You wouldn’t write a novel without some sort of plan behind it, would you? You wouldn’t dive straight in without thinking about the story, the characters, the dialogue, the location, the ending. So you shouldn’t do it when you’re copywriting, either.
So the next time you sit down to write a piece of copy, make sure you can answer these questions with a 'Yes' before you hit that 'Send' button.
- Does it meet the purpose?
Before doing anything, you need to figure out what the purpose of your copy is. Let’s say you’re sending out an email to your customers. What do you want them to do? Purchase something? Follow you on social media? Download your copywriting checklist? Whatever the purpose of your copy is, keep it in mind whilst you’re writing and never forget it. Once you've finished writing, you should go back and check that it fulfills your original purpose. If not, edit until it does.
- Is it in the right format?
Next, it’s time to figure out the format you’ll be writing in, because that influences the copy too. After all, it’s no use writing a big chunk of beautiful copy if it doesn’t fit your format. If you’re rewriting a section of your website, try to visualise a structure for it. Factor in things like bullet points, drop-down menus and call-to-actions. That way, the final product will be more coherent, structured and easier to digest for readers.
- Are you writing for your audience?
Now you’ve got to think about the people who will actually be reading your copy. Let’s use the example of a manufacturing company that makes wooden flooring. If you were sending an email to your customer base, you have to assume they have some prior knowledge of your product. They have most likely bought from you before, so there’s no need to explain the basics of your product in every email.
However, your website (for example) could theoretically be read by anybody - including potential new customers. For that reason, it would be better to succinctly explain what your product does in the copy, because you have to assume that a certain proportion of your website visitors know nothing about you. This might mean using simpler language, as opposed to more technical language that would go in a customer email. Never lose sight of who you’re writing for.
- Does it have a consistent and unique tone of voice?
Your company may already have a tone of voice - that might be a formal document or (less ideal) it might just be assumed by people. If you don’t already have one, it’s worth nailing one down. Your brand tone of voice influences all aspects of your communication, and a unique one can distinguish you from competitors. Having a tone of voice also makes copywriting easier. If there is already an agreed-upon set of writing rules, you simply have to stay within that framework when writing new copy. This, in turn, makes it easier to outsource work and integrate new hires.
- Does it communicate your key messages effectively?
OK, OK, OK. We’re almost ready to start writing. The last thing to bear in mind before putting pen to paper are your key messages. And this should be fairly easy. Just jot down 2-3 key messages that you want to communicate in your copy. Staying with the example of a manufacturer, maybe their products are made from real wood, sourced sustainably and don’t require maintenance. Sprinkle these messages throughout your copy and you won’t go far wrong.
- Does it grab the reader's attention early on?
No pressure, but you’ve got to grab your reader’s attention almost immediately, or they will probably stop reading. But that’s far easier said than done. So how do you do it? Well, let’s brainstorm a few ideas. Firstly, you could try including an attention-grabbing statistic in there:
‘Our wooden flooring is recommended by 95% of our customers.’
Or maybe something unexpected:
‘Forget everything you know about wooden flooring.’
Maybe even your key messages:
‘Real wood. No maintenance. Sustainably sourced. Who else can say that?’
Just try to steer clear of offending or alienating people, obviously. You can be controversial, and try to stir some emotion in the reader, but I think we’ve seen enough brand disasters to know that it’s a fine line.
- Is your offering clear in the first 2-3 lines?
Cut to the chase. People don’t like wishy-washy copy that keeps going on, and on, and on, and on, just to suit an arbitrary word count or algorithm. If you’re writing your company website, make your product or service clear in the first 2-3 lines. Readers should immediately know who you are and what you do. There’s nothing more frustrating than reading through a website and drowning in jargon, unable to figure out what the company actually does.
- Are you playing it safe?
Yes, communicate your message clearly and succinctly. Yes, structure your content so that it’s easy to read. But don’t oversimplify things. People aren’t idiots, and they can understand words of more than six characters. Ultimately, copywriting is about stirring emotion in the reader to get them to take action. And dumbed-down copy isn’t going to do that (you’re not Hemingway, and the Hemingway editor doesn’t turn you into him). Be bold with your copy, catch people’s attention and make them take action. Don’t play it safe.
- Is it scannable?
That being said, not everyone is going to read every word of your carefully-constructed copy. Sad, but true. So make your finished product accessible to everyone. You should give (lazy) people the option to scan through the copy if they want, but it shouldn’t detract from the meat of your message. Some people will read every word, and they might even enjoy it if you’re a half-decent writer. Don’t forget about them.
- Does it read like a story?
At the risk of repeating ourselves, we’d like to reiterate that your name is not Ernest Hemingway, and you did not blow your brains out with a shotgun in 1961. You also don’t need to write like Hemingway to write well. But well-written copy should still follow a story-like structure, with each sentence leading into the next. Construct a narrative around your message, with a beginning, middle and end. People like stories, and they don’t like it when things end abrup
The bonus item on our copywriting checklist is simple. Edit, edit and edit again. Your first draft will almost never be your final draft, unless you’re...erm...Hemingway?
We really need to start reading some different writers.