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Everyone knows what a doctor, lawyer or engineer does. But tell someone you’re a copywriter, and watch them go: “Huh?” Or maybe they’ll react with TV enlightenment: “Oh, you mean you’re like Mad Men, or the guys in Shark Tank?” Er, no — not quite. Not all copywriters are male or work in an aquarium surrounded by predatory fish. (The insanity part, however, is debatable.) So here’s a primer for you: Copywriting 101.

1. Just What Is Copywriting?

Remember the story of the group of blind men and the elephant? Each one touches a different part, and describes the creature differently. One thinks it’s a pillar (the leg), another calls it a rope (the tail), etc. It’s the same thing with copywriting; the term has many descriptions. But what’s unanimously agreed is that copywriting is meant to persuade. Simply put, it involves producing words which create in the reader the desire to take a specific action.

Think of copywriters as word soldiers engaged in a mental battle. They infiltrate the minds of readers and give them a little nudge (or a big push, if it’s deemed necessary) to get them to do what you (or, in most cases, your client) would like. And what is it that you or your client want to achieve? It could be anything, really — from boosting sales of your products and services to getting more subscriptions.

 

Cat with mouth wide open

“Do you hearrr me?”

 

2. What Exactly Does A Copywriter Do?

A copywriter is like that one loud person in your life constantly encouraging or forcing you to get things done. Like your concerned Mom telling you to eat healthy. Or a fun friend asking you out. Or a haunting PE teacher yelling at you to run faster. A copywriter does just that: he or she gets you to take action — with the written word (copy). And the better the copy, the more successful the copywriter is in attaining his or her objective.

For example, look at the 3 posters below:

Advertisement on the dangers of Texting when you Drive Seasonal Beer Advertisement -- Jingle Bells Advertisement on Banning Guns for Children's Protection in America

Notice how the copywriter has gone from Concerned (don’t drive and text), to Fun (beer advertisement), to Haunting (assault weapons)? In effect, it’s a transition from Mother to Friend to Scary Teacher. Which is another important thing a copywriter does: take on different roles. Remember the cliche, “I can be whoever you want me to be”? That may well be part of the sales pitch for a client. So it boils down to this: a copywriter is a “salesperson in print” with a personality disorder.

3. Why Is Copywriting So Important?

Because it is THE crucial aspect that gets a reader to take action.

Imagine a dashing man or woman: great physique, sharp dresser, obvious head-turner. But when they open their mouth, the favourable impression is smashed. Because what comes out isn’t just unintelligible mumbling, but breath that would put Satan’s fart to shame. Is this the kind of person you’d want to introduce to your family and friends?

That’s what bad copywriting is like: it carries the stench of devilish anal wind. Then it doesn’t matter if you have an extensive database, a great blog layout, or spectacular graphics. If your text fails to deliver, your entire effort dissipates into evil flatulence.

 

Satan cartoon

“Get prepared to be blown away…”

 

Let’s Talk Specifics

What benefits can you expect from good copywriting?

1) Distinct Brand Image
It gives your brand a unique voice and personality, making it stand out from its competitors. This not only gives you greater market prominence, but eventually leads to better market positioning too.

2) High Ranking On Google (SEO Optimisation)
Google introduced an algorithm (Panda) in 2011 that ranks websites with better content higher on search engine result pages (SERPs). So if you use Google to promote your products, good copy is the route to higher ranking. (And if, perchance, you don’t use Google, we strongly urge you to consider using it.)

3) More Shares On Social Media
We all know that going viral is about the best thing you can hope for on social media. But a respectable number of “shares” go a long way too. The better your copy, the higher its chances of being “liked” and shared. And this translates to greater awareness and a bigger audience reach.

4) Good User Experience On Your Website
It’s a lot easier for users to navigate your website if it has easy-to-understand and directive copy. This means readers will stay on your site longer, giving it more time to sell itself.

5) Gaining A Reputation As An Industry Expert
Providing readers insightful, relevant and well-presented copy will establish you in their eyes as an industry expert. This will raise your credibility.

6) Gaining Your Readers’ Trust
When you write copy that resonates with your readers’ needs, offering them solutions, you create a bond of empathy. This makes it easier for them to trust you.

7) Ka-ching!
Good copywriting will make you a whole lot of money.

In a nutshell: copywriting is important because, when done right, it can endow you with the Jedi’s mind control powers.

 

Good Copywriting is like having Jedi Mind Control Powers

It’s our fattening burger that your belly seeks…

 

4. “Same Same — But Different”

If you’ve been to Bangkok, you’ll know this charming Thai-English expression is commonly used there. This applies to the term “copywriting” too. Several prefixes are attached to it that show the various forms are similar, yet different: creative, web, technical, etc. Quite often, they are even used interchangeably. So here’s a quick overview. (And don’t worry if you find this inadequate, because we’ll discuss this in more detail in a future post.)

