Tag Archives: Copywriting

Are you an attention seeker?

8 Sep

Of course you are! If you want to capture your reader’s attention and compel them to read your copy you have to be – and therefore a great headline is a must. 

Whether it’s for a brochure, report, web page, leaflet, email subject line or sign up box for a newsletter, your headline is your first opportunity to capture your reader’s interest. Headlines for your marketing material and website work in much the same way as a newspaper headline, focusing the reader so they know where to begin and tempts them to read the words underneath. Without a headline your copy could be ignored and your carefully crafted marketing message or the information you want to impart could be missed.

This is particularly true when you consider that people tend to scan pages, so the headlines and subheadings are the parts of your copy that will stand out and be read first – make sure you write one that will stop them in their tracks.

Your headline is the most important part of your copy, so you should spend a considerable time thinking about it.

So what makes a good headline?

 There are three important things to remember when writing your headlines:

  • Be reader-focused – Your headline needs to focus on the desires of your reader in order to get them interested. They want to know what they can get, not who you are. Therefore, don’t write “We” or “Our” sentences, write “You” and “Your” sentences.
  • Make your headline stand out – You headline is the starting point of your copy – unless it’s a subheading – so make it easy for your reader to find. To ensure your headline or subheading gets noticed, make the headline font at least four points larger than the main text and your subheadings at least two points larger.
  • Address you reader’s needs – When thinking of a great headline, I like the approach Maria Veloso takes in her book Web Copy That Sells. Maria identifies that a good headline stems from addressing two basic human needs:   

1) To gain pleasure

2) To avoid pain.

With this in mind, here are some tips for writing good headlines:

  • Use Questions:  The brain naturally can’t help answering them. It’s the old “Don’t think of a pink elephant” trick. By asking your reader a question, you’re already getting them to consider the situation you are presenting them. For example: 

What would you do with an extra £200 per month?

Can you afford to let your computer break down?

  • Include emotional triggers: Use words that trigger the desire for improvement or for the reader’s life to be changed for the better.
  • Promise to reveal secrets: Give your reader the sense they’re being let in on a secret or the first to know something. It builds a sense of anticipation and makes them want to know the secret. (Of course you don’t give that away until much later in your copy!)
  • Highlight the benefits – You can highlight the best things about using your product or service, but it has to show the value – put it in a context that’s recognisable to the reader.

Don’t simply say ‘This washing powder will make your white clothes stay white’ – you’ll have highlighted what it does and that’s great, but what does it really mean to your reader? Try to say instead: ‘Stop the scrubbing – rid your whites from ugly stubborn stains in one quick wash.’

Remember to then lead your reader into those promises from the first paragraph – paint the picture of them scrubbing away, as they will need to know you understand their problems before they’ll believe in your solutions.

  • Offer tips – Promise to tell your reader something that will benefit them with some ‘How to’ tips or ‘What to do when…(something happens)’

How to get the beautiful beach body you want in just one week

What to do when your bills have left you broke

  • Use the imperative – If you’re talking about an action the person reading can take as a result of using your product or service, your headline should use the imperative. This means words that command you to take action now. Such as ‘Create your own website‘ or ‘Improve your computer skills.’ However, I would go on to add a benefit or time scale for context: ‘Improve your computer skills in just one hour‘ or ‘Create your own website and improve your sales.’
  • Make your headline editorial – The headline should sound like it’s for an informative article, otherwise the reader will smell they’re being sold to and stop reading. 

A little extra to think about – If you’re writing headlines for a web page, blog or online article and want to improve the ability of people to find it through search engine optimisation (SEO), try and get your keywords in your headline – but don’t force it if you can create a better headline without them. 

Lamb’s final thought

Different subjects lend themselves to different styles of headline and you might find some styles work better for your topic than others. 

It’s good practice to come up with a good long list of headlines and choose the best one. Creating a headline is usually the last thing I do with my copy – I find the headline is easier to create once I’m happy with the copy, but everyone works differently. You can always ask friends or family which one they are drawn to the most – while they won’t necessarily be your target audience, it might give you a better idea of what definitely doesn’t work.


Writing slick content for mobile users

4 Aug

A neat bit of information has been published by usability guru, Jakob Nielsen and the team at Nielson Norman Group, about writing for mobile phones.

Websites and social media are no longer limited to the laptop, Mac or PC – people are carrying around the world’s information in their pockets via mobile devices such as phones and iPods. 

That means it’s useful – and important – to know how people use these devices and to ensure your content fits with how they’re used so that your product, service, brand and advertising messages gets across – and it’s likely to be different again from how people usually use the web. Mobile use has an impact on design, but on us copywriters too.  

