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:Marketing / Copywriting and branding

10 tips for more powerful copywriting

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Studying people who’ve built empires off of their writing and content, you’ll notice most didn’t start off as writers.

If you look at their background, many admit to making mistakes while they taught themselves how to write and communicate in a strong way.

Knowing a few writing tips can make your ideas stand out, which you can translate to your blog posts, welcome email, other email, website and social media.

Each time you communicate with your audience, you have an opportunity to build your brand and, as Seth Godin says, be remarkable. That sounds like a lot, but there are some strategies you can apply to quickly improve and I’m here to help.

Let’s go through 10 quick tips you can immediately take to make your writing more powerful.

I’ve also included links to people I’ve found who have the strongest online voices so we can all learn from them.

1. Tailor Your Voice to Your Audience

The best writers write to their audience. To tailor your message, pick a persona: an imaginary or even real person you can write to.

If you know that your audience is 55-year-old entrepreneurs, it’s much easier to develop a voice that’s persuasive. You’ll probably be more sensitive to explaining technology, and even increase the size of your type, which will make you stand out to this crowd.

I do this by actually talking out loud while typing. Think of your audience and start speaking out loud to them as you type. Pretend your next post or email is just an elevator pitch you’re giving out loud.

Not only is this my personal cure to writer’s block (which is why I sometimes go to another room to write a post so no one thinks I’m crazy), but if you write what you’re saying out loud it’s going to come out natural, engaging and geared toward an audience.

When you’re in this stage of writing your first draft, don’t overthink it and let the personality flow. Focus on letting the ideas come out and tighten your points when you go through it a second time.

2. Write to Your Medium

The way you cater your voice depends on the medium you choose – email, blog, course, social, etc. To your actual subscribers, being more personal makes sense, but in a blog post, less so.

For email specifically, according to research from Inc:

  • 78% of people said email etiquette affected their ability to engage with a stranger
  • 60% of people agree that brevity is most acceptable in emails
  • 60% of people believe humor is acceptable in emails
  • 70% find excessive punctuation unacceptable in emails

Observe and follow the influencers in the medium your audience is in to get a heads up on what works.

3. Write More Often and Get More Feedback

This goes without saying, but the more you write, the better you’ll be. It’s like working out, the more you practice the more you’ll be able to write harder, better, faster…and stronger 🙂

While you might see writing out there that’s amazing, remember everyone started somewhere. The better way is to write something. You can always go back and adjust your writing as time goes on.

Get instant feedback by running drafts by your audience, influencers and peers. Give them credit for helping and as a bonus they might even help you share the content.

4. Show, Don’t Tell

You can take your information to the next level by showing it in action. Instead of telling someone to “experiment with interesting fonts” it’s better to say “experiment with interesting fonts like Proxima Nova, Didot, Lato..” etc.

Teachable’s Allison Haag, recently used this phrase in her SlideShare “The 4 Steps for to Create Great Presentations.” As a result, her deck was featured on the homepage of SlideShare, and brought in almost 500 likes and over 6,000 views in the past week. Not bad.

Allison’s now collected great feedback from people who’ve checked it out and influencers too (see point #3) to now insert even MORE examples. I wonder how many more views it can pick up now?

5. Don’t Write Spam (especially in emails)

Given we all use and cherish our email inboxes, I thought this would be worth pointing out. According to research from MailChimp, keep the below words out of your subject line to make sure you don’t get sent to the spam filter:

  1. Free
  2. Help
  3. Percent Off
  4. Reminder

Being “spammy” and creating TOO MUCH URGENCY ALL THE TIME might work for a little while, but it won’t build your brand, so find a healthy balance.

Also, do pay attention to the “from” line in your email. It should work with your subject line to remind your reader who you are and make you stand out.

For the Teachable blog, when Conrad sends an email, for example, he’ll set it as “Conrad (Teachable)” so you know where it’s coming from.

Also, don’t promote the same information over and over to your audience by simply changing an email subject line. Your open rates will dive bomb. Here’s a data-driven example from MailChimp:

Point is, similar subject lines will reduce their effectiveness over time, so change it up.

6. Kill These Words

Let me be a little prescriptive to save you some time. Avoid the use of the below words:

  1. Sincerely – Listed out in this article by Inc, used in an email it just comes off as phony and try-hard.
  2. Disruptive – Banned by Time, Banned by TechCrunch (although they do call their conference Disrupt), it’s also banned by me personally. Disruptive is cliche. Pretty much the “synergy” of 2015.
  3. So – So, it’s easy to start a sentence with so. Stronger if you just take it out.
  4. Awesome – Adjectives are an opportunity to show your style and voice, don’t waste them sounding like you’re basic and sipping Starbucks.
  5. Very – Hemingway’s classic advice was to replace all “very”s with “damn”. While you don’t have to cuss at your audience, your point isn’t “very important”, it’s “crucial” “essential” “insightful” “actionable.” Get it?
  6. Guys – Stop referring to your co-ed audience as  “guys”. Instead, use “team”, “group” “friends” “ya’ll” or “folks” This is something my friends at vRide do in their company, and I love it.
  7. “Hey guys, great content this week on the blog.” = Generic and kind of sexist.
  8. “Hey team, we’ve got some great content on the blog this week.” = Personable and more inclusive.
  9. Innovative – Any resume writer will tell you that innovative is a big word that you’re going to have to prove, it’s also over used. Avoid it.
  10. Bespoke –  I was so happy to hear that Contently banned my personal pet peeve here. This word is always used when companies are over promising. No bueno.
  11. Advanced – You have advanced tactics or strategies? They’re about to be outdated in a few months/year. To keep your content evergreen, avoid the word advanced. Also, inbound hates it. 
  12. Emails vs. Email – Using AdWord Keyword tool, I realized that 5X more people are searching for the word “email” over “emails”. When finding AdWords to help you, figure out what exact word with what present/past, singular/plural ending. The point being USE ADWORDS, especially for the key phrases and words you want to rank for.

