Updated: Mar 30, 2020
I once tasted a hop pellet on a brewery tour. It was probably the most disgusting thing I’ve ever eaten. If you ever get the chance to try one… don’t.
But thanks to the free beer, I’d forgotten all about it by the end of the tour. The hops were completely transformed in the well-crafted finished product. A pint of beer looks appealing. But even though hops give the beer flavour, you wouldn’t want to order a plate of them in the pub. I’m not going to compare your copy to a dry, bitter, compressed cake of dead material. But I will say people don’t want a raw ingredient, they want something that looks the part.
You can’t separate the visuals from the writing
As writers, we need to remember words don’t exist in a vacuum. They’re just an ingredient in the great recipe of content. How they look is a huge part of their impact. Typography, colour, structure, and layout all have an influence. Bad design can make a legal document look ridiculous. Or turn a simple fairy tale into an unreadable mess:
Hopefully your designer is a bit better than that. But writers can always give them a helping hand. When we write for clients, we often need to provide the copy before the design is finished. Without a clear template in place, we have to think visually to make the copy suitable for the finished piece. The copy itself can be visual – you can keep paragraphs short to make each point easier to read, for example. But unless you have a very small amount of text, you’ll need a few more tricks up your sleeve to help your reader along:
Subheadings tell a story
Well-structured copy designs itself. If you can arrange your content into discrete sections, your readers will find it easy to take in.
We find descriptive subheads work best. The headings act like signposts telling the reader what each section is about.
Numb3rs 5tand 0ut
People make decisions with their hearts, not their heads. But facts are always persuasive. Numbers grab your attention – just think how many times you’ve seen headlines like “7 reasons your sports socks smell like cheese”.
Lists can be good, bad, or ugly
Within the copy, long lists are bad. They get really tedious, boring, repetitive, tiresome, irritating, dreary, cheerless, wearying and exhausting. But if you can pull them out as a separate item, they can work really well. Product features, facilities, key people, awards – seeing them in one place looks convincing, even if people don’t bother reading the whole thing.
Show off with logos
If you can show something visually, do it. Client or partner logos stand out much more than a name in a block of text.
A picture is worth a thousand (crappy) words
If you’re in marketing, pretty much everything you write will go alongside an image. So your copy should always complement the visuals. For writers, this means not repeating anything people can see for themselves. It’s much easier to take in information visually, so we should save valuable copy space for further explanation, rather than simple description.
This copy for the Apple Watch 3 is all about how you can take it anywhere. They don’t need to explicitly say it’s waterproof as it’s obvious from the image. Instead they expand on what that means for you if you buy the watch.
Clichés won’t do you any favours
Copywriters know the content better than anyone. So why not make suggestions for which images to use? We work with lots of universities, and we’ve seen so many pictures of a group of multicultural students reading books on a lawn that the images become invisible. I wonder where they came from?
They get used because people can’t think of anything else. You owe it to the copy to suggest something better.
Space after a picture is prime real estate
People rarely read copy. But you can’t avoid seeing an image. So, whether it’s a caption or more body text, any copy around the image is much more likely to get noticed. If you’re trying to sell something or pitch an idea, that could make all the difference.
They’re popular for a reason. It’s a quick way to take in a lot of information at once. When we’re researching a project for a client, sometimes data just screams for an infographic. Who are we to hold it back? But, as with anything, moderation is key. Not all information works well as an infographic. When you need to build up an argument, an infographic might actually make things more confusing. Don’t be lazy and hand everything over to the design team. Think about the best way to present the information for your reader.
Text formatting: a bold strategy
Not one to be overused. But a bit of bold is like a splash of cold water on your face. It forces you to pay attention. But that’s exactly why we should use it sparingly – if something stands out, our eyes are drawn to it and it’s tempting to skip over anything that comes before it. Don’t use formatting as an excuse for lazy copy. If you have to underline or italicise a word to make it stronger, you’ve chosen the wrong word.
“Quotes and pull-out boxes really make the reader take notice” – Chris Silberston, world-renowned copywriting expert
We always keep an eye out for material that would work as a standalone bit of content. Say, a quote from a customer or authority figure, or a bit of copy that doesn’t quite fit with the main flow of the text. If you’re including a testimonial, don’t forget to attribute it. It loses a lot of power if it’s anonymous. Anyone could have made it up.
“Chris’s advice on attributing quotes made a huge difference to our brochure. More than one customer has told me they chose our services because they saw a testimonial from a company they respected.” - Client quote
When the cat gets your tongue
You might not always have the right quote. Instead, you could repeat some of the main body of the copy to highlight a selling point or a key part of the story.
Is the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations still a thing?
Don’t just chuck in something inspirational and dust off your hands. The internet has ruined lots of perfectly good quotes by whacking it on an image and choosing a quirky font. Do some homework first – make sure it’s relevant and check who actually said it. And only bother if it really adds some value to the copy.
A good copywriter knows good design
As copywriters, we should be doing everything we can to make life easier for the reader. Don’t palm them off with a plate of raw ingredients. Remember, people want a finished product and it’s our job to provide it. If you’re a less than confident connoisseur of crafting captivating copy, join us on one of our workshops. We’ll give you even more top tips to transform your words into an attractive finished product.