Sep 29, 2021
“You have to make humans love you first, and then Google will love you” Kate Toon
Renowned copywriting expert and trainer, Kate Toon joins host Will Francis to discuss all you need to know about good copy. Such as: the difference between copy and content, how to find your writing voice, as well as how to become a copywriter, and how to hire one. Kate has a particular passion for SEO and explains why carefully-considered text is fundamental to your online discoverability.
Kate is an Australia-based copywriter, author, and educator and her own podcasts and websites at katetoon.com.
Will: Welcome to Ahead of the Game, a podcast brought to you by the Digital Marketing Institute. This episode is a big Q&A where we explore an area of marketing through a leading industry expert. I'm your host, Will Francis, and today I'll be talking to Kate Toon all about copywriting in digital marketing, how we use words to connect with an audience, convey what our business is about, and, ultimately, motivate people to become loyal customers of our business. Kate is an educator, writer, and podcaster working with brands, large and small, to help them improve their SEO, copywriting, and digital marketing. Based in Sydney, Australia, she's trained over 10,000 marketers in these topics and scooped up numerous awards, especially for her podcasts and her work in SEO and copywriting. Also, she runs a Facebook group with nearly 5,000 members just for misfit entrepreneurs, as she calls them and herself. Kate, welcome to the podcast. It's great to have you on.
Kate: It's lovely to be here very early in the morning for me here. So, I am fueled purely by coffee right now. Cut me and I bleed coffee.
Will: Great to hear. Yes, we're talking across the date line. For you, it's the day after the day that I'm currently living through, which is strange.
Kate: I'm in the future. It's really great, we've got hoverboards and all sorts of things. It's fantastic.
Will: Cool. Well, I'm hoping you can tell me a bit about that, particularly the future of, yeah, copywriting. And you seem to live and breathe copywriting, and I've done for a long time, so, you know, just to set the scene for our listeners, let's dig into that. Just talk me through how kind of copywriting drives objectives through the different stages of the marketing funnel.
Kate: Well, you know, I think, obviously, copywriting is fundamentally about selling. Some people make a distinction between copywriting and content writing, you know, content writing being more about education and entertainment, but copywriting is about selling. And you can't sell to people who don't know, like, and trust you. So, you can but they'll probably regret the purchase later on. So, really copywriting is about building relationships from that first kind of, you know, flirt across the bar when you're kind of googling possibly a vague topic and then you find a site that you love. And the copy is engaging and they educate you and help you with a problem. And then, you know, that trust builds. And, as you slip down their slippery funnel, slowly, they build that engagement. They prove to you that they can do what they can do, they show you results, they manipulate you with emotions and pricing that, ultimately, makes you press that call-to-action button and get your credit card out. So, it can sound quite cynical but it's really the art of building relationships with customers.
Will: Yeah, and you talk about trust there. It's about building trust, isn't it, about saying that, you know, "We are legitimate and we understand you, the customer. We're maybe a bit like you, we're relatable, as a brand," there's all that kind of stuff wrapped up in there somewhere, isn't there?
Kate: Yeah, I mean I think it's changed I think, it's evolved over time. You know, in the madmen era, it was very much around, you know, "The brand is smarter than you," you know, "you need to buy from us." It was almost a little bit smug I think. And I think, in recent times, brands are becoming more humble, they're mirroring the language of their customers more, and they're showing examples where they've helped existing customers. They're trying to be our friend rather than to be our masters, you know, trying to talk almost on the same level, rather than talk down to us. I do think it's evolved a little bit. And, you know, even the big banks and law companies who we would traditionally see writing copy that was almost a bit smug and overly educational and overly professional are kind of bringing it down to a more conversational level so, yeah, that we can relate to them more.
Will: And surely that's social media that's driven that, to a point, isn't it?
Kate: I think it is and I think cynicism, I think we see through brands now. We've seen a lot of brands, you know, taken through the court of social media, you know, the people have gathered their pitchforks and that kind of gang mentality online humbles brands pretty quickly if they step out of line or they make a mistake. And I think, yes, an amazingly smart, possibly younger, generation of social-media managers have really helped brands soften their tone. And then that has flowed backwards from social media through to their websites through to their TVCs through to that, you know, general marketing communication. So, I do think social media has played a huge role in that. You can't hide on social media like you used to be able to because, finally, it is actually a genuine two-way conversation.
