Welcome to the sausage factory…
If you’re new to copywriting, then congratulations. You’re about to
spend some of the most useful time you’ll ever spend learning
You’re about to take a crash course in communications that will serve
you well for long into the future and, if put into action, will earn you
money while establishing your trust and authority in your chosen
All through the power of simple words on a web page!
Here are the 20 fundamentals of writing effective copy for the web
(and in general for that matter):
1. Avoid “I” and “we”; focus instead on “you” and “your”
If you find lots of sentences in your copy starting with “I” and “We”,
you’re not focusing enough on the “what’s in it for me” at the
forefront of every prospect’s mind. Rework your copy to focus on the
reader, not you or your business. Tip: Make sure you have at least 2
“you” words for every 1 “we” words.
2. Be a good listener
Eugene Schwartz famously told a story about how one of his most
successful ads consisted of about 90% of what the client had told
him, just written down. Listen to your clients and prospects; find out
what they want, and then tell them what they need to hear. Tip:
Write down what your audience wants to read – NOT what you want
3. Focus on benefits
Don’t make the reader do any work when it comes to joining the
dots. You need to spell out why having 8GB more RAM is a good
thing. A common mistake is listing features and expecting your
reader to somehow know why they should care. Always bring it back
to the reader and how the feature is going to improve their life.
(Important: Don’t list standard features and benefits that are
common knowledge around your product or service – it’s a waste of
4. Don’t do too much
It’s easy to overdo it. Ask yourself if you’ve done more than what’s
necessary to achieve your goal, and if you have, cut the rest. Don’t
fall into the sunk cost fallacy of thinking “I wrote all this extra stuff so
I may as well include it.” If you just want your reader to sign up for a
free newsletter or ebook, you don’t need a 3000-word long-form opt
5. Put yourself in your reader’s shoes
Perhaps the most important ability in being able to write compelling
sales copy; imagine you are reading your own writing, in the situation
of the prospect. What would you want to know? What would make
you take action? Would you be convinced?
Michael Fishman sums this up by saying “Don’t think OF the market –
think AS the market.”
6. Avoid lazy words like “things” and “stuff”
Any time you say “things”, or “awesome” you are being lazy and
missing an opportunity to use a word that has more meaning. Today I
wrote a sentence which went “When you hire an agency you are
paying a premium for unnecessary things like project management
and marketing.” What things?! A better alternative to “things” in this
case is “expenses” or “fluff”, both of which further the argument far
more than “things”.
7. Use a thesaurus
If you have to write a lot of copy about a small subject, there is a
danger that you’ll use many of the same words and phrases over and
over again. Using a thesaurus will add some variety and colour to
Get in the habit of using a good online thesaurus.
8. Write as if you’re talking
Don’t get too hung up on the rules of grammar when you’re writing
web and/or sales copy. To connect with the reader you have to be
less like their 6th grade teacher and more like that little voice inside
9. Use colourful adjectives
An adjective is a describing word. Using quirky or unusual adjectives
will help ideas stick in your reader’s mind. That’s why so many great
copywriters write in a way that seems unorthodox. Instead of writing
“spending a great deal of money”, write “spending freaking bucket-
loads of cash!” … it will make much more of an impact and stop the
reader from losing interest.
10. Don’t use industry jargon when dealing with newbies
Maybe everyone in your industry knows what acronyms like DBT
stand for, but don’t assume members of the public do. Same goes for
words and phrases specific to a particular niche. If they aren’t
household words, don’t use them. (If you are writing for a specific
niche which uses jargon then using some can show that you know
your stuff, so don’t avoid it under all circumstances).
11. Never use a long word when a short one will do
You are not out to prove how smart you are. You are trying to
communicate with people as clearly as possible. Don’t say “utilise”
when you can say “use”. Same goes for phrases – don’t say “in most
instances” when you can say “usually”.
12. Get to the point
Your reader has a million distractions. You have about 3 seconds to
hook them. If you fail to do that, you have missed an opportunity.
This goes for websites, print, emails, whatever. If your reader sees an
insurmountable wall of text, she ain’t gonna read it.
Better to write 5 lines that get read by 90% of your audience than 50
lines that only 20% of people will read (an exception to this is if that
20% are your true prospects and you’re asking for a relatively large
commitment of time or money).
