How to write copy that sells: The ultimate guide for beginners

Here you’ll learn powerful strategies to write copy that sells.

What is Copywriting?

The goal of copywriting is to sell.

Copywriting is not journalism. It’s not news reporting. As a journalist, your job is to report what happened.

In advertisements, you want people to do more than just read. You want people to ACT NOW – to place an order, or ask for more information.

Analyze the Product

It’s selling 101.

If you don’t understand the product, then you won’t be able to succeed.

Learn enough about how the product works so you can communicate the real nature of what you’re trying to sell.

Know your customer

The key word here is empathy.

You must give a damn about who they are – what is the desired outcome for them; and how to help them achieve that outcome.

Who is your typical customer? If you had to pick someone from the crowd, what would they be like… Gender, Age, Marital status, kids? Think about the life of this person. Put yourself into their shoes, and this allows you to uncover who he REALLY is.

You may already be an expert if you are a typical customer. You know what excites you and what you expect from a company selling that product.

But often you have to write about a product that doesn’t excite you.

So, the goal is to make sure you understand who your customer is and what motivates them.

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25 Classic Copywriting Headlines

You want to leave a good first impression in a job interview, right?

Well, the same thing is in copywriting. The title is “first impression”, which draws the line between success and failure.

No matter how persuasive your copy or how great your product is, your ad cannot sell if it doesn’t attract your customer’s attention.

Here are some headline examples you can get inspired.

Your lawyer doesn’t want you to read this Ad

You, a millionaire writer?

Who else wants to make money with their computer?

Who else wants a “to die for” figure?

Which one of these health problems do you want to beat?

Too busy earning a living to make any money?

Tired of working for someone else?

The most comfortable shoes you ever wore or your money back.

The art of selling by phone

How to take the headache out of writing

How to double your business in six months – 100% guaranteed

Get a closer shave WITHOUT nicks or cuts

Discover the oriental sleeping secret

Are you an over-educated underachiever?

It’s a shame for YOU not to make good money- when these men can do it easily.

You can laugh at money worries – if you follow this simple plan

How I made a fortune with a “fool idea.”

How a “Fool Stunt” made me a star salesman

Everywhere women are raving about this amazing new shampoo!

Do you do any of these ten embarrassing things?

The crimes we commit against our stomach

They laughed when I sat down at the piano- But when I started to play!

For the woman who is older than she looks

There’s another woman waiting for every man- And she’s too smart to have “Morning Mouth.”

Announcing… the new edition of the encyclopedia that makes it fun to learn things

4 Tips for writing clear copy

An article published in Applied Cognitive Psychology showed that writers who use long words needlessly are seen as less intelligent.

Good copy is written in clear, concise, simple words that get your point across.

1. Use short sentences

They teach professional writers to write in short sentences.

Long sentences tire and puzzle your readers. By the time they have gotten to the end of a lengthy sentence, they don’t remember what was in the beginning.

Rudolf Flesch recommends that the best average sentence length for business writing is 14-16 words.

To make your writing flow, vary sentence length.

2. Avoid Technical Jargon

It would help if you always used everyday conversational language.

Write as if you speak to a family member or a close friend.

Write at a sixth-grade level, not because people won’t understand but because they don’t have the time and patience to figure out what you are trying to say.

Your mission is to communicate the message as clearly as possible.

3. Use the power words – You, Free, Because, Instantly, New.

4. Use Metaphors and Analogies to clarify points that would otherwise be difficult to understand or explain.

Overusing metaphors and analogies, it’s like over-seasoning the food… it leaves a bad taste.

The Feeling

Before you write anything, decide in your mind what feeling you want to produce for your reader.

The back of every successful copy creates a feeling that compels the reader to act as you want him.

But how can you arouse this feeling?

Think for a moment about how would you feel before buying that product.

What would you want first to know?

What about the proposition would interest you most?

What would you feel you had to gain by accepting?

What would you lose by refusing the offer?

The Slippery Slide

Picture yourself at the top of a slide and then let yourself go.

As you slide down, you try holding on to the sides to stop, but you can’t.

You continue to slide down despite all your efforts to prevent it.