Will: Yeah, I agree with that. And, in the UK, as you know, because you're a Brit, I suppose, the perennial example for tone of voice we use here is always Innocent Drinks. It's almost like a bit of a faux pas to use that example now because it's so ubiquitous, right? But they, around about the same time that, you know, digital really took off, their packaging started talking to us like a mate. And that was weird. You know, even like a bottle saying, "Please, recycle me," you know, it was odd then.
Kate: It was super innovative, and people still use Innocent as an example, "Can you make it sound like Innocent?" And I think they did a great job of what we in the trade call "micro copy," which are the tiny bits of copy that don't seem important. It's not the big flashy headline or the sales page, it's the error message when you put something into the form wrong. It's the missing-page message, it's the instructions on the back of the shampoo that say, "Don't put us in your eyes because we won't clean them." Those are little moments where you build...you know, it's not an eye roll, it's the little recognition. It's not a laugh-out-loud moment but it's like, "Ah," it's that "ah factor." I don't know if that's an actual phrase but we'll invent it for today.
Will: Yeah, I agree. I remember when I first encountered that with Innocent, and then the brands that copied them, there was a feeling of like, "Oh, someone's thought about this and someone's thought about writing this differently than it's been written for the last 50 years. And also someone's thought about...someone that's probably quite a lot like me has written that as well." And now you're right, the micro copy is an interesting thing, isn't it, there's those little opportunities to very incrementally build trust and relatableness.
Kate: Yeah, absolutely. It's almost like a sides. You know, like, when you're at a networking event and everyone's being very serious and chatting about their businesses, and then the person next to you kind of whisper something in your ear like, I don't know, like, "Do you want to go and get a sausage roll? These sausage rolls are a bit meaty," or something. I don't know, some little silly remark. And, suddenly, that person is your buddy for the rest of the networking event. Everyone else is being serious but the person who made the little aside is the one that you go, "Ah, they're my people."
Will: Yeah, we're normal.
Kate: Yeah. That's what we want with brands. We wanna, these days, especially in these, you know...I'm not gonna call them "PC days" but woke days where people are much more aware of cultural issues. We want to find brands whose values align with our own. You know, we don't wanna be buying from brands who we, ultimately, find out are funding, you know, gun purchases in the USA or diamond mines, whatever. We wanna make sure that these brands are like us, are our people. And the only way to do that, the only way for the brands to express their values...we don't like exposition, we don't like people going, "Our values are this, this, and this," we need to feel those values through all those little incidental copy moments, I think.
Will: That's true. I mean, just to play devil's advocate for a second, how do we know that works? Like, you know, not only the Innocent thing, the relatableness, but also then moving on to that kind of shared-values thing. Like do we know for a fact that works or does it just feel good, from a marketing perspective?
Kate: Well, I think what happens is you end up creating brand advocacy. So, you know, Mr. Bezos, whatever you think of him, says, "Your brand is what people say about you when you're not in the room." And I think what you'll find is that people become raving fans. You know, the worst thing for a brand is to have indifference where people are neither anti you or pro you. And, you know, by being a bit more edgy, yes, you will get people who hate your brand, who think that you're too much, you're trying to be too conversational, you're too cool to school. But then, on the flip side, you'll get people who are just hugely hugely into you. And they will become advocates for you and you'll find that they're recommending you and mentioning you and forming Facebook groups about your brand without you even knowing about it, without you having to try.
So, that brand advocacy is harder to measure. It's not something you can necessarily put an ROI to. But I think we see it online. You know, someone gets a bad review and they don't have to come back and reply to it because their customers are there going, "Hey, no-no-no, this brand's amazing. They're amazing, they did this and they did this." And that kind of viking tribe of support is the end result of this brand-building exercise I think.
Will: Yeah, okay. So, just to unpack that slightly, so, you sort of mentioned there about, you know, I guess you alluded to the mistake of being vanilla. And, you know, there's that old saying, is there, "If you're marketing to everyone, you're marketing to no one." It's better to be a distinct flavor, some people think, "Yuck," but the people who like it really like it. So, great, I think we're agreed on that. So, you know, how do we apply that to somewhere like social media and get that kind of tone of voice right? Like how do we approach that? How do we know what's right for us?
