5 Secrets of Good Copywriting

secrets of copywritingOne of the most important things that anyone working in the world of Internet marketing need to understand is that copywriting or using words to sell products is absolutely critical if you are to succeed. It’s not enough to understand English or even to hire someone who purports to be a professional writer to do your copywriting for you either.

Copywriting requires as much art as it does skill. This is actually one of the most  difficult things there is to explain to a potential entrepreneur. They think that copywriting should be priced around the same as content writing (which is itself ridiculously undervalued with people still believing that it’s possible to purchase quality writing for $5-$10 per page).

A good copywriter can easily command upwards of $5,000 for their work though because their work should generally be able to bring in at least 10 times the amount of money that they charge you for their work. Thus those who skimp and think a $5 ‘copywriter’ is good enough will simply shoot themselves in the foot.

Of course, the real irony is that those same people are unlikely to make money even if they invested in a good copywriter because they also tend to make other fundamental mistakes in the business of Internet marketing.

The following are just a small handful of ‘secrets’ of good copywriting. They are not really meant to replace a professional but they can at least help you to have some idea of whether the pro you hire is worth what they charge.

It’s All about Your Customers

Probably the single most important thing to keep in mind when it comes to preparing a good piece of copywriting is that you need to remember that it’s all about your customers. In other words, they couldn’t care less what you do or how you do it. They just care what you can do for them.

Let me illustrate this by showing you two different pieces of company advertising. See which one you think is more effective:

Our company creates widgets which are designed to fit inside of a widget machine. These machines are integral to creating effective automated sales systems. Click below to order.

Yeah, okay. So I have zero clue why I should care and frankly, this is incredibly boring. Compare that statement with the following:

Your business needs to automate its sales systems. Automation helps your bottom line meaning that you keep more of what you earn. Our widgets make that happen by working seamlessly with your widget machine.

So what’s the difference here? I just said the same thing that I said above but changed the words a little bit. The difference however is in the emphasis. Before, I was emphasizing what my company does. It was boring because nobody cares about what my company does. It doesn’t make any difference to you.

The second example by comparison tells you what my company can do for you. It makes the focus the customer instead of the company.

This is the essence of all good copywriting — you need to show your potential customers that they have a reason to trust you because you have their best interests at heart. Without this, it doesn’t matter how good your product is. Few people will ever care and fewer still will actually take the time to place an order. 

Headlines Matter

This is something I’ve written about extensively when I’ve talked about writing for the Internet although in the case of copywriting, it’s slightly different. In essence, copywriting is all about trying to get people to believe that you have the solution to whatever problem they’re having.

This means that you need to play on a human emotion — the need to believe. Think about the last time that you go one of those spam e-mails telling you about some Nigerian banker desperate to get money out of the country with your help. If you are like 99% of prudent people, you simply deleted it instantly.

However, if you are like 99% of other people, you also had a tiny, nagging doubt somewhere in the back of your mind. What if this was that one in a million chance where it was the real deal? It’s not much of a thought and most of us don’t even consciously acknowledge it. However, it is usually there however briefly in passing.

Why is this? The answer is simple — human beings have a need to believe. We want to believe that this is going to be the thing that makes whatever we need happen for us. That’s what the scammers count on — that there will be a percentage of people willing to take a chance and believe.

Now I’m not telling you to become a scammer. Far from it. All I am saying is that if you want to create good headlines, play on people’s need to believe. Let’s look at a few examples:

Who Else Wants to Make $3,879.87 in Just 30 Days?

While this kind of headline now violates FTC rules on truth in advertising online, it was commonly used and is still commonly used by those beyond the reach of the FTC. So why does this work? Because people need to believe that they can make money online and this sounds like something that could reasonably happen.

Making sure to make it an exact number with a few cents tacked to the very end also helps to ensure that people will find it more believable.

Compare this with a rather unbelievable but similar headline:

I Made $3,000,0000 in Just 30 Days and You Can Too.

