Writing good copy is as much an art as it is a science.
But probably the most important aspect of writing good copy is the ability to capture the attention of a casual visitor, and turn them first into a skimmer, and then into a captivated reader…
…and after that, hopefully, a buyer.
And all that you need to do in seconds – or you’ll lose that visitor, and with them a potential sale.
To get them to stick around, to immerse themselves in your sales message, and take the action you want them to take, you need to stop thinking about good copy as “well-written”.
Great copy isn’t merely well-written. It’s well-structured and well-paced. And today, we’re going to look at the four elements that make it possible. By the end of this post, you will be able to identify those elements and use them in combination, to craft truly irresistible copy. Let’s dive in…
1. Strategic sub-heads
Everyone knows about the importance of “The Headline”. If you listen to some self-proclaimed experts, a terrific headline is all it takes to make someone read your sales page (or any other type of copy) start to finish, and then yell, “Shut up and take my money!” – right as they are frantically browsing for more products and services to buy from you.
If only it were that simple…
The truth is, a gripping headline gets your visitor to stick around… but it’s the sub-headlines that intrigue them, and make them pay attention.
Good sub-headlines don’t just act as an attention-grabbers – they closely mirror your potential customer’s thought process. They provoke their curiosity, promise them value, address their concerns and objections.
When it comes to sub-headlines, just about the worst thing you can do is keep them purely descriptive. Instead, to keep someone engaged, to keep them reading, you should ask yourself…
“What are they thinking right now, at this point in the copy? What can I say to address this?”
And the answer to that question will be your sub-headline, expertly crafted to keep your potential customer on the page, eager to read on.
Example: Just look at any well-designed sales page out there, and you will see tons of great uses for sub-headlines. For instance, this classic sales letter from Wall Street Journal (also known as “The $2 Billion Letter”).
2. Open loops
We keep coming back to this concept on the blog – and for good reason: it works extremely well for anything, from whiteboard animation videos to presentations.
When you tell a story, but don’t reveal all the answers right away, when you keep them guessing about the outcome – that’s an open loop. This rhetorical device is as old as language itself, and every good marketing message relies on it to be as “sticky” as possible.
There are more uses for open loops in copywriting than we could ever list, but here are two main ways you could do this:
- When writing a piece of copy, use the “Before – After – Bridge” formula (explained in more detail in this post). It’s based almost entirely on the open loop concept, and if your product or service can deliver an incredible transformation for the customer, where “before” and “after” are as starkly different as possible, this trick will work like a charm, and keep them engaged!
- In a classic sales page, the open loop happens when you discuss your potential customer’s situation, positively or negatively, and then you set up a solution much later in the copy. It works so well, because by the time you get to the offer, the customer just wants to see an answer to their problems, a solution for what you’ve spent so much time describing. If your offer fits the bill, they will associate this feeling of payoff, and closure, with whatever product or service you sell (in a carryover effect).
Example: Too many to list. Have you ever noticed how many great TV shows end their episodes with cliffhangers? There you have it, open loops in action!
Sometimes, you simply have to write something boring. Maybe your product or service are highly complicated. Maybe you’re just in a boring industry. Regardless, it’s hard or impossible to write in a fun, engaging way.
Now, if you were a potential customer, and some entrepreneur started saying something boring to you from their sales page, or their email, what would you do?
Exactly – you would leave, and likely never come back (and you’d be right, too)!
Fortunately, nonfiction writers – the biggest wizards when it comes to writing interesting material on boring subjects – have saved us all. To make sure your potential customer doesn’t doze off in the middle of a pitch, you can use what nonfiction writers use: micro-humor.
To put it simply, micro-humor is just humor. But when injected in small doses, in unexpected places, it deserves to be called “micro-” – because other than those small dashes of wit, you’re reading a perfectly serious piece!
But even in small doses, it’s enough to keep someone reading.
Example: We’ve talked about nonfiction here, but actually one of our favorite instances of micro-humor comes from Bram Stoker’s “Dracula”, believe it or not. Despite being a serious book with vampires, and death, and heavy religious symbolism, it has plenty of subtle jokes and wordplay… including puns about stakes! If you can take a book like that and liven it up, what’s your excuse for writing bland copy?
4. Smart use of visuals
This last one isn’t technically copywriting… but it’s a quick way to produce a huge win in reader engagement. Frankly, we’re surprised (and outraged) we don’t see it in sales copy and email copy more often!
Photos, drawings, animated GIFs, infographics, charts, videos, even ASCII pseudo-graphics (you might not know what these are if you’re a millennial) – all of these can, and should be used throughout your copy.
With visuals, you can create more “space” around the text, accentuate important places, and give potential customers something to look at beyond uniform black-and-white characters on the screen.
Here are just a few ideas we heartily invite you to steal and use in your own copy:
- Header images for sales pages, landing pages, opt-in boxes, blog posts, and basically any pages you can think of.
- Screenshots of posts on social media – super-useful when trying to illustrate a problem, show people that they aren’t alone, or just poke harmless fun at someone (don’t forget to conceal any names or Internet handles).
- Infographics and simple charts to visualise information and make the complex simple.
- Drawings, comics, stick figure illustrations, etc., to make your message “stickier” and more digestible.
Example: Again, there are many, but we particularly like these two:
- Wait But Why, a blog that routinely publishes very long posts (tens of thousands of words long) and uses stick figure drawings to illustrate mind-bogglingly complex topics. You’d be hard-pressed to find more engaging long-form content anywhere else.
- Psychotactics, using ubiquitous drawings of tiny humans to lighten up their content, enhance their products, and sell their material. Sean D’Souza, the man behind the website, observed that cartoons are his main instrument for making people consume and retain what he teaches, and it works extremely well.
Of course, the art of writing engaging copy is about more than just the four tactics we’ve shared with you today. But you can still use them to enhance your message, make it stand out more, and motivate even a casual reader to dig deeper and engage with your copy – whether it’s a sales page, an email, or a simple blog post.
And the more people make it to the end of every piece of copy you write, the more sales – and customers – your business will gain. Enjoy!
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