10 Ways to Write Damn Good Copy

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Writing effective copy is both an art and a science.

It’s an art because it requires creativity, a sense of beauty and style — a certain aptitude, mastery and special knowledge. Artistic advertising allows you to create content marketing that’s not just practical and persuasive, but awe-inspiring and breathtaking.

Writing effective copy is also a science, because it exists in the world of tests, trial and failure, improvement, breakthroughs, education and predictability. Scientific advertising allows you to develop an idea, and then test that idea. It’s how you know if your content marketing is working.

In bad copy, one (or both) of these elements are missing. In good copy, they are both abundant.

Read on, in the next few minutes we’ll explore ten examples of good copy living (and selling) out in the wild …

1. Plain copy

The most basic approach to writing effective copy is to simply introduce the product without gimmick or style. It’s a simple presentation of the facts and benefits.

There is no story. There is no conversation. There is no “sizzle” and no superlative claims.

Think Google Analytics.

Image of Google Analytics Screen

That copy isn’t going to win any literary awards, but it will get the job done. It will give a prospect the information she needs to make an informed decision about the product.

2. Storytelling copy

Everyone loves a good story.

We like hearing about people — especially interesting people. People who’ve suffered challenges we can relate to, and can tell us how they overcame those challenges.

And the moral of the story, coincidentally, is that your product was the catalyst to overcoming those odds.

You might find this storytelling technique in an email series, a landing page, or a short video. Whatever the format, you’ll get four basic traits in the story:

  1. Opening: Introduce the pain. Show how the character of the story had a normal life, then how that life was shattered by a change of events.
  2. Conflict: How is the life of the main character threatened if he or she does not respond to the problem? What does her journey look like as she tackles this challenge?
  3. Dialogue: People are drawn to conversations in a story. It’s human interest at its root: two people talking to each other. We are also drawn to dialogue because it’s easy to read. “Our eyes flow over dialogue like butter on the hood of a hot car,” says novelist Chuck Wendig.
  4. Solution: Finally, your product is introduced as the cure for your character’s problem. You increase the credibility of your product by sharing specific results (347% increase in conversion, for example).

Your story doesn’t have to be dramatic. It just has to be interesting to your target audience. And this is where good research comes in.

3. Conversational copy

John Caples calls conversational copy “You and Me.”

In this style of copy, you write as if there is a conversation between two people: the copywriter and the prospect.

The language here would be no different than a salesman sitting down for lunch with a customer and talking through a sales presentation. It’s a straightforward approach that tries to identify with the reader:

I know how you feel. I felt the same way. That all changed when I found x, y and z.

Keep in mind that you don’t have to be a polished copywriter to create effective conversational copy. Often the sheer passion for what you’re trying to promote breathes off the page.

In fact, you can record a conversation about the product, transcribe that conversation, and use it as a rough draft.

4. John Lennon copy

When John Lennon asked us to imagine there was no heaven or hell, no countries, religion or war, he was using an effective tool of persuasion: imaginative copy.

As an advertiser, you can ask your target audience to imagine a painless way to lose weight, or what it would feel like to be a successful travel writer.

Imaginative copy typically begins with words like “imagine,” “close your eyes,” “pretend for a moment,” “discover,” or “picture this” in the first paragraph of the text.

This is the concept behind AWAI’s Barefoot Writer presentation.

Image of AWAI Landing Page

In this example, you are asked to imagine your life in a certain way — to pretend what it would be like to live your dream, whatever that dream might be.

Then the copywriter paints a picture of achieving that ideal life through your product.

5. Long copy

The fundamental premise behind long copy is “The more you tell, the more you sell.” Ads that are long on facts and benefits will convert well.

Why?

Unlike a face-to-face conversation with a salesperson, a written ad has only one chance to convert a reader. If you get in front of the reader, you’ve got to lay it all out on the table.

Take the Google Analytics example above.

Page after page of facts and benefits are presented because the proposition isn’t simple — typical prospects are going to be asking a lot of questions. Better to anticipate those questions, and answer them in the copy.

