The art of copywriting: be positive and optimistic


Copywriters have a job to do. We have to write the words that do the business. In this blog post series I’ll consider some of the finer points of copywriting – the little things that make a big difference; the tricks and touches that lift copy and make it more persuasive, better at selling and more likely to create a good impression.

Here’s the first part of this series:

Be positive and optimistic

Good copy carries energy and makes statements with positivity and certainty. Bad copy stumbles the reader over hiccups and hillocks, depositing turds of negativity along the way, subliminally suggesting disaster while promising unearthly delights.

Let’s look at some examples of how to fill your copy with energy.

Don’t write:

This training programme is designed to teach you everything you need to know about psychiatry. After three years of hard work you should be equipped to treat the worst conditions of the human mind. There’s no doubt that you will be able to command a killer salary after completing this training.

The example above contains hesitancy (designed, should) and negative words (hard, worst, doubt, killer) which, when assembled together, leave the reader with a vague feeling of failure. Even when the overall message is positive, these bitter tastes of negativity remain. So when you want to sell something, and create a positive feeling in your reader, chose your words carefully.

Do write:

This training programme teaches you everything you need to know about psychiatry. Completing this course will qualify you to treat a wide variety of psychological conditions.

You’ll also notice that replacing ‘designed to teach’ with ‘teaches’ creates a much more compact and direct sentence. As a writer you should be on guard for phrases like ‘designed to’ or ‘gives you the ability to’ because there’s a good chance they are slowing down your sentences and dulling your copy.

Assess your website with a free web marketing checklist

Assess your website with a free web marketing checklist

Websites are a complex challenge for many businesses. Before you can make a website better, you have to know where it’s going wrong and what you want it to achieve.

Making sense of web marketing for small businesses

Many of my best clients are small businesses who are not “web natives” or geeks or even – God help them – on Twitter (gasp). Few business owners have the time or resources to make their website as good as it could be. A common question from SMEs is: “Where do we start?” Clients often know that their website is under-performing, or just plain broken, but the question of where to begin often gets in the way of action.

Because of this problem, I got thinking about how to reduce the complexity of web marketing. And the end result was a check list.

Print it out, sit down in front of your website and start ticking! When you’re done, you’ll have a quick view of obvious errors or missing details – things you can easily fix.

Get your free profitable website check list (151kb PDF)

The check list doesn’t cover everything, but it’s a good starting point if you know something is wrong with your website but don’t know what it is. Thanks to Emma at Door22 for her excellent document design work.

Free for you to use, change and meddle with

This document is released under a Creative Commons license, so you can use it however you like. You can even slap your own logo on it and call it yours, providing you credit me as the original author. If you’d like help customising it for your own purposes, just ask!

Build good links: free guide to SEO basics

The good link guide - screenshot of PDF

Want to outstrip your competitors and take over the world? Or would you just like to have a website that appears in relevant search results?

You probably just need more links.

Discover how to build good links with The good link guide (link opens a handsome PDF in a new tab).

Or read it all here:

The good link guide: build better links to your website

Links are good. Links bring people to your website, and they tell search engines that your website is popular. Link-building is one of the primary tasks of Search Engine Optimisation (SEO). There are many ways to get links, but it’s important to understand the elements of a link so that when you get a link you know how to make it a good link.

When assessing links, search engines consider:

Location. How good is the site containing the link? Is the linking site relevant to the site being linked to? How prominent is the link?

Content. What is the anchor text of the link?


Not all links are good. If your website has a hundred links from illicit or disreputable websites, then search engines will put your website in the same category.

Once you’ve found a good website to give you a link, think about where your link will go. A prominent place on a popular page is worth much more than a lowly link in the footer of an obscure, rarely-visited page,

For example, links from web directories are easy to obtain, but they’re much less valuable than a home page link from a highly-regarded blog. A highly-regarded blog that’s connected or relevant to your website is even better.

Anchor text

Anchor text is the words that makes up a link. In this link: Jam Jars the anchor text is Jam Jars.

