One of the most important focused learning initiatives I’ve undertaken in the last few years has been working on my copywriting skills. Whether writing copy for email autoresponder sequences, website homepages, or microcopy in website forms, it’s a skill that I use in almost everything that I do. Sometimes I’m just using some basic knowledge of psychological tactics for influence, other times I’m using every copy review strategy I know. But it’s been an invaluable tool that I continue to work on regularly.
Here are the Top 5 things I’ve worked on to learn copywriting and improve my skills:
1) Read classic books on Copywriting, Psychology, and Marketing
Understanding the basic concepts behind how the human brain works and is persuaded is the best possible foundation you can lay for being a great copywriter. Go beyond books targeted specifically at copywriting though- read broader focused books like “Influence” or “Positioning”. Here are some suggestions:
- Influence: Science and Practice by Robert B. Cialdini
- Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind by Al Ries/Jack Trout
- The Brain Audit by Sean D’Souza
- Triggers by Joe Sugarman
- Confessions of an Advertising Man by David Ogilvy
2) Study the classic direct response masters
Although I wouldn’t advise writing like them if you’re writing copy for startup websites or email autoresponders like I am, studying classic direct response mail advertisements and the classic copywriters who created them is a great way to see the psychological tactics you’ll learn about in books illustrated. Many of these salesletters are responsible for millions and millions of dollars of revenue, so take a close look before writing them off.
One course I found helpful in my Direct Response studying was AWAI’s Accelerated Program for Six Figure Copywriting. The course definitely had a rigorous study schedule and advocated for an interesting rote method of learning- reading classic salesletters out loud many times, and even copying them down by hand 3 times each. An interesting approach, and definitely recommended if you’re looking for a “Whiplash”-esque physically demanding style of learning.
3) Study modern “web 2.0” startup copywriting
If Direct Response copywriting is the “roots” of your copywriting education, it’s equally important to focus on the “branches”, which in our case is modern copywriting. Although salesletters of days past were highly effective, many audiences today would find them overbearing or pushy, especially online, or in younger demographics. Nowadays, startups should be focused on using “conversion copywriting” – a term and practiced championed by modern copywriters like Joanna Wiebe of Copyhackers.
The three key elements here are clarity, credibility, and value. Your copy should immediately inform a website visitor as to what you are/do as clearly as possible, effectively position the value a product offers, and use plenty of credibility throughout the page. Use plain, simple language as opposed to jargon, and make sure every statement you make answers the questions “So what?”, and/or “Prove it.”
Joanna Weibe’s Copyhackers eBooks and courses have been a huge learning resource for me here. It’s also worth mentioning Neville Medhora’s Kopywriting Kourse, and paying attention to what conversion optimization specialists like Peep Laja (ConversionXL) have to say.
4) Seek out and analyze examples of great copy
A product developer from a well known training course company recently reached out to me as part of some customer research they were doing about copywriting. I was asked why I’d be interested in a copywriting product from them, and I responded with the following:
“Everytime the [XYZ] team puts out a new product, I know that there will be another example of a fantastic salesletter to look at and break down. Regardless of my intentions of buying the product, I always read every letter you guys publish.”
Indeed, I go out of my way to seek out, read, analyze, and internalize examples of great copy. I even watch startups with strong marketing like Hubspot or Kissmetrics to see how they test and change their value propositions and homepage copy over time. It’s an incredibly useful and learning-rich practice, and I’d encourage you to do the same!
5) Practice and test!
You can read and learn all you want, but at the end of the day, you have to put your fingers to the keyboard and get into shape. If you aren’t a lucky duck like me who has a job as the sole marketing hire at a startup where you can write all the copy you want, you can always write your own private challengers to existing salesletters. But get practicing! Write copy, revise your copy, and most importantly (if you can)- TEST it!
With the proliferation of amazing split testing tools out there (I personally use Optimizely at Big Interview), there’s no excuse to not put your copy to the test and see if it’s truly better than what you already have. You can then use your split testing results to drill down and learn (statistically proven!) what works and what doesn’t in your copy.
Hopefully this helps if you’re new to the copywriting game like I was not too long ago! If you ever want to chat or recommend me some books to read, hit me up on Twitter @ryanlucht
I had some fun re-contextualizing Thoreau quotes from Walden:
“Most of the luxuries, and many of the so called comforts of life, are not only not indispensable, but positive hindrances to the elevation of mankind. With respect to luxuries and comforts, the wisest have ever lived a more simple and meagre life that the poor.” – Thoreau on Minimalism
“Every day our garments become more assimilated to ourselves, receiving the impress of the wearer’s character, until we hesitate to lay them aside, without such delay and medical appliances and some such slemnity even as our bodies.” – Thoreau on Raw Denim
“No man ever stood the lower in my estimation for having a patch in his clothes”- Thoreau on Grungy Fashion
“Perhaps we are led oftener by the love of novelty, and a regard for the opinions of men, in procuring it, than by a true utility.”- Thoreau on Consumerism
“The head monkey at Paris puts on a traveller’s cap, and all the monkeys in America do the same.”- Thoreau on trend-setters
“The best works of art are the expression of man’s struggle to free himself from this condition, but the effect of our art is merely to make this low state comfortable and that higher state to be forgotten.”- Thoreau on angsty, whiny, emotional teenage entertainment.
“What has been said of the merchants, that a very large majority, even ninety-seven in a hundred, are sure to fail, is equally true of the farmers.” – Thoreau on the failure rate of small businesses… and that of conventional careers!
“Most men have appeared never to have considered what a house is, and are actually though needlessly poor all their lives because they think that they must have such a one as their neighbors have.”- more Thoreau on consumerism.
“Those things for which the most money is demanded are never the things which the student most wants.” – Thoreau on minimizing spending.
“If I wished a boy to know something about the arts and sciences, for instance, I would not pursue the common course, which is merely to send him into the neighborhood of some professor, where any thing is professed and practised but the art of life…. …Which would have advanced the most at the end of a month,- the boy who had made his own jackknife from the ore which he had dug and smelted, reading as much as would be necessary for this,- or the boy who had attended the lectures on metallurgy at the Institute in the mean while, and had received a Rogers’ penknife from his father?” – Thoreau on experience over education
“As with our colleges, so with a hundred ‘modern improvements’; there is an illusion about them; there is not always a positive advance.”- Thoreau on the choice of going or not going to college
“If it is asserted that civilization is a real advance in the condition of man…it must be shown that it has produced better dwellings without making them more costly…” – Thoreau on improving something existing by making it yours and better.