Different Types Of Copywriting

– Creative Copywriting: Creative copywriters produce impactful and memorable copy by compressing big ideas into small words. (The posters in the section above, “What Exactly Does A Copywriter Do?”, are excellent examples.)

– Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) Copywriting: SEO copywriting is specific and methodical. SEO copywriters write more for Google’s eyes than human eyes. They study copywriting formulas, and then write copy that will raise the website’s ranking on Google Search.

– Web Copywriting: This is a broader area than the two above, Web copywriters write for online platforms (websites, blogs, social media, etc), and also for mobile applications. They work towards creating a good user experience and a higher conversion rate (turning readers into customers). Often, they may have to work on SEO optimisation as well.

– Technical Copywriting: Technical copywriters must have not only an affinity with words, but also possess profound industry or subject matter knowledge. They work on specialised projects targeted at niche markets. For instance, they could be hired by the railway industry to write about a “Premium Railway Communications Tool to Mobilise Intelligence via a Single Converged Communications Platform” (whatever that means).

The Medium

Where do copywriters show their magic? In many places: direct mail (material sent through the postal service), print advertisements, billboards, posters, brochures, social media, e-mails, websites, blogs, press releases, etc. In fact, virtually anywhere that you can display words for an audience to read can be a medium.

 

Close up of a face with printed text pasted all over it

And sometimes, all up in your face…

5. Becoming A Copywriter

Copywriting is easier for some people; they are natural wordsmiths, while others are struggling smiths. That’s because copywriting isn’t only about using the right “tools” (words and devices), but also about appreciating the art itself. It’s not just good vocabulary and grammar; it’s words that excite, sentences that exhort.

For example, a photo blogger could have a segment on his or her website titled “Photographs from my Travels around S.E.A.” or “South East Asia – my Journey in Pixels”. Neither title would be inaccurate or wrong, but each holds a different appeal. Being a good copywriter is about being aware of that subtle difference, and conveying the precise nuance you want.

The best way to start your copywriting journey is to first get inspired. No idea was ever created in a vacuum; even the best of us get inspiration from somewhere. So there’s no shame in learning from other people’s work. The World Wide Web is a gold mine for quality copywriting. You’ve got all the resources you need right there at your fingertips.

There are numerous websites dedicated to creative copywriting (such as this one). And to learn web copywriting, don’t just read but study the websites of industry giants like Apple and Airbnb. Both these websites have great copy which provides a veritable master class in copywriting.

In addition, use your day-to-day life as a source of inspiration. Whenever you come across an article or phrase you find striking, pause and ponder what appeals to you about it. Then think of how you can use that in your own writing.

Remember: if somebody like Donald Trump can become US president, there’s no reason why you can’t be a copywriter.

 

Photograph of Donald Trump Pointing

You’re F….err…Hired!

6. Copywriting Tips

1) Research, Research, Research!

Copywriters generally believe that about half the time spent on a project should be dedicated to research. This allows you to acquire deep knowledge about 3 main things: your product, your market, and your audience.

Your Product

Get to know your product as well as you know the TV show you’re currently binge-watching. If you sell vintage furniture, say, learn its origin/history, function, aesthetic value, scent and inscriptions (if any), exact colour tones, cleaning and preservation techniques, etc. You get the drift — the more obsessive you get about it, the better.

Your Market

Your product research will show you how and where to position your brand. Using the vintage furniture example, it would be wiser to position yourself in a specific market like “vintage and retro furniture” instead of the bigger and more generic market “furniture”.

Once you’ve picked your market, study the competition. What does your product offer that your competitors’ products don’t? Just as importantly: what are your competitors offering that you aren’t? After you understand your competitors’ strengths and weaknesses, use your copywriting magic to persuade readers to choose your products. Convince them that buying competing products would be a wrong decision, leading them down a spiral of misery.

Remember: it’s not about being the best you can be; it’s about being better than the competition.

Your Audience

There are 2 aspects here: demographics, and psychology. Demographics refers to factors like gender, age, income and nationality, while psychology denotes things like personal interests, lifestyle, ideology and principles.

These considerations will help you understand your reader. For vintage furniture, say, chances are you will target people in a higher income bracket. Money isn’t much of a concern for them; it’s the value they perceive in the product. So the question to answer is: what do such readers consider “value”? Coming up with the right response will enable you to write persuasive copy.

 

Table full of paper work and research

Be as thorough as you can be

 

2) The Customer Is Always Right?

No, that’s not true; some customers are actually dimwitted ignoramuses. Still, the customer always comes first, so keep this in mind when you’re writing copy. Because your readers don’t really care about how revolutionary your product is; they just care about how it’ll affect them.

