How to Avoid the Copywriting KISS of Death

Keep it simple copywriting

Ask yourself, “Can I make this simpler?”

Raise your hand if sometime during your schooling, someone drummed the KISS mantra into your head (keep it simple, stupid).

Now raise your hand if your high school English teacher or college professor ever chastised you for not using enough ten-dollar words.

In the world of copywriting, your pretentious professors are wrong. The point of business writing is clear and simple communication.

Why Keep It Simple?

English is blessed with a rich vocabulary – see that? I could have said “verbose lexicon” or “heterogeneous wordlist” or even “diversified terminology” (but I didn’t) – that allows for beautiful depth of language. In fact, the Oxford English Dictionary lists nearly 500,000 words and another half-million uncatalogued scientific technical terms. One million+ words.

The problem is, the average adult vocabulary is tiny compared to that number. It’s important to boil down what you’re saying and selling to the simplest terms. This goes double if you’re writing for second-language speakers, like I do for my Costa Rica copywriting clients. In the words of legendary marketer John Caples, “Even the best-educated people don’t resent simple words… but [simple words] are the only words many people understand.”

KISS Your Customers

It’s one thing to say “keep it simple” and another to actually do it. So how can you KISS your copy?

Author Rudolf Flesch says that the average sentence for business writing is 14-16 words; should max out around 25 words; and should never exceed 40 words. Bob Bly, copywriting master, adds that, “In advertising copy, you are trying to communicate with people, not impress them or boost your own ego. Avoid pompous words and fancy phrases.”

So cut the fancypants speak and choose easy words. Don’t use technical jargon. Eliminate redundancy. Just say what you want to say. (For more tips, check out Bly’s 10 Ways to Improve Your Technical Writing.)

Fun exercise: Run your copy through the Five Text Editor of the “ten-hundred” most used English words.

Write, Then Rewrite

For many of us, simple writing doesn’t come naturally. That’s okay. When you write your first draft, let the words flow. When you’re finished, prime your pinky for deletion and be ruthless. Remove redundancies; trim your paragraphs and sentences; and eliminate the passive voice.

What does this look like in practice? Here’s one example:

Weak: Hotel X utilizes innovative methods throughout its grounds to encourage the proper disposal of environmental waste, incentivize its guests to economize natural resources, and minimize the use of harmful chemicals.

Better: Hotel X protects the environment. We have trashcans and recycling bins conveniently located in our lobby, hallways and rooms. We encourage you to use air-conditioning only when necessary, and to turn off the lights when you leave. We always use eco-friendly cleaning products.

(The above example is also a good reminder that simpler is not always shorter.)

Your turn: What are your favorite examples of simpler, better business writing?

Are You Committing These 5 Deadly Sins of Business Blogging?

5 deadly sins of business blogging

Be led not into temptation: Avoid the 5 deadliest sins of business blogging

Your business blog is one of the most effective and economical tools in your marketing arsenal. It can help create brand recognition, attract new customers, and solidify an existing client base. Unfortunately, some business blogs just don’t get it. Here’s a look at five of the most common – and deadly – sins you can commit while blogging for business:

1. Pride

Bolstering your business is the goal of your corporate blog, but it’s not the focus. Your audience – your future customers – are the stars of this show. Your blog exists to connect with these customers, not to brag all about your business exploits. So keep the self-promotion and back-patting to a minimum and post topics of interest to your clients: tips and tricks, advice, insider secrets – whatever it is you do, do it to impress but check your ego at the door.

2. Sloth

Here’s a tough one for some businesses: you have to blog regularly and must respond to comments. Blogging is great for SEO and for keeping your public up-to-date, but it’s really about conversation and building a loyal readership. Ideally, you need to blog at least once a week. You must also respond to comments, answer questions, and do whatever else you can to promote conversation. If you don’t have time to regularly write and publish well written posts, consider hiring a professional. You may be surprised at how affordable pro blogging services can be, especially when compared to other slices of your marketing budget.

3. Apathy

Everyone knows not to go on a first date in sweatpants and a ripped tshirt from high school. First impressions count. Your blog is your first impression, so you want it to look good. You don’t need to pay $thousands for a custom design, but do consider ponying up for a premium blog theme (under $100), and be sure to customize the header, footer and other key elements with your logo and business name.

