Copywriting Training 101: How To Write Great Content
Updated: Dec 2, 2020
Ditch the thesaurus, write for your reader, make the complex simple, and be yourself.
Copywriting couldn’t be that simple?
Okay, there’s a little more to it than that, but those are the most important elements.
In this guide, I will download my brain and share some of the tips I’ve absorbed over the last ten years as a senior freelance copywriter, content strategist, marketing professional, and perhaps more importantly, reader of all things.
Keep creating excellent content.
1. General copywriting tips:
1.1 Audience, objective, structure, and emotion.
A client asked: “What is the optimal length for an article?”
The copywriter answered by asking a question: “What is the purpose of the article and who is going to read it?
“A good SEO article, for instance, can sit between 2100 and 2400 words to statistically perform well and start to gain free website traffic.”
The client was shocked at this, saying, “2100 words is far too long.”
It’s at this point that we talk about the objective or purpose of content and who is going to read it.
In journalism, the who, what, where, when, why, and how is used. Although developed for storytelling, it’s also a great way of structuring thoughts about copywriting in general. For this guide, 'when' is left out, as this refers to the timing of content.
1.1.1 Copywriting audience (WHO & WHY)
Who are you writing for? Why would they find your writing interesting?
Understanding your readers (audience) is called writing for one or more ‘buyer personas’. It’s the foundation of all fantastic writing.
Why? Because people don’t all use the same words to search for your business or have the same reasons for needing your product or service. They are also unique in the way they consume information.
By understanding the words customers use to search, the challenges they have, and how they consume information -- you can write something they will find easily and enjoy.
It’s what turns good content into excellent writing; it's also what keeps people coming back for more.
You’re not talking to just anyone -- you are talking directly to the reader. That’s why they will like it.
How do I learn more about my customers?
Understand what your customers' challenges are by conducting surveys or interviews. You’ll only need a few for each product or service to really get to grips with their challenges and interests.
It also helps to talk to your sales team -- ask them why their last customer came to them? What problem did they have? What was the solution for them?
Google is also your friend, and so is Uber Suggest by Neil Patel. Here you can find insights on keywords and questions that people ask.
Don’t forget that most people won’t know what solution they need. It starts with wanting to solve a problem, and therefore, asking a question.
Which of your customers' problems does your product or service solve?
It’s also important to remember that there is an internal and external language.
For instance, a bank might call a product a ‘sub-prime mortgage’, but a customer will search ‘can I get a mortgage with bad debt’.
They mean the same thing, but those businesses who take the time to understand the questions get the opportunity to explain the solution.
Once you have understood who your customers are and what they are likely to type into Google, you can start to choose what type of content to use and understand the objective.
1.1.2 Copywriting medium and objective (WHAT, WHERE, AND HOW)
What type of content are you going to choose, what is the objective, where will they view it, and how will you write it?
So, you’ve got into the minds of your customers, and you know what to write and who is going to read it.
Now it's time to consider the types of content you need and what the objective is. Will it be a blog, a video, an eguide, a SlideShare deck, or an infographic? Will you need a lot of words or fewer?
Many companies choose multiple types of content to communicate one message so that they can appeal to people who have time to read as well as those who don't (a content strategy).
It might look like this, for example:
Blogs> Video> Case study> Software trial
All of the above will usually be promoted on social media and paid advertisements.
You can make the above example larger with videos, eguides, and much more.
It’s in this planning phase that you start to think about what you want to achieve, which determines what and how you need to write.
Objective versus content type:
● If you need to inform quickly, showcase, or introduce a service, then you'll need high-level bullet points or a hard-hitting summary. Videos, animation, website pages, and infographics often use less words and more imagery to achieve high impact -- they are better for this purpose.
● Looking to boost SEO or educate, then an SEO-structure, keyword, phrase, and question research is needed, with the production of 2100 words or more. Guides, blogs, and SEO articles are more suitable for topics requiring a more detailed explanation.
Let’s take a wealth management company as an example.
The wealth management business would like to target people who want to invest money to make it grow into more money (potentially).
They’ve understood that their target customers don’t understand financial terminology and investments.
