I’ve been at this copywriting thing for awhile now, coming up on 35 years. During this time, I’ve read countless books and articles and attended more seminars and workshops about how to improve your copywriting than I can count.
But I don’t think I have come across a more clear and comprehensive copywriting guide than the one I received recently from Jacob McMillen. Jacob is the son of a good friend of mine who also happens to be one of the top freelance copywriters and SEO marketers in the country.
Last week Jacob sent out his “Holy Sh*t That’s Too Many! Megalist of 102 Copywriting Tips.” His full list is 15,000 words, so I thought I’d save you a little time and summarize what I think are his top tips. But click here if you’d like to read the full list.
#1. Identify Your Target Audience
Without a doubt, this is the first thing you should do before putting pen to paper (or finger to keyboard). This will influence every aspect of your writing, including your style, tone, focus, emphasis and the content itself.
For example, most of what I write is targeted to business owners, corporate executives and high-net-worth (read: wealthy) individuals. So I use a fairly sophisticated style and tone in most of my writing as opposed to the more casual and informal style I might use if I were writing to a different audience.
#2: Keep the focus on the reader’s needs and desires.
Jacob says the main copywriting mistake he sees is writers who focus too much on their business, brand or subject instead of the target audience. He puts it bluntly: “In most cases, they (readers/customers) don’t care about you or your business at all.”
Instead, they care about theirneeds, theirdesires and what you can do for them. They’re only interested in your business to the extent that you can meet these needs and desires for them. Therefore, everything you write should connect to these needs and desires.
#3: Write Like You’re Talking to a Friend
I really like this tip. As Jacob puts it, “Good copy reads a lot like a well-spoken person talking to a friend. It has a casual, straightforward tone and gets to the point without rushing itself.”
In particular, you should avoid jargon and “business-speak” in your copywriting. I really have to guard against this myself given the technical and business focus of most of what I write. After you’ve written a paragraph or two, read it out loud to yourself to see how it sounds. It will be pretty obvious if you’ve crossed over the line.
#4: Write with Clarity and Purpose
Lots of copywriters think that their copy should be written to persuade people to take action, like clicking on a link or picking up the phone. However, clarity and purpose tend to be more important than persuasion when it comes to writing effective copy.
Jacob explains: “Product/market fit is what sells things. The goal of the copy is simply to make it very clear to those people that the product is a great match for what they already want or need.”
#5: Remember the KISS Rule (Keep It Simple, Stupid)
Some copywriters think the more words they use, and the longer and fancier these words are, the better. Actually, the exact opposite is true. In fact, it’s usually harder and takes longer to write short, simple and concise copy than long, flowing, wordy — and ineffective — copy.
I’ve said it before: Never use a 10 dollar word when a 10 cent word will suffice. Copywriting isn’t the place for impressing people with your extensive vocabulary and complex sentence structure. Instead, “you want to be as simple and succinct as possible,” Jacob says.
#6: Write with Rhythm
I discovered this secret back when I first became an editor and was working with young staff writers. I started noticing that often something wasn’t quite right with a piece but couldn’t put my finger on it. Then it hit me: The rhythm was off.
“Rhythm is important in copywriting because it acts as a kind of reading inertia,” Jacob says. “It engages your audience. It captivates them and compels them to read the next sentence. And the next.”
Writing with rhythm means varying the length, structure and style of your sentences and paragraphs. Again, reading your copy out loud can help you here. I do this a lot — my wife probably thinks I’m crazy talking to myself all the time!
#7: Throw Out the Dictionary
I’ll finish with this tip because it’s something I’ve never thought of. Jacob points out that Google has now become a verb while Flickr and Lyft are misspellings of common words that have become well-recognized brands.
“Set your mind free and play with different ways to say what you have to offer,” Jacob says. “Get creative with misspellings if you’re naming a product or campaign or think of ways to repurpose words to grab your audience’s attention.”