I’ve been looking forward to #CopyCon19 since I missed out on attending last year’s event. And with excess stationery and fig rolls packed, I set off to The Barbican for the big day. Unfortunately, I found myself missing the first couple of sessions (apologies to everyone that listened to me rant), but the below are the wonderful tips and tricks I took away…
Understanding how people read
1. Cognitive load: our mental effort increases 11% for every 100 words we read – so keep your copy short and sweet wherever possible.
2. We prefer to read high frequency words. For example, ‘coat’ rather than ‘out wear’.
3. Our eyes miss 30% of text on a page.
4. Saccade rhythm: we guess what words mean by the shape of them, so make it easy to read and scan the words.
5. The average UK reading age is 9 years old.
6. 20% of people live with a disability – and not all disabilities are visible.
7. People are busy, and they just don’t have time to read everything you’ve written.
“Getting to the point quickly has less to do with intelligence and more to do with time and respect.”
Understanding how people behave
8. Everyday people are exposed to so much information that they can’t take it all in. Therefore, to help us process it all, our brains use cognitive bias. As copywriters, if we understand these patterns, we can use them to our advantage and affect people’s decision making.
9. Heuristics: our brains rely on short cuts to process information. For example, we’re more likely to believe something if it’s written in bold or remember it if it rhymes.
10. People like to think they’re different/unique, but we’re inherently tribal. We can take advantage of this through social proof, using numbers, authority figures, celebrity/expert endorsement.
11. Name your reader: try to appeal to someone’s ego. Think, who do they want to be? For example, ‘If you’re a gaming fiend…’, ‘Join 2,000 subscribers…’, ‘In studies, 9 out of 10 dieticians recommend…’
12. Paradox of choice: we find too much choice overwhelming. And when presented with too many choices, people are more likely to browse but actually buy less. When writing copy, think about limiting the choices for sign-up options, call-to-actions, and services.
13.Power of 3: when presented with 3 options, people are more likely to choose the middle one. Apply it to your copy to help influence people’s choice.
Copywriters must DIE!
14. Disrupt: a statement, promise, claim or image that is unexpected or out of the ordinary. We need to interrupt patterns to get our copy noticed in amongst all the noise.
15. Intrigue: what is it specifically that makes it essential for the reader to find out more about this – and why?
16. Engage: give clear guidance, incentive and reassurance to the reader so that it would be a mistake not to click.
The 4 Us of copywriting: useful, unique, urgent, ultra-specific.
17. Use the 4 Us as a final check for your copy, rather than sticking to them like a rigorous framework.
18. Useful: it’s pretty self-explanatory! But you need to create copy that genuinely helps your reader.
19. Unique: perhaps the hardest thing to deliver in your copy. The most valuable tool at your disposal is to ask ‘Why?’ So talk to the product manager and keep asking ‘why?’ – if you ask it enough times, eventually you get to what’s ‘unique’ about the product.
20. Urgent: think about whether there’s a natural time constraint within the product – perhaps something is happening in the market, or new product updates are released every month. Otherwise, create one.
21. Ultra-specific: make your copy really resonate by using words that make it real, for example ‘AK-47’ rather than ‘gun’.
22. If you create something of value, that you genuinely believe will help someone, you should never feel ashamed of sharing it again, and again…and again.
Performing your research
23. There are two sources of research: your audience and the product.
24. Before you start writing you need to research what the reader is seeing in the world so you can understand what they really care about, and also the pattern that you need to interrupt.
25. Research for opinions, not just facts, because you need to understand how people feel about something before they make a decision or take a risk.
26. Get out and watch your readers in the real world. Listen to how they talk, see what they do. Then incorporate this into your copy.
Structuring copy the right way
27. Once you’ve captured the reader’s attention, you need to pull them in with some specific details – but don’t give it all away upfront. Drip feed them the information.
