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The Best Copywriters Offer Great Copywriting Secrets

Barry Feldman: March 5, 2016 | Web-based marketing, Writing | Comments
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great copywriting ingredient (1)
I was reviewing an essay by my daughter, a high school junior, when we got to talking about what makes for great writing. It was an interesting discussion.

At least I felt that way. She probably just wanted to get the thing done and turned in. I call writing my profession. She calls it a pain in the butt.

In any case, I got to thinking—after tapping on a keyboard for 25-plus years in the interest of inspiring readers to try, buy, attend, register, write, call, download, donate, share, care, click here and put your email right there…

What is the essential ingredient of great copywriting?

I’ve been doing this awhile. I know a lot of great copywriters. And they know a lot of great copywriting secrets, as do many of my peers who are journalists and content marketers that wordsmith with the best of ‘em. So I asked them this one question.

This post reveals their answers: the secrets to great copywriting from many of the professionals I consider to be amongst the best at the craft.

Work’s required

Doug Kessler

Hard work
Doug Kessler, co-founder and creative director of Velocity Partners, is the best copywriter I know.

“The essential ingredient to great copywriting—and as a card-carrying lazy bastard I hate to admit this—is hard work.

The hard work of really, really, really understanding your subject, your audience and the building blocks of your story… The hard work of listening, asking questions and doing your research… The hard work of structuring, of building your case… The hard work of rewriting to improve clarity… The hard work of finding what really matters.

The final ‘wordsmithing’ is just the veneer on top of a solid table made with hardwood and nails and saws.” 

Lena Prickett

Lena Prickett is the content marketing manager at SnapApp and a stellar scribe.

“The essential ingredient of great copywriting is time. You have to develop a deep empathy for your audience before you can write anything you want to resonate with them and that process takes a lot of time. Then, the writing process itself needs more time than you might think. Too many writers leave drafting copy to the last minute and don’t leave any breathing room for a rewrite. All the fun stuff happens on the rewrite: trimming out excess, adding in fresh and funny, and mixing things around in unexpected ways.”

You gotta’ feel it

Joanna Wiebe

Joanna Wiebe, of Copyhackers, writes the most precious stuff about copywriting. And when the right word escapers her, she makes a new one up.

“Heart. The essential ingredient in great copywriting—the thing it cannot be made without—is heart. If you don’t care, nobody else will, either.”

Jason Falls
Jason Falls, SVP at Elasticity, always dishes no BS advice and I always enjoy it.

“You can’t have great copywriting without an emotional trigger. Something has to move the audience.
Maybe it’s to act. Maybe it’s to laugh. Maybe its to cry. But copy without an emotional trigger doesn’t.”

Robert Rose

Emotional value
Robert Rose is chief strategy officer at Content Marketing Institute. He’s also an amazing writer, speaker, podcaster, musician and interviewee—a brilliant mind I tap often.

“Great copywriting is simply great writing. Stephen King once said ‘writing is refined thinking.’ I agree with that. But great writing—and especially copywriting—is more refined emotionality. Great copywriting changes beliefs, transforms perspectives. It connects. The essential ingredient of great copywriting is to create emotional value with brevity.”   

Humankindness (or something like that)

Jessica Ann

Jessica Ann, of Jessica Ann Media, won me over with her heartfelt words the first time I set eyes on ’em.

“The essential ingredient in great copywriting is the purity of each word. The energy of the product or service becomes more palpable with each letter, each word, each sentence. The momentum builds until the reader literally and figuratively buys into the experience that the copy is selling.” 

Jule Neidlinger

Julie Neidlinger, who I discovered via the great blog at CoSchedule, is a writer I’ve collaborated with and admire.

“The most important ingredient is honest voice.

We get wrapped up in the good copywriting advice of others and start to lose the sound of our own writing voice as we attempt to use the tips and tricks others have found work for them. Maintain your own writing voice, which includes not only the word choices you use or how you lay out your copy, but also the way you go about convincing readers to do something.”

Marcia Riefer Johnston

Marcia Riefer Johnston writes books about writing and contributes to Content Marketing Institute’s remarkable publications.

 “The essential ingredient of gotta-share copywriting (beyond having something worth saying) is caring about people connecting with what you have to say. Caring alone doesn’t get you there—you need all the skills you can acquire—but caring is the sine qua non.”

Reality checks

Victoria Hoffman

Victoria Hoffman is the content & community manager at Uberflip and ranks on high on my list of killer content creators.

