Ad copywriting 101: How to write compelling sales copy

ad copywriting

It's no secret that high-converting ads have killer copy.

Everything from the headline to the call to action (CTA) has been precisely crafted by an expert copywriter. 

This might sound simple…and it can be. But it’s definitely not easy! 

To write effective advertising copy the copywriter needs to understand the problems the audience faces and how the product will solve them. These are the two most critical parts of writing copy that sells. 

In this article, I’ll break down exactly what advertising copywriting really is, the most effective frameworks, and how to hire a great advertising copywriter

The beauty of running ads is that you can very easily test different variations of your copy, images, and even copywriter.

What is ad copywriting?

Advertising copy is the written aspect of the ad. It usually involves a strong headline with some supporting statements. Finally, it will end with a strong CTA. 

The trick is to work within the constraints of the advertising platform to generate the most effective combination of words.

Copywriters will usually interact with the design team, account manager, or project manager to make sure the design and copy work together to build a compelling ad.

This might seem insignificant at first, however, there’s a lot that goes into crafting copy that sells.

It can be the difference between a 0.5% conversion rate or a mouth-watering 15%. 

The copywriter is also responsible for understanding the exact problems the reader faces. 

From here they need a deep understanding of the product and its features. A strong copywriter will transform these features into benefits.

lumin ad 2
lumin ad 1

Lumin, a men's skincare brand has crafted its ad perfectly.

The image and headline grab attention. They even nail the benefits.

Instead of saying “We use charcoal and rosemary extract to make your skin smooth” they say “Tackle dry, flaky skin just in time for that first date” or “Bro, hot girls don’t like bad skin”.

Super compelling, right?

You need to understand your customer

The very first step when creating ad copy is to understand who you’re selling to. It’s impossible to write anything compelling if you don’t know who your reader is.

There are some basic questions to keep in mind when getting started with the discovery:

  1. What are the basic qualities of my customer? (e.g. age, gender, nationality, etc)
  2. What do they care deeply about?
  3. Which problems do they face?
  4. Why do they face these problems?
  5. What have they already done to solve this problem?

In order to answer these questions, you need to analyze your competitors, speak to customers, and create buyer personas. 

1. Analyze your competitors

Remember, the very best copywriters steal. If you see something working amongst other brands or competitors it’s a good sign. There's no point trying to reinvent the wheel. 

A great starting point is to analyze the ads your competitors are running on Facebook. You can do this by using tools such as Unicorn Ads or AdSpy.

You won't be able to see the exact audience your competitors are targeting. However, you can reverse engineer this from the copy, image, CTA, and landing page to make a fair assumption. ads is running approximately 250 Facebook ads, which is great. It means the ads obviously convert well and there’s plenty of data to dig through.

The middle ad stands out immediately. The two dogs sitting on high-quality beds in a luxurious home already suggests this ad is targeted toward wealthy dog owners. The copy even says “The matching PupProtector™ Waterproof Throw Blanket is a luxury blanket designed as a great-looking option to protect your furniture from damage.”.

2. Speak to your customer 

Customer interviews and user testing are typical tasks for a Product Manager. However, copywriters should do this as well if they want epic results. 

In fact, all businesses should speak with their customers on a frequent basis to understand how they interact with the brand and product. It’s an easy way to know what works, what doesn’t, and which opportunities exist. 

Customer interviews should be simple. You reach out to your existing customers and incentivize them to give you 15-30mins of their time. This could be in the form of a free product or a gift card. Once you have their time you can ask them questions such as:

  • What made you purchase our product/service? Why/Why not?
  • Which other products or services have you tried? Why/Why not?
  • Did our product/service do what you expected? Why/Why not?

If you want to go a step further or test new products you can use tools like User Testing or User Brain. These tools allow you to set up detailed questions for a specific audience to gain insights into their problems, how they’ve tried to solve them previously, and how well your product or service currently solves them. You should get honest feedback and a new perspective. Be careful not to ask leading questions though. This will severely ruin the quality of your research. 

4. Create a buyer persona 

A buyer persona is a profile that depicts your target customer. There are usually multiple buyer personas for each product/service. 

Once you’ve analyzed your competitors and spoken to your customers you should be in a better position to create an accurate persona.

Creating a buyer persona is important because it structures the wants and needs of your target audience. In turn, this will help you create killer copy for your ads. 

Source: Venngage

Start with the demographic data and basic learnings about their motivations. You can go as deep as you want with this. Be sure not to make random assumptions and always fall back on your research. Guessing won’t help you.

Translating product features into benefits 

Your reader won’t care or understand what your product features mean. They only care about how your product helps solve their problem. 

A great way to go about this is to simply use the “so what?” approach. 

This means for every feature you should ask the question “so what does this mean for the customer?”. 

For instance, the nootropic Alpha Brain by Onnit contains loads of ingredients like l-theanine, l-tyrosine, phosphatidylserine, and oat straw extract. This doesn’t mean much to the average consumer and if anything it’s confusing. 

By asking “so what does this mean for the customer?” Alpha Brain is able to translate them into the following benefits:

  • Remember names and places
  • Focus on complex tasks
  • Think more clearly under stress
  • React more quickly

This is easy to understand and very compelling. As a reader, I feel like these are benefits I really want. I can even visualize exactly how this will improve my life.

Craft your copy 

All the heavy lifting should be done by this point. 

