And today we’re talking about finessing the shit out of your writing so it’s as polished as Dante’s Inferno.
Ok, maybe not that good. (Perfection is unattainable, after all. Or so they say.)
But I will give you some pointers of some of the best places to get started with finessing your writing, and if you do each one for each piece of copy you write, I promise you’ll notice yourself getting so much better over the next few months.
First check out the intro to this series, part #1 on emotion, and part #2 on logic if this is your first time here.
1. Eliminate Unnecessary Words
Sentence one: In fact, you can stop feeling that constant, dull, lower back twinge that holds you back from doing things like going to the gym, enjoying the outdoors on the weekends, and having the sex life of your dreams.
Sentence two: Get rid of that constant, dull, lower back twinge that stops you from going to the gym, enjoying the outdoors, and having the sex life of your dreams.
Which one’s punchier and gets the point across better?
The one that doesn’t beat around the bush, that’s which one.
When you eliminate unnecessary words, you get rid of unnecessary fluff that readers have to wade through before they arrive at the point you’re trying to make.
Extra words only slow them down, so the fewer unnecessary ones, the better.
A few words on every good writer’s shit list that’ll get you started with this elimination process:
2. Scrap Mediocre Words for Magnificent Ones
Think about the difference between green and sea green.
They’re both green, but they feel so different when you read them, don’t they?
One is the common grass outside your window and the other brings up imagery of a beautiful, peaceful seaside beach with greenish, clear water tones in the distance. You actually feel the warmth of the sun on your skin and imagine a life where you only big concern of the day is how much time has passed since you last applied sunscreen.
Word choice makes a difference. A big one.
Think about the different connotations between the different words for book:
- hard cover
Given all the different connotations, “book” suddenly seems insufficient, doesn’t it?
And what about when you talk about money? Cost, price, fee, expense, investment, payment, and contribution all have very different feelings, don’t they?
It can seem like a tall order to figure out the perfect wording for everything, but I’ve been writing professionally for ages and my desktop thesaurus is still my best friend.
To start working towards the right word choice on your site, I’d suggest starting with your page’s main headline and looking up the words of it in your thesaurus to see if you uncover anything that better goes after the feel you want.
And once you’ve absolutely nailed that first hook, keep reading to make sure everything you say after that falls in like with the core, essential feeling that the hook has created.
If not, start searching for words you can substitute to make everything feel more cohesive.
(I’ll give you a minute while you go through you text with your thesaurus.)
3. Transitions: The Thought Flow Needs to Make Sense
Ok, so now you’ve got a page chock full of the best emotions, logical backup, and the most wonderful wording a site in your niche could ask for.
But you need to make sure you’ve got your transitions down so reading though your page doesn’t feel wonky for a new visitor who doesn’t ‘get’ you yet.
See what I mean?
Gengo gets the visitor hooked with quicker translation times and lower prices… which is their obvious hook and main value proposition.
But as someone who’s worked with translators before, my first question isn’t “How much?” but is “How?” At the moment they make those promises, I’m more interested in how they fulfill them and keep high quality standards than I am about the price at the moment.
Particularly if you’ve had to drop a long-shot comparison… it needs to be crystal clear. (But you know, without overly spelling it out and beating a dead horse.)
In short, you just need to make sure your on-page thoughts connect in a way that makes sense & that follows along with a reader’s thought pattern. If you read through your page and feel like something’s missing—try to figure out the most concise way to connect it all so there’s no gap in thought, creating confusion.
The best way I can think to explain this is to simply show you:
So, back to the HomeAway example. Everything on the page is about booking and enjoying a private vacation, except for the screen filler that says “List your property on HomeAway and open your door to rental income.”
I totally get why a company like HomeAway would want to encourage more listings, but this placement does not fit the thought flow of the piece. Something in the upper corner or in the footer to encourage property listings would still get the attention of the people looking for it, but wouldn’t interrupt the thought flow and impact of everything else.
Further, even if they did take out that panel, they’d need something that would connect property booking with their other value offering, which is to “experience the whole city.”
4. Get Really Freaking Specific
This is where the fun begins.
Where the high-brow, nit-picky finessing stops and we get dirty. (Heads out of the gutter, people.)
