The Really Helpful Guide to better copywriting

10 copywriting hints and tips that you may (or may not) find ‘Really Helpful’

With ever growing demand for content, quality copywriting has never been more important. Whether it’s to ask for donations, drive prospects to a landing page, build awareness, retain customers or communicate with employees; consistently producing compelling, informative, persuasive copy isn’t easy.

Especially when we consider how much written information is out there. The numbers are huge. We’re exposed to literally thousands of advertising messages every day, and there are billions of blogs begging to be read.

It’s too much to take in. Way too much.

Which is why we screen out most of it – only reading what’s interesting to us.

So if we want people to actually read what we’ve written, then it has to be well-written.

So what makes ‘good’ copy?

Not easy to define, when ‘good’ is subjective, even comparative.

And ‘copy’ covers a range of possibilities – and what makes interesting blog copy probably won’t work so well in a press ad. The copy on a website won’t be right for a piece of direct marketing. Each audience and channel has its own set of cues and nuances.

So, what would be really helpful? How about 10 hints and top tips that might help you when you’re settling down to write some copy (or sitting back thinking you’ve finished)?

Ready? Let’s go.

1. Is your copy a headline act?

It’s a competitive world out there, so if your headline doesn’t persuade the reader to read on, that’s your chance gone. No second chances.

But how do you write a headline that packs a punch?

We could probably write an entire blog on this one question. But the starting point has to be to assume your audience isn’t interested in you. Know that they’re busy doing other things. Reading your copy is a distraction from what they were doing.

So you have to stop them in their tracks. Interrupt their day.

Your headline should focus on the most compelling, most irresistible part of what you’re hoping to communicate. You only have seconds (if that) to get their attention, so make it count.

Ask yourself, is this headline interesting enough to make someone stop and listen? If the answer is no, the chances are you’ve got nothing interesting to say.

Top tip:

“Avoid the “hard-to-grasp” headline – the headline that requires thought and is not clear at first glance.” John Caples

2. “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.” Mark Twain

Sounds counter-intuitive but it’s actually easier to write more and with greater complexity. Simplifying your copy doesn’t have to mean removing every single piece of jargon or ‘technical speak’. It means making sure information is clear, concise and pertinent, so that your audience gets the offer and understands the benefits in no time at all.

Simpler makes better copy. Fewer words, not more. Simple is good.

It’s not about writing short copy. Long copy is sometimes necessary to explain complexities or nuances, or to paint a more detailed picture for the reader… but what’s important is the copy is as simple as it can be, whilst achieving its objective.

Top tip:

“In the editing process, you refine your copy to express what you want to express with the fewest words.” Joseph Sugarman

3. Stop trying to be clever

Writers do like to play with words. They’ve normally got a great vocabulary and they want to show it off. That’s fine if it matches the brand personality you’re writing for, the type of content you’re creating and the audience you’re speaking to.

Always use the language your audience is familiar with. And whoever you’re talking to, without exception, being clear and succinct makes your writing easier and quicker for the reader to read, and therefore more effective. You should always write like you speak.

Helpful hint:

“If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.”  Elmore Leonard

4. Always stay active.

Use the active voice in your writing.

In the active voice, sentences are more direct, clearer. Simpler than a than passive construction, we understand copy written in the active voice more quickly. Watch out for the word ‘by’. It’s a clue that you’re writing in the passive voice.


Passive: 1,000 animals were helped by our volunteers last month

Active: Our volunteers helped 1,000 animals last month.

Top tip:

“Never use the passive voice where you can use the active.” George Orwell

5. It’s not we. It’s you.

Read through what you’ve written. Is it all ‘we, we we’?

It’s better to focus on the customer. The ‘you’.

While you may have a lot to say about yourself and your product, remember that your customer doesn’t really care about any of that. They only care about themselves.

Customers are only motivated by 2 things: their own self-interest, or fear.

So, your copy needs to talk to them about their needs, their desires, their fears. How are you going to make their life better? How will you stop their life going bad? Ideally, your copy should feature around twice as many ‘you’s than ‘we’s ‘.

Helpful hint:

“The vast majority of products are sold because of the need for love, the fear of shame, the pride of achievement, the drive for recognition, the yearning to feel important, the urge to look attractive, the lust for power, the longing for romance, the need to feel secure, the terror of facing the unknown, the lifelong hunger for self-esteem and so on. Emotions are the fire of human motivation, the combustible force that secretly drives most decisions to buy. When your marketing harnesses those forces correctly you will generate explosive increases in response.”  Gary Bencivenga

6. Understand your audience

When we’re trying to communicate an idea, it’s good to write as if it’s one person speaking to another – in advertising we’re trying to persuade that person to behave the way we want them to behave. We’re selling, they’re buying – and to sell, we need to tick their boxes. We need to show we understand their lives and talk about what they care about, not just what we want them to know.

Remember, it’s easier to be relevant to one person than to thousands.

Helpful hint:

“Good advertising is written from one person to another. When it is aimed at millions it rarely moves anyone.”  Fairfax M. Cone

7. Feel the benefit

Are you selling a boat? Or are you selling an elite lifestyle?

Are you promoting a training course, or a more fulfilled future?

When you’re selling a widget, it’s easy to find yourself just talking about the widget and all the clever things it does. But it’s actually about what the widget does for the user; that’s what makes it really attractive.

Remember – talk about what your product or service does for your customer, not about its function. And if you do need to talk about its features, make sure the benefit to the reader is 100% clear.

Helpful hint:

“No matter what business you’re in and what you ship: you’re selling your prospects a better version of themselves.” Joanna Wiebe

8. Can you just be more…interesting?

Be honest with yourself and with your writing. When you read it back, could it do with just being more…well…interesting? If you’re feeling that, your audience probably won’t bother reading it.

So, how do you make your copy more interesting?

Well, for starters, try getting a personality – any brand should have a clear voice, one that appeals to its target audience, one that speaks their language. If you don’t have one, get one. If you do have a brand personality – use it.

Be authentic. Be the brand you are and have faith that your audience will buy into that.

And tell a story, rather than just telling. People connect with stories – help your audience to experience the real ‘you’.

Top tip:

Tell the truth but make truth fascinating…you can’t bore people into buying your product. You can only interest them in buying it.” David Ogilvy

9. Does it look nice?

There’s so much content out there, and attention spans are so short. The visual appeal of a body of text is important in trying to get your writing read. Is it scannable? Is there white space? Can it be read quickly?

Headings and sub-headings do the job of breaking up your copy and signposting information. You can also ‘bite-size’ your copy by using plenty of paragraph breaks and bullet points where appropriate.

Helpful hint:

In an interview with bestselling crime writer Elmore Leonard, he was asked what made him a successful writer. He said, “Lots of white space on the page

10. Writing for a blog? Have a conversation

There’s a time and place for a lecture. Your blog isn’t it. Let’s talk on the same level; let’s have a conversation.

Think about someone you know (someone who may be somewhat interested in what you have to say in the first place), and write the blog for them. Think about what they’d like to know more about. What question would they ask? Be honest, be natural, be engaging.

Top tip:

“The more your copy sounds like a real conversation, the more engaging it will be.” David Garfinkel.

So there you go. 10 tips to help you write copy that works.

And if you remember nothing else from this blog, remember these 2 quotes:

“Make it simple. Make it memorable. Make it inviting to look at. Make it fun to read.” Leo Burnett.

And even more helpful:

“If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.” Elmore Leonard.