Copywriting – Beginner’s Guide

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Copywriting has become one of the most in-demand skills of 2020. In fact, copywriting jobs can pay upwards of $100k per year.

Why? Every business can benefit from someone who writes great copy. From startups to Fortune 500s and everything in between, copywriting can make or break the success of an organization. 

The truth of the matter is this; anyone can become a copywriter. You don’t need a degree or specialized training to master this skill. 

So whether you’re looking to start a career as a freelance copywriter or just want to improve the copy for your own business, this guide will give you the blueprint for getting your feet wet with copywriting. 

What is Copywriting?

Copywriting is the art of writing text for marketing purposes. It’s designed to sell your products or services while establishing a voice for your brand.

The main intention of copywriting is to persuade people to take a particular action, whether it’s purchasing, signing up for something, or any other type of conversion.

Copywriting comes in many different forms—advertisements, web pages, brochures, white papers, social media content, and company taglines would all fall into the copywriting category, and that’s just barely scratching the surface. 

But copywriting is much more than just words. Great copy tells a compelling story and represents your brand image. It pulls on the strings that trigger the decision-making process for whoever reads what you’re writing. 

Copywriting doesn’t sell products or services; it sells emotion and lifestyle. 

According to Google Trends, the global interest in copywriting is currently at an all-time high, based on search data over the last ten years.

That’s why it’s so important today, more than ever before, to master your copywriting skills. 

10 Elements of Great Copywriting

So what makes great copy? As someone with years of experience writing copy and managing different copywriters, I know what it takes to have success in this space.

There are certain elements that can take average copy and bring it to that next level. These are the top ten that you should be focusing on as a beginner:

1. Grammatically Sound

This should go without saying, but you’d be surprised how often I find errors in copy. If your text has spelling or grammar errors, it can have an adverse effect on your ultimate goal.

When people discover an error in copy, especially short-form copy, it gives them a negative perception of the brand, product, or service. 

Don’t get me wrong; nobody is perfect. As someone who writes 25,000+ words per week, I make my fair share of mistakes. But one or two grammar issues buried in a 3,000-word blog post can be forgiven. A spelling error on a homepage or sales email that’s just a few lines long is much more significant. 

So ignore the urge to rush through this process. Run your text through editing software. Read it out loud. Double and triple-check it before you go live. Have someone else proof your work if necessary. 

2. Persuasion 

Great copy is persuasive. You must write in a way that convinces someone to complete the desired action. 

Why should someone buy your product? Why should they sign up for your email newsletter?

You’re not selling watches; you’re selling luxury. You’re not selling insurance; you’re selling protection. Identify the emotions that you’re trying to trigger from the reader, and find the right word combination to reach those feelings. 

3. Jargon-Free

Leave industry-specific terms out of your copy. 

If you’re a lawyer, someone without legal training should be able to understand what you’re saying. If you’re a doctor, make sure anyone outside of the medical field can comprehend your copy. 

Avoid slang and acronyms at all costs. Slang is usually perceived as unprofessional (unless that’s part of your brand image), and you can’t assume that everyone is familiar with the acronyms that you’re using.

Great copywriters know how to take a complex subject and explain it in terms that a fifth-grader can understand. 

4. Strong Call-to-Action (CTA)

Explaining your brand, products, services, or company mission is just half of the battle. You also need to leave your audience with a clear direction of action.

What’s the ultimate goal of your copy? It should be clear to whoever is reading it.

If you want people to buy something, make sure that message has been conveyed. People shouldn’t be left wondering what to do. Write CTAs that drive conversions.

5. SEO Friendly

This element is exclusive to website copy. 

It’s always in your best interest to write text that makes your content search-friendly. Use keywords that will help your pages rank high in SERPs (search engine page results).

There are lots of factors that go into high-ranking content; keywords are just one of them. While SEO-friendly text is important, it won’t necessarily make or break you. So don’t force keywords if it hurts the quality of your copy. 

6. Direct

Great copy is straight to the point. You must be able to convey your message in as few words as possible. Use short sentences, short paragraphs, and avoid “fluff” or “filler” phrasing. 

Learn how to write copy that’s punchy. If you use long sentences, it’s easy for the reader to get distracted or lost along the way. 

Earlier I discussed the importance of writing grammar-free copy. There are certain exceptions to grammar rules if you’re being direct. For example, you could write three one-word sentences in a row to illustrate a point. 

7. Captivating Lead

The best copy begins with a stunning lead. Whether it’s a headline, subheader, subject line, or introductory phrases, you need to find a way to capture the attention of readers.

Use action words as an attention grabber. You could start off by using a statistic, number, or enticing fact.