When search engines scan web pages, they read and follow links. Because my link to the website of Freeman & Harding has the anchor text Jam Jar, search engines assume that Freeman & Harding has some relation to Jam Jars.

This is a crucial point. Use your keywords in anchor text.

Anchor text example

Good link: View professional range of hairdressing products

Bad link: View hairdressing products

The good link’s anchor text contains relevant keywords. The bad link is a wasted opportunity, unless you are hoping to appear high in search results for something as generic as products (which would be insane).

Key points:

  • Search engines consider many factors when assessing links.
  • Seek links from good websites.
  • Aim for prominent links on key pages.
  • Links from relevant or related websites are a bonus.
  • Use your keywords in anchor text.

How to Do More on the Web – Part 4

See also: P1 / P2 / P3

Part 4: Helping Searchers Find Your Site with SEO (Search Engine Optimisation)

People are looking for you. Every day, they go to a search engine (like Google, Yahoo or Ask) and type in the words that reflect their query. The search engine scans the internet, and offers a list of results that match their query.

If your website appears high up the list, the searcher may click on your site. If your site is the 120th result in the search results, you will probably not receive a visit from that searcher.

An overwhelming majority of people never make it to the second page of search results. This means that if you’re not on the first page, less than 20% of people will even see your website, and even fewer will actually click through to your site.

Clearly, it’s crucial to appear as high as possible in the search results whenever people are searching for an organisation like yours.

Getting Started with SEO

A good place to start is keywords. Keywords are the words that people use when searching. Your keywords may be your:

  • Company
  • Industry
  • Products
  • Services
  • Brand names
  • Activities
  • Key people
  • Common questions that people ask

Pretend that you are a potential customer. You are looking for yourself. Now think: what keywords would I use when searching for the things I provide? Make a list of all the words that you would use.

Think laterally, and remember that not everyone uses the same words to describe a thing. Consider every synonym and possible way of approaching a query.

Now, go to the Google Keyword Tool, and type in your list of keywords. Google will provide you with an extended list, including every similar term that it thinks is relevant. Bear in mind that Google is just a computer, so it may produce a few bad results.

Google’s Keyword Tool is useful for two reasons. Firstly, it helps you consider all relevant keywords, and may suggest a few that you hadn’t thought of.

Secondly, it shows the monthly volume of searches for each term. This means you can see exactly how many people are searching for each keyword – which means you can decide which keywords are worth aiming for.

A Note on Selecting Keywords

Because ranking highly in search results requires a concerted effort, you should prioritise the search terms that will bring you people who want to buy something.

So if you’re a hairdresser, there is little value in attracting a million people who are searching for hairdressing advice. Those people are not likely to be buying anything. A more profitable search term is hairdresser Brighton, as this suggests the searcher is looking for someone to cut their hair.

Pursue the keywords that will bring in relevant traffic. If a hairdresser appears #1 in search results for hair loss, there is no real benefit. The hairdresser would get lots of visits, but the visitors would not be looking for hairdressing services – making the visit pointless and without value.

Using Keywords in Your Website

Google ‘reads’ the pages of your website. If you use words like hairdresser, hair, products, beauty, conditioner, shampoo and styling, then Google will know to offer your website when people search for a hairdresser.

There are a few important places that keywords should be used:

  • Meta keyword
  • Meta description
  • Page title
  • Headings
  • Sub-headings
  • Body copy
  • Links

Meta Data

Meta data is information contained within the code of a website. It’s invisible to human visitors, but readable by search engines. Think of meta data as a signal to the search engines.

Every single page on your website should have a page title, meta keywords and a meta description. These are all opportunities to tell search engines what that page is about. Don’t be tempted to stuff keywords into these areas – just be honest and use keywords that relate to the content on that page.

On-Page Keywords

Headings and sub-headings are deemed to be important carriers of information by the search engines.

How does a search engine know what text is a heading? Because web developers put headings inside heading tags. The main heading is encased thusly:

<h1>Main Heading</h1>

The second heading uses <h2> and so on.

