10 Tips for Writing Killer Copy

Blogs are not novels and neither are websites. The effects of these mediums on the human brain are completely different. When reading copy, the part of the brain that lights up while reading a novel is as dark as a Christmas tree in October.

I’ll admit it. I like to read the classics. I enjoy prose that causes me to pause and think. I even tend to wax (slightly) eloquent from time to time when public speaking.

But when creating content, the concept of “knowing your market” comes into play. Content consumers outnumber content creators 99 to 1 and most online readers are not patient, book-toting lovers of print.

The approach to reading on the web is much different than reading off the printed page. Knowing this, you have to plan your content accordingly. Here are 10 easy edits you can make right now to take your copy from colorless to killer.

1. Be Authentic

“Be strong,” I whispered to my wifi signal…

The quote makes us chuckle because we’ve all been there. There’s an immediate connection because of one simple, humorous quote. The takeaway? Be authentic.

The only thing worse than boring copy is inauthentic copy.

Keep that in mind every time you consider clicking the “publish” button on your blog.

It should go without saying, but the trustworthiness of your content begins with you. If you aren’t trustworthy and authentic, your audience will notice. And if they feel that way, they won’t be your audience for long.
Focus less on being “cool” and more on being “real.”

You don’t need to be a hipster to connect with your audience. Even if your plan succeeds, the part of the population you’ll reach with be a minority within the market. That means less potential sales and conversions.
Keep in mind that majority of the population aren’t artists, poets, or painters. You’re trying to get John Doe down the street to respond to your CTA (Call to Action).

Online or otherwise, people don’t trust what they don’t understand. If you’re too over-the-top, people will remember you, but it’ll be for all the wrong reasons.

So, please, for the sake of your sales, leave all references to laser cats, unicorns, and the word “wanderlust” at the door.

Trust is a hot commodity in our line of work. It can take years to build, but lost in a moment.

2. Make ART, Use Stories

When you write, plan, prepare, pitch, and sell…use stories.

Stories are powerful tools.
Donald Miller has built an entire marketing group around the idea of storytelling. As long as a story is ART, use it.

What is ART? I’m glad you asked:
ART = Appropriate. Relevant. inTriguing.
  • Is it Appropriate? Is the story offensive or divisive in any way? If it is, throw it out.
  • Is it Relevant? Is it just a story or does it truly fit your content and help convey your message? If it’s the latter, keep it. If not, to File 13 it goes.
  • Is it inTriguing? Does your story have the potential to catch someone’s attention? Avoid boring filler. It only takes up valuable real estate on your website or post. Products in a supermarket have to prove their value per square foot. Do the same with your writing. If a sentence isn’t pulling it’s weight, take it off the shelf.
If a story meets all the criteria above, use it. If it doesn’t, don’t.
3. “Learn More”? You Can Do Better
Incorporate links directly into your content. For starters, it’s a win for your Search Engine Optimization (SEO). Quality links show search engines (Google, Bing, Yahoo) that you’re a “content creator” as well as a “content connector.”
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Note the size of “Links” and “Original Content”