This is how your copy must flow.

Every element should cause that slippery slide effect.

This example is taken from “The Copywriting Handbook” by Joseph Sugarman.


It’s a copywriting framework designed by Ray Edwards.

Problem/Pain – Describe their problem. The more detailed your description, the more they’ll feel that you must have an answer to their problem. Again, you need to be empathetic.

Amplify – Amplify the consequences of not solving the problem. Before painting “the paradise” they seek, you must get them to experience the future without your solution.

Story/Solution – Now, it’s time to share the story of how you can solve the problem.

Testimony  It’s essential to offer real-life stories of people who bought the product and experienced the transformation. The proof will make your prospect think, “If it worked for them, it will work for me”.

Offer – This is the part when you lay out the offer. You can even create a subheading for the section called something like, “Here’s Exactly What You Get.”

Remember to focus on the transformation the product or service brings, not deliverables.

Response – This is one area where copy often is the weakest – the response request. We tell them how to get the product.

Skip to 10:45 for an example…

Inducing Fear

Fear can be an effective tool when selling certain products or services.

The fear appeal is most effective when:

1. It scares the hell out of people.

2. It offers a specific recommendation for overcoming fear.

3. The recommended action is perceived as effective for reducing the threat.

4. The recipient believes that he/she can perform the recommended action.

You need the four elements to make this strategy work. Remove any of them, and it’s like building your computer and leaving out the hard drive.  It won’t compute no matter how much you want it to work.

In addition, if you create too much fear, you could scare someone into inaction.

Sometimes fear can paralyze.

It’s important to persuade the prospect that he has the power to change his situation.

For example, let’s say you own a karate school and sell self-defense training.

You can teach people to walk in dangerous neighborhoods with the confidence of a trained bodyguard.

But presenting gruesome crime stats isn’t enough…

You also need to persuade your prospect that he will be able to fight an attacker using his bare hands.

The factors that can boost your credibility are testimonials, video demonstrations, and free lessons… 

How to strengthen the desire

Advertising is salesmanship in print – the literature of desire.

Every person has emotional needs. They are vague emotions without compulsion or direction.

Your job is to fill out these vague desires with concrete images. You need to show them different ways to fulfill these desires.

You are writing the script for his/her dreams. The sharper you draw these pictures, the more your prospect will demand your product, and the less important will seem the price.

One Sentence Persuasion

Blair Warren captured the essence of persuasion in one sentence…

“People will do anything for those who encourage their dreams, justify their failures, allay their fears, confirm their suspicions, and help them throw rocks at their enemies.”

Now let’s analyze each emotional motivator:

Aspiration – How would you feel about someone telling you, you can make it?

Shame – The correct way to deal with shame is to expose it and wipe it away.

It’s comforting when others understand why you are in this tough situation. Explain that it’s not their fault.

For example, “If you’re overweight and have failed to slim down, it might not be your fault, but simply a problem with your metabolism”.

Fear – We all seek different ways of avoiding fear and pain. And we are drawn to people who can make us feel safe.

Confirming suspicions – Who doesn’t want to know that they have been right all along? Don’t you love saying, “I fucking knew it?” We all do.

Belonging – A sense of belonging is a powerful motivator. That’s why we act so emotional about sports teams.

It’s the feeling that we belong to something bigger than ourselves.

And don’t forget the seven principles of influence by Cialdini – Reciprocity, Consistency, Social Proof, Authority, Liking, Scarcity, and Unity.


It was 1975 when Martin Conroy wrote the most successful sales letter of all time. It brought more than $2 billion in sales for WSJ, and it ran for 28 years.

Martin opened the letter with the story of “two men” who graduated together 25 years ago. Both of them were happy and had a similar life. But there was one difference…

One of them worked as a manager while the other was the company’s president.

What is even more interesting is that he borrowed the story idea…

In 1919, Bruce Barton wrote an ad titled “The Story of two men who fought in the Civil War”.

One year earlier, there was another Ad called “Earns $30,000 a year because of his remarkable memory. The story of two clerks in New York City who started together a few years ago, side by side, each earning $12 a week”.

