Last week a fellow member of an online women’s business group I’m part of shared a marketing email she’d written to promote her new course and asked other members for feedback.
A few people commented that although she’s clearly very passionate about what she does she wasn’t getting her enthusiasm into her writing and the format (a big block of text) made it hard to read. It set my brain whirring and I wondered if I could help.
So, FC and any other budding copywriters out there, this is for you.
5 easy ways to spice up your copywriting
1. Rhythm is a dancer
Word and sentence length create rhythm. If all your sentences are the same length and structure the rhythm doesn’t change and your readers will get bored.
Short sentences add emphasis. They stop the reader in their tracks. But don’t keep using them. Or they lose their impact.
Paragraphs can be one word.
Or they can be a single line or several lines, whatever is right for what you want to say. Our brains start to recognise patterns very quickly so if we know what to expect in the next paragraph, and the next and the next, we turn off.
Instead, we like novelty, excitement, intrigue.
Have you seen those emails that are all one-line paragraphs?
They’re clear and easy to read.
But they get boring really quickly, don’t they?
Every line looks the same.
Every paragraph looks the same.
Nothing stands out.
It creates tension.
Can you feel it?
Or is it boredom?
You’re waiting for something to happen.
Will the pattern ever change?
Nope, no, it’s not going to.
The single lines are never going to stop.
They just keep on coming.
Your eyes start scanning looking for something more interesting.
It’s too much effort to read every single line…
So you don’t. You stop reading.
Just like sentences of different lengths, a combination of long and short paragraphs will keep your readers’ brains engaged with what you’re saying.
2. Legible layout
Think about how your writing looks by, well, looking at it.
To keep your readers’ eyes happy make sure it’s visually interesting and clear:
- use bulleted and numbered lists
- have plenty of white space around your text
- include bold text and sub-headings
- break up your writing with images or videos
- write in a font that’s easy to read and at least 14pt
Don’t go crazy though. If the layout is too Jazzy Jeff it becomes harder to read and you risk losing your readers.
Line length & format
Studies have shown that we find it harder to read text on a screen than on paper so do everything you can to make it easy for your readers.
The optimal line length for web pages is around 45 to 80 characters – shorter than that and you feel like you’re falling over yourself in the rush to the next line, longer than that and your eyes get tired of moving across the page.
Out of respect for your readers’ eyes, you should also left-justify your body text (unless you’re writing a poem). As we read, our eyes look for the next line so they like a hard edge of text down the left-hand side.
We find it harder to read centrally-justified text because our eyes don’t know where to find the start of the next line.
They’re looking for it but it might be anywhere.
Or a bit further over this way.
It could start anywhere.
Oh look, this is a longer sentence so this one starts all the way over here – hellloooo – yep, it starts on the far left, then where will it go?
Our eyes get tired of trying to find the next line pretty quickly.
It’s the same with right-justified text.
Your eyes have to find the first word on each line, they can’t be sure that it’ll be directly under the one they’re looking at.
So it’s not as easy to read.
Once you’ve got people onto your website, you don’t want to do anything to discourage them from reading your carefully crafted copy, like doing some crazy alignment thing.
See how annoying it is??
3. Use verbs with gay abandon
Forgive me for patronising you for a second but not everyone was taught grammar at school.
Verbs are ‘doing words’, like run, fly, eat, sit, read, take, write and buy, and they’re a great way of injecting energy and action into your writing. They say, “Don’t just sit there idly reading, DO something”.
Have another look at the bullet list above… see what I did there? Started every line with a verb. It makes each suggestion stronger than it would be without it and encourages you to actually do it.
Calls to action use verbs (active words) and despite what you see all over the web they don’t have to be deathly boring, you can get a lot across in surprisingly few words:
Meet us. Say hi. Join the team. Want more? Take me there. Ready to commit? Get involved.
4. Show don’t tell
One of the most important lessons you’re taught when you start writing fiction is show don’t tell. For more copywriting lessons inspired by fiction pop over to this more recent blog post.
Of course, penning a novel and writing copy for your business aren’t exactly the same thing but they are based on the same idea: you want to engage your readers. In fiction, you use the characters’ actions to reveal the plot and aspects of their personalities, in copywriting you use stories, third-person accounts and testimonials to do the same for your company.
Don’t say: “I’m passionate about organising great events”. Show us.
“Ever since I was a little girl I’ve loved getting people together, I was always the one organising the games in the playground during break times. My teachers used to joke that I would make an excellent events organiser even in those days!”
Case studies, testimonials & stories
Let your previous clients tell the world how brilliant you are, use case studies to show what you do, and build stories into your writing.
“The other day I picked up my regular coffee for the walk to work and as I was sipping it I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be amazing if I could smell my coffee as I’m drinking it from a takeaway cup like I can with a normal cup”.
I haven’t just invented something, by the way, a client of mine sells FoamAroma lids for takeout coffee cups and he tells this story about how they were invented on his site.
Lots of companies use storytelling to great effect (have a look at innocent, Dollar Shave Club, Apple, Coca-Cola, Google, Guinness). And don’t worry that you’re not running a multi-million-pound company.
The big guys use stories to be more like us, a normal guy or gal setting out to follow their dreams and change the world rather than a big soulless entity that only cares about profit. They use stories to connect with their audiences, highlight their values and differentiate themselves in the marketplace – just like we do.
Words are how we think, stories are how we link
If you’re interested in using stories in your writing you might enjoy this post I wrote a while ago about ‘Make it Stick’ by Chip & Dan Heath, which looks at what makes stories/writing/slogans sticky.
I recommend reading the book but the micro version of how to make your stories stick for SUCCESs is to tell:
S = Simple, U = Unexpected, C = Concrete, C = Credible, E = Emotional, Ss = Stories.
5. Write the way you speak
When it comes to tone of voice, forget all that nonsense you were taught at school and try to write the way you speak instead. That doesn’t mean include the ums and ahs, the swearing or catchphrases off the TV, it just means be natural.
Think about what you want to say first, hear the words in your head and write them down. Don’t worry about the first draft, come back and edit your work later (and use your own voice, don’t pretend to be the Queen or Darth Vader or anyone else, unless you’re in a very niche market and that will work!).
Even if you work in a ‘serious’ sector your online copywriting doesn’t have to be formal. People who are getting divorced, buying life insurance or arranging a mortgage are still people and they talk the same way you and I do. Informal writing is friendly, it connects and engages, it’s Tony down the pub not Tony at an interview trying to impress.
Copywriting shouldn’t have readers reaching for the dictionary or feeling alienated by your vocabulary or haughtiness.
Sometimes it’s worth reminding yourself that you know a lot more about a subject than your audience does – it’s called the curse of knowledge and it’s best to try and avoid falling under it.
Dazzlingly good copywriting engages with your readers.
Great writing is so easy to read that your reader isn’t even aware that they’re actively reading (think about losing yourself in your favourite novel), information enters the reader’s brain through some sort of effortless osmosis and they love your product before they’ve even got to the bottom of the page.
Then you might use rhythm to shock the reader.
Make them wake up and take notice.
And hit them with the call to action.
Whether you want your writing to inform, convince, convert, inspire, reassure or entertain your readers, have fun with it, play around with it, read it out loud and try to think about:
– Rhythm: vary the length of your sentences and paragraphs
– Layout: make sure your writing looks inviting
– Verbs: use action words to inject some punch and energy
– Show don’t tell: share information through captivating stories
– Tone: be approachable and friendly, not stiff and starchy
P.S. If you’d like help developing your tone of voice, telling your brand’s story, or you’d just like a really engaging About page, feel free to drop me a line.