Okay, two problems here. First and foremost, this breaks our cardinal rule about copywriting. Nobody cares what you did. They care about you can do for them. Thus starting out telling the world how you made $3 million doesn’t do much for copywriting.

More than though, we also run into the Nigerian banker problem — while most of us want to believe, we also know that we need to be rational about things. It’s highly unlikely that anyone found a way to make that kind of money in 30 days and that this system can be translated to others doing the same thing,

Play On Pain

Once again, this is something I’ve written about in the past but it bears repeating here. As I said above, copywriting is all about playing with people’s emotions. It may sound a bit crass but ultimately, your goal is to manipulate people into choosing your product over that of the competition.

A big part of this is in how you craft your pitch. There are two basic ways to appeal to people to buy your product. You can either appeal to their desire for comfort or their desire for relief from pain. As I have stated in the past though, pain doesn’t have to be physical in order for you to use it.

Let’s look at some examples. A good one is anti aging cream. This stuff is designed to help people (mostly those who are older) to look younger. Here’s an example of an ad I found for this kind of cream:

anti aging cream -- they help with pain.Okay, so what are they doing here? They’re playing on a person’s pain. No, they’re not being too ‘in your face’ about it (no pun intended). However, they are nonetheless playing on the fear that many people have of looking old. They know that most people are vain and they want to look younger. This plays on that fear by promising to take away the pain of seeing an old face in the mirror.

They could also have tried to play on a desire for comfort — that this stuff will make you feel nice for example. However, by offering to take away the pain that someone is feeling of looking older, they are playing on a much stronger emotion.

Another thing to keep in mind with your headlines is to keep them short and sweet. Most of your customers will not read long headlines. That’s what the rest of the text of your page is for. Instead, they just want to look at a short and sweet headline which hooks them into deciding to see what your product is about.

Single Syllable Writing

Ever notice how most advertising is written to fairly roll off the lips? Check out for example the Nike slogan — Just Do It. What the heck does that even mean? It’s got no relation whatsoever to sneakers or shoes but it’s wildly successful. Want to know why? Because it’s all monosyllabic. It’s easy to say it and it just rolls off the tongue.

If you consider other popular slogans and even good headlines, they’re relatively simple sounding. These kinds of things tend to resonate with customers for whatever reason. They are much more likely to be noticed and acted upon than the kind of headlines that go into detail or which require complex

You could even take this further and try as much as possible to use simple language in all of your advertising. Don’t worry if the words you choose are not the most accurate way of describing what it is that you have for sale. As long as they are truthful, you’re okay and better off than using a more sophisticated explanation.

Consider for example the following:

GeoWorks Ensemble Is a Great Alternative to Windows

It’s simple and it does effectively communicate what GeoWorks Ensemble does (back when it was first introduced in the early 1990s anyway). Now we could go into much more detail by saying:

GeoWorks Ensemble provides a graphical interface which lives on top of DOS and provides all the basic productivity tools you’ll need.

They both in essence say the same thing. The difference is that the second one is wordy and hard to remember. The first one is catchy and easy to remember. In most of the first sentence, we also see that single syllable words are used whereas the second example uses many multiple syllable words and doesn’t really roll off the tongue.

Make a Point of Telling the Truth

It may sound weird but by making a conscience decision to tell the truth and to show it off, you will often find that you are able to get the best kind of advertising there is. In fact, at times, you can even show off your warts by using it to make a point.

A classic example of this is Volkswagen, which back in the 1960s embraced their cars being kind of ugly while at the same saying that reason they were great is that they offer great gas mileage.

In fact, I recall a movie a while back where an advertising executive takes this to great extremes and actually manages to create some of the most popular products around by doing so. Nobody wants to be taken for a ride. However, they do want you to tell them why this product is the best choice, warts and all.

Bottom Line

The bottom line is simple. Put yourself in your customer’s shoes. Do it honestly and you’ll be able to find the right way to make your copywriting stand out. And if you can’t, you could always hire a professional to do the job for you. After all, if you use them right, it won’t matter that you spent the money to hire them to begin with.

