Copywriting Essentials from A to Z

image of cutout letters

Where do you begin?

I wondered that as a fresh-faced, new copywriter, staring at the blank page and a phone that wouldn’t ring.

There was so much information online — and I didn’t know where to start.

Today I offer you the guide I wish I’d had back then: an A to Z of the absolute essentials of copywriting — plus a good bit of further reading for each.

If you tackle just one of these principles every day, you could conceivably master the basics of copywriting and content marketing in less than a month.

Even if you’re a seasoned pro, don’t skip this list. It’s always good to revisit the fundamentals now and then.

Let’s get going!

Action

The whole point of copywriting is to get the reader to take action.

You want them to buy your product, subscribe to your RSS feed, join your email list, or just spread the word. Before you write your next piece, decide what you want your reader to do.

Read more: How to Be a Copywriting Genius: The Brilliantly Sneaky Trick You Must Learn

Brevity

Cut unnecessary words.

Read more: Are You Too Lazy to Write Less?

Content

“Content” can mean blog posts, reports, ebooks, white papers … anything which provides information readers want.

Drawing readers in with valuable content (“content marketing”) lets you build trust and engagement. Content is not just a way to boost your search engine traffic.

Read more: What’s the Difference Between Content Marketing and Copywriting?

Drafts

It’s rare for a piece of copy to come out just right the first time around. Don’t publish your first drafts — edit, edit and edit some more.

Read more: How to Write With a Knife

Email

You might well use Twitter, Facebook, forums and an RSS reader to keep up with the online world. Unless your customers are especially high-tech, they’re probably just using email.

Meet them on the comfortable ground of their inbox — by providing an email subscription to your blog, and by having a newsletter or advance discount list.

Read more: Five Ways to Make Your Email Marketing Work Better

Free

The word “free” is still an attention-grabber.

Free reports, free ebooks, free themes, free samples … all great ways to make potential customers warm to you. And just because you know something’s free doesn’t mean that they will: make it clear that readers can subscribe to your blog for free.

Read more: How to Make Money with Free

Grammar

Readers like writing that’s relaxed and conversational. They don’t like writing that’s riddled with grammatical mistakes. These imply that, at best, you’re careless — and they’ll put off your potential customers.

Read more: 5 Grammatical Errors that Make You Look Dumb

Headlines

An awful lot of your potential customers will only read the headline of a piece. They might see it in their inbox, on the Google search results page, on Twitter, or in an RSS reader.

If you want them to click through, that headline needs to grab their attention.

Read more: How to Write Headlines That Work

Interest

Grabbing attention helps, but only if you can deliver on what you’ve promised in the headline. You need to keep hold of the reader — through great content, a strong voice or a unique viewpoint.

Read more: How to Be Interesting

Jobs

If you’re a freelance copywriter, you’ll need a constant stream of jobs to work on. That doesn’t just mean sending off applications for the gigs which you see advertised — because there’ll be plenty of (better paying) jobs which are never posted.

Most clients will approach a copywriter they’ve already heard of, so you need to market yourself.

Read more: How to Get More Clients, Money, and Respect for Your Copywriting Business

Keywords

If you want search engine traffic, readers need to be able to find your content. That means using appropriate keywords — use the language of your audience, not the language which you think is right. (Use Google’s Keywords Tool to find out what people are really searching for.)

Read more: The 5 Essential Elements of Search Engine Keyword Research

Links

Incoming links are vital: they not only bring readers directly to your content, they also boost your search engine ranking.

Links between your own pages matter too: they draw readers deeper into your website and keyword-rich links can improve your rank for that phrase.

Read more: Five Link Building Strategies That Work

Money

You might be offering free content, building a list, launching a blog … but at some point, money needs to enter the equation. There’s nothing greedy or pushy about having something to sell and actively promoting it, and making a killer offer.

Read more: Why Your Blog Doesn’t Make Money

Notebook

Get in the habit of carrying around a notebook.

You can capture sudden thoughts, magazine headlines, snippets of conversation … anything you want. Separating the idea-gathering stage from the writing makes your time at your desk much more focused and efficient.

Read more: How to Write an Article in 20 Minutes

Openings

The start of your piece is almost as crucial as the headline. The first few lines will either draw the reader in to read what’s next or lose them for good.