“The essential ingredient for great copywriting is relevancy. You could be the greatest copywriter in the world, but your writing won’t make an impact if you can’t connect with your audience. Take the time not only to understand the topics of interest of your audience, but also the language they use, and their intentions. Use these insights to fuel your marketing materials, not your own objectives.”

Kathyrn Aragon

Kathyrn Aragon is director of content at Mirasee, a very sharp writer, and my go-to gal for smart insights about the role of the multi-author blog editor and all things content.

“The most essential ingredient in copywriting is clarity. It doesn’t matter how good your offer is, if no one understands what it is and why it matters, they won’t respond. 

To write crystal clear copy, you need to work out the logic of your argument in advance. What makes your offer unique? What’s the value proposition? Why buy from you and not someone else? In concrete terms, how will your product or service make a difference in their lives?”

Jean Spencer

Meaning (and then some)
Jean Spencer is a global content marketing strategist at Microsoft. A few years ago, I was floored by the writing style of a Kapost eBook, traced down its author, and came to know this fast rising star.

“The essential ingredient to great copywriting is saying exactly what you mean. It seems so easy, but this fundamental aspect of communication is the art, the poetry, of powerful copy. It requires the writer to have a complete understanding of audience, as well as a commanding knack for punctuation, anticipation of readers’ comprehension, and the ability to state exactly the right amount of stuff—no more.”

Uniqueness… or You-Niqueness?

Joe Putnam

Joe Putnam is director of marketing at iSpionage and a highly accomplished writer.

“The essential ingredient of great copywriting is to not be boring. Not only are you competing with direct competitors when writing copy, but against the thousands of other things your prospect could be doing instead of reading your copy. If it’s boring, people aren’t going to read, which means your message won’t get across.

Find a way to break out of the same old boring copywriting that everyone else uses. Companies need to dare to be bold in order to stand out and win more loyal customers.”

Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is CEO of Arment Dietrich who brings some one-of-a-kind special sauce to every thing she writes. @spinsucks

“The essential ingredient of copywriting is YOU. You are the only one who can make your writing unique. You have a unique perspective, experience, and expertise.

I love the story of McDonald’s versus Wendy’s to prove this point. The head chef of the Golden Arches in Canada created a video to show the world how to make the special sauce. Four months later, Wendy’s had a new burger on their menu that was, yes, two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun. It flopped big time. They had the exact recipe and they couldn’t replace the Big Mac.  

So don’t be afraid of competitors copying you or making non-prospects angry or leaving a bad impression. You are the best ingredient to your copywriting.” 

Ann Handley

Ann Handley wrote “Everybody Writes” and nobody writes like her. 

“An audience-centric point of view. Strong tone of voice. (That’s 2!)”

Please understand

Seth Price

Seth Price is all things marketing rolled-up into one megastar creator and leader. He’s the host of the way-cool podcast, The Craft of Marketing, VP of Placester, and chief whippersnapper and co-author of my forthcoming book, The Road to Recognition: The A to Z Guide to Personal Branding.

“The best copywriting always starts with listening to the audience you’re writing for, listening for the things they’re not saying, the things floating in their mind. Once you know that, you’ve got to connect right out of the gate in a way that arrests their attention, makes them pause for that instant of recognition and desire to act.”

Dan Norris

Dan Norris of WP Curve is rocking content marketing in every conceivable way. He’s a Content Machine, which also happens to be the name of his new best-seller.

“I’d say it’s a deep understanding of your ideal customer and their deepest pain points. From there the rest is a lot easier. I think every copywriter would say that.”

Demian Farnworth

Demian Farnworth (who clearly agrees with Dan) is chief content writer at Rainmaker Digital/Copyblogger Media. Read anything he writes and you’ll understand exactly why.

“A deep understanding of the psychological, emotional, spiritual, political make up of our target prospect.” 

Joel Klettke

Joel Klettke of writes approximately half of the copy online. He’s seriously in demand. I find his work on many of my favorite sites and often wish I wrote it.

“It’s not enough to see data on your audience—you have to be able to think like them, feel like them, rationalize decisions like they do.

Great copywriting—whether it’s a landing page or a blog post—is rooted in an understanding of what the audience actually wants and needs—not just what they tell you they do. 

It’s not about ‘wordsmithing’ or being clever; it’s about knowing how to communicate an idea in a way that an audience will respond.”

Great copywriters think alike

The winning answer, by a longshot, is empathy. Everyone that follows used the word or idea. Each brought something new to bear, so check out each one.

Brian Clark

Brian Clark is the founder and CEO of Rainmaker Digital. He never stops innovating and fuels all of his successful online businesses with thoughtful content.