You know who your audience is, you understand their problems and you’ve translated all your product features into clear benefits.

Now it’s time to write the copy so that it actually hooks and converts the reader.

The easiest way to do this is by using a copywriting framework such as AIDA, AIDCA, BAB, or PAS

The AIDA method

AIDA is a copywriting framework that stands for Attention, Interest, Desire, and Action. It’s mostly used for creating long-form sales copy but it’s very versatile. 

Attention: The first step is to steal your reader's attention. This can be done with a big bold claim or hook. It’s important to do this in a tasteful way, if you annoy the reader then you won’t convert them and you’ll likely never hear from them again. 

Interest: You need to pique the reader's interest enough for them to be intrigued. Remember, with ads the whole idea is to interrupt the user from what they're doing. Your ad must be interesting to them.

Desire: This section is all about getting the reader to imagine how much better their life would be with your product. The easiest way to do this is to translate the product features into clear benefits. The same way Onnit did with the Alpha Brain benefits.

Action: If your reader gets to this section then the copywriter has done a great job. Your product/service likely resonates with the target audience and they’re strongly considering purchasing. The make or break is the action piece. You need one very obvious call to action (CTA). This could be as simple as “buy now” or “secure this offer”. 

The PAS Method

This stands for problem, agitate, and solve. The idea is that you point out a problem, agitate the reader, and then show them the obvious solution. 

Problem: This is all about accurately identifying which problems your customer faces. It should be straightforward if you’ve analyzed your competitors, interviewed your customers and created a buyer persona.

Agitate: An easy way to agitate your reader is to ask them questions you know they don’t want to answer. For example “How well do you sleep at night?” or “Do you spend more than 20 minutes a day cooking?”. 

Solve: This is where you offer the customer your solution. It should be framed in such a way that it’s obvious the reader needs what you’re selling to solve their problem. 

Using AI tools to do the heavy lifting

If you’re experiencing writer's block an easy way to get the ball rolling is to use an AI copywriting tool. Most good copywriters will use either Copy AI or Jasper AI to stimulate new ideas. 

Whilst these tools can’t produce anything “usable” they will help stimulate different angles or sentence structures. 

You can choose various copywriting formulas such as the PAS or AIDA method to create the ad structure. 

Hiring an ad copywriter

Do your own research

You can find copywriters on Twitter, Linkedin, Google, and Upwork. It's a good idea to ask potential ad copywriters some questions about themselves so you can see exactly the kind of work they produce.

For example, if they have a portfolio from previous projects—or even if they have won awards!—then it shows that they have done solid work for other clients in the past. Feel free to reach out to their previous clients. This will give you an idea of whether or not they could do the same for you.

Related article: 22 Useful Copywriting Statistics

If you decide to work with writers from UpWork it’s important to review their previous jobs in detail. Check their references. It's a good idea to talk with people who have worked with them in the past and ask a few simple questions: did they meet deadlines, were they easy to work with, did they deliver on time and as expected? Asking around is a great way to find out whether or not this person is right for your project.

Don't assume that anyone who can write well has good ad copywriting skills

Before you start searching for freelance writers, there’s something important to know: The most talented novelist or academic writer isn’t the best person for the job. The best person for the job is someone with a track record of writing killer ads that convert!

Copywriters are a specific breed. In fact, they’re close to a Product Manager in the sense that they really know how to understand customer needs. Writing is important, however, understanding their customer's problems and how your product solves them is arguably more important.

Define what the success of the project looks like

To find out if your ad copywriter is the right one for you, it's important to first know what you're looking for. This means knowing what you want the copywriter to actually deliver. 

Sometimes the ad alone isn’t enough. If the users are going to a poorly designed landing page this is something you’ll need to be fixed – potentially a job for someone else. So, you need to know ahead of time what the scope of work includes. This is everything from the ad budget to the actual copy. 

You don’t want to spend $3,000 for a copywriter to craft your ads and landing page to only spend $2,000 on the ad budget. 

Do you need a million clicks from Facebook? A 100% open rate on email? An enormous conversion increase from a sales page? That's great! But before contacting a copywriter, think about how much it will cost, and how the message will look, feel, and sound. Sometimes it’s even best to make a list of competitor examples. 

  • What are the images that go with it? 
  • Is the landing page optimized?
  • How do they make people feel? 
  • Where do they live in their customer journey? 
  • How am I measuring success?

These are all questions that will help determine the best use of resources.

Propose an interview-style brainstorming session to both assess whether he or she can produce the kind of content you want (and assess whether you like working together). A good copywriter will break down your whole funnel. 

Make sure there's a clear contract in place

As a business, it's imperative that you make sure to get a clear and concise contract in place. 

You need to know exactly what you're getting for the money you're spending. 

Have the copywriter draft up a contract and send it over to you with as much detail as possible. This includes: 

  • A clear scope of work (including what isn’t in scope)
  • Turnaround time
  • Payment & invoicing schedule 
  • Late fees
  • Any other pertinent information

If they won't give this to you then don't hire them! 

In summary

  • Ad copywriting is all about working within the constraints of the ad platform to craft the most compelling ad;
  • The best framework for crafting your ad copy is AIDA and PAS;
  • Deeply understanding your audience and how your product's features solve customer problems is critical; and
  • Be clear on what you need from an ad copywriter, if not feel free to speak with a couple to find out.

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