Let’s get one thing straight: If it’s not selling something, it’s not copy. Any word or phrase you put in front of your audience sells some form of information at some form of a price to your readers, whether that’s their trust, time, effort, attention, clicks, or actual dollars.
This means that all of your copy—your home page, social posts, blogs, landing pages, product descriptions, mission statement—should always be selling.
But is it?
In this post, I’m going to use the 5C formula to help you make sure it is. That means clear, concise, credible, compelling, and call to action(y).
But not just with five tips. No no. I’m coming at you with 25 tips and 72 examples so you can have what it really takes to write copy that sells. We’ll cover
Some tips may feel contradictory. But it all depends on what type of content you’re working with, where it lives in cyberspace, and what your purpose is. So just keep that in mind!
Don’t make readers use their brain. Even if you’re selling audience is
Copy that sells isn’t impressive. It’s easy. Your reader shouldn’t have to stop reading to make sense of what you’re saying, even if just for a nanosecond. The more your copy flows, the longer you’ll keep their attention and the easier it will be for them to get the important points you’re making.
Take a look at this public school’s copy, targeting public high schoolers and their parents.
We provide a multifaceted educational program to our students, using the most effective pedagogical approaches that intertwine progressive thinking skills, vocational events, and modular courses as deemed important by the educators and community.”
Now take a look at Harvard Business School copy, targeting [really] smart college grads:
See what I mean?
Note: Readable doesn’t necessarily mean removing fancy words. As long as you’re using terms your audience is familiar with, they’ll be able to move along. Which brings us to our next point.
Although showing up on the first page of Google is a selling point in and of itself, you should also be using keywords everywhere—not just SEO copywriting. Remember, these are the words and phrases your audience is using. When you speak their language (and not yours), your copy will clearly convey the value of your offerings in a way that resonates with them.
For example, if you’re a web design/SEO provider for small business owners, this landing page copy will not sell:
We optimize all our websites for Google search using keyword-targeted metadata, lazy loading, and minified CSS.
These keywords would be easy reads if your clients were web design/SEO agencies looking to outsource their own. But for the small business owner audience, this is a better sell:
We make technical optimizations to speed up your website and use keyword-targeted content to help you rank higher on Google.
Keywords = their jargon, not yours.
Did I just come up with the cheesiest thing ever? Yes. But do I secretly like it? Also yes. Copy that sells should always be answering these two questions: What’s in it for me and how do I know I’ll get it? And the key to this is writing with features and benefits in mind. Aka FABulously.
You know to use it in your product or pricing page copy:
But you can also use it in your blog posts:
And email subject lines:
Feature-benefit copy may sell your reader on actions that move them through your funnel, but as they move closer to the actual dollar sale, they’re going to be putting more careful thought into their decision. Questions change from “what’s in it for me?” to “but what if…?” These objections (conscious or not) are barriers to selling. And while some aspects of your copy will organically speak to them, you should also directly addresses them somewhere.
Not only does this type of copy demonstrate transparency and an understanding of the customer, but it’s also a way to reinforce your features and benefits and show your subject matter expertise.
But in the name of being concise (which is our next section), reserve this copy for an FAQ section at the bottom of your landing pages with expandable sections, or its own blog post or page.
Wait! Before you skip over this one—there’s a strategy within the strategy. According to the serial position effect, people tend to recall the first and last items in a series the best. So when you’re using bullet points, make sure you place the MVPs accordingly.
This may be more applicable to longer lists, but here’s a small example.
If I only remember the first and last bullets, my clear takeaway from this webinar landing page is that I’m going to learn lead scoring best practices (feature) so I can understand my prospects’ engagement (benefit). Sweet.
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🌲 Want to spruce up your Google Ads copy? Get the free guide ⤵️
A concise definition of concise: Uses fewer words to say more.
Concise copy brings an obvious benefit for character-limited content (like ad copy), but it applies to any and all content marketing. Whether it’s your email copy, blog post, or white paper, there’s never room for clutter.
Follow these tips for clear and value-packed copy your readers will appreciate and remember (and also for you to become a better writer overall).
These not only add unnecessary words to your copy, but they also sound more desperate than authoritative. Let’s have a look.
carefully curated → curated
stressful crisis → crisis
important priorities → priorities
over exaggerate → exaggerate
Unnecessary and desperate adverbs:
critically important → critical
powerfully effective → powerful
extremely helpful → helpful
Adverbs aren’t altogether bad. Here are some great blog post titles:
“Surprisingly easy” tells me this post isn’t going to give the usual rundown. I’d click.
Here’s another one:
“Ferociously unique” is playfully bold. I’m interested.
In these cases, the extra words are effective, not destructive. Just make sure you deliver on your promise
Another great copywriting tip: Replace adjective-noun pairs with just one, more powerful noun.
difficult situation → dilemma
tough spot → bind
specific group → niche
small difference → nuance
close connection → rapport
One less word. Lots more power. Speaking of power, have you seen our list of over 350 power words?
