When you look at marketing from a cold, strategic perspective, it’s easy to lose touch. Each decision becomes more about numbers, and less about the real people browsing your website. As a freelance copywriter, I believe in a human-centred approach to marketing. Learn how to apply these principles to improve the performance of your landing pages.
Are you a business owner? An entrepreneur? A marketer? Perhaps you just want to improve how you write headlines? Then this guide is for you. In the following, you’ll learn how to create effective, compelling, high-conversion headlines.
Content and design. What's more important? Why does it matter to your business? It's definitely an interesting question. It's also a little controversial. As a digital copywriter, I've had this debate with designers and visual creatives time and time again. Without stepping on too many toes, I'm going to be blunt.
Trello. Innocent Smoothies.GoPro.Apple. Old Spice. What do they all have in common? ...not much, you're probably thinking. They're outrageous. They're personable. They're silly. They're insulting. They're unique. They're engaging. Importantly, they're all companies who relate profoundly to their audiences. Coincidentally (or not) they're also kings of their respective industries.
But it doesn't happen by accident. In fact, it's one of the most carefully-orchestrated, deliberate elements to creating a successful brand. Your voice is important. And what you say to your audience - it's everything.
Keep reading for some actionable, no-bullshit tips on connecting and relating to your audience.
1. Speak To The Individual. Not The Collective.
When your prospect is engaged with your brand, it is as an individual. Not as a collective - no matter the situation. So why would you communicate with them in an impersonal manner?
This is a problem that's rife. Companies spend infinite time and money gathering data and statistics about their customers. Thing is...this puts the focus on the collective. It averages data and evens out the most important subtleties and eccentricities of your target audience. It limits the very thing you should be focussing on - the individual.
Think long and hard who your ideal customers are - and learn from them - individually. Talk to them on Facebook and Twitter. Ask them what they like. What they hate. Find out about their individual lives. In the process, you'll learn the most valuable thing possible - how your brand can be a relevant part of it.
2. Dare To 'Think Different'.
Yeah, it couldn't sound any more clichéd if it tried. It also couldn't be more correct. Will you be successful towing the line, following the herd, and copying from previous trailblazers?....Yes. But you'll be forever limited by your own derivativeness. Some of the most ridiculously successful companies thought outside the box. They took risks. They bared it all to the world.
Because your prospects can relate to the trailblazers. The people who think outside the box to solve their problems.
Look at the origins of 'Think Different'. Apple. One of the most successful, respected tech companies in the world. Their very existence embodies 'think different'. And people love them for it.
But should you 'follow their lead' and 'copy' their model for success? NO! Being different doesn't mean being the same as those who are different. It takes true guts and innovation. Could it fail? Definitely. Are there risks to being different? Sure. But it's the most worthwhile risk to take in the world.
3. Be Funny. But Think A Little.
Humour works. Like, really, really well. But it takes a profound understanding of your audience - and humour, for that matter - to get right. And when it goes badly?
Tip: Laugh with people, not at them.
Good brand humour is a careful calibration between your audience's sensibilities, your brand's identity, and timing. Taco Bell. Old Spice. Impact Design. They all know their audiences profoundly. And they know precisely where their audience's sensibilities overlap with their brand identity.
Next time you're trying to be funny...think a little deeper. Who is your audience? Who's your brand? Double-check your attempts. Or the consequences will be disastrous.
4. Show Your Imperfections. Even If It Hurts.
There's nothing more human than imperfections. And what - if anything - are you trying to connect with? Humans. From the houses we buy to the supermarkets we choose, us humans choose things that reflect our identity. Just look at Victoria's Secret. They advertised perfection. Perfect people wearing perfect products created by a perfect brand.
People went crazy....they hated it. Why? Because Victoria's Secret were advertising a lie. People simply don't look like that. In fact, the entire fashion and beauty industry is slowly, slowly coming to this realisation:
People desire self-improvement. But more importantly, people desire to be loved. To feel a sense of belonging. To feel they're worth something - not despite their mistakes, but because of them. And brands who can offer that? They'll win their customers for life.
Look at Dove. Their advertising is based on rejoicing in the differences (and imperfections!) of their brand and their audience. And their customers love them for it.
"Never write an advertisement which you wouldn't want your family to read. You wouldn't tell lies to your own wife. Don't tell them to mine." - David Ogilvy.
5. TL;DR? Be Human.
There's a reason why we love wonky, imperfect artisan pizzas. Silly, tongue-in-cheek brands. The companies who speak to us as individuals. The companies who make us laugh or leave us awe-stricken.Because all of these things are inherently human. And in a world becoming increasingly sterile and technological, the value of 'being human' is an ever-inflating commodity.
