3 Keen Copywriting Tips to Create Better Content

3 Keen Copywriting Tips to Create Better Content. Makealivingwriting.com

If I had a copywriting tips guide to follow when I landed my first job, it would have saved me a lot of suffering.

Mum, dad… please look away now.

I’m afraid that my expensive university education and a degree in English didn’t prepare me to write words that sell.

When I finished school in 2001, I was lucky enough to land a copywriting job at a huge media company. And to be perfectly honest, I thought I’d find the job pretty straightforward.

But it wasn’t. Making the transition from writing academic papers to crafting commercial copy was really hard.

The truth: I used to be quite a horrible copywriter. And I don’t mind admitting it now.

I had to learn to write differently. I studied pro writers, copywriting tips, and the best ad copy. I tested and evaluated copywriting strategies to see what worked and what didn’t. I learned how to write words that sell.

Now, I’m keen on helping others make a living writing. These three copywriting tips will help you create better content:

Copywriting tips to craft words that sell

How did I go from writing about Shakespeare, the Victorian era, and Medieval literature to writing copy for well-known UK brands like Sky, Three, and Vodafone? I had plenty of bang-my-head-against-the-wall days trying to figure it out.

Fortunately, copywriting is a skill you can learn. And you don’t have to do it the hard way, like I did. These copywriting tips will help you:

Copywriting Tip #1: Use conversational language

Once upon a time, I read Stephen King’s book On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft.

Now, if it’s writing advice you’re after, then this book is worth its weight in gold. Who better to turn to, than the king of the page-turners?

I’ve always remembered King’s advice on vocabulary.

Many experts tell aspiring writers to “stick to what you know.” But King takes this a step further. He stresses the need to use the actual words we’d normally express in our everyday lives.

In other words, write what you know in the way that you speak. Or to say this another way, use a conversational style to write copy. Take a look at the best marketing campaigns today, and you’ll see lots of punchy, but conversational, language used to build brand awareness and generate sales.

Sometimes it makes sense to break the rules

I found King’s advice refreshing and comforting. Forced, stilted copywriting doesn’t work. But that’s what happened when I tried to apply all the formal rules of academic writing at my new job. This type of conformity doesn’t suit copywriting in the business world. Quite simply, conformity doesn’t always deliver results.

Essentially, the most powerful words aren’t the ones that get readers to reach for a dictionary. They’re the ones that are persuasive, impactful and influential. That’s copywriting. And impressionable, expressive copy only comes through having the freedom to be yourself, take some chances, and be willing to make mistakes.

Copywriting Tip #2: Make a good first impression

Perhaps the earliest lesson I learned about copywriting in the business world is how the appearance of words plays a huge part in how effective they are.

Consider typography, for instance. Fonts are essentially clothes for your words. If you were heading out for an important meeting or a hot date, you’d consider what you were wearing.

After all, first impressions are important.

The same goes for your words, no matter what they need to achieve. You can review and improve your copywriting by asking yourself a few simple questions:

  • Does your work look text-heavy and intimidating?
  • Or do you space out your sentences and allow for a fast, pleasurable read?
  • What about the size of your fonts?
  • Are your words even legible?

Words are important, naturally. But it would be a shame to create a piece of perfect writing, only to make things difficult for the reader.

Obviously, once you hand off a copywriting project to a designer, you’re not going to have a lot of control over what happens. All the more reason you need to make a good first impression when you write copy for a client.

The trouble with information overload

It’s practically an epidemic. Serve up just about any piece of content these days, and people will be looking for a reason to bail out and do something else. You know your words have to work hard. Give them the chance to succeed and use copywriting strategies like shorter sentences, headings and subheads, bullet points, and questions to stimulate thought and engagement.

Copywriting Tip #3: Embrace and understand human psychology

The most successful businesses use copywriting to manipulate us in one way or another.

From well-positioned sweets at the grocery store check-out to the timely coupon in the mail, we may not even notice what they’re doing half the time.

