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The Copywriting Rules you WISH They Taught You in College

1. Check Out

Puhleeze remove the phrase “check out” from your marketing vocabulary altogether. It is vapid, lazy and useless (sorry but really).

Think: when’s the last time you “checked out” anything on command? Riiiiight.

Instead, grab an active verb that better defines the call to action you intend. It can be as simple as: “Learn more.” Or more complex, like: “Get ready to have your mind BLOWN.”

Passive-aggressive also works, as in: “Read this RE: our political conversation at Thanksgiving.” 🙂

2. Use Contractions

As in, “don’t” vs. “do not” or “Kately’s moonwalking” vs. “Kately is moonwalking.”

Less text to read, less characters to count, more conversational, more human, more trustworthy.

3. Turn Everything into a Call-To-Action

Lose the pronoun+verb at the beginning of a sentence in order to turn it into a call-to-action, i.e., “See SOLO now” vs. “You have to see SOLO now.”

Action verbs are your friends!

4. Write Like You Talk

Use vernacular, human, natural language, like: “Whoooooa. THAT is crazy-cool!” vs. “I really think that is wonderful.” Because blargh.

5. Read What You Write Out Loud

If it feels awkward saying it, it feels awkward reading it.

6. Avoid Passive Language

Good: “the green boots”
Bad: “the boots that are green”

Good: “Kately’s Writing Rules”
Bad: “The Writing Rules of Kately”

Less awkward. Less characters. More human.

7. Use Negative Calls-To-Action in Place of Positive Ones

E.g., “Don’t forget to follow these rules” vs. “Remember to follow these rules.”

Why? The bad kid in all of us instinctively responds to this tactic.

Don’t believe me?

See what I did there?

8. Give “And” More Credit

Don’t be afraid to start sentences with “and” for emphasis, to mimic the way you talk and to add a pause between thoughts. Like so:

  • “Kissing Kate’s bum will get you brownie-points. And a smelly nose.”

vs.

  • “Kissing Kate’s bum will get you brownie-points and a smelly nose.”

(See? Less funny.)

PS, Starting a sentence with “like” has a similar effect.

9. Capitalize on the Implied “Why”

When there’s an implied “why” in a statement, use “because” to compel response.

Why? Because “why” wants to be resolved, meaning the reader wants to read on.

“Because” resolves the “why” AND triggers “reason,” which is an ingrained cue for trust.

For example:

  • “Try Lately. Because it is AWESOME.” vs. “Try Lately.”

Or:

  • “I was wondering how your free trial’s going? Because I’m here to save you time in your evaluation.”

vs.

  • “I was wondering how your free trial’s going. I’m here to save you time in your evaluation.”

(See how we also used “because” in the beginning of the sentence to create pause?)

(See how we also all-capitalized “awesome” for vernacular emphasis?)

(Anyone notice that we didn’t contract “it is”? Which made for greater… pause?)

10. Short is Sexy

Break your sentence up into short bits, like a tweet. See if each section can stand on its own. This accents calls-to-action, makes it more digestible and elicits response.

For example, like the above!

But here’s the grammatically correct, albeit meh way, for contrast:

“Break your sentence up into short bits (like a tweet) and see if each section can stand on its own; because this accents calls-to-action, makes it more digestible and elicits response.”

11. Curb Your Exclamation Marks

Think of them as swear words: choice when used sparingly.

12. Celebrate Exclamation Marks!

Ok, there are exceptions.

Exclamations in sales communications are often ill-used and abused, e.g., “Don’t miss this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity! Act fast! On sale now!” Tooooooo much. And that’s mostly because exclamation marks almost always accompany hyperbole, i.e., not believable nor trustworthy.

BUT…

Sales people must be energetic and happy. No one wants to buy something from a snoozy nudge. But Sunshine Girl? She’s gonna sell some shizzle:

  • Heya Jim! Happy Monday! Hope your weekend was AWESOME. Super excited to reconnect and get your crew that demo! Because Lately is going to blow your mind :-).

    If Wednesday at 12 PM East/9 AM West works, I’ll send an invite now.

    Looking forward Jim!

Choice. Friendly. Hard to say no to.

13. Work the Ego

Let me personally just stop for a sec here and say…. you RULE. I mean, seriously. You’re still here? Taking the time to read all this? Because your time is valuable to me, so I sure hope this is helpful for ya! So THANK YOU!! And if you have comments or suggestions, don’t be shy. Just shoot ‘em my way at kate@trylately.com. Thanks again!