It’s important that, wherever possible, your headings include relevant keywords for that page. Using keywords in this way does not have to mean artificially stuffing keywords into every space available. It’s often perfectly logical to include keywords in relevant pages, because they help your human visitors to scan a page quickly, and know that it contains relevant information.

Once you have written headings and sub-headings that contain keywords, ask your web developer to make sure they are contained in heading tags.

Body Copy

The text beneath your headings is known as body copy. It’s important that this copy also contains your keywords. Don’t worry about how often your keywords are used.

Providing that your copy is clearly about the subject you are hoping to appear in search results for, and you use the language that other people use when thinking about that subject, Google will be able to interpret your website correctly.

Links and Anchor Text

It’s important to understand how search engines interpret links in your website’s pages. The important thing about every link on your website is your choice of anchor text.

Anchor text is the text that makes up a link. In this link: Jam Jars, the anchor text is Jam Jars.

When search engines ‘read’ your web pages, they read and follow links. Because my link to the website of Freeman & Harding has the anchor text Jam Jar, search engines assume that Freeman & Harding has some relation to Jam Jars.

This is a crucial point. It is very important that you understand how search engines interpret links. Every link on your website has multiple benefits. Links not only help your visitors to navigate your site, but they help search engines understand where your links are pointing.

If you use anchor text without keywords, you lose an opportunity to guide the search engines’ interpretation of your website.

Link Anchor Text Example

A hairdresser might have a link on their Home page, leading visitors to their Products page.

Good: Now view our professional range of hairdressing products

Bad: Click to view our hairdressing products

The good example contains relevant keywords, and gives search engines some context. The bad example is a wasted opportunity, unless you are hoping to rank highly for something as generic as products (which would be folly).

Links to Your Website (Backlinks)

Search engines use complicated mathematical models to calculate the relevance of websites to a searcher’s query. One piece of the equation is the number of links to your website from other sites.

These links are also known as backlinks. Search engines consider every link to your site to be an indicator of quality, on the assumption that nobody would link to your website if you had nothing good to offer. The more links your site has pointing to it, the better the search engines’ perception of your site.

This is why many website owners will beg, steal and borrow in order to gain good links to their website. Good links are valuable, and can have a significant influence on your site’s performance in search results.

Good Links, Bad Links

Not every link is good. A link to your website from a ‘bad neighbourhood’ – a part of the web populated by spammers – is not worth much, and could even lower your site’s reputation.

Links are good when they are placed in good, reputable websites. Good links are also those that use keyword-rich anchor text.

If somebody wants to link to your website, ask them to use anchor text that reflects the keywords people use when looking for you.

Developing Good Links

It’s not easy to gain links. The best approach is to offer things that other people want. Then people will want to link to your website. Without some kind of useful content, it’s hard to justify links to your site.

Guides, tutorials, resources, interviews, articles and blogs and are all good, honest ways of providing useful material that people will want to link to.

One effective strategy is to write articles for other websites. Many blogs request contributions from outsiders – and these normally offer authors a by-line (a one-line bio that says who you are and what you do) and a link or two to your website.

Writing one-off articles for good, well-established blogs takes time, but you will gain good links from a quality website. The alternative is…

Article Marketing

An article marketing industry exists which purports to help people gain links by offering their articles for free to any website owners who want them. It’s a nice idea, but the reality is that the only site owners who want these generic – often poorly written – articles are spammers or people with low-grade blogs. So you might get a few links, but they will be from such poor sites that they provide absolutely no SEO value. Good links come from good sites with at least some PageRank.

Directory Submission

Many people believe that submitting their site to hundreds or thousands of directories is the easy way to gain links. While you will gain plenty of links, those links will be buried in the depths of dusty directories, far from the eyes of man and a long way from anywhere valuable.

DMOZ is the most important directory, closely followed by Yahoo (which you will have to pay for). Join a few other directories, but don’t invest a huge amount of time in this. Very few people use directories to search for businesses.

Further reading: Bad SEO: Polluting the Web


There are many ways to advertise on the web. Advertising can be costly, but it can also be very effective. A well-judged ad in a well-chosen space can drive significant numbers of qualified visitors to your website.