7. Write Inclusively NOT Exclusively

It’s one thing to create a lingo and gather a tribe of people behind you who believe in your mission. It’s another to unnecessarily alienate people who could be part of that audience.

This should come as obvious, but seriously consider the filter you are writing through when producing content. Don’t culturally appropriate lingo from a culture that isn’t yours. Don’t perpetuate gender stereotypes.

8. Keep Your Copy Clean

I love this advice from Pratik Dholakiya on takeaways content marketers can take learn from fiction writers who says “If it sounds like writing rewrite it.”

On the web, we break the rules of grammar. We add ellipses, bold important phrases, and write in paragraphs composed of a few blunt sentences. We do this so you can more easily digest our content.

This becomes a problem if you break too many rules and no one can understand you, or if you’re me, just generally annoyed by pointless terrible grammar.

To help copy edit your work:

  1. Print your post and then edit, or move to a different room than you wrote the piece in. A visual change can help the words seem more distant and allow you to edit more thoroughly.
  2. Read your copy out loud. It will help you hear what sounds off.
  3. Keep a record of your edits. You’ll start to notice that you’re making the same mistakes over and over. Once you are aware of a pattern, it’s easier to recognize when you’re falling into it.
  4. Use a style guide. I use AP Style for most blog posts & press releases, the Chicago Manual of Style for editing books and reference the OWL website in a pinch.

9. Cut the Non-Essential

Once you’ve put all your first thoughts down into a draft, it’s time to edit everything down.

Cut mercilessly to make sure your content is focused on the takeaway. Anything else, even if it sounds “cool” will distract your audience.

Here’s an exercise for you: What’s a tagline that will make you stand out, be remembered (in a positive way) and talked about? If you were to summarize your personal mission, blog, course, etc. into a single tagline, how would you do it?

Alyssa Sitting, Content Marketer at LinkedIn talks about this in a post on writing taglines.

This doesn’t have to be perfect or something you obsess over for too long, just a quick exercise to get you in the right mindset.

This tagline should express your personality, which might be very different than anyone else’s. Both Marie Forleo who runs the popular B-school and Ramit Sethi who launched his own set of popular personal wealth building courses, have built raving fans and grown multi-million dollar businesses using a strong, consistent voice that are dramatically different.

While Ramit might say his products are “Thoroughly researched. Rigorously tested. Proven courses for a rich life,” Marie focuses on broader level “Make Money. Be Happy. Change the World”.

While the content and objectives are similar, both have tailored the details of their copy to persuade a particular type of person (See point #1).

Marie’s wall of love reveals a strong female slant of women who want to learn online marketing, and are in the early stages of creating an online business. Ramit’s testimonials show an audience who values being more numbers driven.

10. Get Inspired by Other Voices

We’ve mentioned a few in this power, but find and subscribe to your idols and indulge in reading them like crazy. Subconsciously, you’ll pick up tone, style, grammar and spelling AND you’re learning their content. Win, win.

Below we’ve pulled and analyzed content from our favorite luminaries who showcase the writing tips we just covered.

Here are 10 great online voices to subscribe and absorb.

  1. The Copy Cure – This is free training from Laura Belgray and Marie Forleo  that brings actionable tips (some that I’ve mentioned here) to your inbox.
  2. Noah Kagan – A dude who has built himself on his writing style. His blog OkDork is filled with tacos and personality.
  3. MozBlog – Notice how clean each article is. Some of it is long and detailed, but it’s all there for a reason.
  4. McSweenys – Writing that’s so funny, people actually read it just to be entertained.
  5. Contently – They specialize in helping connect brands to writer, so of course their own writers are great. Also follow their Co-Founder Shane Snow.
  6. Poncho – Yes, I know this is a weather app. But imagine waking up to writing so good it makes the weather interesting?
  7. TheSkimm – Signing up here gives you a daily email with all the curated news highlights of the day. They’ve built their company around this one email.
  8. SideKick – SideKick has built an audience of 70k people who get concise and useful takeaways about using email. Follow Anum and Scott.
  9. CopyHackers – Joanna Wiebe has some great content you can learn from on how to make your copy compelling.
  10. Threadling – Dan Kaplan has developed a storytelling free course you can learn from.
  11. Buffer – Check out Keven Lee’s posts as well as Belle Beth Cooper who has a great article on 6 aspects of successful writing.
  12. Want more? Nichole Elizabeth Demere put together a list of 40 SaaS marketing newsletters where you can get your fill. Another is this great list from Jeff Haden on 50 Awesome Resources to help you be a better writer and content marketer on Inc.

All right, now your turn! Did any of these tips vibe with you? OR are there posts or content you’ve found that’s particularly helpful on your journey to great writing that you can let us know about? If so, drop a detailed comment below explaining it.

Author: Ashley Hockney, Ashley Hockney is a Content Marketer and Writer. Her background is in food & beverage PR i.e. she wants to talk to you about single malts.

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