(confessions from a 20 year copywriter) 4 Things I Wish I Knew, when I first started writing sales copy

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(confessions from a 20 year copywriter) 4 Things I Wish I Knew, when I first started writing sales copy

Post by SARubin »

Reading Time: About 7 minutes

(note: I did not make any of these things up on my own. I learned these lessons over the years, and as I learned them my copy got better and better. These lessons may sound familiar or obvious to some of you, but based on a lot of the sales copy I see these days, there’s many people out there who still need to learn them)

#1 – Headlines, people… Get your headlines right!

If your headline is weak, your copy will never get a chance to live up to its full potential..

Put a vague, boring, or obscure headline at the top of your copy, and it doesn’t matter what else you write. Because 99% of your audience will never stick around to read the first sentence.

Of course the best headline in the world won’t save your ad if the rest of the copy is weak. But we need to start at the top, and give people a quick reason to care about what you have to say.

In my experience, the best headlines directly call out your target audience. And they either offer a big bold promise, or they touch on a big ass problem your reader is having.

If you can do all those things in one headline… even better.

So get your headline right, before you put your copy out into the world.

OK, I can already hear someone saying… “Wait a minute… What about the headline for this article? ”

“4 Things I Wish I Knew, when I first started writing sales copy”

“It has none of those things”…

Well, out in the wild I would agree. But for anyone who knows me, it does touch on a promise that I’m going to share a few bits of my experience. And it also offers hope for anyone who’s still trying to figure out how to sell with the written word. (Which equates to a sizable number of people right here on this forum)

So depending on the audience, the headline still works. How do I know it works? Because you’re reading this post right now, and the headline is what brought you here…

Which brings me to the next thing I wish someone had taught me when I first started learning copy…

#2 – It’s not just about words…

WAIT… What?? “What do you mean it’s not about words? Copywriting is all about words!”

Well yes… and no…

One thing that’s more important than using words in your copy, is using the right words. And the best words to use, are the one’s that mean something to your audience.

Which means that it’s really “all about your audience”.

When I began to really understand what this meant, my copy got better and my response rates started going up across the board.

I’m reminded of a cute narrative that I wrote for a different article, and it works for this post, so I’d like to share it with you here (don’t worry, it’s not plagiarism since I was the one who wrote the original article)…

Imagine for a moment that you’re selling shoes. These shoes are the most comfortable shoes this world has ever known.

They usually retail for around $200, but you’re selling them for the low, low, (unbelievably low) price of only $99.

Heck, you’ll even throw in a free pair of extra laces for the first 10 buyers!

You’ve written your masterful copy and you’re ready for the orders to come rolling in…

But nobody buys your shoes.

Why not? Because you sent the promotion to a list of people with no feet, that’s why not!

The point is… You can have a great product, and great copy, and still get crap for response, if you don’t know your audience.

And the more you understand your audience, the easier it is to understand why they might buy what you’re selling.

So when you research your target audience, don’t be afraid to dig deep and become part of their world for a little while.

No, you don’t need to actually join the local “Moose Lodge”, but you do want to learn how your market thinks, and talks. That way we can use language in our copy that’s more familiar to them, and it can get your reader to think “Hey, this guy is just like me. We’re part of the same group”.

The real lesson I learned here was – Become good at writing copy… And become great at understanding your target audience.

Because when we can put ourselves in the shoes of our reader, then we’ll already know what it takes to make the sale.

And speaking of research, that brings me to the third thing I wish I knew when I started writing copy…

#3 – Do your research

Most good copywriters I know are hard-core researchers.

We research the audience, the product, the competition, the current news cycle (if it affects our offer) and basically gather more info than we’ll probably ever use in a promotion.

Why do we do it? Because you never know what nuggets of intel might lead to the perfect hook.

When I first started writing, I just wanted to jump right in using “power words” and exciting adjectives, because that’s what I noticed other people doing. But I soon figured out that if I wanted to stand out from the crowd, I couldn’t just keep doing what everyone else was doing.

And besides, even when I wrote it, that hyped-up, empty copy always made me feel a bit like a cheezy used car salesman (my apologies to any used car salesmen reading this. It’s just a metaphor to emphasize a point. Nothing personal.)

When you really research your product, and research your target market, It becomes a whole lot easier to figure out how to tie your offer into what the market already wants.

We can still sprinkle so called “power words” throughout our copy, but we no longer need to rely on them to do all the heavy lifting.

