biz ladiesLife & Business

biz ladies 09: copywriting: a prescription for great text

by Grace Bonney

today’s second biz ladies post comes from amanda aitken (aka, the stylish copywriter). amanda is the copywriter for fashion retail brands garage and dynamite, and also runs her own freelance copywriting business out of her home in montreal. today she’s sharing her expert advice on using copywriting to sell, promote and create excitement about your work. her ‘copywriting power checkup’ is perfect for any business owner at any level- it’s always important to follow up your elevator pitch with text that puts your business’ best foot forward. so, i hope you’ll enjoy amanda’s post!

CLICK HERE for the full post after the jump!

*you can read more about the stylish copywriter’s services here, or catch up on the blog here.

The copywriting power checkup: Your Prescription for Great Text

Deep down, you’re probably aware that the right kind of copywriting could take your online business to the next level. But maybe you don’t have the money to pay someone to do it, or you don’t know where to find someone who’s going to do a good job, or you just don’t have time to read up on it and train yourself – so it falls by the wayside. This is a sad state of affairs, because anyone who sells beautiful things online deserves to have beautiful copy to help sell those things! Just think of all those stunning adjectives that aren’t getting used! But I digress.

So, because you don’t want to waste time bungling around with this stuff (after all, you have orders to fill and customers to attend to), let’s get straight to it. I’m going to give you some quick and dirty tips to improve the copy on your site. It’s the fastest-acting prescription for what’s ailing your site in the text department, and I call it the copywriting power checkup. (No needles, I promise).

Here are the five copy elements we’ll be looking at during your checkup:

– Titles

– Taglines

– Product descriptions

– Calls to action

– Tone & voice

Ready? Let’s go!


Here I’m mostly referring to the titles you choose for the sections on your site. (You probably already have a business name, so I won’t get too in-depth about that.) Most people stop worrying about titles once the business name is decided on, but the truth is, there are lots of bits and pieces on your site that could benefit from amazing names (for one thing, you probably have different product categories). Revisiting the way you’ve named these sections is an easy project that can amp up your connection with your visitors and increase sales.

There are two main things to consider when you’re thinking about titles:

1. Usability: naming site sections in a way that makes it easy for your target customers to navigate and find exactly what they want to buy.
2. Branding: naming site sections so that every title on your site reinforces your brand.

Let’s start by looking at usability. When it comes to giving titles to the parts of your site, it’s crucial that you stick to names that make sense to the customer. For example, if you create jewelry and sell it online, you probably have your own personal lingo for the different types of jewelry you make. You’ll know it’s your own personal lingo when you utter a word in conversation and the other person looks at you like you’re from outer space. Don’t make the mistake of using that lingo on your site. Even if you’re dying to call that page “The Saraphina Collection”, don’t. (Trust me – no one will know what this means but you.) Instead, ensure your site sections are named in a straightforward way that would make sense to someone who doesn’t know the inner workings of your business. Go with titles such as “necklaces”, “bracelets”, “rings”, and so on. Make it easy for your customers to view what they’re interested in viewing – or you risk frustrating them and losing sales.

Now let’s talk about branding. One easy (and let’s be honest…kind of fun!) way to enhance the branding on your site is to identify a unique metaphor based on your business name, and to carry it through to the titles you give the elements of your site. Let’s say you sell your paintings online and your shop is called “Cloudskipper Art”. Why not run with it and give everything on your site titles that are in line with a “sky” metaphor? Your newsletter/email list could be called “Sky Bites”. Your “last chance” section could be called “Sunset”, and your “new arrivals” section could be called “Sunrise”.

Naming everything cohesively like this is really effective for branding purposes, because it solidifies your business’ unique identity in the customer’s mind. You’ve gone and created a themed interaction that separates you from other online art stores. One caveat, though: don’t let usability go out the window while you’re busy implementing a pretty metaphor. To avoid this trap, you can accompany your snazzy names with more sensible, straightforward ones underneath them, like this:

Sky Bites – Subscribe to email updates

Sunrise – Just-arrived art

Sunset – Last chance to buy


Everyone needs a buddy in life – and business names are no exception. Don’t let your killer business name hang out all by its lonesome. Give it an equally killer tagline to stand beside!