While we’re all different, the human brain is actually pretty predictable. This really highlights the importance of copywriting.

A choice of words, the odd piece of slang, a timely comma… effective copywriting lies in the smallest of details.

Know your target audience

So no matter what objective your words are trying to achieve, understand your target audience. Get to know what makes them tick. What do they like? What sort of language do they use? Take the time to really understand your client and their audience, and your copywriting can make a big impact.

Master these copywriting tips, and you’ll scoop up more client work. The world of copywriting has changed quite a bit since the days of direct response, long-form sales letters. There’s a greater demand than ever before.

Need help improving your copywriting skills? Let’s discuss in the comments.

Matt Press has been a copywriter for major UK brands including Sky, Three, and Vodafone. He’s on a mission to help small businesses with their marketing strategies.

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46 comments on “3 Keen Copywriting Tips to Create Better Content
  1. Sarah says:

    Oh gosh, this comes at the right moment. I did a BA in journalism and then a MA in a PR/Marketing related topic. I always thought that I was a good or at least not bad writer (due to compliments from my teachers). Fast-forward, now working as a communication intern for a charity (1st job I ever had), I find that my writing skills are not quite up to par. Compared to my boss, I feel like my writing lacks maturity and fluency. I recently bought quite a few books about copywriting and writing in general. But, I would like to have advices from an expert as I really want to become a copywriter and plan on trying to do an internship in this field when I finish the one I’m currently doing. Carole (or any other writer around), you’re an amazing writer, how did you become that good? What tips would you give to a newbie who wants to improve? How did you manage to become so skilled?

    By the way, my first language is not actually English but French. However, I did my BA and MA in England and have been living in this country for a while.

    Thank you so much for this post!

    • Carol Tice says:

      Oh, nobody wants to learn to write the way I did, which was filing 3-4 stories a week for 12 years as a staff writer. 😉

      As far as the business writing side, I learned totally on the job. I listen, ask a lot of questions, study successful pieces, and keep improving. I also had my own business here to practice copywriting on, and learn from my mistakes.

    • Matt says:

      Hey Sarah, If French is your first language, then you’re not going to have any problems at all in becoming a successful copywriter. Very impressive. In a way, copywriting isn’t about being a great writer. Yeah, you need to be able to spell and have a decent grasp of grammar, but it’s more about adaptability.

      Research skills are a must. As is a degree of flexibility, as no two businesses (or projects) are the same. Start out at the bottom, learn on the job, measure your results and understand the value of what you’re doing.

      More than happy to help you (or anyone) on your journey. Feel free to mail me through my website any time.

      • Sarah H says:

        Thanks for answering! Yes, research is definitely important. I’m seeing that sometimes some of the mistakes I made could have been avoided if I had asked more questions or done better research. It’s a Learning process I suppose.

    • Firth McQuilliam says:

      As you can see from my babbling elsewhere in this thread, Sarah, I’m a newcomer myself to big-league copywriting! I know how you feel. Or at least as much as anyone can ever understand the feelings of another person. I, too, want maturity and power in my writing. ^^;

      As a native speaker of the wacky and wonderful English language and a top-rated writer at … well, a major content broker with a reputation for strictness over proper punctuation and other technical aspects, I’ve encountered hundreds of writers wanting to know the secret to success.

      *I’m* no Wonderful Wizard of Writing Well, but the obvious and inevitable secret to writing fluidly and idiomatically in the English language is to read, read, and then read some more. The innumerable oddities of the language of Shakespeare, Thomas Jefferson and Stephen King require repeated exposure to sink into your soul. ^_^

      Mind you, you should read widely. Trending topics at major news websites, outstanding industry websites about writing for profit like Carol Tice’s own portal to power, and light fiction on heroines who battle dragons all count!

      If you’re planning on writing mostly for Commonwealth clients, then focus on British English. If you’re aiming at the huge United States market, then focus on American English and use your continuing daily exposure to British English to keep up on the differences between the two.

