10 Commandments for Great Copywriting

10 Commandments for Great Copywriting

by Gail Goodman, December 2009

The execution of an excellent promotional email campaign relies heavily on the effectiveness of the copy you write. If you are the person writing for your email campaigns, it would be wise to invest some time into strengthening your skills.

I would wager that you can count on both hands (and both feet) the number of letters, emails, ads, and articles that you read in a given day. Would you agree that you don't need any more information, you just need it to be better—easier to understand and respond to?

Good copy helps your readers understand what you are offering them and gives them a clear way to respond. The following copywriting tips are ones that the pros know well. Keeping these "commandments" in front of you when you write will help you to create compelling copy that will engage your readers.

Commandment #1: Know Your Audience

Who is this email going to? Picture the "average" person on your list. Give them a name, even. Think about what their day is like. Think about what is important to them. What are they passionate about? How old are they? What products or services have they purchased from you in the past and why? The more you know about the audience you are writing for, the more targeted and relevant your copy will be.

Commandment #2: Determine Your Value Proposition

Answer these questions to determine what your value proposition is: Why should your customer buy your product or service? What's in it for them? Why is your product better than the one down the street? What are your key differentiators?

Commandment #3: Find a Unique Selling Proposition (USP)

The more unique your offer is, the better your chances of getting a response. Rosser Reeves, the author of Reality in Advertising, defines the USP as a promotion that offers "something that competitors do not, or will not, offer." He also states that, "The proposition must be strong enough to pull new customers to the product."

Commandment #4: Establish an Objective

What is the purpose of this email? What action are you trying to get the reader to take? You need to be clear on this before you start writing. If the answer isn't clear to you, it certainly won't be to the reader.

Commandment #5: Use a Compelling Subject Line

The subject line is what gets your email opened, right? So, don't write something quickly just before sending. You have to convince your reader that they really need to open your email. The best word you can use to get the reader's attention is "you." The word "you" says that the message is about them. Other great words for subject lines (and headlines) are "new,""exciting," "exclusive," and "introducing." Also, try to keep your subject line to 50 characters or less, including spaces.

Commandment #6: Include a Great Headline

If the subject line gets your reader to open the email, then the headline gets them to read further. Consider using some of the words from the list above for the headline. Your headline needs to grab readers with an obvious "what's in it for me"message. Here's a question to ask yourself: "What if they only read the headline?"Will they know enough about you and what you offer?

Write 5-10 different subject lines and 5-10 different headlines to see what works best. Also, you may find that it is easier to write a subject line and headline after you've written the body copy.

Commandment #7: Avoid Weasel Words

When writing headlines, subheads, and body copy, don't use words that avoid a direct command, a.k.a, "weasel words." These include may, maybe, hope, wish, try, but, could, perhaps, and strive. Instead use words like "will" and "can" to describe what your product or service will or can do for your reader.

Commandment #8: Don't Use Passive Voice - Write in the Present!

Passive voice weakens your message. It's best to avoid it. A few examples are:

"Our company was chosen to receive an award" vs. "Our company received an award"

"We have had 15 new products arrive." vs. "15 new products arrived."

"10 new designs were created." vs. "We created 10 new designs"

Commandment #9: Include a Customer Quote

Do you have a great customer quote that you can include in your email? A brief and convincing quote can add credibility to your campaign. The more real you can make the person to your readers, the better. You should include their name, what city or state they live in, and even a photo, if it fits your campaign. It is a great way to communicate the value of your service.

Commandment #10: Keep Copy Clean and Concise

After you write your first round of copy, read it out loud. Also, have someone else read it to see if they understand the message and the call to action. As you edit, cut unnecessary words and consolidate ideas. See if you can get your text down to 30-50% of what you started with. Also, include bullet points and possibly subtitles to make it easy to read, and more importantly, easy to scan, as most readers scan a page before deciding whether or not to read all the details.

Great Copywriting is Within Reach

Keeping these tips in mind when you write will greatly improve your copy, making it easier for your readers to understand and respond to your email campaigns.

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