Kate: I think it is actually a conscious task to sit down and write your tone and voice. So, one of the things that we have in the copywriting school is we actually have a big tone of voice template. Often, when brands do voice or brand guidelines, they talk about, you know, the pixels around the logo or the kerning on the text and actually don't sit down and think, "Who are we in this world? What are our values? What is our brand personality?" And a really good way to kind of identify that is to think, "What do we stand for in this world and what do we stand against? What in our industry do we wanna be contrarian about?"
So, Innocent is a great example, you know, bland, fruit juices, health juices were all very worthy and serious. And, for a certain type of people, they made it fun. They made it accessible. They didn't wanna be talking about, you know, the percentage of pomegranate juice in their drinks, they wanted to give you little moments of lightness. So, they became contrarians. Not in a political way or race or religion but just taking the pre-existing and tweaking it a little bit. So, thinking about what you stand for and what you don't stand for and actually consciously writing a tone of voice document and saying, you know, "If we wanna come across as knowledgeable, how does that actually sound? What words will we use? What words won't we use? How will we construct our sentences?" There's an actual real practical side to tone of voice, which can be as simple as a list of adjectives you will and won't use. Does that make sense?
Will: Yeah, absolutely. It's a big exercise, there's a lot of work to put into to get it right. Right? You don't just sort of task someone to do social media and then like, "Off you go," yeah, there needs to be an agreed way for the business to talk that means something to people and resonates with people and will, ultimately, you know, drive something...
Kate: Yes, and is consistent. Because, you mentioned social media, and often you can see that there's some really fun cool social-media manager, and it doesn't travel back up to the website. So, you have this one experience online but then you go to the website and it's a completely different tone of voice. So, putting that effort into a tone-of-voice document, getting it agreed by everybody and then actually using it as a living breathing document, not just the PowerPoint that you save in your Google Drive, is a part of it. And going back to it again and again and learning from your mistakes. You know, so, some brands will take it too far and, you know, they'll be too risque or too adventurous. And maybe you have to bring it back a little bit. So, consciously thinking about every message that you put out there, after a while, it does become second nature and it doesn't become such...it sounds horrible, it sounds exhausting, but, after a while, it becomes second nature and everyone's on the same page and you sound like you wherever you are, even if you're a big brand.
Will: Yes. Yeah. Now, that sounds good, that's good stuff for our listeners to think about for sure. So, you mentioned your copyrighting school. And you've taught loads of people how to write better copy, that's clear. I'm intrigued because you've come across so many people keen to fix something or up their game in some way in copyrighting. I'm sort of, yeah, intrigued to know what are the most common aspects of copywriting that people are struggling with? You know, where do people feel that they're getting it wrong? And, you know, how do you help them to overcome those things?
Kate: Well, you know, we're both British, and even you're a bit younger than me, but, even back in my day, we were taught certain rules about writing that we have to abandon really in these modern days. So, some people are stuck in set ideas about how you should write. I think the next thing is, while people can wax lyrical talking about their business, they struggle to translate that to the page. So, suddenly, as they try to write about their brand or their story, it becomes staccato and that they get that writer's block. So, I think, you know, overly formal language, you know, inability to kind of get the message out. And then this myth that, to attract people, you have to sound authoritative and professional and you have to use long words and complex sentences. Those would be the main three things. You know, it's almost like you need people to kind of shake it out, you know, like and get loose with their copy.
And the easiest ways to do that is to actually just record yourself talking about your brand or your business and then, you know, get that transcribed with something like Rev or Otter.ai and then read it back. Because what you'll see then is a real rhythm in your writing. We don't talk in paragraphs...I am, on this podcast, and I need to stop talking so much, but we talk in short sentences, we talk in really long sentences that are complex and roll on and on. We maybe pump out a few bullet points. You know, there is a pause in our talking to almost let the reader join the conversation. And when you see that voice copy written down, you start to understand that that's how written copies should be. It's still a conversation. You are talking to one person and they are responding in their head. You ask a question in copy, it's impossible for the person reading not to answer that question.
So, you are having a conversation and you sometimes need to leave a bit of white space for them to listen and contemplate. So, those are the main things. And also, when we talk, we don't talk with long sentences and adjectives and sound super professional, most of us. So, it deformalizes your copy as well. So, I think it's, obviously, the written format but podcasts are great for this as well. Because I'm sure you get this transcribed, I get mine transcribed, and you do see rhythm and repeated phrases that you use. And you find your voice through listening to your voice. That sounds so cheesy but...