      Truth to tell, you’re probably better off focusing on mastering idiomatic American English because it’s so popular with global clients such as travel magazines, corporate websites and so forth. Am I right about that, Ms. Carol Tice? You’re the expert! :^)

      (BTW, it’s “advice” and not “advices.” Also, it’s “Carol” and not “Carole.” Yes, yes, I know, but editors and clients care about details like that. Spelling people’s names right wins friends and influences people, and Google is your friend!)

      • Carol Tice says:

        I was doing my best to let ‘advices’ go, but that is actually one of the top ‘tells’ I see that someone is a non-native English speaker, in guest-post pitches I get! Have a post planned on all of those…

      • Sarah H says:

        Thank you for your for replying to my post and giving me some advice. I did notice afterward that I had spelled Carol’s name wrong. But, you’re absolutly right, editors and clients do care about détails like that. Thanks.

  2. Emmerey Rose says:

    Hi Carol! Very helpful tips you have here 🙂 I think writing a very intriguing and interesting intro would help as well. I was wondering, how long do you suggest an article should be?

    • Carol Tice says:

      As long as it needs to be, Emmerey, to convey the information — and no longer.

      • Emmerey Rose says:

        For SEO perspective, longer is better but on the other hand, readers prefer shorter and brief but direct to the point articles. Thanks for the tip Carol! I guess it should only be as long as how the message should be conveyed 🙂

        • Carol Tice says:

          That’s MY belief — how many blogs are you seeing out there with 2,000-word posts that as you scan them, could easily have been 1,000? That annoys readers. If you’re doing longform, it needs to DESERVE to be that long, in my view. Many long posts out there are transparent attempts to game Google by being long, but they don’t deliver any more value than a 500-word post…a strategy which I believe is going to hurt those blogs over time.

          • Firth McQuilliam says:

            Oh, well. I tried twice a day ago to reply to this comment, but the spam filter seems to have eaten both attempts for some reason. Perhaps it’s one of the words I used.

            Instead of the longer reply, I’ll just say, “Ditto. ‘Please keep it cogent and on-point, guys. Ain’t none of us getting any younger!'” ^_^

  3. Tom Andrews says:

    Your second point has got me thumping my keyboard in joy.

    How come?

    Because I recently had a bit of an argument with someone online about how the way your copy “looks” is vital. He said it didn’t matter, and how “ugly” might actually be better. I disagreed.

    Now, understand I’m not talking about pretty pictures or any of that rubbish.

    When I’m talking about “looks”, I’m talking about readability. One of the examples I used was to make sure you use short paragraphs and leave plenty of spaces so there’s a decent amount of white-space on the screen.

    His reasons were that in old newspaper direct-response ads that converted well, the font size could be tiny.

    I told him that’s different because the copywriter was working with limited space. When you MUST choose between the two, copy trumps the “look” of things.

    But when you’re writing online (or even a direct mail piece) where length of copy doesn’t matter, you’d almost be a fool to not make the layout of your copy look “easy” to read at first glance.

    After all, say I’m on Facebook and see a huge block of text that’s only one or two paragraphs, there’s no way I’m reading it.

    It hurts my eyes. And I don’t wanna hurt my eyes. (Well, I won’t be too bothered about my eyesight after Game of Thrones is over… I just need to make sure I see the rest of it before any blindness takes over – ha!)

    Thanks for a great read,

    Tom Andrews

    • Matt says:

      Hi Tom, thanks for that. Yup, for sure. I can’t remember who said this, but I recall someone referencing bookshops when highlighting this concept.

      Pretend you’re in a bookshop and you pick up a book, right? If you quickly thumb through the pages, you can sense whether it’s going to be a hard read or not, just from looking at how big the font is and whether the lines are spaced out.

      This kind of thing puts people off. And if anything, as you say, appearance is even more important online.

