Archive for the ‘Copywriting’ Category

23rd March

How To Write Storyboards For Hero Banners

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Most corporate websites have some sort of hero element on them, usually an animated banner to draw attention to the home page. These components can be very effective or fall completely flat, depending on the strategy behind them. In this post I’ll show you how to write them from concept to finished piece, and provide you with a hero banner copywriting template to download.

Team Up With Your Designer

The first step is to team up with a dedicated HTML5 or Flash designer. This person is often also the website designer, but can sometimes be solely dedicated to Flash or HTML5 production. You will be working closely together, so it’s a good idea to make sure each of you has either a copy of the agency creative brief or has been briefed by the company on the goals and objectives of the piece. It’s critical that both parties are on the same page, so make sure you and your designer both know what’s going on.

Once you understand what the client wants to accomplish with their hero banner, the next step is to do some rough concepting. From a writing standpoint, for me this usually involves brainstorming and sketching in a big notebook, ideally with my designer, either on the phone or in person. While it’s totally possible to come up with great ideas on your own, I find it’s always better with two or more people. We schedule a dedicated time to brainstorm and get down as many ideas as possible. As soon as we’ve done some riffing and refining it’s time to crack open the word processor.

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5th August

10 Questions For Customer-Focused Copywriting

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What’s the best way to find out what’s on your customer’s mind? Ask them. Same goes for prospects. You need to understand the market on their terms. Too often marketers make incorrect assumptions about their audience. This can lead to expensive mistakes. It’s better and easier to ask the people closest to your product or service what they want. This will give you the key information you need to write clear, succinct, customer-focused copy that hits the mark and leads to more conversions and sales.     

Script It Out

Below is a handy script of 10 questions you can use and edit to help get inside your customers’ heads. While you could create this as an online survey, it’s more effective to schedule a live conference call since direct contact will give you an opportunity to build the relationship further.

Make sure you first ask your customers’ permission and schedule a convenient time for the call. You’ll need less than an hour unless you get lucky and your interviewee provides lots of detailed information. Schedule an hour up front and ask if you can book a follow up call if the session goes overtime. If you’ve never done this before, you’ll be amazed at what you find out.

Customer Questions:    

1. Tell me about ABC product. Why do you use it? 

2. What made you choose ABC over Competitor A or Competitor B? (specifically name the competition)

3. What pain does ABC product solve that the other products don’t?

4. Can you please describe a specific use of ABC product that made a difference for you?

5. What do you like best about using ABC product?

6. What, if anything, would you change about ABC product?

7. How often do you purchase ABC product?

8. Is there anything you would change about the purchasing process?

9. Would you buy from ABC again? Why or why not?

10. Who else might benefit from using ABC product?

Follow Up    

Be sure to thank people for their time and send a follow up email with your notes. Ideally, this will be the beginning of an ongoing customer conversation to help keep their needs at the top of your list. Market drivers change quickly and often, so it’s great to keep the door open to future dialogue that might impact your marketing messages. What other questions would you ask if you had the opportunity? Please share them in the comments.
23rd July

Format Your Ebook For Easy Reading

book

Everyone’s writing ebooks. It’s an easy way to get information products out quickly to prospects and customers. They’re also a great way to add backend links to other products, services or promotions you may have. In this post I’ll show you how to format an ebook for easy reading and proper delivery to your customers. Giving your readers a good ebook experience is good business. The more value you give them the more you will receive in sales.

Get The Right Tools

Microsoft Word is the standard for developing ebooks, but it’s just as easy to use free tools such as Open Office or Google Docs. Select the software that’s right for you and open a new document. If you’re in the U.S., set the page to a standard 8 1/2 by 11 sheet. If your reader prints out your ebook this is the paper they will most likely have in their printer. Many people will be reading your epic onscreen, so you’ll also want to use a screen-friendly font, such as Arial, Verdana or Trebuchet MS. A 12-point font for text is usually a good choice.

Cover Up

There’s lots of debate on this, but I believe a well-designed cover leads to more sales. Even though customers are just buying electrons, you want to create the image of a tangible product in their mind’s eye. I’ve hired designers for ebook covers and also used software called Cover Action Pro to do them myself in Photoshop. Either is a good option. You’ll want to create several images of the ebook cover; one for your website sales page, a thumbnail image for the shopping cart, and a full size image for the ebook cover itself. You’ll add the full-size cover to the ebook file when you create the final PDF version.

Title Page

The first written page of your ebook should be a title page featuring your book’s title, author credit and copyright info. Center your title about halfway down the page and make it a larger font than your author and copyright details.

Disclaimer

I’m no lawyer, but it’s a good idea to include a disclaimer at the start of your ebook. We live in a sue-happy world, so protect yourself with a short disclaimer holding you and your business harmless against any claims.

Table of Contents

A neatly formatted, clickable table of contents makes it easy for readers to quickly find the information they’re most interested in.

Header and Footer

Use your word processor’s header and footer features to add a professional polish to your pages. Put the title of your ebook in the header. Use the footer to restate your copyright details, post a link to your website, and insert page numbers.

Headlines and Subheads

Just like a blog, many of your readers will be viewing your ebook onscreen. So write your copy for easy scanning with liberal use of headlines, subheads, and bullet points. Try to create a natural pathway for the eyes. Draw your reader in so they’ll read all or most of your text.

Paragraphs

Keep your paragraphs short at a max of 5-6 lines each. This will be easier on readers’ eyes and give them a periodic rest as they work through your content. Also try to keep paragraphs together on the page so there’s no widows or orphans (words or short lines left dangling at the top or bottom of the page).      

