Copywriting Strategies: Print Advertisements

Direct mail includes advertisements sent directly to a consumer. When you send direct mail, you contact the consumer directly. In this article, we are going to discuss other types of print ads. These types of advertisements can appear in magazines, newspapers, and directories.

About Display Ads

You can see display ads in magazines and newspapers. Take a look at the sample ad below. This is like an ad that you may see published in a newspaper or magazine.

Display ads appear in newspapers or magazines alongside content. They can appear as full, half page, quarter page, or custom size ads. In a newspaper, they can appear in all sections except for the obituary page, editorial page, and classified section.

The Anatomy of a Display Ad

All display ads contain a headline. The headline should be written in a way that grabs attention. Along with the headline, a display add contains a visual, such as a picture or graphic. Just as with other advertisements, the image should represent your headline and copy.

Display ads also contain subheadlines. Although it's not mandatory to include a subheadline, adding a subheadline can expand on the headline and further compel the reader to continue reading. Subheadlines usually appear below the headline.

You can also use a pre-headline. In the example shown below, a pre-headline was used. Pre-headlines can be used to lead into headlines, as shown below.

They can also be used to create urgency by offering a warning or calling attention to something. Take a look at the example below:

The example above creates urgency, because the reader knows that what is written after the pre-headline may help them make a smarter buying decision. If the reader was considering buying a hybrid car, the pre-headline (highlighed as it is) would call their attention to the fact that there's information in your ad that they need to know before making that purchase.

A display ad should also contain plenty of white space. It's okay to have a visual, or even more than one if it pictures the product, but you don't want the ad to be cluttered. If the ad is overloaded with visuals and copy, there's not one element that's going to grab the reader's attention. Remember that an ad doesn't have to be filled with information to be effective. It has to be filled with compelling, benefit-laden information to be effective.

You should always write copy in a conversational style. You want to engage the reader, not bore them. Since you will only have a limited amount of space in print ads, you want to keep the copy as brief as you can to entice the reader to take action. You can look ad print ads in magazines and newspapers to get the feel for how much copy you should use.

About Classified Ads

Classified ads are very brief ads that are listed under a category in a newspaper or magazine's classified section. Traditional categories are employment, real estate, automobiles, etc. They are usually just a column wide and a few lines long, and they do not contain any visuals. They're also lower cost than other forms of print advertising, potentially making it a very cost-effective form of advertising.

That said, simply placing one ad in one publication is probably going to do little more than pay for the expense of the ad. In most studies, one individual ad only brought in a handful of sales, if that. Needless to say, to experience even a satisfactory conversion rate, you must run ads in multiple publications to see the sales you want.

Classified ads can be used to sell products, but they are also a great tool to generate leads. The classified ad is used to make an offer to readers that compels them to contact you. You can ask them to contact you by phone, email, or by visiting a URL. Once they contact you, you either use a sales script to sell the product or obtain their mailing information for direct mail.

Just keep in mind that if you provide a number for them to use to contact you, make sure it's a 1-800 number. You want them to know it's toll free. Even in this day in age where the majority of people use cell phones and long distance rates really don't apply anymore, you still want to offer that 1-800 number so you do not isolate any customers.

Selecting Publications to Run Your Classified Ad

The majority of the time, the client will already know in which publications they want their ad to run. However, your input and expertise will be sought out more often than not, especially if you work as a freelance copywriter.

When choosing the different publications in which to run your classified ad, let's first break down some of your options.

You can choose to place your ad in:

  • Trade or interest magazines and newspapers (Fishing magazines, etc.)

  • Five and dime type newspapers and magazines that feature only classified ads.

  • Geographic area

  • Local and city newspapers nationwide

There are services out there that specialize in getting your classified ad in multiple publications if community newspapers are your target. Of course, these services charge you, but it's well worth the investment if you don't have the time to spend doing it yourself. In the United States, one such service is

You can also request a media kit for any publication that you're considering. The media kit will help you and your client decide if the publication is a good match for your product, because it contains the ad rate card (or the cost of ads), the publication's circulation and deadline, a sample copy, as well as the demographics of the publication. Media kits are free. All you have to do is request one.

When looking at a sample copy of a publication, check to see that it works for your clients. Look at the format of the ads. Does the publication allow bold headlines? Headlines in all caps? Are there borders or boxes around the ads? Check things such as cost and if you're charged by the word or line. Look at the different categories in the classified section to make sure your product fits. Look at the ads for your competitors, so you can see what's working for them. What categories are your competitors using? What category will work best for your client's product?

