A new client and all-round lovely human recently asked me if I’d like to come in and share my tips on how to write better copy with a group of small local businesses.
While I was really appreciative of the opportunity, I’m experiencing major heart palpitations at the thought of getting up and speaking in front of a group of actual people. Did I mention writing, not speaking, was my specialty?
Anyhow, while I prep myself for such an event, I thought I’d put fingers to keyboard and do what I do best: say it with written words.
Whether you’re a small business owner wanting to write more engaging blogs or web content or you’re just interested in how to write better copy, here are my top five tips.
1. Write for your audience
Before you even think about putting fingers to keyword, stop and ask yourself “ Who am I writing this for?”
Knowing your audience is crucial.
When you know exactly who you’re speaking to, you’ll have a much clearer idea of what to write and how to write it.
Okay sure, you might say. I’m writing to anyone who’s looking for yoga classes/a lawyer/a hairdresser. Well, that’s a start, but you’ve got to go a bit deeper than that.
Are they male or female? How old are they? Where do they live and what do they do? How much do they earn? What are their likes and dislikes? What are their problems and pain points – and how can you solve them?
Once you get to this point, turn this information into a real person. Give them a fitting name – Bob, Sheila or Jane – and imagine them in your head. What do they look like? How do they talk? What do they need?
Now, write as if you were writing to that person.
‘Address the reader as ‘you’. Speak their language. This means considering what expressions or words they might use. And make sure you copy or content taps into their needs and pain points and gives them value, whether that’s a solution or a story they can relate to.
If you write for everyone, you write for no-one. But if you write with a specific person or group of similar people in mind, you have a better chance of engaging them.
2. Keep it simple
Abstract expressionist artist, Hans Hofman once famously said “The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak.”
Okay, he was talking about pictures, not words, but it’s spot on.
The simpler you keep your copy and your message, the clearer and more effective it will be.
But what does simplicity mean?
Firstly, it means using plain English. In other words, using words, phrases and sentences that are easy to read and understand.
Secondly, it means overcoming the curse of knowledge. When you know your business and industry so well, it can be hard to step outside it. It can be impossible to imagine that other people don’t know what you know.
I definitely get this.
Even writing this blog, I feel like I’m writing stuff that everybody knows because it’s all second nature to me. But I need to remind myself that not everyone is a copywriter or spends their days learning how to write better copy.
To overcome this, ditch the technical industry jargon. Plus, explain things clearly as most people will be coming at your copy from a different place.
Another way to keep things simple is to cut the fluff. Edit out all of those unnecessary strings of adjectives such and put a line through any excess words if they aren’t adding anything meaningful to the copy and message.
For every sentence and paragraph, ask yourself – is this word or sentence necessary? Is it adding something valuable? If it isn’t – cull it.
Clear, straightforward copy always wins the day – and will win over your audience.
3. Be conversational
The written word doesn’t equal the boring, formal word.
Yes, we all know it’s easy to slip into fancy us when we write, but fancy you isn’t the key to winning people over.
Whatever industry you’re in, yes, even you lawyers and accountants, forget the formal and let your conversational copy flow.
Conversations are at the heart of all relationships.
Conversations help build relationships and they help strengthen them – both in business and in everyday life. How do marriage counsellors make their money? By getting two people talking.
Conversational copy works because it creates engagement. It sets a warm, friendly tone that instantly forges a connection with the writer. This can plant the seed of trust.
Conversational copy – or writing as you speak – also makes it easier to breathe personality into your brand. Google is an obvious example. But there are also other great brands out there using write as you speak style copy, including Innocent, Ikea, ME Banking and Newcastle local, Happy Skincare.
Want some tips on how to write in a conversational tone?
Give it some rhythm, ask questions, keep sentences short, use the active voice and embrace contractions (you’re, we’re, you’ll). Also, don’t worry if your grammar isn’t 100 per cent. Breaking certain rules can help your words sound more spoken.
Finally, if it sounds like writing, rewrite it.
4. Break it up
Nothing switches a reader off like big fats paragraphs of text.
You know the ones I mean. The blocks of copy you see on websites on in blogs or brochures that seem to go on forever without a break.
If you’re guilty of this, it’s time to embrace headings, subheads, bullets and paragraph.
By breaking your text down into smaller, bite-sized chunks – and emphasising the key bits with headings and subheads – you make your words much more scannable and easier to read.
When it comes to paragraphs, a good one provides information on a specific thing or element. And it should be no longer than 2-4 lines long. This is especially true for online copy and content, where readers have short attention spans.
But how do you know where to make the break?
Firstly, think about the rhythm of your copy. If all of your copy is the same length, the reader will get bored. So instead use a mix of sentence lengths, from single sentences to two or four lines. This will help your words and story sing.
Also, think about emphasis. What parts do you want to highlight or stand out? A single paragraph after a longer one can act as a punch line or work well for a question – see what I’ve done throughout this post.
A single sentence may not be a paragraph in the traditional sense, but for today’s readers, it can be a tool for easier reading.
By giving your copy some breathing space, your readers will thank you.
5. Preload your message
Think about your average news story.
After the headline, comes the main facts of the story – the who, what, when, where, how and why. Next, come the important details. Finally, it covers all the other bits of info that aren’t critical but which provide substance.
This type of writing structure is a metaphor used by journalists that is known as the ‘inverted pyramid’. But it’s one that good copywriters and content writers follow.
They start with an attention-grabbing headline, one that speaks to the reader and makes them keen to read on. From an engaging website homepage headline to click-worthy blog or infographic title, this first bit of copy is critical.
While puns and clever copy have their place, make sure the headline clearly spells out what your website, blog or article is about.
Next, use subheads and the intro paragraph to introduce the main point of your copy and summarise what it will cover.
By doing this, no matter when the reader stops, they’ll still go away having understood the main point or message. Secondly, it also acts as the lubrication that makes it easier for readers to slide through the end of the content.
You can begin the inverted pyramid with some kind of hook, for example, by posing a provocative question or inspiring quote.
Instead of beginning with the most important facts, another good way to start your copy or content is using an anecdotal lead. In other words, with a good story or anecdote. This gives the reader something to relate to right from the start and draws them on to read more.
And don’t forget to post-load your copy with a summing up and a relevant call to action.
Give the reader a link or option of where to go next.
Writing better copy isn’t rocket science, but it is a science of sorts. By following these tips, you can make your copy and content more engaging, easier to read and give yourself a better chance of it doing what you want it to do. Hello, more clicks, likes, clients and customers.
Love my tips but not totally confident pulling them off? Let me know what you need help with and I’ll give you a no-strings quote.