Proofreading

Ideally, see if you can get a friend to proofread your content before you create your final PDF. It’s always better to have a second set of eyes on any written material. It’ll be new to them too close to you by the time you’ve written and re-written stuff a few times over. If you can’t find anyone to help you, step away from the file for a day or at least a few hours to refresh your eyes.     

Final Steps

Make sure you do a spell check and test your table of contents link. Next, do a print preview and scroll up and down the entire document to see how it looks overall. This is a good way to catch widows, orphans, or funky page breaks. Finally, print the document out to make sure everything looks good. Now you’re ready to package your product into a final PDF. 

Create Your PDF    

The best option for creating a web optimized PDF file is Adobe Acrobat, but it’s expensive. Don’t just save your MS Word document as a PDF. That’s not good enough, because the file will probably be too big to download quickly. If you can’t afford Acrobat, here are some other options you can use to create your PDF file: 

Ready To Market

Do a final proof of your PDF file before uploading it to your shopping cart or website. Taking these steps will ensure your final product is as professional as possible. And giving your customers a high-value user experience will likely lead to positive word of mouth and more sales in the long run. 

13th July

5 Tips For Writing Clean, Crisp Web Copy

 

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Writing for the web is vastly different than writing for other media. The constant flow of instant information means your competition is always just a click away. Whether it’s for a site, email or blog, here are 5 tips to help you create clean, crisp web copy so your audience stays with you and keeps asking for more.

1. Write For Scanning Instead Of Reading

People don’t read on the web. They scan. You’re scanning this article right now, aren’t you? I know you’re busy and want to see if reading the whole post is worth your time. That’s why each tip is numbered and in bold text.  It helps you scan better. Bullet points also help text scanning by:

  • Breaking up text blocks
  • Adding white space
  • Providing contrast

2. Spell Check and Grammar Check

I cringe whenever I see a typo on the front page of the New York Times. Lately it seems to happen almost every day. As copywriters we have a professional responsibility to check spelling, grammar, and facts before we publish. Sure, I’ve had my share of typos in occasional emails, but my client work always goes through a spelling and grammar check before release. With word processing software like Microsoft Word it’s just common sense. So please take an extra minute and use these simple tools.

3. Keep It Conversational

Write like you talk. How many times have you read corporate web pages that sounded corporate? Did it make you feel a little distant from the company? If you want to reach your readers, you need to clearly communicate with them in a way they can understand. A clear, conversational approach is your best bet. Don’t alienate them with marketing speak, giant vocabulary words or jargon. Read your draft out loud and see if it makes sense to you. You’ll be amazed how this one simple exercise will help you find edits you might otherwise miss.

4. Cut It In Half – Then Half Again

I learned this tip from Steve Krug’s great book, Don’t Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach To Web Usability (2nd Edition). Every word has to have a purpose. If it doesn’t, delete it. Now.

5. Provide A Clear Call To Action

What do you want your audience to do when they’re done reading your stuff? Click away and never come back? Of course not! You probably want them to buy something, sign up for future communications, give you some information, or come back to your site when it’s updated. Let your readers know what to do next by giving them a clear call to action. Here’s mine for this post:

What do you think are the 5 most important tips for web copywriting? Were these helpful? Let me know in the comments. Here’s to happy clients and snappy copy.

6th July

Write Faster Using Project-Specific Swipe Files

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Copywriters are expected to be able to write about any given topic a client needs, often against a very short deadline. While that’s a tall order for anyone, it’s also a major part of what makes copywriting such a fun and interesting field. On any particular day you could be writing about software, baby food, credit card processing, a new miracle drug, or a non-profit’s latest mission to the Amazon. The list goes on.

What Is A Swipe File?

My copywriting took a major leap forward when I started using project-specific swipe files on a regular basis. A traditional “swipe file” is a collection of previously written, tested and proven copy that helps you generate new ideas. You don’t copy it directly – that would be plagiarism. Instead you use it to study and learn from other writers and to spark new ideas. Having access to swipe files is so much better than staring at a blank page. Most copywriters, including me, arrange swipe files by content type, such as headlines, subheads, call to action, P.S., etc. They make great productivity tools and are a solid defense against writer’s block. Lots of copywriters keep hard copy swipe files in large folders. That doesn’t work for me since I prefer to keep everything digital, so my swipe file collection is based largely on simple text files. Text files pop up quickly on the desktop and don’t have any formatting, which makes them ideal.

Project-Specific Swipe Files

Late last year I realized the swipe file concept might also be useful to better organize my specific writing projects. It was Christmas week, and I had two simultaneous and unexpected project requests – a brochure and a website. We were traveling to visit relatives and it was critical for me to be extremely organized since my deadline for both was the day after New Year’s. Fortunately all the research materials for both projects were available online, so all I needed was a laptop and an internet connection. I started a simple text file for each project based on my rough outlines and started adding relevant content. Within each file I also created rough headlines with a single paragraph of text for easy scanning. As I worked on my drafts, I kept my swipe files open for easy access. This sped up my workflow and helped me make my deadlines without upsetting my family for working over the holidays (I did it while everyone was sleeping!).

Evernote Makes It Easier

While I originally used text files, I have since migrated to Evernote, a fantastic online tool that allows me to include pictures and audio in my swipe files. It’s almost as fast as my text editor, and everything I need for a given project is right there. The best part is I can access it later from my laptop, the web or even my iPhone. Having access on my phone makes it especially useful to capture ideas on the go.

Wrap-Up

A basic requirement for successful copywriting is being a quick study. Project-specific swipe files can really help you quickly ramp up and get your head around a client’s new product or service. Now whenever I start a new project, the first thing I do is create a swipe file just for that topic. It’s a great way to sift through my research and really dive into the subject matter. While I still use my traditional swipe file collection, I depend on my project swipe files for increased productivity and effectiveness.