There's always more to an ad than just writing it. Taking the time to make sure the publication will be effective at advertising your product to interested consumers can be just as important as writing effective copy for the ad.

How to Write an Effective Headline for a Classified Ad

Needless to say, you want to write a powerful headline for the classified ad. Just as with any other type of advertisement, the headline needs to grab attention. The challenge with writing headlines for classified ads, though, is you want to keep the headline as short as possible. In fact, the shorter the headline, the more powerful it will be. While you want to focus on a benefit for your product, you want to do that in as few words as possible.

Here is an example.

Let's say you are selling a weight loss product. Believe it or not, the headline "Lose Weight!" may be more effective than if you said, "Lose 10 pounds this week if you sign up now!"

The reason is that the ad is only the width of a column. Classifieds in newspapers have multiple columns, so the column is never that wide. A longer headline will fill multiple rows in your ad. Nothing stands out. There's nothing to draw attention – even if the long headline is boldfaced.

But if you keep your headline down to just a few words, it does stand out. It does command attention. Ideally, the headline should be six words or less.

To write a headline for a classified ad, ask yourself the main benefit of the product and the problem that benefit solves for consumers -- or the solution it offers. Then, write a headline. State the solution in as few words as possible.

Another way to write a headline for a classified ad is to address your customers directly by the problem they face (that your product solves). For example, "Yellow Teeth" or "Bad Back?" Of course, you don't ever want to address customers directly if it will possibly be offensive. A headline that says, "Attention Balding Men!" would be okay, but "Attention Overweight Ladies" might not draw in a good response.

Creating Brief and Compelling Classified Ad Copy

Once you've created the headline, it's time to write the ad copy. Of course, the ad copy in a classified ad is going to be limited to a few lines, so it will not be lengthy. But that's not something you should worry yourself with initially. Instead, just create a sales message for the product. Once you get it written, you can shorten it.

Here's how to write classified ad copy:

  • List all the things that must be in the ad. The headline, benefits, offer, call to action, how to contact, and a code that lets your client know where the customer saw the ad. For example, the code might be something as simple as Call Sue if you're offering a phone number. The name Sue would let you know in which publication the consumer saw the ad.

  • Next, write a paragraph that tells how the main benefit of the product will help your customers. Write the paragraph to sell the product.

  • Figure out how many words you have left in your ad after the headline – if you're paying by the word and have a word limit. If you're paying by line, figure out how many lines you have after the headline, call to action, and contact information.

  • Start cutting the copy by eliminating words you don't need and sentences that really do nothing to sell the product or idea. Write to be brief. Your words must be efficient.

  • Don't say, "Take advantage of our 100% money-back guarantee". Instead say, "Guaranteed!" Or "100% Guaranteed!" Don't say, "Order our free report to learn more". Simply say, "Free Report!"

  • Keep your call to action brief and follow it with contact information. Don't offer two ways to contact you. Pick one. Not only is space limited, if you give your consumers a choice, they will typically not choose either one.

Writing Copy for the Web

In today's digital world, it's a safe bet to say that a lot of the copy you will write will be for the web – or the Internet. Although print advertisements are not dead, and you still probably receive a lot of them in your mailbox each week, most campaigns involve the web at some point. For example, a print ad may send people to their website to download a white paper or redeem a coupon.

In fact, for most businesses – especially those that do not have a brick-and-mortar location – their business website serves as their "home base", and it's where they direct all their prospective leads and customers. This means that no matter how they first connect with leads and customers -- whether it's radio, TV, print, or online – all roads eventually lead to their website.

The Purpose of Online Marketing and Advertising

The purpose of online marketing and advertising is to be findable and found by potential leads and customers. Notice that we said findable and found. Companies make themselves "found" through search engine optimization (SEO) and search engine marketing (SEM), as well as PPC ads, banner ads, and other types of online ads. Ads of this nature are usually focused on the company. Think of the "Nothing Runs Like a Deere" ads. These ads are focused on John Deere. This type of advertising is also known as disruptive advertising.

Interested in learning more? Why not take an online Advertising Copywriter course?

However, businesses also make themselves findable by producing content such as blogs, white papers, feature articles, social media content, etc. so that when a prospective lead or customer needs their help, they can find their help. The help they find (or the copy) is more lead and customer based. This type of advertising is also known as inbound marketing.