Learn to craft attention-grabbing openings … or all the rest of your work will go to waste.

Read more: 5 Simple Ways to Open Your Blog Post With a Bang

Punctuation

Your grammar might be great, your spelling might be spotless … but is your punctuation perfect?

Some punctuation mistakes knock your credibility (like misusing apostrophes) — others can alter the whole meaning of what you wrote. You don’t need to be an expert on the Oxford comma, but you do need to know the basics.

Read more: Six Common Punctuation Errors that Bedevil Bloggers

Questions

Your reader has plenty of questions — like “why do I care?” and “can I trust this person?”

Your copy needs to address those questions, otherwise you’ll lose a potential customer. If you’re creating content, look at the questions which readers ask time and time again about your topic.

Answering these will give you a report or ebook that’s spot-on target for your audience.

Read more: Three Questions Your Copy Must Answer to Succeed

RSS

Most of your regular blog readers won’t come back to your site day after day.

They’ll want your content to come to them. That means you need to have an RSS feed. Run it through Feedblitz or Feedburner so that you can track your subscriber numbers and so you can provide an email option too.

Read more: How to Increase Your Blog Subscription Rate by 254%

Scarcity

Ever been on the fence about buying something, only to see that the store had just one left?

You probably snapped it up fast. When a product or service is in short supply, we’ll often make a decision to buy … instead of putting it off indefinitely.

Read more: Available for a Limited Time Only

Testimonials

Readers are automatically a little suspicious about what you say. Of course you think your product is great — but does it really stand up to the hype?

Honest testimonials go a long way towards assuaging these fears.

Read more: 5 Tips for Knockout Testimonials

Urgency

Like scarcity, urgency prompts your potential customers to make a decision, instead of dithering for weeks — or leaving your sales page and forgetting all about your offer.

They’ll be turned off by anything that smacks of scamminess though, so make sure there’s a good reason behind the urgency.

Read more: The Smart Way to Create a Sense of Urgency

Voice

Your writing has a unique flavour — its voice. A friendly-but-authoritative voice works well for most copywriters: you don’t want to send your reader to sleep with stilted language and technical jargon, but you don’t want to come across as a rambling chatterbox either.

If you’re doing content marketing, your voice can be a huge factor in whether or not your readers stick around.

Read more: Four Steps to Finding Your Ideal Writing Voice

Writing

A pretty essential part of copywriting is … writing. A lot of “writers” don’t spend much time putting words on a page, though. They read about writing, talk about writing, think about writing … but they rarely actually write.

Don’t wait for the stars to align or the muse to descend before you write. Just sit down and get on with it.

Read more: Five Tips for Finding Writing Time

XXX

When you need to check a fact, or you can’t quite think of the right word, what do you do? You probably stop writing and go straight to Google — and from there, it’s very easy to get distracted.

Instead of breaking your flow, put “XXX” in your copy, and go back to fix it later. You can use the “find” function to catch those XXXs when you’ve finished the first draft.

Read more: S.P.E.E.D. Writing: 5 Tips to Double Your Writing Productivity

You

Focus on the reader, and talk directly to him or her using “you”. Not the plural you (“some of you may be wondering…”) but the singular (“you may be wondering …”).

Yes, your email or blog post will have more than one reader, but those readers are each experiencing your words individually.

Read more: The Two Most Important Words in Blogging

Zing

Being able to write plain, straightforward sentences is an art.

Clarity counts for a lot. But it’s not necessarily going to get you the sale, or any repeat traffic. Adding little extra zing — using powerful words or images, for instance — makes your copy engaging and memorable.

Read more: Three Ways to Spice Up Any Blog Post

What’s on your personal copywriting A to Z? I’d love to hear your suggestions in the comments…

About the Author: Ali Hale is a writer, blogger and writing coach. You can read more from her on DailyWritingTips.com, where she also offers a course for those who want to get started with freelance writing.

Print Friendly

Smarter is Better Solutions for Smarter Content Marketing

Here’s what we’ve got for you:

  • 15 high-impact ebooks on content marketing, SEO, email marketing, landing pages, keyword research, and more.
  • A 20-part Internet marketing course that lays out a comprehensive path for your own online strategy.
  • An organized reference guide to the “best of the best” of Copyblogger.com, and how it all profitably fits together.
Free Registration

Take The Conversation Further ...

