It takes a lot of time and effort to get really good at copywriting, and even then you should never stop learning. There’s no ideal approach to it, after all — no perfect copywriting method that will suit every possible scenario. It’s a matter of picking up tips from any available source, taking inspiration where you can get it — online resources, old books, or even competitor content.
Yes, as much as you might want to ignore your rivals out of principle, you can actually benefit greatly from keeping a close eye on what they’re doing. When it comes to copy, they can unintentionally serve as your greatest teachers. Here’s what they can show you:
Originality is unnecessary
Once you start reading through enough of your competitors’ copy, one thing will become abundantly clear: there’s not that much originality going around. Offline, media aimed for mass consumption tends to be fairly similar — but online, typical blog post fare can be nigh-identical.
The reason for this is simple: most digital copywriters don’t have much reason to write good content, even if they can (and many can’t), and they know that they can essentially crowdsource their points. So they go through existing posts, take out the points they like, and repeat them with barely any alterations.
Is this a good thing in general? It’s hard to argue in the affirmative, but it’s also difficult to contend that it isn’t justified by the sheer demand of the digital sphere. Businesses flood their blogs with content, knowing that simply having it is beneficial for rankings — the content doesn’t need to be good, or even intelligible. As long as it isn’t outright duplicated, it’s adequate.
The lesson, then, is that there’s no sense in worrying about your content not being original enough. If you can make some good arguments, it’ll already be far better than the general standard — and you’ll have a great chance of leading your niche.
Successful doesn’t mean good
Following on from that last point, another thing you’ll see is that content doesn’t need to be good to be successful. It certainly helps, naturally, but it isn’t required. How is this possible? It’s simple enough: brand influence, and the power of PR.
A huge brand could release nothing but mediocre content for months on end, and each piece would be a solid success, attracting plenty of views and relevant clicks. This is an important lesson to learn because it will stop you from making the mistake of taking too much inspiration from your most successful competitors. Their content might be terrible.
Be cautious, though: don’t start thinking that there’s zero connection between success and copy quality for big brands. I only said that their content might be terrible — it’s still likely to be decent, at the very least. I follow ecommerce very closely, and it’s hard not to see how differently the top SaaS companies invest in copy. Compare and contrast the copy for Shopify’s store-build software and the bland, outdated mess that you see for its OsCommerce equivalent.
The point is this: if you can produce really solid copy, you’ll have a chance at outperforming competitors of a similar size. It’ll never be the primary factor, but it can definitely be a weapon in your arsenal. If you can write some content that attracts attention and plaudits without relying on a brand name or heated promotion, you’ll know that you’re doing high-quality work.
What works, and what doesn’t
Copywriting for the web can require a lot of research and experimentation because even the people who consume digital content are never really sure what they’re looking for. They might say they’d enjoy a particular type of content, only to ignore it when you produce it — or scoff at a different idea, yet flock to it when it’s produced.
This process takes a long and frustrating time. So what if you could skip a lot of it? Well, you can, because your competitors (some of them, at least) will have already been through it. Look closely at how long they’ve been producing copy, and for what purposes, then start asking questions: how successful have they been? Which of their pieces have attracted the most attention? Which experiments have led nowhere?
It’s somewhat akin to being at the start of a minefield that others have already run through. There will still be unearthed explosives, but if you pay attention to the scorch marks and the footprints in the soil, you’ll have a solid idea of where to go (and which areas to avoid). It’s why any entrepreneur with an eye to enter a new industry must carry out extensive research first — passing up such an immense repository of relevant data would be foolish.
Wrapping up, you should use every available resource to improve your copywriting, and learning from the competition is something that everyone should do. You’ll find things you like, things you hate, and things you didn’t know before — and you’ll come away from it with a better understanding of what you need to do to excel.
This post was written by Eby Mathew