Communication skills

Copywriting tips: Five rules of engagement

- April 18, 2013 3 MIN READ

If your copy doesn’t grab your customers’ attention, how can you expect them to buy your products or services? Here are five ways to make your copy more engaging.

As a copywriter, I’m often asked to make existing copy ‘more engaging’. This is clearly the holy grail of any sort of persuasive writing – after all, if you can’t engage your reader, you’re hardly going to hold their attention long enough to convince them to buy your products or services. But what does it actually mean, and how do you do it?

At the risk of giving away a few trade secrets, here are five foolproof ways to make your copy connect with your customers – whether it’s your website, direct mail, blog or email newsletter.

1. Talk to your reader

Engaging copy is not about you. It’s about them. So take a step back and think about what your customer might be doing when they see this message. Chances are they haven’t been longingly staring at their screen waiting for it. It might interrupt their busy day, or your web page might be just one of many they’re flicking through.

So how do you stop them clicking away or hitting delete? Start by talking to them directly so they know you have them in mind. That means using ‘you’ and ‘your’, not ‘our customers’ or ‘the market’. Engaging copy is like having a chat with someone.

2. Take out all the unnecessary words

Shorter sentences are much easier to read, and so are simpler words. Replace ‘utilise’ with ‘use’ and the sky won’t fall in, I promise. You might also be surprised to see that if you take some of the ‘that’ out of your copy it still makes sense… but faster.

Here’s a long-winded statement that masks just how useful this company’s service might be: “SuperSoft allows your business to operate applications that require high availability and portability with the least amount of expenditure.”

Or, they could say: “With SuperSoft, you can streamline your IT for less than you might think.” Which would you prefer to read?

Plus, although shorter sentences are easier to read, finding a balance between short and longer sentences, and short and long paragraphs, is key to creating engaging copy – think of it like the rhythm in a song.

Want more articles like this? Check out the business writing section.

3. Turn passives into actives

If you write in a passive voice, chances are your copy sounds like a legal disclaimer – the very opposite of engaging.

Here’s an example. “In 2012, a total of $10,000 was raised by the Excite Foundation.” In this case, the verb (‘was raised’) is all the way towards the end and the people doing it – the Foundation – is last. Longer passive sentences can get quite confusing – who did what again?

Turn it around and you have: “The Excite Foundation raised $10,000 in 2012.” Hang on, that’s shorter too – maybe we can add a bit more information to make it more interesting. How, why, who? Which brings us to…

4. Give them proof, not promises

Rather than talking vaguely about solutions, give some real-life examples with case studies, or facts or statistics. Talk about specific products or services, and how they help real people do more, save more, save time, enjoy life…

5. Chuck out your chintz

Or rather, chuck out your clichés. Nothing makes the eyes glaze over faster than the usual business jargon. Here’s a real-life example: Enterprise customer experience management and process analytics solutions to create sustainable competitive advantage. Zzzzzz… Sorry, where was I? If by some miracle you’ve worked out what this company does, please let me know in the comments section.

In my copywriting business, we have a list of common phrases we do our best to avoid – it includes going forward, ultimate, unrivalled, best of breed and second to none. It means we have to think harder to come up with new ways to describe the things you do. And, hopefully, that will make your copy more engaging.

What’s an example of some really engaging marketing copy you’ve come across? Does it follow the above copywriting rules? 

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  • Andrew Caska

    Caska IP Patent Attorneys

    'Flying Solo opened up so many doors for us - I honestly don't know where I'd be without it"