We'd love to know your thoughts on this article.
Meet us over on Twitter or LinkedIn to join the conversation right now!

Comments

  1. I couldn’t have read this article at a better time Ali, thank you!

  2. Great Post. It definitely takes hell lot of effort to come out with logical sequence right from A-Z.. I believe right words have been used for every character. Good idea, great execution.

    Hey BTW the last line Read more:…. directs to this page again, is this a typo? Sonia ?

  3. Fantastic compilation, Ali! If a writer would quickly reference this A-to-Z list before pushing publish on each post, the quality and appeal of their writing would be much improved.

    I may do just that! ;-)

    And I really like that “XXX” tip…not what I thought you were going for at first.

    Dustin

    • Yeah, I wondered what XXX would be as well. :D

    • Haha – I thought the same thing! Way to use sexual connotations to grab our attention :)

      But really, awesome post! I’m terrible at writing copy, so I’ll be bookmarking this as a list to come back and run through whenever I’m writing sales text.

      Thanks much!!!

  4. @BlogSetupPros – Glad it came at a good time!

    @Himanshu – Thank you! The last link does look a bit mangled, I’ll get in touch with Sonia. Cheers for pointing it out.

    @Dustin – Thanks, glad you liked it! I did have other options in mind for XXX … ;-)

  5. This is an excellent post, just what I needed!!

    Truly a complete guide to copywriting from A-Z for free.

    This post truly helped me out a lot and gave me many new tips to improve my writing skills, but also showed me many things that I am currently doing wrong too. :P

  6. XXX is my favorite. You MUST go offline in order to write properly. I’m totally convinced of this. Research is important, but it has to be deliberate and separate.

  7. An excellent and thought-provoking summary. Brevity – was it Mark Twain who wrote: “sorry to write you such a long letter, I didn’t have time to write a short one”? Voice – it needs to be one the readers feel happy with, i.e. it should suit the content.

  8. Great job, Ali. I have to agree with Martyn, the XXX is my favorite tip too. I’m very guilty of wandering off to Google something in the middle of a post and then losing my train of thought.

    I think I might also be guilty of the plural you. I’m going to have to go back through my writing and see for sure. You had my nodding in agreement on so many of these points that I might have just convinced myself by the time you got to Y. ;)

  9. Exactly the kind of invaluable content you have such a widespread reputation for publishing! This is a reference piece, an inspirational source, and an example to show clients – it’s a keeper!

  10. Just goes to show that a good Copywriter doesn’t just have to merely *know* the alphabet…. it’s all about knowing what to do with it.

  11. This is excellent. I’m keeping a copy at my desk.

    I make a habit of putting XXX as a place saver in my copy. My one fear is that someone will find the unfinished manuscripts after I’m dead and fill in the XXXs with erotica.

  12. @Mathew – Glad to help! We all get things wrong (me included) so don’t feel like you’ve got to take in this whole list at once. If you tackled just one “letter” each day you’d be learning a lot. :-)

    @Martyn @Brad – It’s *so* tempting to stop and look things up when working on a computer. I’m sure I used to focus better when my research was in books and my writing was with pen and paper … I have to make a deliberate effort now not to break off in the middle of writing something.

  13. Great list of excellent copywriting elements plus resources for each Ali!

  14. Thank you for sharing such a great reference tool! The additional “Read more” is a great resource! This is a keeper! Very impressive!

  15. Great list on writing. Just like Martyn, I like your XXX tip. The online thesaurus is a world unto itself and is fun to traverse,but it’s a huge time suck.

    Thanks!

  16. Ali, you are so clever. I love this take on writing and I can use it on other topics – A to Z of something. It makes it so memorable. Thank you for putting Grammar, Punctuation, Brevity and Voice in there. It’s WONDERFUL to see you everywhere. I am finally catching up with my RSS feed and you have shown up plenty of times today. A great sign :)!

    • Thanks Farnoosh! Yeah, I’m all over the place at the moment. Keep an eye on ProBlogger and Daily Blog Tips too … ;-)

      I’d love to see your take on the A-Z format! It’s something which I’ve seen magazines use a lot, but I rarely see it done in the blogosphere.

