Last week a fellow member of WOBS (a brilliant online women’s business group) shared some copy she’d written to promote her new course and asked the rest of us 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 made it hard to read. It set my brain whirring and I wondered if I could help. So, FC (and you if you do any copywriting for your business), this is for you…
Give your copywriting some zing
1. Rhythm is a dancer
Word length 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 can stop the reader in their tracks. But don’t keep using them. Or they lose their impact.
Paragraphs can be one word, one 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 which are all one-line paragraphs?
They’re clear and easy to read.
But they get boring really quickly.
Every line looks the same.
Every paragraph looks the same.
Nothing stands out.
It creates tension.
Can you feel it?
You’re waiting for something to happen aren’t you?
Will the pattern change?
No, it’s not going to.
The single lines never stop.
Your eyes start scanning.
It’s too much effort to read every single line.
So you don’t.
Just like sentences of different lengths, a combination of long and short paragraphs will keep your readers’ brains engaged.
2. Legible layout
Think about how your writing looks by, well, looking at it.
To keep your readers’ eyes eagerly scanning the page looking for the next line make sure it’s visually interesting and clear:
- use bulleted and numbered lists
- have plenty of white space around your text
- 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 with it though, if the layout is too jazzy it actually makes it harder to read rather than easier and it’ll annoy readers quicker than you can say Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince.
Line length & format
We find it harder to read online than on paper so don’t tax your readers too much. 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 scanning across the page.
Which is also why you should left justify your text. 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 over here. It could start anywhere.
And our eyes get tired of looking for it pretty quickly.
It’s the same with right justified text.
Your eyes have to find the first word on each line rather than knowing that it’ll be directly under the previous one.
So it’s not as easy to read.
And you don’t want to do anything to discourage your audience from reading your carefully crafted copy.
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 a bit stronger than it would be without the verb and encourages you to actually do it.
Calls to action use verbs to get us to, er, take action 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
My first love is fiction and one of the most important lessons you’re taught when you start writing fiction is show don’t tell.
Of course fiction and copywriting aren’t the same thing but it is the same basic idea. 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 business.
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 I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be amazing if I could smell my coffee as I drink it”.
(I haven’t just invented something there by the way, a client of mine sells FoamAroma lids for takeout coffee and tells the story of how they came into being on his site).
Lots of companies use storytelling in their copy 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, someone setting out to follow their dreams and change the world rather than a big soulless entity. They use stories to connect with their audiences, show their values and differentiate themselves in the marketplace – which is important for us as well.
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 (it’s worth reading the blog and book but here’s the micro version: 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, write the way you speak. Think about what you want to say, hear the words in your head and write them down, then come back and edit them later (and use your voice, don’t imagine the Queen talking or it’ll sound weird).
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 connects and engages, it’s warm and friendly and doesn’t have you reaching for the dictionary or feeling alienated by the writer’s haughtiness.
Good writing gets the message across. Great writing creates the writer’s desired effect on the reader.
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.
Or you might use rhythm to shock the reader.
Make them wake up and take notice.
Whether you want your writing to inform, convince, convert, inspire, reassure or entertain, have fun when you write, try different techniques, read your writing out loud and try to think about:
– Rhythm: vary the length of your sentences and paragraphs
– Layout: make sure your writing looks interesting and is easy to read
– Verbs: use action words to inject some energy and urgency
– Show don’t tell: use stories to show readers
– Tone: be approachable, not stiff and starchy
Feel free to share your favourite tips or ask me any questions below.
P.S. If you’d like some help developing your tone of voice, telling your brand’s story, or you’d just like a really engaging About page drop me a line.