Copywriting Basics for Successful Sales: Time-Tested Tactics that Prompt Action skillshare originals badge

Jack Zerby, Design at Vimeo, Pentagram, RGA, & Frog

Play Speed
  • 0.5x
  • 1x (Normal)
  • 1.25x
  • 1.5x
  • 2x
13 Lessons (1h 22m)
    • 1. Introduction

    • 2. What is Copywriting?

    • 3. Audience: What to Ask and Why

    • 4. Classic Structures: Frameworks

    • 5. Classic Structures: Principles (Part I)

    • 6. Classic Structures: Principles (Part II)

    • 7. Headlines: Analyzing What Works

    • 8. Headlines: Purpose, Types, and Upworthy

    • 9. Headlines: Frameworks

    • 10. Headlines: Applications

    • 11. Copy: Features and Benefits

    • 12. Short vs. Long Copy

    • 13. Improving Your Skills

404 students are watching this class

Project Description

Develop 500–1500 words of sales copy using a classic copywriting framework

Intro to Copywriting

  1. Consult the classics

    There's nothing like a reference shelf to inspire your writing and provide on-the-spot guidance!

    Purchase or borrow the following titles to understand how copywriting got started:

    For a business/strategy approach, try:

    Tested Advertising Methods is a quick read and will give you a strong foundation in copywriting theory.

    The Gary Halbert Letter is an amazing resource for learning direct-response copywriting directly from a legend in the industry.


  2. Read these three famous sales letters

    Read these letters to familiarize yourself with the rhythms, vocabulary, and tone of effective copywriting.

    These are three of the most successful sales letters of all time.

    • Coat Of Arms Sales Letter by Gary HalbertA one-page letter with 361 words that brought in as much as 20,000 checks a day and was sent over 600 million times.
    • Rolls Royce Sales Letter by David Ogilvy: Ogilvy’s genius wasn’t his creativity, nor even his research. His genius was his ability to use a proven idea to position the Rolls-Royce favorably within its market.


  3. Brainstorm and select your message and action

    What product, place, service, or idea do you want to write about for your class project?

    It can be real or fictional, as long as there is a clear action you want your reader to take.

    You may want to create a list of several ideas, then choose your best. If you're not sure about reader action, think about common advertising verbs. Try: click, send, go, make, give, see, look, buy, or start.

    At this stage, don't worry about length–it might be as short as a few sentences or as long as a page. You'll use this as the basis for your final 500-1500 word promotional project.

The Market and Audience

  1. Define your audience

    List 10-25 characteristics that define your audience.

    Who are they? What do they do? What do they have? What do they face? How do they dress? What do they care about? Use the framework in the video to think of specific people, not just the masses.

    As the old saying goes, "there's riches in niches." By defining the specific type of person you're communicating with, you'll be able to write much more effective copy than if you had targeted "everyone."


  2. Develop the right questions

    List 15-25 questions that will help you learn more about your audience.

    Here are some tips to keep in mind:

    • You're looking for stories and narratives, not yes/no answers.
    • Don't asking leading questions that begin with phrases such as "Wouldn't you say that . . ." or "How much do you dislike . . . ." Leave your own bias at the door. Come in to the conversation with a blank slate.
    • Ask questions that begin with "Walk me through . . ." or "Tell me about the last time you . . . ."
  3. Ask away

    Create one-on-one opportunities in your market to ask your questions.

    If your class project is real, you have a real market to contact. If your class project is fictional, consider reaching out to a friend who closely matches your profile.

    The only way to really get to know your market is to get out and talk to them. One-on-one conversations are by FAR the best because you'll be able to observe non-verbal cues. What makes your customers excited? What makes them frustrated? These reactions aren't quite as powerful through email or survey.

    The key is to LISTEN. As my grandfather always told me, "You have two ears and one mouth–use them in proportion."

    Here are some helpful links on interviewing:

    After your session(s), compare your notes with your original assumptions. What surprised you the most?

  4. Rewrite your message with your market in mind

    Now that you have facts instead of opinions, revise the message and action copy you wrote in the last unit!

    This your chance to use the lanuage of your market. If you can describe their hopes, dreams, problems, and fears better than they can, they will be engaged.

