21 Secrets of Great Sales Copy

“Somebody once asked me if I ever went up to the plate trying to hit a homerun. I said, ‘Sure, every time.'” – Mickey Mantle

Copywriters, marketing professionals, and business owners often ask me, “How do I tell the difference between good sales copy and bad sales copy?” It’s an important question, and getting it right can make the difference between a mediocre response rate and hitting an out-of-the-park homerun.

To start, it helps to understand that consumers almost never buy things because it’s logical. The vast majority of purchases are made because they satisfy an emotional need. So, great sales copy must connect with your prospect’s most powerful emotions – positive or negative – and demonstrate how reading the copy and buying the product will fulfill or assuage those desires or fears.

Your sales message is like a chain designed to meet the reader at the point of his need, and then lead him, step by step, link by link, to the order form. This chain is only as strong as its weakest link. The minute you lose the “tingle factor,” the reader gets bored and the chain breaks. Your sales copy is only as strong as its strongest link. The more compelling you make each section of your sales letter, the greater your response and average order will be.

Sales copy has the power to make or break a direct-marketing campaign, a product launch – and a marketer’s career. That said, here are 21 tips to make your copy stronger, your ads more effective, and help you create winning direct-mail and Internet promotions.

1. Be somebody. Putting a friendly and/or highly qualified human face on copy – and speaking in that person’ s voice – will ramp up the impact of your sales messages.

2. Talk to your readers. Avoid “we” and focus on “you.” Use the word “you” as often as is humanly possible throughout the text. Remember, your prospect really doesn’t care about you, they care about themselves.

3. Be personal. Pretend you’re talking to a friend. What would you say? What would they say? And what would you say back? Avoid copy like “We want to help you…” in favor of “Here, let me help you…”

4. Identify with your prospect. Tell the reader what you have in common. Let him know that you empathize – that you’ve been there. Anything that puts you on the reader’s level will create a connection that boosts response.

5. Put a face on the enemy too. Why has the reader failed to solve this problem or fulfill this desire? Were the “experts” who gave him advice wrong?

6. Prove every point. Never ask your reader to accept any claim at face value. Always include proof elements, such as study data from respected sources, expert testimonials, user testimonials, or statements that support your position from major publications such as The Wall Street Journal or The New York Times.

7. Don’t fear the occasional obvious statement. Don’t exaggerate or lie, but don’t be afraid to go “over the top” when trying to get, and keep, your reader’s attention.

8. Speak colloquially. Speak to your prospects as they’re used to being spoken to. They’ll appreciate the occasional dangling participle – even if your old English teacher wouldn’t.

9. All jargon is not evil. Jargon can be very effective, especially when the jargon is familiar to the reader. When the jargon is being spoken – sparingly – by an expert, it can demonstrate the expert’s knowledge.

10. Figures of speech are wonderful! Remember, you’re “talking” to an individual. You’d certainly use figures of speech if you were face to face. If a picture is worth 1,000 words, a good figure of speech should be worth at least 100. But be careful – don’t overdo it.

11. Use powerful words and phrases, such as “amazing,” “bargain,” “bonus,” “discount,” “discovery,” “just arrived,” “premium,” “prestigious,” “savings,” and (of course) “FREE.” Similarly, avoid wimpy words such as “may” and “ought,” and phrases like “in my opinion.” Write with the courage of your conviction.

12. Squint. As you study the page, ask yourself, “At first glance, does this feel easy-to-read and inviting? Or is it covered with long, dense paragraphs that will discourage the reader?” Look for opportunities to turn a long block of copy into a string of pearls.

13. Go for precision and power. Many experts say you should always use short words, writing as if the prospect is an eighth grader. Don’t do it! Given a choice to use a long word or a shorter one that means the same thing, go with the shorter word. If a longer word – or even a phrase – more precisely conveys your meaning or more effectively invokes the emotion you’re going for, use it.

14. Short sentences rule!

15. Count commas. Commas can be a big red flag that screams run-on sentence. Or that you’ve written an upside-down sentence. Consider… “With only the finest of intentions, Clayton wrote his example.” Now try this… “Clayton wrote his example with the finest of intentions.” Which is better?

16. Use connecting words at the beginning of paragraphs. In addition to communicating, every paragraph of great copy should also make a sale. It should “sell” the prospect on the idea of reading the next paragraph with words such as “and,” “plus,” “furthermore,” and “what’s more.”

17. Look for shortcuts to keep the momentum going. Use contractions – because that’s how people talk.

18. Be specific. Every generality in your text is a landmine. Instead of saying “You’ll save money,” tell your prospects how much they’ll save.

19. Consider the question. Some copywriters recommend that you avoid asking a question in the headline or elsewhere in the copy. But how about a question like “What’s wrong with getting richer QUICKER?” More than a question, it is a compelling cry of defiance.

20. When in doubt… cut it out. Often your best lead is buried a few paragraphs down. Moving or deleting the first few paragraphs – even the first page – can get you off to a much faster start. Second drafts are the perfect time to spot needless repetition and condense several paragraphs into one short, punchy one.

21. Break the rules!

[Ed. Note: Clayton Makepeace has spent the last 35 years creating direct-mail, Internet, and print promotions that have sold well over $1 billion worth of products. Plus, as a direct-marketing consultant and copywriter, he’s helped four major direct-marketing firms at least quadruple sales and profits to well over $100 million per year each.

Clayton publishes the highly acclaimed e-zine, The Total Package to help business owners and copywriters accelerate their sales and profits. Click here to check it out.]