At 17 years old, all of my friends had just started their first jobs taking orders at McDonald’s, stocking grocery store shelves, and, well, stocking more grocery store shelves.
Being the arrogant teenager that I was, I went looking for ways to make money without subjecting myself to a typical first job, something I deemed soul-crushing and beneath me (based on absolutely no measurable merits of my own, mind you).
I eventually found myself down the ‘Make money online’ rabbit hole, and landed on a site called Wealthy Affiliate.
As I read down the homepage, I navigated through a well-crafted sales letter.
By the time I hit the end of it, I was hooked.
I signed up. This site had promised to teach me how to make money online as an affiliate marketer and I gladly handed over a none-too-small-for-a-17-year-old sum of money.
Little did I know it at the time, but I had weaved my way through masterfully crafted copy that had transformed me from curious researcher to enthusiastic buyer in just a couple of laptop screens worth of text.
As fate would have it, I was never destined to become a “wealthy affiliate.”
But – by no small factor of irony – that first step into entrepreneurship lead me to a curiosity in copywriting, which in turn lead to supporting myself through college as a freelance writer, which in turn landed me where I am now: Writing my butt off every day from the cozy offices of a Stockholm tech startup.
Words have been good to me, and they can be good to you too.
Even as new media trends and the platforms to support them pop up every day, mastering the written word is still valuable no matter your industry, company size, personal goals, or job description.
So, regardless of your current writing skills, here are 21 copywriting hacks that will without fail take your persuasive writing game to the next level:
#1) Tailor tone to your audience:
Even good writing can completely miss its mark if the ‘tone’ of a piece doesn’t match with its readers. Whenever you create any piece of communications, from a sales letter, to a blog post, to an email, to even a tweet, make sure that the way you’re writing makes sense for your audience. Don’t write in an overly energetic, cheeky tone if your audience will view it as cocky or off-putting. If that’s what they respond to, however, then full speed ahead.
#2) Tailor that vocab, too:
Just like with your tone, the vocabulary you use needs to be understood by your audience.
As an example: Let’s say you own an app that helps people find nearby Pizza shops and want to send out an email about your latest update.
Using abbreviations like UX, SaaS, etc. might make sense if your audience consisted of other tech startups and developers, but communicating with everyday users would be better serviced by writing out and explaining any words they might not be familiar with – or leaving them out altogether.
#3) Strategize your tone of voice:
Just as you adjust your tone of voice for your audience, you need to think about how all of your communications can be made to sound like they’re coming from the same person or brand.
Consider repeating phrases and topics across your various web and social media channels so that someone who finds your twitter account can immediately identify they’ve reached the same company who sent them an email earlier that day.
#4) Hit the relevant buttons:
If it wasn’t abundantly clear yet, knowing your audience inside and out is super important! When writing copy, you want to hit on the types of emotions or triggers that are most likely to resonate with your audience.
For example, this Helpscout post on marketing to audiences who are generally thrifty and reserved in their spending, recommends copy focus more on the utility of a product, rather than the pleasure or emotional satisfaction it will bring (which are effective triggers for audiences with more of a propensity to spend).
#5) Drop the adjectives:
One mistake that a lot of people make when crafting their own copy is to get too detailed with describing one thing. When writing your copy, especially in a promotional or sales piece, excessive descriptors can actually weaken your message.
Take a look at this headline for example:
“Who else wants to learn how to create stunning, fantastic, killer webpages in the shortest amount of time possible?”
It’s just so damn cheesey. But headlines like this get used all the time.
‘Stunning’ is an alright word, because it’s not overused yet, and it also has a real meaning with regards to website building (stunning is essentially a stand-in for “good looking”) but tacking on more general adjectives with no specific relevance to the issue at hand just sounds silly.
#5.5) As an aside, the headline lacks specificity, another tenant of good copywriting. If I were rewriting the above headline for a client, I would boil it down to something like:
“Learn how to create stunning webpages in 7 minutes or less!”
One relevant adjective, specific promised result, good to go.
#6) Say no to adverbs:
Adverbs are words like ‘very’ and ‘extremely’, which are meant to increase the impact of an adjective. Unfortunately for amateur copywriters, they just give readers extra words to read and don’t offer additional value.
Instead of adding an adverb, think of better verb that combines the adverb with your original verb. Here’s an example of how that works.
