Confessions of a Former Copywriting Snob: How To Use Templates For Increased Marketing Productivity

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Before I started writing copy and working on the web, I didn’t think much about templates. If I had, I’d probably have turned up my nose.

After all, I spent many years in academia. One of our mantras was, “Do your own work.” Templates seemed lazy and somehow, just one step away from plagiarism.

Before copywriting, I was a writing snob.

Writing has been easy for me (that’s why I do it professionally). I’ve published a book with a traditional publisher and many more ebooks in all formats. So, I used to wonder, why bother with templates?

But then I studied copywriting and became a freelance copywriter.

Now I was working in the trenches. I’ve written copy for a wide range of businesses — from astrology to attorneys to accountants.

Fortunately, my background gave me insight into most small businesses. But assignments piled up…and I had to get it right every single time.

As a copywriter, I learned, you live and die by deadlines. They’re firm and they’re tied to money. So you combine time pressure with money pressure, and you realize you’re not the only one.

To survive, you discover a whole set of tools that copywriters use to write copy: templates, swipe files, stories, and more.

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Photo by Kasturi Roy on Unsplash

It’s not magic, but clients tell me it sometimes feels that way.

So let’s debunk some common myths about templates. Here are questions I frequently get from my clients and from people wondering if they should seek out my services.

Q. What’s the difference between a template and a swipe file?

A. A swipe file is a piece of copywriting that you use as inspiration and as a model to write your own copy. It’s usually a sales letter or landing page that converted well. You like the style and you get an acute case of copywriting envy. So you tuck the copy away into a folder and bring it out when you’re working on a particularly challenging project.

A template is a fill-in-the-blanks guide to creating a specific type of content. You modify as needed but having the structure saves time.

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Photo by Kaleidico on Unsplash

We’re seeing templates for websites, sales letters, and landing pages. These templates have the elements of each marketing component, arranged on the page in a specific style.

Q: Won’t you have more success when you completely start from scratch?

A: There’s a myth that copywriting operates on pure creativity. For instance, clients sometimes say, “I want a website that’s completely different from anybody else’s.” A consultant once asked about copywriting the layout of her website.

The truth is, certain styles of copywriting and design will convert more effectively than others. Your clients won’t care if you use the same layout for your landing page as everybody else.

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Photo by Hal Gatewood on Unsplash

In fact, many top marketers rely on software to design their landing pages . As a result, people in the industry get used to seeing the same layouts over and over, from different people. It’s not unusual for a business owner to see a big increase in results after adopting these same tried and true layouts.

Similarly, templates reinforce the most effective structure for emails, landing pages, and even websites. That’s why they save you time and also increase your revenue.

Once you become aware, you start seeing templates used everywhere.

Lawyers use boilerplate language for contract basics. Comedians use templates for setting up jokes. Nonfiction books tend to follow a formula (and those that go off on their own tend to get lower reviews). Stories follow an arc that listeners come to expect, whether they’re listening to a speaker, watching a movie or reading a novel.

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Photo by ThisisEngineering RAEng on Unsplash

Q: So where do you get to be creative?

A: Success doesn’t come from “power phrases” of copywriting or even the best-tested layout and structure. What matters is your positioning and ability to touch the emotions of your target.

That’s why just about every training program on any aspect of marketing begins, “Who is your avatar (a/k/a your ideal client)? How are you different from anyone else?” Answering this question is a combination of insight, intuition, and brain-wracking strategy development.

You can’t blindly adapt swipe files and auto-fill the blanks on templates.

That’s why so many software programs will promise to write copy for you — copy that delivered results for the creators, but that won’t do anything for you.

You have to understand exactly what belongs on each line of your template…and even more important … why.

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Photo by bruce mars on Unsplash

Q: Do you end up sounding like everybody else?

A. Not if you genuinely understand your target market and your differences from the competition.

You’ll also develop a writing style — some call it a “voice” — that makes you stand out. But you’ll probably find that clients are less aware of your voice than your promises. They’re looking for a credible source of help, not a new best friend.

Q: So the advantages of using templates are …?

A: At least four:

(1) You save a ton of time. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel every time you sit down to write.

(2) You’re guided to set up your marketing materials in the most effective way. You get to double down, saving time while seeing stronger results.

(3) You’re more likely to reduce procrastination. If you’ve been putting off writing that sales letter or autoresponder, it’s easy to get started by filling in the blanks.

As you dig in, you’ll find yourself in the flow: you’ll modify the templates and write your own content to be most effective.

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Photo by Karim MANJRA on Unsplash

And if you still need some help, you’ll probably be able to get by with a consultation, rather than paying significant sums for someone to write the whole thing from scratch.

(4) If you decide to hire a copywriter, you’ll get more benefits when you already have a draft.

Copywriting is the most expensive service to outsource. The more you can bring to your copywriter, the more cost-effective your copywriting will be.

Cathy Goodwin is an author, strategist, and professional copywriter. She helps business owners use storytelling to market themselves more productively. To learn more, download your free copy of 3 BIG Ways A Copywriter Can Grow Your SMALL Business.

Originally published at on May 2, 2020.

Helping entrepreneurs and independent professionals grow their businesses one story at a time.

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