Google Ads

If you decide to run a Google Adwords campaign, one of the most important things to do is to run two different adverts for the same product or service. Monitor which ad is more successful, then replace the less successful ad with something better. Running a split campaign allows you to constantly refine your ads.

Because Google Ads are very small, the copy must be used with care. Every word counts!


London Cocktail Bar

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A note of caution

It’s easy to spend lots of money with Google Adwords. They can be very successful, but make sure that the return warrants the investment.

Writing for Your Customers – Your Web Copy

The words on your website’s pages are what do the work of selling, persuading, inspiring or communicating. Graphic design, imagery and clever web technologies like Flash help to create an impression, but it’s the copy that talks to your visitors*.

(* Unless you’re offering complex or novel software or web applications, in which case a professional screencast may be the best way to demonstrate your offering. Not sure what a screencast is? Ask me – I can recommend a professional screencaster.)

At the start of this guide I asked you to think about your customers. When you come to write copy, draw on your findings. Your copy must appeal to your visitors. It should start by telling them quickly and clearly what’s on offer. Then it should explain why that offer should interest them.

Make sure your copy details the features of your products and services. Then, explain how those features provide benefits to the user.

Further reading:
Writing for the Web – A Quick Guide on What to Write and How to Write It
10 Ways to Instantly Improve Your Marketing Copy

How do Your Customers Think About Your Products?

What language do they use? Make sure you use this language in your copy. Your internal corporate language may be jargon-rich, and intimidating or nonsensical to outsiders. Don’t try to sound clever or ‘professional’ by littering your copy with fancy words that only industry-insiders will understand.

Good copy is conversational and uses words that everyone understands.

Bad copy is cold, formal, and distancing.

Good copy brings people into your world.

Bad copy creates a barrier.

Short sentences are good. Contractions (can’t, don’t) are good.

Simple, plain English is good. Clarity is good.

When writing copy, aim to deliver a message. As soon as the message is delivered you can (and should) stop writing.

Ask a friend or colleague to review your copy. The best reviewer is someone who is unfamiliar with your products, services and industry.

Ask them if, after reading your copy, they understand your offer enough to consider buying something from you.

Provide Detailed Information (for Those Who Want It)

While it’s important to deliver information carefully, in a controlled manner, don’t forget that visitors to your site may have many questions. You need to answer their questions.

Ensure that detailed information about your products, services, working methods, company structure, key personnel, qualifications, contact details, clients, experiences, attitudes, world-views and waist measurements is available to those who want it.

Obviously, the key thing is to make this information available, but not unavoidable. Don’t litter the path of the fleet-footed – the nimble visitor who wants a modicum of information before they decide whether or not to contact you.

Calls to Action

Your website exists to achieve something. Whatever that may be, it probably requires your visitors to take some kind of action. Now, if you want somebody to vote, or buy, or register, then you must ask them to do so.

The simple of act of asking a visitor to take a course of action is called a Call to Action. It’s as easy as writing:

  • Order now
  • Subscribe here
  • Register today

This may sound obvious, but it’s often overlooked. The Call to Action is an essential ingredient in successful websites.

Social Proof – Evidence of Previous Interactions

Because the web is fertile ground for spammers, con-artists and thieves, web users are naturally cautious and suspicious. If you want to sell on the web, you’ll need to address this issue. How can you build trust with just your website?

One very simple and honest tactic is to harness the power of social proof. Social proof can be provided in the form of testimonials, client logos, a portfolio of past work – anything that proves that your organisation has done real work with real people.

It’s good to get into the habit of requesting testimonials from clients. If you’re shy, try LinkedIn’s interface for requesting recommendations. This way you don’t have to put anyone on the spot.

If possible, display testimonials with links back to the person or company who provided it. This gives your social proof depth and authenticity.

Giving It All Away

Offering a sample or some kind of free trial is a good way to begin a business relationship with your new customers. Free samples are another way to overcome the problem of trust: by sampling your goods or services for free, people can evaluate your offering without any risk.

