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You're Not Done Yet: Eight Strengtheners For Your Sales Copy


Writing sales copy for a new or to-be-relaunched product takes a lot of energy and concentration. When you finish that first draft, take a rest. Then go back to what you've written with this sales copy checklist, which outlines the eight most frequent corrections and improvements I make on copy given to me by clients or students.

1. Pronouns. Do you have a preponderance of "we" or "I" and very little "you"? Wherever possible, change pronouns to "you," which comes across as more captivating and relevant to the reader than "I" or "we." In many cases, this seemingly mechanical rewording task forces you to ask yourself, "Why should the reader care about this?" or "What does this mean for customers?" That's great, because shoppers and information seekers are looking for what's meaningful to them, not for a monologue about the company.

2. Verb tense. Hunt for places where you used future-tense verbs ("will ____") and change them wherever you can to present tense. This conveys more confidence and has a stronger impact. For example, change "Before leaving, we will check all pipe connections to make sure they are tight" to "Before leaving, we check all pipe connections and make sure they are tight" or even better, "Before leaving, we make sure all pipe connections are tight."

3. Extra verbiage. Now find all the spots where your writing takes the long way around, and make your choice of words crisper and more direct. Get rid of the extra helper verb in "Together, we work to create reachable goals," for instance, changing it to "Together, we create reachable goals." Instead of "In almost every case, executives who have the intention of fostering teamwork do not know the best methods of getting optimal results," write "Usually, executives who want to foster teamwork don't know the most powerful techniques," or even better, "Few executives know the most powerful teamwork techniques."

4. Unnecessary sentiments. Wherever you said things like "It goes without saying that..." or "When we say X, it's not just words," either express the idea in a stronger, more interesting way or leave it out. Remember: If it truly goes without saying, then don’t say it!

5. Sentence variety. Look at the length and types of sentences in your copy. Do they mostly have a simple, short "subject, verb, object" pattern? If so, combine some sentences and sprinkle in longer sentences starting with a subordinating word like "when," "because" or "through." Are most of your sentences long and complicated? If so, make some of them short and stark: "This works." "Not any longer." "Benefits sell." By helping the copy to flow, sentence variety keeps the reader reading.

6. Bulleted lists. Bullets organize points for fast, easy skimming. You can make bullets even easier to read quickly by adding short, boldface headers to the beginning of the bullets. The same goes for numbered lists - as in this article, where each point starts with a summary of the topic in one to three words.

7. Company focus. Never assume that you can say something once and have the reader keep it constantly in mind! Suppose the copy you’ve written describes a service for chefs. Although many companies provide this service, only this company specializes in providing this service for chefs. Instead of making this point just once, drive it home repeatedly by adding the word "chefs" again and again throughout the copy: "For chefs..."; "When chefs..."; "Chefs find that..."; and so on. This drumbeat of specialization also helps attract search engine traffic.

8. Call to action. Most copywriters know that you need to ask for a response to get a response, by ending any piece of copy with a call to action, such as "Call today to start a free, no-obligation discussion of your needs" or "Order your Wonder Widget now." But on a multi-page web site, I usually see a call to action missing on most of the pages. Probably people are thinking that visitors take a certain sequenced path through the site, getting eventually to the page where they've placed the call to action. That's not how people engage with web sites, though. To prompt action, end every page on a web site with a call to action.

Although many other factors also contribute to the power and success of copy, the neglected ones above have a surprisingly strong impact on readers when consistently applied. They create lean, lively, relevant writing. Practice these techniques and enjoy a more vigorous response!