Learning to write copy for the Web

Copy. Words. We all need them. On a piece of paper. On your phone. On the Web. I recently decided to learn more about writing copy, particularly aimed at writing for the Web. The first question that I asked myself was “what makes effective copy?”

From The 5P Approach to Copy that Crushes It by Copyblogger I learned that:

“The most important aspect of copy that works is how well your message matches up with the way your prospective customer views things.” 

UK based copywriting expert Andy Maslen explains that before you do anything else, it’s important to think about your answers to these three questions:

  1. What keeps your prospect awake at three in the morning?
  2. What can you promise them to ease that pain?
  3. Why might they not believe you?

Andy then goes on to explain how answers to these three questions will help you create effective copy:

  • Answer question one and you have psychological insights into your prospect’s needs, desires and motivations.
  • Answer question two and you translate the features of your product into its deep underlying benefits.
  • Answer question three and you identify their objections, which you can then start to overcome.

I then delved deeper into Copyblogger’s 5P approach:

  1. Premise – The emotional concept that not only attracts attention, but maintains engagement throughout every element of your landing page copy and imagery. The ultimate outcome of the premise is the desired action that you would like the reader of your copy to take (see Fig. 1 below). Copyblogger explains this as follows: “The premise connects you to the emotional centre of your prospect’s brain, stimulates desire, maintains credibility, and results in the opening of the wallet. It’s the unification of the prospect’s worldview + the market + the benefits + the proof + a call to action into one simple, compelling message.”
  2. Promise – Using the so-called “Pyramid of Benefits”, you can come up with numerous befits of your product or service (see Fig. 2 below). However, it’s the ultimate benefit you discover by working through the benefits pyramid that equates to your premise.
  3. Picture – The picture phase is all about using images, storytelling, and tangible language as a way to hold the reader’s emotional interest while you nudge them down the path to acceptance. I’m learning that the way to best retain the reader’s attention is to get her to imagine herself enjoying the ultimate benefit or desired outcome. Then you get very specific about how your proposed solution or idea makes that benefit happen. A great example is “The Man in a Hathaway Shirt” by advertising guru David Ogilvy (see Fig. 3 below). The key aspect of the “picture” element is that the reader has to tell herself their own story based on the picture you create in their head with the elements of your landing page or imagery.
  4. Proof – Statistics, studies, graphs, charts, third-party facts, testimonials, a demonstration that the features of your product deliver the benefits you’ve promised—these are all part of the “proof” section of your piece. The main thing to remember here is to ensure that your premise (see Point 1. above) shines through every bit of your copy and is also reflected in the proof that you provide.
  5. Push – The “push” phase is more than just a call to action. It’s about communicating an outstanding offer in a clear, credible, and compelling way, and then asking for action. Persuasive writing begins with the desired outcome in mind, so during the push you’re tying the beneficial premise and the vivid picture to solid acceptance and concrete action.

Main learning point: I found it really helpful to learn about the “5P” approach to writing copy on the web. It may sound obvious to some, but thinking about the reader of your copy, their needs and objectives, is an easy thing to lose sight of. Considering the 5Ps before, during and after writing your copy will no doubt help to get your content read or applied more widely!

Fig. 1 – Elements of a Premise – Taken from: http://my.copyblogger.com/basic/5p-copy/

  1. Be unpredictable – The first thing you absolutely must have is attention. Without initial attention for your content, nothing else you’ve done matters. And nothing kills attention faster than if your prospective reader, listener, or viewer thinks they already know where you’re going. Beyond curiosity, a great premise delivers an unpredictable and unexpected element that makes it irresistible. It all comes back to knowing at an intimate level who you’re talking to and what they’re used to seeing in the market. What messages are they getting from your competition? This is what you must use as the benchmark to create your own unique and unexpected angle that forms the foundation of your premise.
  2. Be simple – Because a premise by definition is an unprecedented and grand idea, sometimes boiling it down to its essence is difficult, or worse, neglected. However, it’s important to always to try and keep your premise as short and powerful as possible.
  3. Be real – ‘Keeping it real’ in the copywriting sense means a couple of things. Firstly, by making sure that your premise is highly relevant to your intended audience. For example, when I write copy as part of my day job at carwow, I’ll need to make sure that my copy is perceived as relevant in the eyes of my target audience, i.e. buyers of new cars. The aim here is to inspire a desirable reaction from your target audience before triggering a desirable action. Secondly, your message must communicate meaningful benefits that are also tangible. In order to create a sense of “instant understanding” with your audience, you need to tell the story in a way that conveys information in a way that’s likely to resonate with your prospect.
  4. Be credible – If you’re writing to persuade, you have to hit the gut before you get anywhere near the brain. The part that decides “I want that” is emotional and often subconscious. If your premise doesn’t work emotionally, logic will never get a chance to weigh in. Credibility or “proof” needs to be baked into the premise as much as possible.

Fig. 2 – The Benefits Pyramid – Taken from: http://www.somethinggreat.com/promotion-events/

Benefits-pyramid-pic

Fig. 3 – “The Man in The Hathaway Shirt” ad by David Ogilvy – Taken from: http://www.directmarketinginstitute.com/HathawayShirtAd.htm

hathaway shirt ad

Related links for further learning:

  1. http://www.makepeacetotalpackage.com/archives/make-your-products-benefits-sparkle/

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