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How to breathe life into your copywriting

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7 min read

How to breathe life into your copywriting

Effective copy is helpful copy that people want to read

By Tim Ludwig · April 2, 2021
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Written ideas are old news. The oldest news next to spoken stories and cave paintings. That's part of why written content is now being eclipsed by other convenient mediums to consume: video, podcasts, chatbots, SMS, graphics, the list goes on. The usual suspects, shiny and new-ish, have been dragging attention spans away from writing for some time now. 

But reading copy isn't going anywhere. 

It's impossible to use the web without interacting with written content. All the way down to the smallest bits of micro-content, you're always reading something. It also remains the cornerstone of marketing because helpful, relevant content is the foundation of how search engines decide to let people see you. When your content boosts search rankings, people see it—then they see your product or service. That can start the funnel that leads from prospect to customer

It's effective copy that's responsible for getting that stone rolling. So, getting your copy from dull to dazzling is exactly what you need to do to attract attention, keep it, and convert it into capital. 

Care about your copy

If you're anything like me, you've let more than one unsuspecting soul hear about your own linguistic pet peeves. But I think our care for writing deserves better than clinging to the nitpickery that we choose as hills to die on. A better care is focusing on the impact of your writing instead of your urge to angrily decry split infinitives.

Stop worrying so much about minor things, and think more about how effective your writing is. Prospects aren't going to care about your grammatical savvy (though it's still important!)—they'll care about whether your content helps them. 

We've all been there, mindlessly scanning words until we snap out of whatever daydream dragged our attention away, only to sheepishly admit we don't have a clue what happened over the last several paragraphs. That might not be the worst thing when we're reading for pleasure, but when you've got 30 seconds of a prospect's attention to articulate a new product feature in words they can grasp, you don't want to lose them. You want to care about not losing them.

The "how" of spicing up your copy

I can hear you thinking, "Tim, you don't get it! I'm limited by my industry! My vertical is tyrannical!" 

I feel that. I really do. I'm a copywriter in the B2B SaaS space who spends his time deconstructing a complex enterprise software product. I'm certainly not writing copy for the company that makes my favorite shorts or preferred beachside beverages. 

We've all got limitations set by the powers that be, but as a writer, you've found the space to stretch within the countless confines of language, so I imagine you have the capacity to flex while staying in your industry's lane, too. It's part of what makes good writers good writers. 

Start with these things.

Make your copy conversational

The majority of reading people do is on the web, and when last I looked, web writing is a whole lot different from an academic thesis. 

Conversational copywriting is the crux of writing for web audiences. With conversationality comes engagement, clear ideas, and concise language—plus it's welcoming and accessible. The idea is to get your organization's ideas across with the fewest, most effective words possible.

Write like you're talking to someone and don't want to lose their attention. Because that's what you're doing, just not in person. And your listener has the distraction of the rest of the web right in front of the eyes they're reading with.

People have video and audio to listen to that's much easier than reading text. Against that competition, you've got to give them something to read that makes them remember how awesome reading can be. 

After you write, read your writing aloud to yourself. Give it some emotion, some pizazz! I perform my own writing—in front of a cat audience in my own home—and can hear when my writing shines and when it makes me bored. It's great practice for every writer but crucial to developing better conversational copywriting skills. 

Here's how a small SaaS company like Basecamp offers help if you need it.

Basecamp copywriting that says "Have questions? Holler."

Click Holler, and you get routed to the next page, where the copy shows you that software companies talk like humans and are human. 

Basecamp page showing the faces of the people who work there and will be helping you.

If every company in the SaaS space took a page out of Basecamp's book, we'd have a whole lot more engaging copy permeating the software industry. It's not an impossible task. It just takes some humanity and laid-back language. 

Write well, teach well, show off a little

Writers are educators. 

You're teaching prospects about your product, customers about new features, and the world about why your product matters. The more complex the product, the more crucial this becomes. Frustrated users will find similar products with better content and buy those instead.

In my organization, our co-founder is fond of saying: "An educated customer is a secure customer." Because a business boils down to two priorities that revolve around education in customer experience: to make a useful product, then make people good at using it. 

Writers are pivotal in both instances. Your writing will show prospects the value of the product, and your writing will show converted customers how to become proficient users. When your writing teaches people how to effectively use your product, your product's value becomes tangible. Tangible value is all people are looking for. Not vaguely promised benefits and empty words sprinkled into sales presentations. 

Take advantage of your product's coolest features. Dazzle people with something real. The "Whoa, that's cool!" moment is an important part of engaging copywriting. And with most products, there are features that are head-turning and ones that are essential, if a bit boring. It's important to have both: a boring essential will be a valuable foundation to your product's effectiveness, but the cool features will be the bait-and-hook your copy needs to grab attention. Use those eye-catching functionalities to your advantage, and learn how to make your writing magnify the coolness. 

