If you've ever visited a website or opened a magazine, you've come across copy. It's the text on the page. The headlines, the sublines, the prose... In other words...the words!
The words you see on things like websites — the stuff designed to promote and sell stuff — is generally called ‘marketing copy’.
Many people think marketing copy is simply written to convince customers to fall in love with a business or product — or to simply educate. What’s often forgotten, is that in most cases it should inspire an action. This action could be to buy something, sign up for a service, or opt-in for updates or comms — like a newsletter. That’s when people start talking about ‘conversion’ i.e. copy that moves people to the finish line, and then gets them over it.
It doesn’t stop at websites, either. Social media posts, blogs, and adverts, etc. They all need copy.
"But what if I'm not a great literary writer; what if I'm not a writer? Shouldn't this kind of thing be left up to actual copywriters?"
Ideally, yes. But sometimes hiring a professional isn't feasible, especially if you're a small business owner just starting online. Every website needs copy, though...and someone has to write it. Sometimes that person is you — even if the extent of your writing experience is instant messaging and tweeting.
In this piece, we're going to cover these main points:
As we've previously established, "marketing" copy is a broad term. It can encompass many formats, including:
And that's just the tip of the iceberg. The form(s) your marketing copy ultimately takes depends on what you're trying to promote.
That probably sounds a little intimidating, and maybe it should. Writing copy isn't something you should approach lightly. It should be a considered act. That doesn't mean it's impossible. It’s what we're going to show you here, after all.
First, we'll go over some factors you should think about before you get started. Then we'll go over the ins and outs of writing compelling copy.
The first step to figuring out how to approach your copy is knowing your product and audience inside and out. Think long and hard about what you're offering and who it will benefit the most:
Monitor your main competitors or brands similar to you. Who are they targeting in their marketing copy? Check out their website, social media posts, and any paid ads you've encountered online.
It's hard to take a step back when immersed in your product and look at things objectively. Luckily, the following thought exercise will help you with knowing where to start.
Write down the name of a product or service you want to promote. Below it, make a bullet-point list of all its facets and features. Then, write down who your ideal customer is.
Let's say you've just launched a luxury skincare line for mature women. Your list might look something like this:
What problem does each of these features solve? What kind of lifestyle does an ideal customer aspire to have?
Let's go with the assumption that your ideal customer:
Imagine a conversation with this woman. Let's call her Maria. Ask her what makes her happy and what makes her sad, and what her main problems are. What does she want? Maybe she doesn't want to get bogged down thinking about her skincare routine when her life is already so hectic. This need for simplicity is what makes your range of products so perfect.
When you write your copy, you should be writing to her, specifically easing her fears.
The above exercise should quickly reveal what problems your product or service is trying to solve. When writing marketing copy, it's best not to get hung up in the details. Simple facts are annoying – problems can pack an emotional punch. You need to focus on your customers' main concerns and how you can help resolve them.
For example, imagine you're a personal trainer looking to increase his client base. You need to do more than just talking about your rates. Maybe you want to target customers who are a little overweight and out of shape, but intimidated by the prospect of joining the gym. To appeal to them, you'd talk about helping achieve their goal of being healthier and fitter in a non-judgemental atmosphere -- the best version of themselves.
By thinking about these things, your copy won't merely advertise your services. You'll build a connection.
Sometimes your product doesn't solve a unique problem. There might be a million other things like it on the market already. In this case, your copy aims to establish what differentiates yours from the rest. What makes it better.
Let's swing back to your luxury skincare line. Anti-aging skincare isn't anything new. But yours isn't just any skincare line. Yours is upscale and technologically advanced – far better than the brands you could find in the drugstore. Your skincare line isn't for just anyone. It's for sophisticated women like Maria, who have busy, high-powered lifestyles but still want to look their best.
Marketing copy isn't always just for selling something. Maybe you want to increase traffic to your site, increase social media followers, or capture emails. You could be a gardening expert who just launched a website to share your expertise. You want to build your audience by encouraging more people to subscribe to your newsletter.
Even though you don't want to sell anything, you will still need to appeal to your audience's emotions. These days, cluttered inboxes contain email newsletters that often go unread. What makes you different?
By keeping the goal of capturing emails in mind, you'll keep your copy focused.
As you may have noticed earlier, marketing copy can take myriad forms. In all likelihood, you won't be picking just one format – you will probably have to write copy across several platforms in different styles.