But when you’re following the basic rules of content marketing that works, remember that you don’t have to present all the facts and benefits up front.

You can leak the presentation over a period of weeks through an email autoresponder (like our Internet Marketing for Smart People course), or a registration-based content library (like the Scribe Content Marketing library).

In this way, you’re turning long copy into short, easily-digestible snippets.

6. Killer poet copy

Here at Copyblogger we love Ernest Hemingway and David Sedaris. But we aren’t so enamored by their writing abilities that we try to imitate their styles at the expense of teaching and selling.

Our goal isn’t to convince our audience that we’re smart — it’s educating and selling with our copy.

As David Ogilvy once said, “We sell, or else.” But we try to sell with style. We try to balance the killer with the poet.

Killer poet copy sees writing as a means to an end (making a sale), and the ad as an end in itself (beautiful design and moving story).

In other words, the killer poet combines style with selling. Creativity with marketing. Story with solution.

7. Direct-from-CEO copy

It’s a known fact — third-party endorsements can help you sell products.

But it’s equally effective to position your selling argument as a direct communication between the company founder and his or her customer.

This down-to-earth approach levels the playing field. It telegraphs to the customer, “See, the CEO isn’t some cold and remote figurehead interested in profit only. He’s approachable and friendly. He cares about us.”

Jeff Bezos of Amazon is a superb example:

Image of Jeff Bezos Amazon Prime Letter

Notice this letter is conversational as well as plain: it’s a simple statement of the facts and benefits between two people: Jeff and you.

8. Frank copy

Some copy will explain the ugly truth about the product.

This approach doesn’t start with the jewels of your goods — it’s going to start with the warts.

When selling a car, you might point out the endless repairs that need to be done — thin brake pads, leaky transmission, busted sway bar, and inoperable dashboard — before you introduce the leather seats, Monsoon stereo system, sun roof, brand-new tires and supercharged engine.

What you’re saying is this car will need a lot of TLC. You might even go as far as to say, “Make no mistake here — there’s much work to be done here.”

And here’s a curious thing: when you are honest and transparent about product weaknesses, the customer trusts you.

When the reader trusts you, they will be considerably more likely to believe you when you point out the good qualities of your product.

9. Superlative copy

There are also times when you can make outlandish claims.

Claims like (these are actual ads):

  • “A revolutionary material from this Nevada mine could make investors a fortune in 2013″
  • “Stores across U.S. selling out of what some call a new ‘miracle’ diet fighter”
  • “Obey this one weird loophole to get car insurance as low as $9″

But you can only make extraordinary claims when you have the proof to back it up. The evidence can be in statistics, testimonials, or research — or preferably all three.

The problem with superlative copy is that it’s often hard to make outlandish claims and not sound like you are hyping it up — so use this type of copy sparingly.

Generally, it’s good to follow the “Remove All Hype” policy.

10. Rejection copy

Rejection copy turns conventional wisdom on its head. and tries to discourage people from being interested in your product.

This type of copy is a direct challenge to the reader that leverages the velvet rope approach — the idea that only an exclusive set of people are invited to use a product.

The American Express Black Card is a good example here — this card is reserved for the world’s wealthiest and most elite. The only way you can get your hands on one is if you are invited.

Similarly, consider the dating site Beautiful People. If you want to be part of this exclusive dating club made up of “beautiful” people, then you have to be voted in by existing members:

Image of Beautiful People Homepage

Potential rejection startles readers — they don’t expect to be turned down, especially not from an advertiser.

This approach also keys into our sense of wanting to belong. It generates that curiosity itch and activates our pride. We think, “How dare they say I might not be good enough to get into their club? I’ll show them.”

Over to you …

In the end, great copy often combines several of these techniques into one ad.

The CEO of a company writes a conversational sales letter built around a story about his passion for his product (whether it is peaches or water pumps).

A copywriter writes a long rejection ad that explains why certain people are excluded from receiving an invitation to dine at an exclusive restaurant.

Or a Savile Row tailor writes a plain but elegant sales letter about his suits, which have been worn by kings and presidents.

This is the art and science of copywriting.

