Brad Callen
Thursday . 20 min read
The 10 Commandments of Killer Copy

Hey everyone, so in this chapter, I’m going to go over some very basic copywriting commandments. Follow these and your copy will not only be easier and more enjoyable to read, but it’s also going to convert higher. So, let’s just get right into it and start with the first one.

Promote Benefits, Not Features

Commandment 1 is Promote Benefits, Not Features. Now if you’ve been copywriting for a while, I’m sure you’ve already heard this one, but a list of copywriting commandments wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t give this one a mention.

So, what does this mean exactly? First, let’s talk about what the difference is between a feature and a benefit. A feature is an actual characteristic of your product. Let’s say you’re selling a coffee maker. Some of its features might be that it has a programmable timer and auto-pause. While those might be desirable in a coffee maker, there’s really nothing sexy or compelling about listing those things out.

A benefit, on the other hand, describes exactly that–how your customer can benefit from a feature. So, in the case of a coffee maker, you might write something like, “The coffee maker offers a programmable timer so you can wake up each morning to a pot of freshly brewed coffee.”

You do this because the customer isn’t buying the coffee maker for the timer–what they’re actually buying it for is the convenience of waking up in the morning and enjoying coffee immediately, rather than waiting for a full pot to brew.

So, in all your copy, you’re going to want to really drill down to the benefits of whatever it is you’re selling so your copy converts better. And quick tip, you can do that by adding the language, “so you can” after each feature.

For instance, in the example I just gave, I used the phrase,

“The coffee maker offers a programmable timer so you can wake up each morning to a pot of freshly brewed coffee.”

While you probably don’t want to list a ton of features and always follow them with the phrase, “so you can,” thinking about it in that way can help you identify the benefit of a specific feature.

Don’t Waffle

Our next copy commandment is a simple but very important one and that is, don’t waffle. By that, I mean that you don’t want to water down the impact of your copy by using words like probably, might, could, maybe, hope, try, etc. You want to use “can” and “will” language instead.

A lot of times you’ll find that these words tend to creep in–especially in your first draft–and they really reduce the effectiveness of your copy. So, you want to make sure you go over everything you’ve written very carefully and if you find weak words like these, eliminate them.

Having said that, there’s one important exception. The FTC evaluates ads for deceptive practices based on implied and explicit claims. In particular, they focus on health and safety claims, as well as claims that most consumers have no way of evaluating for themselves. I think they probably also look closely at ads for financial services.

In cases like those, you may have to waffle a bit to adhere to the law. However, subjective claims like “ABC Cola tastes great!” are fine. When in doubt, head over to the FTC’s website so you can familiarize yourself with the guidelines for your industry.

Use Simple Language

You might have a huge vocabulary, but as a copywriter, you’ll never get to use it, sorry. The best copywriting is written in simple, easy-to-understand language, because that’s what gets the best results. WordStream just recently analyzed 612 of the best-performing Google ads using the Fleish-Kincaid scale which measures how easy or hard a passage of text is to read.

They found that on average, the best-performing ads were written at a 9th grade level. To reach that level, Perry Marshall, the author of Ultimate Guide to Google AdWords, suggests that you:

Never use a 4-syllable word when a 2-syllable one will do

Use simple sentences that get right to the point

And make your paragraphs short and punchy

If you really want to make sure your copy reads at the right level, you can also do a search on Google for a readability calculator–there are several available online for free that can tell you the grade level of your copy.

Pick Power Words

Some words convert better than others. Those are what we call advertising power words, and I suggest you try to use them in your copy wherever it makes sense. There are actually word lists of 100+ advertising power words that you can find online to keep open as a reference while you’re copywriting.

However, for now, just know that Yale University’s psychology department studied this topic and discovered that the following 15 words are the most powerful advertising words in the English language:

1. You

2. Results

3. Health

4. Guarantee

5. Discover

6. Love

7. Proven

8. Safety (or Safe)

9. Save

10. New

11. Best

12. Easy

13. Now

14. Sex

15. Free

By using words like these, your copy will be more attention-grabbing and persuasive, and more importantly, it’ll convert higher.

