The Absolute Beginners Guide to Copywriting

| Marketing

absolute beginners guide copywritingThe art of writing for the web has innumerable forms. 

No matter what you are asked to write, you'll succeed if you focus on the 7 fundamentals of copywriting.

Follow us as we show you how to move your readers from the first message to the final response.

#1. Message

One common definition says the goal of marketing is to make an impression.  Copywriting uses words to make those impressions.

The question is: What impression do you want to make?

Copywriting begins with defining the message you want to communicate.  The more you know about your product, service or topic, the easier it will be to shape that knowledge for use with different formats, audiences or media.

One way to refine your message is to rank the Top Five Points you want to impart. 

As you craft your writing, incorporate the Top Five, with special emphasis on your primary thought.  If you get lost, return to the heart of your message.

#2. Format

Copywriters rarely choose the format their message must follow.  You must be flexible.

Formats can be as varied as:

  • Comic strips that need captions
  • PowerPoint presentations that require continuity between slides
  • “Talking” points for a speech or narration
  • Pithy slogans
  • Humorless, exact descriptions of boring tasks or gizmos
  • Schedules
  • Pamphlets or posters
  • Flirty, enticing copy that provokes an emotional response
  • Movie scripts
  • Ingredient lists

Verify the format before you begin your composition. 

A wise old man once said, “Through presumption comes nothing but strife.”

#3. Medium

The medium is usually determined before you create your copy.

You must know whether you’re writing copy for a:

  • Billboard
  • Brochure
  • Napkin
  • Visual presentation
  • Magazine advertisement
  • Annual report
  • Formal letter
  • Radio ad
  • Memo or
  • Book jacket.

Same message – entirely different applications of the art of copywriting.

Few things are as frustrating as creating a clever presentation … only to learn that it won’t translate into a different medium.

#4. Audience

Your pitch must vary, based on your audience.  

See what happens at a drive-thru burger joint when you say, “J’ai faim!!!”  That works in Paris, France.  But in Paris, Kentucky, they won’t know you’re saying “I’m hungry!”  

Same message.  Different audience. 

Communicate with readers using terms, styles and illustrations that will resonate with them.  Translate your writing into the language of your target audience. 

#5. Deadline

What changes faster than deadlines?  It’s that “tyranny of the urgent” thing.

All you can do is all you can do. 

Some people work best under pressure and can nail difficult projects at the last minute.  Some people can dive 36-feet into a pool of water 12-inches deep.  In my opinion, the difficulty and risks are similar.

Dependable workers – those who hit deadlines – are valuable workers.

Learn when “deadlines” are suggestions, targets or immovable.

Allow yourself enough time to do your homework, follow these basic principles and produce the copy on time, even if there are unexpected delays.

#6. Call to Action

The call to action is the difference between any of the hundreds of pitches that bombard us each week and the few that cause us to respond.

In commercial advertising the call to action makes consumers say, “OK!  I’ll take it!”

An effective call to action causes someone to want YOUR slinky automobile (in order to be superior to all other forms of humanity).  You must, however, link YOUR brand to the emotion to buy YOUR car, not a similar car.

Ever watched a captivating TV commercial and moments later you have no idea who the sponsor was?  Blow the call to action and you blow the response. 

Make the call to action clear and concise.  Simple and easy.

The call to action makes the sale.

#7. Response Methods

Once your writing has turned readers into mush-minded zombies who live only to obey, you must tell them how to respond.

Common response methods:

  • Web addresses
  • Visit a location
  • Phone numbers
  • Sign up for an event
  • Ask for “specials”
  • Links to click
  • RSVP to an event

Purchases based on positive impressions of a product or service

Obscuring the response method kills sales, as with this fictitious radio copy: 

“That’s right!!  Schmidtlapp Chrysler is giving away free cars!  Call 1-800-7221976.  That’s 18007221976 or go online at schmidtlappchryslerautomotivegroupdotnet.  Act NOW!”

Billboards are the worst.  You see a giant pretty face … with the sponsor’s name or response method in weensy print … as you blast by at 70 mph.

The response method must be clear and simple to your audience or you’re wasting your words. 

The goal of virtually all copywriting is to achieve a response. 

Adhering to these basics will help you succeed in reaching that goal.


About the author

Steve is the founder of OSTraining. Originally from the UK, he now lives in Sarasota in the USA. Steve's work straddles the line between teaching and web development.