Improving Your Search Engine Performance by Providing Useful Content

A popular strategy for getting more visitors is content. If you are an accountant, your website may not be very interesting. You can reasonably expect people to visit your site when they want an accountant. Everybody else is going to ignore you.

Clearly, if you’re an accountant and would like a more lively website, you’re going to have to add something more interesting. If you provide useful or informative information – in the form of guides, articles, calculators, widgets, links, tools or advice – then people will visit your site. People will also link to your website, which will help your search engine performance.

A great example of providing useful content to customers and website visitors is

Creating a Journey through Your Website

Every page of your website should have pathways. Always give your visitors places to go. Each page should lead logically to the next. Gradually lead each visitor through your website – enticing them with your product’s benefits, explaining your product’s features, answering all of their questions about the ordering process, reassuring any concerns they might have, and finally asking them to place an order.

Contact Details

Make it easy for people to contact you. Don’t hide email addresses – you may be worried about spam but a good spam filter will prevent 99% of junk getting through. Have a contact form, but also provide an address, a phone number and all relevant email addresses. Websites that only offer a contact form appear to be distancing themselves from their audience, or just plain hiding.

Further reading:

Gaining Trust on the Web

Social Media

‘Social Media’ means blogs, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, forums – any media that involves or allows social interaction. Social media allows a website to exist in other spaces. Social media allows you to appear before new eyes – finding a new audience and expanding your reach.

Social media is difficult for businesses to use well, because these are largely social spaces, not commercial. The people who inhabit social spaces often resent organisations that burst in with a marketing agenda.

If you want to explore social media, and how it might help your organisation, step in cautiously – listen, look, and contribute gently. Represent you first and your company second.

Further reading:

Twitter: Make the Most of Every Tweet (You Receive)

Corporate Twittering: A Marketing Mess in a Social Space?

Why Twitter? – Method in the Mayhem

Twitter – the Simplest Little Big Complicated Website in the World


One of the most crucial aspects of a successful website is clarity. From any page, at any point in your website, it should be immediately obvious where you are, and what is being offered.

A strapline, tagline or slogan is the short sentence that accompanies an organisation’s logo at the top of their website.

The strapline is a good opportunity to increase clarity, and explain exactly what you do.

Good straplines are descriptive and short. Bad straplines are witty, clever or vague, such as: Creative solutions for business.

The End

That’s it for now. I’ll compile all of this guide into a PDF for you to download. As I probably said at the start, I wanted to put down a few ideas for selling on the web – a few basics that website owners should know.

Let me know if I’ve missed anything significant!

How to Do More on the Web – A Few Ideas

How to Sell More on the Web:

A Thoughtful Approach to Crafting Success

This guide isn’t just about selling more on the web: it’s about achieving your goals, whatever they are.

That might mean selling tickets to your gigs, or getting donations for your charity, or building support for your big idea. Whatever you’re trying to do, the principles and ideas covered will apply to you. Just bend the suggestions until they make sense for you.

Good websites are full of people’s ideas. Anything worthwhile needs a bit of brain-space. As soon as you start thinking about your website your chances of success increase dramatically. Most websites suck and fail because they are designed and built in haste and then left to gather dust. Always view your website as an evolving work in progress.

If you get stuck, and can’t find a way to progress, email – if I can spare a few minutes I’ll think about your conundrum.

This guide should answer questions like:

  • Why doesn’t anyone visit my website?
  • Why do people come to my website, but never buy anything?
  • What can I do to create interest around my website?

Who is this for?

This guide is designed to help anyone with a website. If you’re a very experienced website creator/owner/manager then this guide might not offer anything new. But if your website doesn’t do a lot, then you might find a few useful ideas.

Success Doesn’t Have to Lead You to Evil

Selling more things, or recruiting more donors, or persuading people that your scheme is brilliant does not need to involve under-hand tactics. Success does not require evil.

If you’re offering something useful then you should let people know. This guide is all about how you can let people know.

Part 1: Thinking about Your Customers

Before you think about your website, you need to think about the people that you created it for: your customers.

