online copywriting course insights

Part 1: The First 5 Reasons Why You're Not Great at Copywriting

Read time approximately 10 minutes

In the job of copywriting, empathy is all.

As you know, solid relationships are made from mutual respect and rapport that leads to trust. In most human encounters, it usually starts with small talk like:

Masha: “Hi, I see you’re reading Murakami, he’s one of my favourite writers.”

Joe: “Yeah me too, I love how he mingles the waking world with the dreaming world.”

Nobody would ask anybody to “marry me” in their first encounter. Yet, when it comes to copywriting, it’s often straight into the sell …

Experience the beauty of Melbourne’s Port Phillip Bay on a 40 minute bay crossing with Searoad Ferries.

But if you know your audience like a human being their sitting across the table from you (in my Copywriting In Action® courses, this is the visualising part), you will be able to see them, read their body language and hear what they’re likely to say or think. When you can do that, you’ll write something like this:

There’s nothing quite like sharing a moment when nature comes with you for the ride. Dolphins splash alongside you. Whales put on a winter migration show. Seals sun their lazy selves for all to see. Australasian gannets parade themselves in mascara and eyeliner, swooping here, there and everywhere like synchronised dive bombers.

More words yes. 

This is not about numbers crunching. It’s about building trust and bringing your reader into the story like it’s their own. Great introduction paragraphs take your reader from disinterest to interest and from disengagement to engagement. This requires careful thinking to select words in carefully constructed sentences carrying carefully articulated propositions or imagery. 

All of which gains permission from your audience for you to keep talking (i.e.: they keep reading or listening). The following five sections will enable you to take the “not so” out of great copywriting.


You walk into a cocktail party. You don’t know anybody except the host who is too busy mingling to notice you. Then you see a person across the room standing alone, sipping a martini and you bee-line to her. Then the first words that come out of your mouth are:

Hi, I’m a very talented, committed, passionate and successful professional, and all my clients think I’m awesome, you can read their testimonials on my website, here is the url. Check it out now! You’re going to love me too and let’s go to bed together because I’m really hot.

It will come as no surprise that she’ll be gone before you’re even three words into your narcissuspeil. Goodbye connection let alone trust and rapport. 

There are three ways to overcome this marry me at first sight habit. The first and most highly recommended way is to prepare a communication brief with a thorough profiling of your target audience — demographic, psychographic and Hugh Mackay’s Ten Desires. And please, do it in that order! Never ever shortcut to the Ten Desires or you will guarantee stereotyping.

The second way is to visualize your target audience as a particular person sitting across the table in conversation with you. That’s going to be a whole lot easier to do if you have done the psychographics and Ten Desires. Understanding and appreciating you’re target audience is the only way to have a proper dialogue with them. Don’t get sucked into that crusty old ’50s cliche that “copywriting is selling with words”. That’s only a fraction of the story. And besides, we’re far more sophisticated than that these days. When you’re copywriting, you’re having a dialogue with a specific person.

The third way is to actually write the copy as a letter to a friend. You will automatically start talking in a more human and sincere manner. Not only is it being your natural self but your friend would expect that of you.

After that, it’s all about the quality of the content you’re writing.


 In a well-informed communication brief, it’s called the “key proposition” or “main message”. In the audience’s mind, it called “what’s in it for me?”

Too often, I see copywriting that bogs their readers down in features, features, fabulous features. Like that guy at the cocktail party, banging on about how smart you are, how strong you are and how important you must be. Stop and change your point-of-view from the inside-out thinking to the outside-in thinking — ask yourself how the subject matter you’re writing about can benefit the reader/listener.

So instead of:

We offer an extensive range of public courses. [feature]

It becomes:

We offer an extensive range of public courses enabling you to take control of your professional development. [feature + benefit]

Sometimes the benefit is obvious, sometimes it’s not. Great copywriting makes the invisible visible. Don’t make the mistake of assuming the reader will translate the feature into a benefit. If they actually bother to do this (highly unlikely), they will be using extra cognition power and precious time translating features into benefits.

It’s the copywriter’s job to save them those extra few milliseconds so that meaningfulness, usefulness and value is instant. You put little bit more deep thinking on the subject and what the target audience will get out of it (this could take seconds, minutes or hours, it doesn’t matter) and they’ll stay in your story, and ipso facto you in their’s.

Here’s some fun to be had: next time you review your copy, highlight the features in one colour, and the benefits in another colour, and see if you’ve got the balance right.  

Of course you need to talk about the tech stuff like what it does, how it does it and the specifications. But when you put meaning into them with benefits, you direct their line of thinking to where you want them to go (think film director).

You also breathe life into the dead facts.


This can happen in a couple of ways.

