Why Copywriters Need To Break the Rules – Part 1

If you wish to have successful copy on your website, you may need to anger your old English teacher. Textbook punctuation, grammar and style look great when writing an academic paper on 16th Century Missionaries in the West Indies but following the rules of the English language may not be the best thing for sales copy conversion rates.

The ultimate goal of copywriting is to increase the sales of a business and doing things by the book is not the ideal option. How much of this is to do with the semi-literate ‘text-speak’ generation is debatable since great copywriting has always followed its own rules. In this post, we look at how you ‘should’ write when creating sales copy.

Make Your Point… Quickly!

I’m not saying modern society is getting dumber by the year or anything but human beings are the new gold standard when it comes to terrible attention span. Yes, we now have a shorter attention span than goldfish! As at 2013, the average human’s attention span was 8 seconds, 1 second less than the 9 second attention span of a goldfish.

Therefore, it’s essential to get to the point ASAP. Aside from the obligatory compelling headline, the first few lines of copy must focus on the benefits of your products and services. Basically, you need to be more Ernest Hemingway and less James Joyce (this is always a good thing). I also realize most of you didn’t get past the words ‘old English teacher’ so this advice may be irrelevant!

Write Shorter Sentences

This is really a challenge for ‘true’ writers among us who like to create flowery sentences which delicately hang in the breeze like an orphaned rose petal… Yeah, I kind of got bored with that one too! Long sentences certainly have their place but short and succinct tends to win the day. This of course is another nod towards those who believe reality TV shows are the height of entertainment.

Once a sentence exceeds a certain length it becomes difficult to understand. According to a study by the American Press Institute, comprehension of sentences was less than 10% when the sentence was 43+ words long. In contrast, sentences of 9-14 words had a 90% comprehension rate. If you force yourself to keep it brief you may be able to eliminate ‘fluff’ words which contribute nothing.

Caps & Italics Have Their Place

The accusation is that using capital letters in your copy makes it appear as shouty as Al Pacino in most of his movies. While sentences in capital letters can be harder to read, it is okay to sometimes use them to slow things down.

Sentences in Italics can also be harder to read but again, subtle usage can really make important information stand out. Personally, I like to use italics now and again when attempting to make a point; the contrast they provide often works wonders.

Use Bad Grammar (Sometimes)

If you have ever been on any forum of any kind you’ll come across atrocious grammar almost ceaselessly. The use of “your” instead of “you’re” is one of the most common grammatical faux-pas but occasionally, bad grammar can be a good sales tool. One such strategy involves sending emails in ‘conversational’ language which will feature the odd grammatical blunder.

This can be used to form a better connection with your target audience though the grammar Nazis will have a field day in between bedding beautiful women, spying for Britain and scoring the winning goal in the World Cup Final of course.

There are of course many more rules to be broken in copywriting but to include them all would extend the post far beyond what our goldfish memories are capable of remembering. Therefore, I will be writing further posts on this topic as soon as I can remember where I left my door keys…

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