This is part 2 of my post on “Keeping Your Audience Engaged With Your Copy”.
As always, I’m going to pack a lot of info onto this page for you (while still keeping a reasonable time limit). So make yourself comfortable, and prepare yourself for a few minutes of education and entertainment (I guess we can call it “edu-tainment”?)
In Keeping Your Audience Engaged – Part 1 we talked about staying focused on your audience, and staying focused on 1 main idea per piece. In this lesson we’re going to talk about structure, word usage, and flow of our copy.
Note: We’re going to primarily talk about online copy throughout this lesson, but aside from a few structural differences most of the concepts apply to offline as well. And with some minor adjustments much of it applies to audio and video scripts too.
So let’s just dive right in and I’ll do my best to make the next few minutes of your time as edu-taining as possible…
Rule #3 – Making it easy to absorb your message
When it comes to keeping our audience engaged with our copy, there’s a few key concepts we need to remember about our average reader… This isn’t meant to be derogatory, and it doesn’t apply to everyone, but these things are nearly universal for the mass of our average audience…
To begin with, the attention span of your average reader is short, and getting shorter all the time. Thanks in no small part to the sheer amount of distractions, and information overload available to us on the internet, there seems to be an exploding trend of what I refer to as “electronically induced ADHD”.
So in order to counteract this trend we not only need to make our copy interesting, but we also need to make it as easy as possible to absorb.
Of course, if our product is vitally important to our audience, like the last bottle of water in the desert, then their own self interest will do wonders to keep their attention focused on what we have to say.
But in our busy society, when a curious or only partially interested reader first sees your copy, one thing that goes through their mind is whether or not they have time to sift through your message.
Assuming your headline brings people into your copy (because if it doesn’t then the rest of this doesn’t matter anyway), and your lede gains some interest…
… As your average reader, I’m going to quickly skim or scan the entire page before deciding how much time to give you.
Your audience is looking for two main things at this point…
1. To see if your page holds enough value to be worthy of their time. (That means does it look like it’s going to payoff the promise your headline used to bring us into the copy) And…
2. Ease of reading (if your page looks like one big block of hard to read text, or a jumbled mess, few people will stick around long enough to read your words)
The quality of your research and copy skills will determine the answer to the first point. And since there’s no way for me to know the value of your offer, from my side of this page, right now we’re going to focus on the second point… Ease of reading.
And this brings us to the structure, flow and word usage in our copy.
There’s a few things we can do to make our copy more inviting to read. And today we’re going to touch on 3 of the easiest things you can do to make your copy easier to look at…
Subheads, Bullet Points, and White-space for Readability
Sub-heads – Throughout your copy your sub-heads should stand out so they catch your readers attention as they skim. (you can make it bold, or a different size, font or color, etc.)
And, the sub-headline should give a compelling explanation of what that particular section of copy is about.
Sub-heads are like mini headlines, and ideally they should be as compelling as your main headline.
The idea is… when someone skims your copy, and they see a sub-headline, it should get them to think, “hey, this is valuable.” And it should compel them to want to stop and read the next few lines of copy.
If you can get them to do that a couple times, then many people will go back and read your entire page. Because now they believe it’s worth their time.
And even if they don’t go back to the beginning, you’ve still pulled them into your copy and got them interested in what your have to say… And that’s a good thing.
Bullet Points are another great way to break up large blocks of text on your page, and to identify important points of your offer.
Bullet points can be comprised of…
- Powerful benefits of our offer (they can even resemble mini headlines)
- Proof elements (a list of guarantees or third party endorsements)
- Fascinations (for info products we can hint at what’s inside – See page 24 for details…)
- What our offer is not (Not another “me too” product… no muss… no fuss… no hard work… no BS…)
Basically we want our bullet list to be points of interest. And In sales copy we want them to be selling points.
White space means leaving a bit of blank space between sentences, and paragraphs, so when someone skims your page it doesn’t look like one huge page of “hard to read” text.
When someone lands on our page, or opens our email, if they see big blocks of text that look like it will take a lot of effort to focus on… many people will immediately click away, or hit delete without ever giving your copy a chance to prove itself.
So when we use shorter sentences, and break up the paragraphs with more whitespace and subheads, our copy is easy to look at and absorb.
The next thing we want to consider is word usage
1. Active verbs are better than passive voice
With active verbs the subject of a sentence performs the action. With the passive voice the subject receives the action. Here’s a quick example of what I mean…
Active action: A dog bites the boy.
Passive action: The boy gets bitten by a dog.
Basically, active action put you and your reader right in the middle of the action. Where passive action usually comes across as a bit distant, and less impactful.
