For some, words flow out from the end of their fingers like soft serve ice cream. For others, trying to get your message across on the page can be a time-consuming mess of squiggly red lines and awkward sentence structure.
I have learnt a few tricks over the years for how to write good copy. Not only will these tips help you find your written voice, but they will make a significant impact on your content marketing efforts.
1. Know who you’re speaking to – the importance of brand voice
Now this is a biggie. You need to know who your audience is. You wouldn’t use slang or an overly-familiar tone of voice if you’re trying to appeal to a corporate audience.
The same principle applies to your content too. Do your research and find out what your audience wants to know. What questions are they asking in regards to your product or area of expertise? This is just good SEO. It would be no use for me to write an article here with tips on planting a vegetable garden. It’s not relevant. You’re here because you’re interested in copywriting and marketing.
If you’re an established company you may find you already have a brand voice which you should adhere to in your copy. If you don’t, then this is something you should develop. Use your knowledge of your customer base to shape the way your brand communicates.
Having guidelines in place for your brand voice gives your organisation an identity and consistency. It sets you up as an authority in your area of expertise. It will also help guide your copywriting and content marketing plan.
2. Write like people speak – keep it short and Hemingway App approved
Reading and writing good copy should be like having a conversation with a peer. It should be engaging, easy to understand, accessible and approachable.
A simple way to achieve this is to keep your sentences succinct. Save the flowery, adjective-filled prose for your novel.
This principle applies regardless of whether it’s for the homepage of a smoothie bar, or a white paper based on a scientific study. Keeping your copy simple and accessible will ensure your audience remains engaged.
If this is something you struggle with, or you want to check the readability of your copy, the Hemingway App is a fantastic tool. Paste your text into the editor and it’ll give it a readability rating (the lower the better). You should aim for grade nine or lower. The tool will flag sentences that are too complex and provides other advice on how to improve your writing. This blog post is grade six.
3. Catch your readers’ attention – don’t be afraid to push the boundaries
This tip is especially important when writing for marketing emails. The inbox is a crowded space where you’ll be jostling with competitors for your customer’s attention. If your subject line is intriguing and makes your reader stop, then you’re more likely to get their open.
In my time as an email marketer my team’s highest open rates came from subject lines that used puns, pop culture references, or were a little tongue in cheek:
- “N-ice N-ice savings” – used to promote discounts on de-icer products
- “A sleepover with a Zipcar? Oh behave!” – used to upsell an offer on renting a car between 6pm-9am.
- “Food glorious food! Hot savings and discounts” – promoting savings at supermarkets and restaurants
However what worked for my audience may not work for yours. It will also depend on your brand’s voice. If you’re trying to establish a professional identity, going all out with the puns isn’t going to work.
Instead (actually this applies to all organisations and copywriting), you should catch their interest by offering what they want. Use your keywords to prove that you have the product they want, or can answer the questions they have.
4. Test whatever you can – your gut instinct may not be right
What you think is winning copy may not resonate with your audience. You should test whatever you can – subject lines, homepages, social ads, landing pages, everything.
All this A/B testing not only means that you use the best iteration of that copy, but over time it allows you to build up a picture of what works and what doesn’t. That way you’re more likely to get it right first time and increase your engagement.
5. Don’t forget to proofread – or you could end up with an unfortunit incidunt
I admit I find a nerdy glee in spotting big companies’ unfortunate spelling or grammar errors. Yet, I cannot stress enough how important it is to proofread your copy.
Better yet, ask someone else to proofread it too. If you’ve been poring over a document for two days it’s difficult to spot your own mistakes. A former colleague of mine discovered this to his embarrassment when he offered our customers a “discoc**t”.
If you don’t have anyone you can trust to proofread your work, don’t rely on Word’s spell check. If you spell a word correctly but it’s not the word you meant to use, it won’t pick it up.
Try a powerful tool like Grammarly, which is far better at picking up the little mistakes. It also offers up context-based corrections and suggestions.
There are also plenty of proofreaders available out there, including myself.