When you’re first exploring copywriting, there’s definitely a lot to learn! But there are a few quick tips that will help you gain traction a bit faster.
Here’s your no-nonsense list of 10 tips for copywriters (that every copywriter needs to know!).
1. Write About the Benefits (Not the Features)
This is, hands-down, the most crucial point for any copywriter to understand. There’s a difference between features and benefits. Simply put, the “benefit” is how whatever you’re writing about will help your consumer. Features are just details about whatever you’re selling.
For example, a feature of a new razor is “six titanium-coated blades that never dull!” But the actual benefit to consumer—what’s in it for them—might be that they can get a softer, smoother shave than ever before and save money because they’ll never need to buy another razor.
Benefits are so crucial because they directly explain to the consumer why they should take the action you want them to take, whether that be purchasing, subscribing, referring a friend, or anything else. Think about it: Have you ever gotten an email in your inbox where the subject line simply says: “Like us on Facebook!” and you’ve thought to yourself “Why should I???”
Strive to always, always highlight benefits in your writing—put them in your headlines, make them the first things your reader sees and make them clear and to the point. Writing about the benefit is the most important tactic for creating effective copy.
2. Give Users a Clear, Single Next Step to Take
Another element of copywriting that a lot of new writers miss is to actually ask for the sale: Tell the reader the next step you want them to take; to “Buy Now” or “Sign Up Now” or “Forward to a Friend.”
Your call to action, or CTA, is crucial to getting users to take the next step you want them to take. But writing an effective CTA, while it may only be two or three words, requires you to consider the user journey, medium, and more.
It sounds silly to say that you have to tell your reader what to do, but remember: at no point to you want to force your reader to have to figure out what to do next. Don’t make them think! Present to them what they should do next and make it clear and easy to do.
In that same vein, despite what multi-taskers profess, it is physically impossible for a person to perform two actions at once. You need to give your reader one, single, clear next step to take. There may be other actions you’d be perfectly happy for them to take if they don’t take the main one (Liking the company on Facebook, bookmarking the site, etc.), but the hierarchy among those must be clear.
The main action you want them to take has to be front and center and the secondary actions must be clearly just that: secondary.
3. Write for Your Audience, But Write in Your Client’s Brand Voice
As we discussed above, your audience’s needs and your benefit to them will dictate your writing. You’ll also have to write in words that are familiar to your audience and that resonate with them. For example, a bank that had created a new product for teenagers wouldn’t use terms like “fiscal responsibility” and “high-yield investments.”
At the same time, though, the company that you are writing for (the brand) has a very specific voice. It has a tone and style that differentiates it from its competitors and all of its copywriting should stay within that established voice.
The brand voice for Virgin America airlines, for example, is fresh, bold, confident and exciting. No matter who it is addressing in its copy, it would never be cutesy or overly young (“LOL! Flying to Vegas is a total trip!”) and nor would it ever be elegant (“Experience the finest in luxury, with our supremely plush seating and state-of-the-art entertainment consoles.”). Your brand voice should always dictate exactly how you write and the words you choose.
4. It’s Not About You: Write for Your Client’s Needs and Exercise Humility
This can be a very tough one to learn, especially for writers who come from more of a creative writing background. The simple truth is that you are writing for other people and you are writing to meet their goals and objectives. You are a professional and an expert of course, but even the most brilliant stockbroker doesn’t get to force his or her client to make an investment.
You can write the most clever, witty copy in the world, but if it doesn’t answer the creative brief, it does speak to your target audience, if it doesn’t answer their challenge, then it doesn’t matter how clever it is! Remember, creativity is not your first concern. Your first concern is writing copy that connect a specific audience with the best solution to their challenge.
Also, you’re not always going to be right—and it’s okay if someone else comes up with a brilliant copy line. Another facet of your expertise, in addition to writing great lines, is to recognize them. If something’s good and you know it’s good, you should feel free to stand behind it—even if you didn’t come up with it yourself.
5. Do it right the first time
For writers used to submitting drafts, this can be a tricky one, but make no mistake: You’ve got to always put your best foot forward. People will be judging your abilities based on the work they see from you—and they won’t differentiate between “first draft” and “final draft.”
The first time you submit something to the client (internal or external), it needs to be your final draft. Sure, it’s almost definitely going to change based on the feedback you get in creative reviews, but what you submit has to be as right as it can be, the first time.
