product that he didn’t invent yet by designing the perfect DM letter, and then got himself busy creating the product when the cash came rolling in!

    Proven Concept and a Self-funded project =).

    Simply put – Copywriting is one of the most Powerful Business Development tools.

  18. Hi, Sonia,

    I was mentored by a legendary ad man and think you’re spot-on about what makes effective copy. And applying some of the style of copywriting to content marketing makes sense.

    But an awful lot of content fails because it reads too much like sales copy. And I fear you are encouraging writers to further blur the lines between the two.

    One of the lines in this piece, “Smart content marketers will go grab our free Ebook on writing headlines and start mining it right away for tips on creating terrific headlines,” illustrates my point.

    It’s good traditional copy, ala “Choosy mothers choose Jiff,” and “4 out of 5 dentists recommend Trident,” but it’s not an example of smart content marketing.

    Content marketing is not the “new cool kid in advertising.” It’s cool, yes, but content marketing hangs out with a different crowd.

    • Just like your own tagline says – “We tell – and sell – your story.” Content that doesn’t satisfy a business objective is not content marketing, it’s just content.

      I see you created your domain kotawcontentmarketing.com a year ago. Best wishes with your new career.

      • Yes, Brian, great stories are persuasive. Great advertising is persuasive. Great marketing of all kinds has an objective.

        But content marketing is not advertising. And there’s a reason to point out what may seem like a semantic difference: I’ve never met a client who didn’t want his content to read like sales copy. While Sonia suggests content marketers “steal” from copywriters, she is inadvertently encouraging writers to make more direct pitches in their blogs.

        Clients often insist — and writers may acquiesce based on Sonia’s direct pitch in her piece — that every post include a pitch for a product or service.

        I’ve seen the pitch for the Copybloggers’ ebook on headline writing before, and I don’t think it belongs here as a direct appeal to “smart content marketers” any more than a blog written for a furniture store should include a pitch to “check out our new leather sofas.”

        Before writers learn to say “yes” to copywriting techniques, they should learn to say “no” to disguising its tactics as content. Yes, at KOTAW Content Marketing we tell — and sell — stories. And we also sell products and services through story-driven copy. But we don’t confuse content marketing with advertising.

        I applaud your success and will accept at face value your best wishes for mine. I’m sharing my interpretation of the new digital landscape as shaped by Hummingbird and backed by 25 years of experience in journalism, advertising and branding.

        I agree with Sonia, who said elsewhere on this site that she doesn’t enjoy squabbling, but controversy is inescapable: “So we might as well stand our ground, say something worth saying, and make the best of it.” https://copyblogger.com/controversial-content/

        And, thank you, I am enjoying great success at KOTAW, launched in June 2013.

        • When my clients insist on pitches I just put them in. I stopped arguing with them or trying to convince them awhile ago. If they don’t want to listen to what I know, screw ’em. I’ll just take their money instead.

          I don’t know, I think it’s still a pretty good tactic.

          Why on earth are you still complaining about their blog posts? Start writing yours today!

          • I would also suspect that the kind of pitches you’re talking about, and the simple call to action to get even more valuable free content that Katherine is complaining about, are inherently different.

            The point is getting people to take action within an appropriate context. Even if you’re giving something great away for free. If you don’t ask people to do it, less people do it. Period.

          • I’m not sure about what you meant by “still complaining”, Greg. I never complained, simply acted on the “Speak Your Mind” CTA for this blog.

            There’s a place for ads in a newspaper — next to an article. There’s a place for a CTA in a blog — at the end of a blog or in some other clearly defined space.

            There’s a place for persuasion everywhere. But if a blog looks like a blog but reads like sales copy, it crosses a line that makes me uncomfortable. Where’s the value in content marketing if it’s no different than pitch-y copy?

            If a client asks me to insert a sales pitch into a blog, Greg, I don’t say “screw em” and take their money. I say no. Saying no to bad ideas is one of the best services I provide clients.

            Greg, you suggested I write my own blog. I do write a blog on my website and invite you to check it out.

          • @BrianClark: Brian, I respect that your viewpoint is different than mine. And I agree that the ebook about headlines includes valuable information. We disagree about “appropriate context.”

            And that’s good. Healthy debate about content marketing is crucial to its evolution — and survival.

            Thank you for providing a forum for this discussion.

        • And, thank you, I am enjoying great success at KOTAW, launched in June 2013.

          Excellent. And I started doing what we now call “content marketing” in 1999, and this publication has been teaching it for 8 years. And we’ve built a multi-million dollar business out of practicing what we preach.