28. Don’t confuse creating ‘intrigue’ with being ‘vague’.
29. Never be arrogant enough to think someone will read to the end of your copy.
30. Keep your blogs interesting by disrupting your own patterns. If you tend to write to a specific structure, think about new/different ways to mix it up and keep the reader interested.
31. Primacy and recency effects: people remember the beginning of a list because it goes into the long-term memory. And they remember the last thing because they’ve only just heard it – everything else is forgotten. When applied to writing, make sure you position the most important information first/last.
32. Even if you’re not asking for an immediate response, you need to provide clear direction about what you want the reader to do next.
33. Write for mobile first and avoid long blocks of text.
34. Anchoring: sets expectations around a reference point. For example, “How can you make 2 months’ salary last forever? Buy a diamond engagement ring.” Apply anchoring to your copywriting by listing the highest price first, comparing your price favourably to your competitors, put it into perspective (for example “For the price of your morning coffee…”), make people feel like they’re getting a good deal.
35. Framing: how you present information affects how readers interpret it. We are programmed for loss aversion because we feel losses more than gains. For example, “There’s a 33% chance of saving 600 people and a 66% possibility of saving no-one” is a lot more powerful and persuasive than “There’s a 33% chance no-one will die and a 66% possibility all 600 will die”.
36. Keep a beginner’s mind: don’t assume the reader knows anything.
37. Communicate in the way people actually talk, not in the way you think you should write.
38. Ensuring you write in simple, clear language is essential. When things are hard to read, we attribute those negative feelings to the product/service/company/brand. Also, when we read things that are clear, we find them more persuasive and start to build trust, and ultimately that trust converts to sales.
39. Avoid long words because they can make people feel confused or stupid for not understanding them. Again, we’re more likely to trust people that speak and write clearly.
40. When including numbers, always use concrete terms and be specific, for example ‘100 people’ not ‘a lot of people’.
41. BUT…think about how you present your numbers. “1m people drive a Porsche” vs. “Only 1 in 10 people can afford a Porsche”
42. Justification bias: people tend to believe what they’re told. For example, in a study, people saying “I need to use the photocopier because I need to copy some things” or “…because I’m in a rush” made it more likely that people would let them jump the queue. When writing, use words like ‘because’, ‘so that’, ‘since’, ‘as’, ‘due to’ in your copy to build trust/credibility.
43. Being able to visualise your proposition makes it more likely to resonate. For example, “25% fat” sounds worse than “75% fat-free”, even though it’s the same thing.
44. Make the reader part of your copy by focusing on why it’s useful and using simple everyday language.
45. Humour is always risky because people don’t find the same things funny – best to avoid it.
46. We value things more today than in the future – so talk about more immediate gains.
47. Pratfall effect: you need to show people the ‘warts and all’ story, because if you’re brutally honest about some things, people assume that you’re honest about everything. We don’t trust people who say things are perfect, because we know that’s never true. We trust people that are honest about sharing their weaknesses – so own your faults, and if possible, turn negatives into positives. For example, “Your food will take longer to arrive as it’s cooked to order, but we guarantee it’s worth the wait.”
48. When writing, make sure your copy is easy to read, easy to do, easy to remember, easy to believe.
49. Copywriting is about selling and getting people through the door. UX writing is about informing people and getting them to come back.
50. The biggest problem in the tech world is how to make software human and relatable. The answer is to write honestly with simple language.
51. Just like long words confuse and make us feel stupid, bad UX writing makes us feel clumsy. Therefore, we need to find ways to say less without losing the clarity.
52. Don’t forget the user might feel anxious so only tell them what they need to know and nothing more. Think about being obvious, using plain language, avoiding jargon unless it’s genuinely useful and writing consistently.
53. Use specific verbs. For example, ‘connect’, ‘save’
54. Use ‘today’, ‘yesterday’ or ‘tomorrow’ rather than a specific date as it’s easier to relate to.
55. Never make assumptions, for example that people know underlined blue text is a hyperlink. Always spell out your call-to-actions to make them really obvious.
