6.10 Copywriting

Copywriting (or copy writing) is a skilled trade, and larger companies employ professionals. For smaller companies that must write their own advertisements and webpages, the usual advice is as follows:

If genius is 99% perspiration, copy writing writing depends much more on information: the proverbial mix is 50% information, 25% personalization, 15% inspiration and 10% perspiration. In other words, to sell something, you have to know your product, and be committed to it. Only then can you make your message Attractive, Interesting, Desirable, Convincing and Actionable (AIDCA). Note the sequence. Copywriting is writing that gets something done by understanding how customers react: your customers, the one you really want.

What's the Main Idea?

What is real benefit you are offering customers? Not the specifications, or how you are better than others. What is the one essential benefit, material or psychological, that your customers will get?

You could expect to know this, since it underwrites your unique selling proposition, the reason why your site exists at all. But plans get modified, and in copy writing you are turning the business around to look at it from the customers' point of view. What's in it for them? Why should they spend time on your site, and, more importantly, buy something?

Language of Sales Copy

Sales copy has a language of its own. Words certainly have to be appropriate — nothing is more a giveaway than jargon misused — but sales copy will often use:

1. Short sentences lacking verbs or proper punctuation: Our offer to you. . . Because we care etc.
2. Clichés: exclusive offer, act now, yours free, etc.
3. Wild exaggeration: unbelievable offer, only while stocks last, etc.
4. Colloquialisms: techies will hate our saying so, etc.
5. Words repeated rather than some elegant variation found, hammering home a simple message.
6. Trite rimes: beans meanz heinz, etc.

Sales Copy Practices

These points are often made:

1. Stick to the one theme. Decide on your 'big idea' and develop that properly.

2. Remember the AIDCA formula. Conviction is essential. You have to convince the reader to do something (which is why information by itself won't sell). You must build interest into desire, and then strengthen that desire with supporting testimony or facts, propelling the reader to take the required action. Get your copy here. Buy at today's special price. Etc.

3. Keep the message succinct, alluring and engaging. Short sentences work best. Introduce them with Revealed, Free, Remarkable, Latest, Guaranteed, Killer, Secrets. . . etc. Carry the message on with: But, However, So, Because, What's more. . .

4. Support your claims with specifications, comparisons and testimonials. Be specific, particularly if addressed to senior management: 135% sales boost in 4 months rather than spectacular results.

5. Hook interest with your opening words. Commonly this is done with a headline

Revealed: The Secrets of Successful CopyWriting

that summarizes the benefits, followed by copy that hooks interest.

Get it right first time. What you will learn. Never-before-revealed secrets from the man who. . . Thirty years of advising the top brands brings you. . . Explode sales with these . . . Plus . . . absolutely free to the first one thousand subscribers. . .

6. Use graphics, and preferably photos, but keep them relevant.

7. Balance graphics and text: each should support the other.

8. Less is more. Don't clutter the page or your story line with too many examples or clinching arguments. Leave white space for impact.

9. Maintain a consistent tone and look.

10. Be specific and friendly: we're here to help rather than XZY is a company dedicated to maximizing customer satisfaction. . .

11. Be positive. We'd be pleased to hear from you rather than We always answer emails, even the stupid ones.

12. The logo is sacrosanct. Never alter or play with it.

Structuring the Sales Copy

The Internet imposes its own organization, but in general an advert consists of four parts: headline (proposition), lead-in paragraph, main argument, and lead-out-paragraph that relates back to the main proposition.


Keep them short: everyone reads the first three words but only 60% beyond six.

Headlines have to be relevant and intriguing, leading into the message but not spelling it out.

Headlines can be picture captions, but they must enhance the message by drawing attention to certain of its elements.

Headlines commonly fall into one of these categories:

1. Question: where can you get impartial advice?
2. Directive: stay ahead of the pack.
3. Comparison: no one offers a better service.
4. Challenge: find something cheaper and we'll refund twice the difference.
5. Invitation: take out a subscription now and you could win $100.
6. Promise: your money back if you don't double your sales in six months.
7. Anticipation: imagine driving out with the car of your choice.
8. Location: it's already a hot, sunny day. . .
9. Representation: Mr. Kipling makes exceedingly good cakes.
10. Demonstration: just one call netted Rolytop Engineering 481 new prospects!
11. News-making: congrats. . . from one award-winner to another.


These one or two sentences are vital, second only to the call to action. They never repeat or explain the headline, but link it to the main argument, or, more exactly, lead into it. Headline: Where Can You Get Impartial Advice? Lead in: It's not easy to know who to trust when it comes to pension advice. So many policies, so much fine print.

Main argument

Here you make your case, succinctly and persuasively. Copywriters often adopt one of these approaches:

1. Logical. Picks up the headline and lead-in by developing the 'main idea' point by point, buttressing the benefits with example and testimony.
2. Corporate. Concentrates on the ideology behind a product rather than the benefits. Something of a PR exercise, and facts have to be totally accurate.
3. Story line. Adds human interest to a product, and is often used when benefits are few or unclear.
4. Character led. Testimonial in style, where the testimony comes from an expert or celebrity.
5. Oddball. Uses the unexpected: humor, verse, foreign phrases.
6. Caption. A linked series of captions to photographs or illustrations.

