Copywriting: The Ultimate Guide for Beginners
Great copywriting can be the difference between making a sale and being left empty handed.
Even understanding just the fundamentals of copywriting can help you earn considerably more money from your web pages.
Luckily, anybody can learn these fundamentals over the course of a day at most. Let this copywriting guide serve as your starting point (I’ll point you later on to several additional helpful resources).
I’ll be showing you how to write copy that persuades, is easy to digest, and will help you get more traffic, leads and sales.
Ready? Then let’s get started.
Chapter 1: Copywriting 101
We’ll be kicking off this guide covering some of the basics. We’ll look at what copywriting exactly is, how it differs from “regular” writing and how one becomes a copywriter.
Skip ahead in case you already know all of this.
What is copywriting?
Copywriting refers to using the written word to persuade readers to take action. This could be purchasing something, entering an email address, or clicking on a link or button. You can find copywriting on affiliate websites, landing pages, advertisements, and social media posts.
In marketing and sales, copywriting is one of the most important levers you can pull to increase conversions and make more sales.
How does copywriting differ from writing content?
There is a certain overlap between the two disciplines, but there are also some key differences.
A content writer focusses on content which informs, entertains, or teaches you something. Content writers are often familiar with online marketing tactics and create content for channels such as websites, blogs, social media, and email.
A copywriter specifically dedicates himself to persuading people. A copywriter uses words to get readers to commit to a certain action. Though a copywriter’s text could inform or entertain a reader, the primary purpose is to persuade the reader to act.
However, what you’ll often see is that content writers apply copywriting techniques in their writing. As an affiliate marketer, I consider myself primarily a content writer. But I lean heavily on copywriting principles in most of my content, especially my content which has a commercial angle.
How do you become a copywriter?
The good news is that you don’t need any formal education to become a copywriter. It’s a skill you can pick up by studying the subject through free resources, a couple of books and a ton of practice.
This guide is a solid starting point.
The goal of this guide is to provide you with the tools you’ll need to turn into an excellent copywriter (top 5%). To become a master copywriter (top 1%) can take years, possibly decades.
Obviously, you won’t need to go that far. Mastering the principles in this guide will already separate you from the pack.
If you’re reading this, odds are that you want to level up your affiliate marketing writing game. If you apply the lessons from this guide, you’ll end up writing more persuasively than what you’ll find on the vast majority of affiliate sites out there.
Chapter 2: Who are you writing for?
Before even typing your first word, you’ve got to know:
Who are you writing for?
Who’s your audience and how can you connect with them through words?
Different audiences require a different tone of voice
If your audience consists of tech savvy computer enthusiasts, you’ll tend to adopt a different writing style than when addressing yoga lovers.
It’s important to keep this mind, as different audiences have different desires, dreams, and expectations. Aside from this, different target audiences speak differently from one another and use different slang and jargon.
If you want to write copy that converts, make sure to follow this rule: write like your customers talk.
Here’s how you do this.
Get to know your audience through forums, social media, and ecommerce websites
Make your way to those spots where your (potential) customers congregate.
People, hidden underneath a comfortable veil of online anonymity, tend to not beat around the bush when it comes to talking about products. The user reviews sections from sites like Amazon are therefore a goldmine.
Not only do these reviews tell you which features and benefits of a product people value, you also get to see what language they use when talking about a certain product.
This is a review about a pair of computer glasses. If you happen to sell or promote these, there’s quite some things you could lift from this review and add to your copy:
- The glasses feel solid
- The glasses slowly lull you into a sleep state during the evening hours, instead of keeping you wide awake
- Takes just a week to improve your sleeping
Reddit is a massively popular online community with something called “sub-Reddits.” These are smaller forums dealing with a certain subject. Join any sub-Reddits where your audience might find themselves.
Both in questions people ask about a product and in the answers other people provide, you’ll find a ton of copywriting inspiration.
You can find the best copywriting inspiration when it comes to social media at Facebook and Twitter. Join Facebook groups where people discuss relevant products and services. You can also check advertisements of products in your industry and check out people’s comments on them.
Talk directly to your customers
Let’s say you’re a business owner selling your own products. If that’s the case, pick up the phone and quiz some of your recent customers. Here are some questions you could ask them:
- What made you pick my product?
- What differentiated my product from the competition?
- Have you tried similar, competing products? If so, what were your thoughts?
- Which pain point does my product solve?
Not only are these answers super helpful for positioning your current products, but they can also offer inspiration (and copywriting ideas) for future products.
Chapter 3: The most important copywriting principles
In this chapter we’ll take a look at most important copywriting principles.