As a copywriter, you might be asked to create copy for PPC and other ads. You may be asked to write SEO articles or help optimize a website for SEM. In addition, you may have a client who needs you to manage their social media content or write landing pages for traffic that comes in from other channels. In short, you must know how to write all different types of copy for the web in order to survive as a copywriter today.

The ultimate goal of disruptive advertising, as well as inbound marketing, is to make a sale. It's to turn a stranger into a customer. As a copywriter, your purpose is to write copy that will make that sale. However, it's not always as easy as just running one ad. Chances are, you'll be asked to write different types of copy to make that happen.

Take a look at the illustration below.

The illustration shows the purpose for the copy you'll write for an inbound marketing campaign.

The copy must first connect with strangers – or those who aren't necessarily familiar with your client's company or who aren't specifically seeking out your client's company. Instead, these strangers are doing research before they buy. They could be looking for products or services, but they could also be looking for advice or help. Your copy connects with them to offer the help they need by bringing them to your client's website. Strangers then become visitors.

Once visitors arrive to your client's website, your copy must give them the information they were seeking when they found you. Perhaps you'll ask them to download a free white paper or watch a free video. The goal of your copy will be to turn visitors into leads, then to engage the leads through email copy, webinars, etc. to convert them into customers.

Now that you better understand the purpose of the web copy that you'll write, let's learn more about how to create it.

Writing Website Copy

Website copy can include articles, sales copy, product descriptions, landing page copy, blog posts, reviews, news, how-to information, FAQ's, as well as information about the company and its policies. No matter what type of web copy you're writing for a client, some basic rules apply in order to make the copy easy-to-read and engaging.

1. Use short sentences and short paragraphs. Strive for no more than twelve words in a sentence and four sentences in a paragraph.

2. Don't use unnecessary words.

3. Don't write in the passive tense.

4. Avoid repetition unless it's absolutely necessary.

5. Address your audience directly by using "you".

As with any type of ad copy, before you begin to write web copy you should identify your audience. Ideally, you want to identify your ideal reader. The web copy you write addresses that ideal reader. You know that reader's demographic, needs or wants, the reason for the visit to the website, and what obstacles this reader faces. Get to know this reader so well that you're comfortable addressing him or her, and you know exactly what to tell him or her about your client's website.

Get to know your ideal reader by doing research and asking questions. Interview your client. Study your client's competition. Read testimonials for your client's company and products. What solutions does your client offer? By interviewing your client and doing your research, you can piece together a profile of your ideal reader. Once you feel like you know who your ideal reader is, you can write to that imaginary person.

Once you have determined your ideal reader, make a quick list of features, benefits, and objections. Even if you're writing copy for the home page of a website where you are simply introducing the company, you still want this list. In other words, features, benefits, and objections aren't just for products! Even home page copy – or copy for the About page – should include features, benefits, and objections. They just won't be noticeable.

  • Write down features and specifications. Yes, even if it's about a company.

  • Turn features into benefits. Keep your ideal reader in mind when doing this.

  • Write down any problems the company or product helps your reader avoid.

  • Write down any objections your ideal reader may have, then how you can overcome those objections in the copy.

If using a headline for the web copy, include your client's value proposition – or the big promise your client delivers -- in the headline. What's the main benefit of your ideal reader doing business with your client? Website visitors make a snap decision whether to read what's on the page or move onto another website. You have to engage them as soon as they land on the page.

Take a look at the snapshot of the website below:

This type of layout for a website is called the Waterfront Model. The call-to-action is at the top. If you scroll down, you'll see the benefits. You'll also see other elements of ad copy including the problem the ideal reader faces, testimonials, etc. That said, the point of this example is to point out the value proposition featured at the top part of the page. It promises to teach highly sensitive people how to not get swept away by their emotions.

Take a look at our website for

Notice the headline: "Learn Anything. Learn Anytime. Learn Anywhere."

This is the value proposition. It makes the big promise. You can learn anything, anytime, anywhere.

If you scroll down, you'll see that the page has more of a traditional layout. It has short sections that talk about the benefits of the company ( Notice the short paragraphs and sentences.

When writing website copy for a client:

  • Always take a look at their current website copy and find out from the client how they want to change or improve it.

  • Look at your client's competitors. How are they organizing the copy on the webpage? What kind of layout is working for them?

  • Use the value proposition, benefits, and your ideal client become the foundation from which you write.

  • Always edit your copy to make it stronger.

Websites should always contain information people need to know to do business with your client, as well as information you have that will convince them to do business with your client.

