4 Hard and Fast Rules for Writing
High-Impact Copy That Generates BIG Sales, Subscriptions,
and Click-Throughs... In SMALL Spaces
We all know
that well-written copy is one of the most highly effective methods
of getting people's attention and attracting them to your product or
service… but the importance of the shortest copy is often
overlooked. A lot of people don't even realize that things like
their navigation menus, links, or even their newsletter subscription
offers ARE copy and require careful consideration.
this kind of copy is one of the most valuable tools you have. Think
("click here," "buy now")
This sort of
copy is typically asking people to take some sort of action that is
vital to your business: visit your web site, request
more info, subscribe to your newsletter, click
through, buy the product… which is why it requires so much
more attention than it tends to receive.
Of course it's
more difficult to get your message across when you have limited
space, but short copy is the glue that holds your marketing
campaign together. And if every button on your menu, every ad,
every link isn't as absolutely compelling and effective as it can
be, you're not going to get the results you're hoping for, be it
more sales, more subscriptions, more referrals, etc...
So I'm going
to show you four Hard and Fast Rules of copywriting that must
be followed in even the shortest of copy to guarantee you always
make the most profitable use of the little space you have.
Hard and Fast Rule #1:
You MUST emphasize benefits, not
I know, I
know, you've heard this one before. But I so often see copy -- short
and long -- that neglects to mention how the features of a
product or service will benefit customers that I'm guessing a good
number of you aren't sure what this really means. So let me clarify
FEATURE is one of the components or functions of your product
or service. For example, if your toothbrushes come packaged with
glow-in-the-dark toothpaste, that's a feature -- not a benefit.
BENEFIT is something your product or service will do for your
buyer to somehow offer a solution to a problem. So if your
toothbrushes that come with glow-in-the-dark toothpaste make
stubborn kids thrilled to brush their teeth before they go to bed,
then you've got yourself a benefit!
following me? An online real estate agent advertising "real-time
mortgage calculations" is advertising a feature of her site;
however, if she writes, "Avoid wasting time haggling at the bank
with my real-time mortgage calculator," then she's advertising a
benefits is the number-one most overlooked rule of copywriting,
and this lack of emphasis is one of the top reasons advertising
falls flat. Short copy is no exception -- and you don't need a lot
of room to do it right.
Let's take a
look at a short classified ad. If you posted an ad that read:
Real estate on
Plenty of listings.
Shop at your convenience.
wouldn't get the greatest response. The ad is brief and to the
point, but it lacks clarity. First of all, what kind of property is
being advertised? Are the listings for commercial buildings or
family homes? What part of the world does the ad refer to? How many
listings is "plenty"? How do we get to see these listings? And, most
important, how does this service benefit me?
There is a
vague reference to the benefit of "convenience" in this ad -- but
it's not really explained. Let's dress it up a bit:
Take a Personal Tour of 375+ of
Most Affordable Single-Family Homes
hassles of house hunting when you search our HUGE online
database of single-family homes:
homes with pictures, video tours, and detailed descriptions!
by price, location, number of bedrooms, number of bathrooms,
FREE local school reports, neighborhood information, and
Click here now
to begin searching our online database of Seattle's hottest,
most affordable family homes -- without leaving your
This version expands on the benefit of
convenience and details the different ways this convenience offers
solutions to the house-hunter's problems. So the benefits
we're clarifying for the reader are:
House hunting is a hassle and now you can avoid it.
Physically going to see 375 homes would be practically impossible
but you can easily do it online.
You can search the database by very specific criteria to
effortlessly find exactly what you want.
Plus you'll get free reports that detail all the information
you'll want to know about a new home and neighborhood that you
wouldn't get even if you went there in person.
Also note that this ad targets a specific niche: single-family home
buyers in the Seattle area. Targeting your
the only way to get your benefits in front of your best potential
customers, as we'll discover in the next section...
Hard and Fast Rule #2:
You MUST write to a targeted
The fact is,
your product or service is just not going to appeal to everyone. And
if you try to market it to everyone, you'll wind up with far fewer
sales than if you choose a select group to direct your copy to. So
once you've defined your target market, you need to turn your
attention toward making sure your copy addresses them directly.