There’s an age-old copywriting adage that says the purpose of a headline is to get someone to read your first line. The purpose of your first line is to get people to read your second line, and so on. So if your lead doesn’t captivate your audience, the rest of your copy won’t stand a chance.

8. Channel Specific

Each piece of copy you write can’t necessarily be repurposed or re-used on every marketing channel. Landing pages should have different copy than a billboard. Emails should have different copy than a social media post. 

Even if you’re promoting the same exact product or promotion, you need to write uniquely for every distribution method. 

The tone, style, length, and delivery are just a handful of factors that you’ll want to switch up based on the channel. Generally speaking, copy gets longer the further down the sales funnel.

While this isn’t necessary a tried and true rule, it applies in most scenarios. A billboard for brand awareness won’t be more than a few words. Your homepage copy will have less text than an interior landing page. Product pages will be a little more descriptive than a landing page. 

The tone of email copy will vary from the delivery style of product pages and landing pages. 

So don’t just blindly write copy without understanding how it will be consumed. Always know what distribution channel you’re writing for, and adjust accordingly. 

9. Audience Awareness 

In addition to the distribution method, you need to have a clear understanding of who will be reading your copy. 

A person on your homepage might not be familiar with your brand, whereas an email subscriber already knows who you are. So you won’t necessarily have to introduce yourself and share your brand story in every email campaign. That’s a waste of valuable text, and the repetitive nature can quickly lose the attention of your audience. 

Create copy that’s appealing to your specific niche. Don’t try to target everyone. A business that sells surfboards and skateboards doesn’t have the same audience as a B2B selling enterprise SaaS. Know the difference.

10. Clear Understanding of the Offering

It’s a common mistake for beginner copywriters to dive directly into the writing process. But you shouldn’t start writing a single word until you have a firm grasp of the product, service, brand, or offer. 

Let’s say you’re a freelancer that gets hired by a business to create landing page copy. Depending on the complexity of the offering, it could take you hours or days before you would even consider writing anything. 

If you don’t have a clear understanding of the offer, it’s impossible for you to convey that message to another person. 

Good vs. Bad Copy: Real Examples

Now that you’ve had a chance to learn about what makes great copywriting, it’s time to look at some real-life examples. 

I’ll show you some pieces of copy that I love, and explain what it makes it so great. We’ll also take a look at some not-so-great examples and discuss those as well.

Good Example — Basecamp

Have you heard of Basecamp? If not, let’s see if you can figure out what it is after reading some copy on the Basecamp homepage.

This copy is excellent. For starters, the header tells you exactly what the platform is in less than ten words, while clearly identifying the target (remote workers).

The rest of the text follows a simple format; problem (before Basecamp) and solution (after Basecamp). This copy is written in terms that anyone can understand while giving readers a clear sense of how the product will benefit them.

Basecamp isn’t selling product management software—they’re selling a solution to working remotely.

The copy ends with an obvious call-to-action; give Basecamp a try.

Good Example — Cards Against Humanity

When was the last time you learned how to play a new game? It can be a frustrating experience, especially with a group of people.

Whether there’s one person explaining the rules or multiple people telling you different things at the same time, it takes a while before you can get the hang of it.

This product copy from Cards Against Humanity does an excellent job of explaining how to play in just four sentences.

The tone and style of this copy are obviously geared toward a specific audience. It calls the reader and their friends “despicable” and “awkward.” The opening sentence describes the game as “a party game for horrible people.”

If you’re offended by this copy, then Cards Against Humanity is definitely not for you. 

The second paragraph does an excellent job describing the simplicity of how the game is played. Readers are left with clear CTAs—buy now or download for free. 

Bad Example — Cultivated Wit

Cultivated Wit is a comedy company. They do lots of things right, and they actually have one of my favorite “About Us” pages on the Internet. 

With that said, this email opt-in copy on the homepage is just something I can’t get behind. 

I completely understand what these guys were going for with this copy. It’s made to be ironic, since it’s extremely vague, and the words point that out. 

But that’s also the biggest problem with this text—it doesn’t actually say anything. 

Even though it’s funny, nothing about this gives me a reason to subscribe to their email club, which is what this copy was written to accomplish. 

Bad Example — Discovery Channel

I love the Discovery Channel. I could spend all day watching shows about nature, science, and technology; I find it fascinating. 

However, the copy from this Discovery Channel advertisement a few years ago could definitely use some improvement.

It’s tough to say what’s going on here. What exactly is being advertised? The bottom right of the advertisement has a CTA to buy tickets, but it’s unclear what the tickets are for.

Doing some reformatting and adding a verb to this lead could make the copy easier to understand. 