That doesn’t mean we can never use the passive voice (sometimes we want to make a point without making it the center of attention) But when we want our readers to become engaged or excited, active language is better than passive.
2. Use shorter words whenever possible
If we’re writing a novel, and we want to show off our linguistic prowess, then using large flowery prose can work quite well.
But when it comes to writing sales copy for our average reader… short, easy to understand words are the way to go. (Note: if we’re selling to academics then we probably do want to sprinkle in some pretentious language, just so they know we belong in their niche)
Let’s take the example of my own sentence above…
The term “linguistic prowess” is a bit flowery (and a bit stuffy). If we want to make it simpler, we could easily rephrase it as “language skills.”
It might not sound as colorful, but now more people can easily read it without having to think too hard. And if they don’t have to think too hard it’s easier for them to continue with the flow of reading our message.
3. Use familiar words
Don’t use buzz words or jargon in your copy, unless you’re writing for a particular group of insiders that you know use those words regularly.
On the other hand, buzz words can work great when we’re writing to a group of people who do use them often, because it makes you look like an insider. And few things will make people trust you more than having them think you’re one of them.
But when we’re writing for a larger audience of average people, don’t use jargon or acronyms that aren’t common in everyday language. If you do, you risk losing most of your audience as soon as they hit a word they don’t understand..
A simple rule to follow is to only use buzz words or jargon when you’re convinced that most of your audience will understand them.
4. Punctuation can be our friend (or our enemy)
When my daughter was around 7 years old she told me a joke that taught me a valuable lesson about punctuation. I can’t think of anyone before, or since, who made the point as clearly as she did. The joke was about how punctuation kills. And the example was…
Example 1: It’s dinner time. Let’s eat, Gramma
Example 2: It’s dinner time. Let’s eat Gramma
In the first one we’re inviting Gramma to eat with us, and in the second one Gramma is on the menu. The lesson is… Missing or misplaced commas can change the meaning of a sentence.
Other punctuation can also make your copy easier to read and absorb. Here’s a few basic punctuation marks along with the effect they usually have in our copy…
A comma , gives us a very short pause and gives our reader a chance to breathe before continuing with the sentence (they help mnimize run-on sentences)
A semi-colon ; gives us a slightly longer pause and can be used to preamble an explanation of what the sentence is about (semi colons are rarely used in copy)
A colon : can be used as a full stop and is often used as an emphasis for an example or an important point (see my examples 1 and 2, above)
An ellipse acts as a longer pause … And it let’s the reader know you’re going to continue the thought. Elipses can be very powerful because most people don’t want to leave a thought half done. So elipses encourage our reader to continue.
A period is a full stop and indicates the end of a sentence (and usually the end of a thought).
An exclamation point indicates the end of a sentence, and shows excitement or aggression! But don’t overuse them, because if you emphasize too many things then it difuses the impact from all of them.
5. Organize your copy
Make sure that your copy is organized in a way that allows your audience to progress smoothly from start to finish.
You can make the order chronological (like in a story where there’s a beginning, middle, and end).
Or, if your style is more logical instead of narrative, you can go in order of importance (like giving step-by-step instructions).
Either way, just make sure you allow people to see where your copy is heading. Because any confusion could be a sales killer.
Now in all fairness, there is a concept known as “open loops” and even “nested loops” where you begin a detail, or a story (or two) and leave them unfinished. Then, after a bit of diversion we go back and close the loop by finishing the story.
This is a powerful technique that many movies and soap operas are built around. But it’s also a sophisticated technique that is a bit advanced for this short lesson, so we’ll need to cover open loops it in a future lesson.
For now, just keep your copy going in a single forward moving direction, and you should do fine.
6. The importance of clarity
We went over this in part 1 of this series when we talked about “Staying focused on one main idea” and I want to say it again, because it’s that important.
I don’t want to drag this part out needlessly, so I’ll just recommend you go back and read Keeping Your Audience Engaged – Part 1 again.
OK, according to the read-o-meter this page is coming up on a 10 minute reading time. So this brings us to the end of this session. I trust you got something of value from this 2 part series, in exchange for the few minutes of your valuable time.
And now I also have a bonus for you…
If you’re interested, I have a swipe file you can use to help you keep your readers engaged with your copy. It has a couple of PDFs from my swipe file archives, and all you need to do is contact me and let me know you want it.
When you do, I’ll send it to you. No charge, just my gift to you.
Until next time,
Here’s to writing more compelling copy… more often.
All the best,
- Part 2 – The secret to writing persuasive sales copy - April 30, 2020
- The Secret To Writing Persuasive Sales Copy - April 19, 2020
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