Make People Feel Something

According to Harvard Business School professor Gerald Zaltman, 95% of our purchasing decisions are made subconsciously. 95%! That’s huge. What that means for you as a copywriter is that your prospects are making decisions on an emotional level, rather than a logical one.

Here’s how it works. Your prospects decide they want something for emotional reasons. Then, they try to justify a purchase by looking for logical reasons that support their desire to buy. So, to make your prospects want to buy what you’re selling, you want them to feel something–to form an emotional connection.

There are a few different ways you can do that. For example, you could give sensory details by describing how something smells, tastes, looks, feels, or sounds.

You can also create an emotional connection by telling stories. Stories are a great way to engage your readers and pull them into your copy.

Let me give you an example. Recently, I had to write copy describing how someone discovered they had a defective liver enzyme. Sounds like the type of thing that would be pretty boring to read, right? Well, here’s the copy I ended up writing:

“By the time I was served my second glass of wine, my face started feeling like it was burning. It wasn’t just my imagination either–my wife mentioned that I was looking pretty flushed. I wish that was the worst of it but then, I started to feel nauseous, like I was going to throw up right there in the winery! My heart even felt like it was beating faster. I was becoming really uncomfortable–I was sweating, overheated, and I just didn’t feel like myself.”

You can really put yourself in this guys’ shoes, can’t you? The sweating, the burning face, the nausea–it paints a very vivid picture, and it makes you feel like you know what this guy’s going through. That’s the aim of good copy.

Imagine if I had described the effects of the liver enzyme by just saying, “My face got red, my heart rate increased, and I began to feel sick.” It just doesn’t have the same impact.

OK, let’s move on to the next commandment, which is “Avoid Sounding Like a Used Car Salesman.”

Avoid Sounding Like a Used Car Salesman

Now, this can be a tricky one. I’m sure you’ve heard it said before that copywriting is part art, part science, and that certainly holds true here. Yes, you want to promote your product and you want to be very clear about its benefits using powerful words, attention-grabbing headlines, stories, analogies, and amazing claims.

However, one reason people don’t trust advertisers is because they’re bombarded by thousands of ads a day, making amazing claims

They’ve become jaded about advertising.

So, as a copywriter, what do you do? My suggestion is that you read your copy and ask yourself, “Can I imagine a used car salesman saying that?” If you can, then find a way to tone it down a little.

This can be a balancing act, because obviously you still want your copy to convert, but you want to be careful here because otherwise you run the risk of one of two things happening: either (1) you’ll turn prospects off because they’re skeptical of your claims or (2) you’ll get them to buy, they’ll experience huge disappointment, and they’ll be pretty vocal online about how your offer wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.

The only exception I can think of here are outrageous claims that are kind of tongue-in-cheek. I’m sure you’re familiar with the Axe ads that feature half-naked women chasing after the guy who wears Axe. The campaign was wildly successful and while nobody watching it ever expected a female stampede, it did communicate the overall message it intended–that wearing Axe will make you more popular with women. Anyways, bottom line here is to just be careful.

Write in Present Tense, Not Passive Voice

A passive voice in writing just sounds weak. So, for those of you who don’t remember this lesson from grammar school, let me just quickly review what passive voice consists of.

Passive voice always includes some form of the verb, “be,” like am, is, are, was, were, and been. Here are a few examples:

Passive Voice:

  • Our supplement was picked to receive the XYZ Award.
  • 15 new product designs were created.
  • This weight loss system has been called the best one on the market by Consumer Reports.

Active voice is more interesting to read and more concise. Let me show you by rewriting the examples I just gave:

Active voice is more interesting to read and more concise. Let me show you by rewriting the examples I just gave:

Active Voice:

  • Our supplement received the XYZ Award.
  • We created 15 new product designs.
  • Consumer Reports calls our weight loss system the best one on the market.

