Marketing today is writing – whether you like it or not.
Ten new ad headlines are due. 4,000 words on the topic du jour are needed by 5 pm. And all you can do is stare at a blank screen. The blinking cursor on a fresh white page, mocking you.
Putting the proverbial pen to paper can be tricky for many. Even the most seasoned writers have days when the Words. Just. Won’t. Come.
But here’s the deal: Writer’s block is a myth. It only happens when you’re not prepared. When you’ve failed to put in the time getting organized. And figuring out exactly where you need to go next.
That’s good news, believe it or not! It means those marketers who can’t write, don’t write, or just hate writing, needn't be a wordsmith.
Instead, you just need to follow these 7 writing time hacks to get results in half the time.
1. Never Write from Scratch with a Simple Swipe File
Apparently, swiping isn’t just for dating apps. (Who knew?)
Advertising copywriters have used swipe files for years – keeping the best of the best in a safe place for when they need a shot of inspiration.
Literally anything can go in your swipe file, from clever headlines, to brochures, newsletters, or even web pages. Think of a swipe file as a scrapbook of all the dog-eared pages from your favorite magazines (‘member those?). These are the pieces you know you’ll want to come back to later when sitting down to write a new ad, post, or page.
Say you’re browsing the interwebs. Procrastinating from doing “real” work. When all of a sudden a catchy headline & hook catches your eye:
The reason it stuck out is because you just about read the same damn thing a second earlier:
I used Skitch to take screenshots like this, even though it kinda sucks (because they’ve stopped supporting it). BUT it works seamlessly with Evernote. So all screenshots are automatically added to an Evernote library. And then when you want to find a photo, you can do a simple search:
You can get even more OCD by using tags and categories so you can easily come back later when you are in need of a good sales email, blog post opener, or killer metaphor example.
Need a little inspiration for your inspiration? Here are some great resources to start filling your swipe file with (check out even more here):
Swiped.co: Mark Schauer has a whole site of searchable content from forms to pop-ups to thank-you notes, all broken down by themes. It’s brilliant.
Kopywriting Kourse: Neville Medhora’s Copywriting Headlines That Sell breaks down the basics of putting together an enticing headline with loads of examples and tips to make your headers stand out (read: make them not boring).
14 Landing Page Call to Action Swipes: HubSpot has compiled a list of landing pages that work, and will help you bring home the bacon (and by bacon, I mean conversions and sales). The examples don’t just focus on good design (a common misconception of what’s most necessary for a worthy CTA). But they also use compelling copy to pull the viewer in.
A few things to consider before you go all swipe-crazy:
- Know your audience: What’s good for one group might not be good for another. Keep in mind your audience’s preferred style and what will hook them the most.
- Figure out why it works: Don’t just blindly use the copy because it was successful for someone else. Does it appeal to the audience? Does it promote results? Does it pique curiosity?
- Embrace power words: Some words grab attention more than others. Use them. Love them. Sprinkle them like fairy dust in everything you do.
- Use the same structure: Identify what the original writer is using for his or her piece: AIDA? PAS? Make sure to keep this context intact (more on these old-school copywriting formulas in a second).
- Step outside the box: Swipe from other sectors and industries, not just your own.
2. Follow a Timeless Copywriting Formula
500-word blog posts don’t fail because Google loves long-form content (which they do). They fail because they don’t properly build up interest that means something to new, unaware visitors. They fail to resonate.
Take something boring, like online payments. If you launched straight into “You need to safeguard your online store,” people’s eyes will glaze over right before hitting the back button.
BUT. If you instead first brought up the fact that 50% of small businesses fall victim to fraud when accepting payments online and the average one costs $114,000, you’ve now got their attention.
Think of it like a courtroom. A lawyer’s not allowed to bring up new evidence until they’ve properly laid the groundwork. Same goes for ads and landing pages. Don’t “solve” a problem without first making sure your audience actually knows it is a problem.
The best copywriting formulas fix this. Here’s how.
AIDA hooks readers from the beginning, gets them into what you’re saying, and then reels them in for the close. All in just four simple steps:
- Attention: Attract their attention from the start with a bold headline or opening statement.
- Interest: Use fresh and appealing content that keeps the reader locked in.
- Desire: Show them the benefits of what you’re saying/selling/explaining.
- Action: Ask them to make the next step.
The PAS formula is everywhere. We already used one example to open this section. It pulls readers in by making them consider what would happen if the problem persisted, and then swoops in like a superhero to make all the problems go away.