“Empathy. Great copy doesn’t speak to people, it enters the conversation already playing in their head. Unless you can put yourself in their shoes, see their perspective, and walk their path, your copy will never qualify as great.”

I believe Brian’s thought is worth tweeting…

Jay Acunzo

Jay Acunzo, host of Unthinkable, the podcast for craft-driven content creators, and VP at NextView, a tech startup VC firm, writes scathingly funny and pointed posts that are not to be missed.

“Empathy. (Wait, really?) Yes, really, voice in my head. The entire goal of copywriting—or any writing—is to trigger an intellectual or emotional response from the reader. These responses are necessary to create first in order to then receive any action that benefits us—enjoying our work, remembering us, clicking, reading, subscribing, sharing, buying. Great writers have extreme empathy for the reader experience.”

Sarah Bauer

Sarah Bauer is a copywriting gem I tried to keep busy and keep to myself, but I failed. Navigator Multimedia, in British Columbia, stole away my ace freelancer.

“Empathy—the ability to sense other people’s emotions—is the essential ingredient of great copywriting. ‘Good’ copywriting abounds, but great copywriting stands out as having been channeled through the writer’s application of empathy. It goes beyond understanding your audience’s experience; it’s about being able to feel the experience as though it has happened to you, and make predictions about what desires and expectations are born from that experience.”

Jon Morrow

Jon Morrow, CEO of, is the blogger we all wish we could be, which is why his tribe of students is growing as fast as his audience.

“Empathy. If you can’t empathize with the prospect, you’ll never be able to write copy that appeals to them.”

Andrew Davis

Andrew Davis of is an inspired idea machine whose writing helps make sense of all this digital marketing stuff.

“The essential ingredient to writing great copy is empathy. Can you empathize with the audience you’re targeting? Will they see themselves in the copy you write? Do you understand their aspirations, their hopes, their dreams? Do you know what they’re feeling? Without empathy you’re just writing copy, add empathy and become a copywriter.”

Henneke Duistermaat

Henneke Duistermaat is an irreverent copywriter and business writing coach and the mastermind of Her copy always tastes seductively sweet.

“The essential ingredient for great copywriting is empathy. When we understand our customers’ fears, pain points, wishes, dreams and secret desires, then our copy becomes more persuasive. As copywriting legend Eugene Schwartz suggested: ‘Write with your ears.”‘

When we listen to our customers and repeat their messages in their words, then they feel understood; and they’ll believe our offer can help them solve their problems and make them happier or healthier.”


Andy Crestodina

Andy Crestodina of Orbit Media Studios works both sides of the brain more so than any marketer I’ve ever known. He’s a mentor, inspiration, and friend to me and the co-host of my podcast Content Matters.

“Great copywriters are brief, because they know their readers are busy.

Great copywriters are great at formatting, because they know their readers are scanning.

Great copywriters use a personal tone, because they know their audience is made of individuals.

Great copywriters use benefit-driven headlines, because they know their readers have crowded inboxes and social streams.

What do these all have in common? They’re all focused on readers. So the conclusion is simple. The essential ingredient of great copywriting is empathy.”

What does Joe know?


A holdout: Joe knows content
Joe Pulizzi, as you’re about to see, rather speak for content marketers than copywriters. But don’t be fooled, the founder of Content Marketing Institute never stops writing. Given that he’s blazed the trail for most of the people in this post and writers everywhere, we’ll just go with it.

“I’m by no means a great copywriter, but I do know a thing or two about building an online brand.  To be successful, first, focus on a particular audience and particular topic that you actually have a chance to be the leading expert in the world (in that area). Then, pick a main content type (textual, video, audio, print, in-person).  Then, pick your platform (blog/website, iTunes, YouTube, etc.).  Then, consistently deliver content (daily, weekly).  That formula has built the greatest media brands of all time and it continues to work today.”

Two words

Mark Schaefer

Be succinct
Mark W. Schaefer of Schaefer Marketing Solutions gave me those two words.

Please pin this, if you’re a Pinterest user…

Great Copywriting - The Essential Ingredient

Want to know how to create great written content?

Read this post, which explains the 14 ingredients of great written content.

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Barry Feldman
Barry Feldman, founder of Feldman Creative, is a prolific writer with 25 years of experience bringing his clients' online presence to the next level through copywriting and content marketing creation and consulting. He writes and educates clients on online marketing on The Point and on many other sites across the web. Connect with Barry on Google+.
Barry Feldman


Focused on effective online marketing #content marketing consultant #copywriter #creative director #social media advisor #rock n' roller
25 experts on #SocialMedia Marketing Tactics Worth Your Time @FeldmanCreative - 2 years ago
Barry Feldman
Barry Feldman
  • barry

    Some eye-opening insights here.

