Making Every Word Count for Leaner, More Convincing Copy

Don’t waste words in copywriting.

Jenny Thompson, President and CEO of NewMarket Health (Agora), taught me this lesson about 15 years ago.

I’d just turned in copy she liked. Except she called me out on using a shortcut I’d used a few times for other companies. I’d repeated my envelope teaser as my headline. She liked the teaser but explained, “Every inch of space on your promotion is valuable real estate. Don’t waste any of that space. You have good teaser copy. Use a different headline to build the excitement.”

While Jenny had been talking about the envelope teaser and headline, her lesson applies to every part of promotional copy.

Make every word count.

This seems obvious if you’re writing a 250-word landing page. In this case, you don’t have the luxury of wasting words. But, it might seem less important if you’re writing a 24-page, 10,000-word promotion. In this case, must you still be as strict in making every word count?


Every unnecessary word in long-form copy takes up space you could use to highlight a new benefit. Or, use an illustration to summarize key points. Or, explain your product’s USP more clearly.

Powerful, effective copywriting boils down to this: Use as many words as you need to get your prospect to make the decision you want … but not one word more.

Verbal economy – “writing tight” – persuades.

When not to worry about making every word count

When I first understood the importance of writing tight, I made a huge error. I tried to write tight on my first draft. I’d write a sentence. Go back. Change a few words. Write a second sentence. Go back to the first one again and revise both.

Writing like this took forever, and the copy was weak. Eventually, I learned tight writing comes not when you write but when you edit … on your second, third, fourth and even fifth revisions. I also learned an editing process that has worked well for me the past 10 years.

Look at the big picture first

To edit effectively, your first two editing passes look at the big picture of your writing. In these passes look for the following problems:

  • Is this copy confusing?

    In the process of writing, you know what you’re trying to say. But, if you let the copy sit for a day or two, you’ll see places where what you wanted to say didn’t come across clearly. The copy is muddled or confusing. Fix this problem by rewriting as necessary.

    Confusing copy also comes from places where you might have contradicted yourself or used inconsistent numbers. Fix all these problems.

  • Is this copy unbelievable?

    If you find yourself using hyped-up language like “the absolute best supplement for …” your prospect won’t believe what you’re saying. Replace all hyped-up and unbelievable copy with verifiable facts, real stories, compelling numbers.

  • Is the copy boring?

    Too many words, too many numbers, too academic an approach: All these things bore your reader. Eliminate them while keeping the kernel of what you’re trying to say.

After you’ve gone through your copy once looking for these problems, go through a second time looking for them again. A third time? I do. It never hurts.

If you’ve been in the Circle of Success Architecture of Persuasion Intensive, you’ll recognize these strategies. They’re three of the four CUB(A) strategies created by Mark Ford and Mike Palmer.

The fourth strategy is to find awkward (A) copy. Eliminating awkward copy comes from taking a close look at almost every word and getting rid of unnecessary words.

This strategy is where you reclaim valuable promotional real estate. It’s where you’re able to slash your copy down to the 250 words your client wants … or open up space to add one more chart in long-form copy.

And, we’ll talk about that in my next issue of The Golden Thread.

Until then, remember the one, most important “secret” to becoming a successful writer is to write … everyday. And, from now on, when you do write everyday, go back at some point and apply the strategies we’ve just talked about to tighten and strengthen your copy.

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Published: June 1, 2015

2 Responses to “Making Every Word Count for Leaner, More Convincing Copy”

  1. This article gave me confidence that I am editing my copy correctly. By my editing more than once or twice, and using the CUB strategy, I will have my book finished before fall of this year. Thanks Will. You have helped me a great deal and I learned something new which is always a plus for me.

    Aunti Vi

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