They decide to drop ‘wealth management’ and target people who are asking, ‘How do I invest my inheritance money?’ and ‘How can I make my savings work harder?’
The company decides to write articles on these subjects and then provides links to two videos for further information. One video explains investments and the other is a recording of a customer who felt pleased with their investment choice. Finally, the video leads to a website landing page to book an appointment with the company.
The objective of the article is to explain, in a jargon-free manner, how to invest money. It also uses words that people search for (SEO-optimised), so people find it when they search 'how do I...'.
The objective of the explainer video is to quickly explain in words and pictures how to invest money.
The objective of the customer video is to show how a real person felt about investing.
The booking page is worded and built to make it easy for the reader to take the next step with confidence.
Why the copywriting objective matters
If the objective and the reader is clear in the copywriter’s mind, the copy is written with a word count, style, structure, tone, and language that is relevant and engaging.
The more relevant information you give a reader, the more likely they are to buy into your brand. That’s not purchase, that’s to like you. Like turns into a purchase.
1.1.3 Copywriting structure
Once you know who you are talking to, what content you need to create, and the objective, you can start to structure your writing. You can find individual structure tips for each content format type within this guide.
For example, you can try this quick structure tip for faster article copywriting and writing in general:
● Agree the objective (word count too) and the audience.
● Draft a title.
● Come up with six (or more) subheaders (or points) relevant to the title.
● Start writing within the subheaders with the reader in mind -- forget the intro for now. Use short paragraphs.
● Read what you have written and find the biggest point.
● Write an introduction with the biggest point in mind.
● Re-write the title with the biggest point included.
● Summarise what you have written as key takeaway points at the bottom.
● Add a next step for further reading.
● Proofread and edit.
Whatever you are writing, your reader needs to:
● Be sure that the title and content stay on the topic -- no drifting.
● Trust what’s been written (substantiate, use statistics, and reference if required).
● Be able to jump to interesting points quickly.
● Be able to understand what you were saying even if they were 11.
● Be encouraged to read on -- your paragraphs should flow and be interesting.
● Keep your paragraphs very short.
It’s also essential that you haven’t got any typos. There are pieces of software like Grammarly (I get paid if you visit this link) that will not only help you write better, but you’ll learn as you go. More about that later.
Online writing has evolved, and sometimes style and ease of reading overtake the traditional rules of English.
That is, that paragraphs used to be used to signify a change in speaker, action, or event -- they could be huge. Now they are shorter so that readers can digest thousands of words while scrolling on their mobile phone.
The humble hyphen, that’s used when two words modify another word, like ‘a light-grey coat’, is often dismissed in the wake of Google’s search engines.
Pure grammar, although I love it, isn’t always viable. The grammar police are going to mob me for this one.
I draw the line at full stops (periods), though. No matter how abrupt they might seem to gen z readers -- they’re essential for understanding where a sentence ends.
Designers will also reserve the right to play around with style over grammar. Trust them. If it doesn't look good, no one will want to read it.
One I see a lot is one lonely quotation mark to set off a customer testimonial -- I quite like it.
1.1.4 Copywriting emotion
Emotion or persuasive writing is used in advertising every day.
Both companies have understood their customers’ challenges, but also their emotions.
British Gas, for instance, created one of my favourite advertisements, which shows everything that happens in a bathroom.
Likewise, Wren Kitchens also looks at the emotions that a new kitchen brings to the table.
By adding emotion into your writing, you can directly connect with your audience.
1.2 Optimal word count for copywriting
1.3 A formula for great writing
There’s a formula for great writing, and it’s this:
● Share internally for feedback
Ten tips for great copywriting:
Always do a dance between style and substance -- too much of either makes for poor writing.
Research is king or content is crap. Know your topic.
Use stats, case studies and examples to prove your point.
Use short paragraphs and make each subheader, paragraph, and sentence flow -- make the reader want to read on. Don’t be afraid to use bullet points, numbered lists, and different sentence structure to wake up your readers.
Stay on brand -- use the same tone of voice (the way your writing sounds) on everything on your website.
Check for typos.
Write how people talk, but not text.
Be grammatically correct -- know how to structure sentences. If you’re struggling, you’ll find tips towards the end of this guide. There’s also software like Grammarly (I earn money when you click this link), which will check and help you learn at the same time.