This is where you go through your on-page copy and identify any phrase that isn’t absolutely, 100%, so concrete that you can’t smell it yet.
Check out these three promises, in order of specificity:
- Make more money.
- Have more money in your bank account.
- Earn $7,000 more per month.
The first promise is really nice. I do want to make more money, after all.
But the second promise is even better. It gives me the image of more money in my bank account which stirs up all the emotions of what I’d be able to do with a higher bank balance.
But that third promise? Whoa Nelly.
Hell yes I want $7,000 more per month. And even if I don’t buy from you that instant, you can damn well bet I’m going to remember that promise well into tomorrow. And maybe next week. Because holy shit, I don’t even know what I’d do with $7,000 extra this month. But I do know I’d be absolutely thrilled to have that problem.
The point of getting specific is to make the kind of impression the third promise has. It’s to create imagery and let your readers’ imaginations run wild with what you’ve just said.
“By using specific visual words,” said Drew Eric Whitman in his book Cashvertising, “you can give your audience a sense of what it’s like to actually interact with your product or enjoy the benefits of your service—to demonstrate its use inside their minds—long before they actually buy it. This vicarious pleasure is where the persuasion begins, because the first use of any product is inside the consumers’ minds.”
In short, you need to be specific. Because if a reader doesn’t imagine themselves using what you’re selling?
They’re not buying it.
5. Don’t Edit Out Your Personality
Particularly if you’re trying to sell in a B2B market, people are tired of boring logic and jargon that drones on and on and on about ROI, brand recognition, improved processes and whatever the hell else these people who try to improve life at a corporation are trying to hawk at you.
But if suddenly you’re researching process management consultants and you find one that isn’t using jargon about efficiency but instead is saying things like “[insert what they should be saying here],” they’ve got your undivided attention, don’t they?
And I’m willing to bet that they’re the ones you mention to your boss, not the 50 others that all sound exactly like each other.
The most important thing though, is to do what works for your company and your brand.
For example, I’m a bit sassy on my site. Others are adorably quirky. Some websites feel like one giant, awesome pep talk to go kick ass in the world. And others are no-nonsense, getting straight to the point.
This is a little bit harder to “teach” because it’s something you’ve just got to more or less learn by doing. But the tone of voice you need is already there—it’s in the internal dialog you have in your mind about your business, how you and your co-workers talk to each other, and how you talk with your clients, once you acquire them.
So harness that—those conversations that are already happening—and for the love of cute puppy articles on Buzzfeed, DO NOT EDIT YOURSELF.
As a reference, here’s some companies that do a great job with personality:
- Freshbooks: When you go to Freshbooks website, you automatically start to feel like responsible accounting for your small business doesn’t have to be a pain in the ass anymore. Their personality is “I know it sucks, here, let me help you.” BFF style. And as soon as you feel the weight of number-crunching and invoicing lift off your shoulders, you’re theirs forever.
- Dollar Shave Club: These guys have been back on my radar recently with their Facebook ads telling me that my razor doesn’t have to be pink just because I’m female. It’s true. And that no-nonsese, deal-seeking, straightforward tone carries very well throughout all of their online writing.
- Celestial Seasonings: The page I’ve linked to is their “Morning Thunder” tea, but I love how they use the descriptions and images on their tea boxes to convey the feeling they know you’re after at the exact moment you’d be using that tea. For example, this box reads “an exhilarating morning blend with no coffee jitters.” And the Sleepytime box reads, “to help calm the nervous world around us… to help them wind down their day.”
- Vegan Bros: This site is made by two brothers: personal trainers, online entrepreneurs, and vegans. And they way they deliver their message with strong, offensive personality is incredibly memorable. They piss of the people they want to piss off and rally up the troops of people who believe the same way they do. They’ve recently got a book deal, so it seems to be working for them.
Classy Copywriting: That’s All For Now, Folks… But Wait! There’s More!
So now you know how to create emotional hooks, add logical arguments, and finesse your copywriting until it’s a million times better than your competition’s.
And as long as you make an effort to apply these lessons, you’ll be in much better shape than 90% of the other online marketers out there, who’re just half-assing things and hoping for better results.