The SERP for “nonwords” is rough. I may or may not have had an editorial identity crisis while I was in there.
But you have to remember that we’re not talking about essays or news articles here. Marketing and ad copy is versatile. It can be technical, conversational, dry, or friendly, depending on its purpose/place. So here are a few examples.
“So you can”
Okay: Let us do the legwork so you can get back to running your business.
Not okay: Use these tips so you can improve your writing.
Replace with: Use these tips to improve your writing.
Okay: Here are six things you can do to prevent a cyber attack.
Not okay: Stressing over deadlines is a thing we can relate to.
Replace with: We can all relate to stressing over deadlines.
Okay: Learn what it really takes to write copy that sells.
Not okay: With our reporting features, you can really focus on metrics that matter.
Replace with: With our reporting features, you can focus on metrics that matter.
For more help with your ad copy, check out these 24 creative, competitive, click-worthy ad copy examples you’ll want to copy.
Turns out there’s a technical term for fluff. Tautology is the practice of saying the same thing more than once but with different words to try to look like you’re not. Let’s call it black-hat redundancy.
This, for example, is tautology at its finest:
121 words that tell me you have no idea what you’re talking about.
44 words that convince me I need personalization in my ecommerce strategy. Sold.
First of all, “world-class” is not a selling point. It’s an empty adjective (also something we’ll get to later). Intellum (cringe) uses this on its homepage:
Now if you are actually world-class (which Intellum is), back it up—but not in your home page, solutions page, or landing pages. Say it in a sentence and then use a “learn more” button to show credibility and link to long-form (but also concise!) copy that proves it.
Take concision to the extreme with one or two-word sentences. For example:
“Video Editing Software. Free Download. Easy Movie Editor.”
Plain. But to the point and exactly the words I’d search (tip #2). Plus, “free” and “easy” are staples in any list you find of words that sell.
“7 days. 7 dollars. Full access.”
Catchy. Quick. No-nonsense. Sold.
With clear and concise copy, your readers can get right to the point you’re making. But is it a point that sells? Follow these tips to make sure you’re not just saying, but selling.
While this isn’t copy you write, it’s copy that sells. We’ve all seen 5-star reviews or testimonials like “ServicePro was great. I’ll definitely use them again.”
Positive? Yes. Credible? No.
In the example below from Akvertise website, you get a specific person complimenting a specific employee on specific actions.
Instead of just asking for a review, ask through email if you can get a quote from them for your website. Beause there’s no on-the-spot pressure and they’re typing it out, they’ll put more careful thought into it, and knowing that it will appear on your website, they’ll make sure it makes them look good too.
Outwardly trying to convince with your product description copywriting has the opposite effect. Stick with simple statements.
For example, you might use an adjective like “fastest installation” in a header to attract your visitor, but plain Jane statements like “one day installation” and “24 hours” work better in the feature breakdown.
Rather than describe your product as all-in-one, easy to use, powerful, etc., to promote your product or service, use verbs to communicate exactly what they can do with your product. Take a look at Sleeknote’s product copy:
11 verbs: collect, grow, drive, assist, get in touch, make, sell, increase, guide, send, invite.
4 adjectives: segmented, quality, right, exact.
Save the inspirational copy for your mission statement. Plain statements that get right to the point are more credible than adjectives that try to convince.
Thinking you might need to go back into your content and change some things? We’ve got six free content audit templates to help with that.
Continuing on in this anti-adjective campaign, take a look at this example (adapted from David Meerman Scott):
“We have assembled surgical and clinical expertise second to none, have a state-of-the-art trauma center, developed sophisticated minimally invasive techniques, and call on innovative training and technology to ensure the highest level of patient safety and quality of care. These clinical initiatives, a thriving research enterprise, and an unparalleled medical education program all enable [Hospital Z] to fulfill our mission.”
This copy should be broken up into segments with credible information…perhaps bullets (tip #5)?
• Our trauma center uses minimally invasive techniques like laparoscopic surgery to shorten your recovery period.
• With our in-house research teams and Harvard-trained surgeons, you can rest assured you’ll get the highest quality of care.
Easier to read (tip #1), FABulous (tip # 3), and credible. Sold.
As you can see from the bullets above, adjectives aren’t always bad. But if you’re going to use them, make them specific and factual. Words like “durable,” “secure,” “highly trained,” and “unique” work, but can you get more specific to build more confidence in potential buyers? Y.
strong → titanium-based
durable → industrial-grade
secure → NP2-encrypted (made that up)
trained → DSFA-certified (that one too)
unique → proprietary
safe → flame-retardent
It’s technical, but this type of copy sells, even if customers don’t need to know what it all means.
When it comes to credibility, nothing beats data.
Again, even if customers don’t know what these numbers mean, they see that cybereason has proof. Numbers sell.
Compelling copy is magnetic.
(PS: In this section, adjectives are our friends.)
PPS: You may also be interested in these 10 ways to avoid cliches in your copywriting.