You’ll recognize these principles in pretty much any copy worth its salt.
Let’s take a look.
Knowledge (both broad and specific)
Solid copywriting lives on a foundation of knowledge. You can divide this knowledge into broad knowledge and specific knowledge.
The best copywriters tend to be curious people. People who like to read, gain knowledge, pursue different hobbies, and like to learn new skills.
Given you’re reading this guide right now, you’ll probably fall into this category of people.
Possessing a broad foundation of knowledgeability will by default lead to richer and better writing.
But another prerequisite for good copywriting is having specific product knowledge.
In some cases, this knowledge is a given. For instance, if you offer business coaching sessions.
But what if you’re promoting another company’s products, like an affiliate marketer does? In this case, specific product knowledge might lack.
Key in this instance is to become product expert. For instance, by researching the underlying technology, and by extensively using the product yourself.
Doing so will make your copywriting way more persuasive. Your writing will start getting a certain level of nuance and uniqueness which you can’t acquire by regurgitating content that’s already out there.
Benefits > features
When talking about a product many people fall into the trap of rattling off a list of features. This isn’t terrible per se, but in the end it’s always to emphasize the unique benefits of a product.
Whenever you’re fully immersed in a product, its benefits might strike you as obvious. Not worth mentioning. This is a missed opportunity.
Compare these bullet points describing a set of knives:
- Knife holder included
- Made of carbon steel
- Unique design
Features + benefits:
- Knife holder included, so you can keep your knives together
- Made of carbon steel, which keeps them sharp up to 3 times longer
- Unique design to match your kitchen beautifully
The first list is dry, devoid of emotions and doesn’t stimulate. The second list feels a lot more stimulating and persuasive.
The AIDA formula is a well-known copywriting model which you can use as a framework for parts of a blog article or even an entire sales page.
This is what the abbreviation stands for:
- A – Attention
- I – Interest
- D – Desire
- A – Action
Read more about AIDA here.
Create a slippery slide
The idea that you should turn your copy into a slippery slide was first introduced by Joseph Sugarman, the most legendary copywriter of the past century.
Sugarman explains this principle in the following way:
““Every element must be so compelling that you find yourself falling down a slippery slide unable to stop until you reach the end.”
This basically means that the goal of your title is to get people to read the first sentence of your content, the goal of your first sentence is getting them to read the second sentence and so-on.
Every element (or sentence) of your copy has to be equally compelling, persuading the reader to consume the next element.
There are a few little tricks which can enhance this effect:
- Your sentences are short and easy to understand
- You’re adding short stories to your copy
- You’re creating “information gaps” (“I’ll get back to this later on, but first we’ll…”)
It isn’t about you, it’s about the reader
Readers don’t care about you or your company or your website. They care about what you can do to improve their lives.
You might be thinking:
“That’s nonsense, my customers do love me. And they care about me and my company.”
But consider yourself when purchasing a product. Do you truly care about how the seller’s dog is doing? Or if they’re having a good day?
You might on a superficial level, but much more important is having your needs met. As soon as possible. That’s it.
So, when writing an “About Us” page, don’t bore your readers with how you (and your company) have 30 years of experience in XYZ and such. Instead, focus on your visitor and the problem you’re here to solve for them. It doesn’t matter if you’re a retailer, service provider, web shop, or an affiliate marketer.
TIP: Scan your text for words like I, we and our, and try where possible to flip the perspective to the reader.
Urgency is one of the most effective psychological triggers to get people to act.
If you want people to buy something now, urgency is the ultimate ace up your sleeve.
Have you have booked a hotel room on a site like Booking.com because they insisted in red lettering there’s only one room left? If so, then you too have experienced how powerful a force urgency can be in copywriting.
Here are a few ways to create urgency in your text:
- Sign-ups open until June 10th, 12pm
- Only 12 copies left
- 50% off for 5 more hours
- Limited supply
Now, you’re probably aware of this, but these claims ought to be true. Over time people might lose their trust in you once they discover the scarcity you presented was made up.
Clearly communicate your unique selling points
There are so, so many products out there. What separates your products, or the ones you’re promoting, from the pack?
Build a deep awareness of competing products, and don’t be shy around comparing them directly to your products in your content.
Make it super easy to skim your pages
Take a look at this sales page:
One of the things that makes this page so effective is that it’s easy to skim.
People consume content differently online than they do offline. Online, people’s concentration spans are generally slightly lower. That’s why it’s important that you create content that readers can easily skim.