32 thoughts on “5 Secrets of Good Copywriting

  1. Thank you for sharing this with us I have been thinking about going into business doing copywriting and this will help me do just that. Keep up the good work and thank you for posting this helpful article I will use your tips and get started right away. Please post more helpful tips if you happen to get any in the near future and again thank you so much.

  2. Thank you once again, Yasir, for your nuggets of wisdom. I have learned a lot of different things regarding web marketing and development ever since I found your blog on Google. I am thankful for being a decent writer so that I don’t have to rely on rolling the dice with independent copy writers. Most of the low cost writers are not very professional, but I know from experience that there are some real gems out there in cyberspace, if you’re willing to search.

  3. I have heard a lot about article spinning software and I have even tried a few of them. If you try and completely automate this strategy, it doesn’t work well because you wind up with different versions of the original article that just do not sound natural. As a matter of fact, I no longer see these unintelligible articles on search results because I think the Google Panda updates have penalized such web pages and they no longer are relevant.

    1. This is exactly right. The jury is still out as to whether or not there is value in these things though. One might argue that an automatic spinner program can at least create something for you to edit as opposed to writing something brand new from scratch. However, without editing the results, the automatically generated stuff is pretty worthless.

  4. I guess what Yasir is saying here is that you are supposed to sell the sizzle. I have always learned in school that the customer wants to know, what’s in it for me’. And that is what your writing should focus on. I think you can also write in such a way that tells the readers what benefits they could enjoy if they order, without hard selling the customer.

    1. I definitely don’t recommend a hard sell. That pretty much never works. Remember the old car salesman’s trick — you pick the color. They insist on that because it gives you the illusion of being in control. The moment you nag someone about buying though, they’re more likely to walk away.

  5. I can usually recognize good copy writing from the very start. I tend to get either captivated or repelled in the first paragraph of any article or blog post. Being a decent writer of my own right, I am wary about hiring anyone else to write my content. Even if I am super busy with other responsibilities, I hesitate to hire other writers, but I must admit that I have seen some good freelance writers’ work.

    1. That is not copy writing. Copy writing is sales text. However, you are correct that a good content writer can grab your attention within the first paragraph. A bad one will make you want to click away…

  6. One method of copywriting I have used for over 10 years is more like taking inspiration – the way any artist takes inspiration from other artistic works. I scour through magazine ads as well as TV ads and study how they are writing and presenting their message. Even though a print ad does not have anything to do with what you are promoting, you can still study the working and overall presentation carefully and figure out how to apply a similar style of writing or layout to your promotion.

    1. This is the same secret most professional copywriters follow. They simply study what the big boys do and then copy their ideas.

  7. I think writing and copywriting are two very different things. When you write a novel or a poem, readers want great words. They enjoy the rhythm, the imagery, the wordplay. People expect this kind of writing to deliver a certain art and beauty. When you write websites, ads, white papers, or other business materials, readers simply want information. They don’t care about the artistry. They aren’t looking for beauty. They just want to find out how to solve a problem or meet a need.

    1. Absolutely. They are two vastly different things although most people don’t get it. They think that if someone can write, they can also do copywriting. Mind you, there are people who can do both (I do for example). However, most of the people offering “copywriting” services for five bucks on Fiverr have no business even calling themselves content writers, much less copywriters.

  8. Whether we hear them or read them in a novel, a song, a poem, or on a sales page, words have the ability to excite, motivate and influence us because they arouse our emotions. And we all have emotional responses to factors that are playing out in our lives whether they’re dreams, goals, responsibilities, or our own identities. I learned through reading that a good copy writer plays on these factors to promote a certain action.

    1. This is exactly right. As I said, a good copywriter plays on your emotions as opposed to simply providing basic facts.

  9. I recall when I was in college, I took an advertising course which included a semester of copywriting. My professor told me, when crafting your headline, lead with the single most important point. Ignore the all-too-common client requests to cram as much info as possible into the headline. Their reasoning: “But what if no one reads the body copy? The truth: If you cannot make one compelling point in your headline, you guarantee the body copy will go unread.