For instance, for your luxury skincare line, you'll probably focus on writing product descriptions for your website and promoting with Facebook posts (the social media site older demographics use most). You might even consider launching a blog that focuses on the importance of a good skincare regimen.
Think about where your target demographic hangs out online and what kind of content would appeal to them.
When it comes to social media, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are very different beasts. On Facebook, you can afford to go a little longer, but the limit is 280 characters on Twitter. Instagram is a mostly visual medium. Because of these differences, the copy you compose for each site will end up varying significantly.
But those are all considerations you can think about later. Now that you know the angle you want to take with your copy, let's get into the nuts and bolts of actually writing it.
When diving into the world of writing copy, it certainly helps to have some writing talent. But there are ways to get around it if you don't. Chances are, you're probably more capable than you think.
If you approach copywriting bearing some key approaches in mind, you're sure to produce copy that converts. These techniques are:
Read on to find out how to implement each one in your writing.
There are probably endless reasons why your offering is the best out there. And it would be a mistake to include them all in your copy. That's a recipe for overwhelming potential customers, and the last thing you want to do is overwhelm potential customers (unless you want to scare them away). This is why your copy should target one main idea.
Ideally, this will be the first thing your customer sees. Depending on your medium, this could be:
For example, for our gardening friend looking to email newsletter subscribers, the headline on their sign-up form could be as simple as, "Become an expert gardener." The body copy would then simply detail how their newsletter will help their audience become just that.
Think back to the list you made in the last section when you identified your offering unique. What problem is it solving, or what sets it apart from everything like it? The answer should be your main point. Cut any copy that doesn't support it.
Following on from the previous point, addressing customer needs is more than just listing your product's main features and calling it a day.
More often than not, in advertising, you are not selling the product itself, but the lifestyle it will help you achieve or the kind of person it will help you become. Think of Maria in the last section. It's not only about looking younger; it's about enhancing a luxe lifestyle.
Including specific details about your offering is a great way of making it stand out. It will:
While we did say not to focus on technical details in the last point, that doesn't mean you should cut them out completely. The key is using them correctly. You need to contextualize them, connecting them to the one main idea you're focusing on.
Skincare brand The Ordinary does this successfully. Their tagline is, "Clinical Formulations with Integrity." Talking only about their formulations is key to their marketing strategy, which you learn quickly from their copy.
Their copy is mostly concerned with technical details, individually as a reaction to ad campaigns from brands that dishonestly play up their products' benefits. And it works.
This where having a specific angle to write from becomes important. Directly addressing your customers' concerns doesn't mean giving them a list of why they're wrong.
It's a strategic way of using language to highlight your offering's benefits, despite their concerns.
In regards to your luxury skincare brand, one objection could be that it's too expensive. How do we tackle this?
Your skincare is an "investment." Perhaps it may cost a little more than similar products, but you use less of it to last longer. The technical details outlined in the last section will also reinforce why your skincare range is worth buying. The products aren't cheap, but cheaper products aren't half as good as these.
The aforementioned personal trainer's copy could address his potential clients' fears and objections of not being in shape already by talking about how he considers all fitness levels.
Sometimes called ‘tone of voice’, this personality may not be yours, but it should be "someone" your customer would respect, trust, and relate to. Don't be afraid to use some colloquial language that might appeal to them, even if it breaks some grammar rules (but don't go too nuts, there can be a fine line between relatable and obnoxious).
If your marketing copy format of choice has headlines, make the most of it. Here is your opportunity to grab your audience; 's attention immediately.
If you're already somewhat established, using quotes and testimonials from real customers can boost your copy with minimal effort.
The words you use matter. We're going to stress this time and time again. Because it's true, certain words can mean the difference between a welcoming vibe or an impersonal one. Certain words can also persuade more successfully than others.
One of those words is "you."
When writing copy, you should address your customers directly. Don't underestimate the power of "you." Using "you" throughout your copy, potential customers will begin to imagine themselves using your product or service.
Other essential words for adding a persuasive edge to your copy include: Free; Because; Instantly; and New.
Last but definitely not least, one of the most important elements of persuasive copy is encouraging customers to take action. In marketing speak, this is known as the "call to action," or CTA. A good CTA actively tells customers what to do next and how they can do it.
For our luxury skincare brand, the CTA could be an "add-to-cart" button. Our trainer could be a hyperlink that says, "click here to find out more!" For our email capturing gardener friend, it would be an opt-in email form.
You can be certain that a good copy doesn’t involve any of the following.
