Copywriting Basics: All You Need to Know

Copywriting Basics: All You Need to Know

First and foremost, good copywriting is clear and easily understood writing. It’s not literature.

Talent and technique will enhance copywriting basics, but with just a few strategies and tools, anyone who can write can create compelling copy.

Remember, the process of writing good copy is simple, don’t complicate it.

The core objective of a copywriting piece is to inspire the target audience to action, usually to make a purchase, call a number, provide an email address, or visit a website.

The Traits of Good Copy.

Good copy will have the following ten traits.

  • An attention-getting headline.
  • A friendly, conversational tone.
  • Sincere and straightforward language.
  • A story that connects with the audience on an emotional level.
  • Promises a valuable benefit
  • Shows the audience how the offered product or service solves their problem or fulfills their desire.
  • Employs a pleasant rhythm and logic that gently leads the audience through the piece to the Call to Action.
  • Triggers emotions in the target audience, inspiring them to act in a specific way, such as “Order Now,” or “Call Today.”
  • Well polished and free of mistakes.
  • Graphic elements and written elements complement one another.
Copywriting Research

Research, Research, Research.

Successful copy begins with relentless research.

Before she types a word, a copywriter must thoroughly know the product, target audience, and competing products. Copy can only succeed to the degree that the writer understands these three elements.

The highest level of writing proficiency cannot overcome ignorance of the product and target audience.

However, with a thorough understanding of these elements, even less than stellar copy can be successful.

Research is the foundation of persuasive copy and makes the writing process much easier.

The most successful copywriters are relentless researchers. They become experts in the product, and they understand the needs of their target audience.

Understand the Target Audience.

The people you are attempting to persuade are the focus of the copywriting equation. They are the ones who will determine if your copy is successful.

When your target audience takes the prescribed action at the end of your copy, it is as if they are applauding your writing performance.

They are the ones who make the purchase. It is their money you earn, and that fattens your client’s bottom line.

You can never know too much about your target audience.

Remember, people buy for emotional reasons. Find your prospect’s emotional trigger. Why would they buy your product?

What do they think as they make a buying decision?

If you can, find a way to talk directly with your prospect.

Your client may have completed a market analysis of the target audience, which includes surveys and summaries.

Hanging out at forums and blogs where your target audience visits may reveal the issues they are having and how your product can help them.

Read the online product reviews of your product, see why customers like it and what they don’t. Do the same for competing products.

Copywriting is Selling.

Many people shy away from selling because they don’t understand it. Perhaps they had a painful experience with an aggressive car salesperson, telemarketer, or, Heaven forbid, a friend pitching a multi-level marketing “opportunity.”

When done right, selling is problem-solving. It has two parts.

First, it’s about empathizing with the prospective customer, understanding her problems, desires, and needs, and then showing her how your product addresses these issues.

Second, it’s about encouraging her to try the product and giving her a rational reason why.

The Value of Empathy.

It might surprise you to see a discussion of empathy in an article about copywriting. Empathy is the ability to feel what another person is feeling. We learn it as children.

Empathy is the master skill of copywriting. With empathy, you have greater insight into the problems your prospect is facing and can write copy that speaks to their heart. That’s powerful!

Too often, an inexperienced copywriter turns the selling process into a battle of wills. They mistakenly believe that they must dominate the prospect and force them into buying.

This process if like trying to make a friend through brute force. It doesn’t work.

Selling through any medium requires authenticity. You, as a copywriter, must be truthful and trustworthy. And you must deliver meaningful information.

The Copywriting Project.

You cannot reasonably expect your copy to succeed if you don’t have a measurable objective in mind.

A shotgun approach to writing copy is doomed to fail. You need the focus of a sniper with a clear target in sight.

The following list of questions will help you define the project and keep you on track.

  1. What needs to be written?
  2. What is the objective of the piece?
  3. What is the product or service?
  4. Can you get a product sample?
  5. What are the features and benefits of the product or service?
  6. What are the various versions of the product?
  7. How is your product different from competing products?
  8. Is the product or service guaranteed?
  9. Who is the prospective customer?
  10. Are there testimonies, reviews, or endorsements for the product or service?
  11. Why would a prospect buy this product?
  12. What are the specifics of the deal? Special price? Limited time?

The Writing Process

Once you are an expert on the product and you understand the needs of your target audience, you’re almost ready to begin writing.

Determine what writing style you will use based on what you’ve learned about your prospect. Also, decide how long your copy will need to be, how you will structure your message, and the formula you will use.

When selling online, and in most cases, you’ll want to write in a warm, friendly style. You want your audience to know your message is coming from a real human being and not a machine.

Sales letters have a casual tone.

