Copywriting is easy.
That is what you tell yourself, after all, you can write, you are a professional, very used to communicating, and doing it successfully.
My sister is a writer, and every now and again she grabs one of my posts over which I have slaved (yes, it is OK to have family subscribed) and goes into what I call her ‘Teacher mode’
Out comes the red pen and professional editor and she rewrites my posts.
They are subtly altered, so the intent of the post is clearer, makes a greater impact on the reader, and ends up being way, way better.
It galls me a bit that it is a skill beyond mine, but on the other hand, she makes me feel better by telling me she could never dream up the topics and angles that I do, all she does is polish it a bit.
We are inundated with copy, it comes at us at all times, through all our devices, and now is increasingly visual as a means to fight the war for your attention. However, like most things the volume going up does not have any real impact on the quality, if anything the average has dropped as we become ‘do-it-yourselfers’ in order to keep the volume up.
The headline is the most important element of copy in any piece. If you fail to cut through, catch attention, and create an urge to read on, it does not matter how good the rest is, it will not be seen.
There is piles of advice around on how to write a great headline, most of it pretty good, but also so much that we tend to get tunnel vision, and forget most of it, so following are 4 basic things I see continuously that ensures I do not open a piece.
Talking about yourself.
Nobody cares about you, except perhaps your mother, or in my case, my sister. They care about themselves, their lives, and their problems. A good headline reflects those needs, pain points, and offers help to a specific group that you wish to communicate with, and at the very least, creates interest.
If you are a dentist, do not talk about how modern your equipment is, or how many degrees you may have, address the reason someone may be looking for a dentist. They have broken a tooth, their child has a crooked bite, or they have a toothache that needs attention.
Every industry has jargon, it acts as shorthand for insiders, so if you want to grab the attention of your competitors, use the jargon they understand, but if you would rather catch the attention of those who might want to act on what you say, avoid it like the plague.
Last week I saw a headline that promised: ‘to deliver a sophisticated customer centric e-commerce solution to SME’s’ . How much better would it have been if the headline simply promised to make it easy from small businesses to get paid.
Showing how clever you are.
For your potential customer, clear beats clever every single time. It may not get a chuckle from your mates in the pub after work, but so what, they are already your mates, and not required to pay your bills. The most common offender is the use of a pun, never as funny in a headline as in the pub, followed closely by the use of ‘digital shorthand’ such as ‘gr8’.
Allowing grammatical and spelling errors.
Perhaps it is just my age, but a spelling or grammatical error in a headline or sub head ensures I do not open it. Not only does it offend my sense of what is right, it demonstrates that the writer is either too stupid to understand the basic rules of written communication, or that they have so little concern for my time that they did not make the effort to get it right. Why would I read it in either case?
The difference between ordinary copy, and great copy is a big bagful of money, and a lot of effort, experience and specialist skill.