  17. Dr. Naquib :

    Ali Hale needs to be hailed for his very useful blog written in witty sentences. New blog writers can now craft blogs concisely. His reference to “How to Write With a Knife” is the need of the hour. We really need a sharp knife to trim our flabby or obese sentences or passages!

    • to trim our flabby or obese sentences or passages!

      Or trim unnecessary words.

      • Dr. Naquib :

        Brian, my friend:

        Thanks, please replace the part by–

        “trim words or phrases in our flabby sentences.”
        Also the pronoun should be ‘her’, not ‘his’ , as discovered later that the writer is a ‘she’, not ‘he’.

        • Don’t worry about it, lots of people get confused! I’m “Ali” short for “Alison”… :-) (Just to add to the confusion, I’m also “Ali Hale” in some places, like on Daily Writing Tips, and “Ali Luke” in others — got married last September and changed my name…)

  18. I will do as you suggested. One action each day and hopefully I’ll be a better writer within a month.
    Many thanks.

  19. Love this!

  20. Several of these articles look interesting! Thanks for your comments and the list!

  21. What a clever way of delivering a compilation of excellent tips. Love it. Many of them are simple but very effective. I know this because I have used some of them already. Ali knows her stuff…

    Terry

  22. Great information. Thanks so much. Is it geeky if I keep this in my copyblogger folder at my email page?

  23. Holy smokes, you invested some serious grey matter into this post. I’m going to go crawl back into my hole now.

  24. Hey Ali, such a lovely piece – thank you so much for sharing. I’m still stuck on A but hopefully your post will give me the boost I need. Much Love, N

  25. Excellent copy. My favorites were G & P since they are my pet hates.
    Send me a sales letter containing those errors and it will get tossed
    even if you’re offering something I desperately need yesterday.

  26. Wow! 26 bullet points . . . and they were all good.

  27. Hi Ali!

    This list is awesome. Was scrolling through from A-Z and this is an amazing rundown of must-know in copywriting!

    Thanks so much!

  28. Excellent article, thank you for sharing.

  29. Terrific article Ali. I’m curious … how long did it take you to write the article in both elapsed time and in actual ‘at the keyboard’ time. It is no small task to come up with a checklist of 26 items! Well done. Excellent, practical tips.

    • It took me longer than the average blog post. I think I spent a whole morning working solidly on it, plus some time tidying it up. I came up with the words first, then added the paragraphs and the further reading for each. Finding the links always takes longer than I expect…

  30. Love seeing people practice what they preach, each step of the way. On my personal copywriting list, especially for headlines and introductory sentences is…

    Read the headline and sentence out loud, to yourself, and even to a few other people; phone can work well for this, or simply reading to a friend, the person doesn’t have to be a copywriter, in fact it’s better if they are not.

    Look at how they react and if they are interested…and if you just read it out loud to yourself, listen to the words, and you’ll find the mediocre ones, the places you stumble, it’s just so obvious IF you read it out loud.

    After all, that’s what people do in their own heads reading the copy, except in their own voice. I love calling people and having them read the headline/first sentence to me, and listening…where they stumble others will stumble.

    What you’ve shared here is excellent as usual, thanks!

    • That’s a great tip — thanks Declan! I’m always struck by how I can edit and polish a piece until it looks perfect on the page — but when I read it aloud I still find things I need to change…

  31. Nice one! And I think I should look at this list everyday! Awesome and practical!

  32. Good post. But I’m not sure if things like “EMail, Jobs, RSS” are relevant in the context of A-Z of “Copywriting”. And “P” could’ve been the “Power of One”, the biggest idea in copywriting.

    But anyways, a good overall reminder for copywriters.

  33. What a clever idea to put all the links on a post! Liked it :)

  34. Ali,

    Now this is one link-worth post…

    I love your take on “Zing Words” and was very impressed on how the entire post flowed in a conversational style as you pointed out in your post…

    Now, the following words there just breathtaking pieces of copy that flat out had me grasping for air:

    Clarity counts
    fresh-faced
    punctuation perfect
    smacks of scamminess
    find” function
    Clarity counts

    Keep cranking out the compelling creative content:)

    Jesse

  35. Awesome… This is so wonderful… Thanks for sharing… I love the information I’m getting here…

  36. Oh my–I love this post. As a former college writing instructor, I plan to forward it to all my colleague still in the trenches and need all the validation they can get from the “real” world. Today, I’m a small business owner who spends countless hours working on posts for my blog and copy for my website. It’s great to have a list like this to refer to when I get lost in my own words and ideas.