  • Who are they?
  • What do they want?
  • Why do they want your products?
  • What can you offer them?
  • Where are they?
  • How can you get in front of them?

Who Are Your Customers?

If you’re going to sell anything to anybody, you’ll need to establish who wants what you’ve got. Are they:

  • Young, old, or in-between
  • Male or female
  • Organised around a niche
  • Highly web-literate or borderline Luddites
  • Pinko liberals or conservatives?

Identify your target audience. Think about who they are. Imagine you are them. Step into their shoes and consider their motivations. Ask yourself:

  • What do I want?
  • What am I trying to achieve?
  • What are my concerns?
  • What would make me happy?

Why Do Your Customers Want Your Products?

Okay, so you know what you’re offering, what it does and why people use it… or do you? Do you really know why people use your things, or engage your services?

You might think you know exactly what people are doing with your stuff, but you might be surprised to learn that people are misusing your products – or that they really just want your services for a reason other than the ones you intended.

Luckily, it’s easy enough to find out what your customers are up to. Just ask them. And you don’t need to set up a survey and harvest reams of data. Just call a few people and have a chat.

A few examples of products that have found unintended uses:


Thanks to the following for their suggestions:

Meeting Your Clients in the Middle

Your products and services might be valued for reasons other than the ones you know about. If people think about your work in different ways to you, address this in your website’s copy.

Related blog post:

Apple’s Honesty Policy

What Can You Offer Your Customers?

Are there other ways you could help your customers? Are there additional products or services that fit with your existing range? What would people like from you? How can you make people’s lives better, easier or more fulfilling?

Don’t just assume that your products and services have to stop where they are now. If there’s something more you can offer – something real, something useful and desirable – then start offering it.

Crafting Your Offer to Match Your Customers

Many businesses decide what they do, then create products and services that they think are required, then offer them for sale. Rarely do businesses ask what is required – what is wanted – and then offer it.

It’s easier to sell the thing that people want, than it is to sell the thing that you need to sell. So if you’re struggling to sell something, consider changing it until it meets people’s needs.

Again, it’s a good idea to spend time talking to your clients. And don’t make it complicated. Just pick up the phone, dial a number, say hi, ask some questions.

Related blog post:

Don’t Treat Your Website Like a Commodity

End of Part 1

That’s it for Part 1. Part 2 will look at your products and services (although really we’ve already thought about this, but in relation to how your customers think about your products and services.) Part 2 is the shortest section.

In Part 3, we’ll explore the aspects of your website that might be failing. This will cover SEO, social media and other wonderful things.

The Absence of Marketing

Oh, and did you notice that I haven’t mentioned marketing ? There’s a good reason for that. Many people in marketing are disreputable,  unlovable rogues who smarm their way through life with slick grins and thin lies. ‘Marketing’ is a word so loaded with negative connotations that I prefer to discuss ‘marketing’ without using the word.

Invisible Copy – Why Your Copy Should Have a Small Ego

Short version

Good copy doesn’t attract attention to itself – it attracts attention to your products and services.

Long version

Occasionally clients expect copy to have some ‘wow’ factor. Perhaps they were expecting poetic, glorious prose. Or perhaps they were expecting copy that their clients would remark upon. Or perhaps they just expected something more sensational.

In most cases, for most organisations, copy should not draw attention to itself. Good copy does not stand out. It draws attention to your organisation, your products and your services. The best copy is like a ninja – it moves silently and people read it without even realising that they’re reading something.

So when you employ a copywriter, or write copy yourself, don’t aim for copy that is loud or spectacular. Aim for copy that communicates clear messages, sinking into the background and focussing attention on you and your offer.

Does your blogging suffer from these common mistakes?

I recently asked the Twittersphere for suggestions of things I could blog about. Raj Anand requested something on mistakes that bloggers make.

Better to blog and suck than never blog at all

Before I launch into a few of the typical mistakes that bloggers make, I’d like to state that blogging is an open activity, designed to be free for everyone to do. So there aren’t really any rules to blogging. My points below are related to communicating, and it should be noted that the quality of your blogging becomes more important when you are blogging for your business.