    1. Excellent point. The headline’s only job is to grab the reader’s attention. If it can’t do that, it won’t matter that it has more information in it.

  10. The practice of persuasive copywriting is a necessity, if you want to sell products, services, or ideas online. While great writing is truly an art, those looking to improve their craft as a copywriter can find a lot of help from behavioral psychology and neuroscience studies. At least that is what a college professor said to my class when I was taking a marketing course. This blog is also very informative. It makes some valid points.

    1. That is definitely true. As I said, ultimately, copy writing is the art of manipulating people’s emotions. It may sound crass and commercial but that is what you are trying to do.

  11. I think copywriting is an art. Stringing together a cluster of words can look like just that, a cluster, if not done with craft, care, and consideration. Choosing defined topics and clearly elaborating your goals will help you to more definitively outline the overall mission of your message. The most important factor to keep in mind is to create copy that reflects a natural tone so that you are able to identify with a wide range of people.

  12. I guess we all want more blog readers, more newsletter subscribers, more followers and more clients. As Yasir has pointed out, without a doubt, compelling copy is the single most important factor in determining whether you are talking to yourself or an audience who looks forward to hearing from you (I’m paraphrasing). Compelling copy makes a visually boring website memorable. It makes people want to buy stuff from you. And it makes you the recognized expert.

  13. This article reminds me of a book I read that I will never forget. In 1999 Douglas Rushkoff published a book called Coercion, which essentially tracks the evolution of marketing into a branch of psychology. He illustrates exactly how marketers try to influence and persuade you in various media, and outlines the history of marketing as a measured science. I am seeing these principles all throughout websites in cyberspace.

  14. Copywriting is intricate work. Even the most seasoned writer may find themselves in a new and unfamiliar situation based on the medium that they are writing for. This is especially true with the evolution of the web and the host of new types of writing that have come about as a result. Some persons may have spent your life and career performing copywriting services for a particular medium and then find yourself in unchartered territory leaving you feeling like a novice.

  15. Hemingway pounded out masterpieces with two indispensable writing tools – a portable Royal typewriter and rum. Lots of it. I am not suggesting you get hammered. I know when I drink I can’t seem to write because my attention span gets really short and I feel like talking rather than writing. That’s just me. Other persons might get more creative with a slight buzz. There’s more to writing than that, but I just thought I’d mention it.

  16. Some of the writers that I have read need to read this because they need help with the way they are posting stuff and the spelling and everything else. You have done a great job trying to convince people of this and with the post that should help you a little bit anyway. Copywriting isn’t always easy and it isn’t always as great as I thought it was.

  17. We’re all guilty of it, of writing below our abilities, producing content that is not only dull and without inspiration, but often also fails to really communicate the lesson that Yasir is trying to teach or the idea he is trying to convey. Our language is very expansive, and if used correctly, can offer amazing benefits to our businesses. But how do we get to the summit whereupon our content is at least nearly as strong as it should be?

    1. One good idea is to read it out loud to yourself. This often will help you to catch things you wouldn’t catch by reading it silently.

  18. I would like to learn how to do copywriting myself, are there jobs in that field that are easy to get. I am looking forward to learning more about this because it sounds like something that I can get into and do at home. Keep the information coming I think you are going to see a rise in enrollment to learn how to do this in the next couple of weeks.

    1. Copy writing is an art form. It takes a long while to learn and it is not easy to do. I suggest reading some good books on the subject and then taking it from there.

  19. I have a friend that is in the copywriting business and she writes content for web sites and thing and she makes really good money is this basically the same thing? I would love to get involved in that some how because you can make good money and work from home at the same time. I am a single mom so the more time I can be at home the better.

    1. Copy writing and content writing are often confused but they are definitely NOT the same thing. Content writing is what you see on this blog. Copy writing is what you see on a squeeze page.

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