“I’m not trying to write a novel, I’m just trying to sell a product”. We hear similar arguments time and time again when talking to businesses about the importance of copywriting. Thing is: writing good sales copy, the kind that pulls a reader in, builds trust and results in conversion, is as much of a delicate craft as writing fiction. Why?
“Copy is a direct conversation with a consumer” – Shirley Polykoff
Copywriting is an open dialogue and a valuable line of communication between you and your customers. How you treat that dialogue can have a massive impact on your sales. Think about your own buying habits. Are you more likely to trust a website riddled with spelling errors, or one that features accurate, interesting and clear copy?
In addition, thanks to Google’s countless rounds of algorithm updates, relevant and high quality copywriting is more important now than ever before. So, if you’re not a natural-born Ernest Hemingway, how can you make sure your writing is up to scratch? Simply follow these 5 golden rules, from some of the most iconic names in copywriting.
1.) “The consumer isn’t a moron; she is your wife. You insult her intelligence if you assume that a mere slogan and a few vapid adjectives will persuade her to buy anything.” – David Ogilvy
David Ogilvy is one of the giants of the golden era of advertising, and was called “the most sought-after wizard in today’s advertising industry” by TIME magazine in 1962. He also has some of the most valuable pieces of advice to offer when it comes to writing to sell.
The above is perhaps the most poignant. When selling products and services, many businesses experience a disconnect between the ad they’re writing, and the customers themselves. In essence, they almost forget that it’s their colleagues, loved ones and friends who the ad is aimed at. It’s easy to make the mistake of generalising and treating a prospect like a one-dimensional character, rather than an individual. The best copy treats the reader like a peer, creating a story and hooking them in. Don’t try to be everything to everyone, or your copy loses all its power. There’s nothing wrong with being specific.
2.) “The most powerful element in advertising is the truth.” – William Bernbach
Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to have the cheapest or the best product in the world to achieve great sales. Above all, you just need the reader to trust you. These days many of our purchases are made online, which is also a notorious playground for spam, scam and shady characters. Trustworthy and credible websites are the ones which will enjoy the highest conversion rates.
So, how can you make yourself appear trustworthy? Tell the truth, for a start. Because to be honest, no one is going to believe you if all you do is sing your own praises. Your sales pitch becomes all the more believable with balance. When telling your story on your website, include the rocky start at the beginning. Talk about the things that went wrong. If your product comes with some limitations, be up front about them and your customer will thank you for being genuine in a sea of scam artists.
3.) “On the average, five times as many people read the headlines as read the body copy. When you have written your headline, you have spent eighty cents out of your dollar.“ – David Ogilvy
Back to David Ogilvy now and another timeless gem. Research “how to write good copy” on the web, and you’ll be inundated with blogposts all centred around one essential component: the headline. The headline is the part that captures your reader’s attention and determines whether or not they go on to read the rest of the copy.
It follows then that you should invest some real time in crafting the perfect headline. Some general rules of thumb? Keep it short, simple and to the point. Headlines are also prioritised by Google when indexing your page, so keep it relevant to the rest of the subject matter on the page.
4.) “People aren’t interested in you. They’re interested in themselves.“ – Dale Carnegie
Never was a truer word spoken. Once you understand this essential rule, your writing will never be the same again, because you’ll have realised that sales writing has almost nothing to do with you and your business, and everything to do with your customer.
This relates back to point one, and how you talk to your readers. But it also has to do with what you actually say. I don’t want to know if you have multiple warehouses all over the country. I want to know that wherever in the country I am, I’ll still receive the product quickly. It’s all about translating your writing into customer-centric copy – that’s when you’re onto a winner.
5.) “People don’t read advertising, they read what interests them. Sometimes, it’s an ad.” – Howard Gossage
At the end of the day, no one likes to feel like they’re being fed a sales pitch, so your copy doesn’t need to relentlessly have a foot on acc-sell-erator (see what we did there?) If you make it human, unique, creative or interesting enough, it will attract readers anyway. At the heart of good sales copywriting is the problem that you can solve for the reader. They might not even know what this problem is yet – but as a writer, it’s your job to find out.