When writing copy, the temptation to go all-out can be huge. But saying, "This thing is the best thing EVER!" is obnoxious, but it's also non-specific. It fails to address your customers' wants or needs or a problem they want to solve. It also makes your brand come across as a tad full of itself.
If you get more specific with your claims, it *might* be a little more acceptable. Mr. Personal Trainer could maybe assert that you will "Lose weight and feel great in one week - guaranteed!" But you must be able to back it up, perhaps with data or testimonials from customers.
Still, hyperbole can be off-putting generally, so tread carefully.
Nothing comes across more old fogey and trying to sound "down with the kids" than text speak in marketing copy.
Text speak can encompass anything from replacing common words with numbers ("to" with "2" is a classic) or commonly used acronyms like "LOL," "YOLO," or "OMG." The thing is, slang is continually evolving, and kids can smell a rat in seconds. By the time a writer has even heard of a particular acronym or phrase, it's likely already old. They'll have moved on to the newest ridiculous phrase that you won't know about until it's too late.
This is not to say that it never works, but unless you are indeed well and truly down with the kids or even have a kid to hand to help you out (and they are also your target audience), it's best to avoid.
As a rule, cut anything that doesn't support your one main idea that we talked about earlier. No exceptions.
This type of edit can be hard; we understand that. When you've spent a lot of time crafting and honing a particular piece of copy, separating yourself and seeing things objectively is tough. You become attached. William Faulkner was referring to when he said, "In writing, you must kill all your darlings." You can't help but think of something you worked hard on as your darling, even if it's all wrong.
Let's take our trainer again as an example. The main point he wants to convey is that he is understanding and welcoming to those who aren't comfortable going to the gym. So, cluttering your copy with information about the great athletes he trained is not helpful. It's impressive, yes, but it may put off the kind of customer he's trying to attract.
It can be tempting to hit publish as soon as you've finished writing something, but that's a surefire recipe for an unreadable and unprofessional copy. Not even the most seasoned writers get it right in just one draft.
Writing isn't just getting the words down on the page. Writing is editing, editing, and editing some more.
Reread your copy. Then reread it. And again. Get someone else to take a look at it if you can. It always helps to get some fresh eyes on a piece.
Remember, nobody will buy what you sell if your copy is full of grammatical mistakes and spelling errors.
There are a plethora of different types of copy to opt for. You go for it will be dependent on factors like brand voice, medium, and what it is you're offering.
Here are the most common copy styles with examples of each:
Short copy is – you guessed it – short in overall length. It's best suited to mediums where space is limited, or where you want to attract your customers' attention quickly. Examples include platforms like Twitter, product descriptions, and paid ad copy in places like the Google search engine results page or Facebook.
Short copy can also be used in blog posts or landing pages consisting of a headline, some subheads, and a few short paragraphs. It's best for when you're offering something simple and straightforward.
Let's take Google AdWords as an example. If you search for "how to improve writing," the top ad result is for Grammarly's online tool (which we will discuss more later). The copy is simple yet effective. It lists its benefits and features and attracts a personable headline that addresses you directly.
Even shorter than short copy is microcopy. Microcopy refers to the very short text on a website or app interface that communicates a message in as few words as possible. It is often used to guide users as they navigate, providing instructions or hints of what to do next. A very common example of microcopy is an error message.
While microcopy is often nothing more than a short sentence or a single word, it can provide ample opportunity for a brand to convey personality.
A good example of effective microcopy is Twitter's "What's happening?" message in the social media site's tweet section...
It's short, casual, conversational, and instantly drives home the site's intent – to keep its users up-to-date with what's currently happening all over the world
If you need more room to explain your offering, long copy is the way to go. Long copy can be tricky to navigate. You need to make sure it is necessary before opting for it. People's attention spans are lower than ever these days, after all.
This kind of copy is best suited to formats like case studies, advertorials, blog posts, and sales pages. If you're selling a complicated product or service, or something that's on the more expensive side, you will probably need more words to convince people that what you're selling is worth buying.
The page begins by discussing the aim of Skillcrush's Blueprint programs and why they are beneficial. As you scroll down, it presents each program you can apply for and what they involve. After that, there is a testimonial from the CEO, discussing why she launched Skillcrush and what she has achieved since.
The page then discusses how Skillcrush works and includes features, before swinging back to why you should enroll in their programs, emphasizing why you should "invest in yourself."
It is necessary for this page to belong, as a shorter length would have failed to effectively paint the whole picture of why someone should invest their time and money into enrolling for one of their courses.
Long copy lets you position your brand as a leading voice and share your expertise with your customers. Just be sure that this is what they want.
