When it comes to copywriting, breaking the rules can uncover the gold.
I’m normally a rule follower. When the walking man is red, I wait. When the charity bin is full, I don’t dump and run. When Danny A told us to stay home during Melbourne’s 843 lockdowns, I went batshit crazy and seriously questioned my decision to procreate but I did it.
When it comes to copywriting though, I like to go a little rogue. Why? Because sticking to the rules can suck the life out of your content, leaving you with the same old sentences everyone else is spouting. Sometimes you gotta break the copywriting rules to get content that’s fresh, fun and the-word-we-are-never-allowed-to-use-but-imma-gonna-use-it-anyway, unique (a copywriter just died, Tinker Bell style).
My response when people tell me I can’t use adjectives, alliteration or non-words.
Breaking the copywriting commandments separates the bland from the brilliant, the ‘same old’ from the ‘say what now?’ It’s the thing that keeps my clients coming back for more.
What are the five copywriting rules I love chucking in the bin? Glad you asked.
1. Thou shalt not use too many adjectives.
Do you want to buy a muesli bar? Or do you wanna sink your teeth into a decadent mix of crunchy almonds, honeyed oats and silky smooth chocolate?
My love language is adjective-filled alliteration. I’m bloody mad for an adjective as long as it fulfils a purpose, ADDS to the copy and doesn’t hinder accessibility. It’s not about trying to be clever. It’s about painting a picture that the gets the reader to click ‘Add to cart’ or ‘Book a call’. Be gone with your adjective aversion already.
2. Thou shalt not talk about thyself.
Ok, so I’ve been seeing A LOT of this lately. Copywriters telling people to focus solely on their ideal client when writing their About page. It’s gotta be ALL about them, don’t you dare say ‘I’. And…I…agree but only to a point.
Yes, your About page absolutely needs to tap into the value you offer your clients. But it also needs to tell people who you are – why do you do what you do, what makes you tick.
When I see an About page that highlights the value you offer AND tells me who you are in a vulnerable and authentic way.
People want to connect. They want to know that the person they’re giving their money to is a good un. Don’t shy away from sharing a personal ‘warts and all’ story or telling people about the things you care about. It helps build trust and attracts people whose values align with yours.
3. Thou shalt not make up words.
To that I say, though shalt STFU. There are a lot of words I use that aren’t words but should be. For example:
Procastibaking – the tendency to make banana bread when a deadline is looming (#guilty).
Architexture – the skill of combining various textures to make a space more inviting.
Nonversation – a conversation during which you find yourself compiling a mental grocery list to avoid falling asleep.
I’m mad for a non-word in the right context. It can add some much-needed fun and quirk to your copy. Just make sure you explain what you’re on about so people aren’t like, whaaaa?
That feeling when you come up with a word that isn’t a word but should be.
When I was working on the Shark Mates campaign to promote responsible handling of sharks and rays, we had to share a lot of evidence-based information. I encouraged the client to used phrases like ‘Sharken your skills and rays your game’ to add some personality. Could we have used the correct word, sharpen? Sure but…yawn.
4. Thou shalt only write long blogs for Lord Google.
You’ve no doubt heard that for SEO, a blog post should be over 2,000 words. The longer the length, the more keywords for Lord Google to pick up. SEO should be a key consideration when writing your blog content, yes. But SEO should strengthen your copy, not compromise its quality.
If you’ve got over 2,000 words of valuable and engaging blog content, then post away. But if you’re waffling and filling for the sake of SEO, stop. Your audience are time poor (everyone is), if you waste their time with crap copy, they’ll close the browser quicker than a bargain hunter heading to a Boxing Day sale.
When I see a short, snappy, scannable blog post that offers value without waffle.
There will always be a place for short, snappy blogs. For a lot of my clients, their blog ‘sweet spot’ is 600 to 800 words. And yes, people find them and read them and share them.
5. Thou shalt create a sense of urgency on thine sales page.
Ew David. Perhaps this is a personal thing but if I see a sales page with a banner flashing ‘Offer expires in 5 minutes’, I’m outta there. A sales page is about highlighting the value of your offering in a way that guides people to convert. It should be more series-of-gentle-nudges-via-relationship-building rather than shoving and shouting with a side of sensory overload.
When you land on a pushy sales page full of timers and fake offer expirations.
People are savvy. They know that false urgency is BS. They know that 70 per cent discount will still be there next week if they decide to take it up.
And while we’re at it, they know that $197 is $3 less than $200. A lot of people will talk to you about pricing psychology and magic numbers but I’m gonna call it, we’ve moved on. Your website visitors know what you’re doing with that .99 trick (wink wink) and they ain’t gonna fall for it no more I tell ya! (Thud, we’ve just lost another one, I used an exclamation mark).
Copywriting rules. When we stick to them fastidiously we risk reaching a 9.5 on the snore fest scale. But when we’re brave enough to break them, we weave sentences that sparkle like an unbridled unicorn in a field of dull donkeys. Alliteration intended. And yes, you’re damn right I started that sentence with a conjunction.
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