Will: Ah, I love that. No, that's great. That's very true. Do you know what comes across though from the things that you mentioned there? I think that what they all have in common is that they suggest a lack of confidence. And I think, you know, certainly a lot of people I come across, they're just terrified that someone in the business is gonna go see they're not a writer. Come on, man, you're not a writer, you're a marketing bod, don't try and be a writer. Who do you think you are, bloody, you know, Aldous Huxley? Charles Dickens? Like get down, get down off your like writer's stool and do some work, mate. You know, and I think that's what people worry is gonna happen, isn't it?
Kate: Yeah, no one wants to look a fool. I mean that's I think one of the biggest drivers for humanity is we just don't want to look stupid. And especially, as I said, in this society where everyone has a platform, we don't wanna be called out for our mistakes. You know, even a typo can be quite humiliating. You know, you spend ages crafting a beautiful post and then, you know, no one actually comments on the content but three people point out a typo in line one. It can just feel so deflating. And I think that's it.
And the truth is, you know, people say, "Oh, you know, you're either born a copyrighter or you're not," which I think is absolute tosh, we're not trying to be old as Huxley. Do you know what I mean? We're not trying to be Charles Dickens, we're trying to have a conversation with our customers. And if you really are, like, especially if you're a business owner writing about your own business, that enthusiasm and passion and love of your product, if you let it, will come through. And the copy doesn't need to be perfect. You don't need to use semicolons in the exact right...I don't even know how to use a semicolon, I've been writing copy for 16 years.
So, I would say relatability is so much more important than perfection. And it's very freeing as well. So, once you've got your brand, once you get going, if someone makes a typo, you can laugh it off and it can be part of your brand and you can be like, "I was just so excited about this, I just wanted to get it out." People are forgiving if you have built a relationship with them. And you cannot worry about the one percent, you can't worry about Gavin in his garage sitting there going, "Well, actually this post offends me and you made a typo in paragraph seven." You know, don't let Gavin stop you living your best life. Sorry, Gavin.
Will: Yeah, indeed. Yeah. No, I totally agree, you have to be brave, you know, you've gotta be brave, you've gotta put something out there that yanks a few chains. You know, I don't know, otherwise it's nothing to anyone, you know. I agree.
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So, just looking into your body of work, as you can imagine I did before this podcast, I saw that SEO is another big topic that you think about and work with an awful lot. And, of course, copywriting and SEO are quite closely interlinked in lots of ways. You know, how and why have you ended up working in those two areas? And how do they kind of work together?
Kate: Well, I think, when I became a copywriter, I used to work in agencies and then I went out on my own as a freelance copywriter. And, obviously, one of the first things you do is google what you're gonna do. And there were just gdoodles, gazillions, googles of copywriters. And, so, I took the skills I'd learned with the big brands and tried to apply them to my small business. And, you know, SEO is just so incredibly powerful because people, when they are searching on search engines, especially if they're using conversion keywords, they are ready to purchase. You know, it's not like they've seen an ad float by on Instagram or, you know, they're reading their mum's post on Facebook and something pops up, they are actively looking for what you do. They just don't know that you do it.
So, it's hugely powerful, when I became a copywriter, no one was really doing that, especially here in Australia. There were very few women in the SEO space, it was seen as a very male technical area. And there was also this myth, which still pervades today, that you can't write good copy and be SEO-friendly, you have to make a choice between the two, you either write conversion copy that relates to people or you please Google. Which is just not true. It wasn't true then and it's even less true now.
Will: Because Google's smart enough to know what's best for humans anyway. Right? So...
Kate: I mean Google follows humans, you know, you have to make humans love you first and then Google will love you later. And, you know, Google's language processing is just amazing, probably better than most humans'. They released an algorithm last year called BERT, which is all around natural linguistic programming. And it uses 13 different methodologies to understand, for example, the word "run." Like "run," in the Webster's Dictionary, I think has something like 600 meanings. How does Google know which "run" you're talking about? Do you wanna run a company or run a marathon? You know, do you have a runny stool or...I don't know. You know what I mean? I don't know why I just said "runny stool" on your podcast, I do apologize.
Will: It's a first.