Editing Copy

It's critical that website copy is sharp, engaging, and to-the-point. If it's not, you'll bore visitors right off your client's web page and their entire website. That said, your first draft of any copy you write is just that – a first draft. After you have the first draft, it's time to start editing it. However, we're not just talking about finding typos, misspellings, and grammatical errors.

One of the main goals of editing is to tighten copy. You can usually find places where you were redundant or used too many words. In addition, you can also find places where you didn't word things as clearly as you could have. Let the copy sit for a day or two before going back to edit. Go back with fresh eye and a fresh perspective, then go through to see if there are any areas where you can tighten and strengthen.

You also want to use that list of features, benefits, and objectives that you created before you began to write. Make sure they are all incorporated into your copy. You don't want to miss something important that could have led to capturing a new lead or sale for your client.

Make sure that the most important information is at the top. Be sure that your headlines and subheadlines are attention-grabbing. Remember, a lot of people will skim the copy. Having strong headlines and subheadlines will bring them back in when they start to skim.

When your copy is as strong as it can be, check for misspelled words, typos, and any unintentional grammatical errors. Never rely on a spell checker to catch all of these for you. Read line by line, not sentence by sentence, and look for errors. There's nothing more unprofessional than submitting copy to your client that's full of misspelled words and typos.

Sales Copy

There are two different kinds of website copy online. There is web copy and there is sales copy. The difference is simple. Web copy does not get read. It's boring. Readers simply scan it, then move on. Sales copy is read, because it has triggers to make people read, such as headlines, subheadlines, etc.

The biggest mistake copywriters make when writing sales copy is they write copy for people to read. It seems like a good strategy, and it can even make for some nicely written copy. However, it's not effective. To write effective sales copy for the web, you can't just write down information. Instead, you have to give them the information you know they want.

Think of the inverted pyramid that journalists use. All important information goes at the top. You want to employ this method when writing sales copy for the web. Take a look at webpage below again.

The important information is at the top. If this were simple web copy, there may be an article-like section of text about the classes that offers. But it's sales copy. The headline sells the main benefit and communicates what is about. Below the headline, the most important information appears. It gives visitors the information has that the readers need to know.

When writing sales copy for the web:

  • Your headline should tell readers what the page is about.

  • If there's an image, the caption should give a sales message.

  • Use subheadlines to catch the attention of anyone skimming.

  • Use bullet points to break up chunk of texts.

  • Use familiar language. It grabs attention. Don't think of new ways to say "cheap shoes". Don't try to be clever and say "cost effective shoes" or "low budget shoes". Use familiar words and phrases.

  • Each page of copy must be written in this style. Visitors can "land" on any page on the website. It's your job to write copy that keeps them on the website, then converts them into either a lead or a sale.

  • Give them a next step. Never write a dead-end web page. That is, a page of copy with no direction or instruction on what the visitor should do next. The step that you give them to take should be related to the copy on the page and be considered a natural progression. For example, if you're writing copy for the index (Home) page of an IT firm, the copy would probably talk about the problems that visitors face and the benefits the company offers. A natural next step might be to offer visitors a free network assessment or a free guide to choosing an IT company.

Take some time to visit different websites for different industries. If you google websites, visit the first few listings for each search, because these are companies who are doing what works. Their websites are effective. Study the copy. Study the structure of the copy. The best way to learn to write powerful copy is to study copy that's worked well for other businesses, then mimic what you've learned. Just don't plagiarize!

SEO Copy

Search Engine Optimization – or SEO – is the process of optimizing copy for the web by adding keywords to the copy so that search engines can find it. It works like this:

You have a website that sells shoes. You want the search engines to know that you sell leather shoes, so you have one page of your site devoted to leather shoes. You make sure that the key phrase "leather shoes" appears enough times on the page that the search engine crawlers recognizes that the content on that page is about leather shoes. The search engines then rank your site for the key phrase "leather shoes". Your site appears in search engine results.

The example above is a very simplified explanation of SEO, but it's enough to give you an idea of what it is, and why it's important from a copywriter's standpoint. That said, just a handful of years ago, companies would hire writers to create articles that were stuffed with keywords. The focus was in jamming keywords into content just to rank higher in search engine results. But over the past few years, content has become king, meaning having valuable content means more to your visitors – and to the search engines.

In today's market, you should automically optimize any website copy you write for SEO. It's easy enough to do. Just follow the simple guidelines listed below.