56. People are naturally nervous about clicking, so provide reassurance with your call-to-actions, for example, “You can confirm your order on the next page” or “There’s a friendly person on the end of the call”.
57. Using a guarantee is a great way to overcome loss aversion. For example, “You can return your mattress for up to 6 months if you don’t like it” – the fact you guarantee it for so long gives reassurance that it must be a good product.
58. Don’t just write, speak. When you read your copy out loud you hear the things that make you cringe or stutter – these are the bits you need to change. Remember, if you’re embarrassed by reading it, it’s probably wrong.
59. Test your ideas/copy on real people. Ultimately, they’re the people who are going to read it, so while you may have used lots of clever copywriting technique, if it doesn’t land or confuses them, it’s wrong.
The writing process
60. Take the stress out of copywriting by scheduling your time. There are lots of tools available to help you, such as Asana or Trello.
61. Create a campaign, rather than a one-off announcement to ensure you don’t get lost in the noise. It you drip feed the content as part of a larger campaign, it gives your work a chance to be seen.
62. “Once you’ve written the words, you don’t own them, so let them go.”
Working with designers
63. Give them copy in advance.
64. Send copy in a text file, pages or plain email, not MS Word.
65. Ask them for feedback.
66. Accept that they might write something amazing too and celebrate when they do.
67. Lead with the copy first but don’t get ahead of yourself.
68. Work in sprints so that any issues can be identified and fixed/tweaked along the way, rather than get to the end of the project and realise it’s all wrong.
Being a freelance copywriter
69. If you feel like an imposter, it’s because you are an imposter. When you start working with a client you know nothing about their company, product/service, customer, market… and yet you’re supposed to be the best person to write about them.
70. Be useful – stop shouting and start sharing. If we all help each other by sharing each other’s amazing content, we all grow together.
71. Skin in the game: you need to take the risks you recommend to others.
72. If you put ‘skin in the game’ it changes your perspective and you do things differently, which helps you to attract like-minded people. For example, if you’re telling people to blog regularly you have to blog regularly first. Then people can see it working for your business and buy-in to your proposition.
73. Without ‘skin in the game’ every business looks the same, customers are just people and best practices reign supreme.
74. If you’re having friction with a client, think about whether you both have ‘skin in the same game’. For example, if they’re looking for more leads, and you want a lovely case study for your website you don’t want the same things.
75. Don’t just say, do: if you see a problem, don’t just write a blog post about it and shout at the market, think about how you could give people the tools to solve the problem – this is what’s going to elevate your position.
76. “It’s a privilege to do this job.”
77. The Barbican is a great venue for introverts – there might not be any corners, but there’s essentially a jungle to hide in.
78. I should have worn flats – getting to each session was like going on a 5-mile hike.
79. Put a bunch of copywriters in a room together and you can absolutely tell who works freelance, who works in-house, and who works agency-side. Despite what we say about hiding in corners, freelancers are by far the most friendly, sociable people!
80. Sharing fig rolls in the jungle is a truly wonderful thing.
81. The freelance community is just as nice (if not nicer!) in real-life than they are online. I’ve finally found a place in the world where I feel like I belong.
82. I can steam my Christmas pud in a slow cooker (which if you’ve seen my attempts in previous years with melted pudding cases, explosions and fire, you’ll understand why this is the best revelation ever!).
83. #CopyCon20 is set to be bigger, better…and cheaper!
I had the most wonderful day at #CopyCon19. Big thanks must go to the speakers…
@allgoodcopy, @WordNerdSally, @lmpcopywriter, @rupees1hundred
The freelance copywriting community…
@EJCownley, @TheContentType, @PrismDocuments, @amyboylanwrites, @HelsBridal, @STEcopywriting, @Word_Service
And of course, the wonderful @LeifKendall and @procopywriters.