Kate: It's a first. Fantastic. #RunnyStool. So, Google doesn't need to be spoon-fed keywords like "baby," it is infinitely more intelligent. Terrifyingly intelligent, to be honest. So, yeah, I saw a gap in the market, I saw a need to, you know, translate Google jargon and SEO jargon into language that humans could get. And yeah, it's a huge part of my business now, it's almost like copywriting and SEO are the two foundational pillars of my business. They not only helped me build my business but these days I do less copywriting and more teaching than I used to. So, yeah...
Will: I mean it seems to me that, you know, in a world of very low organic reach and social distrusting some of those channels, some movement away from some of those channels, algorithms dictating pretty much everything, etc., it seems like, yeah, SEO does seem to be quite a future, safe, a future forward channel as well because people will always be demonstrating their needs by the Google searches they make. And...do you know what I mean? It's...
Kate: I mean people say that SEO is dead every year, someone comes back and says, "SEO is dead." It just gets more sophisticated and it's only gonna get more complex. And I think, you know, we're seeing different parts of SEO rise up, mobile search is a huge factor now. And the way that the results are presented on mobile is minimal, you only get one or two results, now you don't get a whole page of 10 to choose from.
And also voice search. You know, we are talking to our devices more, whether it be Alexa, Siri, Google, the fridge. I talk to my microwave, it doesn't do anything but it makes me feel better. And the way that we use voice search is very different to the way that we type on our keyboard. So, yeah, it's future-proof but it's also something you need to stay on top of because it's involving a rate of knots, you know. So...but, at the end of the day, Google will always need to make a connection between what we put into a search engine and what it displays. Whether we've got Black Mirror-esque nodes in our brain and we don't have to type anymore, still Google's gonna have to make that connection and it's gonna use a series of factors to decide whether you rank first or I rank first. And it's not a dark art, it's not magic Juju, there is no secret to SEO, it's very linear and very black-and-white once you know how it works, you know. So, I think people are put off from SEO because they think it's some kind of secret potion that only certain people can learn. Which is absolutely not true.
Will: Yeah. No, indeed. Yeah, we've done a bit of work on the podcast trying to demystify SEO for exactly that reason. It gets seen as, yes, sort of a dark art. And actually it's just about being useful, about creating the content that people clearly want. Anyway, but you mentioned the Australian market, suggesting that there wasn't so much happening when you kind of got started there. Just give me an overview, how is the Australian market different in terms of a place to kind of work in digital marketing than Britain and anywhere else? You've got, you know, experience with Europe and the U.S., I suppose...
Kate: Yeah, I mean, obviously, I was in the UK for a long time, and I'm still connected to an awful lot of copywriters there. I think it's a much more crowded market. I mean there's more people in the UK but there are an awful lot more copywriters. And I think there's a much clearer advertising and marketing sensibility in the UK. Not to put Australia down but, when I first came to Australia, I worked at Ogilvy, Singleton Ogilvy over here, and the level of advertising was much less sophisticated. You know, that kind of wry humor and difficult-to-get ads in the UK where people just go crazy for them, it wasn't happening here. It was pretty much, "Like beer? Drink this beer. It's good beer." You know, there was no sophistication.
Now, it's moved on a lot since then, obviously, but I still think that...I'm gonna say that, God I’m going to sound terrible, I still think the UK has it when it comes to wit and kind of smartness in advertising. I really do. And I think, in Australia, we're coming along with that but we're a combo of U.S. and UK. So, you know, I'd say U.S. marketing is very much more salesy and more pushy and a bit more rah-rah. England's very kind of...how would you describe it? I don't know. So, there's a cultural difference. But Australia is a really exciting place to be a marketer. It's very collaborative. It's a smaller industry, people tend to know each other more. And we're just so goddamn excited for anything we get. You know, we don't have 50 conferences to choose from, we can't pop over to France to an event. We're stuck in the middle of nowhere. So, it's a bit insular but that's a beautiful thing as well, you know. I'm getting a bit poetic here.
Will: No, that's nice. I can see how that would work, yeah. There's maybe a bit more kind of...yeah, a bit more of a community I suppose.
Kate: Community and camaraderie, I think. It feels a lot less competitive, people are much more willing to pat each other's backs and bottoms than I ever found in the UK. But maybe that was just me and my bottom.
Will: And is that a digital thing? What about kind of offline marketing? You know, is that would you...
