What is copywriting?
For the uninitiated, Mad Men trivialized the idea of Copywriting. But again, in all honesty the word “Copy” does belong to the world of media. It was originally the media agencies where the “copywriters” along with the “creative” counterparts created ads to convey a message using radio or TV. This is how we traditionally understood copy. Though the word Copy essentially comes from latin and means “giving permission to transcribe”. Having said that, in an age where we fiddle with a dozen media platforms and half a dozen content formats, the word copy no more stands for “one-liners-to-sweep-you-away” Gone are the days where a size-fits-all approach.
Product Marketers use the word copywriting more in the context of descriptive writing such as blogging, scripting et all. Irrespective of the nomenclature rules, what is often missed is the structural approach. Yes, Copywriting is fundamentally an art but there is no reason why you can’t break this down and simplify.
There are two simple yet critical things to understand -
- Which platform is being used to communicate: Is it Twitter / Medium / Facebook ?
- And who is coming on the platform to read the content ?
When users visit a website, the perspective that they have is very different from what they have while scrolling through Facebook Feed. The idea is to conceptualize what you are writing and do your creative's according to what is ideal for that kind of audience. Take a step back and understand your audience and what can and will add value to your audience. Check out this infographic on how to understand your audience better. Before you hit the publish button, here are things that you need to watch out for
- Spell Check and Grammar Nazi’s - It is suicidal to commit grammar mistakes and highly recommended that you proofread your copy for errors. Having said that it's possible to make human mistakes - and this is exactly why you should leave this task best for a machine. Some easy to use tools to validate your grammar and content readability are: Grammarly and HemingwayApp. You could simply the use Google Doc’s inbuilt Spell Check and Grammar Check It's always a good idea to go back to the post and read it one more time.
- Writing for Search Engines - Only if you want to ensure that your post is visible on the search engines, get your keyword optimization in place. This applies for only your blog posts / articles. If you using CMS platforms like Wordpress, you should consider using tools such as Yoast.
- Check for Coherency (Atleast Twice): Every content piece should have a definitive theme and topic. More than often, bloggers/writers tend to lose focus and digress from the topic. It is also important that a 600-1000 word article conveys a specific message and not a generic post. Respect the reader’s time and give them exactly what you promised them.
Pro Tip: Go away from your blog post for a few hours come back and try and read it afresh and figure it out. That does the trick most of the times.
Creating Compelling Content (Copy)
Before we get to the point of breaking down how to write a well-written content piece, it is important to understand what makes a content compelling? The single most common which stands out is - emotional arc for the user. Are you writing something which is emotionally attracting someone that you could write about.
For all you care, you might be writing about steel pipes, but if you're writing for a certain audience which is interested in that topic, does your content trigger the “Wow” emotion Or something like “oh my God, how could I not remember this”. Here are some other pointers that will help you amplify the emotional connect:
- Visuals: Our attention spans have reduced. Some say it is less than a Gold Fish. Reading time often goes for a toss. Why - read here. Off the tools available in your hand, visual design makes the highest impact. Visual design helps you connect with users.
Get your hygiene checks in place - ensure that the images are optimized for various screen sizes. Image size suits your social media broadcast. Use these 3 tools to make your blog post visually appealing. Also check out Hubspot’s infographic guide for the right image sizes.
- Presentation: While catering to an attention span of a goldfish, you must ensure that you are able to present the content such that user can skim through swiftly and find what they are looking for quickly. A lot of it is to how you design, format and present the content.
- Headlines (and Subheads)
And because only 20 percent people will actually read your content, you need to ensure that the headline itself is compelling and it promises to readers something that they find attractive enough to click or open or read. There is a reason why the folks at Upworthy churn out 25 headlines before finalizing the article’s headline.
Writing the Perfect Headline (and Subheads)
There are bunch of tools to do this but before we jump there, here is the academic formula -
Let’s break this down:
- Use words which are emotional for instance, words like remarkable or powerful. These are words which readers find attractive and will they get them to feel engaged enough to click.
- Use the concept of telling people how much by giving them a definitive number. For instance - 10 things, 20 tools, 9 ways et all
- Set expectations of readers by telling them what is it that they're going to learn in the headlines
- Lastly, the keyword / your topic that the post is actually about
Here are some handy tools that will simplify this battle for you:
- CoSchedule Headline Analyser - Gives you score in context of SEO and Social Mentions
- Hubspot Topic Generator
- Headline Wizard ( recommended for SubHeads)
If you don't have the time to do 25 headlines, do basic A/B testing on Twitter. When you start using different headlines on Twitter you will immediately see what kind of response a headline gets and that could be a easier starting point.
It's important that this approach should be used carefully, because you don't want to promote click baits.
When you say something in the headlines that the post actually has nothing to do with your actual content. This is nothing a poor writing practice because your bounce rate will go through the window. ClickBait never work in the long run. User Loyalty is a two way street - you need to give them first before asking them for their loyalty.
What Next ? How do I go about the rest of the piece ?
Assuming you have reached this part of the blog post and you are not Seth Godin, here is what is recommended:
- Don’t chase a specific word count but write well-researched content and preferably in depth. If you are writing a long post, ensure that you are focused on your topic and are able to present your point in a cohesive way.
- There is a validation of the fact the Search Engines like Long Length articles but again there is Seth Godin
- The idea blog post length is, well when you have finished conveying the point. Follow the principle used in management consulting - Your Blog Post should be MECE: Mutually Exclusive, Collectively Exhaustive
We are almost ready. Let’s add some magic
For a long time in India, student’s knowledge was judged basis the word count of an answer. Believe it or not but- it worked. Blame it on the teachers or the education system but if you are clueless about a question, pick a word from the question and write “content” covering maximum real estate on your answer sheet. In all likelihood, you will score just the same as the topper of your class.
Fast forward to 2016 - People are still trying this philosophy on the internet. Well, here is the problem - Your Readers are not like your teachers. Your readers are, well people like you and me. It’s important to not to do 1600 works of junk. There is only one rule of creating magic magic i.e - research.
- If the topic is new, follow the first rule - Do your research.
- If the topic has been written about extensively, again go back to the first rule. Research and bring a fresh perspective to the table. Speak with your readers or customers and present a new outlook, but research you must.
Some gold rules to stick by would be:
- Avoid generalisation. Again this works for Seth Godin but unless you have data to back this up, don’t flirt with this.
- Drill Down, Deep and Deeper: Build a narrative by taking the deep dive route. Zoom in, rationalize, zoom out and repeat.
Trying the Storytelling Format
This is the most exciting bit for a lot of writes ( More so for Upasna, as she is writing one right now). Storyboards and Story words are the latest buzzwords. Everyone wants to tell a story because stories stick, have a recall value like no one else. Storyboarding gives you a mechanism or a framework to write things in a structured way, such that people want to read. The storytelling frameworks help writers and authors to push their own boundaries as a writer and churn something unique. StoryTelling is about knowing some frameworks that will recreate your copy into its own emotional version and that is honestly how I see the future of web writing as. More on storytelling and its frameworks in the next post.