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How to Write Like a Copywriter

Welcome to the club, copycat!I’ve written about how to read like a copywriter (step one!), so this one’s about the actual doing: those pesky words. I’ve been trying to mentor a colleague through taking over some content writing and let me tell you: it’s tricky.

There are lots of courses you can take that will show you good copywriting but they cost lots of money. If you don’t have a big budget, that can’t really be the first step.

As I said in my ramble about how to read like a copywriter, a big part of it is finding stuff that YOU feel works, then doing your own version – several versions. It’s not a quick process but the longer you do it, the better you get.

The bits you need to nail to be a copywriter

The thing that develops most over time is tone of voice – but you can write good, clean copy without needing to know a brand inside out and believe in its values and walk its office dog.

Knowing what each medium for copy is and WHY it’s needed is a huge-massive first step. And one people rarely take the time to explain as they’re briefing you…

Admin emails

No one wants more email. If you have to give a customer a piece of information to make their journey smooth, you better believe they want that piece of information and nothing else.

This isn’t a place for delightful copy. This is a place for simple, factual copy that does its job. That said, it still needs to sound like your brand. Don’t default to corporate boohickey because it’s factual – just keep it short.

Rules for admin emails

  • Keep it as short as possible – delete any words that aren’t COMPLETELY necessary to the information and maintaining a good relationship
  • Focus on ONE direct action – what is the one thing you need them to do?
  • If they can click to complete the action, put it on a button as well as a link in the text
  • Use the same style, subject line format and signoff for all admin emails so your customer recognises this as something they need to act on or store

Marketing emails

For a few years, copywriters kind of fell out of love with these. Everyone gets too much bumf in their inbox and the same old techniques had got real old. Then a new breed of startups came along. Brands like Heist, the very latest thing in tights technology. They make emails you WANT to read.

Marketing emails are a brand’s opportunity to have fun. You’ve got to stand out but in a way that’s endearing, not annoying. Everything is about getting that reader to fall for you.

The traits of a great marketing email:

  • Personalisation – from an online form, quote or competition
  • Killer subject line – it’s got to catch the eye in an inbox, be easily read and work across devices
  • Easy structure – neat, short paragraphs with your call to action sprinkled throughout
  • Delightful tone of voice – the most toney tone of your voice EVER
  • Device-wide perfection – it’s got to work for anything from a Blackberry to the latest iPhone
  • Benefits not features – don’t try to explain every detail; you want the benefits to tease the features

Landing pages

Landing pages exist to sell and they’re always visited because you’ve pushed a potential customer there. That could be from a PPC ad, an email or a social media post.

Because they’re usually intended to cut down the usual customer journey, a landing page needs to be very succinct. You want the new journey to be something like this:

Sees ad > lands on landing page > buys

That’s a direct sale, so the copy needs to all be geared to selling, not making people think you’re fun or you do lots for endangered molerats.

Good ideas for landing pages:

  • Key selling points up-top: WHY YOU WANT THIS PRODUCT
  • Calls to action throughout the copy, not just at the top or bottom
  • Clear, directive language that tells the visitor the next step
  • REALLY well-structured copy with headings and subheadings
  • When you think you’ve finished, delete your first paragraph – it’s nearly always waffle

Press releases

A press release begs the press to cover your story. I always advise that you shouldn’t put out a press release unless you’re pretty sure someone WILL write about you.

That usually depends on having a press agency that’s maintaining lovely relationships with journalists. However, if you’re not pitching to national press, you can do things a little differently. Check out my recent guide to doing press releases on a smaller scale.

Things to keep in mind when writing a press release

  • It’s the journalist’s job to write the compelling stuff, not the copywriter’s. Stick to the facts and don’t sell it too hard. That means knocking off the adjectives off and keeping to the point.
  • A journalist will often choose to take your facts in a direction you didn’t intend (that’s what they do: they turn facts into tasty stories). Try to think out every way your release could be interpreted.
  • Any release should have a quote from someone important to the story. These should always be made up of short-ish sentences that all sound good when standing alone because journalists are under no obligation to use the full quote. They may even prefer to get in touch for a different quote later.

Ads

The job of an ad is pretty obvious: make people aware that your brand and product exist, persuade them to buy it. Done. But they’re one of the hardest things to write well, which is why LOLboys at big London agencies get paid so much.

Psychology plays a bit part in ads, so you have to know your target audience REALLY well. And because the copy is likely to be short, there’s no place to hide. Every tiny choice you make about punctuation counts.

One of the trickiest things about ads is that sometimes, bad ads work best. Boring ads, ads with ugly fonts, ads that make people angry. This is why we TEST.

Social ads

Something to remember is that we’re invading someone’s space every time we run an ad on social. Although, with Facebook’s latest announcement about keeping people’s feed about friends and family…we probably don’t need to worry about that too much.

I think social media is the best place to try crazy things to see what works in ads generally. You can learn a lot about your audience by their reaction to social ads, which will then influence your decisions for other media.


Magazine copy

Any brand that asks you to write something for a magazine is definitely not doing it to give you a byline you can show your mum. Usually, it’ll have the CEO’s photo next to it; your thanks is your fee/salary/cookie.*

A bit of magazine space usually also means money has exchanged hands, so it’s important that it achieves what’s intended: brand recognition and authority.

* Please don’t write for cookies. You can’t pay rent with cookies, my dear.


Website copy

It’s the place a brand can shine – but there’s such thing as too much of a good thing, right? It’s NOT the place to be wheeling out all your awards and what newspapers have said about you and how much you love the environment. Not on the main commercial pages, anyhow. Save it for the Our Gurus page.

A website exists to sell what you’re selling, primarily. It’s ALL about progressing people to a sale, whether that happens through instant purchases or a lengthy build-up over months. EVERY WORD matters because you’re paying for that real estate with every person you don’t convert.

Keyword research

Good copy is naturally keyword phrase rich. If you know what you’re selling, what the benefits are and how your audience naturally talks, you will be fine without a £2,000 course in SEO.

That said, there are always things you don’t think of when you’re writing so I do go back and check I’m referring to my topic specifically by its name and not being too vague (like: ‘our contouring beauty blender’ rather than ‘this ace new product’).

Before you start writing website content, run your topic through some keyword tools to see if there are any good phrases you can include. It gives you great ideas for the information you should be covering to answer people’s search questions.

Keyword tools to use:
  • keywordtool.io – this one’s great because you can copy your list of keywords to clipboard and just paste into Word – no spreadsheets!
  • buzzsumo.com – use this for seeing if other people have covered your topic really well and what they wrote
  • answerthepublic.com for topic research

Elevator pitch

The essence of what you are. Everything your brand does, in a couple of sentences. This will often be used for press, pitching to partners and helping new employees understand your brand.

Sometime’s it’s corporate, it’s men in shirts – but it’s still your brand. You want people to love you for who you are, so you have to a) be true to the brand in a slightly posher way but b) convince some big-wig that you’re doing things the right way.

Sometimes, it’ll need tweaking a little for the person reading it. For example, if you’re trying to convince an investor that your brand is just what they’re looking for, make sure you mention the things that’ll tick their boxes. Only if you do actually do those things, though!


Find examples of all these kinds of copy and tuck them away in your swipe file. What’s good about them? Did they serve their purpose? Try rewriting them to be BETTER.