Look at Wistia, for example. They are, among other things, a video hosting platform. Their complete guide to video marketing is a prime example of engaging copy that embeds their own video platform's functionality into the examples. A metaphysical display of the greatness of their own features ensconced in the copywriting of a valuable asset. 

The copywriting on Wistia's complete guide to video marketing

The page shows what anyone searching for video marketing advice could want, gives clickable chapters with clear objectives, and all the while, peppers each of the sections with their own video creations hosted on their own platform. 

Providing value while showcasing their strengths? That's well thought out. 

Balance business with pleasure in your writing

You know your copy needs to walk the line that balances business and pleasure, so walk it well. 

Be the wordsmith you know you're capable of being, and draft something that tactfully pushes the envelope. I'm not suggesting you channel your inner Hunter S. Thompson for a SaaS blog or Aristotle for ad copy, but know where your voice and your organization's voice converge. And don't be afraid to expand on that convergence.

This is what editors are for—let them be the proverbial enemy here. I'm half-joking (hi, Zapier editors), but the point deserves some consideration. As long as you're exercising a creative balance between business goals, organizational tone, and entertaining copy, editors are more likely to be with you than against you. 

There's some advice from David Ogilvy, the "Father of Advertising," on copywriting that's just as important now as it's ever been: 

Resist the temptation to write the kind of copy which wins awards. I'm always gratified when I win an award, but most of the campaigns which produce results never win awards because they don't draw attention to themselves.

Your copy drives people to your purpose, it doesn't celebrate itself. In copywriting, your prose shouldn't be the purpose—it should promote the purpose. 

Oatly, a dairy-alternative oat drink company, does just that with their creative campaigns. Trying to promote dairy-free alternatives in a dairy-sodden world is tough work, so they appeal to people and make their mission accessible with humor. One particular campaign is called Help-dad.com—a guide to helping dads quit dairy.

Oatly's site helpdad.com

The idea itself is smirk-inducing as I think of hearing my own father groan about why there are 22 different kinds of "milk" (I can see the air quotes, too) when one was fine back in his day. But scroll down, and they've lined up scenarios where they've prepared clickable boxes with answers to your father's dad-ish quips, dairy-free recipes, statistics, and more: 

Oatly's dad tips

And there I was thinking a dairy-alternative company couldn't be fun? Wrong.

Aim for memorable, strive for shareable

The more eyes your content gets in front of, the better. Social media is maybe our most powerful asset for distributing, but awesome writing is what makes people want to distribute it in the first place.

When I saw Oatly's dad-help campaign, I instantly wanted to retweet it. That's the kind of reaction you want when people read your content. The best kind of infectious. But not everything needs to be a 2,000-word piece of content or full pages of inspired hilarity to be effective writing.

Microcontent is just as important. Is your ad writing engaging? Are your social posts, well, sociable? Are your buttons and on-page CTAs something that people want to click or do? 

I know I said "breathe life into your copywriting," but it's 2021. Mixed media formats are standard, and not weaving them into your copy isn't helping your case for well-rounded engagement. GIFs, Tweets, TikToks, you name it—the expanse of media that can be integrated into your copy is staggering. Use it to enhance your copy and elevate your purpose. 

For example, to try a different format, I wrote a particularly lengthy post conversationally enough for our content marketing manager to record an audio reading of it to supplement the text. Instead of reading all those words, all you need to do is take a five-minute listen as you would to a podcast, but shorter. It's really helpful at delivering the same content while giving users another option for how to consume it. 

One word of warning: it's easy to get engrossed in media and carried away to the point that you can distract from your goal. Make sure using something other than words is the way to go before making it happen.

Don't stop honing your craft

None of this is law. Language is always in flux—that's why it's so fun. 

There are rules to follow in writing and others that are evolving at the same rapid pace as technology. The best way to continue to enhance your writing is to keep writing and keep reading. And your biggest influence will be other people's writing. 

Copywriters are at the forefront of establishing the voice of our organizations. Your writing guides decisions, influences opinions, and represents the collective goals of an organization. So it deserves as much vitality as you can give it.

The best thing about breathing life into writing is the unique life each writer breathes into theirs. And that's you. So go do it.

This was a blog post from Tim Ludwig, a copywriter for Jorsek, Inc., the makers of easyDITA. easyDITA is a SaaS content platform designed to create, manage, and personalize enterprise knowledge for any audience, channel, and language. It turns your organization's knowledge and product content into an engaging digital experience for customers and employees. Want to see your work on the Zapier blog? Read our guidelines, and get in touch.

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Tim Ludwig picture

Tim Ludwig

Tim is a copywriter for Jorsek Inc., the makers of easyDITA. Whilst he's not smithing words about enterprise content strategy, you can find him snowboarding, refining his champagne palate, and mentally wandering Middle Earth.

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