However, if your audience is a group of professionals, read what they read to determine the required style. You want to communicate in a tone that’s familiar to them.

Organize Key Messages.

Go through your research material and extract the information you want to emphasize in your copy. Segment this info into three lists.

  1. Features and Benefits
  2. Testimonials, proofs and supporting evidence
  3. Audience attributes

Take time to brainstorm the benefits of a product. The manufacturer will usually have a list of features, but you’ll need to convert the product features into benefits the prospect values.

Divide a sheet of paper into two columns. In the left column, list the product features. In the right column, list the benefits by asking, “So what?”

Why would the prospect find this feature valuable? That is the benefit.

Once you have an exhaustive list of product benefits, rank them from the most powerful benefit to the least.

Copywriting Formulas.

Armed with background information, and with a clear objective in mind, you’re ready to begin writing.

Use a formula. It will keep your writing on track and allow you to be creative where it counts the most.


Perhaps the best-known selling formula in marketing is AIDA. Many refer to it as the master formula.

AIDA reminds us to get the prospect’s attention, cultivate their interest, stoke desire for your product and conclude with a call to action.


  • Attention
  • Interest
  • Desire
  • Action

AIDA has an excellent track record and usually works brilliantly. However, the problem with AIDA is its vagueness. It doesn’t tell us how to cultivate the prospect’s attention or how to build a desire for the product.

Instead of using AIDA to write your copy, use one of the following detailed formulas.

Then, after your copy is complete, use AIDA to analyze it.

If your writing follows the four steps of AIDA, it will probably be successful.

However, if your copy misses any of the AIDA steps, then you know what to rewrite.

The Motivating Sequence.

Developed by Bob Bly and Gary Blake, Ph.D., The Motivating Sequence formula is a Swiss Army knife of copywriting formulas.

It works equally as well in sales letters, advertisements, web pages, product descriptions, and any kind of marketing or PR.

The Motivating Sequence builds on the AIDA formula; however, it is more focused. Each step tells you what to do.

The Motivating Sequence:

  • Get attention
  • Define the problem or need
  • Introduce your product as the answer
  • Demonstrate your product is the best solution
  • Invite the audience to take action

Bob Stone’s Gem

Created by the legendary copywriter Bob Stone, this formula goes deeper and is more detailed. This formula evolved from sales letters and direct response ads, but it works equally well with all forms of marketing material.

Bob Stone’s Gem is easy to follow. As you write, just go from step to step.

  • Begin with the products most substantial benefit
  • Expand on this benefit
  • Tell the audience precisely what they will get, include all features and benefits
  • Support your claims with testimonials and other proof
  • Remind them what they will lose if they don’t act on the offer
  • Review the strongest benefits
  • Tell them to act now and give them a solid, logical reason what they should accept the offer now.

The Elements of Highly Persuasive Copy

The persuasive copy embodies several essential elements. Like a recipe, if any of the details are left out, the result will suffer.

It’s essential to include all the elements in just the right amount too. With practice, you’ll develop a sense of the proper proportions.

Get Attention

The competition for our awareness has never been greater. The marketing noise is louder with each passing day. Online, it’s a constant, overwhelming roar.

You must find a way to capture your audience’s attention despite the deafening multi-media onslaught.

The trick to getting people to notice your writing isn’t to shout louder than the competition. It’s to know your audience so well; you can hook them with a whisper.

Here’s how you do it.

The Headline.

The headline is the block of text at the top of an advertisement or sales letter. Technically, an email subject line serves the same purpose.

The instant a prospect sees your headline, they ask themselves on a subconscious level, “What’s in it for me?”

You must either promise or tease the answer to that question.

When you have researched your audience and know what they want, you’ll have the invaluable kernel for your headline.

Use the 4 U’s to craft your headline. For a step-by-step guide on the 4 U’s and how to use them, read The Four U’s in Copywriting.

Be sure your headline is consistent with your message. Inconsistency will only annoy your audience and doom your copy to failure.

Use Eye-Catching Images

When possible, use an eye-catching image and a strong headline together. However, a shocking or fascinating image can overcome a weak headline.

The image captures the audience’s attention and piques their curiosity before they realize it; they are reading your headline and message.

Highway billboards are an excellent example of capturing attention with only an image.

When the image supports the promise of the headline, the message has the most impact.

Stock images can work, but original images would be more impactful.

Focus on the Prospect

Inexperienced copywriters tend to focus on the product. Focusing on the product, it leaves out the prospective customer.

Of course, you want to convey the features and benefits of the product.

However, if that’s your focus, you’ll fail to answer the prospect’s unconscious question, “What’s in it for me?”

Customers don’t care about the bells and whistles of your product. If that’s all, you tell them, you only bragging. No one likes a braggart.

