How to Write Great Copy When You’re Not Actually a Copywriter
By Matt Olpinski
I’m not an expert writer. Yet, my website attracts hundreds of high-paying clients each year, keeping me in total control of my income. Could it be the design? Yep. The design is solid. Could it be my experience and portfolio of work? Yep. An experienced designer with a great portfolio is certainly attractive.
But when I went from getting a few job offers a year to hundreds of job offers a year, only one major thing on my website changed – the copy.
You don’t have to be an expert at writing to completely change your business. All you have to do is be a little more intentional. You’ve got to treat copywriting like it’s an important part of your business – because it is.
Identify Your Audience
The first step to writing better copy is understanding who you’re writing to. It’s easy to write generically about your company or your business, but the “We do X, Y, and Z” writing format just won’t cut it if you want real results.
Instead of focusing on what you offer, focus on who you’re offering it to.
The product world has this on lockdown – from the graphics and music to the voiceover and animation. I get it. The web is a different medium and certain techniques just don’t work the same way (like playing background music or crazy animations).
But product ads and the web both share the common element of design and writing. There’s a lot to be learned from the advertising industry.
Consider Brands Like Gillette & Ford
Next time you watch TV, pay closer attention to the commercials. When Gillette is selling razors, they tell you it has 5 blades and a sturdy, ergonomic handle. But that’s not why you buy it. You buy it because they also tell you that you’ll get the smoothest shave of your life – and that’s what you really want.
Gillette knows that most men have experienced the unfavorable sensation of cutting their face with a razor blade. They speak to that (literal) pain point by convincing you that their razors will give you the best shave of your life.
Likewise, when Ford is selling F-X50 series trucks, they tell you it has a 10-year warranty, satellite radio, and a sturdy frame. But that’s not why you buy it. You buy it because they tell you it can haul 10 million pounds of ANYTHING because it’s the roughest, toughest, baddest truck you’ll ever buy.
That’s exactly what their 30-45-year-old male audience wants.
Do Your Research
Your website is no different. Focus on the person who you believe wants that thing. In fact, it’s not enough to believe it. You’ve got to research it.
Talk to your best customers. I’d bet they’d have amazing insights to share with you. Study your competitors. What are they doing that you can learn from? How are other industries finding success? Copywriting is often overlooked because we’re visual people. Pay closer attention.
The world is full of distractions. It’s not enough to make an educated guess, cross your fingers, and hope for the best. You’ve really got to know who your audience is and make an effort to engage them.
Whenever I’m writing a new article, I always spend time on the titles using the free Headline Analyzer from CoSchedule. A good headline or title will engage your audience and keep them moving down the page. You won’t have to fit everything “above the fold” if you just write better copy. Who knew!
Titles and headlines fight the hardest battle for the attention of your audience. We consume massive amounts of content each day and without a great headline, your content will be easily overlooked.
If you can just get them to click, you might have their attention. And if you have their attention, you might be able to convert them into a subscriber or customer.
The title of this article has a healthy mix of common, uncommon, emotional, and powerful words. The first few words “How to Write Great Copy” will appear first as readers scan their inbox, Twitter, or Facebook feeds. Those words are the priority.
However, the last few words fight against a common misconception that might prevent you from clicking the link. “I’ll never write great copy because I’m not a copywriter”, you think to yourself. Not true! I said it right in the title. This article is for anyone, especially people who aren’t copywriters.
Website Headlines for Designers
I offer website design and development services. Even though that might be what my clients are looking for, that’s not really what they want.
I know that because I’ve spent years speaking with them, analyzing my conversations with them, and learning from more experienced and successful business owners.
Design is just a means to an end – gulp.
What my clients really want is more customers and they’ve decided that a new website (design, development, etc) can help them do that.
Freelance designers are notoriously bad at writing headlines. If your home page says, “I’m a UI/UX Designer”, you’re forcing clients to bridge the gap between your services and their goal – a mental task they’re notoriously bad at accomplishing.
But if your home page says, “I design websites & apps that help business grow.”, that speaks directly to your client’s needs and you’ve now got some influence over their next action.
That’s a big reason why I now get hundreds of job offers each year instead of just a few dozen. It wasn’t about getting more visitors to my website, but rather getting more of my existing visitors to fill out my contact form.
I was able to increase my conversion rate dramatically without any additional traffic by making a small change to the text throughout my website.
A Tale of Two Designers
Consider these two simple examples:
Both designs are simple and neither website shows any work right away. The first example is arguably the better design, but look at the copy. Put yourself in the shoes of a startup looking to hire a designer and read them again. The second example wins hands-down.
Kerem has helped startups design products and brands that shape how we live. He has actually helped businesses grow. Bady is a UI/UX designer. Who would you call?
