The elements of good copywriting often go unnoticed by the target audience. However, a professional copywriter understands that good copywriting contains several distinct characteristics.
This article lists 10 characteristics of good copywriting and discusses each in detail.
10 Characteristics of Good Copywriting.
- It has an attention-getting headline.
- It tells a story.
- It promises a unique benefit.
- It focuses on the target audience.
- It is written in a friendly, engaging tone.
- It uses simple, easy to understand language.
- It seamlessly guides the target audience through the buying process.
- It triggers an emotional response in the target audience and moves them to take a specific action.
- It is polished and without grammatical or spelling errors.
- It compliments visual elements in the piece.
Good Copywriting Has an Attention-getting Headline.
In our age of soundbites and nano-awareness, copywriting faces a daunting task.
According to a Microsoft study, the average attention span is now 8 seconds. That’s in the range of a subconscious impulse and barely long enough to form a thought.
Except for a monk secluded in a monastery or a hermit exiled in the wilderness, we are all awash in a tsunami of advertising trying to capture our ever-diminishing attention.
Demands for our attention are so prevalent, we’ve become blind to most of it. However, some ads that penetrate our mental filters and gain our attention.
The sheer volume of advertising makes it difficult for anyone piece to capture our attention.
Good copywriting starts with a captivating headline. If the headline doesn’t do its job, few people will read the rest of the copy.
It’s not enough for a headline to capture the target audience’s attention. It must also draw the reader in and match the core message of the copy.
Where appropriate, an eye-catching graphic can help a headline get attention. In some cases, a visual can be used instead of a headline.
Usually, the simpler the headline, the more powerful and attention-grabbing it will be.
Good Copywriting Tells a Story.
A copywriter who can tell a good story has a considerable advantage over the competition. Storytelling is probably the least used copywriting skill, and yet, it is one of the most powerful.
Through story, a copywriter can bring the benefits of a product to life, paint a visual picture, and create an emotional experience for the target audience.
A story makes the product benefits real for the prospect. It paints a word picture that shows the prospective customer benefiting from the offered product.
Like the melody of a jingle, we tend to remember stories easier than facts and figures. When copy includes a story, it connects with the target audience on a deeper level.
Storytelling is suitable for just about any type of copywriting.
Because a story helps us remember the facts, features, and benefits of a product, good copywriting uses a story wherever possible.
When used in copy, a story does not need to be very long, just long enough. A slice of life that illustrates the product’s benefits and the impact on a character’s life is perfect.
Websites, long copy, sales videos, sales pages, commercials, and press releases are ideal projects for a story.
The power of story in copy cannot be underestimated. It’s more persuasive than any phrase or power word you can imagine.
A story makes copy three-dimensional and alive. It connects with the audience, both psychologically and emotionally.
Good copywriting uses storytelling whenever it can.
Good Copywriting Promises A Unique Benefit.
Good copywriting conveys the product’s primary advantage over competing products; it’s unique benefit. The unique benefit must be significantly different from the competition.
A trivial difference isn’t enough.
In his book, Reality in Advertising, author Rosser Reeves coined the term Unique Selling Proposition to describe the one thing a product offers that no other product can promise.
Reeves defines a USP as a specific benefit that is so different from competing products; it can persuade masses of consumers to buy.
Without a thoroughly rendered USP, copy can look and sound like every other marketing message. It’s just more noise the target audience will ignore.
Reeves saw advertising as the art of getting an USP into the minds of the target audience.
Naturally, it’s easier to create a strong USP for a product that has a genuinely unique feature that customers love.
Without a strong, unique feature, it may still be possible to create a compelling USP for a product. The trick is to present an otherwise common feature in a new way.
An example of this is the candy company Mars’s USP for M&Ms. We’ve all heard that “M&Ms melt in your mouth, not in your hand.”
The candy is essentially the same milk chocolate offered by Hershey but with a hard candy shell. There are many similar competing candies, but Mars owns that USP.
The USP brings the benefit to life and places so securely in the minds of the target audience that it has become part of American culture.
Good Copywriting Focuses on the Target Audience.
Good copywriting focuses on the needs and desires of the target audience.
Inexperienced copywriters tend to focus on the product. Focusing on the product is a mistake. The product doesn’t make the buying decision; the prospect does.
When copy is focused only on the product, it leaves out the target audience. It fails to answer the most crucial question in the prospect’s mind.
“What’s in it for me?”
Prospective customers don’t care about a product’s features until they see how it benefits them.
They want to know how the product will help them solve a problem or fulfill a desire.
Bragging about the product’s features isn’t persuasive. That approach is an amateurish attempt to appeal to the prospect’s logic.
That approach fails because the prospect doesn’t care.
Copy that demonstrates how the product solves the prospect’s problem, or helps them get what they want, connects with them on an emotional level.
They can see what’s in it for them.
To effectively focus on the target audience, their problems, and desires, a copywriter must first understand them. This depth of understanding requires research and empathy.
As much as possible, the copywriter must walk in the shoes of the prospect.
Good Copywriting is Written in an Engaging, Friendly Tone.
Good copywriting does not sound like a sales pitch. No one likes hype or high-pressure sales.
Salesy copy triggers alarm bells in the mind of the prospect. Hype and over-promising copywriting forces the prospective customer into a defensive posture.
When faced with an apparent attempt to sell them something, the prospect will usually abandon the promotional piece and move on to something less threatening.
To avoid sounding salesy, good copywriting is written in a friendly, conversational tone, as if one friend is speaking to another.
A conversational tone cultivates trust and nurtures engagement.
Good copywriting connects with the prospective customer by conveying a familiar style and tone.
Think back to the last book you enjoyed reading; much of the experience was the result of the author’s tone. Did it feel like the writer was speaking only to you?
Did it feel like you were listening instead of reading?
At it’s best, good copywriting is an intimate experience for the prospective customer that builds trust.
Historically, the most successful marketing campaigns included copy written in a friendly, conversational tone with a distinct writer’s voice.
Such a voice is helpful and informative and sensitive to the prospect’s vulnerability. The result is highly persuasive copy.
Good Copywriting Uses Simple, Easy to Understand Language.
The objective of good copywriting is to convey the sales message to the target audience in a way that is understandable and meaningful.
Keep it concise and straightforward.
An inexperienced copywriter might mistakenly believe that copy should be witty. Cleverness is the wrong approach because it draws attention to itself and not the product.
And, witty copy isn’t as compelling as tightly written clear text.
The target audience doesn’t care how talented the copywriter might be; they want reliable, easy to understand, information.
In other words, good copy uses simple language, short sentences structured around nouns and verbs without talking down to the audience.
If the target audience must work to understand the sales message, they won’t stick around. Also, if the audience isn’t sure about the offer, they won’t stick around either.
Good copywriting is clear copywriting. When in doubt, strive for clarity over creativity. However, avoid dull writing. That won’t work either.
In addition to being clear and easily understood, good copywriting must be engaging and entertaining.
Short sentences have more punch than longer ones. Paragraphs should also be short for more impact.
Good Copywriting Seamlessly Guides the Target Audience Through the Buying Process.
Imagine you’re reading a novel by your favorite author.
You’re so engaged in the story you forget about time or where you are at the moment. Your head is so filled with the sights, sounds, and dialogue of the imaginary world created by the author.
You’re in the flow.
But then the author makes a mistake. It might be a small mistake, but it’s enough to break the flow you’re experiencing.
Suddenly the spell is broken, and you’re back in your ordinary life.
The magic is gone.
At that point, you might put the book down and never pick it up again. If the mistake is sufficiently jarring, you might curse the writer and never read another word she’s written.
The same thing can happen in copywriting.
Good copywriting flows seamlessly. It creates an emotionally engaging experience for the audience that leads them from the headline to the call to action.
The skillful use of transitions helps to keep the message flowing smoothly.
A transition is like a bridge of text that carries the prospect from one selling point to the next.
Without transitions, the prospect might feel they are getting punched with one sales point after another. It doesn’t take much of that for them to lose interest.
All it takes is a sentence to transition from one point to another. A question is one way to do it. A subheading is another.
The point is, as you read over your copy, if it doesn’t flow, find a way to add a transition.
Good Copywriting Triggers an Emotional Response in the Target Audience to Take a Specific Action.
We rarely buy something because they need it. All we need is food, water, air, shelter, and occasionally a little medical attention.
Most people want much more.
A Harvard study discovered that people make buying decisions subconsciously. In other words, they buy because of emotional impulses.
The irrational desire for more is the driving force of the consumer economy.
This subconscious impulse moves us to buy new cars when used ones take us to the same places just as well. It’s why we buy stylish clothes and expensive smartphones.
Of course, life would go on without any of these luxuries. Still, we want them because they satisfy a deep desire to look good and enjoy a higher status.
Good copywriting appeals to the subconscious buying impulse through triggering emotions in the target audience.
When writing copy, deliberately choose the emotion you wish to trigger in the target audience and then craft your words to make it happen.
When you know your target audience and can put yourself in their shoes, you’ll understand their problem or desire.
How do they feel about it, frustrated, fearful?
How will they feel after they have purchased your product, satisfied, safe?
You can’t just tell people what to feel. Show them. Paint a word picture that triggers an emotional response.
Good Copywriting is Polished and Without Grammar or Spelling Errors.
Grammar and spelling mistakes destroy a reader’s confidence in the writer. Such amateurish goofs break the spell of persuasion.
Understanding grammar is essential to clear communications. Mistakes in grammar create confusion for the reader.
A confused prospect cannot see the benefits of the offer and will abandon the copy.
Some copywriters believe that following grammar rules too strictly results in a stiff, unpersuasive message. There is some truth to this, but proper grammar is still essential.
Remember, copywriting is a friendly conversation. It’s about connecting with the reader on an intimate level.
A friendly tone is especially important for emails, sales letters, and landing pages, where the style is much like someone talking casually.
Grammarly is a great way to keep your grammar and spelling top notch. You can set it to informal, so the filters are more tolerant and forgiving.
Another resource that will help to improve your writing is The Elements of Style by Strunk and White. Get the most recent edition.
It’s never a good idea to ignorantly break a grammar rule when writing copy, but it is permissible to bend them just a bit.
Examples of Bending Grammar Rules:
Good copywriting uses personal pronouns such as “I,” “we,” and “you.”
If they’re not overdone, clichés are an economical way to communicate. It’s like using a shortcode to deliver insights we all share
Sentence fragments are okay in moderation to make the copy sound more conversational.
Good copywriting uses contractions to create a conversational tone. A contraction is changing, “you will” to “you’ll.”
However, too many contractions can make phrases in the copy sound lazy, so use them sparingly. As a rule of thumb, limit contractions to one per sentence.
Repetition and redundancies are typically considered poor writing, but copywriting needs to repeat some points like the call to action.
Also, for clarity, the offer may need to be stated more than once.
Good Copywriting Compliments Visual Elements in the Piece.
In the digital age, where most people have an attention span of 8 seconds or less, a wall of text is a dead end.
If it’s in a snail mail sales letter, the reader will toss it. If it’s an online sales page, they’ll bounce.
We humans need visual cues. The most persuasive copy can’t go it alone.
Every element in copywriting should move the audience toward the objective. To this end, visuals and text must work together to reinforce one another.
Any image or word of text that does not move the audience towards the copy’s objective weakens it. It interrupts the prospect’s flow towards the call to action.
Like the impact of a highway billboard, the headline and opening visual are essential to capturing the prospect’s attention and drawing them into the copy.
Good Copywriting is Persuasive.
Persuasive copy isn’t a lucky accident. It’s a deliberate creative process built around a proven formula and the 10 characteristics of good copywriting.
Like a good story that keeps us on the edge of our seat, good copywriting captures our attention and draws us through a narrative towards an objective.
To the uninitiated, this flow happens below conscious awareness in the realm of emotions.
The aspiring copywriter or the entrepreneur who writes copy for her business would significantly improve conversions by using the 10 characteristics of good copywriting.
To better understand the 10 characteristics of good copywriting, analyze advertisements, sales pages, sales letters, or any copywriting material.
Note how other writers tell a story and employ the characteristics of good copywriting to move the audience towards the objective.
The best copywriting creates a positive emotional experience for the audience like a captivating story.