(Note: scroll to the bottom to watch the replay of our Secret Supper meeting)
starter-recipeCopywriting — the act of putting words on a page (or a screen) specifically for the purposes of marketing something — isn’t a skill that you’re born with. (Even if you’re somewhat talented in the words department.)  There are still loads of things to learn — and unlearn.

For example, you’ve got to learn about basic copy structures and the different elements that go into them.

Remember in school when you learned about the basic essay structure? It looked like this:

  1. Thesis statement/opening paragraph – state your argument (e.g., the sky is blue).
  2. Evidence Paragraph 1 (e.g., because molecules in the air scatter blue light from the sun more than they scatter red light.)
  3. Evidence Paragraph 2 (e.g., John Tyndall discovered that when light passes through a clear fluid holding small particles in suspension, the shorter blue wavelengths are scattered more strongly than the red)
  4. Evidence Paragraph 3 (e.g., the amount of light scattered is inversely proportional to the fourth power of wavelength for sufficiently small particles. It follows that blue light is scattered more than red light by a factor of (700/400)4 ~= 10.)
  5. Summary/Wrap-up paragraph (e.g., and that’s why the sky appears blue)

Yawn. You can see why we don’t write this way for marketing.

In copywriting, you’ve also got a basic structure — or what I call, “The Starter Recipe” (see image, above).

The order in which you address these ingredients isn’t crucial (although the call to action certainly needs to be your last word), but the elements themselves are important.

If you find your copy falls flat, it’s usually because you don’t truly know your ingredients.

For instance, if you’re struggling to understand why your Ideal Client hasn’t been able to solve their problem yet, it’s most likely because you haven’t done enough research.

You need to ask them. Talk to them. Listen to them. Eavesdrop if you can (hint: social media is fabulous for this).

Surveys and focus groups are a great starting point. But don’t rely solely on them for your answers. (People don’t always tell the truth. See this post for more on that.)

You’ll have to watch and listen. Pretend you’re an objective observer. Play the scientist.

For me, that means paying close attention to the comments of a blog or a social media post — even if that post isn’t mine.

It also means keeping running notes on the various topics I’m trying to help clients with (research is never done!).

Once you’ve got your five ingredients down pat, the next step isn’t to pop out a beautiful sales page, fully formed. (C’mon, you don’t need that kind of pressure.)

It’s time to write a letter to my ideal client. (Her name is Julia.)

Yes, my ideal client has a name and I’ve built a profile or persona for her (something I also add to on a regular basis as I discover new things about her). To me, she feels like a real, flesh-and-blood person.

I know her struggles and her background. What she likes to listen to on the radio. What kind of books she reads and how she feels about the current president.

Did I make it up? Some of it, sure.

But many times, the pieces of Julia’s life come directly from what I observe online and in the wilds of real life.

Julia is a collection of traits, psychology and demographics of multiple people.

And when I’ve got all this in my head, it allows me to write directly to her (instead of trying to write to an entire group).

The Next Parts Get Easier

Here’s your permission slip to unlearn most of those grammar rules that were pounded into you in school.

In your marketing copy, you can pretty much ignore things like prepositions and dangling participles.

But not everything gets tossed. Now that you’re taking a second run through, look for things like passive verbs; spelling errors; and subject/verb agreement.

Then I look for repetition. Am I using the same word in two adjacent sentences? Can I make my point in a different way? (Hint: Thesaurus.com is your friend.)

Are my words and sentences short and simple? Does the copy sound like a conversation between friends?

The best way to figure this out is to read the copy out loud, editing as you go.

Once I’ve got a solid draft that I’m happy with, I’ll put it away for at least one night and come back with fresh eyes in the morning.

When I’m happy with it, I’ll see if I can weave in bits of storytelling (the best kind of evidence or proof).

Is there something from my own life I can add to help illustrate a point? Something that happened while helping a client? Or perhaps a tidbit I read about somewhere else (don’t forget to credit the source)?

Am I using words that speak to the emotions — both positive and negative — that wrap around the issue?

Have I used any jargon or acronyms that need to be replaced with more simple explanations?

Can I eliminate anything? Can I replace three words with one?

In all, it may take me five to seven drafts before I feel like I’ve got copy that’ll do the job.

And if that copy is super important? I’m not afraid to ask a trusted colleague or two to read it over and give me feedback.

It’s never perfect, and that’s okay.

At some point, you’ve got to stop the writing, massaging and solicitation of feedback and just publish the darn thing.

The beauty of writing for your website is that you can always come back later and tweak something if it’s absolutely necessary.

Just don’t get stuck in perfectionism. The world needs your product-service-program-thingie more than it needs to see a faultless piece of copy.

Trust me.

Here’s the Secret Supper hangout: