I can still remember the first and most powerful lesson in the science of copywriting I ever learnt.
I was in Year 10 or 11 of high school (that’s sophomore or junior for our North American friends), and my buddy Martin S. was writing some posters we were going to stick up around campus to get volunteers for a project.
As we were trying to brainstorm what to put on the posters he said, “Well, we want as many people to read this as possible, so why not write ‘FREE BEER?’ It will at least get attention that way.”
Now that powerful lesson wasn’t how to ‘bait and switch’ your audience… it was simply the importance of a captivating headline that gets noticed.
Another important lesson that I continue to reap benefits from which I learnt in high school was the power of a cheat sheet.
If you’ve been around our little community here for any time, you’d know my mum was a math teacher. And thus, it’s no surprise what subjects I ended up doing a lot in high school (clearly, it wasn’t literature).
Now as handy as it was having a permanent tutor at home to get me ready for tests, the best thing about these advanced math classes was the ability to take a double-sided cheat sheet into exams. For some reason I still can’t quite understand, we were allowed to create two pages with formulas, equations and examples to take in with us and reference during these tests.
It made such a difference to have something to rely back to, ensure you were not missing any steps in a formula, and use as a kind of checklist.
And it’s why I use cheat sheets and checklists in almost every area of my life… and felt a little less weird when I read Atul Gawande’s great book, The Checklist Manifesto.
So combining these two lessons together, I want to share with you a Copywriting Checklist I created a few years back.
It’s the reference sheet I lean on regularly when trying to craft a piece of sales copy.
Does it replace a great copywriting course?
Does Atul’s checklists replace 6 years of medical school? Of course not.
What it does do though is act as a fantastic map to follow when you’re working on your next piece of marketing.
The downloadable two page cheat sheet reads like a sales letter, but is in fact a guide and reference tool to ensure you never miss any of the 11 critical copy tactics or elements.
I hope it helps you, like it does me.
Let’s Break This Copywriting Reference Sheet Down
Hopefully, the above PDF cheat sheet is self-explanatory. But in an effort to provide you with some additional support from a real-life full-time working copywriter, I’ve asked copywriter Hugh Thyer who works for clients including Universal Stars, The Fortune Institute and many clients in the real estate investing, health and business growth fields to chime in, and break down each section even further for us.
Section 1: Headline
The headline is the most important part of your message. People are strapped for time and they’re bombarded with thousands of sales messages each day. So your headline has to grab their attention by hitting their emotional hot buttons so they begin to read your message.
Remember, the only job of your headline is to get people to read the first line. If it doesn’t do this, it doesn’t matter how good the rest of your message is because people won’t get that far.
Section 2: Opening Benefit-Driven Hook
In the opening section of your letter, you need to build on your headline and talk directly to your readers about the problems or dreams they have. This is where you dig the knife in and appeal to your reader’s most primal emotional driver. The most common are greed, fear and pride. After your opening, you want your reader to know you understand them and what they’re going through. If you don’t, they’ll stop reading.
Section 3: Build Credibility in the Body
Now you’ve got their attention, you need to make them want what you’ve got. Here, you’re talking about WIIFM – or What’s In It For Me? Never forget, they’re not interested in what you’re selling. They’re only ever interested in what’s in it for them. Use the word ‘you’ often and the word ‘I’ sparingly. And link what they really want, to how your product or service gives it to them.
Section 4: Benefit-Driven Bullet Points
Bullet points let you summarise the key benefits of what you’re selling. They let you list all the benefits in an easy to read and digest way. Better still, bullets break your copy up visually.
Remember, a feature is something about your product. A benefit is what it does for them. If you’re selling a time management system, your feature might be a day planner. But the benefit is planning each day in advance so they get 3 hours more work done by being so efficient.
You can begin by writing down all the features of your product and what it does. Then turn them into bullets by asking, “How will this satisfy my reader’s emotional wants and desires?”
Some great ways to start bullets include:
- 3 Ways to XYZ
- How to XYZ
- The TRUTH about XYZ
- An easy 3-step system to XYZ
- Why knowing about XYZ can…
Put your strongest bullet first and your second strongest last so you start and finish strong.
Section 5: Testimonials
If you have no credibility you will never, ever make any sales. People are skeptical these days, and quite rightly so.
The best way to do this is with customer testimonials. My formula for the ‘golden’ testimonial is it tells a before-after story, has specific numbers and a human element to it. This means what they gained personally. And as much information on the writer as possible.
“I was feeling bad at having put on so much weight. But after the super-shake diet, I lost 21kg in just 4 months and now I’ve been asked out on 3 dates this week alone!”
Mary Smith, Newcastle. 0400 111 222
And it goes without saying that testimonials should never, ever be made up. If you haven’t got any, then get out there and ask for some! Or give people your product or service so they can write you one.
Section 6: Frustrations, Anxieties and Alternatives
You’re starting to push for action here. This is where you put the knife in and give it a turn. You’ve shown them you can solve their problem, you’ve proven you and your product are credible, and you’ve told them every way your product or service will make their life better.
If your product helps them make more money, then describe how life is when they can’t afford the things they want… before describing what it will be like once they’ve got more money, thanks to your product. This is called ‘future pacing’.
Section 7: Bonuses
The weaker your offer, the weaker your response, and vice versa. It doesn’t matter how well your copy is written. If your offer is weak nothing is going to save it.
You’ve got to get your reader’s greed glands pumping. Listen, we’re bombarded with so many advertising messages each day that when they see your offer, you want them to wake up like they’ve been slapped in the face.
An easy way to do this is offering extra bonuses. But don’t offer just anything. Offer some of your best stuff, make sure your freebies are such high quality they could be sold in their own right.
And make sure you sell your bonuses hard because they form part of the overall package. Your bonuses have to be so irresistible that people will buy just to get them! Never, ever underestimate the power bonuses have – if you sell them hard.
And as a special hint, if you include some 1-on-1 time with you, it can give you the chance to sell people into other products and services.
Section 8: Risk Reversal Guarantee
If you want to boost sales, then simply remove the risk from your buyer with a complete, unconditional guarantee.
It shows you’re right behind your product. It shows your confidence. And it makes them think, “Hey, I’ve got nothing to lose, so why not?”
Link your guarantee to the benefits of your ad. For example, if it’s about weight loss, then guarantee they’ll lose a certain amount in a certain time.
And give your buyer plenty of time to change their mind. Studies have proven that long guarantees do better because your customer is under no pressure to make a hasty decision.
Magic words here are “in the unlikely event…”
Section 9: Urgency + Scarcity
People are lazy. So if you don’t give them a push to take action straight away, then it’s almost certain they won’t. Come up with some reasons why they need to take action straight away and tap into the fear of missing out.
It could be a special bonus that’s only available for a limited time. Or that seats are limited and filling fast. Or that there are limited stocks.
It has to be believable – nobody believes there’s a limit to how many eBooks you can sell.
A magic word here is ‘… because …’ e.g. “Book now BECAUSE there are only 11 seats left and you could miss out if you’re too slow”.
Section 10: Call to Action
There’s a couple of rules to follow when you call people to take action. First, make it crystal clear what your reader has to do. Spell it out step by step – what they have to click, what information they have to fill in and so on. If you give people a chance to stuff it up… they will.
Second, make it easy for them to respond. You might give them the option of going online to order or calling you. Don’t ask for more information than you have to or ask them to make decisions. If they’re forced to decide between lots of options, then they’ll get overwhelmed. And this means they’ll defer the decision and this will kill the sale.
If your sales message is entirely online, then the less clicks they have to make to order, the better. The longer it takes to order, the more people will abandon their order.
Section 11: Post Scriptum Push
Your PS is actually very important. It summarises the key points of your message, and can be used to emphasise your biggest element such as your guarantee or your offer. A lot of people flip to the end of your letter early, so it’s good to have something at the end of your letter to encourage them to go back to the start and read it properly.
It’s often your last shot at the sale, so pull out the big guns and give it everything you have.
Here are a few proven PSs:
- Build urgency by reminding people why they have to act quickly
- Remind them of your offer, including your special price
- Add a surprise bonus
- Remind them of your guarantee
- Ask them what will happen if they don’t order
- Future-pace them by describing what life will be like when they order
- Nobody knows why, but 3 PSs are the most effective, followed by 1 and then 2.