Jakob Nielson’s research included how people use mobile websites, apps and email newsletters. I’ve distilled these fascinating findings (if it floats your boat) down to these few pointers when writing content for mobile users:

Main point:

  • The overarching aspect is to focus – the first screen has to contain only the most essential information


  • The narrow field of view of a mobile device makes it harder for users to comprehend content as there’s little visible context. 
  • People are usually in a rush when using mobile devices – less time is spent looking at emails and newsletters on a mobile
  • If faced on the first screen with lots of text, people are turned off.


  • Therefore, when writing for the web it’s important to be concise – and even more so with mobiles. Place only the most important information on a single page and place secondary content (the more in depth explanation and detail) on another page. 
  • Mobiles benefit from the progressive disclosure principle – meaning you reveal content piece by piece using hypertext to take the user to the detail. That way you save the basic information on the first screen and the rest is elsewhere. It allows users to click to the section they are interested in rather than scroll down the page
  • Don’t make your user work hard to find information – make everything as obvious as you can
  • Don’t clutter the page  – no big picture taking up useful copy space.

Jakob’s final thought

It’s better keep the initial screen focused and let particularly interested users delve into the detail – your customers will be more satisfied, you’ll get more traffic and your mobile content works better for your business.

Read the full blog update on writing focused content for mobile users by Jakob Nielsen.

Feeling ignored? 7 tips to make your copy more readable

22 Jul

This isn’t about nailing a sheet of writing to the forehead of your target audience – it’s about understanding how people read on the web so that you can lay out your copy to make sure your words aren’t ignored – this is called readability.

Why is readability important?

Whether on the web, in brochures, sales letters, newsletters and reports or really anything you want people to read, the way you lay out your copy has an effect on whether your words will actually be read. 

After all, you’ll have put some time and effort into constructing some killer copy.  You may even have all your keywords in your web copy to be found in the search engines.  But if someone is faced with a wall of text they’re likely to groan and leave.  If you’ve got a great sales pitch, want to impart important or interesting information or whatever you want to achieve with the words on your website, it will have little effect if no one reads them.

How do people read on the web?

The short answer is they don’t.  Some people will read every word, but the majority of people in readability tests scan the page.  They look for words that get their interest or relate in some way to what they are looking for.  People are usually looking for fast results, and really only need to get the gist.

What does this mean for your web copy?

Knowing that people scan web pages, here are some quick tips to laying out your copy so that you’re less likely to stop people from reading on:

1. Use headlines to capture attention.

  • Make them distinct from the main text by increasing the font size so it’s larger than the main body of the text
  • Its position should be about a third of the way down the page to meet the eye line
  • Don’t capitalise you headline or place a caplital at the beginning of each word (unless it’s a proper noun) – it stops people from reading fluently and reduces the impact of its meaning.

Headlines is a big subject which will be covered in more detail in later blogs.

2. Break up long text using sub headings so people can jump to what they need to know.

3. Highlight important words in bold or italic. When people scan the page, these words will stand out and tell your reader quickly what the copy is generally about. Also great for SEO.

4. Use bulleted lists – everyone loves a tidy list of bullet points. It quickly imparts information without the added detail, organises key points on the page and is much easier for your reader to digest. Imagine if I had placed all these tips in one long block of text. Would you have read this far?

5. Place copy to the left of picturesAs people scan images from top to bottom, words on the right can be ignored.  Yes, I know I have placed an image on the left, but it’s pointing to the text and as a general rule it should be on the right.

6. Don’t write too much . Web pages are generally no more than 250 words for a normal page depending on how much information your reader needs to know. You only need to write enough to get the message across or people will stop reading.

7. Don’t use justified or centred text.

Justified text is like a newspaper column. It tends to stretch out words to fit the space and adds a hyphen (-) where it splits a word in two as it runs into the next line so it fits the text area.

Centred text is difficult to read. The next line is indented and looks a bit like this. Your reader will have to look for the beginning of the sentence every time they move down a line. People often use it because they think it livens up the look of the page or makes it easier to read the copy, but it actually has the opposite effect.

 Keep your copy left-aligned.

Lamb’s final thought

Although I have written about web copy layout for readability, it really does apply to anything you have written copy for. If you have a sales letter with lots of blocky text, a brochure, for example, with no highlighted words or quotes, a report without subsections, it all prevents people from wanting to read on.

Six steps to killer web copy

7 Jul

For those who aren’t sure, web copy refers to the words on websites that sell things or gives information. 

Let’s start this one off explaining why you need words on your website

  • It’s the words that sell things and get people to take action, not just pictures.  Pictures are important too – they have impact, are entertaining and tell people more about a product, event, place etc.  But you’ll find people look for words to explain things and tell them what to do.
  • It’s great for getting found in the search engines.  Search engines scan text to provide people with useful search results.