Can you share any examples of good copy you’ve seen recently out there in the wild?

Want more? Click here to learn how to write copy that converts.

About the author

Demian Farnworth


Demian Farnworth is Copyblogger Media's Chief Copywriter. Follow him on Twitter or Google+.

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Comments

  1. That means the art and science section of a copy is what which makes it good ya?

    I like the storytelling copy and I always try to explain everything briefly with personal experience, that’s why I always read blogs that provides storytelling copies like SmartPassiveIncome and SocialTriggers etc.

    Enjoyed reading it Demian!

  2. Thanks for such a great list! Demian, don’t you think that writing a long copy isn’t always good? Some prospects don’t like to read a lot and want to get answers to all their qiestions in a concise way. If you start explaining them all the details at once, they may just leave without even reading up to an end. Since the details can be complicated enough, to my mind, it’s better to give main points at first, and then, if they are interested, you may direct them to other pages to learn more.

    • For some products long copy isn’t the right call, but generally, more beneficial information usually leads to more sales.

      Test it. Only way to know for sure in any particular case.

    • Hey Tatiana, price point and complexity usually dictate copy length. Nobody can sell a $26,000 car with a paragraph of copy, but that paragraph of copy be part of a very long sales process. For example, a magazine ad could promote a free Apple Shuffle if you come in and test drive a car. You don’t need much copy to sell that proposition.

      However, the more you tell the more you sell. Eugene Schwartz was famous for writing four page ads for books. I’ve seen this work in my own experience where I was responsible for selling books–just taking the copy from a blurb to several paragraphs (with a compelling headline) raised sales anywhere from 10 to 40%.

      Like Brian said, though, test. You won’t know if something works unless you back it with data.

    • This post is more than 1700 words — pretty long for a blog post, yet very readable. Demian did a great job of making it scannable, so you can skim it in a few seconds. Then when you go back to read the parts that resonate, you find that the details are interesting, too. So, a good demonstration of one approach to long copy. Thanks, Demian.

      • Thanks for noticing, Jack. I was trying to behave myself this time around. :)

      • Yes, Demian’s got it going on.

        He’s a master of what I once saw referred to as “visual crispness”.

        Which means his post is easy on my eyes: no daunting long paragraphs, polysyllabic words (like polysyllabic) and sparing use of adjectives and adverbs.

        As well as liberal use of highlighting, bullet points, lists, and hard, cold facts.

        Yeh, Demian’s got it going on — I always read his posts, with only a slight bit of envy…

    • Personally, I have found long copy works in establishing authority in a field. If I’m looking for the answer to a question, and you have a ton of info on it, will I read everything you’ve written? No. Will I realize the answer is over my head (whether it really is or not) and just hire you to figure it out for me because you seem to know way more on the subject than I ever will (whether you really do or not)? Probably.

    • Michaela Mitchell :

      If you structure the long copy well enough – bullets, bold headlines, and all the other “basics” that I think Copyblogger has discussed many times in the past – it can be definitely readable.

      For consumers like myself, I prefer long copy because I want as much information as possible before I make a decision. And if there’s an element of storytelling that draws me in, even better.

      Personally, I’m a fan of long copy and use it in my own content marketing whenever its feasible.

  3. These are some excellent examples of the craft (art and science), thanks Demian. The way that you describe the long copy is perfect and hits the nail on the head. Tatiana, I think you are saying the same thing as Demian; the Google example is short simple copy on many pages and he points out that you can reveal a complex proposition over several emails. Either way, the reader is in control; you write this kind of copy not as single one-off pages, but as a whole (long copy) piece that links it all together for the reader. How it’s delivered (web/email) is up to you.

  4. Some good strategies. Different clients will likely have different approaches, and it’s about finding what fits for which company. Like the previous commenter said, a good tool!

  5. I have never before heard of rejection copy. I am going to look more into this and see if it is something I want to dabble in. Looking forward to learning more from you!

  6. I enjoyed categorizing my own copy using this post! Surprisingly I’ve never tried John Lennon copy, but it’s been added to my to do list this week. I’m also playing around with the types of copy and how they might be staked ex. CEO Conversationalist copy. Anyone have any combinations that they think are real winners (in specific situations?). I personally love story copy (when it’s done right)!