    One question: is it ever appropriate to use “we” when discussing issues that are relevant to nearly all humans? I do find myself questioning whether to use we or you in my writing, and wonder if there are some guidelines that could help me with that decision.

    Thanks.

    • Thanks Elana! By all means forward it to everyone you know ;-)

      I personally like to use “we” if I’m writing something where the reader might feel a little picked on. For instance, “We all struggle with procrastination” is a bit kinder than “You struggle with procrastination”.

      I’ve heard Darren Rowse (of ProBlogger) speak about using “we” to create a sense of engagement — e.g. saying “we now have 100,000 subscribers” for a blog.

      “We” is also useful when you’re trying to create a sense of solidarity with your readers. (“We writers have to support one another”, for instance — “You writers have to support one another” sounds rather weird and distancing.)

      Hope that helps!

      • Alison: While I appreciate your suggestion for using “we” instead of “I’ to foster a feeling of affinity with our readers, I draw your attention to your sentence where I find a redundant element ( adverb) “personally” that, I assume, may be spared to make the expression more concise. Here is it:

        “I personally like to use “we” if I’m writing something where the reader might feel a little picked on.”

        If we drop the adverb “personally” the meaning is not at all affected and the reader has no reason to get confused.

        I take the liberty of raising this point to sharpen or strengthen our learning.

        What is your opinion ?

  37. Really nice and cool A to Z of the copyrighting. No one had ever considered it like you explained the copyrighting.

  38. If ever there was a post to Bookmark you just wrote it! Great resource

  39. Thanks for sharing this handy piece! Love this post!

  40. Many writers don’t understand the importance of doing multiple drafts in the writing process. The only way to go from rough draft to a publishable final draft is by doing the work. Thanks for the list of articles!

  41. This is the perfect post for me right now. I have printed it out and will take your advice to try one thing everyday.

  42. This is a good post not only for bloggers, SEO and content writers, but more traditional advertising copywriters as well. I was really wondering what your were going to do with “X” and I wholeheartedly agree with that piece of advice. There is a rhythm to writing; and anything you do, including looking something up, can interrupt the flow.

    Joel, copywriter
    Powerhouse Marketing, Kansas City

  43. I thoroughly enjoyed this one. It reminds me of Deepak Chopra’s “Creating Affluence: the A~Z Steps to a Richer Life”, but for copy-writing and blogging.

    Ali, I appreciate how you make the entries short and sweet, then go on to provide helpful additional reading to delve more deeply into each sub-topic. That is the epitome of the fully fleshed out list post.

    Great reading, and USEFUL most importantly! Thank you.

    Peter

    • Thanks Peter, really glad you enjoyed it and that it’s useful! (I’m no fan of list posts for the sake of list posts…)

  44. Thanks for sharing! Really refreshing and interesting look at how all copywriters can improve their work, no matter how experienced they are.

  45. I especially enjoyed the “Money” tip. We are in business to make a sell. But some feel uncomfortable about selling their products or services in their blog post. As long as you are creating valuable content 80% of the time, there’s nothing wrong with asking for the money.

    • Absolutely. It’s crucial to actually point out your services and products — new readers often won’t realise that you’ve got anything to sell, unless you point them towards it, and old-time fans may well have forgotten!

  46. Fantastic post! I love that each tip links to an article with more detail. Thank you very much for something I will definitely keep and reference going forward!

  47. This is a good post; implementing each points one by one would make you knowledgeable in all areas. Thanks Brian! am off to implementing the point A.

  48. It was such a nice post… I really enjoyed it.

  49. Excellent compilation. It is really helpful for me. Thanks for sharing.

  50. Thanks for this valuable list! Definitely will be bookmarking this article :)

  51. Great post. I will definately refer back to it.
    I found this brilliant video on youtube.
    It proves how easy a few word changes can make all the difference.
    I hope you check it out.

  52. Hi Ali
    Great article – I have read a lot of eboks on copywriting, and you just deliver what it takes on a silverplate – cut to the bone – GREAT :-)

    I would like to add a great trick on the salespage:
    Add a scruffy or a dooddle or whatever you want to name them. You have probably seen them, little handwritten notes on the salespage.

