What 7 Legendary Copywriters Can Teach Us About Web Copy

by Henneke Duistermaat

Last updated on January 10th, 2018

It’s an easy mistake.

Each generation of copywriters is probably the same.

We think that writing has changed. We try to re-invent the wheel. We hunt the web for the latest, newest, shiniest tips.

Web copy is different from old-fashioned ad copy, isn’t it?

Yes, of course, some things have changed. We have to deal with information overload more than ever before.

Our attention spans may be shorter. Our ability to assess information may have speeded up. Our talent for searching the web has grown exponentially.

But basic human needs remain the same. Our longing to be loved. Our wish to be free from pain and fear. Our desire to belong and to care for our loved ones.

Copywriting isn’t just about choosing the right words. It’s about understanding your audience and addressing their needs. Copywriting is marketing. It’s sales. It’s psychology.

That’s why century-old copywriting guidance is often still valid today. That’s why these legendary writers can still teach us a few tricks for writing web copy.

Lesson 1: The biggest copywriting mistake

copywriting 1cThat was true 80 years ago, and it’s still true today. Nobody is interested in your product, your service, your app, or your website. People want to know what’s in it for them.

Don’t just list features and specifications, but translate them into benefits for your readers. Or mention the glitches, complications, and problems you help them to avoid.

Lesson 2: The most important copywriting skill

copywriting 2cEugene Schwartz also said: “I write with my ears.” And that’s more important than it has ever been.

To be found on the web you need to use the same phrases that potential buyers search for on Google. You have to know exactly what words and which benefits speak to them.

Your possibilities to listen are much greater than ever before. Read online reviews. Conduct online surveys with open questions. Listen in to social conversations. Phone your customers.

You have no excuse. You have to understand your audience. Appreciate their fears. Understand their objections to buying from you. Know how you can fulfill their wishes. Because that’s how your web copy becomes persuasive.

Lesson 3: Cut literary language

copywriting 3Hopkins’ lesson is even more important today than it was many years ago.

Your web visitors are in a hurry. They don’t take the time to understand what you’re trying to tell them.

Stop worrying about fine writing. Use simple words and short sentences. Write as if you’re writing for a 12-year old, because that’s how you make your text readable and understandable.

Lesson 4: How to be believed

copywriting 4Most of us use testimonials for social proof. But how persuasive are your testimonials really? Are they just sugary endorsements nobody believes?

To use the persuasive power of testimonials, write them as a story. Explain why a customer might have hesitated to buy from you, and how happy is now he has your product.

Lesson 5: How to build credibility

copywriting 5Being specific is critical to establishing credibility in your sales copy. Everyone hates to be sold to. Everyone is allergic to sales speak.

General statements make people think yeah, yeah. And that’s when you lose their attention.

Don’t write about hundreds of users, mention 317 users instead. Use specific details and exact numbers to support your messages.

Lesson 6: Write with enthusiasm

copywriting 6If you’re bored with a product, then rest assured, you’re boring the boots of your readers, too. If you can’t be enthusiastic about a product, then find someone else who is. Good copy is full of fascinating little details. How are you going to find all these snippets of information without learning as much as you can about a product?

Become an expert before writing copy. And write your first draft at a furious speed because that’s when your enthusiasm will show. You can’t make dull copy exciting, but you can edit passionate copy to make it clearer and more concise.

Lesson 7: Ask for action

copywriting 7It’s so obvious, but how often do we forget to ask people to do something?

Before starting to write your web copy, think about what you want to achieve. What do you want someone to do after reading a particular web page? That’s your call to action. Then work back from your objective to write copy that persuades readers to do as you tell them to.

Treat each web page and each piece of printed marketing material as a landing page.

The harsh truth about writing web copy

I’d love to tell you that writing web copy is easy.

I’d love to tell you that you only need to follow a few simple rules.

But the truth is that writing web copy that sells, is hard work. You have to become the best sales man. You have to become an excellent psychologist. You need to be a supreme marketer.

Above all, you need to understand your reader so well that you can talk his talk, think his thoughts, dream his dreams. Because that’s the only way you can take away his fears and his objections to buying from you. That’s the only way to entice him with persuasive web copy.



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Henneke Duistermaat

Henneke Duistermaat is a marketer and copywriter, who's on a mission to stamp out gobbledygook and to make faceless companies charming. To receive her free copywriting and content marketing tips, sign up at Enchanting Marketing.


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  1. Ayesha Iqbal says:
    February 14, 2018 at 6:57 am

    Lesson 3 and 6 are so on point. I’ve always made sure to write in easy conversational language that my readers can connect too. Keep up the good work Henneke.

  2. Navin Israni says:
    April 28, 2016 at 9:15 am

    Copy writing can be easy, but it becomes effortless if you know your customers’ psychology.

    I don’t know anything about psychology, but I know it will make me a better copy writer!

    Loved the 7th point – ask for action. Ideally, every self-sufficient deliverable of your campaign must have its own independent objective. Without objective you are just making a chair with handles and legs but no seat!

  3. Ashley Oulton says:
    October 15, 2013 at 1:20 pm

    Very useful post for someone like myself who just starting in webcopy. My background has been in print copy up unil recently. Thank you!

  4. September 12, 2013 at 8:37 pm

    Writing effective web copy is not only an art – it’s the difference between an average site and a great website – every time. More so than fancy graphics and media effects, it’s well written and engaging copywriting that ultimately motivates a visitor to your website to purchase your products or services. Think about it. Have you ever responded to a website filled with poorly written or confusing web content? Doubtful. In creating the call to action, effective copywriting is written in a manner that is informative, interesting and conversational.

    • Henneke says:
      September 18, 2013 at 3:53 pm

      Well put, Eugenia 🙂

  5. September 6, 2013 at 10:13 am

    I really enjoyed this post! I’m a writer but still gleaned a lot from it.

    I’m curious: when you talk about avoiding puffery: what’s your take on headlines like “How I Saved 37% of My Light Bill?” The numbers are meant to jolt people into clicking, but they’re usually invented. Is it misleading or just a writing construct meant to attract attention? I’m on the fence…

    • September 6, 2013 at 10:59 am

      Hey Susan. Glad you liked the post. Puffery usually refers to vagued, generalized statements that have no real meaning. While it’s true that some marketers make up numbers, that’s not the point of adding them. Those numbers, dollar figures and stats are there to add specificity, which are a great way to give credibility to your statements. Of course, I always recommend fact-checking, so you don’t mislead your readers.

  6. September 6, 2013 at 12:17 am

    Awasome BLog, thanks for Sharing.

  7. Prashant Rohilla says:
    September 5, 2013 at 11:40 am

    Thanks henneke for compiling all the tips, great read. By the way i loved the last one 🙂

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