The staccato style of copy features deliberately short sentences that get straight to the point. This kind of copy features no excess information or unnecessary fluff, and can sometimes be as short as one word. This style of writing is ideal for focusing the reader on your main message. Take this Spotify Premium ad as an example:
It doesn’t mince its words. That’s why it’s so effective.
In a conversational piece of copy, the narrator has a kind of conversation with a reader. It gives marketing copy a more human element, making it more relatable.
Instead of talking like a salesperson trying to sell something, your aim is to speak like a person who wants to help someone.
A brand that makes a conversational tone work is the drinks brand, innocent:
As you can tell from this excerpt of its About Page, the brand uses a casual, unfussy language style to address its customers (and doesn't overthink capital letters).
Storytelling has long been an effective advertising method, from print to TV ads. It can (and has been) be implemented successfully in online marketing copy, too, from landing pages to social media posts.
Traditionally stuffy mediums like case studies and white papers can be made less formal and more accessible through storytelling. Your copy will have a more human element by telling a story, instead of just focusing on general customer success or an in-depth industry report without any names or faces. This best practice builds an emotional connection, where customers can relate to what you have to say on a more personal level.
Storytelling copy will introduce an interesting, relatable character who has an obstacle they must overcome like any good story. To make it easy, just think of the classic three-act structure:
What helps our main character overcome the conflict? Ideally, that would be the product or service you're offering.
Salesforce implements the storytelling structure correctly in their customer success story on the luxury car brand, Aston Martin.
The customer success story outlines the problem that the company wanted to overcome (wanting to base business decisions on customer and business data rather than just the company's opinions), and how Salesforce helped them overcome them. In the end, it's all tied together with a positive outcome.
They also effectively use testimonial quotes from the company's CEO as a compelling headline that makes you want to find more.
Focusing on making copy readable is a great way of ensuring it gets read and hiding the fact that you may not be that gifted a wordsmith.
Let's begin this answer with some cold, hard facts: the majority of Internet users skim and scan a page before they commit to reading it. If your copy isn't skimmable and you don't give readers an instant idea of your core message, customers will be unlikely to read it.
As for hiding your lack of writing ability, take a moment to think of some of our most lauded literary heroes. From Shakespeare to the Bronté sisters and James Joyce, some of the greats are known for their wordplay, descriptive, and even avant-garde writing styles. It's admirable and interesting to unpick if you're into that kind of thing, but that's not what you want for online copy. If you're going to emulate anyone, look to Ernest Hemingway.
Hemingway is known for producing prose that was concise and direct. He coined the "iceberg theory" to describe his writing style, which was formed from his years working as a journalist. The main principle of the iceberg theory is that less is more in writing.
Remove irrelevant information and words. Sentences should be short.
While this theory refers to how the themes of long fiction don't need a direct explanation, it also applies to marketing copy. Short sentences can pack as much – if not more! – of a punch as longer ones. Marketing copy is not the place to express your inner poet. It should be clear, easy to read, and easy to understand.
Make your copy as readable as possible by following these tips:
Short paragraphs are key to the readability of your copy. With overly long paragraphs, your piece is in danger of suffering from the dreaded wall-of-text syndrome. Scanning a wall of text is hard work. Absorbing information contained in a paragraph of two or three lines is not.
The shorter the sentence, the better. Writing instructor, Gary Provost, said it best when he talked about the power of five words:
"This sentence has five words. Here are five more words. Five-word sentences are fine. But several together become monotonous. Listen to what is happening. The writing is getting boring. The sound of it drones. It's like a stuck record. The ear demands some variety. Now listen. I vary the sentence length, and I create music. Music. The writing sings. It has a pleasant rhythm, a lilt, and harmony. I use short sentences. And I use sentences of medium length. And sometimes, when I am certain the reader is rested, I will engage him with a sentence of considerable length, a sentence that burns with energy and builds with all the impetus of a crescendo, the role of the drums, the crash of the cymbals–sounds that say listen to this, it is important."
So, not every sentence has to be super short. But make sure there is some variety in there to keep the reader engaged.
Think back to the staccato style of writing we mentioned earlier. A sentence of one, two, or three words can be more effective and memorable than one several times that length.
Really. I mean it.
Broken sentences are all right, even though they might seem all wrong (especially if you remember anything about the English grammar drilled into you in school). But it works. If you find it difficult in the first draft, reread your piece upon completion. See if it's possible to break down longer sentences into two or even three shorter ones.