- Problem: Paint a not-so-pretty picture of what is wrong with the situation. Your readers will latch on, because they’ve felt the pain, and they understand.
- Agitate: Shine a light on the picture. Make them look at it again. Remind them of how ugly it is.
- Solve: Show them how you can help. Give them a solution.
Features are cool. Tesla’s crazy doors that open straight into the air are awesome. The latest Summon feature that brings the car forward (automatically) is also pretty spectacular. But those features, by themselves, aren’t enough to get you to plop down your credit card.
That’s why features need to be fleshed out. You need to explain the advantages of said features. And then cover the tangible benefits (like how much easier it would be for your stressed out wife to get kids in and out of the car).
- Features: Describes what can the product or service can do.
- Advantages: Tells why this would help.
- Benefits: Shows what the product or service can do for YOU.
You can read more about the difference between features and benefits here.
3. Don’t Be “Creative” – Use Processes Instead
The swipes work. The formulas work. They’ll help you bust out your word count and give you a good jumping off point to get your brain moving and your fingers typing.
But there’s also something to be said for putting in the time and trusting in a good ol’ fashioned process.
Boring, right? True dat. However, you don’t have time to fail when the competition keeps upping the ante.
When blog posts keep getting longer (and taking longer to write), you need to figure out a way to continually churn out high-quality stuff. In the same amount of time (or less). Without a noticeable drop in quality.
Impossible? Only if you don’t follow a well-worn process.
Digital Marketer's Ad Grid is an excellent example. They took something “creative” (PPC ad writing) and broke it down into manageable chunks. Then provided an easy-to-follow, step-by-step process for anyone (read: not you – you’ve got enough stuff to worry about already) to create compelling hooks for each target persona.
Hacks are fun. There’s no shortage of them online. But hacks don’t separate big, profitable companies from small ones. Systems do.
Once you’ve got the beginning of a step-by-step process laid out, you can enforce this new workflow with an awesome tool like Pipefy. This Trello-like app allows you to create a checklist for each step, so that whoever’s responsible has to complete each one before it’s moved on to the next person’s plate.
4. Build Your Writing Muscle by Not “Breaking the Chain”
Writing is no different than exercising.
Taking a year off and then trying to run a marathon would end in disaster. You won’t be ready. You haven’t built up the proper foundation. Your stamina and endurance and strength simply aren’t good enough.
Same goes for not writing and then attempting to churn out a long-form landing page. It ain’t gonna happen. And if by some grace of god it does, it’s not gonna be pretty.
Instead, you gotta work up to it. By not breaking the chain.
But one of his biggest contributions isn’t a joke, but his tips on how to write jokes.
How did Seinfeld build up his set of jokes to become one of the most famous comedians (and wealthiest) of all time?
He wrote every day. He honed his craft by dedicating time every single day to writing new material.
Each day, he would write a large X on a big calendar on his wall.
"After a few days you'll have a chain,” he said. “Just keep at it and the chain will grow longer every day. You'll like seeing that chain, especially when you get a few weeks under your belt. Your only job next is to not break the chain. Don't break the chain."
Well there you have it. Don’t break the chain, and you too can be just like Jerry Seinfeld.
Or, at the very least, you can stay productive. Nothing motivates like a big red X (or big gaping hole). Use this trick to make sure you are meeting your writing goals every day.
Lifehacker Adam Dachis broke down the trick into five simple steps:
- Identify your goals: 5,000 words a day? Blog research? Headline writing?
- Set daily minimums: How much do you want to accomplish every day?
- Prepare for anomalies: What happens when you are sick or go on vacation? Do these warrant no X?
- Get a calendar for each goal: Put them up where you can easily see them. You want the X’s to be staring back at you to goad encourage you into accomplishing your goals.
- Buy the big red marker: Now for the fun part. Start marking off the days!
5. Never Start Writing Without These 3 Boxes Ticked
When author Rachel Aaron/Bach was meeting her daily writing targets, she “got scientific” to find out why and figure out a way to increase her numbers.
She boiled it down into optimizing three main components of every writing session: knowledge, time, and enthusiasm.
Rachel calls this “know what you’re writing before you write it.”
Don’t just open up a new Word doc and wait for the ideas to flow and the piece to form itself. Because they won’t. And then you’ll stress. And then they really won’t come. And then you’ll start searching for the whiskey (just me?).