Take a look the chart of SEO factors for Google. According to Google, the following two factors influence their search engine rankings the most:
1. Links: 29% 2. Original Content: 23% The math is simple. 52% of your ranking has to do with your content, where it connects, and how many things connect to it (We’ll leave this open-ended for now, but we’ll explore this further in an upcoming post.)
The best practice? Avoid cliche “learn more” or “click here to view” links. They’re proven to create uncertainty, cognitive strain, and create a negative end-user experience. Here’s the simple translation of the above research:
Overall, click here to view” links cause stress.
Why? Because it causes your users to feel they are being made to work in order to learn. Alternatively, embedding links empowers your users to do as much or as little research as they want. You are effectively placing the power back into their hands.
A large part of engagement is curiosity. Your links, whether they click them or not, help foster the mystery and increase interest.
The human brain reads all of this as a positive experience. And, in turn, your users will subconsciously associate this feeling of positiveness with your brand.
Of course, perceived trustworthiness is another benefit to adding quality links. The more quality content links you have, the higher your site’s perceived trustworthiness. That’s a win-win for you!
4. Bold or Italicize Important Statements
79% of users only scan web pages, looking for elements that stand out. And considering 80% of readers don’t make it past the headline, that leaves a potential audience of around 4% that will read your article word for word.
No, that’s not a typo.
Depressing, isn’t it? But there’s a way to grab your reader’s attention and combat those numbers.
If there’s something you want your readers to remember, make it bold. Bold text makes the scanning process a lot easier. It also enables speed-reading and makes your article feel shorter.
Those few factors alone dramatically increase your readership potential.
5. Use Your Words…But Not Too Many
At one time or another, someone has probably told us to, “Use your words.” Talk about a gut-punch sentence! I quietly laugh to myself every time I hear it.
Even with it’s underlying tone of condescension, it’s a phrase worth remembering. Short sentences are your copy’s secret weapon.
A paragraph-long sentence is sentence that won’t be read.
While you shouldn’t try to make every sentence short, you should use them to your advantage. Short sentences break up the text and make it easier to digest. They also help keep and catch your readers’ attention.
Some factors to consider:
  • Most users report feeling unpleasant when reading online text.
  • People read about 25% slower from a computer screen.
  • Users don’t like to scroll more than they have to.
The same principles for editing a Twitter post can serve your copy well. I call it the “Twitter Effect.” When you write, try to do some of the following to take up less verbal real estate:
  • Substitute different words
  • Move words around
  • Simplify sentences
  • Draft punchier, response-driving statements
Above all, remember, when it comes to online content, it’s quality over quantity.
6. Banish Boring Verbs
Which of the following better encourages someone to take action?
  • “Eat a hamburger!”
  • “Hamburgers are being eaten.”
The first one, right?
“Hamburgers are being eaten” sounds…awkward. And, more importantly, it sounds boring. The sentence doesn’t encourage action.
In your writing, avoid passive voice sentences at all cost. Be purposeful and direct. If you skimp anywhere, don’t skimp on the verbs.
If you happen to get stuck, or find yourself repeating the same words over and over again, use a thesaurus. It’s a powerful tool in the marketer’s arsenal begging for use.
7. Use Your Headings As Road Signs
As I said before, 80% of readers don’t make it past the headline. Understanding that, as writers it’s our job to catch their attention.
Think of a good set of headings like a road map for your article. They make it easier to skim the content. Headings keep your information organized and maximize your copy’s aesthetic appeal.
When you write, use headings to tell your audience what the article will say and where it will go. Reminding your audience where they are in the journey provide a sense of comfort.
A positive experience always reflects positively on your brand.
8. “We” is a Bad, Bad Word
Want to know why Apple has continued with its iPod, iPhone, iPad, iCloud, iOS naming convention?
Because it works.
Users like to think about the little letter “I.”
When you write, take a page out of Apple’s playbook and build your writing style around that assumption. Your copy isn’t about you. It’s about your customer.
Tell THEM what you can do for THEM.
This one area where there is a stark difference between offline and online content. In copy and blogging, the word “we” is a bad, bad word. Avoid it like the plague.
Use the word “you” instead and let your audience know that you are addressing them directly.
Of course, as with most things, there’s an exception to the general rule.
Are your ready? Here it is: The only time it’s appropriate to use “we” is in the phrase “We Promise…”
This approach places the focus of your writing where it should be, on your reader and potential customer.
9. Create “Fascinations” (With Bullet Points)
Fascinations? Yes, fascinations. Curiosity is a powerful thing isn’t it? Use it to your advantage to keep your audience engaged.
Lists and bullet points keep your content approachable and attractive. As people, we love lists and bullet points. They are the silver (wait for it) bullets for simplifying massive data.
They, along with strong headers, work together to keep your users fascinated. The catch? It’s up to you to capture their attention in the first place.
Boring bullet points, no matter how short, will turn off a reader in a heartbeat. So, make them fascinating.
10. Edit With a Chainsaw
This is the last and probably most painful part of the process. Editing is coming to the realization that your rough draft is just that, a rough draft.
Write it. Get it all out. Then take a chainsaw to it.
A chainsaw? Yes, a chainsaw. You don’t make dainty snippets with chainsaws. You take out humongous chunks. And, unfortunately, in writing copy, you have to make big cuts and sacrifices.
Believe me, I know. I married an editor. We have a little song and dance we do every time I submit an article for proofing. I tell her what parts have to stay in and she tells me what parts have to come out.
For the record, I usually lose.
But I can honestly say that an edit has never killed any of my articles. Maimed them, maybe, but that’s the extent of injury.
Truth be told, my copy almost always sounds better after sitting on the chopping block.
Shortened sentences, simple words, expressive phrases, and active verbs work wonders. If you’re struggling with where to begin, try the Hemingway app. It’s one of my favorite tools for analyzing my writing and doing my content pre-editing.
The key to writing killer copy? Writing and reading, in that order.
Try to write a little every day and when you’re not writing, do some reading.
Read what others post and ask yourself: “Can certain parts of this work for my style?”
Find a couple bloggers or authors who “speak to you” and inspire you. Begin to pick apart how they post. Find the nuts and bolts. analyze their writing style and see what it is that draws you to it. Chances are, at least one of those things will be on this list.
Lastly, give us some feedback.
  • What did you think about this article?
  • What items would you add to the list?
  • Who is a favorite writer of yours and why? Let us know!
Enjoy creating your content!
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Jeremy Gove is the owner of FoxFire Media with over a decade of experience as a graphic designer and branding consultant. He is also an ordained minister with the United Pentecostal Church International. Originally a Fightin’ Blue Hen from the First State, Jeremy currently resides in Claxton, Georgia, with his wife, Sarah, and their dog, Cuper. When not teaching, writing, designing, or doing “church work,” you can usually find Jeremy sitting down with a good book or spending time with his family.

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Jeremy Gove

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