Different types of copywriting explained
Social media, blogs, newsletters, emails - let's unpack some of the most popular copywriting formats.
PS - This is a looooong one. But it’s filled with lots of juicy tips. Hit Ctrl+F and search for what you want to find out about.
Ready to begin your copywriting journey?
One of the first things you’ll have to understand is all the different copywriting formats that exist.
I’m not talking about a niche - that’s simply a topic or industry.
What I’m talking about is style.
And in copy, there are six main format styles:
Social media copy
Direct response copy
Let’s take a closer look at each.
Unless you’ve lived under a literary rock, you’ve probably come across a blog before.
A type of long-form copy, blogs are a little meatier than their copy counterparts.
They usually range in length from 500-1500 words and are written with the purpose of entertaining or informing the reader.
Unlike short-form copy that’s designed to persuade the reader to take action - such as buy a product or click a link - blogs are designed to engage the reader and keep them interested in what you have to say.
Take the example of a bakery.
They might use short-form copy to sell their cookies (i.e., in product descriptions or advertisements) but they’ll also use long-form copy - like blogs - to show the reader that they’re not just some stone-cold business that wants to take all their money.
This is because blogs are a great way of injecting a bit of personality into a brand, in part because of their conversational tone.
Top tips for blog writing:
Get to grips with SEO: Search engine optimisation (SEO) is crucial when it comes to writing blogs. It basically means improving your site’s visibility, so that when people search for a topic related to your blog - your copy will be one of the first on the search results page. It’s a little difficult to get your head around at first, so I’d suggest doing some extra research.
Research: No matter what topic you’re writing about, do your research - even if you think you’re an expert. There’s always something new you can learn. It’s also a good idea to research your audience - Who are they? What do they like? What are they interested in? Once you know these things, you can start crafting your copy so it talks directly to them.
Have a conversation with readers: Your readers aren’t robots - they’re human. They’ve got feelings and emotions, so make sure your copy is HUMAN. Approach your writing as if you’re having a conversation with readers. Ask them questions. Use first-person (I) and second-person (you) to build up trust. Create stories or made-up scenarios and put them at the center of the action. A bit like how I wrote this blog post.
Make your copy digestible: Keep your paragraphs to a max of four lines and use bullet points and sub-headers to break up your copy and make it more digestible.
Create anticipation: Anticipation is best created at the start of your blog. Build anticipation into your copy by hinting at what’s to come (i.e., I’m about to reveal three top copywriting secrets. But first let me tell you a little story).
Curiosity gap: This is the gap between what readers know and what they want to know. In other words, give readers a snippet of information but leave out an important point. This will pique their curiosity and entice them to read your blog. The curiosity gap is best used in headlines (i.e., ‘This Copywriting Tip Could Make You The Best Writer’ or ‘The Real Reason Why Your Hair Is Always So Oily’). In both these headlines, I’m giving the reader a teensy weensy bit of information, but I’m also not giving away everything.
Here's an example of a blog that I've written (just click the picture to read the copy),
2. Website copy
Home Page, Contact, About - these are all different pages of a website that need good copy to stand out.
Imagine if they were empty or blank.
The website would literally be useless.
Web copy is short-form to the core.
Sure, you may write slightly longer sections but for the most part, web copy is simple and to the point.
Think of it this way; you’re guiding readers from one area of the site to another.
So you’ve got to keep it clear and concise.
Top tips for web copywriting:
SEO: SEO is super important in web copy. After all, how are users going to come to your site if it’s not visible on Google search results? This is why it’s key to make your copy SEO friendly. That means using keywords (words that are related to what users might be searching for when looking at your site). It also means adding in a few internal and external links (all those blue hyperlinks you see in text). Again, it’s a little difficult to understand at first - so do your research.
Research, research, research: Before you begin writing, do some research on your audience. Get to know who they are. What they like. What they dislike. How they interact with one another. This will help you shape your web copy to suit their needs exactly and will give you the information you need to hit on all their pain points and desires.
Make it digestible: Use bullet points and sub-headers to break up your copy and keep paragraphs to a max of four lines (or one thought per paragraph)
Play around with the brand voice: As a web copywriter, you’ll be writing for a specific company - so make sure you infuse a bit of that company’s brand voice and personality into your writing.
Click here to see an example of some (really funny) website copy.
3) Social media copy
You know those captions on Instagram photos? Or tweets? Or LinkedIn posts?
Those are all different types of social media copy.
If you’re really good at social and enjoy banging out super-short snippets of writing, social media copy might just be your sweet spot.
Of course, each social media platform will have different copywriting ‘rules.’
Instagram is a photo-sharing app, so copy should be as short as possible.
Twitter’s the same - it literally has a character count.
Facebook and LinkedIn are a little bit different - after all, you haven’t got a character count or word limit you have to stick by.
No matter what social media platform you’re writing for, there’s one thing you’ll always need to keep in mind - your reader.
A user scrolling a social media app is in a very different mindset from a user who’s scrolling websites or blog posts.
They’re in instant gratification mode. They’re not here to read looooong drawn-out stories.
They’re here to soak up quick content.
After all, scrolling is a fast activity - your social media copy could easily get lost to hundreds of other social posts.
So you’ve got to make it stand out.