For example, let's look at pay-per-click advertising. Let's say you
bid 17 cents per click in Overture.com for the key phrase
"single-family homes." Because you pay every time someone clicks
through this link, whether they purchase from you or not, you want
to make sure that your ad carefully targets your best potential
Given that you're targeting single-family home buyers in the Seattle
area, you'd want to make sure your ad includes this vital piece of
information. That way, you can be sure you won't waste money on
people searching for single-family homes in San Diego!
And if you bid 41 cents per click for the key phrase "Seattle
homes," you'd want to make sure to write an ad that clearly states
that your site features single-family homes... so you don't waste
your advertising dollars on condo-seekers or recreational property
By writing a separate ad for each of your keywords that carefully
targets your market, you'll ensure that you attract the most
buyers for the least cost.
Of course, if you're writing copy for banner ads, your approach will
need to be a bit different. Whether you're:
Purchasing blocks of impressions (i.e. you pay a set dollar amount
for your banner to be displayed 1,000... 10,000... etc... times on
other web sites), OR
Participating in a banner exchange (i.e. you're trading banner
impressions with a network of other site owners)
... you've paid for your advertising up front, so you'll want to do
everything you can to attract viewers' attention and persuade them
to click through to your site. And this means you'll want your ad
copy to be a bit more general, to ensure it attracts the highest
number of click-throughs.
The title of the above classified ad would make a great banner:
Personal Tour of 375+ of Seattle's Hottest, Most Affordable
Single-Family Homes! Click here
...You're targeting your best potential customers! But you might
also try testing banners with more general copy that read something
HUGE online database of 375+ Seattle Dream Homes and skip the
Click here now...
The first ad
is going to attract the most qualified audience -- those people who
are looking for a single-family home in Seattle for a reasonable
price. The second version, however, will attract a slightly
broader audience. Still in Seattle and still looking for homes,
this group is not necessarily looking for a single-family dwelling,
and they're not necessarily worried about price. They're just
checking out homes in the Seattle area and they're attracted by the
size and convenience of the online database.
first ad may generate a higher visitor-to-sale conversion rate
(the percentage of people clicking through who then sign up for the
service) because it is more specific, the second ad will probably
solicit more click-throughs in total, because it has a more general
appeal. You'd have to test to see which version would pull the most
Hard and Fast Rule #3:
You MUST include a call to action
enough. BUY NOW! There's a call to action.
But hold on a
minute. If it were that simple, everyone marketing online would be
rich, and every online shopper would have to move into a bigger home
to accommodate all that happily purchased stuff.
There are two
very important things that you must include in your call to action:
- You must
determine exactly what action you want people to take, and
- You must
provide a reason why people should take that action.
now exactly the action you want? Not necessarily. Think about
what exactly it is that you are trying to do. Are you trying to
generate leads? Do you want people to sign up for your free
newsletter? Are you trying to attract a specific audience and hoping
to convert as many of those people as possible into sales?
important to understand that ALL copy, if possible, should contain a
call to action that clearly identifies what action is desired. I
can't emphasize this enough.
the buttons on your site menu. Each one is a call to action! And
they are all very important! If they're not as direct as possible,
telling visitors specifically what to do, they will be
if you have a button that is labeled "sales," you are doing nothing
but confusing your visitors, leaving them guessing whether you are
referring to product sales (i.e., online ordering), products
that are on sale (i.e., specials or discounts), or maybe the
opportunity to sell your product (i.e., merchandising
opportunities). But your visitors won't guess for long -- why would
they bother? They'll just leave your site.
If you change
the button copy from "sales" to "order online," you are now asking
viewers to take an action -- to order your product. This clarifies
the purpose of the button and tells the viewer what to do to get
your product. Another example: instead of writing "E-mail," you
could ask your viewers to "Contact Us" -- again, you're asking your
visitors to take a specific action!
Of course, you
will not always be able to include a call to action in every button;
you won't always have the space.
Your best bet in this case is to be as
clear as possible.
For example, it would be difficult to include a call to action in a
button of your navigation menu that leads to your newsletter back
issues. There would not be room to say "click here now to read our
newsletter back issues." So in this case, you'd just want to make
sure that your copy is clear. Label the button "Newsletter Back
Issues" instead of "More" or "Old Stuff."
think about your links. Supposing "buy now" is the action you
want… You have to give people a reason why they should buy.
