One of my colleagues recently pointed out that I've been working as a freelance copywriter since 2002.
"Before Twitter and Facebook," she said. "Before Google was even a verb." Then, she giggled and asked me about the copywriting "rules" I've learned over the last fourteen years.
Here's the annoying thing about "rules": you can spend all your time learning them, only to have someone come along who proves why the rules don't matter. So today, I'm not going to talk about rules. Instead, I'm going to dig deep, think about my last decade-plus in the biz, and share copywriting techniques I swear by.
Here we go…
1. Write the way people talk.
If there's one key takeaway I've learned, it's this: write in a conversational style. Text that's easy to read and digest stands the best chance of being remembered and/or acted on. Not to mention your readers will thank you (even if only on a subconscious level).
Now here's the thing: in order to write the way people talk, you will need to violate certain "rules." You know, the ones you learned in high school English. That's OK. Go ahead and end your sentence with a preposition. Start your sentence with "and" or "but." Write a one- or two-word sentence. Yes, really. (See what I did there?) Keep it simple. Keep it conversational. And keep reminding any persnickety clients that "conversational" and "professional" are not mutually exclusive terms.
2. Create a tickler file.
Every one of my clients has its own tickler file where I squirrel away ideas, industry articles, headlines that resonate with me, marketing campaigns that caught my attention, and so forth. Then, when I need inspiration, I can access the file to jumpstart my brainstorming sessions. This has saved me MANY times over the years.
3. Dissect. A lot.
I'm sorry if the word "dissect" triggers nightmares from ninth grade biology class and that unfortunate incident with the frog, but hear me out. I spend an inordinate amount of time studying other marketing copy (see tickler file above) and dissecting why it's effective…or not.
See, copywriters are equal parts creators and borrowers. We create plenty of new stuff, sure. But we also "borrow" techniques that work for other writers. Nope, I'm not suggesting you plagiarize (that's a no-no). But, for example, if that one-word subject line made me curious enough to open the email, I might use that strategy for one of my client's emails.
4. TEST CONVERSION COPY.
I'm shouting for a reason, people. You should always test copy that's supposed to prompt someone to open, click, download, buy, and so forth. Think landing pages, Call-to-Action buttons, email subject lines, etc.
Test different copy concepts on a small audience. See which concept is the "winner" and use that as your control. Yes, it will take a little more time (and a little more set-up, depending on what you're testing), but the data you'll glean will make it worth it in the end—to both you and your client.
5. Find magic in leftovers.
When I start working with a new client, I conduct an "assets inventory." It's a fancy way of finding out what great content the client already has (e.g. blog posts, eBooks, white papers, case studies, videos, infographics…you get the idea).
Why do I do this? Isn't my job to create new content? Well, yes. That's part of my job. But the best copywriters are wizards at repurposing content.
Think of existing content like the leftovers in the fridge. You either ignore 'em, pushing them to the back where they'll grow green fuzz or WORSE—you serve up the leftovers with the same boring presentation as last night.
But the inventive cook will reimagine and repurpose leftovers in a way that makes the food tasty and satisfying. A good copywriter will do the same thing. She'll look at the existing assets library and find a way to deliver the content in a fresh and exciting manner. For example, I love taking a white paper's core content and creating a series of blog posts. And then a visual like an infographic or SlideShare presentation.
The benefit: Repurposing existing content ensures that the content gets the exposure it deserves. And repurposing existing content tends to cost less than developing original content from scratch. This helps stretch the client's marketing budget even further.
By the way, this re-purposing strategy isn't just for new clients. Re-purposing existing content should be the cornerstone of any content creation plan.
6. Let things marinate overnight.
OK, I have food on the brain. Whatever it takes to get my point across. I've definitely written copy that I've had to deliver the same day (or even the same hour). Certain deadlines demand quick turnarounds. And I know the copy I wrote was perfectly fine. That said, my copy, like a good marinade, always improves if it sits overnight (or longer).
Letting copy sit overnight can turn good copy into great copy because you'll see things your brain missed: awkward phrasing, unclear messages, typos, and word choice errors.
7. Have another writer look at your copy.
It's easy to get too close to your own copy, which is why it helps to have another set of eyes review the work. But a word of caution: use a writer you know and trust rather than some random person on the street or your Aunt Gertrude.
Asking Aunt Gert would be weird for many reasons, but the biggest one is this: unless good ol' Gert has a solid understanding of—and experience in—marketing copy, grammar, punctuation, and so forth, what insights can she really offer?
Here's a real-life example that illustrates my point: recently, a fabulous PMG writer sent me a case study he'd been slaving over for a client. It was long, and he knew it was too long, but he was so invested in it, he didn't know what to cut. Enter me doing my best Edward Scissorhands impression. Because I wasn't wedded to the copy and because I understand how to write case studies (unlike Aunt Gert), I could easily see what he could lose without changing the meaning, tone, and overall feel. And once he got over the shock of my slashing and cutting, he could appreciate it, as well.
Confession: it's always nerve wracking giving my copy to another writer. But some of the best work I've ever produced has happened because I collaborated with another copywriter who saw something or suggested something I missed or hadn't thought of.
There you have it. Seven copywriting techniques I swear by—techniques that I've learned since long before Facebook was a twinkle in Mark Zuckerberg's eye.
Are you a writer? What other techniques do you follow? Share in the comments. And, of course, if you're looking for kick-ass copywriters for your marketing, PMG's got you covered. Contact us today and let's chat.