Feels good, doesn’t it?

Tell people they are awesome, wonderful, amazing, etc., often. THANK THEM. Acknowledge the stuff they’re doing that might be hard/annoying. They’ll be way more likely to respond to your sales pitch, work longer hours or evangelize your business.

We have tested this. For real.

14. For Gosh Sake, Spell Check

Obvi. But if it’s a marketing or sales piece, there MUST be a minimum of two eyeballs on the draft to check both spelling and grammar and details like dates, etc. before it gets published.

Help each other.

And don’t forget to click-check all your links and images!

15. Do Unto Others

Have compassion. Remember that the person on the other end of that email or Slack thread is busy, like you. They don’t want to spend a long time reading and trying to figure out what you’re really saying.

Companies spend $3.1 billion each year on remedial writing training because poor communication skills are freakin’ costly!

Take the time to ensure that what you want to communicate will be understood.

Take the time to ensure that what you want to communicate will be understood.

Take the time to ensure that what you want to communicate will be understood.

This is why reading what you write out loud is so key (see above).* But it’s also why putting yourself in someone else’s shoes is also key.

Take, for example, meeting scheduling convos with team members in other time zones… Do them a favor:

WRITE THE TIME IN BOTH THEIR ZONE AND YOURS.

Save them the confusion of calculating (c’mon, we’re all crap at math, too). Even better, preempt their response and prevent additional back-and-forth. Chances are, they’ll accept. Like so:

Hey Jim! Would 12 PM Eastern/9 AM Pacific work for you? I’m sending along a calendar invite now. If that doesn’t work, let me know what does and thanks!

*Bonus effect: reading what you write out loud can also prevent you from sounding like a jerk.

16. Don’t Bury the Lede

In school, we were all taught to warm folks up with a long preamble, setting the stage for what would come next.

STOP THAT.

Because the more time peeps have to spend reading, the less time they’re spending doing work.

Get to the point faster by merciless editing. Start by writing as you normally would. Then, go back, read everything you just wrote and identify the extraneous. Hack the fluff. Get ruthless! You can do it.

17. Write with Your Eyeballs

The same way we eat with our eyes, we read with our eyes; it’s a visual experience. Which means how what you write looks, matters.

Think spacing.

Think, bold, italics, ALL CAPS.

Think numbers, exclamation marks, question marks, percent signs, semicolons, colons, en and em dashes, parentheses, ellipses – and yes, even emojis. Anything that stands out from the norm, that breaks up the text… is #$@%ing bomb!

Make smart use of the tool kit that is your keyboard/pad. Because how you arrange your words can make what you’re trying to communicate more, ehem, digestible.

18. Lose the Jargon

Acronyms, cliches, biz blab… BLEH. That stuff is a communication killer. Your readers will thank you.

19. Change it Up

Don’t publish the exact same message on another channel at the same time. It’s annoying and just plain bad form. After all, your customers and fans connect with you in multiple places to see different stuff. Not to get spammed by you. At least sprinkle similar messages at different times and days. Yes, a perfect stranger might not notice but the rest of us do.

Besides, different channels are different for a reason. The voice you use on LinkedIn should be different then your a Facebook voice.

20. All Hail the Royal We/You

As much as possible, avoid “I,” as it focuses all the attention on you, rather than on your customers or prospects. “I” is selfish and exclusive and the sale must be all about them.

“We,” however, is inclusive – even if you’re referring to “we, the company” vs. “we, me and you.” “We” and “our” implies” together” and by default, trust.

“You” and “your” is also inclusive and more importantly, empathetic.

Here:

  • Hi Alicia! We’re SO excited to learn more about your business and how Lately can help!

vs.

  • Hi Alicia! I’m SO excited to learn more about ACME Inc. and how my company can help!

The first one is better :-).

You can also remove the pronoun altogether:

  • Hi Alicia! SO excited to learn more about your business and how Lately can help!

21. Dog-Food* Your Own Marketing

Marketing is the one business entity that affects and unites all others, including sales, customer service, product, etc. One way to keep your message united is to ensure that everyone on staff knows what’s going out, when and what it says.

Sign yourself and every employee up to receive all automated customer communications (sales emails, newsletters, blog RSS feeds).

You’ll be amazed how many more mistakes you’ll catch and how many new suggestions will come from unlikely sources. Read: quality control.

*Dog-fooding is another way of taking your own medicine, coined by Purina Dog Chow whose employees fed the product to their own dogs.

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