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!
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.
Cut unnecessary words.
Read more: Are You Too Lazy to Write Less?
“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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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.)
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.