Writing copy is both an art and a science. It’s an art because it requires creativity, a sense of beauty and style — a certain aptitude, mastery, and special knowledge. Artistic advertising allows you to create content marketing that’s not just practical and persuasive, but awe-inspiring and breathtaking.
Writing copy is also a science, because it exists in the world of tests, trial and failure, improvement, breakthroughs, education, and predictability. Scientific advertising allows you to develop online business ideas, and then test those ideas. It’s how you know if your content marketing is working.
Writing copy that works
In bad copy, one (or both) of these elements are missing. In good copy, they are both abundant.
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1. Plain copy
The most basic approach to write copy is to introduce the product without gimmick or style. It’s a simple presentation of the facts and benefits.
There’s no story, no conversation, no “sizzle,” and no superlative claims.
Think Google Marketing Platform.
It’s the type of copy that isn’t going to win any literary awards, but if you’ve studied how to write a good sentence, you’ll be able to get the job done. You’ll give a prospect the information she needs to make an informed decision about the product.
2. Storytelling copy
Everyone loves a good story.
We like hearing about people — especially interesting people. People who’ve suffered challenges we can relate to, and can tell us how they overcame those challenges.
And the moral of the story, coincidentally, is that your product was the catalyst to overcoming those odds.
You might find this storyselling technique in an email series, a landing page, or a short video. Whatever the format, you’ll get four basic traits in the story:
- Opening: Introduce the pain. Show how the character of the story had a normal life, then how that life was shattered by a change of events.
- Conflict: How is the life of the main character threatened if he or she does not respond to the problem? What does her journey look like as she tackles this challenge?
- Dialogue: People are drawn to conversations in a story. It’s human interest at its root: two people talking to each other. We are also drawn to dialogue because it’s easy to read. “Our eyes flow over dialogue like butter on the hood of a hot car,” says novelist Chuck Wendig.
- Solution: Finally, your product is introduced as the cure for your character’s problem. You increase the credibility of your product by sharing specific results (347% increase in conversion, for example).
Your story doesn’t have to be dramatic. It just has to be interesting to your target audience. And this is where good research comes in.
3. Writing copy that’s conversational
John Caples calls conversational copy “You and Me.”
In this style of copy, you write as if there is a conversation between two people: the copywriter and the prospect.
The language here would be no different than a salesman sitting down for lunch with a customer and talking through a sales presentation. It’s a straightforward approach that tries to identify with the reader:
“I know how you feel. I felt the same way. That all changed when I found x, y and z.”
Keep in mind that you don’t have to be a polished copywriter to create effective conversational copy. Often the sheer passion for what you’re trying to promote breathes off the page.
In fact, you can record a conversation about the product, transcribe that conversation, and use it as a rough draft.
4. John Lennon copy
When John Lennon asked us to imagine there was no heaven or hell, no countries, religion or war, he was using an effective tool of persuasion: imaginative copy.
As an advertiser who’s learning how to write copy, you can ask your target audience to imagine a painless way to lose weight, or what it would feel like to be a successful travel writer.
Imaginative copy typically begins with words like “imagine,” “close your eyes,” “pretend for a moment,” “discover,” or “picture this” in your email subject line or first paragraph of the text.
You’re often asked to imagine your life in a certain way — to pretend what it would be like to live your dream, whatever that dream might be.
Then the copywriter paints a picture of achieving that ideal life through a certain product.
5. Long copy
The fundamental premise behind long copy is “The more you tell, the more you sell.” Ads that are long on facts and benefits will convert well.
Unlike a face-to-face conversation with a salesperson, a written ad has only one chance to convert a reader. If you get in front of the reader, you’ve got to lay it all out on the table.
When you’re tackling long copy, it pays to learn how to write bullet points. They help ensure your most important details stand out.
And when you’re following the basic rules of content marketing that works, remember that you don’t have to present all of the facts and benefits up front.
You can leak the presentation over a period of weeks through an email autoresponder or a registration-based content library.
In this way, you’re turning long copy into short, easily-digestible snippets.
6. Killer-poet copy
Here at Copyblogger, we love writers like David Sedaris. And we’ll throw in a lesson about how to write like Hemingway here and there.
But we aren’t so enamored by their writing abilities that we try to imitate their styles at the expense of teaching and selling.
Our goal isn’t to convince our audience that we’re smart — it’s educating and selling with our copy.
As David Ogilvy once said, “We sell, or else.” But we try to sell with style. We try to balance the killer with the poet.
Killer-poet copy sees writing as a means to an end (making a sale), and the ad as an end in itself (beautiful design and moving story).
In other words, the killer-poet combines style with selling. Creativity with marketing. Story with solution.
7. Writing copy that’s direct from your CEO
It’s a known fact about writing copy: third-party endorsements can help you sell products.
But it’s equally effective to position your sales argument as a direct communication between the company founder and his or her customer.
This down-to-earth approach levels the playing field. It telegraphs to the customer, “See, the CEO isn’t some cold and remote figurehead interested in profit only. He’s approachable and friendly. He cares about us.”
You’ll spot some of this type of copy in these 20 call to action examples.
8. Frank copy
Some copy will explain the ugly truth about the product.
This approach doesn’t start with the jewels of your goods — it’s going to start with the warts.
When selling a car, you might point out the endless repairs that need to be done — thin brake pads, leaky transmission, busted sway bar, and inoperable dashboard — before you introduce the leather seats, Monsoon stereo system, sun roof, brand-new tires and supercharged engine.
What you’re saying is, this car will need a lot of TLC. You might even go so far as to say, “Make no mistake — there’s much work to be done here.”
And here’s a curious thing: When you are honest and transparent about product weaknesses, the customer trusts you.
When you learn how to write subheadings that help the reader trust you, they’ll be considerably more likely to believe you when you point out the good qualities of your product.
9. Superlative copy
There are also times when you can make outlandish claims.
Claims like (these are actual ads):
- “A revolutionary material from this Nevada mine could make investors a fortune”
- “Stores across U.S. selling out of what some call a new ‘miracle’ diet formula”
- “Obey this one weird loophole to get car insurance as low as $9”
But you can only make extraordinary claims when you have the proof to back it up. The evidence can be in statistics, testimonials, or research — or preferably all three.
The problem with superlative copy is that it’s often hard to make outlandish claims and not sound like you are hyping it up — so use this type of copy sparingly.
Generally, it’s good to follow the “Remove All Hype” policy when writing copy.
10. Rejection copy
Rejection copy turns conventional wisdom on its head and tries to discourage people from being interested in your product.
This type of copy is a direct challenge to the reader that leverages the idea that only an exclusive set of people are invited to use a product.
The American Express Black Card is a good example — this card is reserved for the world’s wealthiest and most elite. The only way you can get your hands on one is if you are invited.
Similarly, consider the dating site Beautiful People. If you want to be part of this exclusive dating club made up of “beautiful” people, then you have to be voted in by existing members.
Potential rejection startles readers — they don’t expect to be turned down, especially not from an advertiser.
This approach also keys into our sense of wanting to belong. It generates curiosity and activates our pride. We think, “How dare they say I might not be good enough to get into their club? I’ll show them.”
The art and science of writing copy
In the end, writing copy often combines several of these techniques into one ad.
The CEO of a company writes a conversational sales letter built around a story about his passion for his product (whether it is peaches or water pumps).
A copywriter writes a long rejection ad that explains why certain people are excluded from receiving an invitation to dine at an exclusive restaurant.
Or a Savile Row tailor writes a plain but elegant sales letter about his suits, which have been worn by kings and presidents.
That’s the art and science of effective copywriting.