13. Avoid clichés
There are times when a cliché can really hit the nail on the head
(groan…) but, for the most part, they should be avoided if you can
find a more direct alternative. Clichés are clichés in the first place
because they are so overused – they are just white noise to your
readers. Instead, find a term that will make your point memorable.
14. State the obvious
What does your business do? What should the reader do when they
get to the end of the page? Don’t assume they know. You need to tell
them to pick up the phone and call now, or email now to reserve
your seat. Action words, funnily enough, lead to action!
15. Use formulas
Selling isn’t creative. It consists of tried and true elements which,
when used together in the right combination, achieve predictable
outcomes. Like a recipe. You wouldn’t try to bake a cake off the top
of your head, would you? Unless you’re a master chef and you do it
every day, get a formula for writing sales letters, landing pages,
whatever, so you know what structure to follow and what elements
you need to include.
16. Be precise
Avoid making general statements like “…saving you time” or “…save
you money”. It’s much better to say “…will save you 1hour per week
that you would have spent….” or “… will save you $95 you would
have spent on a graphic designer.” The latter statements mean
something because they are quantifiable, unlike the former
statements, which are vague. If you don’t know for sure how much
time it will save, just take your best guess.
17. Be specific
This is a huge bugbear for anyone writing about a topic with which
they are very familiar. They have a tendency to write in very general
terms without realising they’re not actually getting to the point and
spelling out the facts that the reader needs to know. Your reader
wants concrete information – facts. So give it to them, fast; and be as
specific as possible.
18. Cut out unnecessary words
Be ruthless. There’s an old copywriting adage which says to take out
words til it stops making sense. Removing unnecessary words will
make your copy much tighter and more powerful – not to mention
less like an insurmountable wall of text.
19. Write in the language your prospects use every day
It’s tempting to sanitise language when we write, making it uniform
and generic for fear of offending. This urge should be avoided. Your
prospects are looking for signals that you are one of them, that you
understand their needs. By using the everyday slang and the
language patterns they use, you connect with them and build trust.
This is what establishes you as a unique brand! You show that you
understand their problems and so just might be able to solve them.
20. Headlines are important
Once you realise just how important they are, you’ll look at a page
without a headline and shudder. A page without a headline is a
missed opportunity. It’s like a beer without a head, or a steak with no
sizzle. A headline draws the reader into the body copy. It signals what
it’s going to be about and sets up a promise. That’s a lot of heavy
lifting for 5-10 words, so use it!
Remember to come back to this section and go over what you’ve
learned. These are 20 fundamentals of effective web copywriting.
You’ll need to practice and review to make sure it’s all coming
Now, onto some more strategies for writing copy that will make
Eskimoes buy ice from you…
While you write…
As well as the above tips, there are a couple of things you can do
while you’re writing, that will make your copy that much better.
Imagine you’re writing to your best friend
You know when you find something awesome and you really want to
tell your buddy about it? You write or talk so fast you have to slow
yourself down, and you are busting to spell out the best things about
it so your friend will see how awesome it is and check it out.
That’s how you should write copy! A big ask, I know. But when we
write like that we get to the heart of what’s good about something.
And we inject the writing with raw energy. We don’t filter it through
uptight language, and we don’t write the stuff we think “should” be
We just launch into sheer, unbridled enthusiasm. We know our friend
is gonna like it. It’s just a matter of how urgently we can get them to
check it out.
So let the copy flow like that, then come back and tidy it up – but
only as much as you have to. You don’t want to edit and polish it so
much that we lose that enthusiasm and urgency.
Avoid “White Noise”
White noise is the stuff you used to see on old TVs when there was
no signal. It’s a kind of background noise that people just tune out.
There’s a danger when you write that you will create white noise of
In writing, it’s embodied by messages that are overused and general.
When you write something that could be used by any company for
any product or service, there’s a good chance you’re generating
white noise. These messages will slide over the reader’s
consciousness. You’ll be missing a chance to actually say something.
Examples of white noise in your copy:
“We’ll be there when you need us.”
“We care about you.”
“Complete solutions for every need.”
It’s very tempting to write statements like this when you’re first
starting, because you want to appeal to everyone and explain how
much you do care and how you will actually be there. But these
messages are so overused that they become meaningless.
Instead, focus on how you’ll be there, how you demonstrate that you
care, and what those solutions actually are. Your messages will be
much stronger and will actually start to mean something to your
reader instead of just sliding off. (Maybe these should be called
By trying to sell to everybody, you sell to nobody.