For the moment I’m going to leave out the how people read part of writing web copy –  it’s to do with the layout of your web copy to make it easy and more interesting for people to process – but we’ll talk about that in later blogs.

Here we will look at the basic structure of web copy and what you need to cover in order to make the best connection with your reader.  I’m mainly dealing with sales, but this structure applies to anything you want to promote.   

1.  Establish your objective

You should only start thinking about your web copy when you know why you are building a website:

  • What do you want to achieve from your website? 
  • Do you want to get people to buy from the site, call you or sign up to a newsletter? 

Establishing an aim makes it far easier to write the copy.

2.  Know your reader and talk directly to them

Knowing who you’re aiming at is the first step to knowing how to get them to buy from you, sign up to something or do what it is you want them to do using your website.  Before you write a single thing, try to answer the following questions:

  • Why do people buy your products or services?
  • What advantages or benefits does it bring to your customers? That is to say, how has their life changed as a result of getting what you have to offer?
  • What is your unique selling point?  That is, what makes you better or different from your competitors?

It’s as simple as asking previous customers, or getting them to leave comments through your site.  If you’re writing for someone else, ask them why people buy from them.

3.  Become an attention seeker!

Now you need to get you reader’s attention so that when they arrive on your site they are too interested to leave.  You do this with a tempting headline that says “You need to read on”.  I’ve devoted an entire step to this one because your headline is very important!

Get your reader’s attention with a great headline – but make sure it relates to the rest of the copy and no using naughty words just for the sake of it, cheeky.

A headline isn’t “Welcome” or the title of the page (boring!).  That’s not enough.  Your intention is to use words that you know will get their interest and make it difficult for them not to read on.  Your headline is likely to be the first bit of text your site visitor will read, so it’s important to make it a good one.  Try questions or suggest a secret will be revealed and always have their desires in mind.

You can find out more about what makes a good headline in later blogs.  It’s an important – if not the most important – part of your web copy and demands further detail.

4.  What’s the problem?

So many people make the mistake of pushing the product or service before the reader has any understanding of why they might need it.  Your reader is much more likely to be interested in what you’re promoting if you can show them where it fits into their life.  You do this by identifying your reader’s problems and remind them they have them before you can offer the solution. 

This shows you have an understanding of your reader’s predicament without stating the patronising turn off, “We know how you feel.” Really?  Do you?  Demonstrate it, rather than giving them the opportunity not to believe you.  It also helps to build up a relationship of trust, which in turn makes it more likely they will buy into what you say. 

Laying out their issues makes up your first (and sometimes also second) paragraph – make it interesting as it’s the one that could stop people from reading on.

Some examples

  • If you feel like you’re living under a pile of paperwork, with endless phone calls and meetings, it can seem like there isn’t enough time in the day. 
  • Whether you’re feeling tired due to over-worked muscles, or simply can’t get a good night’s sleep, having no energy can really get you down.

Hopefully people will read this and go “Yes, that’s me!”. 

When you write your copy, always address your reader directly. It’s much more inclusive as it builds a sense of relationship. That means you shouldn’t talk about yourself using the words “We” or “Our” in sentences. Focus on using”You” and “Your” so that it sounds like you’re speaking to one reader. It’s flattering to be paid interest.

5. Lead them into temptation

It’s widely known that playing on the desires of people gets them to buy things.  People buy what they want, not what they need.  Therefore you need to make them imagine the desirable life they could have if they no longer had the problems you just identified. 

You can even use the word “Imagine”: 

  • Imagine what life would be like if you could take back some time for yourself and re-address your work/life balance.

Or perhaps:

  • Pushing yourself to the limit isn’t good for you.  How much better would you feel if you could take time out to slow down the pace and relax?

You can also show you realise that they may have tried other solutions in the past, but were never satisfied.  It makes your solution sound better. 

So, we’ve demonstrated the problems and given a picture of what life could be like without them.  Now it’s time to introduce your product.

It’s a well known sales tool that if you can make someone imagine already having that product or service, they are more likely to buy it.  Don’t simply tell your reader that they will no longer have those problems:

“You won’t feel tired any more.”

Focus on the useful features of your product and service and what advantages and benefits they will bring your reader.  It’s much more powerful to tell them what they will be able to do as a result:

“You’ll find that after a relaxing day at the Rejuvenation Spa you’ll have more energy to do the things you love and start your working week with a fresh outlook.”

Feature:  The spa is relaxing

Advantage:  You’ll start your working week with a fresh outlook.

Benefit:  You’ll have more energy to do the things you love.