Something along the lines of “Take a Sneak Peek Inside the Dead Sea Scrolls” would add some clarity. But as it stands in the ad, it’s just a bunch words out of context. 

10 Copywriting Formulas

If you’re new to copywriting, you can follow different formulas to guide you through the process. There are dozens of different copywriting formulas out there, but I’ve narrowed down my top ten for beginners.

Think of these copywriting formulas as a quick template or cheat sheet. 

1. FAB Formula

This is one of the most basic copywriting strategies that you can follow. Instead of just listing the features of a product or service, you need to find ways to highlight the end results and take away the user will get.

  • Features — What are you offering?
  • Advantages — How does it help solve a problem or make things better?
  • Benefits — What does the reader get out of this?

The FAB formula is perfect for copy related to products or services. 

2. BAB Formula

The BAB formula is ideal for storytelling. It’s designed to identify pain points being felt by the reader.

  • Before — This is what your life is like now.
  • After — This is how you’ll feel once the problem has been solved.
  • Bridge — This is how you get there.

We saw some copy earlier in this guide from Basecamp as a “good example” that follows the BAB formula. 

3. The 4 P’s Formula

  • Picture — Grab the reader’s attention by painting a picture that creates desire. 
  • Promise — Explain how the offering delivers that desire.
  • Prove — Use evidence to support that promise. 
  • Push — Convince the reader to commit.

The 4 P’s formula takes a unique approach to conversions. This type of copy gets the reader to commit by proving that you can deliver a promise. 

4. The 4 U’s Formula

  • Useful — How can you help the reader?
  • Urgent — Create a sense of urgency.
  • Unique — Explain how the benefits can’t be found elsewhere.
  • Ultra-specific — Don’t be vague. 

The 4 U’s formula works well for advertisements or social media copy. Find ways to create a sense of urgency, like FOMO, as an emotional trigger that gets the reader to act quickly. 

5. The 4 C’s Formula

  • Clear — Make sure your copy is as clear as possible.
  • Concise — Keep it short and to the point. 
  • Compelling — Spark some interest and grab the attention in an irresistible way.
  • Credible — Explain why the reader should trust your product, service, or brand.

These are just general best practices that should be followed with all of your copy. Regardless of the length, goal, or distribution channel, the 4 C’s are ideal for beginner to prioritize. 

6. ACCA Formula

  • Awareness — Identify the problem or situation at hand.
  • Comprehension — Explain how the problem affects the reader.
  • Conviction — Persuade the reader to follow your solution. 
  • Action — End with a strong call-to-action.

Compared to the other formulas on our list, the ACCA formula is different because of the “comprehension” phase. It’s your job to give the reader a deeper understanding of the problem and solution. Tell people what’s happening and how it affects them before diving into the CTA.

7. “So What?” Formula

The idea behind this formula is simple. Every time you make a statement, ask yourself, “so what?” This forces you to explain the benefits in greater detail. 

Our agency creates the best website content!

So what?

So we can help you generate more traffic, drive conversions, and rank higher in SERPs.

The first part of that copy isn’t useful without the “so what” aspect.

8. OATH Formula

The OATH formula forces you to write copy that’s audience-specific. It can help you write unique copy based on the reader’s market awareness of your brand, product, or service.

  • Oblivious — Reader has no clue about your brand or offer.
  • Apathetic — They are aware of you but uninterested or indifferent.
  • Thinking — The reader has identified a potential need.
  • Hurting — They have a problem that desperately needs to be solved.

As you can see, the copy should be written differently depending on which stage of OATH you’re trying to target. 

9. PAS Formula

  • Problem — Identify the problem at hand.
  • Agitate — Explain the negative impact of having this problem.
  • Solve — Offer a solution.

The PAS formula goes beyond just identifying a problem. It invokes fear in the reader by explaining what could happen to them if the problem isn’t solved. 

10. The “Objections” Formula

Write copy that addresses common objections a reader could have with your offering.

Don’t have time? It takes just 15 minutes. Don’t have money? We offer financing. It won’t work for you? Here’s our money-back guarantee. Don’t believe me? Here are statistics to back up our claims.

Tips For Improving Your Copy Right Now

Like anything else, the best way to improve your copy right now is with practice. Every piece of copy you write won’t be the best of all time. But with practice, you’ll get much better. 

As a beginner, you should master shorter copy before you tackle larger projects. Start with headlines and value propositions before you move to landing pages or white papers.

Be conversational. Write the way that you talk. Spend more time researching and planning than you do actually writing. 

Take note of the great elements of copywriting that I explained earlier in this guide. Follow the lead of the good examples that I showed you, and avoid the mistakes of the bad ones. If you’re struggling, you can always use a copywriting formula to guide you through the process.

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