Not the same old copywriting dos and don’ts

Writing CopyIf you are in business, then you need copy.

Your website = Copy
Emails to your list = Copy
Product descriptions = Copy
Sales and landing pages = Copy
Blog posts = Copy

Headlines, taglines, bios, intros: copy, copy, copy.

That list is enough to make me want to lay down and nap. (If my grammar police have exploding brain syndrome with my use of “lay” vs “lie,” either is correct these days, though “lie” is technically more correct. When writing copy, write like your people speak.)

Each of those categories could be an article, but the rules for good copywriting pertain to all.

Let’s say you’ve got the basics down pat:

  • Be interesting
  • Be concise
  • Connect with your one reader
  • Do your research.

Great, basics covered. How to be interesting, concise, connectable, and do good research requires another round of Googling. This brings up the following:

Make it about them, tell a story, don’t be the pushy salesperson.

Yup, yup, and definitely don’t be that pushy, salesy, bro-marketing type marketer.

Here’s the one thing that all those important pieces of the copywriting puzzle have in common: feels.

My #1 “Do” is to answer the question: how you want them to feel?

Check it. If you want them to feel engaged, you’ll make it interesting. You might some research to find little-known, fun, or pertinent bits of information on the subject. If you want the reader or listener to feel connected to you or your offer, you’ll make it about them.

And we all know about the power of story to move someone.

#1 Don’t

Don’t use “I” and “we” until you have to.

Nothing says “Run,” to the reptilian brain, like starting a blog post or sales page with “I.”

An email from a colleague landed in my inbox last week. She has a successful corporate coaching business. It was dense with copy; long sentences, big paragraphs, not a bullet in sight. In 500 words she used the word “I” 18 times. The first sentence of each paragraph began with I. What kept me reading? She’s a colleague telling her story, but it was an effort to read it all.

What did people who don’t know and respect her feel? Bored and disengaged is my guess.

(In my first draft of the above paragraph my use of the word “I” contradicted my suggestion not to use it much. Before editing there were 5 of those pests. Now, with a little work and elbow grease? Nary a one. It can be done.)

#2 Don’t

Don’t use the first headline you come up with.

It’s tempting to come up with an idea, turn it into a headline, and write from there. Scores of gurus say “Write the headline last.” I do both. The headline or subject line is what gets people to read what you’ve worked so hard on.

Justin Blackman of Pretty Fly Copy once wrote 100 headlines a day for 100 days. (That links to a video explaining the reason, process, and outcomes.) The dude is nuts, in a good way, and funny; really funny on top of being one of the top copy chiefs around.)

While we’re on the subject of headlines, don’t use clickbait. There’s Buzzfeed clickbait. Like this one I found today, “15 Photos That Prove That Cats Bones Are Made of Noodles.”

Then there is any headline created to get people to click or read, only to discover it had nothing to do with your email content or the product on the sales page.

#2 Do

Cut, cut, cut.

“Murder your darlings” is frequently attributed to William Faulkner. In fact the English writer Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch gets the credit. The point is, less is more. There will be phrases we swear are clever and lovely and won’t add to the reader’s engagement or enjoyment. Machete please.

Aim for concise. (I’d use the word “concision” here because I love unusual words but then I’d be guilty of doing a don’t. Don’t use a 5-dollar word when you’re shooting for a 5th grade level of writing.)

#3 Do
 (Or is it a Don’t?)

Write like a human and like you speak.

But only if you can speak clearly and are mindful of the words and metaphors you use. If you use filler words when you talk — Um, Uh, Like — don’t use them on the page. Duh.

Or you might. It depends on what your audience expects and your brand voice.

This is a “Do” for me and is here to help you stay out of jargon, college essay, or corporate speak mode.

For example, don’t say “utilize” when use will do.

Don’t use clichés or tired words and phrases like “paradigm shift,” trusted advisor,” “thinking outside the box.”

A paradigm shift is a big change.

That trusted advisor? He or she is Someone you can trust.

And for the love of Maryann, can we think differently or in new ways? What’s with the all the boxes?

If you don’t have my list of words and phrases to ditch, you can grab it here.

A few more of each…

Use words that paint a picture.

“My clients make more money” paints a pretty bland picture.

Replace it with “My new to business mom-preneurs are able to make a solid 4-figures a month using my 6-month, business basics and beyond program.”

Now, the reader identifies themselves and can imagine making money.

By all means write.

It’s work. It can feel like mile 14 of a half marathon on hard pavement with a freak hail storm pelting you til it hurts. Yes, that happened to me in NYC many years ago. I kept going because there was nothing else to do.

Writing is like that.

And when your message or sales page matters, you must too.

Stop saying “I can’t write” and get to it.

One last thing:


Yes, I’m shouting. As many times as I’ve suggested this, many other writers have too, people won’t take the time.

So they’ll miss the awkward construction, the double words, the run-on sentence. The reader won’t miss those things though. They might move on.

I’m off to read this before I send it to my VA to pretty up. If you want some help mastering this writing thing, here’s a Round-Up I did last year. I still stand by the people I recommended then.

Writing is a part of business life. Get good or hire well.

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