Want to share your thoughts on relating to your audience? Jump head-first into the discussion. Add your comment below!
Social, social, social. Lets get social (don't click if you value your sanity). We're constantly barraged with the importance of social media - whether you're a writer, a small business owner or, well...a regular punter. Social media can be a pain. It can drive us insane - what with the opinionated tweets, banal Facebook posts, and narcissistic Instagram pages.
But in all honesty - social media has redefined how we write and communicate - for better or worse. If you're a wannabe Shakespeare, that might be a bad thing. But for the rest of us, it's great.
Now, our communications are more:
1. Clear and concise
3. Personalised and relevant
The thing is, 140 characters forces you to say what you want to say quickly, clearly and - in many cases - creatively. Not only is it training us to write accordingly, it's also training us to expect that level of communication from each other.
That means...lengthy, complex content, long-form posts and dry, impersonal 'business talk' is becoming more and more out of fashion. Consequently, we need to completely redefine our approach to online writing.
Applying The Tip
Write For An ADHD 8th-Grader
Yep. Social media has reduced our attention spans. Now, we spend less time on words, and more on more visually engaging stimuli (Netflix and chill....anyone?). That's why we need to write in a concise, simple, legible manner. Here's how:
1. Break content into short paragraphs interspersed with bullet-points, images, bolded/italic key phrases
2. Always use simple word variations (or...word choices!) - full list here
4. Cut unnecessary words, phrases, and keep everything simple - use the Hemingway Editor to get your writing to 8th grader level
Don't Just Talk - Create a Conversation
Social media is all about the conversation. It's allowing customers to directly interface and influence companies on a personal level for the very first time - and it's absolutely fascinating. Now, companies are finding much more success talking in a direct, friendly, no-nonsense manner. Take the likes of Apple, or Trello, or Innocent Smoothies.
1. Make it feel like you're a friend recommending a service/product - through social proof (testimonials, case studies, statistics)
2. Write like you're talking to one person - not thousands (individuals are reading, not crowds)
3. Use conversational language (contractions like ain't, casual phrases like 'funny business')
4. Mix super short, short and medium sentence lengths (just like a normal conversation)
5. Address the readers needs/problems - offer them helpful advice or ask them explicitly to engage
We can learn a ton from the world of social media. On cultural, psychological, and practical business levels. So, next time you write that intro email, web page or flier, are you going to talk at your audience, or with them? I'll leave that up to you.
Daily Writing Tips is where I share my expertise on web writing, content strategy, online business, creativity, and more.
The SEO writing craze has been and gone (for most of us)... For all the clunky SEO headlines, blatant SEO filler content, and SEO writers advertising their services, you wouldn't have thought it had left.
While Google's updates in the last 5 years have punished poor SEO practice, so many of us are still being misled by out-of-date information. It sucks, but we can do something about it.
The web is becoming much more user-focussed. That is - content that improves a user's 'experience' will be looked on more favourably by Google. Content that is informative, that is shared on social media, and has a high percentage of bookmarks and return visits will be ranked highly. Have a look how Google ranks pages below:
As you've heard countless times before, written content is your brand's voice. The 'dialogue' between yourself and your reader should be true to your brand's identity, and true to their unique needs, desires and problems.
Content that is written like this is far more likely to rank highly compared to weak, clunky, keyword-stuffed content. Thing is - you can still utilise SEO, keywords, metadata and all that palaver. You just gotta' be subtle!
Applying the Tip
View 'Copy' as a Conversation
...Because, you know, blurting out nonsensical phrases like 'web developers London' in the middle of a conversation will quickly send them running.
View your website copy as a conversation with a friend, whom you're informing and convincing that something (product/service) is awesome. If SEO phrases or content makes your 'conversation' sound clunky, change them immediately.
You wouldn't keep repeating gibberish and jargon during a conversation (hopefully!) - don't do the same on your website.
Spent Your Time Wisely
Try to spend the majority of your time researching, writing, and promoting. If you put in the effort to create effective copy first, and leave the SEO aspects to last, the chances that your content will be driven by SEO are slim.
Take the following graph as a good indicator of SEO tasks:
As you can see, only a fraction of time should be spent on the technical side of SEO. Spent the rest of the time writing and engaging with your audience. They'll thank you for it.
Daily Writing Tips is where I share my expertise on web writing, content strategy, online business, creativity, and more.
"A writer's style should be direct and personal, his imagery rich and earthy, and his words simple and vigorous." - Ernest Hemingway
One of America's most renowned authors, Hemingway's unique, punchy, 'to-the-point' style was as influential as it was controversial.