Firstly, you may not have explained enough what your solution offers. The most likely cause is not describing the how and the why clearly, or at all. How do you know if this is the cause? There’s the Copywriting in Action® course’s second rule of engagement: “it’s not just what you put into the writing, but also what the reader takes out that completes the communication”. If you know your audience well, you can second guess any question, issue or confusion they will have with the text. This is where the procatalepsis comes into play (a literary device by which a speaker or writer anticipates and responds to an audience’s objections or unanswered questions). Write enough so you can hear your audience say, “I get it, now I can check that off my list.”

The other source of confusion is too many options. It’s called the paradox of choice — too many choices lead to no choice at all. Too many choices, too many possibilities, too many things to pick from, too many channels to choose from and we start to get confused and it’s all over before it begins.

The number three tends to be the magic number (also one of the most popular rhetorical devices, known as the tricolon). Sean D’Souza at Psychotactics believes in two. He only offers two options — a basic and a premium. Others will offer the silver, gold, platinum. I’ll leave it to you to choose between these two options.

Meanwhile, when you’ve got a page or three of copy and you haven’t structured it with feature and benefit sub-heads to orient your audience, and help them remember where they are on the page, and the benefit-focused copy itself is not structured into narrative logic, they’re will be confusion. And, as the old copywriting maxim goes, a confused mind does not buy.

So make sure you explain the benefits, second-guess their takeaways and address any blocks on the way.


There are two types of Calls To Action (CTA) — the retail CTA (which will be discussed here) and the intended response CTA (which you can read about in my post, Strategies Toward a Strong Conclusion). The retail CTA means you tell your audience what to do next: “Click here to sign up for the newsletter” or “Click here to register for the course.”

There are two schools of CTA about this. Usability experts often say, “Don’t say click because an underlined word in web copy is clearly a link, and it’s obvious that you click it”. Others say, “That’s just lame, people click more on links that say, Click Here.”

As usual, the truth lies somewhere in between.

Of course, you don’t use CTAs for everything, only when you need them to do something like sign up for your newsletter or register for your webinar. Chances are, inviting them to commit to the buy-in will only be said once in an entire piece of copy, and most likely at the end (after you’ve corrected #1 #2 and #3 above).

The act of clicking is the moment of conversion. The word “conversion” has a lot of religious connotations, but in this context, it’s just getting your target audience to take some action you have defined in advance. A call to action gets them to do that. You might think, “Well, it’s obvious what to do,” and yes, for some readers it is; but not for most. Of course you don’t want to sound too pushy or salesy either.

You just want your CTA to be a confidant decision by your target audience.


In 1935, comedian Jimmy Durante starred in the Billy Rose Broadway musical Jumbo, in which a police officer stops him while leading a live elephant and asks, “What are you doing with that elephant?” Durante’s reply, “What elephant?” It was a regular show-stopper.

That elephant in the room is still alive and ignored to this day. It doesn’t matter what you’re selling or telling, this persistent habit of glossing over objections is based on an inability or reluctance to listen. Remember the rule mentioned above that, “it’s no just what you put into the writing but also what the reader takes out that communicates”? Perhaps what your reader is taking out is an objection. Copywriting is a dialogue between you and your target audience, and the listening part of writing is asking yourself, “What is my reader taking out of this sentence?” The better you know your reader, the more accurate will be your answer.

The biggest objections are the following:

I can’t afford it.

I don’t trust you.

I don’t believe you.

I don’t think I can do that. I think everybody else in the world could have success with that, but I can’t. I’m not smart enough to make that work.

And here are examples of other common objections that come to your reader’s mind as they read your copy, and probably stop reading there and then and exit your story because your copy didn’t acknowledge it:

I think this material is going to be too advanced for me.

I think this material is going to be too basic for me.

I think this product is not worth the money that you’re asking me.

I reckon this product is just a scam.

I’m worried the product is going to break and I’m not going to know how to get it fixed.

I’m worried that I’m going to have a lot of hassles trying to get it ordered or shipped.

I’m afraid to order things on the internet because I’m afraid my credit card is going to get stolen.

An objection is a reason somebody is not doing business with you yet. By thinking that, “If I don’t bring it up maybe it will never occur to them,” you’re doing a Jimmy Durante.

One of the most essential literary devices for effective communication is when a speaker or writer anticipates and responds to an objection. This is the procatalepsis —remember I mentioned it in #3? Look it up, put it into practice and you’re writing will leave your audience without any doubts about your reliability, integrity and authority.

Thanks for reading and hope to see you next week for Part 2: The Next Five Reasons Why You’re Not So Great at Copywriting.

Meanwhile, my online copywriting course timetable is up and running and ready to take your booking now. This is one copywriting course designed and delivered to elevate you to great copywriting in 8 engaging, productive and enjoyable sessions.

copywriting i9n action course insights

Originally posted 2022-03-21 01:30:48.

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