So don’t feel too bad for breaking these or any other rules. It’s better to contribute and fall short of perfection than to fail to contribute.

#1 Writing in long tedious paragraphs, without any sub-headings for relief

Be kind to your readers and give them plenty of white space. Try to vary the length of your paragraphs and insert regular headings and sub-headings. This will break up your copy and help everyone who skim-reads. It’s worth reminding ourselves that headings are also great for SEO (Search Engine Optimisation).

#2 Failing to explain TLAs

WTF is a TLA? Sorry, I’ll stop that right now. WTF is an acronym for What The F@ck. And TLA is a facetious acronym for Three Letter Acronym.

My point here is that modern life is rife with TLAs. They might save everyone time, and allow us to feel clever and important, but they also exclude the uninitiated, obscure meaning and devalue your blogging. Every time you use an acronym you should explain what it means. So if you write ‘RSS’, be sure to write (Really Simple Syndication) after it.

Of course, some may argue that web users should understand TLAs and we shouldn’t have to explain them. Well, those people are wrong. If you’re blogging it’s either because you have something to share or because you love your own writing. Clearly, any reasonable person writes to communicate – in which case they must want the maximum number of people to understand them.

Even commonplace TLAs like ROI (Return On Investment) and GUI (Graphical User Interface) should be explained. Don’t assume that because something is obvious to you, it will be to everyone who reads your blog.

#3 Assuming that everyone has heard of the latest web meme/application/gimmick

If you’re blogging about cutting-edge technology, or brand new web services, or anything new, then explain WTF you’re talking about! Don’t assume that everyone has heard of it. Provide links and evidence.

#4 Not making much sense

Blog readers are charitable folk, who’ll probably tolerate your bad spelling and misuse of apostrophes, but you really should try to make sense. Re-read your posts. Does everything make sense?

Ask yourself: what am I trying to say? If you can’t remember, delete the blog post and start again. If you realise you have nothing to say, delete the blog post and start again. If you can’t work out what you’re trying to say by reading the blog post, delete and start again.

If you’re not sure if your blog post makes sense, ask someone to read. Ask them if they understand your meaning. If they don’t… DELETE!

#5 Meaningless post titles

I often see blog posts with titles that don’t mean very much. Now that might be because I’m not the right kind of reader – but every blogger should aim to make their posts understandable by every kind of reader.

#6 Theoretical nonsense.

In theory, it’s fine to cogitate on ethereal matters, but in practice, it’s much better to give your readers cold hard facts and real life examples so they can put your theory into practice.

Even better is the blogger who can ruminate on complex theories while connecting their ideas to real world examples. Give your readers something they can use, not empty ideas that waste their time.

#7 Pointless posts

Re-read every blog post, and every sentence of every blog post. Every word you write in a blog post should serve a purpose. Every word must earn its keep by communicating. Delete those words that do nothing.

And if you can’t answer this question: What is the point of this blog post? – then you should delete the post.

#8 Vocabulary porn

Keep your big words to yourself, unless they serve a purpose. And be aware that obscure words may hinder your ability to communicate.

This doesn’t mean you have to dumb-down your writing, but you must consider the effect of your word choices.

Useful lessons for freelancers – #1: Look Busy

Look busy

Even if work slows down, you should be able to find plenty of things to do. Things like: updating your website, updating your CV, calling potential customers, calling clients and saying hello, arranging meetings with colleagues, book-keeping, admin, back-ups, blogging, networking, reading books and blogs, skill-swapping and evaluating your competition.

You should never be ‘finished’.

Address your reader – Copywriting tip #1


The best way to make your copy more appealing, more persuasive and more effective at selling is to address the person reading it.

Use ‘you’ wherever possible. You shouldn’t be afraid of addressing your reader. Be direct – speak to the human being that is reading your writing. All of your customers are people and they will appreciate being spoken to directly.

(Picture courtesy of And all that Malarkey)

The art of modern writing: are you stuck in the past?


