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3 Easy Ways to Start Writing an Ad

By: Ryan Healy


In the War of Art, Steven Pressfield writes, “It’s not the writing part that’s hard. What’s hard is sitting down to write.” And yet, even after sitting down to write an ad or sales letter, you may not know where to start. I want to help you change that starting today.

Now, when writing sales copy, most people start with the headline. Why? Because the headline is the first thing to appear in the copy. And so the logic goes: Start at the beginning and finish at the end.
There is nothing inherently wrong with this approach. It can work quite well. And yet there are three different approaches I’d like to present for your consideration. Each will give you a clear place to start writing.
Approach #1: Write the Headline First… And Last!
When I was first getting started as a copywriter, I did what most copywriters do: I wrote the headline first. Once it was written, I continued on my way, never to return again.
Unfortunately, this made for some altogether unsatisfactory headlines. After all, I had written it first, and I hadn’t taken the time or effort to revisit it after finishing the copy.
This was a mistake.
To this day, often I will write the headline first. But I won’t spend much time on it. I’ll scribble a few ideas down, pick the one I like best, and move on. It’s quick and dirty.
From there, I dive into the ad. I craft the opening paragraph; I write the story; I insert the testimonials; I offer proof; I give a deadline; and I ask for the order.
And when I finally reach the end—and I have a complete piece of sales copy—I read the whole thing with the express purpose of finding new copy angles and hooks.
Why do I do this? Because now is the time to return to the headline to strengthen it. I may modify it, rework it, or replace it altogether. You see, the copy you’ve written inside your ad informs the headline. Which is why you absolutely MUST revisit your headline at the end of your copywriting process.
Approach #2: Write Your Ad Backwards!
If you’d rather put off writing the headline until later, you can write your ad backwards. The way you do this is by writing the order form first. The reason this is so effective is it forces you to clarify and crystallize your offer before you write the ad or sales letter.
Far too many times, copywriters throw ads together without really knowing what they’re offering. In a very real sense, they’re writing in the dark. How do you write a persuasive ad without knowing what the offer is? You can’t.
When you write the order form, you are working in a limited space—and you must know precisely what the offer is. This is where the offer is boiled down to its essence. The short, compelling copy that’s going to get the prospect to follow-through and place an order.
Write the order form first and you may find that writing your ad or sales letter becomes infinitely easier.
Approach #3: Just Pull the Trigger
When I say “just pull the trigger,” I don’t mean you should start writing willy-nilly. Rather, I’m suggesting you should write your bullets first. Bullets are where you tease your prospect’s desire into a frenzy. You hint at every little nugget of information—and every benefit, no matter how obscure—your prospect will receive by purchasing your product or service.
Sometimes bullets are “blind”—they suggest an outcome, but don’t reveal how that outcome will be achieved. Other bullets suggest AND reveal at the same time. These are less common, yet highly effective because they subtly allow the prospect to sample your product.
The reason it’s a good idea to write bullets first is because it forces you to uncover every single benefit your product or service delivers.
In other words, you have to cozy up and get intimate with what you’re selling. You’ve got to explore every nook and cranny and pull out things you might not even have been aware of. The deep exploration required to write bullets gets you right into the heart of your sales copy—and makes all the other words you write flow faster and easier than they would have otherwise.
Furthermore, because of the tight language used in writing bullets, they often make great headlines and subheads. You might even discover the headline of the ad hiding in a bullet, as I have often done.
I sometimes think of bullets as the “body” of the ad. Once the body is in place, all you have to do is put the head on top and slap some feet underneath, and you’re done!
Which Approach Should You Use?
First, let me say there’s really no right or wrong way to write an ad, so long as it produces sales at a profit.
  • Personally, I write bullets first when writing sales copy for an information product. I literally consume the information and write bullets as I go.
  • When I’m selling software or some kind of service, I often write the headline first and last.
  • And when I’m writing a space ad for a magazine or newspaper, I’ll often write the order form first.
So the circumstance often dictates the approach I use. And the same will likely hold true for you.
My advice: Try each approach and see which one suits your style best. And don’t be afraid to mix things up from time to time to fire up your creative juices.
What works best for you when you want to start writing an ad?
This article was originally published by Ryan Healy
Published: August 27, 2013

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Ryan Healy

Ryan Healy is a direct response copywriter. Since 2002, he has worked with scores of clients, including BoostCTR, Alex Mandossian, Terry Dean, and Pulte Homes. He writes a popular blog about copywriting, advertising, and business growth, has been featured in publications like Feed Front magazine, and is a regular contributor to WordStream.com, BoostCTR.com, and MarketingForSuccess.com.

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