A magician never reveals their secrets, right?
Well, nobody said anything about copywriters. So this National Writing Day (23rd June), we’re sharing our tips for writing prose like the - erm - pros.What’s the point? Find your purpose before typing a word…
As marketers, we’re often so caught up in doing that it’s easy to stop and wonder whether we should be in the first place.
Because according to Moz, up to 29% of the internet is actually duplicate content. So have a think about whether you’re adding anything new to the conversation before you get started.
Before typing a word - or even starting your research - ask yourself these three questions:
- Can I make this unique?
- Am I adding value?
- Would I read or be interested in this?
This will also help stop you from scrabbling around for ideas that aren’t worth their salt. Now more than ever, there really is no point churning out content for the sake of it.
First impressions – nailing killer header and enticing intro
OK, now that’s out the way… let’s get into it.
According to Hubspot, the ideal blog title is about 60 characters - or between 8 and 14 words. This is based on social shares though; headlines between 8 and 12 words are shared most often on Twitter and between 12 and 14 words for Facebook. But with ‘dark sharing’ becoming more prevalent over the years on platforms like Whatsapp and Slack, use this as a guide - not an exact science.
But you’re heading has got to work hard.
Use it as a tool to pique their interest; a great heading can both enlighten and entertain. In an era when we’re bombarded by more content than ever before, it’s your first and greatest chance to grab their attention. Unfortunately, copywriting is a fickle creature and first impressions really do count.
And that’s why your intro needs to land just as hard.
Lengthy openers have a time and place but an appetite-whetting one-liner can be just as tantalising - if not more. Obviously, context and your brand tone play a part here; not every organisation goes colloquial with their comms.
But as Wordstream notes in ‘5 Easy Ways to Write an Irresistible Introduction’, sometimes a quote is a great way to reel your reader in. Alternatively, a scene-setting line that you can come back around to at the end works well for longer features.
Next comes the hard part...
Body copy and bucket brigades (making every line work hard)
Copywriters face an unenviable task: create an original long-form piece of 1000+ words that people will actually take the time to read.
No easy feat when we’re often being told people just scan through articles these days, anyway.
Well, whether that’s always the case or not, there are things you can do as a writer to make it easier for readers to stick around.
According to Pamela Wilson over at Copy Blogger, there are eight simple ways to keep people reading your content:
- Line breaks - these make long-form copy much more easy to digest. Just split things up like your traditional paragraph: an idea at a time.
- Subheadings - again, great for breaking up a chunky article every 200-400 words or so. Just make sure you pay just as much attention to the tone as you did with your title.
- Bullets - great for breaking up more complex ideas and wordy areas of copy.
- Images - a no-brainer but dotting a few of these throughout the post can help hold interest and make things feel more visually appealing.
- Links - use external (but trustworthy) links to demonstrate your expertise and research skills. Sprinkling in some internal links is great for SEO - but not if they’re forced.
- Highlight - bold or italicise terms to empathise important points or tonal shifts. Just try not to overdo it.
- Numbers - whether it’s in your subheadings or lists (like this), they add a welcome break.
- Formatting - check all of your numbers, bolds, italics, etc. once you’re finished just to make sure it all makes sense.
We’d argue there’s one tip missing from that list: bucket brigades.
But what on earth is a bucket brigade, you ask?
Exactly that. Conversational questions that help encourage your reader to find out what’s next.
In many ways, your body copy’s got the hardest job to do; it has all the heavy-lifting, having to maintain your reader’s interest right to the end.
So, just make sure every line works as hard as the last.
Writing for humans first (then the bots)
It’s no secret that keywords are important. But you know what, we’re going to go ahead and say it: they can cripple creativity.
We’re not just talking about keyword stuffing - an ugly tactic that renders copy unreadable and will get you penalised by Google; we mean getting too hung up on the concept altogether.
Don’t get us wrong, being guided by a bank of well-researched keywords when planning your editorial can play a crucial part in a sound SEO strategy. But as a copywriter or content contributor, your main driver should be writing compelling copy for humans - not bots.
Think of a searcher’s intent and then do the best job you can of answering all possible queries in your copy. You’re not going to get marked down for publishing a longer piece if you’ve done your homework; the exact opposite in fact. So use all of the real estate possible to get your point across - but do your research first.
Because you know what?
Those keywords and related terms will come up naturally if you know what you’re talking about.
Tools to complement your copy (but trust your instincts)
Today, there are lots of handy tools to help you tighten up your copy.
Grammarly is a cross-platform extension that’ll review your spelling, grammar and punctuation. Not only that, it’ll sense-check the clarity of your copy to make sure it’s easy to read. However proficient you are as a copywriter, this free app is well worth downloading. Even if it’s just to speed up the QA process.
When it’s time to publish, Yoast SEO is a helpful plugin for WordPress. As the name suggests, its user-friendly traffic light system can help you with optimisation tips, e.g. keyword density. But don’t get too hung up on this that you ruin the natural flow of your copy. What’s even more helpful is the readability check which uses the Flesch Reading Ease score to make sure the narrative isn’t too clunky. Again, trust your instincts though. You’re the writer; this is just a helpful pair of artificial eyes.
10 tricks to conjure copywriting magic
OK, by no means an exhaustive list, here are ten pointers to remember when penning your prose:
- Plan ahead but don’t overthink it - any writer will tell you that the hardest part is getting started and putting yourself out there. Sit down, take a breath and start typing. You got this, Hemmingway
- Remember your target audience and tone of voice - imagine you’re talking to them individually. You’re not screaming at a crowded room, so go easy on the exclamation marks! Remember, great copy feels like a conversation. So, with that in mind...
- Use contractions, e.g. “That's close to my house.” instead of “That is close to my house.”
Try and stick to one idea per sentence - this stops things from getting too convoluted. Cut those lengthy sentences in two.
Use an active voice over a passive one - it’s more direct, energetic and concise. This style of writing puts the subject first, e.g. “You’ll pick up a couple of tips from this copywriting guide” as opposed to “Read this copywriting guide and you’ll pick up a couple of tips.”
Read it aloud - seems super simple, but it’s so important. Ask yourself: would a human say it like that? It’ll help you chop things down and add any punctuation of emphasis.
Avoid jargon and clichés - you want to create evergreen content that makes sense to everyone.
Get brutal with the edits - don’t be afraid to hack and slash that word count. Take out as many words as possible, whilst still keeping the meaning intact. Good copywriting isn’t always about what you put in; it’s what you take out that counts.
Remove and replace - get rid of repetitive words and phrases. Next, swap weaker adverbs with strong verbs, e.g. ‘very happy’ could become ‘ecstatic’.
Once you’ve finished, step away from the keyboard - don’t publish straight away. Leave it overnight if you can so that you can review it with fresh eyes. You’ll be surprised what you might pick up the next day.
Oh yeah, the Masked Magician did reveal his secrets, didn’t he? Doesn’t make those tricks any less impressive, though.
Written by Andy Baker
Andy is a creative copywriter, content strategist and vegan pizza connoisseur. When he’s not helping brands channel their tone of voices, he’s probably sketching, listening to records or throwing pebbles on the beach for his dog, Eric. Good boy.