Eight elements can help us distinguish great copywriting from the merely adequate. If you’re reading this page because you’re looking for a writer, you’re actively considering this point. So let’s list the qualities that define good copywriting.
1. It breaks through the clutter
We live in a world saturated by media. Wherever we look, we see messages designed to motivate us to do something. With such a glut of copywriting, it’s only natural that we start to filter the stuff out.
Good copywriting breaks through the clutter. It arrests the mind, providing fresh perspective on a well-known topic. It makes the familiar seem new.
2. It has an excellent lead
The hardest part of any task is the beginning, and the best copywriting respects this all-important truth. Writers should never take the reader’s attention for granted. The first words we put before the reader must capture their attention.
Brian Dean has a lot to say about leads in Copywriting: The Definitive Guide. His chief recommendations are a compelling hook, storytelling, and brevity. Capture your reader’s interest with a catchy phrase or arresting image, sustain it with a story, and do all that in just a few lines. You’ll never go wrong in following these principles, and it’s also a satisfying way to write.
3. It’s readable
The second hardest part of any task is continuing, and every line in a piece must persuade the reader to continue reading. Copy only works if a reader consumes it—all of it. From heading to final call to action, successful copywriting has a compelling flow that moves the reader along.
Belinda Weaver has some tips on readability in Warning: Your oh so clever copywriting could be unreadable. I like her emphasis on audience needs. As she reminds us, we’re not writing for ourselves or even for our clients, but for their customers.
Belinda also mentions some technical aids like the Hemingway App and the Flesch-Kincaid readability score. I’m not a great fan of these things, because I already have a strong preference for simple declarative sentences and the active voice. But Belinda is definitely right about the value of simplicity. Write simply. It’s the kindest way to treat your readers.
4. It knows its audience
Of the eight elements that define great copywriting, understanding your audience might be the most important.
It’s tempting to blast away with superlatives, but we all know this approach is doomed to fail. People don’t buy products and services just because they read words like best, brightest, and first in class. They buy the goods that meet their needs. Good copywriting speaks to this underlying issue—audience need.
To be clear, we’re referring to more than just practical, material needs. People also need to belong, to feel good about themselves and their world, and to have a sense of uplift, to mention just a few things. Good copywriting also takes these immaterial needs into account.
How do we know what our audience needs? We do our homework. We consult public opinion research. We run surveys. We look for solid information on the problems people are trying to solve and the things they want to feel. Then we write copy that speaks to those needs.
5. It makes its value proposition clear at the outset
In an accelerated world, where many voices vie for our attention, we make snap judgments about whether a page is worth reading at all. The first few lines have to make its value clear.
Good copywriting is unambiguous. It clarifies its value at the outset, inviting readers to stay engaged for the entire message.
6. It describes benefits, not features
Boasting about features is a sure way to alienate an audience. This fault is often evident in writing about technology, where some copywriters overemphasize a product’s technical superiority.
It’s all well and good to crow about features, but we should always remember why features exist—to create a benefit for someone. Benefits are what consumers experience, and that’s why the best copywriters emphasize them over features. Benefits are what people seek, not features.
7. It’s optimized for search
In the digital age, copywriters must pay attention to search engines. That doesn’t mean we write for machines. Rather, we write for human beings, knowing that search engines are the intermediaries that help us find our audience.
Optimizing text for search should be more than just an afterthought. Good copywriters build this optimization into their basic writing practice. We select keywords based on search volume, buyer intent, and our ability to rank. We embed these keywords in our title, headings, body copy, URLs, and alt text (the line we attach to images so the search engines can detect the import of the image).
8. It supports a call to action
If copywriting is the art of persuasion, it must contain an explicit call to action. Every piece of copy should be designed to support a call to action.
People don’t respond to hints. They respond best to direct instruction. The writing that leads up to that instruction should prime the reader to act.
The call to action should be highly visible and visually attractive. If you’re writing for the web, it should also be clickable.
These eight elements define our approach to copywriting. Keep them in mind when you approach your next writing project. They can help you manage your project and get the most out of your copywriter.
Does your business have a story to tell? Are you looking for a copywriter to tell it?