Because he was trained to write for newspapers, the literary world found his clear, no-bullshit approach to be intimidating.
Know what? His writing is more relevant than it has ever been. Concise, direct and personal translate to web writing excellently.
Taking a figurative page from Hemingway's book could help improve your web writing immeasurably.
Applying the Tip
1. Use Short, Concise Sentences
"For sale: baby shoes, never worn."
When challenged to write the shortest story, Hemingway proved his prowess with the above quote. He also proved that short sentences can have a huge impact.
In the era of online - with attention spans dwindling - quickly capturing your reader's attention is a valuable skill. And writing short sentences is a great place to start.
Long, rambling sentences will quickly have your readers dropping off like flies. Short sentences won't. I promise.
2. Use Strong, Bullshit-Free Language
- Excessive adjectives (powerful, innovative, state-of-the-art)
- Superlatives (amazing, awesome, great)
- Industry Jargon (core-competency, cutting-edge, results-driven, paradigm-shifting)
- Simpler word alternatives (e.g. 'use' instead of 'utilise')
- Engage readers with emotional instead of intellectual language (e.g. 'finished' instead of 'completed' - full list here)
- Benefits-driven facts, statistics, quotes and testimonials
- Active instead of passive voice (e.g. 'every student failed the exam' instead of 'the exam was failed by every student')
- An honest, personal writing voice (learn more from Copyblogger)
3. Follow the 'Iceberg Theory'
Coining the 'iceberg theory', Hemingway described how only 10% of the plot was written on the page. The other 90% was unspoken. When you're writing content, keep this in mind.
You don't need to burden your readers with an excess of information to be effective. Choose the most powerful, impactful '10%'. The rest can be left unspoken.
While none of us will ever be as legendary as the man himself, we can learn from Hemingway's wisdom and, in doing so, take steps towards becoming more persuasive, effective writers as a whole.
Daily Writing Tips is where I share my expertise on web writing, content strategy, online business, creativity, and more.
"In writing, you must kill your darlings." - William Faulkner
While the quote's origin is ambiguous, the power of the message is the same.
Whether you're writing content for your website, your latest blog post, or a cold sales email, being ruthless with each draft is one of the greatest things you can do.
When we spend hours slaving away at drafts of content, it's easy to become emotionally attached. Like soldiers, you've both been through a lot together. Late nights and early mornings...caffeine dependency...it's only natural to feel protective of your perfectly honed words.
We attach a disproportionate amount of value to the things that require the most effort. It's irrational, but hey, that's humans in a nutshell.
Remember - your thoughts, words and ideas are all disposable. They bend to your purpose, not the other way around. The quicker you internalise that - the quicker the quality of your writing will improve.
Applying the Tip
1. Ideas First - Then Words
We're often told to write as much as humanly possible, then edit. This is terrible advice. The more you slave over one idea, the harder it becomes to edit it. You become too attached, too close to the one concept - even if the concept itself is sub-par.
I suggest investing more time in coming up with the right idea/angle/approach. Write down 10 of these. Carefully choose your favourite. Then plan out your content carefully for your chosen idea. This will give you a solid base, and make editing far, far easier when the time comes.
2. Reveal it to the World
This can be a sobering experience. However, getting as many perspectives as possible on your writing can bring you back to reality. Nothing pops your bubble of creative delusion like a bit of objective feedback. Think about outsourcing a proofreader or copy-editor if you want to take it up a notch.
3. Weigh & Measure Your Idea
Write down guidelines for what you want your writing to achieve. E.g. desired tone, what benefits you want to communicate, and what actions you want the reader to take. Write these before starting on your content. Once complete, refer to these guidelines. Is your writing achieving all of these? No? Edit ruthlessly until it is. Yes? Good job!
Hopefully this writing tip has been of some use. Being objective with your writing is one of the most valuable skills you can have, regardless of what you're writing.
You’re probably sitting there, thinking, “is…is my web content weak? Please let it not be so…” Well, I have some good news, and I have some bad news.
The bad news is…it’s likely your copy isn’t great. Copywriting – like any skill – takes years to master.
Don’t despair though, not yet. I have some good news.
You’re here. You’re here because you want to learn. And, like all things, bad copywriting can be remedied with the right answers.
Feel better? Here are a bunch of reasons why your web content sucks – and how you can fix it.
The Marketing Side of Things
1. Gibberish Sales Tone
Are you guilty of using words like ‘innovative’? ‘Forward-thinking?’ Perhaps…wait for it…even ‘synergetic’?
Folks, your readers are human. Speaking to them in a stilted, manipulative sales tone is the quickest shortcut to alienating them as much as possible. Using these vague clichés also indicates you don’t really know what you’re trying to say – at all.