So become good at writing copy… become great at understanding your target audience… and don’t skimp on the research.

Because like I said… “you never know what little nugget of intel might lead to the perfect hook.”

And speaking of finding the perfect hook, this brings us around to the next thing I wish I knew when I started writing copy…

The power of sticking to one big idea at a time…

#4 – Stay focused on the one big idea

When I first started writing copy I would try to pack as many things as possible into every ad. I figured since we never really know what causes different people to buy from us, I should just throw everything I had at them, and hope something would stick.

Through trial and error, and studying other great copywriters, I soon discovered the flaw with that way of thinking…

What I was doing with my “chop suey” style of writing was watering down the entire message, and turning it into a bland mix of nothing special.

Of course there’s nothing wrong with bullet point lists, and weaving multiple benefits into our copy (in fact, I usually recommend it) but the overall message should revolve around only one (1) main idea.

Sticking with one main idea allows us to focus on presenting our offer as big and important, to a specific issue, instead of just a blur of mixed chatter that has no real impact.

For example: If we’re selling weight loss products to fat people, we can talk about the health benefits of being lean… and the way they’ll look and feel when they’re 30 pounds lighter… and even how attractive they might be to other people.

Heck, we can even talk about how our organically grown ingredients help sustain the natural balance of the environment, while sustaining the natural balance of your weight and health.

But don’t start talking about environmental issues. (your audience might also be concerned about the ills of the world, but that’s not why they’re reading your ad. And we don’t want to run the HUGE risk of breaking their trance about our offer, and sending them off in a different, equally powerful direction of thought)

So the lesson I learned here was to stay focused on only 1 main idea for each piece of copy.

When I stick to this lesson my copy almost always gets a better response rate.

How do we discover our one big idea…? Well, go back to #3 and “do your research”

And if you can’t help but come up with multiple big ideas for your offer, then turn them into multiple ads, and split-test them against each other.


OK, I know that I promised to keep this post to only 4 things. But I really have a few more I’d love to share with you.
On the other hand, this post is starting to get a bit long, and I don’t want to take up your entire day. So if you’re willing to stick around for just another minute, what do you say we squeeze in one more thing I wish I Knew, when I first started writing sales copy…

#5 – Have someone read your copy back to you, out loud…

This one doesn’t really apply if we’re only writing banner ads, or a small space ad. But when your copy is more than a few sentences long, it applies Big Time!

When I first started writing copy, I figured as long as I was using the right techniques it would be fine.

It was only after I looked back over some of my less successful attempts that I spotted the choppiness in the writing.

Copy that was smooth flowing when I wrote it, had somehow magically turned into choppy grammar and hesitating syntax. (my first thought was that some prankster must have broken into my office, and messed around with the sentence structure in my old sales pieces. But since there were no other signs of a break-in, I considered the remote possibility that maybe, just maybe, I had screwed it up when I originally wrote it?)

The problem starts with the fact that when writing the copy, we’re already fully engaged with our own train of thought. We know the ins and outs of our offer, which makes it all too easy to forget that our readers have not spent the last couple weeks researching intimate details like we have.

They’re coming at it with a fresh perspective. And what makes perfectly smooth sense to us, might come across as a broken thought to a first time reader.

Also, grammar errors and typos are easy to overlook when we’re reading a story that we already know the ending to.

The most effective way I’ve discovered to assure smooth flowing copy, is to have someone else read it out loud to me. This way I can easily hear when they hesitate, or get stuck on a sentence.

If the copy sounds choppy when you hear it spoken out loud, then you can be pretty sure that it’s choppy when your audience is reading it silently to themselves.

So the lesson I learned here is… Have someone read your copy out loud. And if they hesitate on a word, or look confused while reading a sentence, make a note of it and then go back and fix it.

Well the clock on the wall is telling me it’s time to get back to work. So I want to thank you for sharing these past few minutes with me. And my greatest wish is that I’ve given you something of value, in exchange for you giving me a few minutes of your valuable time.

Here’s to writing more successful copy, more often…

All the best,
A good marketer knows how to think like a marketer - A great marketer learns how to think like the customer...
SARubin - Direct Response Copywriter / Conversion Flow Expert
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Re: (confessions from a 20 year copywriter) 4 Things I Wish I Knew, when I first started writing sales copy

Post by TimothyJacobs »

Number 5 really good.
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