  7. Whew! Totally scanable and yet destined to live in my Favorites forever, this post is a keeper.

  8. Um, is “secently” a new word. Or did you mean “seen recently?” Sorry, the question threw me off.

    I never heard of “John Lennon Copy.” Thanks for sharing.

    Long copy drives me nuts, but I know it works. As a consumer, I don’t enjoy scrolling up and down to read long copy, but again, it does work.

    As far as seeing good copy out in the wild goes… I too received an email from Jeff Bezos at Amazon.com. The Weinstein Company sends out snappy emails too.

  9. I meant “long copy” as in “long sales cope,” not long blog posts or articles. :)

  10. I really enjoyed reading this list. I must admit I got a kick out of the John Lennon copy, I would maybe preferred to call it Bob Dillion copy…but I am sure my wife would agree by calling it John Lennon. I really liked that one.

    I feel like a better and more equipped writer after reading this list!

    Eric

  11. You’re welcome!

  12. I so much love the “story telling idea” – I will venture into that area as soon as possible. Thanks for this fantastic post.

  13. I’ve seen the “Direct from CEO” method used many times and didn’t really recognize the value of doing it myself. Thanks for a great article.

  14. Incredibly useful post! This is going right into my copywriting toolkit. I like having the different kinds of copy separated and explained this way. But as Demian says at the end, it’s usually a combination of more than one that’s the most powerful. Thinking quickly, the combination of story and conversational; let me tell you about the story of…

    Thanks again :)

  15. I find some of my favorite copywriting on the sides of craft micro brews and bottles of wine. Of course, maybe my state of mind at the time contributes to how much I like it.

    One of the best (IMHO) is a little brewery that only distributes in Wisconsin – New Glarus. Here’s a bunch of them…
    http://www.newglarusbrewing.com/index.cfm/beers/ourbeers/beercategory/beers-we-have-known-and-loved
    Click on the beer logos to read the copy you’d find on the actual bottles. :)

  16. I believe I’ve hit all these versions at one time or another :) Especially on my other blog MompreneurMogul.

    But I really like what learning what is behind the method and becoming an even better writer. So thanks for sharing this.

  17. The “conversational” mode is a simple way to spice up and add a little value to otherwise dry and predictable subjects, like how-to guides. It’s great for writing basic copy for small businesses in a niche. I think I’ll be writing more about this in my blog next week.

  18. Great post filled with lots of decent advice for copywriters and writers alike. The words don’t always come to you, whether it’s in relation to work, or for an artistic passion that you engage in such as writing lyrics or poetry, so I think these tips will really help people to eliminate patches of writer’s block. There are plenty of resources online and books, as well as this article, if you need a little inspiration along the way, but definitely one to bookmark for future reference.

  19. Excellent article Demian! I did know of couple of copies, but boy you sure did cover a good number altogether. Now I know more than what I knew earlier. Cheers to you!!!

  20. I left a comment here yesterday, but I don’t see it. It must’ve gotten caught up in a spam filter for some reason.

    Anyways, this is an excellent post!

    Copywriting is such a critical key to the success of any business! The art of persuasion has to be mastered for anybody who wishes to succeed in just about any business. It can be outsourced, which is still effective, but it can be really expensive.

    I actually used a couple of recommendations here for a landing page that I’m putting together and hope to be using in the next couple of weeks. And it definitely added value to the copy, giving it more of a story feel.

    Thanks for sharing such valuable information!

    ~Barry

    • Love to hear these kinds of comments where what we share actually translates to real world for you. Good to hear , Barry, and thanks for persevering with the comment snafu. :) I’m not sure what happened.

      • No worries, it was probably my fault. I put the full URL for a blog post in the website instead of just my main page. I did it because I’ve notice I’ve gotten a decent bit of traffic from just commenting on one other post here on CopyBlogger, so I was hoping to send people to a specific post instead of just the main page.