Your messages should be clear and avoid wordiness or jargon, which is called clarity. Brevity is the art of saying more using fewer words. It’s harder than you think. Be fluent -- your writing should seem natural, smooth, and expressive.
Finally, use an active voice, not passive.
2. How to write SEO copy to boost website ranking/traffic
"Almost 70% of search queries contain four words or more", according to Ahrefs.
"60% of marketers say SEO is their highest source of leads", according to HubSpot, "with a 14.7% close rate."
Your SEO copy is different from writing an article. Yes, it still has to read well, but these articles are about relevance.
What is SEO? SEO is search engine optimisation. It’s a way helping search engines like Google to see your website as relevant when someone searches for something you might offer.
SEO articles are anywhere from 1000 to 4000 words. Too long? Nope.
These pages sit on your website and need to be well-structured. People will find these pages via search engines, so they’ll need to be able to skip through to the relevant sections with ease -- making subheadings essential.
You can follow all of the advice given previously, but SEO copywriting starts with data. Not only do you understand your audience’s challenges, but you also need to know how they search to find the answer to them.
You can do this using Uber Suggest or Moz and also by simply typing words into Google.
For instance, here’s what I get if I type copywriting:
This helps me to understand what people are typing. I can then try:
But you’re not listing frequently asked questions here, so you need to look at what you find and group questions or phrases together to make an article.
By adding this to what you know about your audience already, you can create a seriously powerful SEO article.
You also need to consider where SEO articles sit on your website and how they fit into your content strategy. Can they sit in a blog or news, or are they suited to a product or services page? Where are you taking the reader on from this article? Can you link to other pages from this article?
A lot of people create long-form pillar pages, which is a fancy term for a general page with all questions and phrases about a topic or product. The page offers multiple links for further reading, providing a good user journey for the reader.
There’s no right or wrong here, but you’ll want to avoid messy websites that have content here there and everywhere.
Here’s an example of a short SEO page that’s also an article:
This copywriting guide is an example of an SEO piece of content. :-)
You’ll see that the title and subheaders relate to each other and the title is in a larger font than the rest. These are called using H1 and H2 header tags to ensure Google crawls your page and chooses it as the most relevant content for readers. You can read more about this here.
In addition, you need to use metatags correctly. When you add a piece of new writing or an article to a blog, you can usually access setting for SEO. You’ll see a space here where you can add what the article or page is about. They aren't as important as they used to be but fill them in.
A metatag is the bit of text which is previewed on Google when someone searches. You need to add relevant keywords to tags too.
Adding backlinks to link to other content also demonstrates structure to Google, which can boost your ranking on search websites. You can also achieve backlinks by encouraging others to link to your great content and guest posting (writing for other people).
There are hundreds of rules that Google uses to find information, and it simply isn’t possible to ‘cheat’ the system. Google change the rules all of the time. You shouldn’t want to either. By creating genuine content that is relevant, well-written, and structured regularly, you will gain a big tick with Google anyway without cheating.
3. Copywriting websites
Whether you’re about to embark on copywriting a brand new website or you’re updating an existing one, the website needs to be:
Quick. You can check this here.
Easy to navigate.
Clean and engaging.
It’s essential to plan out the website in rough, which is called a wireframe. By doing this, you can plan the journey that a customer might take.
It’s best to see the homepage as a shop window, with enough keywords to tell Google who you are, but more focused on looking inviting.
Your homepage copywriting should be about impact -- using fewer of the right words to engage your audience. Try to use external language (that is commonly used in speech) than internal company language. A professional and friendly tone is ideal.
The rest of the website can be structured to have specific product or specialist areas, which can all include more information and words so that you can include more SEO keywords and phrases.
Ideally, use a pillar page, where you can gradually link to articles of pages with more information will perform better. These are called topic clusters, which you can read about here.
The NM Money website converts 1 in 10 users and is an excellent example of how great website writing and structure can convert readers into customers.
After you’ve written excellent copy for your website, it’s essential to ensure that you have dived into the SEO settings for each page to add the meta blurb. Ensure all images have alternative text and don’t forget to register with Google Console and submit your sitemap (a map of your new website).