Before you start, put together a rough outline of what you’re going to write. Pull from your swipe file, consider a few formulas, and follow a process. Everything should be arranged, sources should be cited, images should be prepped and ready to go before you type a single word.
Rachel then started keeping records of her work and outputs: what time she started, what time she stopped, how many words she hit, and where the writing took place.
She put all of this in a spreadsheet for two months to evaluate any patterns that she should eliminate or continue. This tracking showed her that writing away from her house (where she didn’t have the internet to distract her), and during periods where she had longer blocks of time available (like four hour blocks instead of 90 minutes) proved to be the most productive.
Try tracking your own results for a week or two in order to recognize which variables result in a more productive you.
Rachel found that her productivity was at its pinnacle when she was writing something exciting or interesting.
If she was stuck in a boring scene in her book, her numbers were nowhere near as high as a riveting plot twist or climax.
Now let’s be honest: Your boring PPC copy might not flow like a page-turning novel.
But you gotta be able to find the interesting aspect (either in the problem you’re solving, or the unique solution you’re providing). Diving into the technical specifics of a VPN vs. a proxy vs. a Tor is enough to put most people in a coma. So connect it to something larger. Like how the CIA hacks people’s internet sessions while they’re 30,000 feet above the Earth’s surface. Now that’s kinda interesting. Like your own little spy game. And who wouldn’t want to be a spy?!
If you don’t want to write it, you probably won’t want to read it. And if you don’t want to read it, ain’t nobody else going to want to, either.
6. Don’t Just Create; Curate
There’s a theme here so far. A single thread that connects all of these points.
You don’t have to be a good writer to get results. As long as you’re a good curator of other’s people’s brilliance.
In other words, don’t create but curate.
“Content curation is the process of sorting through the vast amounts of content on the web and presenting it in a meaningful and organized way around a specific theme,” said nonprofit blogger Beth Kanter.
“The work involves sifting, sorting, arranging, and publishing information. A content curator cherry picks the best content that is important and relevant to share with their community.”
So why is curation such a good idea?
- It’s much faster than creating all your content from scratch. Time back in your day! Bonus!
- It still has the benefits of created content: building customer trust, promoting yourself as an opinion leader, increasing web traffic, etc.
Most of the good without most of the bad.
7. When All Else Fails, Steal (or Imitate)
“Good artists copy; great artists steal.”
Origins of this quote can be traced all the way back to 1892. And it’s been adopted and adapted many, many times since.
Here’s the thing. You might be a good writer. You might even be a great writer. But every creative, funny, emotional, groundbreaking idea is not housed in your tiny little head.
And that’s ok. Vanilla Ice might have said it best: “Stop, collaborate, and listen.”
(You heard it here first: WordStream recommends you be more like Vanilla Ice.)
And by collaborate, I mean steal. Or at least imitate. (Because it’s the sincerest form of flattery, right?)
Copywriters and creatives have been taking what’s good and making it their own for years. So look around. What do you watch or read or listen to (in your off time) and why?
Here are a few ways you can do the same:
- Add an anecdote: Turn the mundane into something you can’t turn away from by adding a story that hooks the reader. No one wants to read 2,000 words that start with hard facts and data. Stop talkin’ ‘bout storytelling and start actually tellin’ stories.
- Plot twist: Some of the best advertisements of the past century tell a story that’s seemingly unrelated to what they’re actually selling. But when done correctly, that pattern interruption effectively hooks people in long enough until they discover how it all fits together at the end of the day.
- Experiment with tone: Your ad has already been written. Same goes for that landing page or blog post. There’s gonna be thousands of other examples just like it your customer’s are going to see. How’s yours gonna stand out? Sometimes that means ‘borrowing’ from excellent examples that already exist (like MailChimp). Or sometimes that means being an Arrogant Bastard (like the beer).
- Quote your heroes: It's one of the easiest ways to write a great introduction that hooks people in: Start with a compelling quote. (That's not even writing!)
Courting Your Fickle Muse
In today’s digital world, marketing is writing. But fortunately, with these tips, you don’t have to be an amazing writer. You just need to swipe and research and create processes and build your stamina and curate or imitate the excellent examples all around you.
There aren’t enough hours in the day to waste them sitting in front of a blank screen.
Stick with proven formulas and best practices to create the most compelling content. Don’t be afraid to use what’s already out there to get you going and give you that spark of genius.
And remember: don’t break the chain. Jerry Seinfeld said so.