A great tagline is potent and to-the-point. It should clearly express the essence of your business and what it has to offer the customer. You’ll know you have a good one when it can more or less stand in for the text you’ve put on your “About” page. Some taglines clearly lay out a business’ USP (unique selling proposition), while others are a bit more nebulous. But a tagline is a statement that sums up what your business is all about.

Here are some examples of especially lovely taglines:

Polkadots and Moonbeams: Fabulous, glamorous and accidentally sexy

Etsy: Your place to buy and sell all things handmade

Femme Metale: Sterling silver that rocks!

Wheels and Dollbaby: Clothes to snare a millionaire

GirlProps.com: For girls of ALL ages!

The Switchboards: Connecting creative women in business since 2004

Don’t have a tagline yet? Well, then it’s time to get moving – because a stellar tagline on your website can be the missing link that creates an instant bond with your visitors. They say you only have three seconds to make an impression on first-time arrivals to your site, and a tagline can be the glue that keeps them there.

Have a site that doesn’t exactly showcase what your business is all about? Adding a tagline is an easy way to remedy that. Best of all, you can slap one on without undertaking a total redesign. Just put your tagline under or beside your business name/logo throughout your site. For maximum impact, be sure to put it on every page, so that people will feel instantly oriented no matter what page of your site they land on.

If you’re stumped about what to put in your tagline, here are some starting points to get you going:

– Think about how you would describe your business to someone if you only had eight words to sum it up in. What words would absolutely have to be in there? What words could you omit?

– Use ONLY words that your target customer would use when talking about what your business offers (again, nix your own personal lingo here). If you’re not sure how your target customers would refer to your offerings, try some keyword research.

– If it feels right, consider using alliteration, rhyming, or a fun play on words to make your tagline catchier.

Remember, most people don’t know who you are online – and a tagline is an easy way to a) tell them and b) make them see that they want to do business with you.

Product descriptions

Product descriptions might be the most important copywriting element on your site (after all, it’s the products that bring in the moolah) – but they’re also one of those things that people figure they can get by without doing properly. Sometimes, this is true. But there aren’t many products that unfailingly sell themselves with pictures alone.

Even if you decide not to use full-blown product descriptions (say they don’t work with your site’s minimalist aesthetic), people are still going to want to know what your product is made of, what it feels like, what exact color it is (magenta? fuchsia? burgundy-violet?), and what went into making it – which requires text. You could just use bullet points and sentence fragments to get your point across, but this kind of bare-bones approach means you’re missing out on telling your visitors a powerful story. Carefully-written product descriptions do the opposite, hooking your visitors in and making them feel an affinity for your products.

You’ll be well-equipped to take a crack at your product descriptions if you keep these points in mind:

– Be descriptive. Product descriptions present a unique opportunity to give your customers all the information they could possibly want about your products. Including detailed product descriptions on your site is just another way to make shopping stress-free for your visitors – which will set you apart from the competition.

– Keep it emotional. Unless shopping for a lawnmower, people tend to buy things based on emotions. You see a dress in the window of a store and you imagine how gorgeous you’d feel wearing it on the dancefloor at that wedding next month. You see a beautiful painting for sale and imagine the sense of calm it would bring you if it was hanging in your living room. This is what you need to tap into with your product descriptions. Paint a picture. Evoke a feeling.

– Highlight benefits, not features. Every product has both features and benefits. Features are the aspects of a product that appeal to the logical brain. Benefits are what those features do for you at a human, “gut” level. You want to position your products in such a way that the benefits sing off the page. For more on this topic, check out this post on Copyblogger.

Calls to action

Are you starting to feel your site’s health being restored? Don’t stop now…we’re getting close to the end of your prescription! Let’s continue with the magic of calls to action.

A call to action is a word or series of words whose purpose is to get your visitors to do something. It’s the “what’s next” that lights the way. It’s an instruction manual that’s been packed into a few powerful words.

Here are some examples of oft-seen calls to action on the web:

* Add to cart
* Buy now
* Click here to learn more
* Subscribe me to the newsletter

Now, here’s the important thing. Every page on your site should have at least one call to action. If this isn’t the case currently, get excited, because adding properly-written calls to action to your site is a surefire way to get things moving for your business.