Huge, garishly colored words on a screen won't do the trick; added
And in your
links, you have a little more room to move. The call to action
should remain the central focus of the link, but pack in as many
benefits as possible around it. Something like...
here now to claim your 'Golfer's Guide to the
Green' and instantly receive the downloadable video that
features up-close-and-personal interviews with Pro Golfers who
reveal their hottest golfing secrets, guaranteed to improve your
game in 2 weeks or your money back!"
out every time over "Buy now."
Hard and Fast Rule #4:
You MUST pay attention to layout
most of your layout is especially important when you're writing
short copy. The right blend of emphasis and information is the best
way to attract viewers. Don't underestimate the effectiveness of
bolding, italics, underlining, color, and white space.
overdo it either!
an offer to subscribe to your newsletter must be brief,
compelling, and effective. It will not be the main feature of
your web page or anyone else's, so it must be attractive enough to
grab the attention of a distracted reader. But it also needs to
remain readable and informative, without a gross misuse of
If your ad has
too much going on in it, it will look unattractive, unappealing, and
unprofessional -- and the clutter will detract from the meaning of
On the other
hand, too little emphasis leaves you in danger of never catching
anyone's eye. If your ad is totally boring, no one will ever even
see it -- and if they somehow do, they probably won't look at it
long enough to find out what it's about.
So let's try
to find a happy medium, emphasizing without crowding….
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Subscribe today to the FREE "Potato Farmer's" Newsletter and on
the first Tuesday of each month you'll receive tips and
strategies from industry leaders who'll reveal...
Secrets for selling your crops for the highest profits!
Tricks for cutting down the time you spend in the field!
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much, much more!
...Each issue contains tons of easy-to-implement techniques,
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Click Here Now to
Catchy, effective, and professional in appearance, this version
draws your attention and doesn't distract you from the information
it contains once you're there.
The ad is clearly laid out and easy to read. The title is underlined
and in blue, as is the link. This is the standard way to handle
links, and it lets the viewers know they can link to the sign-up
page from either place. Giving readers two chances to link
through to your sign-up will always work better than one. (And
never have any blue, underlined text that is not a link!)
I've used only subtle formatting tricks to provide emphasis while
keeping the ad visually appealing. The title of the newsletter is in
quotation marks to give it additional emphasis. The main features of
the newsletter -- what you'll learn from the experts -- are
emphasized by the use of bullet points and a nice amount of white
space. And the main benefits of the newsletter -- reduce your
expenses and dramatically increase your annual income --
are italicized and strategically placed right before the call to
Because the call to action comes at the end of the ad, it is
supported by all that came before it. And because it is the last bit
of text and it is in blue, the viewer's eye is effectively drawn
through the ad after being attracted by the title.
some of the formatting techniques discussed here are available only
to people formatting their ads in HTML. Obviously, you have more
options in HTML and can do pretty much whatever you like. But in
text format, you don't have the choice of adding color, bold,
italics, etc. You DO, however, have the ability to use characters,
spacing, capitalization, and indentation for effect.
So if we had
to format our ad in text, it might look like this:
"FREE Subscription to 'Potato Farmer's' Newsletter"
today and on the first Tuesday of each month
you'll receive tips and strategies from INDUSTRY LEADERS
- Secrets for
selling your crops for the HIGHEST PROFITS!
- Tricks for
cutting down the time you spend in the field!
Cost-effective strategies for TRIPLING YOUR CROP YIELD!
- Plus much,
contains tons of easy-to-implement techniques, guaranteed to
REDUCE YOUR EXPENSES while dramatically
INCREASING YOUR ANNUAL INCOME!
Because we don't have the option of hyperlinking the text,
effectively highlighting it in blue, I've moved the capitalized
"FREE" to the beginning of the title to attract attention. I've also
enclosed the headline in quotation marks for emphasis, and put the
newsletter title in single quotes (which should always be used
inside double quotes).
I've capitalized the benefits that were italicized in the HTML
version along with a few more benefits to make the ad as
eye-catching as possible. The general rule in text is to
capitalize whatever you would have bolded or italicized in HTML, but
be careful with your use of caps -- they're difficult to read if