5 Copywriting Rules to Turn You from Hack to Writing Hacker

5 Copywriting Rules to Turn You from Hack to Writing Hacker

by | Jan 24, 2014 | Copywriting

Everything in life or work has rules attached. Copywriting is no exception.

Make no mistake: This is not an instance where breaking the rules will lead to better results.

Rule-breaking may work if you’re writing a novel or creating fiction, sure. In stark contrast, copywriting is all about speaking to specific audiences and moving them to act.

There are tried and tested ways to do this. In other words, don’t try to reinvent the copywriting wheel.

There’s a right way and a wrong way to write copy. Following these simple copywriting rules will ensure your words have a fighting chance to make an impact on the audience you’re targeting.

'There’s a right way and a wrong way to write copy. Follow these simple copywriting rules to ensure your words make an impact on your audience!' - @JuliaEMcCoy on #copywritingrules Click To Tweet

5 Copywriting Rules You Should Never Forget

Ready to learn the “write” stuff and create copy that gets results? These 5 copywriting rules are ones you should always remember:

Copywriting Rule #1: Simplify

In the world of copywriting, complicated is NOT better.

Your goal always should be to communicate ideas and information in the clearest way possible. You want every single person who reads your copy to understand it perfectly.

That means you need to simplify as much as possible. Write concisely and avoid redundancy.

This example from Michele DeLima shows what I mean. The first version of copy is full of fluff – unnecessary words that add nothing to what she’s trying to say. When she omits the fluff, we get down to the meat of that first loaded paragraph:

Michele was able to cut the first paragraph down from 50 words to 9 and say the exact same thing.

While doing your initial editing passes for your copy, look for nonessential words and phrases that pad your writing. Then, cut them ruthlessly.

Here’s the nonessential stuff from the above example. I’ve highlighted them so you can see exactly what was cut to get to the final, clean and simple version.

Copywriting Rule #1: Write concisely and avoid redundancy. Read more about @JuliaEMcCoy's top 5 #copywritingrules Click To Tweet

Copywriting Rule #2: Spend as Much Time on the Headings as the Body Copy

This next copywriting rule is not just referring to the H1 (also known as the title or headline). It also alludes to your humble H2s, H3s, and even your H4s – the subheadings.

Yes, technically the latter is less important. However, that’s just from an organizational standpoint. The H1 conveys the overall main idea or takeaway, while the lesser subheadings sum up the major ideas that contribute to the overall main idea.

From a copywriting standpoint, though, ALL of the headings in a piece need to be creatively and intelligently constructed. They need to grab the eye, inform, and sum up the content for a scanning reader.

They need just as much care and attention as the body copy.

If instead, you dash them out carelessly or neglect to include some subheadings, your entire content piece will suffer. It will be flatter, less interesting, harder to scan, and more difficult to understand.

For inspiration on making ALL of your headings interesting, creative, and engaging, look at this blog post by Brian Dean of Backlinko:

Not just the H1 is compelling – each and every subheading draws your eye, makes you think, and effectively outlines the piece.

Even your sub-subheads should get this kind of attention if you truly want to create a winning content piece.

Copywriting Rule #2: ALL of the headings in a piece need to be creatively and intelligently constructed. Read more about @JuliaEMcCoy's top 5 #copywritingrules Click To Tweet

Copywriting Rule #3: Focus on Benefits, Not Features

Think of this next copywriting rule as the Golden Rule of online copy.

Drill it into your head and practice it everywhere you possibly can.

Benefits over features.

To see what I’m talking about, look at Evernote’s homepage.

Here, you’re presented with the benefits of using Evernote straight out of the gate:

  • Evernote will help you feel organized without any effort.
  • Evernote will help you record all your ideas, projects, and to-do lists wherever you are, so you don’t miss a thing.

The focus, as you’ll notice, is on YOU – not Evernote. If Evernote instead focused on features, this page would look very different. Let’s imagine that for a second. It might read like this:

  • Evernote has organizational features like Notebooks and tagging.
  • Evernote has both desktop and mobile apps.

Features are great, but they aren’t personal. They don’t relate this product to your life. That’s exactly what makes features forgettable.