1. Only use one keyword or key phrase per page. If you must, use two, but no more than two. One is best.

2. The title tag of the page should contain the keyword or phrase.

3. The first sentence of copy should contain the keyword.

4. You should mention the keyword twice in the first paragraph – or three times in the next three sentences.

5. The keyword or keyphrase should account for 3-11% of the words – for every 100 words you write. That's between every three to every eleven words.

Don't ever sacrifice easy-to-read copy or persuasive copy just to get the right amount of keywords in your copy. If you can get the keywords into the copy without making it sound forced or clunky, then by all means do it. However, when writing sales copy, your first focus should be on writing effective sales copy – unless your client specifies that SEO is more important to him or her.

Landing Page Copy

A landing page is the page that visitors are taken to when they first arrive on a website. The landing page can be the home page – or the index page – of a website. But it can also be a page customized for traffic coming from a specified source with copy customized to give visitors the information they want.

Let's look at an example.

Let's say your client owns a website that sells lawmowers. This client ran an add online offering free tips on how to make mowing easier. If the link for that ad took visitors to the client's home page, it probably wouldn't be that effective. The home page would feature new lawn mowers (since that's what the client sells). The visitors are looking for tips on making mowing easier. While they might be in the market for a new lawn mower, that's not why they clicked the link in the ad.

Instead, the link in the ad should take them to a customized landing page – or one created just for visitors looking for tips on making mowing easier.

The snapshot below is of a website for lawn mowing services, not lawn mower sales. However, they had an ad online offering free tips to make mowing easier.


Notice that they offer those free tips, but that on the right side of the page, they also offer free estimates for their service. They also quickly list the benefits to their service. Note that this page is the landing page that a visitor arrives on when they click the ad.

They could have done things a little differently too. They could have advertised a free guide on how to make mowing easier. A free downloadable guide, that is. The visitor would have arrived at the landing page, then been asked to give an email address to receive the guide. Using this method, the lawn service would have captured a lead. The reason they probably didn't do it this way is because they only want qualified leads – or those interested in their services.

About Long Form Landing Page Copy

Sales letters can be used on a web page to sell a product, service, or membership. Long form landing page copy can be effective at selling ebooks, courses, home-based business opportunities, and other non-tangible items. The copy is formatted on the page the same way as it's formatted in the sales letter. You can use different sized and colored fonts – and different font types. As with a direct mail sales letter, the headline and subheadlines are important to keep people reading, not skimming or leaving the page altogether.

There are also landing pages that have a mini-sales letter on them. The mini-sales letter's purpose is to grab leads, rather than sales. It typically offers a free download or instant access to more information when the visitor gives their contact information.

The mini-sales letter has a headline similar to a long form sales letter. It may also have a brief paragraph or two of text, but the main focus of a landing page such as this is the bullet points. The bulleted list gives the benefits of taking the next step, whether that's downloading a paper, getting instant access, attending a free webinar, etc. In other words, the copy on this type of landing page sells someone on the idea of giving their contact information – and becoming a lead.


PPC stands for Pay Per Click. According to, PPC ads are defined as an "online advertising payment model in which payment is based solely on qualifying click-throughs. In a PPC agreement, the advertiser only pays for qualifying clicks to the destination site based on a prearranged per-click rate. Popular PPC advertising options include per-click advertising networks, search engines, and affiliate programs."

Pay per click ads can appear on a website or in search engine results, as shown in the snapshot below of a Yahoo search results page.

The PPC ads in the snapshot above appear at the top and to the right of search results.

PPC ads usually direct visitors to a landing page customized for the ad.

A PPC ad contains the following elements:

1. A headline, which is limited to 25 characters. Notice that it's characters, not words. The headline should employ keywords from the ad group your client is using for the PPC campaign. If asked to write PPC ads, you will be given keywords.

2. Description Line 1. You're allowed 35 characters. Promote your offer with this first line. Be concise when writing a PPC ad. It's much like writing a classified ad in that you should use as few words as possible.

3. Description Line 2. You also are allowed 35 characters with this line. Continue your offer or write a call-to-action. Effective calls-to-action include Buy Now, Shop Today, Contact Us, and Sign Up.

4. Display URL. The URL customers will see when viewing the ad. If you look at the PPC ads in the snapshot above, you'll see the display URL's.

5. Final URL. This URL is not displayed with the ad. Instead, it's the URL that visitors will be taken to when they click on the Display URL. Your website might be, and your landing page for the PPC ad might be The simple link to your website would be the display URL, but the actual link to your landing page would be the Final URL.