Instead of saying “she walked slowly to her bed”, just say “she shuffled to her bed.” There, now you’ve encapsulated slowly walking in a single word that paints a more specific picture in the reader’s mind.
In some cases, using adverbs can make readers think you’re downright stupid, something you definitely don’t want when trying to establish authority or convince someone to become a customer.
Example: “Our product is extremely unique!”
By definition, something is either unique (completely different from all others), or it is not; there is no such thing as “very unique” or “extremely unique” in proper English.
#7) Learn to reframe value into more digestible terms:
Sometimes, especially when asking someone to pay for something, reframing the cost of your product can be extremely powerful.
If you’ve got a piece of software that costs $35 per month, here’s how you might reframe a line in your sales copy:
“Get your complete customer service solution with Acme Helpdesk, for only $35 per month!”
try something like
“Get your complete customer service solution with Acme Helpdesk, for less than the cost of your daily coffee.”
The coffee example is a bit overused these days, but think of expenses in your readers’ lives you might be able to use to break down and justify your cost.
#8) Make your prospects convince themselves to buy:
One of the most eye-opening pieces of copywriting advice I ever got comes from Drew Eric Whitman’s book Cashvertising, and it’s called the ‘foot in the door’ principle.
The concept is intuitive and simple, and states that getting a prospect to agree to a smaller action, or agree with you on something small, helps build trust and makes them more likely to agree to a larger action.
There are a number of ways to illustrate this concept, but it is the reason you see every blog asking for your email address for a free guide or incentive before they try and sell you their $100 product.
It’s the basic premise behind the entire ‘free trial’ model.
It’s the reason people go buy/download an artist’s entire album after hearing one song on the radio, and not the other way around (‘I liked that song of Ed Sheeran’s, therefore maybe I should check out his full album, etc.’).
It’s the reason it works to ask someone first to place a free yard sign in their yard supporting a political candidate, and then later asking that person to donate to the candidate’s campaign after they’ve already shown they support him or her through the smaller yard sign action.
Think of small, easy to agree with questions you can ask in your copy. One great way to do this is to have checkboxes in your sales letters that can be clicked when a prospect is mentally nodding along with what you’re saying.
#9) Become a Factbacker:
See how I’ve linked to a book in my explanation of number 8? You’ll also notice that I reference and link to a Copyblogger article in my explanation of number 10.
These are both examples of being a ‘factbacker’. Alright, alright, I made up the word factbacker, but let’s just go with it for now.
Becoming a factbacker means backing up your claims and writing with specific facts, references, and studies that add weight and authority to what you’re saying.
Taking the extra time to back up your ideas with the work of others – or in some cases find out that your own preconceptions might actully be wrong – can help your perceived authority and trust in a subject.
#10) Coin phrases:
What the heck is a “Factbacker?” You didn’t know one minute ago, but you’ll probably remember it from now on. You’ll probably also remember where you learned it.
Copyblogger wrote a post on making up words in your own content – something they show Shakespeare did with a ridiculous frequency. In it, they explore some techniques, and note that it can help aid in slowing a reader down and getting them to pay attention and take in your copy.
Think about how you normally read: Once you hit a word you don’t know, you probably pause for a second to try and figure it out, or maybe even look it up, right?
#11) Get spacey with your formatting:
I’ve broken my own rule a couple of times in this post, but in general you never want more than two to three lines in any one block of text when writing online.
Learning to break up your online writing for readability will be a conscious effort at first – we’re all taught to write in beefy paragraphs in school – but will become second nature after a couple of weeks or months of regular blogging or copywriting.
Doing this helps give the impression of a quicker read, as well, and makes it easier for readers to make their way down a page without losing their place.
#12) Write what you know:
To put it nicely, readers can tell when you have no freaking clue what you’re talking about.
Make sure you do your research before you start in on writing any kind of communication. Not only does this help it sound authoritative and genuine, but it can help you from rambling on.
For this post, for example, I spent a couple of hours researching and outlining my points before I actually started filling in the details.
#13) Know more (to facilitate #12):
If #12 is true, then the only way to write more is to… *drumroll please*… know more!
The best copywriters constantly read and practice their craft. When it comes to getting together specific pieces for clients, I regularly put more time into the research and reading to learn about a topic than the actual writing itself.
#14) Abuse the mirror neurons
Researchers have found both human beings and other animals experience the same brain patterns of neuron firing when they’re watching someone else perform an action as they would if they were doing the action themselves.