Solution: Try to write conversationally. Imagine your ideal customer as you write your content. Read your content out loud. If it sounds ridiculous, edit it. Here are some great CopyBlogger tips. Always clarify exactly what you’re trying to say.
2. No ‘Call To Action’
Imagine a super-charismatic, informative salesperson gave you this amazing pitch. You’re practically begging them to take your credit card. And then…they just walk away. They cut the conversation short. Where are they going?!
If your content – be it a blog post, web copy, or sales email – has no ‘call to action’, this is what you’re doing to your readers. You’re stopping the conversation.
Solution: Think of your content from your customer’s perspective. They are attracted to your content (adverts, social media, catchy headline), then converted (benefits, testimonials, useful info) and then – finally – encouraged to take action (subscribe! Purchase! Contact!). You get the point. Your customer’s on a journey…walk with them (cringe). Learn more about actionable content from KISSMetrics.
3. You Write For A General Audience
People are often scared of alienating ‘demographics’. What do they do? They use a fearful, ‘catch-all’ method.
E.g. A feminine moisturising product. A catch-all method would look like “Femoisturiser is great for healthy skin for the whole family”.
Okay, okay, no one’s going to buy ‘Femoisturiser’ (another one of my dreams goes ‘poof’). But you get my point. Because of the above ‘scattershot’ approach, the key target audience (women aged 24-46) isn’t being engaged and – even worse – might feel alienated.
Solution: Know who you’re trying to speak to. Be fearless in speaking to them. Engaging with a smaller demographic on a deeper level is invaluable. Learn how to find your target market.
4. You Ain’t Done Your Research
Facts, statistics, information. Dry stuff. And yet, invaluable. Nothing puts your readers off more than unsubstantiated, weak, vague statements and thrown together content.
Solution: Ask the questions ‘Who?’ ‘What?’ ‘Why? And ‘How?’ whenever you write your content. Who is this for? (audience). What is it exactly? (products/services). How will it help your audience? (benefits). Reinforce every claim with information, and use statistics/facts/quotes tactfully to improve your credibility.
5. You Focus On Robots (SEO) Over Humans
The golden era of SEO is over. Now, Google punishes you for stuffing keywords and spamming content. Now, focussing on SEO primarily is not only idiotic (because of said punishments), it also alienates the people that matter – your readers.
Solution: Stop it. Okay, you can use SEO a little. In fact, tactful keywords, well-constructed meta-descriptions and the likes can be really beneficial. Just please…speak like a human, because you’re talking to humans. Here’s some tips.
The Technical Side of Things
6. You Use Weak, Vague Language
Nothing will undermine your credibility like an excess of ‘amazing’! ‘Mind-blowing!’ and ‘awesome!’. Other examples include a reliance on the passive voice and a misuse of adjectives. Vague words like ‘stuff’, ‘things and ‘got’.
Solution: Try to translate these vague, meaningless terms into tangible benefits/values. ‘Mind-blowing device’ might turn into ‘The device that saves 2.5 hours a day’. Write like the great Ernest Hemingway with the Hemingway Editor app.
7. Your Writing is Lengthy/Complex
In the era of the web, long, rambling, complex sentences and paragraphs will result in your readers dropping off like flies (have I mentioned clichés, yet?). People have miniscule attention spans. Your writing needs to adapt to this.
Solution: Cut words that don’t add anything. Keep your sentences short, concise and punchy. Say what you need to say as quickly as possible – then reinforce it with quality, value-oriented content (show them the money!).
8. Lack of Proper Formatting
What will send your readers running to the hills even more? The dreaded wall of text. It’s a terrifying thing.
Truth is, good writers understand the value of aesthetics, form and design. The balance between content and white space. Between words and imagery. A wall of text is insulting to your readers – you don’t even have the time to spare to edit a little.
Solution: Easy - format. Your. Content. Keep paragraphs short. Use a readable font. Use a variety of fonts (paragraph, h2, h3, etc). Break content up with bullets, lists, images and columns – even white space. Here are some more ideas.
9. Your Content Is Too Short
Sometimes, being minimal is a bad thing. It becomes negative when it impairs your reader’s understanding of what you’re trying to say.
Solution: I like to – first – write a list of everything I need to say. I then create a longer first draft. I then edit this down to the perfect length. Create a checklist of things you want your copy to achieve. Tick them off as you achieve them.
10. Filled With Errors
Please use a spelchecker, seriuosly. Nothing (nothing!) undermines your credibility more than error-ridden content.
Solution: Carefully comb through your content for errors. Sometimes these won’t appear (e.g. flower and flour – these are called homonyms). In this case, you should probably call in your super detail-oriented buddy to help.
