Writing Short Copy is Hard — Here’s How to Get It Right
If you do any kind of writing, you’ve probably been asked something along the lines of: “Hey, can you whip up a quick [email/tweet/tagline/insert other piece of short copy] for me?” It’s just a couple of lines of text — a few dozen words at most. What could be difficult about that?
But as most people who write content will tell you, producing short copy is hard. Rumor has it even Mark Twain once said, “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.”
Just think: In an eBook, you have thousands of words to get your point across however you want — there’s no limit on the number of stories, quotes, metaphors, and examples you can use to convey your ideas.
But if you’re doing content marketing right, you’re not only producing long-form content. Your strategy should include everything from 20-page eBooks to 750-word blog posts to 140-character tweets. And there’s the challenge: When you get down to an 80-character headline for a Facebook ad, a few words for a tagline, or a three-sentence company description, you don’t have the luxury to be wordy. You have to pare down your copy to the bare minimum — but somehow still get your message across.
After spending a lot of time squeezing big ideas into very small pieces of copy, I’ve learned these tips.
Determine the one message you want to get across
When your space is limited, you have to prioritize. If you’re writing an email promoting an eBook, your priority is to get your readers to download that piece of content, usually within 200-300 words — which means you don’t have room to explain how the eBook relates to your product or service, why that product or service is so great, and a list of every feature and benefit it includes. There’s a time and place for that message, but it isn’t in this particular email. Ask yourself what the main purpose of the piece of content is — then whittle away all the excess.
Use design to your advantage
If you don’t have much space (or many characters) to work with, don’t have to rely solely on text. Incorporating great design can help you get your point across successfully — without adding to the word count. In a social media ad, a well-selected image that works with your headline can convey the tone and feel of your message, and is likely to be the thing that draws people to your copy (versus the other way around). A postcard covered in text will probably go straight in the trash — but an engaging image that accompanies a few lines of copy can grab your recipient’s attention and make your message much more effective.
Get rid of the fluff
If you’re struggling to get the right message into the right number of words, try this: Just write. Forget about the word or character limit. Don’t worry about making it sound good. Just focus on getting down the main point you want to convey (see tip #1), no matter how much space it takes up on your page. Once that’s done, take a critical look at it, see what you can cut, and edit it. It may take a try or two, but eventually you’ll get rid of the fluff and trim down the copy to something that fits your needs (and the small amount of space you have available).
Remember that it’s just one piece
You might worry that people are going to see a single tweet or tagline, and that’s going to be the end of their engagement with you. And that’s when you might make a common mistake — assuming that you need to pack in as much information as possible, just in case that single piece of content is your reader’s only interaction with your company.
But you have to remember that a single piece of copy is not likely to be the decision-maker for one of your potential customers — at least, not in the scope of your content marketing strategy. Each piece of copy is just part of the bigger picture. A tweet may lead to a blog post that links to an eBook that leads to a deeper conversation with one of your sales reps. A tagline on a business card may lead to a website visit that leads to a webinar registration. Each piece just has to lead to the next. Understanding that will free you from forcing every possible piece of information into your copy, and rather, help you focus on its individual purpose (which usually turns out to be a much shorter message).
Now that I’ve written 750 words to explain how to write short copy, maybe John Mayer summarizes it best: Say what you need to say. And if you need help with that, get in touch.