    Theese little “notes” ( that are really little images) makes you salespage more personal, almost as if you addded that little note and that you wrote to them in person.

    you’ll never see a BIG GURU NOT using them. – why they know it speed up their conversatio rates.

    I have a pack with more than 700 scruffys and they are completely FREE. So If you want to add that little trick, you are welcome to download them from my blog.
    Cheers
    Tina

    • Great tip, Tina, thanks! I’ve seen a few of those little doodle things (I don’t know what to call them either) in Premise, and I really like their informal, hand-written quality. :-)

  53. The XXX part is brilliant. So far, i’ve been always complaining of the fact that i have to break my rythm in order to search on google for different things

  54. This was one amazing piece of work. It will take me a few days to read all the excellent links, but I should be
    1) a better writer and 2) wealthy after reading and doing what you say–which of course I will in my healthcare copy. Thanks for this. You get an “A”! You summarized in one terrific blog what a few books would have done…in a much longer time.

    • *takes a bow* Thanks Stephanie! With copywriting, as with so many things, there’s always more to be learnt … but I think the essentials really don’t take too long to grasp.

  55. This is my first time leaving a comment on the Copyblogger site.

    By far, this has been one of the best articles I’ve ever read from Copyblogger. Enough said.

  56. Archan Mehta :

    Ali,

    I wonder at what point in time you are planning on explaining to your readers how it is that you manage to come up wih so many bright ideas. It seems like your mind works like a computer and you can fire off ideas with the speed of a bullet. You are truly a versatile writer. Thanks for this post. It is quite useful, to be sure. You add value to our lives each and every time you put pen to paper. Keep up the good work and appreciate this list. Cheerio.

  57. Wow…

    Ali, thanks for giving me a go to guide for my writing. Some of this is refresher, while there are other bits that are new. One thing I have been doing is using the XXX as a place holder. However, I have forgotten to go back and replace those with the factual info I was going to look up later, causing some minor embarrassment. I still use them, just more carefully!

    Thanks!

    • I have to confess, I once did that too! Thank goodness blog posts are so easy to edit ;-) (I sometimes add in yellow highlighter to really point out those areas which I meant to go back to — makes them much more visible.)

  58. Great work Ali.

    A great key point is your content and grammar. I believe these two ideas go hand-in-hand in a way. What you are saying and how you say it should derive from WHO you are saying it to. This, I would believe, would be found through research and experience.

    The idea of implementing keywords and links is a wonderful and essential idea as well, Ali. These are the core features in boosting your SEO on the internet. The greater volume driving to your content and an increase in content interaction will be the solid reason for customer satisfaction.

    Also, finding those frequently asked questions and possible concerns is essential. Especially when it comes to hard to understand products or services. The wording and clumping of information will help with the user’s ability to understand your complex product or service. Exactly like how you were able to organize this information into an alphabetical list.

    It would be interesting to read an article on some of the mistakes you may have made early in your career, if any, in order for others to avoid these.

    • Oh, trust me, David, there have been plenty of mistakes…! ;-)

      The thing is, though, I’m not sure that I’d exactly have a list for people to *avoid* — I find that it’s only by making mistakes (or by trying things which don’t quite succeed as much as I’d hoped) that I learn more and grow my business.

      I love your phrase “clumping of information”. There’s SO much out there that readers often struggle to know where to begin.

      • I couldn’t agree more Ali.

        Ironically, it seems mistakes are a part of the growing process of a company. I guess then, you can say that the more important part is making sure you LEARN from those mistakes.

        It truly is so difficult for a young professional to find the right information and better yet, understand that information. Tools like copyblogger and specifically this article are key examples of where to go!

  59. The xxx part is the only part I don’t agree with at all. If you are focused on an idea and can’t find the right way to say it just pretending you can move on to the next part doesn’t work. If you get distracted just by searching what you need then you are not that into writting.

  60. Of all the info you have here, I think brevity is one such area I definitely have to look at. Sometimes there’s too much unncessary words in my writing. Sometimes it is good to be clear, concise and straight to the point while there could be times where a bit of elaboration would be good. I guess copywriting is more of an art but I don’t disagree with the theory behind it.

  61. Ahahaha, a gourgeous post!
    In may opinion the XXX part is not the best thing, but it’s ok.
    Bye