The Best Sales Letter of All Time | by Toni Koraza | Better ...

As you can see, storytelling can be an excellent tool for persuading people. And you don’t have to ‘reinvent the wheel’ to develop a good story idea.

To help you create a great story fast, here’s a powerful template:

Act 1: Struggle – You or someone else faced a tough challenge. And there was a lot at stake.

Act 2: Solution – You found a brilliant solution that helped you overcome the challenge.

Act 3: Product – You created a product to help other people.

7 Steps for writing blockbuster sales letters

1. Craft the opening

There are many ways to start a sales letter:

– You can start with a story or a question…

If I can show you how you can double your income by giving me just 30 minutes of your time a month, would you like to learn more?

Stories and questions are compelling because they open a loop in the prospect’s mind. It’s hard for us not to finish things that catch our attention.

– You can start with a quote…

The author (Frank Herbert) explains what “hyacinths” means.

Remember: Write in simple words, and if you use an uncommon word, explain it.

– You can start with a damaging admission.

You might not be the most popular choice, so it’s good to admit it and reveal what makes you different from others. Honesty is disarming. When you reveal your weakness, your reader is more likely to pay attention and believe your claims.

– You can start with a problem and slowly explain the solution like in the Giorgio letters you’ll read below.

2. Give the most important benefit first

Before writing a sales letter, you need to list all the benefits of buying your product. Organize them in order of priority.

If you can find a “hidden benefit”, use it. For example, a hidden benefit of aspirin is that it can thin the blood and decrease the risk of heart attacks.

If you sell a time-management book, the main benefit is increased productivity. The hidden benefit is that the customer will have more free time for family or hobbies.

3. Describe the most important benefit in detail

You need to persuade your prospect that your claims are true. And you can do this by describing how your product will help them in detail.

4. Tell them exactly what they will get

Your customer wants to know exactly what they are getting for their money.

5. Testimonials

No matter how good your story or product is, people will still have doubts.

You need other people to confirm what you’re saying is true.

If you are selling a quick fix for muscle pain, a doctor should make endorsements – perhaps doctors working for sports teams.

And you should also include a mini-story on how that expert discovered your product.

6. What happens if they don’t act now?

You should give good reasons they have to act now. If your prospect puts your letter aside, thinking they will get the product later, your offer is probably doomed.

7. Include a money-back guarantee

So, why would they trust your hard-earned money to you?

How can he know that your product will 100% satisfy him?

That’s why we should include a money-back guarantee.

Case Study #1: The Kiplinger “Boom & Inflation” Letter

This is one of the most widely circulated letters ever created, and Fanny B. Lyle originally wrote it.

It was Kiplinger’s control letter for 35 years, and during that time hundreds of other letters were tested against it. They update the letter annually, but the concept remains unchanged.

1. The heading gives the most prominent benefit.

2. The following two paragraphs enlarge upon the benefit.

3. The third Paragraph tells the reader exactly what he will get.

4. The fourth and fifth paragraphs provide value with past experience.

5. What the prospect will lose if he doesn’t act?

6. Summarize the benefits

7. Encouraging the prospect to act.

Case Study #2 The Billion Dollar Sales Letter

It’s one of the most successful single pieces of advertising of all time.  This letter is responsible for 2 billion dollars in revenue for the Wall Street Journal.

I would suggest reading it out loud as much as possible.

Try to understand why every word was chosen, what thoughts are used, what emotions it evokes as you read it, and how it keeps you interested. How it develops its argument and persuades you to buy now. (Click to Enlarge)

Case Study #3 Giorgio Letters

I read Giorgio’s letters in “The Ultimate Sales Letter” by Dan S. Kennedy.

These are three letters for a chain of Italian restaurants.

They show the persuasive tactics used for direct marketing and how to structure a multi-step mailing sequence.

The humorous style helps sell different products, and the structure is universally effective.

The Second Letter

The Third Letter

Recommended Books:

AWAI’s Accelerated Program for Six-Figure Copywriting

“Breakthrough Advertising” by Eugene Schwartz

“Cashvertising” by Drew Eric Whitman

“How to write blockbuster sales letters” by Benjamin Hart

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