Gone are the days of cold calling – now small businesses can unashamedly take advantage of digital marketing and the newest kid on the block: content marketing.
One of the great ways to attract new prospects and solidify your brand is to communicate your offer effectively and reach out to communities that might be interested in your services. But how do you make sure the content you create meets the standards of the industry and beyond?
Content marketing incorporates all formats of content that can be shared online, including:
- E-books, and
In this post we focus on copywriting, one of the most essential components of online marketing, and simple ways to improve it. In subsequent posts we will explore other types of content so make sure you subscribe to our blog to be notified! But for now, stay tuned if you want to learn how to plan, prepare and improve your web copy.
So you think you can write? Good, but how well is your writing aligned with your audience’s needs, and how long does it stay in their memory? Do your headlines compel your readers to dive straight into the body of your articles, hungry to explore more, or do you lose them before they even finish reading the first sentence?
Before we explore ways to improve your writing in detail, perhaps at this point we should define what we mean by copy and by selling.
Unlike more traditional outbound marketing (TV and print adverts, flyers, brochures, cold calling, etc), content marketing relies on consistently producing and distributing high quality content to attract and retain customers and prospects. As we communicate through stories, and increasingly often online, advice offered in this post refers to all kinds of digital copy, especially blog and website copy, as the basis of most online communications.
By selling we mean compelling your readers to complete a desired action, e.g. signing up for a newsletter, downloading an e-book, leaving contact details, or finally buying a product or service. Most of the time, the direct result of a solid content marketing campaign is the creation of an active community around a brand that helps turn prospects into leads.
Effective copywriting should contain the following six steps:
- Research: audience, product, competition.
- Outline and guideposts.
- Draft copy.
- Conversion boost.
Solid research is the most important fundament of your writing, so you are likely to spend most of the time allocated to the project doing research. Looking into your audience will reveal where they hang out and what language they use, what they are looking for and what are the best ways to approach them. If your copy is about a specific product or service, ensure you have all the necessary information, including any flaws and shortcomings you can address head-on. Finally, research into competition will allow you to learn from others’ mistakes and show you what tactics work and what don’t, and how you can differentiate your copy from similar suppliers on the market.
Outline and guideposts
Take a few minutes to draft an outline of main points and guideposts that will form the skeleton of your copy and help you keep focused while you’re writing. Don’t forget to include a value proposition – a promise of value to be delivered.
Follow three main rules to create an excellent draft: avoid jargon, be specific, and make the copy about your customers, not yourself.
– Avoid jargon
If you want your copy to be understood and enjoyed, use plain language to express complex ideas. Look into your past writing and identify any clichés or meaningless phrases you have been guilty of committing, such as: “paradigm shifting…”, “on-demand marketing software”, “integrated solutions”, “changing the way X is done”, or “flexible platform”. It’s easy to become lazy about writing and just pick phrases we hear thrown around the ether without really questioning their meaning and value. Stop and think, or else you’ll be wasting precious attention time with meaningless babble. You can see a list of the top 100 most overused buzzwords and marketing speak in press releases here.
Being specific about your product helps avoid empty superlatives that often seem so appealing to copywriters. What are the benefits of your product? What are the dangers? What makes you different? Specificity is believable, convincing and attractive.
Make it about your customers, not yourself
People care about themselves, not you – so make sure your copy contains a cure for the problems they may have (see audience research to determine what this might be). Instead of saying: “We offer website design services” say: “Dazzle your customers with a new, sleek website”.
Once you have your draft copy in place, it’s time to consider a conversion boost. How to make the copy sell better and convert more readers into buyers (leads, subscribers)? Smashing Magazine suggests using three guides:
- Conversion frameworks.
- Science of persuasion.
- Neuromarketing research.
For a detailed explanation of each guide, head over to Quick Course on Effective Website Copywriting.
Most effective revision happens after a good night’s sleep. Take a rest from writing and come back to your copy with fresh eyes; you’ll be more likely to spot mistakes, inconsistencies and breaks in the general flow. Now it’s time to add any missing information, fix typos and rearrange the blocks. Are any potential questions left unanswered? Ask two or three people for feedback, one of them your ideal customer, and one of them your fellow marketer.
Once the revision is done, you can split test two versions of the copy simultaneously using A/B testing tools if you would rather rely on numbers than on your intuition. For a guide to A/B testing, go to Visual Website Optimizer’s Complete Guide to A/B Testing.
The structure will depend on the piece of content you’re writing, but the basic structure applicable to most copy goes as follows:
- Headline – aka the attention grabber. What is the benefit of your offer?
- Sub-headline or a two-to-three sentence paragraph – a more specific explanation of what you offer, for whom and how it is useful.
- Bullet points – a list of key features.
- Body – the main chunk of your copy where you should expand on your bullet points.
Pay special attention to your headline – it determines whether the copy below it gets read or not. Write a solid, curiosity-stimulating headline that works. How? You can get some inspiration from the past, tried-and-tested headline templates found here.
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.
We communicate through stories. If you want to draw the reader in, paint a world for them, transport them there and offer them a bit of drama. People engage with the copy if they can relate to the elements of the story, be it the character’s struggle and how they overcome it, metaphors that resonate with their experiences, or suspense.
According to research from social psychologists Melanie Green and Timothy Brock, stories are persuasive because they have a tendency to get in ‘under the radar’ and take the readers to a place where they are likely to embrace ideas they might normally scoff at.
It’s all good if you’re a gifted writer with a natural flair, but what about the rest of us?
According to additional research by the pair, the following tactics work well:
- Detailed imagery,
- Modelling (transformation tales),
- Metaphors and irony.
You may also consider including the following ‘power words’:
- “You” (also someone’s name if you know it),
Every story will be different, but the most commonly used and successful structure usually contains the following four elements:
Introduce the pain. Show how the character(s) led a normal life before a change of events. Pick an element from the middle of your story and allude to it at the very beginning to pique your readers’ curiosity and keep them wanting to know more.
We’re instantly drawn to dialogue because it’s easy to read. Include dialogue to break up the story and keep your readers interested.
Every story is centred on a conflict to be solved. What happens to the main character if they fail to respond to the threat? What does her journey look like as she faces this challenge? As action develops and events reach zenith, the plot culminates in climax right before dissolving into resolution.
Finally, your product or service is introduced as the cure for your character’s problem.
Here you can share specific results to increase the credibility of your product and increase conversion.
Copywriting is about combining two elements: diligent research and a creative assemblage of available, timely and relevant information in a concise and interesting manner that is a perfect fit for your audience’s needs. To create copy that converts employ your creativity: transport the readers into a story rich with characters and drama, but keep it sharp and believable with evidence and statistics that back up your claims. Pay special attention to your headlines and keep your language clean and devoid of unnecessary jargon throughout. And above all, test – always keep an eye on how well your copy performs, and never stop improving.
Are you a copywriter? Share your tips in the comments section below.
Do you need help with your content marketing strategy? Give us a call today to discuss what we can do for you and your business!
Zaneta Stepien @BUNKER48
BUNKER48 provides a full technical & digital service for SMEs, including building websites and managing your IT needs.