Before you write your calls to action, you need to decide what you’re trying to get your visitors to do. You might have a number of different goals, but most online sellers share at least couple of common ones, such as sales and email newsletter signups. When a visitor completes one of these desired actions, it’s called a “conversion”, because you’re converting the visitor from a visitor to a subscriber, or from a prospect to a customer.

So, you’ve got your goals or conversion points in mind. Now you need to write the statements that will prompt your visitors to perform those tasks. If you use a link that simply says “Email newsletter” to take visitors to the signup page, you’re probably missing out on a fair number of new subscribers . You need a call to action that says something like “sign up to our email newsletter now” or “ready to get our news via email? Click here to sign up now”.

The main things to keep in mind when writing your calls to action are as follows:

– Be clear.

– Be compelling (if you can, include in your call to action a benefit of taking the action in question).

– Express a sense of urgency.

Once you’ve decided on your calls to action, make sure they’re visible. They should stand out as the obvious “next step” on the page. You can make them more prominent by playing around with font size, color and positioning. For each of your goals, you’ll want to experiment with various calls to action to see how they perform for you. There are lots of different ways to say the same thing. For example, you could use any of the following interchangeably:

– Add to cart

– Add to bag

– Add to shopping bag

– Put in shopping bag

You can get a little creative with your calls to action, as long as they’re still clear. It’s fine to make them play into your branding, but don’t go overboard.

Tone and voice

We’re not talking opera here. The websites that stick most in your head are the ones that have their own special way of doing things – not only in terms of looks and functionality, but through narrative. It’s a subtle thing, but it does a lot for those business’ branding and the user experience. To steal their moves for yourself, read on.

If I asked you “how much text do you have on your site”, you might be quick to answer, “not much, really”. But if you pull up your site and take a closer look, you’ll probably see that there’s a lot more than you thought – hiding out on your “About” page, in your shipping information, on your “Contact Us” page – and the list goes on. When comparing the text that you have in these different areas, you want it all to sound similar – as though the same person wrote it, and as though that person’s personality is coming through loud and clear. This is what tone and voice is all about.

If after reading through your site, you realize that you don’t have much of a definitive tone or voice going, don’t despair. It’s easy to establish one and inject it into your site (I know I said no needles. Sorry…I lied). The easiest way to establish a unique tone and voice is to imagine your site as a person. Maybe it’s your wacky aunt Zelda or your stylish, immaculately-groomed friend Cassandra. Give your character a name and think about how he or she would speak. Then you can go to town on your copy, writing it as though you’re him or her.

You can take this project one step further by developing a list of “yes” words and a list of “no” words for your site. Every time you catch yourself writing something that doesn’t sound quite like your character, put it on your “no” list. And whenever you hit on a word or phrase that’s “so Cassandra” or “totally Zelda”, put it on your “yes” list. When you haven’t written anything for your site in a while, referring to this list will make it easier for you to get back “in character” in a hurry. The list is also good to have on hand if you need to farm out some writing to someone else. (You can give it to your copywriter as a reference.)

…The followup

All done? Then you can give your site a clean bill of copy health! Hopefully you’ll find that you’re intriguing more customers and closing more sales. I’m a firm believer that no one should be without great copy – and if you’ve implemented this prescription, you should be on your way to having it, too! :)

Questions about any part of the copywriting power checkup? Feel free to leave them in the comments, and I’ll be happy to respond!

Could you use Amanda’s expert copywriting services for your business? Visit http://www.thestylishcopywriter.com for the full scoop! You can also read more about Amanda’s background and expertise in her interview at She Takes On the World: http://www.shetakesontheworld.com/2009/03/interview-and-fabulous-opportunity-with.html.

Suggested For You


  • I love the advice you have about copy/titles for websites. I usually hit a wall when I get to product/work descriptions? Do you have any advice? Let the work speak for itself, or long poetic descriptions?

