Write like a professional copywriter (with none of the effort)
David McGuire of Radix Communications shares seven quick tips B2B copywriters know, that can make you a better writer too.
Every time I deliver a B2B copywriting course, I’m amazed how quickly a few simple tips can make a real difference to the effectiveness of someone’s writing. Sure, the structures and approaches we share are valuable, but invariably it’s the little nugget of an idea that sticks with someone, and makes them say “I’m going to use this at work tomorrow.”
I was reminded of it at the UK’s copywriting conference. A virtual amphitheatre of experienced, professional writers, and we kept coming back to the basic principles of the job – simple changes that have a big impact on anything you might write.
And I wondered – if I jotted a few of those principles down, would that enable you to get some of the benefit of a career in B2B copywriting, without having to spend all those years writing ebooks and blogs? There’s only one way to find out.
So here are seven tricks most copywriters know. Try them for yourself…
1. Make the first words count
The single most important copywriting skill you can practise is to craft a good nutshell paragraph, summarising the most important thing you have to say – and making the reader care enough to read on – in the first five seconds.
Every B2B decision-maker is busy, so ask yourself what they’d learn if they only read the opening two sentences. As a bonus, you’ll have a clearer idea of what you’re about to write – and you’ll have no space to start with nonsense like “In today’s fast-paced digital world…”
2. Read it out loud (or get Word to do it for you)
The grandparent of all writing tips. Reading your copy aloud will reveal all manner of sins – from hidden typos to over-complicated sentences and cheesy marketing clichés.
If you need to be quiet (or you absolutely can’t bear the embarrassment), pop your headphones on and use “Read Aloud” in Google or Word.
3. Write as you’d speak to your customer
When you do read aloud, it should sound natural – with short, straightforward sentences and words your reader would actually use.
But bear in mind this is B2B. So the trick is to use the same technical specifics your customers do, without surrounding them with longwinded sentences and academic-sounding prose. (Want to know how? We have a whole separate post on simplifying your text without dumbing it down.)
4. You can usually do without “that”
Nine times out of ten, you can simply delete the word “that”, and what you’re left with will be shorter, sharper, and punchier. This only works when “that” is a conjunction, though – linking bits of a sentence together.
So instead of writing: “She said that the writing advice was helpful.”
You might put: “She said the writing advice was helpful.”
5. Write without a word limit. Then edit with one.
For most B2B content formats, the copy can be as long as it needs to be to get your point across. But once you’ve written your first draft, you should still go back and edit – with the aim of reducing the word count by 10-20%.
This process will make you cut any waffle, and force you to say things in the most succinct way you can. Like reducing water from a sauce, the result is stronger and more intense.
6. Write to one person at a time
Even if the copy you’re writing will be read by millions of people, they’ll still be reading one at a time – and in that moment your text is a communication between you and that reader alone. So don’t get in the way of that interaction with lazy phrases like “Some of you might think…”
To keep your writing focused and engaging, think of one specific person – ideally a customer or prospect you know – and write directly to them. You can even put their name at the top of the page if it helps (just remember to delete it afterwards).
7. Assume nobody will read it all
Be realistic about how people will read your content. Usually, they’ll take in the headline and your nutshell paragraph – then scan down the page, taking in headings, bullet points, and other highlights. Some will go back and read everything, but for many that’s all they see.
That means the way you structure your writing is far more important than the body copy. It pays to put extra effort into key features that draw the eye, and ensure that if someone only scans, they still get your message. If you assume nobody will read the full text, it will give you that discipline.
There’s no substitute for experience. But this is a start.
Of course, you can’t really pack a career’s worth of B2B copywriting experience into seven quick tips. But in the short term, any one of these ideas could help you to make your writing that much more effective.
If you’d like to go into more depth, B2B marketing has copywriting training throughout next year. It would be great to see you there.
In the meantime, have a wonderful festive break – and let’s hope the world’s a bit saner in 2021.