Whether you’re a professional writer yourself or a marketer tasked with writing powerful, effective content, you need to write like a pro to get the job done. Use these top 10 secrets of professional copywriters to make your copy stand out from the competition and get results.
10. Research, research, research!
The more research you do, the more information you have to work with when you sit down to write your copy. All professional copywriters extol the virtues of adequate research.
The Father of Advertising David Ogilvy, Copywriting Hall of Fame inductee John Caples, and modern million-dollar copywriter Gary Bencivenga all recommend extensive research as one of the secrets of writing great copy.
I learned that good copywriters get to know so much about the product and the prospect and his or her wants, fears, assumptions, and lingo that the copy soon wants to burst forth as if a dam is breaking. I learned that research is the infallible cure for writer’s block. ~ Gary Bencivenga ~
What do you need to research to write like a pro?
- your target audience’s pains, needs, desires, demographics, values
- the product’s features, advantages, and deep benefits
- your company mission, values, style, brand story, and unique selling proposition
- what the competition is doing and how well it works
9. Don’t rush.
Every professional copywriter wishes they had more time. There will always be something you could do to improve the copy, so it’s important to give yourself plenty of time to devote to the project.
You’ll need time to gather all your research and materials; time to actually write the copy; and time to edit and revise and polish until it’s as good as you can make it.
In addition to giving yourself plenty of time, Gary Bencivenga also recommends using copywriting productivity hacks to stimulate your creativity and focus. He’s a big believer in the power of your subconscious and the 80/20 rule, both of which maximize your time without rushing.
8. Focus on clarity, not cleverness.
One of the biggest secrets Clayton Makepeace promotes is clarity. You need to be very clear with yourself about the overall theme and message of the piece, so you don’t get sidetracked. He shares an example critique where the copy had lots of great things going for it, but the writer fell in love with the subject and the sound of his voice.
Because the writer got sidetracked by all things he loved about the product, he overwrote the promotion. In the end, all the great things about the copy were buried under pages of extraneous, unnecessary, off-track fluff.
You also need to be very clear in the way you write, choosing the best words and following the best logical order so your audience never gets confused.
Professional copywriters know that effective copywriting is salesmanship in print; cleverness distracts prospects from the message or story, drawing their attention to you instead–exactly the opposite of what good copywriting should do.
And if your cleverness isn’t really that clever, it will only confuse your audience. Confused and distracted prospects don’t buy.
Effective copywriting is salesmanship in print, not clever wordsmithing. The more self-effacing and invisible your selling skill, the more effective you are. ~ Gary Bencivenga ~
7. Get a solid foundation in copywriting.
There are lots of copywriting tips and tricks you can use to strengthen your writing. But without a strong foundational knowledge of the basics of effective copywriting, these tips and tricks can’t turn mediocre copy into brilliantly successful sales pieces.
One of the highest paid copywriters in the world–he consistently makes over a million dollars every year–Clayton Makepeace says the secret of professional copywriters is this solid foundation. To write like the pros, you have to thoroughly understand the principles of persuasion and direct-response copywriting.
That means reading everything you can get your hands on about great copywriting, from articles on Copyblogger to classic books by Claude Hopkins and David Ogilvy (here’s a recommended reading list about copywriting).
It means learning about headlines, trigger words, calls to action, appealing to emotion, and more. It means studying the blog posts, ads, commercials, sales letters and others that make you want to share, click through, or buy so you can figure out why they worked on you.
6. Then never stop learning, improving, and testing.
Having the basics is critical, but it’s only the beginning. Things change so rapidly in technology and marketing these days that staying up-to-date and always trying to improve is what separates okay writers from great professional copywriters.
Nobody has this down pat. Any writer who’s truly serious about the craft recognizes that it’s a lifelong journey up an unscalable mountain. At its core, copywriting isn’t about words, it’s about numbers… leads, opt-ins, sales, and upsells. Words are just the tools you use to generate the numbers you need. Grappling with that reality is a wrestling match to last a lifetime. ~ Bernardo Basmayor, head copywriter at GKIC ~
Make sure you follow the big names in your industry and in copywriting and content marketing, like Writtent, Copyblogger, Content Marketing Institute, and others.
Have an editor or another seasoned writer critique your writing to help you nail the voice and style, clarity, principles of persuasion, and other elements. Take notes on their suggestions and apply them to the next thing you write.
