What is killer copywriting?

At heart I’m a copywriter. And putting words together is still what I do for a third of each day. With global ad agencies I wrote over 200 campaigns that ran across Asia and Europe; today the plain declarative sentence reigns mainly on the web, and writing twice as much in half the space is second nature.

I aim for what I call killer copy: writing that deliberately evokes the experiences and associations of shared culture. Because if every brand value, every product benefit, riffs on something bigger  … the reader sees it in a broader context. Leading to faster and deeper understanding.

Killer copy is writing that people feel. (The acid test: when someone replies personally to copy sent as a mass email.) Three principles guide it: sound, scenery and structure.

Write for the sound

Sound is the meter and rhythm your words make on paper. From glottal clicks between clauses to the zappy laddishness of phrasal verbs, sound matters.

Sound is what gives your copy colour and pattern, just as intonation and accent guide natural speech. It’s why the deep-down thud of a Germanic root wins the crowd from the cultured cloudiness of a Latinate abstract. It’s why anything worth writing is worth reading aloud first.

The sound is what carries your words along and keeps your reader with you. That’s why I write for the sound.

Write with scenery

Scenery is word choice: the meaning delivered when you choose one synonym over another, the precision of a crisp phrase over a fuzzy ramble. It’s the verbal images that get your reader’s head nodding as he mouths, “I see!”

It means using concrete nouns. Active verbs. And adjectives only when they add something. Passive voice is a rarity; keep it vivid and vibrant and above all visual. If sound is how you sing to your reader, word choice is how you paint them a picture. (Or better, direct them a movie.)

Scenery also teams with SEO: writing in sync with the web means working out what your top search terms are and using them to build your paragraphs. (You’ll get a useful list of keywords to slot into your metadata alongside the text itself; that’s what put my site on the first page of results for “london copywriter” and searchalikes.) Word choice is your scenery.

Write to a structure

Structure is how all the parts fit together: the interplay between topic sentence and transitions, how ideas are introduced and expanded, the order they’re arranged in. Structure affects how your meaning carries over from page to page – or gets dropped between paragraphs.

Basic narrative rules apply. Make the paragraph the unit of construction; it should say one thing and connect those above and below it. Keep your average sentence length down and use words of one syllable wherever you can; don’t take up more of the reader’s time and energy than you need.

In a world of links, new rules get added. Each discrete chunk needs to stand alone yet make sense in the flow of copy, even when the reader clicks and forks between pages and sections. That’s hard – which is why all copy needs a plan before the writing starts. Structure makes your copy function.

To get some killer copy of your own, contact me.

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