Here are the differences between features vs. benefits spelled out in black-and-white:

  • Benefits show you how a product or service will benefit your life – A.K.A. make it better. Benefits are personal and memorable.
  • Features tell you what a product or service can do (without reference to what it can do for you). That’s it.

To sum up, when you stay benefits-focused, you stay focused on your audience’s human needs. You tell them how your product or service fulfills those needs. You relate it to them and make it personal.

Of course, when your copy is personal to your readers, it’s more compelling – and that’s the entire point.

Copywriting Rule #3: Focus on benefits, not features. Read more about @JuliaEMcCoy's top 5 #copywritingrules Click To Tweet

Copywriting Rule #4: Don’t Write AT Your Audience – Write TO Them

What’s the difference between writing at someone and writing to them?

Hint: It ties into copywriting rule #3, above.

Still stumped? Here’s the answer:

One is impersonal and cold. The other is personal, warm, and engaging.

Writing at your audience is similar to the way flight attendants go over the safety guidelines at the beginning of every flight. They aren’t really talking TO you or engaging with you; they’re talking AT you. They’re presenting information – nothing more, nothing less.

In contrast, think of writing to your audience as having a conversation. Directly address them. Figuratively look them in the eyes when you’re speaking/writing to them – imagine them right there in front of you. Make it personal, and talk/write to them in a way they’ll understand and appreciate.

This is how you get and keep someone’s attention. If you merely write AT them, on the other hand, you’ll never encourage anything other than clicking away from your content.

Copywriting Rule #4: Don't write AT your audience - write TO them. Read more about @JuliaEMcCoy's top 5 #copywritingrules Click To Tweet

Copywriting Rule #5: Tell People What to Do Next

Most of the time, if you don’t tell people what you want them to do, they won’t do it.

Why? Nobody can read minds.

This holds true in copywriting, too.

If you provide no direction on what the reader should do after they read your copy, they’ll do nothing.

So, if your copy is getting read but not inspiring reader action, consider whether you have provided enough direction on what they should do next. In the copywriting world, this is known as the call-to-action (CTA).

All effective copywriting includes a CTA. If your copy isn’t getting results, ask yourself these questions:

  • Have you included a CTA?
    • A CTA is basically a command for your readers. It tells them what to do, with no doubt. For example, if you want them to sign up for your email list after reading a blog, your CTA should say something like “Sign up now” or “Subscribe for more great content”.
  • Is your CTA strong enough and direct enough?
    • Weak verbs and confusing wording will muddy your CTAs. For example, “click here” isn’t direct enough or specific enough to inspire action. Why should they click? Try to answer that in the copy surrounding your CTA, then use a stronger verb to call them to action, like “sign up”, “download”, “get”, “enjoy”, “try”, or “start”.
  • Have you included enough CTAs?
    • Sometimes, adding CTAs in various places throughout your copy gets more people to click. Then again, sometimes it doesn’t – it all depends on your audience. Test a few different CTA placements and see what works.

For inspiration, look at this piece about the right blog post anatomy by Boss Project. Three different CTAs appear near the end of the content:

One appears as a banner at the end of the infographic in the post:

One shows up in the final paragraph:

And one appears at the very end of the blog:


  • All of these CTAs tie into the blog topic. All of them make sense within this piece of content.
  • They all ask you to do the same thing in (slightly) different ways. This keeps things clear and avoids confusion. (Don’t ever ask your readers to complete more than one type of action in a single piece of copy or content. Remember copywriting rule #1.)
  • The wording used is direct, specific, and actionable. The CTA tells you exactly what to do (download a free printable).

As you can see, the CTA is one of the most important pieces of any type of copywriting. Take the time to make it shine and more people will engage with it.

Copywriting Rule #5: Tell your readers what to do using call-to-actions. Read more about @JuliaEMcCoy's top 5 #copywritingrules Click To Tweet

Copywriting Rules Are Essential for Inspiring, Engaging, Actionable Copy

With your copy, don’t start from square one. Don’t write blindly. Follow these proven copywriting rules to make your job easier.

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