So always put “benefits” and “you” before “features” and “we”. For example:
Features & We: “We have a new Heat Gel with herbal ingredients for muscle aches!”
Benefits & You: “Feel the heat and dissolve your aches with the new herbal Heat Gel!”

See the difference it makes? Instead of talking about what your product is like, you talk about what your product can do. You’re not speaking at your reader; you’re speaking to your reader.

On top of that, tone and delivery play a huge role. Deciding which to adopt would be based on your research. You must be familiar not only with your readers’ problems, but also their interests and lifestyle. Incorporate these considerations into your copy wherever you can, to be more relatable. For instance, who are you targeting with the Heat Gel: manual workers, sportsmen, office workers? Depending on who your primary target audience is, include a bit about sports injuries or workplace-related mishaps, etc.

 

Dog in queue at a lemonade stand

Customer first; no judgement!

 

3) Never Underestimate The Importance Of A Good Headline

Not sure about this one? Then get it straight from the horse’s mouth. David Ogilvy (essentially an advertising god) says: “On the average, five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy.” Even more shocking is the figure from a 2016 Forbes report: “59% of all links shared on social networks aren’t actually clicked on…implying the majority of article shares aren’t based on actual reading.”

The 2 main reasons cited for the statistics above are:

(i) Short Attention Span: This is no secret; we all suffer from it. Especially since we now live in a sea of distractions, it’s even harder to keep afloat for extended periods.

(ii) Laziness & Image: “It takes less time and effort to share an article than it does to actually read it. (Sharing the article) also comes with greater rewards like…attention (and perhaps respect) from friends and followers…whereas actually reading it doesn’t earn you anything extrinsic.” – Forbes

Now that you know the trend, mindset, and how most readers operate, let’s get down to writing good headlines.

A headline is your entire story in a few words. It should not only be a summary, but also convey unique sentiment — targeted at your desired readers while arousing their curiosity.

“Dirty Tricks” For Crystal-Clear Headlines – Examples Of What To Include:

– Numbers:
“6 Practices to get that Promotion you Deserve!”

– Shocking Statistics:
“Fly no Fear: 96% of Passengers in Plane Crashes Survive”

– Use Impactful Words to Stimulate Awe:
“Recipes for 10 Dishes Worthy of Greek Gods”
“Escaping the Clutches of Death: Accounts of a War Hero”

– Use Positive and Negative Words:
“No Way José! Travel Guide of What NOT to do in Mexico”
“Top 5 Italian Restaurants serving Exquisite Spaghetti”

– Use Words that Imply What an Easy and Speedy Read your Article is:
“Quick Methods to…”, “Simple Techniques…”, “Step-by-Step Guide to…”

– Always Google articles on similar topics, and strive to write a different and better headline than what’s already out there

– Use the CoSchedule Headline Analyzer for more perspective. Ideally, you would want a Headline Score above 70

 

Newspaper Headline: "Republicans turned off by size of Obama's package"

Even politics welcomes innuendos!

 

4) How To Write The Body

– Plan A Structure
Decide what you want to write about and why, and be clear about the scope of your article. After deciding which areas you’d like to focus on, plan its flow accordingly. For example, if you’re writing on a broad topic like “Working From Home”, choose what aspects you want to cover– say, types of jobs available, expected salary, tips, pros and cons, etc.

– Subheadings
Always assume that your readers will scan through your article quickly — because, more often than not, that’s what happens. Give your text clear and direct subheadings, so that your readers can instantly zoom in on sections that interest them.

– Same Point, Different Routes
Never forget your aim in writing your article. That is: what action would you like your reader to take? Always return to that. Repeat yourself and the central point you’re making in different ways — using stories, anecdotes, quotes, etc.

– Keep It Simple
Unless you are a technical copywriter, avoid jargon. If you speak of concepts or technologies that are not common knowledge, always explain them in simple language.

 

Person writing in a notebook

Planning a structure really pays off

 

5) Proofread!

This should be obvious, but since it’s so important, I’m driving the point home by emphasising it here. Proofread your article — several times. After all the work you’ve put in, don’t lose a reader or credibility over a silly spelling error or grammatical mistake.

 

Sign in Supermarket with Cookies spelt incorrectly

Don’t be that person

 

Okay, folks — that’s it for Copywriting 101. This post should be enough of an overview to get you started on your journey. Hopefully, I’ve covered all your basic questions. But if I haven’t, feel free to write us, and we’ll happily provide you more information. All the best!  🙂

 

Images: camillekimberly, chechiohalifaxjonesvinylonegageskidmore, margrethevesthwiersholm, tomaisashdenealexskopjecatsyalejandroescamillaliacatherine