The Creative Side of Things
11. Overly Technical
Engineers, scientists, programmers…put down the keyboard. Sometimes – especially if you’re technically-minded – it can be difficult to avoid listing features, facts and statistics. However, this isn’t engaging for your audience.
Solution: Write out your ‘features’ or ‘facts’. Now, list the ‘benefits’ of each alongside. Use these benefits within your copy. You can tactfully use ‘features’ and ‘facts’ for credibility – see Apple for more.
Think of it like this – if you’re being descriptive, you’re adding work for your reader. They have to figure out why this matters to them. If you’re specific, you’re reducing their work. Pretty simple.
Solution: Stop being descriptive. Don’t say “we design websites and stuff”. Say “we create responsive, custom-built websites for your brand”. You get the idea. Make it easy for your audience, and be specific.
13. Too Generic
With the web, competition is ridiculous. Now, it’s even more important to distinguish yourself. Using generic descriptors, soundbites and bland tones simply won’t cut it.
Solution: Take time to develop a brand voice that speaks to your ideal customer. Take time to think about what you’re trying to say. Look at your competitors, and see how you can say it better. Can you add humour? Use interesting, ‘off-the-wall’ phrases? Perhaps you can simply highlight key differentiating factors that work in your favour. Entrepreneur tips for carving out a niche.
14. Not Compatible With Your Brand Voice
From the first email or advert, to your website, through to their interactions with you, your customer is on a journey. You want that process to be smooth and seamless. If your content clashes or contrasts significantly with previous content, at best, it can perturb your reader. At worst, it’ll send them running.
Solution: Look at your content holistically. If you have an established tone of voice, use examples of that (in existing content) as a touch-point in writing your web content. It doesn’t have to be identical…just don’t make awkward switches (e.g. from a quirky, humorous approach to a cold, corporate tone). Here’s how to develop a tone of voice guide.
15. You Write Too Quickly
This one might seem obvious, but – from the amount of websites that appear rushed – it clearly isn’t. There are very few masterpieces - in any context – that were rushed. Your web content matters. Take time with it.
Solution: Slow down. Your website content matters, and your web copy isn’t your latest journal entry. It demands respect, damnit!
16. You ‘Attempt’ To Be Funny
Okay, okay, humorous copy – when executed well – can be brilliant. However, there is nothing more cringe-worthy than try-hard, unfunny writing. In all honesty, writing humorously takes two things – skill, and a profound understanding of your audience.
Solution: Focus on being clear and concise. You can even add a little personality or quirk. If you’re truly set on trying to be ‘funny’, take your time, understand your audience, and get as many perspectives as possible before publishing.
The Mental Side of Things
17. You’re Boring Yourself
‘Industry front-runners’…yawn…’solutions-oriented business consultancy’…yawn. It seems obvious, but if you’re not being entertained by your own writing, your readers won’t, either.
Solution: Drop the industry gibberish. Stay clear and concise. Focus on your core message – and how you can communicate that quickly and confidently and – possibly – in an entertaining manner.
18. You Don’t Know What You’re Trying To Say
A muddled, confused message a muddled confused reader makes (confused?). If you have no idea what you’re trying to say, you won’t say very much at all.
Solution: Simplify. Have 3 take-away messages? Hone it down to one. Always plan out your content before-hand.
19. You Believe Design’s More Important Than Content
Unlike other forms of media, written content is more than a commodity. It’s your brand’s voice. It’s one of the sole methods in which you can speak to your audience.
Solution: Focus on your message – first and foremost. Good design should do one thing – reinforce this. Write your content first, then add the pretty parts later.
20. You’re Writing For You – Not the Customer
The amount of companies that have this issue…it’s unreal. I’ve found that creatives – designers, photographers, artists and the like – are particularly bad for this.
“We invest in our people, love what we do, and we focus on doing great work”.
We, we, we. Yes, the results of such writing truly are wee wee. If you fail to focus on your reader, why should they focus on you?
Solution: With each paragraph, sentence and word, ask yourself – “how is this relevant to my reader’s problems?”. Use direct language to address your readers – ‘you’ and your’. Avoid self-important, vague statements like “we love what we do”. No one or their granny – frankly – cares.
- Focus on the customer's perspective
- Importantly - know your ideal customer
- Write clearly and concisely - cut the sales spiel
- Write like a human, for humans
- Research and carefully craft/edit your copy
- Keep writing, testing and trying!
There you have it! 20 reasons. Remember – writing great content isn’t simple. But with time, thought and practice, it’s definitely achievable. And if it all gets too much – my schedule is open.