Note: Both of these designers are incredibly talented, but you might not know that just by reading the headlines on the home page. Check out the work from Kerem and Bady here.
Write to a Specific Person
Writing copy that converts can seem like a daunting task. That’s why it helps to write as if you were talking to a specific person. Write as if you were having a conversation with someone face-to-face. These may not be the exact words you use in the final draft, but it will help get you started quickly.
This is about as minimal as web design can get, but Jonathan’s book on ditching hourly rates is selling really well. Why is that?
Every freelancer who reads that question just answered, “Yes, I am!” in their heads. He’s piqued their interest and engaged them enough to read further down the page. That’s what effective copywriting will do.
The strongly-written copy speaks directly to the pain points he knows freelancers experience and that’s more important than the design. Jonathan knows his audience and their pain points.
Likewise, most of the freelancers I know want to get more clients. But their problem isn’t a lack of clients. It’s the unsettling feeling of not knowing where their next paycheck will come from. It’s wondering if they’ll regret quitting that 9-5 job. The solution is getting more clients.
Good copywriting will get the reader to take an action. That could be signing up for your newsletter or filling out a contact form. It could be as simple as clicking a link. My goal when writing articles is to get readers to take the action of subscribing to my newsletter. What are you waiting for anyway?
Don’t get so caught up in the design or development of your website that you forget to write great copy. Every word matters. Grammar and spelling matter. Evoking emotion, conveying authority, and influencing action matters.
In the world of digital marketing, great design exists to support great copy. Not the other way around. Prioritize your copywriting over your design. Fonts, colors, sizes, and spacing are all secondary to choosing the right words.
If someone is visiting your website, they probably have a reason to be there. They’re probably looking for something. If you know what they’re looking for, you can write copy that grabs their attention in that brief moment of interest and influence their next action.
It’s important to prioritize your copywriting over your design. To do that, try writing the copy before designing your website. If that’s not possible or practical, at least write it separately from the design in your preferred text editor. Then, design or modify the page around your copy.
Perhaps the easiest mistake you can make is writing too verbosely. Just think about how you browse the internet each day. Chances are you don’t actually read much. Instead, you scan everything.
Most of us scan massive amounts of content every single day. It’s what technology and social media have conditioned us to do.
Verbosity won’t win with so many distractions and so much content fighting for the attention of your audience. You’ve got to make sure your copy stands out and engages them as they scan quickly around their screens.
The Hemmingway app is an amazing tool that will help even the worst writers dramatically improve their copywriting skills by highlighting weak areas and recommending alternatives.
The Yoast SEO plugin for WordPress also has a handy “Readability” feature that helps me improve my writing.
It’s ok to have a lot to say (this article is pretty long), but say it as directly and concisely as possible. Then sprinkle in supporting text as you see fit.
Proofread Your Copy
This should go without saying, but speling and grammer erros are unaceptible. They make you look unprofessional and untrustworthy. Don’t abbreviate words w/o a good reason or sprinkle the page with ridiculous emojis either.
You can write a clever headline and follow it up with compelling copy, but a misspelled word or grammar mistake can cripple your chances of converting that reader into a customer or subscriber.
I always feel silly after publishing an article and realizing a week later that I spelled something wrong or omitted an entire word. Doh! Have someone proofread your writing or at least run it through a free online spelling and grammar check.
If you’re going to take the time to write something clever, compelling, and captivating for your audience, take the time to make sure everything is spelled correctly. This is a basic, subconscious litmus test for many employers and potential customers.
Leveraging your personality is a powerful way to convey transparency and relate to your audience. Even if you have the personality of an obnoxious 23-year-old girl, there is still a niche audience for you – other obnoxious 23-year-old girls.
When it comes to digital marketing, there are no hard and fast rules. The style of your writing completely depends on your audience.
The people that run the website above? They have 32,000 followers on Instagram.
We think, speak, act, tweet, share, and post in a way that reflects our personalities. But with the opportunity to more carefully consider our diction and distill our thoughts into meaningful words, we sometimes over-formalize our writing.
Don’t pretend to be a professional writer just because you have the opportunity to choose your words more carefully.
Don’t be afraid to break some grammatical rules. It’s more important that you keep your reader’s attention than stick to the APA standards manual.
Anyone Can Write Good Copy
Anyone can write good copy because good copy is totally subjective. Writing is one of those beautiful skills that anyone can improve at any time. All it takes is practice and dedication because the only tool you need is your own brain.
Part of professional copywriting is training and some of it is natural creativity. But it’s mostly the result of letting your personality and observations influence your research and then writing to a specific audience.
About Matt Olpinski
Matt runs his own web design and development company Matthew’s Design Co. and teachers thousands of freelancers how to succeed through his personal blog and newsletter.