Kate: Is that still a thing, offline marketing? No, I'm joking. Yeah, I mean, you know, again, we don't have as many TV stations. You know, there's definitely not a culture of direct mail over here that there is in the UK. Very rarely will you get that kind of stuff. Print, you know, I think print is facing problems all over the world. But yeah, I mean I think we're very digital-focused over here. And, for example, like hardly any of my friends in the UK still use Facebook. Facebook is still huge over here. Instagram is huge. LinkedIn is huge? WhatsApp? I could count one person I know who uses WhatsApp. We don't use it at all. Like sometimes someone from the UK will be like, "Shall I message you through WhatsApp?" and I'm like, "no, I use that to send pictures of myself to my boyfriend. I'm not gonna use it..." Do you know what I mean? Like different social-media channels and different things have taken hold here.
Because, again, you've gotta remember as well we're all very far apart from each other. So, you know, if I've got a friend in Perth, I might not see them for like, whatever, they're 3 hours behind, even though they're in the same country. And they're, you know, a good solid 4-hour flight away. So, I think everyone here is really looking for that sense of community. Obviously, in the last couple of years with COVID as well but people are looking for connection in a way maybe they don't need so much in England because you're all on top of each other so much. You know, someone's pressed against you on the Tube, you're not quite as in need of human contact.
Will: So, just thinking about that, you know, talking about that market in a more general sense, just a more global sense, I'm sure people ask you all the time, "How can I become a professional copywriter?" What do you tell them?
Kate: Well, actually, we run a survey every year to survey copywriters from all over the world about, you know, where they're at, what they're earning, what kind of clients they're getting. And that's really illuminating. But for people who wanna start out, it's one of those things, you just gotta start. I think often copywriters will rapaciously buy courses and books to kind of fill that void of imposter syndrome and they'll finally feel like a copywriter. Because this is feeling like, "Oh, if you've worked in an agency, you're a copywriter. But if you're just starting out, you know, if you were an accountant and now you wanna be a copywriter, you don't have the right to say, 'I am a copywriter.'"
And you do, you know, you really do. No amount of courses is necessarily gonna teach you how to be a great copywriter. You know, especially as a freelance copywriter, which is the area that I live in more. It's about 50% being a good writer, and the other 50% is about client relations, being a project manager, pricing well, you know, marketing yourself. All that kind of small business stuff. And you don't really learn that until you actually fully dive in. So, I think there's a lot of people dancing around the edge of the pond of copywriting and they just need to like plunge in and give it a go. What's the worst that can happen? Of course you'll make a typo. Of course a client won't like some of your work. It's still subjective. But you learn as you go. So, yeah, dive in is my advice.
Will: Does it get hard after years of people who aren't experts in copyright telling you what they like and dislike about your copywriting? You know, those clients...
Kate: Yeah, no, it doesn't because it's not my copy. I am writing, I'm producing something. And, as long as I don't get personally attached to it, I am writing to please someone else. And obviously you wanna write the best copy you can but sometimes that's not what the client wants. And the client gets what the client wants. So, you know, I could say, "Well, I refuse to change this because it's grammatically correct and I want to use the semicolon," but if the client says, "hey, I just don't like it," you know, I'm not their mum, it's not my copy, it's their copy. So, I'll raise it, I'll make my point once, and then I'll do what they want me to do.
You know, I'm not here to win copywriting awards, I don't work at an agency anymore, no one cares. No one cares about my copywriting awards, they care about the fact that I have a nice relationship with them and they end up with something that they love and are proud of. So, I think you have to put your ego to the side and write copies that the client wants, not the copy that you wanna write.
Will: It's a very good point because something I've seen in my career is when new creatives, that could be copywriters but it could also be designers, videographers, photographers, creatives of all stripes, one thing I've really noticed is a real rookie thing, people early in their career, they just get way too attached to the work. And, you know, I've given advice to people, like, "Mate, don't stress it. What client wants, client gets, we all go and we get paid. It's okay," you know.
Kate: It's hard though because we’re creative creatures. That's what drives us.
Will: That's why we got into it.