Don’t be afraid of offending
When we censor ourselves and make copy generic and inoffensive,
we also make it watered down and insipid. It’s like getting all our
readers into an ice cream shop and then saying we only have vanilla.
There are 100 other shops along the strip who also sell vanilla.
Find a flavour that’s unique, like boysenberry ripple! Sure, you’ll lose
all the vanilla fans, and maybe the strawberry and chocolate too, but
they were already getting pretty awesome ice cream next door. You
will build a loyal customer base of boysenberry ripple fans just like
you, who identify with your choice.
You only get one flavour – don’t make it vanilla.
Proof reading your copy
Okay so you’ve written a landing page or a kick-ass blog post and you
really want to get it out there right now. You don’t want to make the
world wait a second longer.
Sorry to tell you this, but you’re work is probably not the best it can
be … yet. In fact, it might be waaaaay off, even if you’ve cast your eye
over it, found the spelling mistakes, and taken out some of the
Now you should put the piece aside for at least 24 hours, then come
back and read it with a fresh pair of eyes. Believe me – you will notice
tons of things you missed in the first reading.
Next, you should step out of your own shoes and do some role-play
in your own mind. No, not like the time you dressed up like Batman
at Comic-Con, but role-play your own reader.
Picture your ideal reader in your mind, then imagine they don’t know
you or your product at all, and are reading the copy you wrote.
What’s the main thing you want to know, the thing that if you don’t
find it within 5 seconds you’re going back to the search results and
trying the next entry.
Got it? Good, now write that down first. Rinse and repeat with the
Tip: Remember in the 20 fundamentals section how we were talking
about turning your benefits into features? Well here’s a way to
make sure you’ve done it well. Go through your benefits and read
them out loud. Can you imagine saying these to somebody you know
in actual conversation, and would you feel good about it?
If the answer is no, then they aren’t good benefits. Back to the
Believe it or not, the way you format your copy is almost as
important as the actual content.
Ever looked at a page and just seen one massive wall of text without
paragraphs? Did you read it??
Paragraphs help us move on from one idea to the next. They help us
keep our place, and they fulfil our innate need for patterns. They are
kind of like the breadcrumbs in the Hansel and Gretel story, except
they don’t just tell us where we’ve been, but also signpost where
we’re going (and they are unlikely to be eaten by birds…).
If you find a concept or idea being expressed in a paragraph more
than 4-5 lines long, it means you’re probably including irrelevant or
uninteresting information that the reader doesn’t want or need to
Use paragraphs for emphasis too. If you’ve got something important
Make your point on a single line.
Forget the rules of formatting and grammar – do whatever you need
to do to get your reader to keep reading, and to be convinced into
taking action. Anything goes!
Sorry to break this to you, but most people will just be scanning the
copy you write, not reading every word. You need to break your
writing into easy to navigate sections, with signposts such as topic
titles, just like you’re seeing here.
The more scannable a piece of writing is, the more chance someone
will put in the effort to scan it, and the more chance they will find the
information they can use and read it.
For the same reasons we use paragraphs, we also need to break up
the patterns of those paragraphs themselves. Too much of anything
on the page is bad, whether it be bullet points, paragraphs,
headlines, or whatever.
If you’ve got a whole page of short paragraphs, try to incorporate
some bullets to highlight key points. But don’t overdo it, more than 5
bullet points in a row makes them lose impact and overwhelm the
Also use contrast on your lines of copy – break up sentences by using
dashes, brackets, and ellipses (…). All these methods make your copy
more attractive and easier to read and comprehend.
Use of space and graphical elements
When writing for the web in particular, you have limited attention
spans to work with. For this reason, make sure your copy is broken
up by plenty of space and other elements like graphics – icons,
buttons, images, etc. Blank space between sections is also great for
letting your copy breathe.
It’s fine to highlight key concepts and phrases to ensure someone
scanning your copy notices them. Just don’t overdo it or you risk
them missing the really important points. 2-3 highlighted key phrases
per 300-word page is ideal. Use colour highlighting and bold where
appropriate (in emails for example), and just bold where highlighting
looks tacky (on your web pages).
If you found these tips useful, feel free to share this Ebook with a
friend. And be sure to head over to my website for more detailed
tips, examples, and actual case studies of putting these methods
into action to produce real results: www.damienelsing.com
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