I can be a nitpicky SOB…
I was reviewing some copy late last week. And making edits.
And there were a few issues that kept coming up.
Even though the copy was fundamentally good, there were a few issues that kept bugging me.
I edited them out. Then, I told the copywriter why. And that had me thinking…
I often ignore the tactical implementation of good copywriting in these articles.
For good reason: it’s usually not that important.
I frequently think back to my article, The Architecture of A-List Copywriting Skills. In it, I laid out a very clear model…
— Tactics are the lowest-level implementation of a skill.
— Techniques guide your tactical implementation.
— Strategies dictate which techniques are used, when.
— And principles are the underlying rules that guide everything.
Tweak the lower-level stuff, you’ll get small, incremental improvements. Re-orient yourself around a better, truer principle, and it can be life-changing.
Example: The switch from “Advertising is for image and branding” to “Advertising is selling multiplied through media” can be life-changing. That’s a principle-level change.
With all of that said, sometimes techniques and tactics become the most important point of focus…
If you’ve written copy based on the best principles and strategy, and have even used proven copywriting techniques, you may need to focus on tactics. Because at that point, better tactics are your best opportunity to get better.
When you have the right direction firmly established, all the little details start to matter more.
And that’s when I get nitpicky on details.
What follows are 7 tactics you can use to write better sales copy. A couple come out of that copy review from late last week. The rest came to me as I was brainstorming to write this article.
- Ditch the EXCLAMATION POINTS!
I’ve never used a ton of exclamation points in my copy.
But a few slipped into a project I was writing with Clayton Makepeace.
And what he told me made me remove nearly 100% of the exclamation points I naturally want to add to my copy.
“If you have to tell me to be excited with an exclamation point, your copy didn’t do a good enough job of actually making me excited.”
… Or something like that. (I paraphrase.)
Basically, make your message so exciting you don’t need the exclamation point.
Don’t make punctuation your crutch. Instead, focus on editing your copy to make it so exciting it doesn’t need it.
And this has an extra benefit.
Let’s say I’m reading your copy. I get really excited after reading a sentence with a period at the end. And I don’t get as excited from your sentence with an exclamation point! Suddenly my emotions seem to conflict with yours. And there’s cognitive dissonance. Which creates doubt. And decreases my likelihood of responding.
You’re far better off writing copy that just uses periods to end sentences. And letting the reader get more excited than your punctuation suggests.
- Be careful with ELLIPSES…
I actually learned this through either texting or instant messaging online (I forget which).
I used to use a ton of ellipses (that’s “…” — three periods in a row) at the end of my sentences.
Then one day, someone asked me, “And?”
I was confused because I’d finished my thought. But because I ended with an ellipse, it implied I had something more to say.
The idea of using ellipses is solid when it comes to copy. In copy, you want to constantly propel your reader forward.
Yet if you use them too many times, it just becomes overkill. And you risk the situation above, where you really finished an idea but your ellipse suggests you didn’t.
Again, this can create a very subtle feeling of doubt in the reader. And if it happens a lot, they won’t quite know why they feel so much doubt about your message, but the feeling will be strong enough that they don’t respond.
My rule about ellipses isn’t quite as definite as with the exclamation points.
In fact, I do still use them a lot. The key is to do it intentionally.
I use ellipses when…
— I intentionally start an idea and want to finish it in a separate sentence or paragraph…
— Also, to start off a collection of bullet points (and sometimes in the bullets themselves)…
— And often at the end of headlines and subheads, to propel the reader into the body copy.
That last one is important. Because a period at the end of a headline or subhead is a “full stop” — meaning, stop reading. But the goal of subheads is to get people to read what follows. So either no punctuation or an ellipse is a way of subtly communicating to read the copy that follows. Which makes it a perfect place to use ellipses.
- Say “THAT” less…
It’s true that I overuse the word “that.”
It’s true: I overuse the word “that.”
It’s true — I overuse the word “that.”
It’s true. I overuse the word “that.”
Version one is the least concise, the least readable, and the least impactful.
Choose any of the others, with “that” removed. It’s a stylistic decision. But removing “that” automatically makes any option better.
Probably 50% of the time I type the word “that,” it can be removed.
Sometimes by rearranging the sentence completely. Other times by simply selecting it and hitting the Delete key.
Like the ellipses, you can use it. You should just make sure your writing is better off because it’s there… Or it’s a critical and non-removable part of the sentence.
- Don’t be a “BUT”…
I’ve spent the last decade-plus becoming a top copywriter in the financial direct response niche. But I can also teach you about how to succeed in other niches.
Read that again, carefully.