Your customer wants to know how your product will help them reach their goals, make their life better, boost their income, calm their fears, or fulfill their dreams.

It’s all about your target audience and how they will benefit from your product.

Benefits Sell

Do you buy because of the features of the product or because of the benefits?

Earlier in this article, I suggested an exercise for determining the benefits of your product.

The more you can bring the product benefits to life, the more compelling your copy will be. Your goal is to anchor the benefits in the mind of the audience so concretely; they will not hesitate to buy.

Distinguish Your Product from the Competition

There is always competition in any market. Your target audience has plenty of alternatives to your product.

It’s your job to show them how your product is different.

Here are a few ways to make your product stand out.

  1. A no-hassle money-back guarantee.
  2. Emphasize the trustworthiness of your product brand and/or the number of years it’s been available.
  3. Show endorsements and testimonials
  4. Generous payment terms
  5. Longing lasting and less cost over time
  6. Costs less
  7. Easier to use
  8. Extras included for free

Brainstorm why a person would buy your product and not a competitor’s.

Creating Belief

More than ever, people are skeptical of marketing claims, and for a good reason. Often, they are disappointed in their purchase.

Online, spam, hype, false promises, and outright scams are rampant.

Why should your customers believe you? As you write, ask yourself this question and find ways to build belief in the mind of your audience.

Three ways to build belief.

  1. Prove your product claims
  2. Guarantee your product
  3. Make a personal promise

Prove Your Product Claims

The best way for prospective customers to believe your product claims is to show them proof. Here are a few ways you can do it.

  • Show online product reviews
  • Show third party endorsements
  • Show statistical proof, such as documented research
  • Include contact information on product landing pages, including physical address and phone number.

Guarantee Your Product

A product guarantee is essential. As a copywriter working for a client, you probably won’t have control over this. However, when you write copy for your campaigns, you will.

It’s usually not enough to only offer a guarantee because nearly every offer guarantees its product, but it is conspicuous when there isn’t a guarantee.

Make a Personal Promise

We’ve all seen advertisements where a celebrity endorses a product or where the owner of a company personally guarantees satisfaction with his product.

You can do the same with your copy. A promise from the company owner or president is powerful, but not essential.

You can achieve a similar impact with a likable character who has a story about how the product improved their life or solved a problem. And who then promises the customer will be happy with their purchase.

The Price Perspective

Money and the notion of parting with it can bring up a lot of mental static in the prospective customer’s mind. In the process of persuading them to buy, it’s essential to make their journey to the sale as seamless as possible.

That’s where putting the price into perspective comes into play.

Is your product priced higher than the competition but less expensive to own? Tell them in your copy.

Are the benefits of using your product more valuable than the cost?

If your product is less expensive than the competition, be sure to tell the audience why. Some people equate low price to low quality. Remind your prospect that this is not the case with your product.

Maybe your product is cheaper because the company sells directly to the consumer, cutting out the middle man. Or, your company has a new, more efficient manufacturing process.

Not all product benefits are tangible. Many are emotional. Such as an expensive weight loss product with a high success rate. The emotional payoff for the customer is feeling better about themselves.

Break the Price Down

A new car can cost a small fortune, but customers don’t get upset about it because they break down to monthly payments rather than the sticker price of $40K.

An annual subscription for an investing newsletter might be $350 a year, a sizable expense, but broken down, it’s approximately a dollar a day, less than a cup of coffee.

In perspective, the price is trivial.

Inspire Them to Act

In all it’s many forms, copywriting is about getting someone to act. It’s the Call to Action (CTA).

You may think that the need to do something is evident to the reader, but it isn’t. Research has shown when ad copy tells the reader precisely what to do; it’s more successful.

The CTA might be a direct imperative to “Call Now!” or it might be a more subtle subtext. Either way, you must convey what you want your prospect to do.

Everything you have written builds to this point. Ask for the sale.

Here are a few ways you can inspire your reader to act.

  • Click Here for Your Free Trial Membership
  • Call Now for Your No-obligation Consultation
  • Visit Our Website for Your Free Gardening Guide
  • Order Today and Get Free Delivery
  • Order Now and Save 20%
  • Download Free Report: 10 Ways to Profit from a Falling Stock Market

Moving your target audience to act is the central goal of any marketing copy. Tell the reader what to do.

AIDA Revisited.

Remember AIDA mentioned earlier? After you have written your copy, check it against the AIDA formula.

Does it capture the attention of your audience? Does it build interest and desire, and does it inspire the reader to take action?


  • Attention
  • Interest
  • Desire
  • Action

Suggested Reading

Recent Posts

Copywriting Basics Pinterest Pin