We all know the feeling, first thing on a Monday morning: You have a great idea for a piece of content, but no idea how to write or frame it.
“I can’t write copy, aaaarrrghhh!” I hear you cry.
Don’t fret – even the best copywriters in the world started from nothing. I’ve been in that position too, but over time I’ve discovered tons of great copywriting tips for beginners to the art…and some of them are more controversial than others.
Here are seven copywriting tips for beginners that I’ve hand picked to kick-start your content and copywriting efforts. Even hardened copywriters should take these on board!
1. Knowing your audience is better than knowing your topic
Easy now, tiger. I’m not encouraging you to run wild on topics you haven’t a clue about straight off the bat. Instead, remember that although nobody wants to take advice from a know-it-all, they do want the writer to be authoritative. Do your research to get a grasp of the topic, and don’t be afraid to defer to others for knowledge on the subject. Not only does this show a respect for others’ expertise, it also makes complete sense. Effective copywriting means acknowledging that first, and leaning into the topic with your audience in mind.
THINK: “How can I make this attractive and relatable to my audience?”
2. Get quickly to the point
Your opening must interest your readers immediately, or you’ve already lost. Hook them in with something intriguing or highly relevant to their situation. What question have they asked which has led them to your content? Answer it immediately, and then expand. Research has shown that an astonishing 55% of visitors spend an average of 15 seconds reading an article online. So don’t waste your time by wasting their’s.
Think: “Is the copy answering my audience’s question ASAP?”
3. Average 15 to 20 words a sentence
Use this as a baseline for your copy, as it helps make topics clearer without sounding patronising. However, this is far from prescriptive. It’s good to vary your sentence length sometimes, or your copy can sound a bit halting, or stale.
Sometimes, sentences make a lot of sense if they are long, descriptive, and full of imagery that really paints a picture for your audience. Use your judgement, and try reading it to yourself. If it sounds meandering or lengthy, then change it. If the length fits the context, then don’t be afraid to stick with it.
But short is good too. Very short sentences – like the last one – are great for making punchy points. This is especially good for opening copy, or even individual paragraphs.
THINK: “Are my sentences short enough to be easily digestible?”
4. Use bucket drops
It’s simple, really:
I just did it to you.
Yup, that’s right, it’s as easy as using a colon to ‘end’ a sentence and starting a new line where the thought continues. Kind of like a question and an answer. This simple technique compels you to find out ‘what’s next…?’ It adds a weight of importance to your words as if you are going to add something mind-blowing. It’s pretty much the pause in movie dialogue:
It adds tension.
And that’s kind of how you should see copywriting – like writing a movie script.
THINK: “Do I build enough tension in my copy to encourage people to keep reading?”
5. Think of writing copy like setting a scene in a movie
As I was saying, the best copy is like a great movie script. First, you set the scene by creating a clear picture in the reader’s brain. Next, you make them curious, add suspense and get them to ask themselves questions…
…then BOOM! you deliver by answering each and every question they have. Sell the story, the idea, or the product. You want people to finish your copy thinking “Wow, okay – I need to tell people about this!”
THINK: “Am I presenting my topic in a way that engages my audience and encourages people to share it?”
6. Structure your copy to be like a slide
I’ll defer to a master of his craft here – a Mr. Joseph Sugarman:
“Your readers should be so compelled to read your copy that they cannot stop reading until they read all of it as if sliding down a slippery slide.”
– Joseph Sugarman, The Adweek Copywriting Handbook (p. 49)
For beginners to copywriting, I cannot stress how helpful this tip is. From the moment your copy begins, the purpose of the first sentence should be to get your readers to read the second sentence. And so on and on until the end. To do this, you must create a slippery slide of copy that compels people to keep reading.
But don’t think this needs to be the case for everyone who happens to read your copy. Focus instead on people who are either already interested, or potentially could have an interest, in your topic.
If you want to hear more from Sugarman, check out this excellent post on his ‘axioms of copywriting’. I would strongly suggest checking it out for more copywriting tips for beginners; or even for those with experience.
THINK: “Are each of my sentences compelling the reader to keep going, right until the end?”
7. It’s okay to be casual
It’s important to remember that your audience are people, first and foremost. Not accountants, not postmen, not avant-garde impressionist painters…they’re just people. So talk to them like you would another person, within reason.
Doing so will open up copy to people who might initially be scared off by the subject matter. No-one likes talking about building insurance with their provider, but you can easily strike up a conversation with a stranger if you share stories or swap tips. So why should your copy be different?
THINK: “Am I trying hard enough to have a conversation with my audience?”