Don’t forget to tell them your unique selling point – the reason why they should buy from you rather than your competitors. 

6.  It’s time to take action!

Now you must close the deal.  This is called your ‘Call to action’ – the point where you get them to do what you want them to do.  That could be to buy a product or service, contact you for more information or sign up to a newsletter or report.

This is your final opportunity to clinch the sale.  Remind them why they should get what you’re selling or promoting and tell them how simple it is to get what they want.  Don’t give them any excuses not to buy.

Make it as easy as possible for them to take the action you have persuaded them to take – place all your contact details at the bottom of your web copy so they don’t have to go looking for it.

Lamb’s final thought

Putting together good web copy takes a lot of practice.  You need to consider language, detail and your reader’s psychology among other aspects.  However, even if you follow these basic building blocks you’ll have the basis of web copy that works.

How to SEO your web copy

23 Jun

If you have a website, you want to make sure people can find it on the web.  SEO stands for Search Engine Optimisation or Search Engine Optimise and is about making your website more easily found than other websites containing similar information to yours (ie your competitors).

There are lots of ways to make your website more searchable, but you need to know that search engines love words.  That means the copy on your website needs to be easily read by the search engines so that it can place you in the search results according to your relevance to the search terms typed in to the search box.

For example, if you have a women’s clothing company, you’ll want to be in the search results listings on Google (we’ll use Google as it’s the biggest search engine) when people type in ‘women’s clothing’.  (These words alone won’t get you far, but it’s a start).

That means you need to include words in your copy that people are looking for.  The more specific you can be with your keywords as they relate to what people are searching for, the better.

In short, your copy has to:

  • Be relevant:  It has to make sense to the reader and actually be about what you are selling
  • Contain keywords: The copy needs to include the words people are looking for (not what you think they are looking for!)

That doesn’t mean chucking in the words ‘Justin Beiber’ simply because everyone is searching for his name.  Besides, you’ll be up against more relevant websites to his name.  It also doesn’t mean writing lists of keywords – Google looks for relevant content that makes sense to real humans, so your site is likely to be rejected for overstuffing keywords.

What it means is that when people search for specific terms, your copy is relevant to their search because it contains those keywords to the extent it still makes sense to readers.  Therefore, your site is more likely to be offered up in the Goolge search results.

It’s not just the words, it’s how you express them on the page

Where you place the keywords and in what format also helps Google recognise that these keywords are relevant to the page and tells it what the page is about.  This way Google can provide relevant search results to its users. 

Therefore, as well as throughout the copy, try to get your keywords into the following:

  • Headlines:  The higher up the keywords sit in the copy, the more relevant Google treats them
  • Bulleted lists:  Google takes notice of lists as it shows you have highlighted these words to stand out from the copy
  • Bold and Italic:  The same goes for words in bold and italic – they are seen as more relevant.
  • Links:  When you place internal or external links, try to include your keywords in the link sentence.  Don’t just use click here.  For example for your clothing site write:  Find out more about our dresses for petite women.  Google will take note of the whole sentence and when people type in ‘dresses for petite women’ into the Google search box, your site is more likely to be one they find in the results.  

Not only do these methods help with your website’s SEO, they are also better for readability – making your copy easier and more interesting for people to read.

How do you know what keywords people are searching for?

You have to include keywords people are using, not what you think they are using.  Find out what people are looking for with the Google Keyword Tool.  It will tell you how many people are looking for those keywords so you can choose the best ones for your copy.

Writing copy for SEO is only one method, so don’t expect over night results unless you are the only person or one of very few people with those particular search terms.  There’s more you can do using keywords in your HTML code (the code used to actually write the website), but that’s beyond the remit of this blog. 

I recommend reading ’50 Ways To Make Google Love Your Website’  by Johnston and Mcgee for more easily-digestable info on SEO.  

What makes a decent website?

10 Jun

What are your favourite websites?  Why do you like them?  Your attention is being fought over by millions (indeed, squillions) of web pages, and you’ve picked those ones.  I can bet you the reasons you like those websites are because:

  1. They give you what you want
  2. You find them pretty easy to use
  3. They’re interesting
  4. You feel fairly satisfied when you leave – but not quite enough not to return again.

That’s what a good website is about.  However, there are so many things that prevent people from staying on websites and buying the products, using the services or even reading the information found there, if indeed that’s what the site is for.

It’s the same as if you were baking the perfect pie – you’d have to get the right balance of ingredients for it to taste good and for you to want more.  Websites need the right mix of attractiveness, ease of use, relevant and interesting content and engaging words to make you stick around.  Otherwise you get bored and leave.

If you’re interested in finding out more about what makes good web copy, what makes people stay on websites and a bit of social media and SEO info, stay tuned.