If of any length, the main argument may be broken into subheads and captions, each addressing a specific point (when they may be resolution points: see below).

Finally, and most important, the main argument has to end in a call to action: check our product specifications, ring us for a copy today, click the download button here.


Concluding sentence or sentences that create a warm and lasting impression on the reader. Will often be a slogan, something that rounds off the headline, and/or provides confidence and continuity to the marketing campaign. Slogans themselves have common features. Generally they are 1. friendly, 2. make promises, 3. call for action, 4. create ideals, 5. are memorable, 6. repeat key words, 7. stress status, 8. wrap everything up in a few short words.

Writing for the Internet

All sales copy needs to be succinct and engaging. If interest flags, then the reader turns over. But the Internet has accustomed readers to even snappier writing, and they expect the main idea to emerge quickly. No corporation speak, generalities or coy humor.

Reading habits are also different. Surfers are impatient, and not always intelligent. Place a hyperlink in mid-sentence, and they'll click on it, arriving at a page that loses them, since they didn't complete the sentence. Webpages are not pages in a traditional sense, moreover, but screens, where readers will probably start about the middle, perhaps shooting to a graphic that has caught their eye. Then they're off again. What isn't immediately apparent won't be looked for. Sign up here, view product lines, visit our store locations, etc. — your key messages — all have to be placed optimally. So:

1. Plan the whole site around the selling process: give a site plan if really necessary.
2. Ensure the benefits promised in landing pages are carried through by directing visitors through specially-written pages.
3. Work out exactly what each page has to do.
4. Lead up to that action appropriately, placing subtle confidence-building information/messages at strategic points.
5. Ensure the page directs attention to where the copy really starts.
6. Place points of resolution (nouns with links to side pages) that anticipate questions in the selling process: our product compared with others, etc.
7. Ensure the points of resolution pages do answer the likely questions, and bring the visitor back into the sales process. Even if later: before you go, sign up for our free newsletter, etc.
8. Use an imperative verb to get action, but imply a benefit: contact a representative to discuss your needs.
9. Clear the page of clutter: unnecessary text, distracting links, competing claims.
10. Understand what readers expect on arriving at a page in question, what has drawn them there: build on that, but don't repeat what's previously been told them: fulfill some of their expectations in taking readers further.
11. Get third parties, even your spouse, to check that readers do as intended.
12. Screen out unwanted visitors if you're employing the pay-for-clicks search engines: wholesale only, we are not cheap but . . . etc.
13. Your copy — particularly headings — still have to be search engine friendly if the page is to rank well: a further complication.
14. Use task completion and funnel analysis to track the movement of visitors through your site.

Pay-Per-Click Ad Copy

Marketing Experiments tested the pulling power of ad copy written for Google AdWords and AdSense. They found that:

1. Most important was the ad title or headline.
2. Title should feature keywords reflecting your selling advantage (account can be set up to automatically include a vast number of keywords).
3. Display URL should be short, memorable and include the www.
4. Hype was a turnoff, but subtle suggestion of urgency did work.
5. Short, precise sentences were needed, not just keywords.
6. Credibility factors were important: 5 star merchant rating, etc.
7. Ad conversion rate was important, but not sufficient to risk low click-through rates that got you dropped by Google.
8. Consumers are jaded: ads saying the reverse of what's expected could be effective.
9. Repeated testing is essential.

Know the Customer

Companies cannot communicate with a vacuum, and 'male professionals between the ages of 25 and 50' is not a brief to excite the copywriter. Valuable information on customers is often obtained through:

1. Sales telephone conversations and customer responses/questions.
2. Internet discussion forums.
3. Product advisory council of existing customers, on- or off-line.
4. Detailed (but not intrusive) questionnaires in newsletter sign-ups.
5. Experiments with more focused sales copy, results being continually monitored.


1. What is the aim of copywriting?
2. How does copywriting differ from normal writing?
3. List some important copywriting practices.
4. How would you rewrite something for web page viewing? Explain why.
5. What should appear in pay-per-click ad copy?
6. How can your ad copy target the market sector effectively?

Sources and Further Reading

1. Advertising Age. Ad business news plus industry data on advertising and marketing.
2. Internet Advertising Resource Ad Guide. Useful listings of resources and services under various categories: includes teaching software.
3. Psychology of Consumers. Somewhat theoretical, but very clear and thorough series of articles.
4. Selling Power. Online version of magazine with 200,000 subscribers. Practical articles.
5. Web Digest For Marketers. Free weekly email newsletter reviewing marketing-orientated websites.
6. MediaPost. Excellent information source: 35,000 listed in media people finder, and 3,000 articles.
7. Marketing Experiments. Directory of research articles and courses.
8. Care and Feeding of the Press. Advice from the Internet Press Guild on getting the best from press releases.
9. Successworks. Search engine copywriting courses.
10. Eight Copywriting Rules for Increasing Conversion by Pamela Hazelton. Practical Ecommerce. July 2010.