  • Glad you enjoyed the post! For artists or designers, I would suggest finding a happy medium with your product descriptions. You don’t want to say too much and risk putting up descriptions that conflict with the very personal feeling that your prospective customers get when looking at your work (thereby confusing them or turning them off). But I definitely think you would benefit from giving some background about your work in the product descriptions – i.e. what inspired the project, and maybe a little about the creative process you went through to make it. This way, you’re still using copy to connect with your visitors, but you’re not alienating anyone (which I think is important when it comes to art/design, because we all interpret it so subjectively). :)

  • Great advice! I love the Biz Ladies articles and I will take your advice when meeting new people and tweaking my website. I’m dying for a list of companies that make affordable business cards that are creative. While my business isn’t in the arts, I still want something that is unique. I would love suggestions on where to look, and I totally trust your advice designsponge!

  • Thanks for this series, Grace. It’s one of my favorite parts of Design Sponge! At $1 per card, the Brooklyn Social Cards are just too expensive for me. (I appreciate all the effort that goes into the art of letterpress–I just can’t afford it at this time.) It would be great if you could do a post on graphic design and web design. I’d love to support women-owned graphic design & web design businesses. In fact, if you had a special advertisers section of D*S that featured web design, I would click to my heart’s content on every single ad!

    • clf-

      brooklyn social is actually owned by two women (breck from sesame letterpress and rebecca from moontree) and they make really gorgeous cards- worth the splurge in my book. i have people remember me months later and email me because they loved my cards so much- no joke.

      we actually have an ad for three square design, run by one of my favorite women- kate caprari- she’s great if you need some web design help (threesquaredesign.com)


  • thanks for all the tips in the post + in the comments. i’m definitely learning a lot thru the biz ladies series. can’t wait till i make over my shop!

  • Thank you for such great advice. Although I do not have my website up and running , it is in the works.

    I sell French-style vintage/antique items. I think it is more difficult than selling crafted/hand made things. At least with the latter, you know exactly how it is made, where it is from and history. So, I guess my question is…how do you write effective and convincing copy that evokes that “feeling” with a product such as mine?

    Thanks again for the motivation!

  • Sierra Dew: If you’re interested in a copywriting review for your site, feel free to drop me a line – that’s definitely something I offer. :) I took a peek at your site, and I noticed that the “Jewelry” link on http://www.sierradew.com/shop.html doesn’t point anywhere (it’s not clickable). Is this on purpose?

    Linda: I’m not sure if your comment was directed at me, but if it was, you can shoot me an email so that we can discuss!

    Boutiquebijou: I’d have to see your site to get a better feel for the things you sell, but I’d say that in your case, being descriptive about your products is the way to go. I could see you using romantic, old-world language to describe the nuances of each antique. Hope this helps!

  • I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading your post- what a lot of great & creative advice. I thought that my companys website was ‘cool’ -but i’m now going to pass your advice onto the ” powers that be ” – we should never stop learing… thank you for sharing!

  • If you would like custom business cards I suggest using an experienced graphic designer. I used to work for a well known letterpress company until I decided to freelance. I love my new job! I am interested in your services and I could also help you with the design of your business cards. I know some fabulous inexpensive printers that will print on high quality paper. With this perfect solution you’ll get custom design and beautiful paper. Letterpress is my favorite but there are other really great alternatives.

  • My poor little pen is almost out of ink thanks to all the wonderful info I just jotted down! Thanks Grace and Amanda for all the great info for us little business guys and gals. Let the copy writing improvements begin ;) bess

  • I’m a freelance writer, who has always written news articles, feature stories, and product reviews. My site’s product descriptions have been sorely lacking, and i now know what. Your advice is spot on– highlight benefits not features, and play up your tone by pretending to be a character. This is exactly the direction I needed to be sent in. Thank you! And thanks to d*sponge for all the bizladies articles, they are incredibly helpful.

  • I too have just discovered Biz Ladies and it’s amazing..

    Thank you Amanda for your great advice. I’m constantly tweaking copy and took your ‘tagline’ advice to heart. It’s difficult to ensure that the website is coherent because there are various strands – creativity, communication, lifestyle ideals – but hopefully it’s improving all the time. Any feedback would be much appreciated.
    Best wishes,
    Vicky (Acoustic Wave – Scotland)

  • Thank you, great tips… have never thought about the “calls to action”. My site leans towards minimalist, so using calls to action can be challenging. I’m always afraid to add content that is not relevant. Less is more?

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