Fortunately, it’s easy to do this:
- Use lots of white space
- Write short paragraphs
- Interrupt your text with images regularly
- Make frequent use of heading and sub-heading
Chapter 4: This is how you write catchy and persuasive copy
Having covered the broader foundation of effective and persuasive copy, let’s take things up a notch and take a look at some of the most effective copywriting tactics.
The cool thing is that you can apply these tactics to you own copy straight away.
Follow these tips, and your copy instantly becomes more interesting and persuasive.
Talk to a single person
Even though you might at some point reach an audience of millions, you’re still asking one person at a time to take action.
Copywriting isn’t like addressing a big crowd with a mic and speaker. It’s rather like having a conversation with a friend.
Not like this:
People who are looking for garden tools have come to the right place.
Are you looking for garden tools? We got you covered.
Our brains can process active sentences easier than passive sentences.
The active form describes a sentence in which the subject performs the action stated by the verb. It follows a clear subject + verb + object construction that is easy to read. With the passive form, the subject is responded to by the verb.
Write as much as possible in the active form.
Not like this:
The ball was kicked by the boy.
The boy kicks the ball.
Keep your sentences short
Research shows that shorter sentences are easier to understand than long sentences. Odds are that your sentences are too long by default for web copy. I sure know mine were.
Keep most of your sentences short and sweet. And stick to maximum of 20 words per sentence.
Not like this:
I want to save you that time, so I’ll show you here from A to Z how to set up a WordPress website yourself within a few hours without needing any technical knowledge.
I want to save you that time. That’s why I’ll show you here from A to Z how to set up a WordPress website yourself within a few hours. No technical knowledge required.
Cut any nonsensical sales fluff
With every sentence you write, ask yourself: what does this mean? Am I actually saying anything here.
As soon as you stumble upon a sentence that reeks of generic sales fluff, cut it or rewrite it.
Not like this:
Our software is of world-class quality.
12.500 people have already bought our software.
Be as specific as possible
Make sure your copy is as specific as possible. If you can, add exact numbers. If you promise someone that they can save “more money,” specify what “more” is (in a percentage or a precise amount).
Not like this:
Save time with our easy-to-use accounting software.
Fix your accounting in 15 minutes per month with our accounting software in 3 easy steps.
Don’t beat around the bush
Tell your readers what to do. Don’t be too subtle or polite.
Take your readers by the hand and lead them to the desired action in as few words as possible.
Not like this:
If you are interested in our exclusive business tips, you can subscribe to our newsletter by entering your email and pressing the orange button.
Enter your email address and click Sign Up.
Go easy on the difficult words
Here’s another one I used to get wrong (and probably still get wrong sometimes). It took a while before the following message landed: nobody is impressed by your fancy words.
Keep your text as accessible as you can. Avoid jargon whenever possible and pick the easiest words available.
Not like this:
We will diagnose the problem and come up with an adequate solution.
We will find out what the problem is and come up with a suitable solution.
Chapter 5: Copywriting exercises
In this final chapter I’ll be sharing a few exercises to improve your copywriting.
By following these exercises, you will reach your ultimate goal much faster: being able to write well-converting copy.
These are my favorites.
Rewrite advertisements mentally
Whenever you stumble upon any advertisements, ask yourself the following question: how can I make it better? Rewrite the advertisement mentally in a way that’s catchier.
You can do this with ads you see on Instagram, Facebook, or out on the street with bus stop ads.
Make this a habit. Not only will you see that your writing becomes sharper, but it’s also an ideal way to get inspired.
Cut, cut, cut
With copywriting you want to transfer information from one brain to the other brain as quickly as possible and inspire action.
It’s not about hitting a certain word count. It’s about making your point as fast and concise as possible.
When you’ve written your first sales copy, try to halve the word count without losing the message. After you’ve done this, halve the word count again.
You may not quite succeed in this, but that’s not the point. The point is to teach yourself to say as much as possible with as few words as possible.
Handwrite famous ads
This is a classic copywriting exercise. Look for famous ads that stood the test of time, ads still referenced by copywriters.
Then write the written contents of these advertisements with pen and paper.
Doing this will give you a sense of why the words in it are being used, how the sentences flow in a certain way, and why the text possesses its persuasiveness.
Wear earplugs or noise canceling headphones
Copywriting requires utmost concentration. That is why you want to keep out background noises as much as possible.
By wearing earplugs or noise canceling headphones you can completely shut yourself off from the world around you. This allows you to get into the flow state much faster that you need to be able to write effective copy.
I hope this copywriting guide can serve as a good starting point for upping your writing game.
Next, you might want to check out these copywriting resources.
Got any questions or feedback on this guide? Drop a comment below.