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