Why Haven’t The Principles of Copywriting Changed?November 28th 2017 Sally Ormond
Internet marketing and all its associated skills change faster than a cheetah on roller skates (couldn’t find an image of that anywhere).
New technologies force web designers to adopt new techniques. The search engines never stand still in their quest to deliver the perfect search experience. But there’s one thing that hasn’t changed at all.
Know what it is?
The principles of copywriting.
Nothing’s changed since the dawn of advertising.
Sure, audiences change and so does how they like to consume information, but the basic premise of what constitutes good copy is still the same.
What makes good copy good?
“My content must make me sound intelligent, professional and business-like.”
No. If you want good copy, you have to start thinking like one of your customers.
Look at it this way; if you had a shop, your friendly sales team would welcome your customers. They’d chat with them, make them feel special and then try to persuade them to buy something in a subtle but effective way.
Translating that into content – your copy is your sales team, which is why conversational copy works best.
OK – I’m willing to get if you got your hotshot sales team to approach customers like this:
“Welcome, we’ve been in business for 25 years and are regarded as a leader in our field.”
The customer would head for the door faster than that cheetah on roller skates I mentioned earlier. So why on earth do you want your website copy written that way?
That’s why the first pillar is:
- Write in the second person in a conversational style, addressing the reader as ‘you’ and minimising the use of ‘we’.
Conversational also means the language and structure you use must be simple.
Big words and complex sentence structures make you look dumb. Do yourself a favour, ditch the thesaurus and embrace the simple, everyday language you’d use when talking face to face with your customers.
- Use simple language and simple sentence construction at all times.
Long, rambling sentences, with excessive amounts of punctuation, will confuse your reader and send them packing.
In the main keep your sentences short, but feel free to chuck in the odd longer one how and then just to add a bit of variety.
- Keep your paragraphs short (although the occasional longer one won’t hurt).
This post is full of short paragraphs (and yes, some are only one sentence in length – shock horror).
The result is a lot of white space on the page making it look easy to read.
- Subheadings break up your text
Subheadings help your reader see, at a glance, what information is on your webpage. That means, should they wish, they can find the information they want without having to read the entire page.
- Focus on the benefits your product or service offers your customers
Benefit is a word you always hear about, so what does it mean? What are benefits?
For starters, they are not features. Your reader doesn’t want to know about what colour your product comes in, what it’s made from, or the size options (well, OK they do, but that’s not what will make them buy).
They want to know what it will do for them. That could be anything from making them look cool, helping them save (or make) money, reduce their household bills, make them more desirable – the list goes on.
What you have to think about is what will your product or service mean to your customer and make sure you show them the primary benefit at the start of your copy.
Still not convinced?
OK, in that case, I want you to read this anecdote from Dave Trott (the greatest advertising guru and Chairman of The Gate – in my humble opinion).
It illustrates this type of creative thinking.
Many years ago the Fire Brigade asked Dave to come up with a campaign to reduce chip fires. Previous attempts involved showing graphic images of fires and their aftermath but had little effect.
Dave thought long and hard about what the Fire Brigade wanted. When chip fires broke out the householder usually tried to put it out by chucking water on it, which exacerbated the situation resulting in a massive fire that the Brigade was then called out to tackle (at great cost to the taxpayer).
So the real focus of the campaign was to reduce the number of call-outs.
But how could that be done?
The simple answer was to educate the householder about how to put out a chip fire safely.
Relating that to product sales, imagine you’re selling designer shoes. You could write about the colour, the sizes and the height of the heel, or you could say they:
- Are ‘handmade from the finest Italian leather’ (high-quality product)
- ‘Exude sophistication’ (affluence will radiate all around you)
- ‘Were inspired by the latest trends in Italian fashion’ (you’re a style icon and the envy of your friends)
That’s all there is to it.
- Keep your ideas simple
- Keep your language simple
- Keep your construction simple
- Focus on what your customers want, not what you think they want
- Focus on the benefits
Sally Ormond is a commercial writer creating stonkingly great and on-brand content for a global client base.