  4. Nida Sea says:

    This is an excellent post! I’m always eager to learn more on copywriting. The human psychology factor I believe trips me up in my own copywriting. I sometimes over think it and put in too much or too little detail. What’s the best way to avoid that?

    • Matt says:

      Hey Nida. Thanks – I would advise better defining your target audience perhaps? The more you know about your reader, the more confident you’ll be. To that end, I do think that copywriting is about combining creativity with data…

  5. Neal Eckert says:

    Hi Matt!

    Thanks for sharing from the trenches about what’s worked for you. I too have found that an education didn’t prepare me to write with “heart.” Correctness is one thing, heart is quite another. 🙂

    Here’s an aside: I don’t want to make this forum stray off course but I need some help. I’ve been doing a heavy dose of volume marketing with better results than I anticipated.

    I have one challenge, though. I want to sell clients on exactly what they need writing wise without selling them on what they don’t need.

    Carol, Matt, or anyone else, do you know of a crash course on how freelance writers can educate their clients about content marketing while keeping up on the latest trends?

    Maybe an older post on Make A Living Writing or a book or something? This is just one major thing I need to improve on and I haven’t found anything to fill that void. Your thoughts are much appreciated!

    Thanks again, Matt, for the helpful article!
    Neal Eckert recently posted…Death And The Ultimate HealingMy Profile

    • Matt says:

      Thanks Neal. I don’t actually, so I’d be interested to hear of any suggestions. Having worked with clients of all sizes for a number of years, I definitely feel that people usually fall into one of two camps: those that know the value of content and those that don’t. There’s clearly a need to educate businesses who are aware of content marketing but don’t really understand the value of it (or how it works).

      • Neal Eckert says:

        Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Matt. One thing that makes freelance writing so worthwhile for me is that there’s always something new to learn. As a staff writer, I felt majorly placed in a box. I don’t feel that way anymore.

        Best wishes in all your pursuits!
        Neal Eckert recently posted…Death And The Ultimate HealingMy Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      Neal, we have a content marketing bootcamp with top trainer Heather Lloyd Martin inside Freelance Writers Den that has terrific fundamentals, Make Money in Content Marketing — and we’ll be reopening the Den shortly for a new bootcamp on negotiating for better rates, Close the Sale, so you could get in the door, if you didn’t join in the last open.

      In general, if you’re having to educate your clients from scratch about the value of content marketing, they’re probably not the clients you want. Too much work. They should already fundamentally ‘get’ it. It’s great if you stay on top of trends and can give them tips on emerging best practices — you can only do that by reading widely at places like the Content Marketing Institute, Hubspot and Social Media Examiner. Subscribe to some newsletters — then you can seem like a genius when you give them a tip on better ways to do it. 😉

      • Neal Eckert says:

        Hi Carol!

        The Writer’s Den sounds like a great opportunity. It’s definitely something I want to check out in the future.

        Also, thanks for the other advice. I’ll check out the links/sites you mentioned. And I can see what you mean by not going too far to educate.

        Guess it would kinda be like a tackle shop targeting people who don’t fish hoping they’ll get interested instead of targeting those already immersed in the hobby.:)

        Your advice is much appreciated, Carol!
        Neal Eckert recently posted…Death And The Ultimate HealingMy Profile

  6. I went through the same transition. I wrote the way I learned in AP English, and did it rather well, but the short story magazines didn’t want that type of writing.

    If one reader gives you some well-intentioned advice, you may be safe rejecting it as a difference of opinion. But if you hear it from two or more and don’t even pause to consider it, expect rejection letters. I got dozens. Maybe hundreds.

  7. Drew Drake says:

    Thanks for the article Matt.

    Tip #2 is super important (as are all the tips). How the words look on the page is vital. As you say, make more impact by considering layout and format. Understand that internet reading is not the same as traditional reading and that internet users have an average attention span of 7 seconds. Gotta hook those fish quick!