          So maybe, just maybe, we know what we’re doing? Maybe? 😉

          • 🙂 That’s Cheeky Brian…

            And I love it.

            Said that, it’s clear that copywriting techniques for blog posts are working effectively, because we are all here ENGAGING in a conversation which:

            – Builds Copyblogger’s brand
            – Increases their attractiveness to search engines

            Somehow…just somehow, this is the first blog post I have read this month that has gotten me to actually contribute a comment. So thanks, I’m going to model it for future use 🙂

            And of course, Brian isn’t on KOTAW interacting with their content (but that might change in the future, who knows). So something CB is doing is obviously working.

            Have a lovely day.

        • @Katherine … perhaps it’s a matter of how you want to frame the call to action in a content marketing piece. This CTA doesn’t always have to be a pitch. It can be a Follow me on Twitter … Read more about this topic here … or whatever.

          But content marketing inherently is about marketing – and that means information with a strict purpose. If I’m already reading about writing headlines and I see a link about crafting better headline faster – it’s not a pitch. It’s additional information I’m already interested in – since the context remains relevant to my initial read.

          One more thought, if I may … if our content doesn’t fire up the reader to want to learn more about our topic – hence the need for some sort of call to action to the next step – then, to my direct response writer’s mind – we’ve failed both the reader and the client.


          • Thank you, Roberta, for your thoughts. I’m not surprised that a direct response writer would side with Sonia on this. But I agree with much of what you say.

            How you frame a call to action matters. Content should fire up a reader. It must have a purpose. Calls to action are critical.

            Sonia’s line directing people to the ebook was a pitch. She didn’t offer the ebook as a helpful addition to her post. In the very first of seven tips, she said “Smart content marketers will go grab our free eBook.”

            What she wrote is good copywriting. But it is pitch-y and in no way the same as an end-of-blog CTA that says “Follow me on Twitter.” Or “if you’d like to learn more about writing effective headlines, check out our ebook.”

    • Ah, Katherine, you’re reminding me of my days working with big agencies on brand/awareness advertising and PR.

      I left that world for a reason. 🙂 I suspect we’ll have to agree to disagree on this one.

      • I left that world, too, Sonia, and I suspect our old bosses would agree more with your viewpoint than mine.

        But that what makes the rapidly changing world of marketing fun!

  19. Excellent article. I love the points about headlines, an overlooked point by amateur/novice writers approaching copywriting with just slightly less than an expert voice. A turned-around-headline can make them an expert on an otherwise great article. Attention grabbing, shorter headlines are more impactful than long, arduous sentences. The other point I liked was how witty may not be engaging to all clients. Unfortunately for those sad souls reading it and not liking the read, this can be true sometimes, so wit must be toned down at times.

  20. Re: #2. Quit being so clever.

    I’ve surely been guilty here from time to time. To avoid being too over-the-top in attempts to be funny, I often reminded myself of what Wisconsin newspaper columnist Doug Larson said on the subject:

    “A pun is the lowest form of humor, unless you thought of it yourself.”

  21. “Be a dork about your content.” Love that. We recently had a client come in, wanting to produce high-quality and equally as high-brow posts for his website. After working one-on-one with him long enough, I began to become totally engrossed in his product and salons. That showed directly in the content I drafted for him!

  22. #2 – absolutely spot on. While it’s fun being clever, we’re first and foremost being paid to sell. If some wordplay helps us do that then great, otherwise we need to leave it out.

  23. Sonia,

    Instead of knowing and following all these 7 things that Great Copywriters already used, why not find that one thing which has never been used?

    If I use all these 7 I would be one among the rest. But if I find the one that isn’t used, then that’s the bait 😉

    • Holding out for some secret magic bullet is why so many people fail. Trust me, if it works, it’s been done in some form or fashion already. It’s up to you to adapt what’s proven to work for your own situation, which makes it unique.

      • Brain,

        I agree that just holding out for magic bullet won’t work. I am just looking out for the secret ingredient that can spice up all these 7 :-). I trust what’s been done already and will definitely use it. Wish you a happy and prosperous new year. Have a wonderful day.

  24. So true that great copywriters (and writers in general) are assiduous researchers. Simone you did some of your own to dig up these credible quotes to help make your points. Seven times as much seems excessive, but two or three makes for a good piece.

  25. Content marketing is so much more than just online content. Books and press releases have been a form of content marketing almost since the printing press was first invented. When you think about it, content marketing is one of the oldest (and most effective) forms of marketing.

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