Think about the assumptions, hopes, doubts, or fears your buyer personas have, like:
I’m not an online business so I don’t really need a website.
What the heck does amortize even mean?
If I hear [buzzword, cliche, etc.] one more time…
Native ads are like display ads, right?
Capture real thoughts your target audience has, and create an immediate personal connection that draws them in.
Thoughts can be among the most compelling headlines.
Urgency is the hallmark of selling. As Ray Edwards puts it in his book How to Write Copy That Sells, “You need to place a dollar cost on this failure to solve the problem when at all possible.”
This means not only using words like “now,” “today,” or “hurry” in your CTAs, but communicating to your readers the cost of indecision or ignoring the problem.
Factual copy sells, but not all sales copy is factual. Emotions hold equal power. And you can do even better than the fear-based ad above. No matter your product or service, it all comes down to pain points and desires, which come down to all kinds of emotions. For example:
We sell: marketing services.
So our customers can: grow their business.
Because they want to feel:
And they don’t want to feel:
Translate your customers’ pain points and desires into emotions they both want and don’t want to feel, then either elicit them with your copy or use the emotion word itself. This is particularly helpful for storytelling (which we’ll get into shortly).
Like keywords (tip #2), emotional marketing copy speaks your customers’ language. When they feel like you truly understand their problems and desires, they’ll feel more confident that you can solve them. In other words, it’s an emotional way of gaining credibility.
Here’s a simple copywriting exercise. Write a plain sentence starting with “We sell…”
Now, replace the word sell with captivating verbs like:
• Level up
Continuing with our example above:
We sell marketing services.
• We eliminate the guesswork of coming up with a marketing plan.
• We empower business owners to compete with big businesses.
• We level up your online presence.
• We inspire business owners to make a mark in their community.
• We reduce the amount of time you spend on growing your business.
• We unlock your business’s full potential.
You get the idea. I’ve got lots of compelling verbs in my list of 273 words for writing emotional marketing copy. Pick out your favorites and fill in the blanks.
Notice in the example above, every statement starts with “we.” That was just an exercise to help you come up with compelling concepts, but the copy itself should be about your customers about 90% of the time.
With our Builder—a Google Chrome Extension—you can create flows and track new events with a few clicks. Open the Buidler on top of your product, create something beautiful, and wow your users!
“You” is used eight times. “Our” is used once.
In the initial stages of the funnel, customers care less about what you do and more about what they want to do. Later on when they’re doing their vetting, copywriting about what you offer and how you do it makes more sense.
If copy that sells is concise and to the point, then how the heck does storytelling fit into the picture? (See what I did there (tip #18).) Enter copywriting formulas. For example:
Before-after bridge formula
Here, you accurately describe your customer’s current state. Then their desired state. And then introduce your business as the way to get there.
Here’s the before-after-bridge formula in a tweet.
A 12-word story that sells. Image source
Introduce the problem your readers experience, use emotional words and phrases to agitate the problem, then offer your business as the solution.
And there you have it. Compelling marketing copy. that uses storytelling while staying clear, concise, and credible. All boxes checked. Try this in your Tweets, email copy, blog posts, case studies, and more.
This could work with homepage headers or even Facebook ad copy. You can use the contrast approach, such as with “One source of truth. Endless solutions.”
(Note that this isn’t a bombastic claim (tip #10). Airtable is not claiming to be the one source of truth. Businesses use it to collect information and tasks in one place so that everyone has one source of truth.)
More ways to write catchy copy include alliteration, rhyming (ideally subtle to reduce the cheese factor), or taking the “not this, but that” approach:
Okay so, we all know not to overtly patronize or belittle our prospects for obvious reasons. But words like “we all know” and “obvious” can be subtly destructive if used in the wrong manner.
I said it above because it’s a cultural norm not to belittle or patronize. So this word choice serves to not insult your readers’ intelligence. But in the case below, the same words can have the opposite effect.
Everyone knows that drip email campaigns can increase conversions, but how do you create them? What tools do you need?
Maybe your reader doesn’t know this. No, they aren’t going to feel consciously offended, but they might have a micro-moment of feeling inadequate or like they’re in the wrong place. Here’s a better alternative:
If you’re like most marketers, you’re always looking for ways to increase conversions with your emails. Drip campaigns make this possible. But how do you create them?
So be careful with assumptive words and phrases that hold power to insult or acknowledge your readers’ intelligence.
The fifth in the five Cs is “call to action,” but if you’ve followed all the tips above, this will be the easy part. Plus, we’ve got a post on that.
And by definition, all copywriting is a call to action. Trust what I have to say. Stop scrolling and read this post. Click on my ad. Buy my product. So you don’t need to “always be closing,” but you do need to “always be selling.” And now you know how to do it.
Kristen is the Senior Managing Editor at WordStream, where she helps businesses to make sense of their online marketing and advertising. She specializes in SEO and copywriting and finds life to be exponentially more delightful on a bicycle.
See other posts by Kristen McCormick
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