Copywriting is writing text for advertising or marketing.
When you’re writing a business blog, you’re not just blogging for the enjoyment of it–it has a commercial purpose. Even if one of your goals with your content is to educate your readers, the other goal of convincing them to take an action that ultimately leads to a sale is always there.
Business blogging (content marketing) is digital copywriting.
As William Strunk noted in the famous (‘Strunk & White’) guide to style, The Elements of Style, you need to know the rules to break them.
Several of the rules below come from this famous, short guide, which has been helping writers of all kinds for 100 years.
(William Strunk originally published it privately for his students at Cornell in 1918. One of those students, EB White–copywriter, prominent New Yorker journalist and author of Charlotte’s Web–revised it and published it in 1959. In 2011, TIME named it one of the 100 best and most influential books written in English since 1923.)
Every writer can benefit from being familiar with The Elements of Style. Many professional writers always have a copy close at hand–almost as a badge of honor.
It’s the bible of clear writing.
The second hugely influential source in the world of copywriting is David Ogilvy. Ogilvy was the founder of the preeminent New York ad agency Ogilvy & Mather. He was known as the ‘father of advertising.’
His best-selling book, Ogilvy On Advertising is definitely recommended reading.
Ogilvy was also a master copywriter and a strong proponent of fundamental rules that governed goody copywriting.
Let’s take a look at 7 tips that will make your copywriting better and your content marketing more effective.
1. Work On Your Headline
Digital marketer Neil Patel, who has launched three different successful blogs, claims that ‘a catchy headline is your entry into your reader and potential customer’s world–and that’s a very busy space they occupy.
If your headline doesn’t attract a reader, no other part of your copy is going to matter. Nobody will read it.
As David Ogilvy famously put it, your headline is where you’re really putting your advertising money:
“On the average, five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy. When you have written your headline, you have spent eighty cents out of your dollar.”
Many writers think of the headline as an afterthought, focusing almost all effort on the interior copy. That’s a mistake.
There is only one reason your client or prospect will read a single word of the copy you’ve written: your headline.
Blogger Melanie Duncan, along with others, recommends using the 4 Us for headline writing: Useful, Urgent, Unique and Ultra-Specific.
Each of these qualities can be indicated by specific words and phrases. For instance, urgent:
Don’t make the mistake of trying to jam every feature of your article into you headline. Effective headlines focus on one or two key features. Cluttered headlines are confusing and ineffective.
Consider SEO objectives as well when writing headlines today. Is your primary keyword buried at the end of your headline? Is there a compelling reason for this, or could you move it closer to the start of your headline?
Finally, just because you’re focusing on writing a great headline doesn’t mean that needs to be the first step in your writing process. You can write your blog first, then come back for the headline.
Often, you’ll find your headline is already written (or nearly written) inside your article.
2. Avoid Grammar, Spelling, Punctuation, Slang and Metaphor Errors
Errors make your writing look bad. It’s as simple as that.
No matter how much value you’re delivering and no matter how well you know your subject, if your writing has errors your readers will get pulled out of your writing and doubt your expertise.
Avoiding writing errors is part of good writing.
Common grammar errors include incorrect subject-verb agreement and misused contractions (it’s vs. its). See the first chapter of The Elements of Style, which is devoted to correct usage. That short chapter will allow you to avoid thousands of cases of incorrect usage over the course of your writing career.
When it comes to spelling, make sure you spell check your articles. It takes very little time, but a surprising number of writers neglect to do so. Spelling errors generally make you look careless.
On social media–Twitter, in particular because of its space restrictions–allow for playful contractions and slang. Nite instead of night. Or thru for through. Or LOL. That’s understood and accepted.
But you should avoid these in your blog writing. They’re too informal and not necessary
Mixed metaphors can be easy to slip into. They get confusing (but amusing) for readers. Here’s an example from The Detroit News:
“I don’t think we should wait until the other shoe drops. History has already shown what is likely to happen. The ball has been down this court before and I can see already the light at the end of the tunnel.”
Metaphors are fine and can add depth to good writing. Just choose the one you want to go with and stick to it.
3. Be Brief, No Matter How Long Your Piece
Blaise Pascal, the 17th century French intellectual, famously said:
‘I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time.’
Any good writer can relate to this quote! It takes time and effort to be succinct. It’s far easier to simply write whatever comes into your mind. Especially when you’re writing for your own blog and are also he publisher.
Avoid this temptation. It’s actually lazy writing.
Instead, follow the very sage–and very succinct–advise of Strunk. Make every word tell.
A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.
You can –and often should–write long blog posts. Just make sure you’re not sacrificing quality in the pursuit of length.
One of the most common pitfalls to avoid is excessive adverbs and adjectives. These usually clutter up your writing and a lot can be added by removing them. Try to stick to nouns and verbs.
4. Research, Revise, Rewrite
Research primarily entails knowing your audience.
David Ogilvy had a great quote on its necessity:
“Advertisers who ignore research are as dangerous as generals who ignore the signs of the enemy. “
Ogilvy worked for George Gallup –who founded the famous Gallup Poll–before he started his own agency.
The man knew the value of understanding what people actually think and are interested in. Research your audience. Understand who you’re writing for.
What does your audience want or need? What does your audience already understand?
After research, you start the writing. Don’t hit publish immediately after writing. Schedule time to read what you’ve written and to edit and revise it.
This part is often neglected by less serious bloggers. But you’ll almost inevitably find that your content can be strengthened by revising and rewriting a bit.
5. Address Objections
Bill Bernbach was the adman behind the famous–and very successful– VW Beetle ads of the 1950s and 60s.
These ads changed advertising.
At a time when most Americans wanted a big car with lots of styling from Detroit, the VW Beetle was a small unadorned car made in Germany.
Rather than trying to mask these elements, Bernbach’s ads addressed them directly–treating his audience as smart and respecting it.
The campaign was a huge success and the Beetle became a secure piece of Americana.
Your audience has some objections to your product or service that need to be addressed. Don’t ignore them or act as though they don’t exist. Tackle them head on.
Your copy will sound much more honest and you’ll build more credibility.
6. Voice: Active, Confident, Direct and Humble
John Caples was one of the most effective copywriters in history.
He wrote some of the most successful direct mail pieces ever, including this ad for the US School of Music.
The man knew how to sell with words.
And he knew one word in particular was very important:
The most important word in the English language is you.
When you’re writing copy, address your audience directly. Use the word ‘you.’
David Ogilvy used to advise that you are not writing to an audience of hundreds with your advertising–you’re speaking directly to one person at a time. Address your audience directly, as though you’re speaking to one person.
Don’t recede into the passive voice and hope that no one really listens. Be active. Say what you mean. If you have direct advice, don’t be afraid to give it.
If you want your audience to take an action–to download content or sign up for your newsletter–say it. Be direct. Don’t act as though you’re not selling something. That’s annoying.
People are smart. They know you’re selling something. Don’t be overly subtle. Be confident.
Being genuinely confident in your writing is different from trying to make yourself the star of your copy. Be appropriately humble. Don’t play dumb, but don’t try to fill your writing with fancy words to show off.
As Strunk and White put it,
Do not be tempted by a twenty-dollar word when there is a ten-center handy, ready and able.
7. Be Specific
Specificity can be very compelling.
Does your software increase conversions very effectively? Or does it increase conversion by 27.6%?
Do you have lots of happy customers? Or do you have 29,456 satisfied customers?
When you have specific data points try to use them. They can work magic.
Practice Makes Perfect
“Never stop testing, and your advertising will never stop improving.”