Thoughts From The Cloud: 5 Keys to Writing Good Copy
There are still plenty of people out there who believe, however naively, that good writing comes from some sort of Word Fairy who sprinkles fairy dust on people as they sleep, thus inciting inspiration and creativity.
The truth, I’m sorry to say, is far from this. Good copy comes from good copywriters. Good copywriters come from years of study and practice. It’s an easy enough equation at the surface of the thing.
What Good Copywriters Bring to the Party
The best copywriters you’ll meet are all about the details. They’ve long ago mastered the language and the mess of punctuation, grammar and bizarre words that come with it. As, I suspect, have many of you. But instead of just using it to scribble notes on Post-Its or telling people on the Internet that they’re wrong, pen jockeys manage to turn their practice into cash money.
Today, I’m going to give you a peek into the brain of a copywriter. Let’s talk about what makes good copy.
First, as mentioned, you have to have a strong command of the language. For blogging, you should also enjoy contractions and idioms, these make it easier for readers to connect with your work. These are obvious things I would hope you’re already somewhat aware of.
Effective Copy in Five Parts
You can write handsome poetry or heartbreaking scripts and fail miserably at writing effective digital copy. I think it’s because what matters to copy isn’t the same as what matters to other forms of writing. Don’t beat yourself up if you haven’t nailed digital content — that’s what I’m driving at.
I’ve been writing for the web for eight years and in that time I’ve been trying to pay attention, in case I get the chance to pass on some kind of wisdom some day. Well, today’s the day and you’re the lucky winner!
Writing good copy is a simple process, if you mind these vital elements:
Audience. Even if you’re writing a blog for yourself, you have an audience. It’s the nature of the beast. With purpose comes the people who make that purpose worthwhile, right? To craft good copy, you need to know who will be reading it. Sometimes this is an audience that’s already established, in which case you have to adapt to their needs. Sometimes this is an audience you hope to attract. Either way, you know who that ideal person is before you start writing. Always, always keep your audience in mind above all else.
Purpose. Last year, I guess it was, I heard about a book that had just come out called “The Content Trap,” so of course I jumped right on that so I could tell them why they were wrong. As I went through the book, I realized they weren’t wrong, there are problems with content marketing and they all come back around to the same thing: there’s a lot of garbage out there that has zero purpose for existing.
There are too many companies that want content, but don’t know what they want it for. Content is great for establishing your authority, it’s great for selling umbrellas, but it needs to be specific and useful to achieve these ends. That’s why you must define the purpose of your copy before you start on it. This also goes back to the audience thing. They’re tied up in your purpose more times than not.
Structure. Every type of writing has a certain form or pattern it follows. That’s important, I’m not saying it isn’t, but what’s even more important is that you develop a structure within those parameters for each and every thing you write. See, some people think you can just sit down and write and put one word in front of the next until it’s over. This is not how the pros do it.
You might not see an outline on paper, but we’ve got one in our heads. This kind of goes back to which type of writing any particular writer was first trained to do. For me, for example, my years in the newspaper world taught me to outline in my head and then pour it on the page as quickly as possible because deadlines are a thing.
But I know copywriters who do formally outline, and I will often scribble down a loose outline when it’s a longer piece that I’m working on. I just can’t juggle more than three or four major points without some drawing. How you outline isn’t as important as that you do. Do it, otherwise your meandering content will meander and there’s no coming back from that.
Solid Voice. Your audience responds to a particular kind of language. Science types may enjoy the highly technical, people drawn to blogs about cats might prefer a very relaxed sort of casual tone. Whatever your audience, there’s a voice for them. Your goal is to figure out what it is that they respond to, how they resonate with your work, and even what language really engages these people. Find your audience, find your purpose, find your voice.
Completeness. For lack of a better term, I’m going to call this “completeness.” I’m not sure that’s actually a word, but let’s run with it. I worked for Demand Media, the parent corporation of eHow (at the time, anyway) after the glowing coals of my newspaper career turned into so much ash. This is an important point because one of the things that Demand stressed was that each piece should be a complete answer to the questions that brought the reader to us. We were tasked with answering the questions that weren’t being asked, but should be and might be later.
This was the Demand way, but it’s a good plan overall. If your readers are searching for answers after reading your post, blog, or whatever, you’ve failed them. Be complete, don’t send anyone elsewhere to seek information and you’re gold. Just… solid gold.
Better Copy Means Better Results
When the copy is wrong, everything else is wrong, too. The tone a potential customer hears from your writing speaks to them on a level they don’t even realize is there. If you’re friendly and casual, you might be perceived as easy to work with; copy that’s stiff and formal might tell the reader that you have very high expectations that you won’t yield.
Whatever it is that you need to convey, you can get into your copy. You just have to keep these five things in mind. They work together, more or less, to create the right message for the right audience.
Anybody can write, but writing well is another thing entirely.