        Depending on how your admin settings are set, it probably registered it as spam and sent it to that folder or just discarded it altogether. As big as this site is, I’d hate to see what the spam folder looks like. If my comment went to there, I’m sure it’ll be lost forever. :-)

        Anyways, I’m sure my link was the problem as I just listed my main page in the comment above and it posted immediately. Lesson learned and thanks for your response!

        I hope you have a great week!

        ~Barry

  21. I’m a huge fan of using anecdotal experience to tie into key life lessons. I think my writing voice works very well with that sort of style. Most likely I took a lot of the influence in writing from James Altucher’s humor.

  22. The Rejection copy or as I call it “We won’t let you have it cause we don’t care copy” works amazingly well.
    People always want things they can’t have.
    If you show it to them and tell them they can’t have it, it makes them want it even more.
    This allows you to make them play your game and do what you want them to do.

    A great example is Dropbox and their marketing.
    You can have more space, but only if make sure your friends sign up with us.
    It makes the users validate themselves to you,
    which is always more powerful than you validating yourself to your users.

  23. I like this a lot. One of the best things a company can do is to connect with their customers, and get their customers to connect with them. When a customer feels comfortable with a company, they are more likely to give their business to that company. They need to know the company is trying to help them as much as they can. This article was great in showing that a company needs to be able to connect with their customers, and helping them understand what the company has to offer them.

  24. The Direct-From-the-CEO copy is very effective every time I see it on Amazon. I read it because I feel like I’m getting the inside scoop on big news.

  25. I’ve just finished writing “storytelling” copy. It was not so easy as I considered it to be. I hope the next time I’ll be a better story-writer :)

  26. Demian, thanks a lot) I’m gonna try all types of writing from the post :)

  27. Great writing, Damian! And to add to what you wrote, copy styles depend on the content to be spread. But if you want to categorize broadly, conversational copy is what rocks.

  28. Great list! I tend to write more conversational copy for clients. I know I’ve done my job when I’ve convinced myself to buy the product!

  29. I personally think plain and simple language is the way to go. Bombarding the reader with technical jargon’s almost never works.

  30. I have to admit this is overwhelming but I need to practice writing copy as much as I can, so I will reread this a few times and then just do one at a time. Ditch the stuff I can’t pull of and try to perfect the ones I can.
    Thanks for all the great ideas in this post!

  31. A lot of useful info on the topic (taken notes :)). I watched a presentation on TED about something similar and the presenter came to a conclusion that people buy the “why” you do something and the passion behind it that is conveyed into the product/service you provide. Copywriting I think should contain elements of this “why” to attract the people who you want to read it. Might be wrong, just my opinion :)

  32. Great list! I tend to write more conversational copy for clients. I know I’ve done my job when I’ve convinced myself to buy the product!

  33. Great list. I think a great copywriter should be able to write in any of the styles you listed, or mix and match them to find something that works the best. Of course what that combination is depends on the product, audience, market, etc.

    I think a lot of people underestimate the power of “frank copy.” In my experience, skeptical consumers appreciate a dose of honesty in their copy. Your product might not be able to take them to the moon and back; admitting as such can earn you some credibility in a world full of hype.

    Thanks for your article,

    Corey

  34. Some great tips, thanks. There really are a lot of ways to communicate and I think that it is important to remember that you will naturally be really good at only a few of them due to your personality and writing style…still, it’s very interesting to learn about all the techniques that are used.

  35. Plain and Simple – Be legitimate when writing! M

  36. I think it’s a good idea to include a liberal dose of credibility for todays hyper-skeptical consumer. I really dig the list here. Thanks for the great tips. I subscribed to the replies on this post!

    Being straight forward is also an excellent idea and proves to them your not like ‘the others’.

  37. Very useful and informative. Thank you for this Demian

  38. Awesome ideas for my fitness information products!

    Long copy seems to be the favorite with my industry, but I’m thinking about using video sales copy, I’m sure all the sames “rules” apply!

    – Nick

  39. I’ve been meaning to improve my copywriting and this post has some in depth tips on doing that. Thanks a lot. When it comes to online business, copywriting is a necessity.