    One can learn how to work hard, make time, be relevant, write clearly, be bold and not stretch the truth.

    But how does one learn how to be empathetic or to care?

    • Barry Feldman

      By engaging with prospects and customers in every way you can.

  • Leisa Peterson

    Love this post Barry!!!

    • Barry Feldman

      Me too. Thanks Leisa.

  • Darrell Batchelder

    I didn’t see “bold” used for copy. Is there a big idea you can use in a memorable, clever or provocative way? There are headlines people tie-in with the respective brands years after the copy is gone: “Where’s the beef” — “Does she or doesn’t she, only her hairdresser knows for sure.” — “I can’t believe I ate the whole thing” — “What’s NEXT is already here” (I wrote that last one for Steve Jobs when he was between being Apple CEO — and then returning. In the interim he launched a company called NEXT). Not saying my copy will live on like the others, but great copy does have a boldness that makes people stop and read/listen/view… (And for those of you under 40, the answers are Wendy’s, Clairol (home hair coloring products) and Alka-Selzer. I must ad there were great visuals supporting those headlines.

  • Submission S

    Really nice article Barry Feldman. Thank you for sharing this information.

  • tejones

    Right on. You picked many that I would have. Great job!@@barryjfeldman:disqus

  • Brian Driscoll

    Great Article Barry!

    I definitely agree with the empathy aspect. I just wrote a few email sequences for clients, and I went a little off on a age defying skin-care product because I didn’t fully understand the 38-45 middle-class women age group which the email list compiled of.

    Going to go into it again with a fresh perspective, do a few interviews of friends, read a few thought articles written by someone in that age group, maybe try to think through the life of the person I’m writing for, and rewrite it.

    Felt like a boso when I looked at it afterwards!

    What would you consider the number one mistake of a copywriter in terms of stylizing their writing to fit a specific audience?

    • Barry Feldman

      Hmm. Very tough question. Your thoughts? All I can think of is the writer simply doesn’t talk the talk because he or she fails to understand the nuances of the audience’s pleasures and pains. Feel free to improve on that.

      • Brian Driscoll

        You know, being a relatively new freelance copywriter, this has been the first project where I have found it really-really-hard to conceptualize the audience’s pleasure and pains.

        I think I may need a new approach. Maybe use the email list to collect real stories to then build a foundation of the email sequence with. And because it’s a new niche I should have done more research on language nuances in forums, twitter, etc.

        Relying a little too much on intuition.

        Definitely started overestimating my skills when the first few email campaigns started doing well, haha.

        Thanks Barry!

  • Anja Skrba

    It’s a huge challenge to stick to all these tips when writing, I must say….But that’s when the power of persistence should show its best 😀

    Thanks for this great post Barry!

  • Copydimitri

    Empathy is a core ingredient in many of the answers. I would however go beyond that and add “Egoless”. Copywriting is ego-destruction. Simply understanding the needs of your reader is not enough. You must put all your powers to work to help the reader on the other side of the screen and that means switching off the ego. It is never about you. It is never about the ego of your client. For (online) copywriting to work it has to be egoless to truly serve the reader. You really have to give a damn about the wellbeing of the reader. Kill your darlings. Mercilessly. And kill the darlings of your client if they do not serve the reader. For many clients are attached to the ego that comes with their work. They will cling to jargon that comes with their specific area. Even if this gets in the way of understanding and clear communication. And that is what makes copywriting such a great (and fun) balancing act. You have to be humble in the name of your reader, stand at the gates and be prepared to destroy ego’s in the name of clarity.

  • Susan

    A comprehensive list if ever there was one, Barry. Thank you. These core ingredients nominated by your copywriter panel above are not just tenants of great copywriting but any kind of writing and types of communication (public speaking and active listening come to mind). There are the hints of inspiration and the art of writing evidenced here as well. Those armed with English degrees can take heart because there is a growing need for professionals who understand the mechanics and art of writing. It has had a resurgence as an essential life/business skill when so many digital natives might view it as just a pain in the butt.

  • Nate

    Solid article. Love getting the opinions of those who have actually found (read: made) success in this industry. One thing I was disappointed with though was the lack of actionable steps. Secrets should be actionable, right?

    If you share my view, check this out If offers some concrete steps you can apply to your own copy.