You may think you’re saving time and energy cutting corners (like skipping the creative brief; see point #7). But when you cut corners, you’re hurting yourself and your client. First, it makes you look unprofessional (and if you want repeat business, that’s bad for business). Second, you ultimately end up spending more time and, if you’re using project pricing, you’re actually leaving money on the table.
6. Send Your Clients Only Your Best Option(s)
When you are in the concepting phase, you may come up with several ideas and ways to complete a project. But that doesn’t mean your client needs to see them all. That puts more work on their plate. And your goal is to take work off their plate. You’re the expert. Send through your recommendation (you always have the others in your back pocket!).
New writers tend to do this a lot: When they’ve been working for hours on a bunch of options for, say, headlines, they often send through the whole list of options to their creative director or client instead of removing the ones they know aren’t as good as others. They usually do this because—and I can tell you this because I used to do the same thing, way back when—they want their boss or client to know they’ve been working for hours on solving the problem.
But here’s the thing: your boss or client already assumes you’ve put a lot of thought into your work. You don’t need to show them—and you waste their time by sending through a list of options in which only half of them are good. (It also might make them question your ability to tell the difference between great lines and not-as-great ones.)
Prove your expertise by editing out your less-than-stellar lines before you submit it.
7. Question the Creative Brief (It’s Probably Not as Thorough As It Needs to Be)
If a client gives you a creative brief (not always the case!), it likely has some holes. It wasn’t written by a copywriter, after all, so you’re going to have questions that a product or project manager or marketing manager didn’t think to ask. They’re coming from a “how do we meet the business objectives?” standpoint.
While business objectives are important, though, it’s also crucial that you have a good understanding of the customer’s wants and needs. (After all, if you can’t address a customer’s wants and needs, the customer has no reason to take action!)
If you’re writing the creative brief (as you need to do!), you need to make sure you’re getting the answers to your questions. A creative brief is not set in stone—it’s a working document. If you’re not getting everything you need from it to create great copy, then ask questions until you do.
8. Expect Edits and Feedback from All Stakeholders (Know That There Will Be Revisions)
Copywriters need to embrace feedback. It’s part of our job! This can be very challenging for new copywriters, especially those who come from an editorial or creative writing background. When you go into a creative review, everyone in that room is going to have feedback for you—and, often, it will be a lot of people. This is normal.
Think of it less of a critique of your work and more of a collaborative effort to get the project to the best possible place. You put through your best work, you get feedback, you revise, you get feedback and you revise until it meets what your clients want. Getting feedback or requests for revisions doesn’t mean that you’re not doing your job well; it’s just part of the process.
Giving (and receiving) feedback is a skill. The more you practice that skill, and practice incorporating feedback into a round two of your copy (or round 3, or 4…), the more of a pro you’ll be come at it.
9. Do Your Best Work, But don’t Fall in Love With It
This goes back to point #4. It’s not about you. You need to do what’s best for the project (and, ultimately, if you’re doing the best work for the project, it’s the best work for your portfolio, too). You may need to change your work for it to get to the best possible place.
But just because you’re going to get people asking for changes to your work, it’s no excuse not to put your very best foot forward every time. At the same time, too, don’t get so attached to what you’ve written that you get resentful if someone wants it changed.
It’s natural that, every once in a while, you’ll be really sorry to see a line of copy go and maybe even get a little ticked off to have to lose it. Just don’t let your client or the project manager see it. Your job is to create copy that meets the client’s objectives, not just to please yourself. Love your work and be proud of it, but don’t get married to it.
10. Everyone Thinks They’re a Copywriter, But You’re (Supposed to Be) the Expert
Too many writers call themselves copywriters, but haven’t received the proper copywriting training (if any training!). After all, everyone uses words. So, you’ll even find clients or project managers who try to do some of the writing for you.
They don’t do it maliciously, but they’ll do it. And, in such cases, you’ll have to speak up if what’s being suggested doesn’t meet the needs of the work.
You have to have confidence enough in your abilities to voice your thoughts in meetings and advise when copy choices are being made. They may not always take your advice, but it’s your job to offer it. I put “supposed to be” the expert because, unless you’re speaking up and advocating for the integrity of the creative, you’re not the expert—you’re just a producer. Set yourself apart and treat the creative with the respect it deserves. Be an expert. Be a professional.
Your turn! What tips have helped you in your career? Let us know in the comments below!
Last Updated on July 4, 2023