OF EFFECTIVE COPY
Common copy faux pas are bad enough in isolation. But their effects can be exacerbated when they occur in prominent places throughout your copy.
By that I mean the headline, subhead or cross-head, and your call to action.
Depending on the content in question, that list could extend to other key locations too.
Furnishing faux pas
Committing a cardinal copy sin under those spotlights will cast an unflattering shadow over your content. And the most likely result will be your audience exiting, stage right.
Understanding the value of your copy furniture, as well as grasping how it’s best used, will help to ensure your sales and marketing content is as effective as it can be.
The elements that you’ll need to employ will vary according to the content type or copy format. Honestly, copy structure for specific outputs could be (and in fact is) an entire book in its own right.
"Understanding the value of your copy furniture, as well as grasping how it’s best used, will help to ensure your sales and marketing content is as effective as it can be."
Emails have subject lines; website copy could potentially have any number of additional items; the same goes for brochures. So, I’ve picked out the “big three” that will usually feature (in some capacity) in most copy outputs.
Getting a head start
Let’s begin where your reader will – with the headline. So, what’s a headline for? To summarise your brand? To broadcast your key message? To sell your product? Well, not immediately, no.
Citing Andy Maslen once more, your headline is there to serve a singular and all-important purpose: to get your reader to engage with the remainder of your copy.
That’s it. Nothing else.
Despite the pressure to generate headlines that perform, there are a couple of simple steps you can take to find the blend of words that works.
For one, keep your headlines short: ideally 5-8 words.
Secondly, engage your reader by employing tried-and-tested, emotion-piquing techniques like intrigue, a benefit-focused offer, uncertainty, or originality.
Your headline (or subject line for emails) will undoubtedly be the combination of words you wrestle with for longest. But it’s worth that investment of time. As the fabled Mr Ogilvy once said, five times as many people will read your headline versus your body copy.
Cross-heads might not steal the headlines. Quite literally. But they play a crucial role in your copy. That function is to keep your reader engaged and funnel them through your eloquent prose.
A quirk of cross-heads is that their mere presence, irrespective of the words they contain, can help to improve performance. Experts like Joe Sugarman have even tested copy without cross-heads against copy containing irrelevant insertions.
The result? Yep – the nonsensical-but-heading-heavy versions won out.
This might simply be because they visually punctuate heavy blocks of text. However, there’s no doubting the impact that perceptively positioned cross-headings can have.
One simple approach which can be employed to utilise cross-heads is to use them to assuage any objections your reader might have – picking those doubts off one-by-one with shrewd rhetoric. If you’re feeling brave, you might also want to use cross-heads to nurture your reader down the awareness, interest, desire, action (AIDA) path.
Start by grabbing their attention – address their pain point, strike an emotional chord. Next comes interest – give them the benefit. After that, crank up the desire – use emotion to create a “want”. Round off with an action or instruction, which should be singular, immediate and urgent. And, speaking of encouraging action, let’s move on to our final furniture item…
Lights… camera… call to action
All too often, a crucial element of your copy arsenal is crassly tossed into a document with little thought.
Your call to action (CTA) should, in fact, be one of the very first things that you think of when planning out your copy. After all, that’s the whole reason you’re bothering to put pen to paper. Or finger to keyboard.
An effective CTA is more than just an instruction, though. It’s the crescendo of your copy – the peak toward which you’ve been metaphorically leading your reader.
In order for it to resonate, it must be a short, singular statement that marries a sense of urgency with the promise of a benefit.
Here’s how not to do it:
“Find out more”. Yawn.
“Contact us today”. Nope, I’m busy.
“Read more”. Sounds like too much effort.
And, worst of all… “Click here”.
They’re not great. So, here are a few examples that might work better.
Let’s say you’re a B2B organisation promoting a health check, complimentary audit or some form of benchmarking service. You could set up your call to action with something along the lines of: “Your competitors are outperforming you. So, before it’s too late…” and then your punchy button, link or heading could be “… find out why”. Stitch that together and you’ve got something that offers a clear benefit, injects a sense of immediacy and (crucially) tugs an emotional thread (envy), too.
So: empathy, emotion, immediacy. Any or all of those, and your call to action is destined to be more effective.
This article appears in our free guide to copywriting. If you're interested in learning more about high-performing copywriting...
Before you start committing words to Word doc, compile a plan so you’re clear what you want your reader to do.
Keep your headlines short, and employ intrigue, originality or a big, bold benefit.
Use subheads or cross-heads to shepherd the reader through your copy.
Supercharge your call to actions with emotion and urgency.