This week, we’re going to talk more in-depth about your writing style. And more importantly, how your copy can convert readers into customers.
Because ultimately, that’s what it’s all about.
1. Write Simply
Don Draper put it best when he said: “Make it simple but significant”. When it comes to writing, simplicity is key. But why does simple copy convert? The answer is simple (excuse the pun), while your reader is digesting your copy, they’re asking questions. Questions like, will this product work? Is it worth the money? Does this company seem trustworthy?Your job is to answer those questions straight away.
Another reason simplicity is key is because readers don’t want to wade through a sea of words to find what they’re looking for. Particularly for web-based copy, you have just a few seconds before they hit that backspace button and look for answers elsewhere.
Don’t confuse simple with stupid.
By simple, I mean easy to understand and digest. I do not mean patronising your audience.
You could argue that your writing would depend on the knowledge and intellectual level of you intended audience. And you’d be correct. But that would only inform the content of your writing, not the style. The best way to communicate your content—however complex—is in a direct and simple manner.
I have taken the example below from a website I contribute to, Jammy Digital, an SEO agency based in Manchester.
Search engines need to understand what your website is about. So why not make it easy for them? By conducting your keyword research and optimising your content appropriately, you’re communicating with Google. You’re telling them what your content is about. And they will reward you in return.
Now this content requires the reader to have a basic understanding of SEO. But look at the language, it isn’t too complex, the sentences are short and the point is made clearly.
Simple is harder than it looks
Have you ever noticed how difficult it is to be concise? I always use the example of Tweeting. Does it take you longer to craft a tweet or Facebook post? I’m going to guess it’s the tweet. This is because Twitter forces us to get the point and that can be a difficult task.
So how do you do this? My tips below will explain more…
Cut the fat
Sentences can be full of redundant words or phrases that take away from your key message. The aim is to identify and cut these words, creating short, concise copy.
Before: We absolutely guarantee you’ll love our product
After: We guarantee you’ll love our product (Absolutely is a redundant word, the guarantee itself is absolute)
Before: In ten years’ time, your investment will double in value
After: In ten years, your investment will double in value (A common error, no need to add the word time)
Before: Our products are very unique
After: Our products are unique (Very unique doesn’t make sense, it is unique, or it is not. There are no scales.)
Before: Always remember
After: Remember (The word always is a redundant word)
Get rid of expletives
No, I don’t mean swear words. I’m partial to those. An expletive is described as a word with no meaning. Examples include words like it, here and there, followed by verbs are, is and was.
Before: There is nothing better than chocolate.
After: Nothing is better than chocolate.
Before: There are some people who think that writing is easy!
After: Some people think writing is easy!
Before: It is dangerous to drink so much
After: Drinking so much is dangerous
You'll notice that by implementing this, your sentences will be shorter, and they’ll also pack more punch!
Bye-bye boring verbs and weak adjectives
Remember one strong verb is better than a weak verb and a week adjective. It’ll tighten your writing and make your copy sound exciting.
Before: I ran quickly
After: I sprinted
The piece of content was written in passive voice.
See what I did there?
Firstly, let's talk about passive voice
Passive voice is where the noun that would usually be the object of an active sentence, is the subject of a passive sentence. For example:
The letter was posted by me – passive
I posted the letter – active
In the active sentence, the subject I is performing the action of the verb, i.e. posted the letter. In the second sentence the object i.e. the letter has become the subject. It takes the emphasis away from the person or thing who is actually doing something and making them… well, passive.
But what’s so bad passive voice about it anyways?
Writing in active voice is shorter and snappier. It leaves no ambiguity, such as in my first sentence where I put, “The piece of content was written in passive voice.” Who am I talking about, who wrote the content?
Which sentence do you think works better?
The training programme must be attended by all staff. – Passive
All staff must attend the training programme. – Active
The grand opening was attended by over 10,000 guests. – Passive
Over 10,000 guests attended the grand opening. – Active
Our business is recommended by 98% of customers – Passive
98% of customers recommend our business – Active
Why is passive voice so difficult to grasp?
We Brits speak more naturally in the passive voice. Imagine an office situation, would you be more likely to say the following…
“You must not leave the heater on.” – Active
“The heater must not be left on.” – Passive
Usually (and yes, I’m stereotyping here) it’s the passive. Even if we know who is leaving the heater on, we prefer to refer to some mystical being in our sentences rather than sound rude or blunt. I get it. But try to avoid it in your writing.
So how do I identify active/passive voice in my writing?
It’s surprisingly easy to slip into passive voice. Often, I’ll spot passive voice in my writing through the editing process. But how can you make it easy to spot?
Thanks to Twitter user, Rebecca Johnson, there's now a simple and easy rule for identifying passive voice. If you can add the words ‘by zombies’ after the verb, then you’ve got passive voice!
The grand opening was attended by zombies
The heater must not be left on by zombies
Our business is recommended by zombies!
3. Sentence Rhythm
Making music out of words is not at the top of your to-do list. Rhythm is for musicians and poets, dancers and authors – all those lovely creative types, right? Wrong. The rhythm and pacing of your sentences plays a key part in connecting with your audience.
Think back to all the times you’ve exercised with music. Did you ever notice that the song you were playing matched your speed, put a bounce in your step and fuelled you to push harder and faster? What’s happening isn’t magic. Your brain is connecting with the song, the words and the tempo. And so why not use this technique in your writing?
I’m not saying you have to be Shakespeare, but paying attention to your rhythm can make a huge difference to someone reading your content and someone giving up on it.
Improving your rhythm
I’m not going to delve into the nooks and crannies of rhythm here. It would take forever! But I can give you my one sure-fire tip that I guarantee will improve the rhythm of your writing.
So, how does one make words sing?
Vary your sentence length!
Having a variety of long, short and medium sized sentences is a way of creating rhythm in your writing. It keeps your reader on their toes.
Long sentences can set scenes, describe a series of events or build to a dramatic conclusion. Short sentences can pack a punch. They make fantastic beginnings or endings. Take for example the opening to Killing Floor (Jack Reacher) by Lee Child.
“I was arrested at Eno’s diner. At twelve o’clock.”
Bam. Right there. And we’re into the story.
The question is, can businesses achieve this? Can they, like works of fiction, use rhythm in their writing? Of course they can! Take a look at the example below from the brand Innocent Smoothies.
See how they combine long, medium and short sentences? How the opening grabs your attention. How the words bounce around, how playful they are, how easy it is to read?
How about this example from the British Heart Foundation.
This is a great piece of copy, combining a long, medium and short sentence. It really packs a punch at the end.
So, there you have it, my three sure fire ways to produce copy that converts your readers into customers.
2.Use active voice
3.Vary your sentence length
If you know of any great examples of writing copy that converts, please comment below. I would love to take a look!
And don’t forget to join me next week for ‘So what? Create copy that makes people care…’