Kate: Yeah, that's what we love. So, I think it's really important to maybe have a side hustle or something that you do. Like, for a long time, I wrote film scripts, I've written a couple of books. And even now, these days, I write an awful lot of copy for myself. And that's where I can write the way I wanna write. And then what happens over time though as well, if you really write the way you wanna write with all your weird idioms and quirks and you share a lot of that online, especially as a freelance copywriter, after a while, people will come to you and say, "I want copy like the way you write it." "I actually love the way you...I wanna sound like you," and that's when you know you've really made it. So, people come to my website and say, "I love the way you've written your website. Could you write mine like that?" And then I'm free. I'm not constrained. So, yeah, have a side hustle. Write for yourself as much as you possibly can so that you get to, you know, squeeze your creative juices out without having to temper them to please a client.
Will: Yes. Yeah, that's true. Isn't it? It's a good point. You'll never quite get your creative kicks out of client work, that's just a reality that we all have to face, isn't it, in the creative industries. Does copywriting come naturally to you? Is it something you had to learn?
Kate: Yeah, it's definitely something I had to learn. And I have not done any copywriting courses, and I've got a lot of copywriting books in the background that I've not read. I would say I'm still not the best grammarian, I can't spell very well. I don't even know if that's a word, to be honest. But I have a great proofreader, I have good editors. And also I think I write how I wanna write and come up with my own little mad idioms. And, as I said, not everyone likes it. But yeah, I think the ability to just press the button and write is something I learnt in agency days. Because you're literally given a brief in the morning and you have to present something at midday and you can't sit there and wait for inspiration to hit. So, you just have to pump out bad crap and hope that somewhere in there there's some good.
And I think that's something I've learned over the years. But, you know, the fine art of, "I still couldn't tell you where..." I keep on mentioning semicolons. Obviously, I've got deep imposter syndrome around semicolons. I still couldn't tell you where to use them. I don't know if it necessarily matters. You know, I couldn't break down the sentence structure and identify all the particles and whatever but I can write a bit of copy that makes someone buy something. And that, to me, is the skill, you know, not necessarily being a perfect punctuation person.
Will: I believe it was Pablo Picasso, one of the most prolific artists like in history, he created more than 10,000 pieces of work, and he's got a great quote actually, "Inspiration exists but it has to find you working."
Kate: Oh, I like that.
Will: It's good because it's true, inspiration won't sort of strike you when you're like, you know, gazing at the stars, it'll be when you're like 2,000 words into something you're hating and you wish you were doing something else and you feel like you're having the inside of your skull scraped out. And then something comes along. And that's great. And that's just how it works. Yeah, great, isn't it? No, he's a good example of someone who just got on with it and just created stuff and didn't get too precious about it.
So, a lot of people listening to this might not necessarily want to become a copywriter but there'll be a small business owner who wants to hire a copywriter. Have you got any tips for someone who would be looking to hire a copywriter to make that a bit easier for them?
Kate: Yeah, I think you have to be very clear about what you want. There's nothing worse than a vague brief. So, I think...and don't think of it in literal terms, "I want two pages of copy," try and think more about what you want the end result to be. What are you trying to achieve? You know, what conversion goal do you have? Because your idea of what might make that goal happen might be different to the copywriter's goal. So, you know, we have a job board on our Clever Copywriting School, which is free, by the way, you can pop people on there, and people come in and say, "I want 20 blog posts." And you're like, "Why?" "Because I wanna be better at SEO?" "And why do you think blog posts are the answer to that? You know, it's not probably gonna be the right answer."
So, I think be open and be clear in your brief. And I think a lot of...you know, do your research, have a good look at their website, you know, make sure that you like their vibe, their style maybe. You know, stalk them a little bit. But a lot of working with a copyrighter...it's quite an intimate relationship, working with a copywriter. You know, you're telling them all about your business, you're burying your soul. So, a lot of it is gonna be about click. You know, "Do you click with that copywriter? Do they make you feel good about the project that you're gonna work on?" You know, I don't think these days we necessarily ask for a sample up front but maybe get them to write a little bit before they write the whole thing. And make sure that you're into the tone and the style.
And don't be afraid of giving feedback. You know, it can often feel, when you get a copy from a copyrighter, you have to go, "Oh, okay. Thanks. Thanks very much." Like, when you get your haircut and they say, "Do you like it?" and you hate it but you don't say anything. Don't be that person. Tell them what you don't like. And if you can't articulate why you don't like it, that's okay, maybe find some examples of copy you do like. Go and get the Innocent website and say, "I wanna sound like Innocent," you know. So, I've babbled there but I'd say clear brief, open to ideas, clear about your conversion goal, and then real honesty in the relationship and the feedback.