Out with the old

Most people were taught that serious writing demands formality and the use of certain stock phrases. Such as:

  • I write with reference to…
  • Please find enclosed…
  • I hereby have the pleasure of…
  • It is with great regret that…

In with the new

Luckily, the world has moved on, away from this kind of formality. These days we can write as we speak. This relaxed freedom can be hard to adjust to. But keep trying.

Contractions in action

At school I was taught to write do not instead of don’t. For some reason, it was thought that contractions were acceptable in speech but not in writing. Thankfully, this has changed. People now accept that it’s weird to speak one language and write another. Most people use contractions in speech, so feel free to use them in business. You have my permission.


Another rule we were taught at school was to avoid repeating words. But, sometimes it’s useful to repeat words, such as when that word is the subject you’re writing about. Your writing will become strained if you struggle to use a different word for the same thing every time you mention it. So feel free to repeat words, particularly if doing so aids understanding.

(Picture courtesy of Laineys Repertoire)

Use the active voice – Copywriting tip #2


Here’s what I mean. Below are two pieces of copy for a hammer:

This powerful hammer can strike nails into the toughest timber.

This powerful hammer strikes nails into the toughest timber.

Pull back the smothering blanket

Using the active voice often shortens a piece of text. It also removes a layer of words that otherwise form a softening, smothering blanket between you and your reader. It’s important that your copy retains a sense of urgency, so use the active voice. Your copy will instantly become more direct, more powerful and more persuasive.

(Picture courtesy of Anna Banana)

Offer benefits – Copywriting tip #3


A wise copywriter once said, “People buy holes, not drills”.

The point being, of course, that when someone buys a drill it’s because they want a hole. And that’s a crucial point. Because if you try to sell someone a drill it’s essential to remember that the most interesting points to entice a buyer will be about the kind of holes that drill can make.

So if you’re a web designer, most of your clients won’t be interested in how you make their website or the technology that keeps it running – they’re just interested in having something that helps their business. People who want websites generally just want more sales, more brand awareness or a better way to communicate with their audience.

If you’re writing copy, remember to highlight the benefits of your product or service. Ask yourself, what does this product do? What can it offer to a buyer? How will it change someone’s life?

Common benefits include time-saving, money-saving and money-making. If your product can save someone time, or make someone money, you shouldn’t have much trouble selling it.

(Picture courtesy of Rae Allen)

Appeal to emotions – Copywriting tip #4

An Emotional Start To The Dance!

Sometimes it pays to get emotional. People are often driven by their emotions and it’s worth understanding this when marketing your business.

Can your products allay fears or reassure the anxious? Copywriters often use envy, status anxiety and guilt to play on their audiences’ emotions.

While I don’t agree with some of the manipulative methods employed by marketers, it is still essential to remember that humans are emotional animals, and much of our decision-making is affected (if not entirely led) by emotional factors.

The lighter side of emotions

Appealing to emotions doesn’t have to involve manipulating your market. You could use brighter, bolder language that makes people smile and laugh. Use honest, emotive language as a way to engage with people.

(Picture courtesy of Drs2Biz)

Explain features – copywriting tip #5


Don’t forget to tell your customers about your products and services.

This might seem obvious but lots of people get so caught up in marketing theory that they forget to explain the features of their products and services.

Remember that your customer probably doesn’t know as much about your product as you. Explain it from the beginning and don’t leave anything out. Your customers are interested in your products and services, so don’t be shy in explaining them.

(Picture courtesy of Spoonman)

Remove jargon – copywriting tip #6

Jargon in this case means terminology that is particular to your industry. So jargon is any kind of language that might not be understood by your reader.

But, to be honest, when I think of jargon I’m really thinking of something much worse: management speak. Things like:Buzzword Burnout

  • going forward
  • deliverables
  • paradigm
  • eventualities
  • synergies
  • incentivise.

These are awful, evil words that you should only use if you want to obscure your meaning and sound pompous. Copywriting is about communicating. You can’t communicate if you hide behind indecipherable language and strange words that don’t really mean anything.

Always consider your writing from your reader’s point of view. Will they know what “offshoring” is?

(Picture courtesy of Raspberry Tart)

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