    Regarding tip #3 getting to know your client’s target audience – Insiders tip 😉 Create a simple google doc questionnaire designed for your clients to explain their target audience. This saves time and makes you look more serious!

    • Matt says:

      Hi Drew, thanks for that. Great tip. Yeah ultimately, copywriters have to play detective. So if you can gather info from clients, you’re going to be way ahead of the curve.

    • Firth McQuilliam says:

      Ugh, I keep encountering that bit about ultra-short attention spans. Nor can I argue with it. The world has an ocean of badly written blog posts and other materials. Web surfers are jaded and prone to moving on in an eyeblink for greener pastures: “Kthxbai.”

      I’ve long had a problem myself with a very Germanic tendency to lay down a solid foundation before moving on to the rest of the article. This works well for technical documents and textbooks. It’s also effective for starting automobile factories and other significant business enterprises. The way I just said all of that is very solid too. Doesn’t it make you want to hop with excitement? O_O

      “Examining the parameters shown by the two completed research studies referenced below reveals a clear pattern that lends itself to efficient implementation of the Planck Plan. An ad hoc committee is scheduled to release its findings on practical barriers to further development.”

      “After negotiations with the affected labor unions have reached fruition, tentative plans exist for furthering our apprenticeship program for at-risk youths. Recent productivity gains promise year-end improvements in ROI for our major investors in spite of increased costs associated with this program and other socially responsible initiatives.”

      Fun stuff, eh? This sort of plop doesn’t work at all for the web and marketing. No, you’ve got to grab your readers instantly! It’s a bit like opening a novel with a gripping hook.

      “The tiny dragon snorted a spark of fire at his brother. His mother turned her giant head to look at him. Her reptilian eyes glowed with pride.”

      “Does your butt yell in pain when you stand up? You might have Bum Disorder. It’s racing across the world, and researchers are baffled.”

      Whap! There’s action right away! Pow! Something else happens! Even more stuff happens, which can contain less excitable events and details as long as they don’t drag it out.

      All right. That’s enough of that. ^^;

  8. Cherese Cobb says:

    I just wanted to drop by the comments section to say that I love this: “Fonts are essentially clothes for your words.”

  9. Felix Abur says:

    Hi Matt,

    What copywriting course (paid or free) would you suggest for a complete newbie?

    • Matt says:

      Hi Felix. To be honest, I don’t know enough about the course market to offer much info here, but I’m thinking of bringing a course out so stay in touch! 🙂 If I was to advise anything, it would be to read a couple of books (the Stephen King one that I mentioned would be a great start) and get writing. Perhaps study some of the big brands (Apple etc) and then try and apply some of the things you’ve picked up. If I were starting again from scratch I’d try and land some (badly-paid) gigs until I had picked up enough experience and clients, then go from there.

    • Teri says:

      A great place to start to read about great considering is to head to the Warrior Forum…they have a forum just for copywriting. Within that, there is an awesome list of the best books and resources from and about the best. That’s where I started.
      Good luck my friend…

      • Carol Tice says:

        Wow, just want to say I’ve never heard anything good about the Warrior Forum — super lowball environment for writing rates in there. Bunch of hardball online biz jerks looking to hire writers for $5, from what I hear.

        • Firth McQuilliam says:

          I’ve scanned the Warrior Forum on occasion. Several comment threads lurk in separate tabs in my browser, awaiting closer study. WF is a fascinating place. Some of the commenters have had very interesting thoughts on monetizing websites. You’re quite right about this corner of the web being a wretched hive of villainy and greed, though!

          • Carol Tice says:

            Yeah…I don’t think it’s a healthy place for writers. It’s the crowd trying to monetize websites on autopilot who’ve all read Tim Ferriss and want to outsource to the third world for $1. #notourclients

  10. Evan Jensen says:

    Hi Matt,

    Your post reminded me that a formal education isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. A lot of would-be writers think that a university degree, another class, another course is the answer. But in reality, that’s just not the case. It’s taking action, learning from mistakes, and getting better. Nice to read your story and be reminded that copywriting is a skill you can learn and master.

