Boost Your Copywriting Skills With This Overlooked “Secret Weapon”

What I’m about to reveal will dramatically improve your copywriting skills.

And I can tell you from personal experience that this is one of the best ways to get good … fast.

I’m talking about studying articles.

Here’s what I mean …

A well-written article grabs your reader’s attention with a single big idea. It provides useful information that appeals to your reader’s self-interest. And it does it all in a logical, yet emotionally engaging, way.

Michael Masterson does this better than most. And, if you look closely, this is exactly what top copywriters like Paul Hollingshead, Don Mahoney, John Forde and Clayton Makepeace do in their copy.

But here’s the thing …

A sales letter does this over the course of 8, 12, or even 24 pages.

An article usually has to do it in 3 pages or less.

By understanding what makes an article great, you’ll know exactly what it takes to grab and hold your reader’s attention as quickly as possible.

The best place to find great articles to study are in publications with strong editorial content. This can be a popular magazine or newspaper that lives or dies by the content it sells. Some examples include The New Yorker, Prevention, and Time.

Personally, I like to study the articles in Reader’s Digest.

Once you’ve found an article to study, read it like a private eye. Scrutinize it with intense focus and attention to detail.

The first thing you’ll look at is the headline. Notice how it’s structured and how well it scores on the “Four U’s” test.

Here are 3 headlines from the issue of Reader’s Digest currently sitting on my desk:

  • “Do Protein Powders Belong in Your kitchen?”
  • “25 Great Places to Visit for FREE”
  • “41 Things Doctors Never Tell You”

These headlines grab your attention, build curiosity, and imply or directly state a benefit … in fewer than 10 words!

That’s what great copywriting is all about – clarity and power.

The next thing you’ll analyze is the article itself. If you read the articles in Reader’s Digest, you’ll notice a structural pattern many of them follow.

And that is …

Problem/Benefit/Solution:

  • The problem identifies a problem your reader may have or isn’t yet aware of.
  • The benefit offers a payoff for reading the rest of the article.
  • The solution offers practical advice on how to solve the problem identified earlier.

The first two, Problem/Benefit, should be addressed in the lead of your article. This usually means the first one to three sentences. Doing this cuts right to the chase, and hooks your reader into wanting to find out more.

Let’s take a look at the first couple of sentences of an article in Reader’s Digest:

“Ice cream freezers are crammed with lighter options, but many of them are chalky, fake tasting, and anything but tempting. How to find the good ones?”

Immediately, the first sentence identifies the problem (bad-tasting, low-calorie ice cream).

The second sentence instantly follows up with the benefit of reading the rest of the article. “How to find the good ones?” implies that if you keep reading, the article will tell you exactly how to spot good tasting ice cream that won’t wreak havoc on your waistline.

From there, the article goes on to the third component of the 3-part structure and gives you the solution – how to spot good-tasting, low-calorie ice cream.

Let’s look at another example of an opening paragraph and how quickly it addresses both the problem and the benefit (again, straight from Reader’s Digest):

“After all these years spent carrying you around, your knees may be starting to fight back – with creaks, aches, and stiffness. Common causes include osteoarthritis (OA), especially if you’re overweight, and ‘weekend warrior’ injuries such as a torn ligament or tendinitis. Of course, the ideal situation is to prevent knee problems in the first place.”

Immediately, the first sentence addresses the problem – knee pain. The second sentence gives the reader common causes for her knee pain. And the third sentence reveals the benefit of reading the rest of the article, by implying that what follows are tips to prevent knee problems in the first place.

Then, the article makes good on its promise and gives the solution – practical advice to prevent knee problems and ease the pain.

Problem/Benefit/Solution is the most common article structure. It’s both a powerful and effective way to engage your reader.

I’ve found that the more articles you study, the quicker you’ll internalize this structure and start using it in your copy.

But if you’d like to take this process one step further, here’s what you should do:

  • Read and study the articles in the publication of your choice. Notice how the headlines are structured, how well they score on the “Four U’s” test. Then study the body of the article. Look for the structure – problem/benefit/solution. Afterwards, pay close attention to how the first paragraph is written. This will help you when it comes time to write an attention-grabbing lead for your next promotion.
  • Write the articles out by hand – especially the ones that grab you. Doing this exercise will dramatically improve your copywriting skills … especially when it comes to writing leads. And as you know, the lead accounts for 80% of a promo’s success.
  • Practice writing articles for niches you’re interested in. For example, if you’re into the financial niche, you can write an article on trading options. You can also write articles to promote your copywriting business. Identify a problem potential clients might be having. Offer a benefit for reading the rest of the article. Then give them the solution. Doing this will position you as an expert in their eyes.

The most important thing you can do now is resist the temptation to take this article and file it away.

Take action. Take the time to truly study, analyze, and put into practice what you’ve learned here, and I guarantee your ability to write copy that sizzles will increase exponentially.

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Average: 4.9
Published: September 29, 2008

3 Responses to “Boost Your Copywriting Skills With This Overlooked “Secret Weapon””

  1. Guillermo....Very good. Many good pointers/suggestions.
    Inspiring and somewhat motivational....thank you

    Rick B-Nor-CalOctober 19, 2010 at 8:43 pm

  2. Thank you so much, Guillermo, this is exactly what I've looking for :o) We all supposed to know about finding solutions to problems, and describing benefits but this is different. I'm going straigh away to try this on my next article.

    coachgrazinaDecember 20, 2010 at 6:19 am

  3. First,I feel excited about being included in the AWAI program. My intention is to keep going forward.
    After reading this article,I found reminders for my Spelt Letter. The three elements of a letter to a prospect is a nudge for me to return to using this structure. The structure of problem/benefit/solution.I look forward to revising my letter using this formula. Thank you again for the reminder and advise.

    Aunti ViMay 14, 2014 at 11:55 am


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