CAREER ADVANCEMENT / JUN. 12, 2014
version 7, draft 7

How to Write Basic Online Advertising Copy

Online advertising copy is now absolutely universal for all products in all industries. It’s critically important that the materials used in advertising attract attention, and attract genuine interest from potential buyers.

So why, you may well ask, does so much online advertising look like absolute crap? Mainly because it is absolute crap. This is because the copywriters ignore some very basic issues.

Basic ad copy content

This is a typical example of your starting point with a piece of ad copy:

Briefs: Typically, you will be given a brief from the client or agency telling you the information that your copy must contain. If you’re lucky, you will also be given some clues about the style of writing required, like casual/formal/sales or whatever. These are your guidelines. Do not go outside your guidelines unless you have definitely been given the OK to do so.

Product information: You need to research all aspects of products offered by the client, and make sure that your ad copy agrees with the information provided on sales pages and product information. Identify selling points and high values for the client.

Word count: You will be given a word count, usually too much or too little, averaging around 300 words, or an A4 page for a landing page or product page. This may include a full range of services, product and/or service information, and contact/click through materials.

Writing your ad copy

The best way to approach your content is to create segments for each piece of information required. You have 300 words to work with and 12 topics to cover, for example. You also have to provide sales copy for the service, include the client’s free offers, and outline all the special discounts and values the client has to offer.

The quick way to format a basic job like this is with a combination of short paragraphs and bullet points. Why? Because you can’t do that range of subjects in paragraphs, and you need to clearly define each part of the content, as per your brief.

The result will usually look like this:

  • Header and Intro paragraph- Who we are, where we are and what we do (50 words)
  • Sales copy paragraph- Superior product, better prices, extra services, etc., all related to best values for the client.(50 words)
  • Services- In this case, 12 different services, with short explanatory text for each line. (100 words)
  • Call to Action/Contact us- How to get the products/services, etc. (Two paragraphs, 100 words each.)

Content quality

The best way to manage content quality in this sort of scenario is to focus on matching information to expressions and usage.

A few pointers:

  • Make the content interesting by focusing on unique selling points. This automatically improves content values.
  • Do not repeat existing points in the copy, which wastes available space and quite rightly infuriates clients.
  • Clearly show the best real values to your target audience. “We’re always cheaper” means much less to buyers than “We offer 20% discounts on all electronics”.
  • Avoid undue complexity. Let the reader read in peace, following the text.
  • Add incentives, actual or implied, with your call to action- “We’re the solution”, in effect, for the buyers. “We’re here to help”, rather than “Contact us for more information”.
  • Use problem/solution content to highlight the value of the product or service. Describe a common consumer problem, and then show how the client’s product/service fixes the problem.
  • Avoid filler materials- Some writers will say that a few extra words in a sentence help the reader absorb information more easily, but more, generally, isn’t better, and can tangle up your message.
  • Don’t go off topic or over-emphasize one part of the client’s services at the expense of everything else. This is clumsy, looks terrible, and can devalue interest in the other products and services.
  • Keep your copy fresh and as unique as possible. People do not and will not read things which look like something they’ve read before. Be expressive, different, and as interesting as you can.
  • Humor often works as copy, but don’t blindly assume the client will get the jokes. Unless you have the OK for being hilarious, don’t even think about it.
  • Hook lines and catch phrases- If the client has a hook line, don’t play around with it. Don’t reinterpret it, work with it.
  • Get your advertising law compliance issues right! If the client offers a 2 year warranty, or special terms of sale, don’t write anything which could possibly be misinterpreted or lead to claims of false advertising.
  • Don’t send purely negative messages to readers- “We do” is more positive than “We don’t”, for example. Try to avoid “not, don’t, won’t” unless clearly in context with a positive value, like “We won’t keep you waiting- We’ll fix your plumbing ASAP”.

When you’ve done your first draft, check for any mixed messages, check for content values, and check to make absolutely sure your copy matches your brief from the client.

Remember- You’re writing to instructions. On a contract, you’re bound by those instructions.

Contribute suggestions, contribute ideas, warn of any possible problems with compliance or other issues, in fact documenting your professional inputs can be good self-defence if the sales pitch is wrong.

Otherwise- Stick to doing your own job, not your client’s job. As a writer, you can’t be sure of the priorities at the other end. Your issues start and finish with your copy, keep it that way.

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