3. Replace complicated words
Yes, yet another point about words. Carefully considering words is important to writing. Who knew? As mentioned previously, marketing copy isn't the place to show off your verbosity. You may have a dictionary for a brain, but Internet readers don't care about how clever you are. Using obscure words will just distract from the topic at hand, that topic being successfully promoting your offering.
4. Think about design
This article may be about writing good copy, but what is the benefit of a good copy if poor design renders it unreadable? Just use a little common sense here. You're probably aware that black text on a navy background isn't ideal. Neither is using a distracting ornate font. Fonts like Arial, Georgia, and Verdana are considered some of the most readable ones.
To keep your writing readable, just keep telling yourself throughout the process that brevity is key.
With it being the Internet age, you're picking a pretty fortunate time to try writing effective copy. There are numerous online tools you can use to enhance your copy. Here are four of them.
We've spent a lot of time going through the ins and outs of writing copy that converts. It's okay to feel a little overwhelmed; it's a lot to take in.
Now we're going to focus a little more on sales page copy specifically. Whatever product or service your offering online, the sales page is where actual transactional conversions take place. While other page copy might focus on collecting emails, generating leads, or building brand awareness, a sales page is where leads become customers. A sales page provides the opportunity to educate potential customers about your product, supporting your claims with persuasive copy, eye-catching images, and social proof.
The following is a sales copy template to help you get started. The anatomy of most good sales pages do the following:
(Be sure to save it for future reference!)
Although this is a template for a sales page specifically, this template will also work across different marketing copy formats with a few tweaks. It encapsulates everything we have discussed in this article previously.
For example, if you were to use this template for a sales page, the copy and final CTA would be explicitly written with encouraging a purchase in mind. However, if it were a landing page where generating leads is the main focus, the CTA would collect emails, perhaps in exchange for a free ebook or webinar.
You've followed all the rules laid out in this article, and you've gone and written some (hopefully convertible) copy. You're pretty satisfied with what you wrote. Now it's time to sit back and forget about it, right? Wrong.
Unfortunately, writing is half the battle. You need to see if what you've written works. You've written could be great, but you'd be surprised at how often a simple word change can transform a potential customer into an actual customer. This subtle fact is why continuous and rigorous testing is so important.
By testing what works and what doesn't, optimizing copy after publication is not as intimidating as it seems. Instead of guessing what might work, you'll have hard data to back it up.
Before you start testing, you need to establish what your KPIs (key performance indicators) are. KPIs are what you measure to determine the success of your goals. Without establishing KPIs, you won't have a clear idea of what factors indicate a success. KPIs could include the number of purchases made, how much traffic visits your site, or the number of email addresses collected.
The most straightforward way of testing whether your copy works or not is through A/B testing. A/B testing compares two versions of a webpage and tests which perform better. Through A/B testing, you can easily gauge which variation of copy elements work and which don't.
Copy elements you should test include:
As we've said before, headlines can make or break a page. By testing different words and font sizes, you can see what grabs your readers' attention and what doesn't.
A snappy headline is no good without a call-to-action that inspires users to take that action. You can test the wording of CTAs and the style (color, font, button, or a text link) and even the placement on the page.
Maybe you thought your audience would respond well to frank copy, but actually, they're much more interested in storytelling. You won't be able to tell without testing it.
Shortening your overall copy length could mean the difference between your copy getting read and not getting read.
One thing to remember when it comes to A/B tests is that you should always stick to changing just one element at a time. It may be tempting to go all out and change the whole thing, but you won't be able to pinpoint the exact cause of any performance changes.
How to execute an A/B test
A/B testing may sound a little intimidating to the uninitiated. Luckily there are a plethora of online tools out there that make it easy. These tools will show different versions of a webpage to your visitors at random, and analyze the results.
Optimizely is an experimentation platform that allows even the most novice experimenters to conduct a successful A/B test on their landing page.
With Google Content Experiments, you can test the performance of up to 10 landing pages to see which version improves conversion rates.
If you want to see how well your PPC ad copy performs compared to variants, Google Adwords makes it easy. Google Adwords gives you the option of rotating ads indefinitely, to see which version of an ad performs best.
VWO is a platform specifically aimed for A/B testing and improving conversion rates and claims to do so without reducing performance.
Hopefully, if you're new to writing copy, any fears you had have been put to rest. Taking a considered approach to what you put on the page can go a long way. To sum up what we said in so many words, writing copy that converts can be boiled down to the following:
Now, time to get writing!