Popular Frameworks and Principles

  1. Rewrite your message using a framework

    Rewrite your message using one of the frameworks. If one doesn't feel like the best fit, try another. The important thing is to be aware of how your writing is functioning.

    You may also wish to research each framework in depth. For instance, here is Gary Halbert writing about AIDA in his own words, and here is Blair Warren on persuasion. To experiment with additional frameworks, you may find CopyRanger's "21 Incredible Copywriting Formulas" useful.

    When you write, really break down each element. For example, if you choose the AIDA framework, write down "Attention," "Interest," "Desire," and "Action" spaced vertically down the page (as shown below) and write each part of your message the corresponds.


  2. Add in a principle

    Go back through your copy and revise it once again, adding one or several principles.

    Principles are a way of inspiring, orienting, focusing, and structuring your copy. They can live within each element and component of a framework. Incorporating a principles brings strategy, structure, and purpose to your writing.

    As a reminder, the principles discussed in the videos above include tension, information gaps, traids and the rule of three, counterintuitive reasoning and pattern interrupt, and emotional nurturing.

  3. Read it out loud

    Read your copy out loud and record it. Listen back to how it flows. Is it awkward? Are there pauses that feel unnatural? Does it prompt unanswered questions that you intended to answer? Does it make you want to take action? Do you feel inspired? Will it speak to the needs and desires of your market?

    If it's not quite where you'd like it, keep revising! Think about the words and style of your brand and product, and think about the types of phrases that tend to strike you as a listener. Keep writing and reading it out loud until you feel it really flows.

    When the copy is where you'd like it, try reading it out loud to someone in your market, preferrably a few times. Pay attention to how they respond non-verbally. Do they nod off, or are they completely engaged? Do they lean in with interest?

    The second time, dig a little deeper into their reaction. Ask them how they feel, to describe their reaction, what they'd like changed. You might also provide them with a written copy for feedback.

Headlines and Copy

  1. Find and reflect on 5-10 real-world headlines

    Browse marketing emails, magazine ads, sites like Buzzfeed and Upworthy, and even commercials for 5-10 examples of compelling headlines. Take a few minutes with each one and consider what makes it effective.

    Speculate why the advertiser choose those particular words. Can you identify the call to action? Are you tempted to do it? If you were in charge of the ad, would you rewrite it? How?


  2. Write 10-20 headlines

    Brainstorm different headline possibilities for your final project copy. Take advantage of tactics discussed in the video lessons: types of effective headlines, keywords, fill-in-the-blank formulas, "you" language and self-interest, flagging, and more.

    For additional reading on headline wording, see this Best Headline Words handout, this resource collection of 600 sample published headlines, this reference guide on headline formulas, and the nearly 400 headlines in Gary Halbert's Killer Advertising Secrets.

    Test your headlines to find which ones are the most effective and fitting for your audience.


  3. Write features and benefits copy

    Craft features and benefit copy for your final project. This should be brand-new copy that's informed by the video lesson, but it may also prompt you to revise your existing copy and messaging.

    As you begin to contrast features and benefits, consider trying the classic hardcopy card method, or adapting it with a digital equivalent like Lino or Listthings.


Final Advice on Length and Practice

  1. Evaluate your copy length in light of short versus long

    Review your writing given the discussion of short vs. long copy. Does your length match your message and audience? Remember that you want a strategic, smart reason for your length.

    For additional reading, see Pratik Dholakiya's article, "Long Form or Short Form? Why Not Both?"


  2. Practice copywriting 10-15 per day for 90 days

    Make time to hand-copy classic sales letters and the best headlines.

    If you spend 10-15 minutes a day for 3 months hand-copying sales letters and headlines, you will become a better copywriter. You'll learn the rhythms, tone, cadence, and mood of letters that work. Working by hand, you'll work free of digital distractions and with complete focus on strengthening your skill. You'll gain an intuition. 

    Find full letters in Gary Halbert's Killer Advertising Secrets and a list of helpful starting points in his newsletter on "hands-on experience."


  3. Create your final sales copy

    Use the elements of copywriting we covered to create a 500-1500 word promotional document in service of your product or service.

    Be sure to include an engaging headline, a popular framework, and language that will appeal to your audience.

    Share your final copy on your project page for reactions from your fellow students. Be sure to leave feedback on their projects.

Additional Resources

  • Sales Letters to Copy