Where possible, test your copy to see how well it works and determine what you could do better. Headlines, calls to action, bullet points, button copy, and order are all things you could test to improve your copywriting.
5. Write often. Every day if possible.
Writing is a skill, learning to play an instrument. They both require regular, dedicated practice. Like building muscle memory in your fingers when you play the piano, writing every day builds your writing “muscle,” so you can write faster and easier with more creativity.
Research and learning can only get you so far. Eventually you have to sit down and write, and the more often you do that, the better you’ll get. As David Ogilvy said:
If you have all the research, all the ground rules, all the directives, all the data — it doesn’t mean the ad is written. Then you’ve got to close the door and write something — that is the moment of truth which we all try to postpone as long as possible.
4. Seduce, don’t sell.
An important component of successful content marketing as well as copywriting, seduction works much better than hard selling. That’s because seduction is flattering and draws us in, while hard selling raises our hackles and alerts everyone’s inner BS detector.
In fact, one of the biggest mistakes content marketers can make is the exact opposite of seduction–talk only about themselves.
To seduce, your copy has to be all about your audience. Clayton Makepeace lists the 5 things you must do to create seductive copy:
- First, convince prospects to give you their attention with a headline that capitalizes on their driving emotions–their desires, frustrations, or fears.
- Second, convince them to read your message. Be interesting and offer value if they’ll give you just a few minutes of their time.
- Next, convince them your offer will meet their needs. Show them it will satisfy their desires or assuage their frustrations or fears.
- Fourth, convince your prospects that the price is fair or a bargain by demonstrating the value of your offer.
- Finally, convince them to take action immediately by making it easy to do so.
To successfully do those 5 things, you have to be completely focused on the prospect. That means using “you” way more often than “I” or “we” or your brand name. Follow these 6 rules for writing seductive copy to entice your prospects.
3. Focus on existing problems, motivations, and desires.
You can’t sell a steak to a vegetarian. They’re simply not hungry for it. No matter how amazing your copy is, they will never buy.
That’s because you can’t create desire or motivation in your prospects. The problem, desire, or motivation has to already be there.
Whenever you find yourself educating your readers about a problem they may have, consider it a red warning flag! If you have to educate people into realizing they have a problem, you’re already losing the battle. ~ Gary Bencivenga ~
All you can do is capitalize on those problems, motivations, and desires by crafting a strong message aimed at the right people. Very successful professional copywriter Dan Kennedy talked about 5 steps every prospect goes through between first contact and closing the sale:
- Awareness of a need or desire
- Picking the thing that will satisfy that desire
- Picking the source for that thing
- Accepting the price/value argument
- Finding reasons to act immediately
When your copy can spark that initial desire–not try to create it, but stoke the embers of desire into flame – and guide the prospect through the next 4 steps, it will be much more successful (and seductive). Aiming the message at the right people will make it that much better.
2. Build credibility.
You can’t assume your prospects will simply believe everything you say. You have to make them comfortable, give them reasons to trust you, and back up your claims. You do that by infusing your copy with credibility devices, such as:
- your (or the author you’re ghostwriting for) qualifications as an expert, e.g. job title, years of experience, media outlets that have featured him, books or articles he’s published, etc.
- details, facts, graphs, charts, etc. that prove each point of your copy beyond any doubt
- testimonials that prove your product has worked for others
- reviews and endorsements that validate you or your company
- guarantees and shipping/return policies that demonstrate your absolute confidence in your offering
1. Appeal to emotions.
Ask any professional copywriter the secret to hooking a prospect’s interest, or telling a great story, or getting readers to share or comment on an article, or any number of objectives.
Any copywriter worth his or her salt will tell you the number one technique in the book is appealing to your ideal prospect’s emotions. Logic and proof are important, but they don’t sell by themselves.
“B” writers tend to focus on selling benefits and on logical, “reason-why” copy only…Instead of simply reciting benefits and reasons why the prospect should buy, “A” writers recognize, validate, and directly address powerful emotions the prospect already has about those benefits (or the lack of them). ~ Clayton Makepeace ~
If you can connect with prospects on a deep, emotional level, they’ll remember you better and be more seduced, making your copy that much more effective.
How do you write like a pro? Share your secrets in the comments!