Copywriters can take advantage of this phenomenon by painting pictures with stories in their copy. Leading into a written piece with a story of success or laden with a certain emotion can help put your readers in exactly the mental state you want them to be in.
Perfecting this takes time, but just keeping it in mind as you practice writing more and more will help the skill naturally develop – I promise!
#15) Make it shiny:
People love feeling like they’re in on something new and exclusive, and in most cases the value of your product is that it brings something new to a certain market.
Play up that aspect in your copy. In startups, where services are often up against industry giants but with some new or additional features, the “differentiating features” are what you want to play up.
#16) Hit ‘em with the life-changing benefits:
This piece of advice has been written in countless copywriting, and usually appears as “Write about benefits, not features.”
I intentionally wrote it differently here because I didn’t want readers to think “Oh, I know that one already!” and skip over it, because it is so important.
When you are writing about your product, your product doesn’t matter. Now read that again.
All that matters is the benefits your customer will get, and how their life will be positively affected.
“The Hoover 3000 has new turbo suction technology!”
“The Hoover 3000 will leave your carpets as clean as the day you moved in!”
Not only does the second headline focus on a benefit the buyer will get, instead of the feature that leads to that benefit, it also references a specific event (the day they moved into their new house/apartment).
#17) Lead with a related narrative:
The awesome startup team over at Groove published this guest post that showed story driven introductions to their posts increased average reading time by over 300%.
Stories, in addition to triggering that mirror neuron phenomenon we talked about earlier, can serve as a much more interesting intro for getting people hooked than if you jumped right into the facts and figures (your factbacking, remember?).
Consider a short narrative that sets up what you want to talk about and captures reader curiosity before they hit the meat of your blog post/sales letter/email.
#18) Seal the deal in the post-script:
Have you ever noticed how online sales letters often have one, two, or even three P.S. sections after the ‘ask’ (where a reader is asked to pay or take some desired action)?
This is because prospects sometimes like to skip around copy, or may need some extra convincing after they’ve been shown your offer.
Have some strong points to reiterate in new ways near the end of your copy, as a way of summarizing and making one last strong push to take action.
#19) Grammar is good, but sales are gooder:
In most cases, you want your grammar to be perfect and allude to some sort of writing prowess.
That said, sometimes proper comma usage or phrasing can slow down the flow of reading, or might not even make that much sense for the tone of voice that works for your audience.
Your spelling should always be on-point, but grammar and sentence structure is a bit more variable depending on what you know about your audience.
#20) Murder your babies. No, wait, that’s not the phrase!
‘Kill your darlings’ is the slightly less gruesome colloquialism I was looking for.
Killing your darlings means not getting too tied to any word, phrase, sentence, or paragraph, so that you can’t cut it out if, upon revision, you find it doesn’t quite fit or add value to the rest of your piece.
Another phrase that speaks to the same idea is “no one knows what ended up on the cutting room floor.”
It means that while you may mourn the loss of a super-cool line you liked but had to cut out for the sake of clarity, your readers will never know that something else was originally included in your copy, so they’ll never miss it.
#21) Be happy, dammit:
Copywriting, like most things, is directly reflective of the effort you put into it, and it’s easier to put effort into things you enjoy.
Understandably, if you don’t like writing or aren’t confident in your abilities, this can be difficult.
My quick suggestions for having more fun while you write:
- Write in bursts; a cycle of 25 minutes of keyboard hammering followed by a 5 minute break works well for me.
- Reframe your thinking by having goals for your writing, and celebrate when you reach them. Get your first 500 word article published? Buy yourself a sweet treat! Get a customer from your first sales letter? BREAK OUT THE TEQUILA, BABY.
- Play your favorite genre of non-vocal music while you write. Having a nice, non-distracting beat in the background helps me with my typing flow.
- Just write. Don’t worry about editing during your first run through, just let your fingers fly and enjoy your own outpouring of creativity; you can go back and apply these 21 tips your copy later.
Well, I think that just about does it for today – even us copywriters are entitled to a break every few thousands words!
What should you do now?
1. Leave a comment below with a favorite writing tip of your own, or ask a writing for business question you’ve been dying to know the answer to!
2. Check out The Responster Blog, where I write posts like this 3x per week for entrepreneurs and startups.
To your success,