4. Ignorance

The Internet is rife with free information on business blogging, so there’s no excuse for having a poorly implemented blogProblogger is a great source of information you can use to improve, analyze, build, and promote your company’s blog. There are thousands and thousands of other resources out there too, so get to know your blogging basics (example: You absolutely must build an email list. Don’t believe me?) and learn to properly leverage this incredible tool.

5. Ennui

Building boring blog content is a fast way to hammer nails into your company’s coffin. Pimp your titles (Copyblogger has a great series on magnetic headlines) and infuse life into lackluster text. Be succinct (350-500 words is ideal), since readers don’t like to scroll down. Use an informal, conversational tone. Your blog should read like a chat with your best buddy. After all, you’re trying to build relationships and no one wants to be friends with a bore.

Tell me: What other deadly blogging sins have you witnessed?

What is Travel Copywriting?

forest after the rain

Travel copywriting puts words to a destination or experience that already sells itself

Travel copywriting is the difference between a beautiful view and an eye-catching vista, an exciting river and frothing rapids. It is professional copy through the lens of an observant and passionate traveler.

If your company sells travel anything – from destination real estate to internal frame backpacks – you must incorporate travel prose into your company’s website and promotional materials. The vivid brushstrokes of travel copywriting transform the pencil sketch of standard content into a layered oil painting that sets the scene for your business. It propels you miles ahead of your competition. It’s what makes your product or service sell itself.

If you want to connect with your customers and write copy that will facilitate sales, here are a few ideas to kickstart your creativity:

  • Speak to Your Audience: Effective travel copy is conversational, as if you were speaking with a client on the phone. Help travelers envision themselves seeing, doing or experiencing whatever you offer. Address your readers directly, using the second person you and your. Read your copy out loud before publishing.
  • Don’t Keyword-Stuff: If you’ve scratched even the surface of SEO blogs or tutorials, you may be tempted to stuff your copy full of keywords and key phrases. Fight that urge and instead, write text that appeals first and foremost to your human audience – your future customers. If you write well and produce enough content, your keywords will appear naturally.
  • Use Synonyms: Throw standard travel slop out the window, and exchange adjectives like beautiful, stunning, and spectacular for more detailed alternatives. Instead of mentioning an emerald cloud forest, evoke images of epiphyte-drenched branches and the play of light through the liquid diamonds that fall during an afternoon rain shower.
  • Call to Action: Good copywriting ends with a call to action, and travel copy is no different – you need to tell your readers what to do next. A call to action is not about hard-sell tactics or being pushy. Instead, extend an invitation to call, email, click, book or request further information. Remember, you don’t have to make an immediate sale; you just have to get one step closer to an eventual sale.
  • Hire a Pro: A professional travel copywriter has the marketing experience and know-how to create text that sells. While the initial cost of hiring a professional can feel like an unnecessary expense (especially if you enjoy writing), the return on investment is high – and often as fast as your first few sales. If you’re interested in professional travel copywriting, feel free to contact me to discuss your needs or to request a rate quote.

An Introduction

great, big world

Has the Internet revolutionized your connection to the world?

Few things in history have changed the world as the Internet has done.

True to name, the world wide web networks us all together through a fine lace of hobbies, jobs, interests and lifestyles. It enables us to stay in touch with childhood friends or buy vintage goods from a stranger in a far-off land. To order a pizza without picking up the phone or submit a college application with the mere click of the mouse.

And the Internet has given me work.

Hi, my name is Erin and I am a freelance writer. Six years ago, I moved from a tiny town in Virginia to the sprawling Costa Rican capital of San José. Six years ago, I became a telecommuter in the Digital Age – a writer, a blogger, a copywriter who works with people all over the world on projects all over the map. A freelancer who attends meetings, who makes deadline, who pitches new projects while cozied up to a cup of coffee, still in her pajamas.

This is my story of professional growth with a sprinkling of personal anecdote. My journey would not have been possible without the help of my contemporaries – other writers who paved the way and shared their tales of success. Now I hope to pay it forward, one tip, one laugh, one story at a time.