Is there something about the second sentence that makes the first sentence seem irrelevant or somehow not true?
It’s the word “but.”
“But” is a powerful word. It tells the subconscious mind whatever came before is either not relevant or not true.
When you tell someone something important and they say, “Yeah, but…,” you know they’re about to argue with you. It’s like they immediately rejected whatever you said, and are going to tell you what’s right.
In improv, I learned to use, “Yes, and…” This is accepting what came before and using that as a starting point. It doesn’t reject what comes before. It affirms it as a point of truth, even if you’re going to take a huge left turn.
“But” can be used very strategically in selling. “Oh yeah, that new Ford is great. But have you ever talked to someone who was still driving their Ford at 250,000 miles? Our Toyota dealership has a 250k club for all our customers who are driving their Toyotas 250,000 miles later. Can I show you our photo album?”
It can be subtly used to position your product ahead of the competition. Or in any other place where it makes sense to say something the prospect agrees with, but then immediately counter it with a replacement truth.
What to replace “but” with? In most cases, just use “and” instead. Here’s the example from the beginning of this section:
I’ve spent the last decade-plus becoming a top copywriter in the financial direct response niche. And I can also teach you about how to succeed in other niches.
If you still need to convey some of the contradiction, just know to avoid “but” because it’s the most powerful word in its category. “Yet,” “although,” and similar options don’t have the same negative emotional impact, and can be swapped out for “but” as a nice middle ground.
- NEVER use absolutes…
Pretty much nothing in the world is absolute.
Meaning, “best,” “worst,” “never,” “always,” and so on.
If your copy says that something is always true in 100% of the cases, all it takes is one counter-example for your credibility and believability to be destroyed.
If something is “nearly always” true or “almost never” happens, suddenly there’s room for you to still be right, even in the face of counter-examples.
While you need to convey confidence in your copy, this sense of candor actually increases believability. Because it says you’re confident in your message, even knowing that things are not always 100%.
You’re far better off getting more specific.
Have you ever bought website hosting? They promise things like 99.999% uptime. That’s saying your website will be up ALMOST 100%. In fact, in a year, that means your website may be down for 5.26 minutes and still fall within that promise.
If they said 100% uptime and you didn’t catch that 5-minute outage, you might feel like they fulfilled on that promise. But in your gut, you know that tech doesn’t always work, so it’s not believable. And yet, by promising 99.999% uptime, you have room for knowing tech sometimes fails AND your site will pretty much always be up.
- Let’s get VISUAL…
This is becoming more important than ever.
Even if you write a 10,000-word sales promotion, you need visuals to convey the message. And the more visuals, the better.
If your prospects are reading, it gives them another way to process the information.
If they’re scanning, it presents your message visually in a way that can drive them into the copy.
I know I break this rule with these articles. I don’t include a visual in the email, and I only include one on the website. It would probably help to do more.
In my sales copy though — especially for clients — I’m looking for more and more opportunities to maximize the number of visuals to complement my selling message.
- Pick your line breaks in subheads…
This is also a visual trick, but it has to do with the readability of your copy.
If your subheads are more than a few words, there will be a line break.
Some copywriters simply write what they want the subhead to say, and leave it up to the designer (or word-wrap for web pages) to dictate where the lines are broken up.
The much better way to do it is to look for chunks of information inside the sentence and make sure they stay together. This makes it much easier to read and understand quickly.
Using that last paragraph as an example, let’s first look at how the lines may break unintentionally…
The much better way to do it is to look for chunks of
information inside the sentence and make sure they stay
together. This makes it much easier to read and
Now here’s what could happen if you put in intentional line breaks…
The much better way to do it is to
look for chunks of information
inside the sentence
and make sure they stay together.
This makes it much easier to
read and understand quickly.
See how the bits of information chunk together? You get one idea per line. And there’s little room for confusion.
Speaking of readability, here’s one more tactic I’m leaning on a lot recently — for good reason…
+1. Write shorter sentences and paragraphs…
Readability is KEY to response. Your marketing message won’t sell until it is consumed.
So write simply. Clearly. Directly. Using short words. And short sentences.
Make your paragraphs short, too.
Doing this intentionally makes it easier to read. And less likely your prospect will experience reading fatigue before it’s time to give you money.
You’ll never get criticized for making a complex idea simple enough to understand.
But if you take something simple and say it in a complex way, you’re hosed.
And one of the fastest, easiest shortcuts here is just tighter writing.
Short sentences. Short paragraphs.
And aim for a low grade level in a readability checker.
Make it easy to read. Don’t make me, your prospect, think. And I might just respond.
Yours for bigger breakthroughs,