  11. Wonderful information. Though, I never thought about font size or style making a difference. The way you compare it to clothes makes more sense now.

    • Matt says:

      Ah thanks for taking the time to say that Tina. To be honest, it’s all from experience. I’ve written many a word for clients, only to see my copy in an awful font or wrapped clumsily around an unclear image. Words matter, but they’re only part of the package I guess.

    • Matt says:

      Thanks Tina. I’ve worked with a lot of UX teams, so it’s something I’ve had to learn.

      • Firth McQuilliam says:

        I’m one of those wondering fools who peek out shyly from the low-paid security of the content mills. I’ve been trying to understand copywriting. My writing style has long resembled the bastard child of a jut-jawed soldier and a silly circus clown. It’s apparently okay with many clients, but it’s not the thing for the big leagues. I need a new style.

        That’s why I’ve been wafting around Carol Tice’s wild and free jungle of words. The articles are grumbling beasts of clarity. I’ve learned a lot. Perhaps it would be fun to flex my tiny copywriting wings a bit.

        I’ll start with a rewording of the need for clear, readable text. I’ll also apologize in advance for brazenly lifting the idea of fonts as clothing for words. ^_^

        [experimental babbling begins]

        “Have you ever been confronted by a wall of text that threatens to fall on you and crush you like a bug? Have you ever struggled to read text that seems written in a weird typeface from a book of spells?

        Well, your readers are scared of that stuff too. They want not to ruin their eyesight. They want pleasant, easy words that don’t strain their brains. They want to learn something useful or entertaining and then walk away with a spring in their step.

        You can help with that. The web isn’t a cramped dungeon with no room to move. It’s a sunlit meadow with plenty of room to scamper. Use that roominess to your advantage!

        Don’t be afraid to sprawl out like a growing city. Make white space your parks and green spaces. Keep your sentences short to make them easy to understand. Keep your paragraphs short to make them easy to scan. Your readers will bless you for it.

        Bullet points are also marvelous tools. Bullet points make it easy to hop like a bunny from point to point. Readers love that!

        A good article has good words. A better article has good words and plenty of white space. A great article has good words, plenty of white space, and informative bullet points. It’s not rocket science.

        But don’t forget the typefaces. A clear, easy-to-read typeface is a joy forever. Popular serif fonts like Bookman and Garamond work without fuss for print and big screens. Popular sans-serif fonts like Gotham and Helvetica show up on small screens with crystal clarity. There’s no end of typefaces for your every need.

        It’s like spiffy clothing for your words. They don’t just speak clearly to your readers. They’re also well dressed for the party. With so many great typefaces, why let your words look like bums?

        You’ve struggled hard to produce many good words. It’s like marshaling an army to seize the attention of readers. It’s a good analogy, isn’t it?

        Make your words march in small units with plenty of parade-ground space between them. Dress them up in smart uniforms. Give them punchy bullet points. Do all of this, and your army of words will conquer the world.”

        [experimental babbling ends]

        Okay, I did it. I babbled in a radically different way. Was that style any good? ^^;

          • Firth McQuilliam says:

            Wow! That article rocks! It’s also a terrific answer to my question. I’ll stop asking “random bloggers” about my writing style and start seeking experienced editors to pester with specific questions about specific articles. ^^;

            With any luck, the next experienced editor I encounter will proclaim the completed work perfect and mail me a fat, juicy check for $800. I’ll dance around and take pictures before dashing off to the bank to deposit it. ^_^

          • Sarah H says:

            Sorry to bother you again, but in the comment section of this post, you mentioned that you felt a lot of non-native English speakers sent you their work to assess their English level rather than their writing skills. You said that what you would recommend them is a few grammar books. It made me wonder, for non-native English speakers, what grammar books would you recommend? I know there are a lot one could choose from, but I would like to have the opinion of a professional.