Stop Wasting Your Most Valuable Asset

I hate to see things go to waste. I have to confess, if I use a paper plate for a sandwich and it’s not that messed up when I’m done, I’ll dump the crumbs, wipe it down, and put the plate back on the stack in the cabinet. I may have said too much…

I don’t know how many times I’ve witnessed a church work so hard to create an amazing design for a mailer, handout, website, or social post only to finish and utter those terrible words:

Now, what should it say?

Copywriting may not be the reason people will pick up your card or visit your website, but it’s definitely the reason they show up or stay. Great design without a powerful message is shallow, and today’s audience sees straight through it like a politician’s promise.

Over the next few weeks, let’s enhance your most valuable asset and talk about how to format, engage, and delight your audience with boring old words. Well, let’s not use boring words.

Formatting is the First Barrier

Most readers are willing to pick up a book and read it, even if the text is one huge block like classic books are (btw, The Grapes of Wrath straight up suuuuuucks). But you don’t write books, you write website headings and blurbs, mailer copy, social media posts, and bulletin announcements.

You want to make it likely that they will read your message and the first step to doing that is formatting the copy in a way that they are willing to read it. So let’s talk copy formatting techniques for the web, social, print, and…well, just do these things for everything you do.

Make Your Copy Scannable

Today’s reader will bypass large paragraphs of text without reading it because ain’t nobody got time for that. There should be a maximum of 3-4 lines of text (not sentences) per paragraph before inserting a page break. This allows white space for the eyes to “breathe” easily, making it more likely they will read it.

Notice my use of headings within this blog and how my paragraphs are spaced out? Like it or not, this is how people read now because the majority of their reading is done online and the eyes just get used to copy being sliced up for them this way.

Put the Most Important Thing First

Don’t bury the lead. Whatever you want them to know must be in the first or second sentence. You may have to grab their attention first, but do it with as few words as possible. See? I’m done. No more words on this.

Make it Short

If you have simple info to convey like cost, times, dates, etc, don’t put it in a sentence if you can avoid it. Make a block that stands apart that just gives that info. They will want to reference just that part of the copy later and will want to easily find it.

Also, say only what you need to say, nothing more. Keep it as short as possible. The reader will love you for it. See how I did a page break when my idea changed after 3 lines?

Make it Reader-Centric

Always start with the reader’s felt need or pain point. This gets a little into the actual writing part, but it is still technically formatting as it deals with structure. Focus first on a situation or problem that your following copy is going to solve for them. The following formula is helpful:

     Their Problem

     Your Solution

     Call to Action

The call to action can be as simple as “click here for more information.” There should only be ONE call to action. Any more, and they will likely choose neither.

Never Start Copy With a Yes or No Question

Whenever you start your copy with a yes or no question, you’re giving them the option to quickly say “no” and dismiss the rest of your copy without reading it.

Do you want your marriage to improve? Nah, my marriage is great.

Do you think the world is terrible? Nope, my world is pretty great right now.

See? It’s easy to say no without thinking about the question and then miss everything else you say, even if they truly do need to hear it! You’re on the right track to start with their problem (or the reason they should care about what you’re about to tell them), but the way you start can be everything.

State the problem with certainty (which you can do, because you know your audience, have researched them, and understand their pain points) with something like:

“Marriage is tough. Even those who have it together now, will probably face something difficult in the future.”

I’m not asking if you think that’s true, I’m assuming you do and moving on. Start with “yes” and move forward.

Copy Must Inspire Action

Let’s face it, if your copy doesn’t cause someone to want to do something real, then you really haven’t done anything. Copy should have one clear thing that you want them to do once they have read it.

This is the call to action. Click here, download now, go to this page may work, but let’s get creative with that too.

Create a button that says “Improve My Marriage Now” or “Start Helping Now.” This type of text on the button still focuses on the reader instead of switching to “Here’s how you can help us out.”

Because people are sinners, the thing we care most about is ourselves. Keep it focused on them and how they can improve and it becomes more likely they will click and respond. 

Can you guess this blog’s call to action? If you’re reading this sentence, you completed it. I just wanted you to read it.

Next week, we’ll talk about headlines and email subjects, two of my favorite things to write! What do you think I left off of the list? Give me a piece of your mind in the comments.

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conferences: get more than a swag bag, seth muse, the seminary of hard knocks podcastthe one good reason to read this blog aka. writing irresistible headlines and email subjects with seth muse