Top tips for social media copywriting:
Understand the algorithm: Each social media platform will have its own algorithm and ‘unspoken rules.’ Just like YouTube has an algorithm that favours certain content, platforms like Instagram and LinkedIn also have certain ‘best practices.’ Read this blog post to get a better idea of what each platform looks for and tailor your copy accordingly.
Research: Research is the backbone of every single copywriting format, so never neglect it. Do a little digging into the kind of audience you’ll be writing for on social media - this will help you tweak your copy to speak to them and their desires.
One focus: The majority of social media copy is on the shorter side, so stick to one big idea or focus point. In other words, don’t write scattergun copy (i.e., copy that’s all over the place with multiple ideas).
Be casual: Let’s be honest - social media isn’t that formal. Opt for a slightly more casual tone and approach your writing as if you’re having a conversation with readers (ask questions, use first-person & second person, create stories). If it suits the platform, drop in a few emojis and hashtags.
CTAs: Call-to-actions (CTAs) are a great way of getting the reader to interact and engage with your social media post. You could ask them a question (i.e., what do you think of X?) Or you could spur them on to sign up for something or click a link (i.e., check out X).
Here's an example of some social media copy I wrote for an agency in Dubai:
If you’re subscribed to Word Tonic, you’ll know exactly what a newsletter is.
I’d liken it to a mini magazine - one that gets delivered to a reader’s inbox on a regular basis.
Most brands use newsletters to keep their readers up-to-date on special offers or company news - but at the core of every newsletter is the desire to engage.
Users actually have to enjoy reading your newsletter - otherwise, they’ll just unsubscribe or stop opening your emails altogether.
Top tips for newsletters:
Subject lines and pre-headers: They’re basically little hooks that bait the reader into clicking on your email and reading your newsletter in full. That means they need to stand out and grab the readers’ attention. Some best practices include using a list of three - a bit like I how do in my own newsletter (i.e., orange juice, conversational copy, and LinkedIn tips). You could also ask the user a direct question (i.e.., Jonas, did you know?).
A/B testing: When writing up a newsletter (or email) always craft up two different sets of preheaders and subject lines. This way, you can test which one performed best (i.e., which one got the most opens) and use similar tactics in future send-outs.
Research: Research your audience and find out what they like, don’t like, and what their pain points are - this way, you’ll be able to tweak your language and copy to suit them exactly.
Brand personality: Every brand has its own personality and feel, so make sure you fully understand what kind of ‘voice’ the company you’re writing for has before crafting newsletter copy.
Regularity is key: Newsletters need to be sent out on a regular basis, so find a flow and stick to it.
PS - Subscribe to my newsletter 😜
5) Email campaigns
Email campaigns are very similar to newsletters, but they’re not the same.
They’re both types of emails - the only difference is the regularity.
Newsletters need to get sent out on a regular basis - whether that’s weekly, monthly, or bi-weekly.
Email campaigns, on the other hand, don’t need to be sent out regularly or at a specific time each month.
A brand may create an email campaign that only lasts for a week. Or a few days.
Most brands use email campaigns to keep readers up-to-date on any news or company announcements.
They may also use an email campaign to inform a reader of a recent sale or to remind them of an item they’ve left in their ‘basket’ or something that they've recently looked at.
Here's an example of an email campaign I received a few weeks ago from OhPollly:
6) Direct-response copywriting
This one’s a little more complicated.
Direct-response is basically any kind of copywriting that’s written with the intention of getting the reader to take action ASAP.
That action could be to buy a product, click a link, or subscribe to a newsletter.
The thing that confuses most people is that newsletters, emails, and web copy can also be direct-response - so long as the purpose of the copy is to get the reader to take action.
If you look at it that way, you could almost define direct-response as a style of copywriting - not a format.
Top tips for direct-response copywriting:
Shorter is better: Direct-response copywriting is the king of short-form copy. Think about it this way - it’s being written to persuade the reader to do something and readers have a verrrrrry limited attention span. So it needs to be short, snappy, and to the point if it’s going to inspire them to take action right in that very moment.
K.I.S.S: Keep it simple, stupid. That’s not an insult - it’s a best practice! Keep your direct-response copy at a level that can be understood by your audience. That means steering clear of stuffy jargon or complicated words and opting for stuff that’s clear, simple, and easy to understand. If it makes you look at a dictionary, ditch it!
Hook readers with powerful headlines: The headline is what will IMMEDIATELY grab readers’ attention, so make it bold and make it stand out. Get creative with it. Make it humorous. Pose a question. Use the curiosity gap technique. Tease the reader with just a breadcrumb of information to get them to read the rest of your copy.
Strong CTAs: Direct-response copy is useless if it doesn’t actually tell the reader what to do next, so make sure you craft up a strong CTA.
Here's an example of a direct-response ad: (just to show you short direct-response can be)
Play around with as many formats as possible, but keep in mind which ones you like the most and which ones come naturally to you.
As you build up your experience, you can choose whether you want to write a variety of different copywriting formats - or whether you want to specialise in just one or two.
I’ve done pretty much every copywriting format under the sun, but there are three that will always be my favourite; blogs, newsletters, and emails.
I like them so much that I’ve decided to specialise in those three areas.
In other words, I only write newsletters, emails, and blogs - nothing else.