‘The humble banana: a nutritious snack in handy, biodegradable packaging.’

If I could turn back time, I’d ping this list to a certain fresh-faced copywriter who started out almost 20 years ago. Some of the points are pretty well established and all over the internet in a chorus of retweets. Others are my personal observations on persuasive copywriting from a 20-year career.


1) Get your call to action right

This is the bit where you ask someone to do something – call, buy, click, email etc. While it will usually appear at the end, decide what it will be from the very start. This will keep you focused throughout the writing process. Without it, you are completely wasting your time. (Harsh, but true.)


2) List your key selling points

(The things that are great about your product or service.) Then arrange them in order of importance. Use this list when writing copy, starting with the top of the list.

Note I don’t refer to unique selling points or USPs, because the truth is not every product or service has them. If you try to sell a common service as unique, you’ll come over all Saul from Breaking Bad.


3) Know your audience

For persuasive copywriting, you must have a real customer in mind when you write. Imagine you are talking to them. This will help your copy appear authentic and not like it’s coming out of the mouth of a malevolent robot bent on world domination.


4) Talk benefits, not features

It’s a way to keep your copy customer-centric, rather than inward looking. Feature. ‘Our shoes are lined with lamb’s wool.’ Benefit: ‘You’ll walk for miles on a comfy cloud of lamb’s wool in our lined shoes.’ It’s the oldest tip in the book, but it still counts.


5) Find the right headline

For online copy, you are absolutely going to want to base your headline around a key phrase with search volume. Work every word around this phrase. For other media, you have a bit more wiggle room, but always observe this rule when writing headline copy: Push your biggest benefit right up there in the headline.


6) Use good structure

Good, persuasive copywriting looks like this. Headline. Short introduction setting the scene, often describing the problem or desire (see next point below). Selling Point (SP) 1, SP 2, SP 3 etc. Call to action. That really is it, apart from one small variable: you may experiment with including a call to action after the introduction too, so busy people can get straight to the sale.


7) Tell a story

Every good story involves a conflict or obstacle and, usually, a happy resolution. Similarly, when writing copy you should outline your reader’s desire, why they haven’t achieved it so far and how you are going to help them a) find love, b) develop good oral hygiene, c) conquer that midlife crisis via the purchase of a very expensive soft-topped car.


8) Avoid business speak

Round up words such as passionate, engaged and committed like the zombies they are and shoot them in the head. Because if you want truly persuasive copywriting that sings and turns heads, you need to avoid the clichéd, knee-jerk corporate speak that goes uhhhhhhhh in a mindless way and makes readers despair at our dead-eyed world. Really. Kill them now.


9) Appeal to the senses

Don’t invite readers to ‘enjoy a beach in Cornwall’. Close your eyes, write with your senses and ask them to feel the soft, fine sands between their toes.

The point here is to weed out meh meh blah blah words and expressions and transform them into something that appeals to your reader’s senses.


10 Arouse the emotions

For some reason, many businesses think a neutral bland tone signifies a reassuring competence. It doesn’t. It signifies apathy. Ditch all that and get your reader’s blood pumping. Make them laugh. Make them curious. Even make them a little bit anxious. Just make them feel something and you’ll have that most precious thing of all in copywriting – in any writing – a connection.


11 Be concise

Because endless waffle will lose you readers.


12 Revise, revise, revise

If your goal is convincing, persuasive copywriting time and time again, you need to accept that most first drafts are utter rubbish. Here’s a way to pan for gold in that first shitty draft and create something beautiful.

  1. Write a draft.
  2. Sit on it for at least a half day. (This is crucial, so you can look at your copy with fresh eyes.)
  3. Start your revisions at the broadest level. First, check your overall structure. Does one paragraph lead logically to the next? Are there whole sections you could lose to make your message more snappy? Reorder or delete as necessary.

4) Now hone in on individual sentences. Reorder clumsy constructions. Ditch clichés and find a new and more vital and emotive turn of phrase.

5) Finesse and proofread. Do a final line by line edit, deleting any unnecessary words and correcting mistakes in punctuation and spelling.


Make this extra effort and you may well be amazed at the results.


Martin Philp is a UK-based freelance copywriter who writes for brands and SMEs. Why not take a look at his professional copywriting services, his wide copywriter portfolio or more posts from his copywriting blog. Or, if you’re looking for copywriting that persuades now, call 07414 865222 for a chat.


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