So, when you’re going over your copy, look for opportunities to strengthen it by replacing any sentences in the passive voice with an active one.

Moving on, our next commandment has to do with being concise.

Don’t Write More than You Need To

It’s tempting as a copywriter to go on and on and on about why someone should buy your product. However, just because you might have a lot to say, that doesn’t mean it’s effective.

Generally speaking, the more expensive something is, the more you’ll probably need to write to overcome someone’s objections. Items that are relatively cheap can usually get away with less copy.

However, this commandment isn’t really about whether short copy or long copy is better. Either can work, depending on what you’re selling. Instead, what I’m saying here is that you should only write as much as you need to make the sale.

If what you want to say makes your copy more persuasive, then by all means, add it. But if it doesn’t really strengthen your copy or add very much to it, leave it out. Bottom line – be concise. Make your best most persuasive argument, then stop writing.

Pay Attention to the Details

I know, you’ve probably heard NOT to sweat the small stuff plenty of times in your life, but copywriting is different. You DO want to sweat the small stuff, because even changing a word or two can have a big impact on your conversion rates.

Take, for example, a study done by Carnegie Mellon. Researchers there found that by changing the phrase, “a $5 fee,” to “a small $5 fee,” they were able to increase conversion rates 20% among the participants they’d classified as tightwads.

Now imagine if you were getting great traffic to a sales page, and you were able to increase conversions by 20%. That’s huge–over the course of the month, you could make thousands more dollars.

So, you DO want to pay attention to details and go over your copy with a fine-toothed comb. I’d strongly, strongly suggest that to do that, you use something like Testly, my A/B split testing software.

With Testly, you can test 2 different versions of your copy, your headlines, your bullet points, your calls-to-action, etc. Split testing software tends to be one of those things that quickly pays for itself. (You could offer a discount for Testly here using a landing page or promo code)

OK, let’s move on to our final copywriting commandment, address objections head-on.

Address Objections Head-On

It might be tempting for you to think that it’s better to ignore the doubts people have about buying whatever it is you’re selling. You might worry that by bringing those doubts up, you’ll just draw attention to them. That’s true, but it will draw attention in a good way.

Joe Sugarman is the legendary copywriter who wrote the copy for BluBlocker sunglasses. HIs copy was so successful that it sold 20 million pairs of BluBlockers worldwide. According to him, anticipating and addressing objections is one of the most powerful things you can do in your copy to get sales.

It’s so important to try to come up with reasons you think your prospect might not buy and then counter them. For instance, I’m selling something called Fat Loss Factor RX, which is a liver detox plan for weight loss. When I was creating the video sales letter or VSL, I thought through all the objections my prospects were most likely to have…

For example, I imagined one reason prospects might not want to buy my product is because they worried they’d have to give up their favorite foods. To counter that, I made sure to emphasize in my VSL that they could lose weight while still enjoying their favorites like pizza and ice cream.

Another objection I imagined is that if they were already leading a fairly healthy lifestyle, they might not think they could benefit from a liver detox program. So, I explained in the copy how age plays a huge impact on liver health and why even someone who exercised regularly and ate little fat could benefit from a liver detox.

As a copywriter, you need to figure out why your prospect has reservations about buying and then, let them know their fears are unfounded. Doing that will definitely help with conversions.

Alright guys, that sums up some of my favorite copywriting commandments. I’ll probably be sharing with you more as we go throughout the course but before we get deeper into this, I wanted to make sure you had a solid grasp on some of the basics.

We’ve reached the end of the video–see you in the next one where I’ll be going over the benefits of creating customer personas.


Book Introduction


Customer Personas

Brad Callen
About The Author

Brad got his start online back in 2002, and is the founder of Bryxen, Inc. The Bryxen team has built 30 online businesses over the past decade. Ranging from eCommerce products, to information products, to Saas products. His life mission is to help small to medium-sized businesses experience dramatic and consistent growth, no matter how successful they already are.

The Bryxen product line includes...