Will: Yeah, that's good. Good advice. Because I'm getting down to practical advice now. I always do that at the end of our podcast, by the way, trying to get practical tips out of you. One thing I picked up on earlier, you mentioned a transcription tool called Otter.ai, which I also use. I love it. As you alluded to, it's an app that you just waffle at it and it turns your waffle into written words. I think they marked it as kind of a meeting notation or meeting transcription kind of thing, but, yeah, very handy I find for writing in the car by talking to my phone, for instance. So, have you got any other tools in your toolbox that you'd like to share or any other tools that would make us a better copywriter? Just off the top of your head.
Kate: I've got loads. Tools are my jam, I tell you. One of my favorites is called the Hemingway App. So, hemingway.app. It's a free site where you can pop your copy in and it will tell you your readability score. It's based on the Flesch-Kincaid readability metric. But, basically, it will say how old does someone have to be or what level of education do they have to be to understand your copy. And most copy, when you pop it in, you're like, "You need a graduate degree to understand." And, although your audience may well have a graduate degree, online, we read differently. So, you need to aim for about 8-12, 12 or 13 when you're writing copy. So hemingway.app is a real favorite one.
Obviously, Visual Thesaurus is a great one, great for coming up with synonyms. AnswerThePublic, I love AnswerThePublic, it's great for blog posts and SEO. So, you put in your...you know, maybe you sell piglet jumpers, you pop in the word "piglet jumpers," and it will tell you loads of questions and ideas around piglet jumpers that you can then use to turn into blogs. But there's loads. You know, I love...Google, obviously, is my number one. You know, so, if I'm trying to write a tagline or I'm trying to write a fun bit of copy, I'll just type in "phrases related to cake" or "idioms about cake" or "taglines for cake." And somewhere, somewhere there'll be something that just gets your brain going. So, yeah, I'll repeat them again. hemingway.app, AnswerThePublic, Visual Thesaurus, and, of course, the Google. The google beast.
Will: Indeed, I agree with those. They're great, all great tools. Okay. Lastly, what are the five things that you advise our listeners to do right after listening to this podcast to improve their copywriting in digital?
Kate: Okay. Number one, let go of the idea that you need to be formal and perfect when you write. So, wax lyrical. Number two, go and grab Otter.ai and force yourself to talk about your business, your product, or your service for good 20 minutes, and then read it back. Number three, try to speak more directly to your customers. So, there's a test I do with copy, I call it "the we-we test." Go through any copy that you've written and look for the number of we's in it. And just do your best to turn them into you's. So, talk less about how awesome you are and more about how awesome you are to help the customer. So, turn those we-we's into you-you's.
Number four, Hemingway App, I would say, is a really amazing app to help you see the flaws in your copy, you know, passive language, long sentences. And then number five it's gonna be a cheesy one, Will, I'm sorry, is just have some fun with it and experiment with your copy. You know, you mentioned the social-media algorithms, no one's gonna see what you've written anyway for the first few times you write it. You're shouting into the void, so, play a little bit. You know, push it a bit, make a few jokes. Drop in a few slang words and idioms, see what happens. Because the best way to, you know, talk your brand is to walk your brand and to really kind of put things out there and have a play. It's probably not gonna be as bad as you think about it. And don't let Gavin get you down, that's my bonus sixth tip. If someone points out a typo, thank them and jog on.
Will: Absolutely. Yeah, don't let criticism and hecklers put a further kind of dent in your confidence. Very good, nice one, Kate. Thanks, they're great. And, actually, you had lots of great insights there. There's lots for me to think about in that episode. Which is fantastic. Just actually, before you go, tell our listeners where they can find you online.
Kate: Well, my name is Kate Toon, T-O-O-N. So, thankfully, I'm relatively good at SEO, so, if you pop Kate Toon into the Google, you'll find all my various websites. I've got seven websites, Will, I'm an overachiever.
Will: There's seven websites, you got three podcasts?
Kate: I know.
Will: What are they about? Tell us about your podcasts.
Kate: I have three. So, I have one called "The Recipe for SEO Success," which is about teaching, you how, to grapple Google. "The Hot Copy Podcast," we're having a bit of a pause on that but there's about 300 episodes all around copywriting. And then "The Kate Toon Show," which is really about running a business as big as mine and how I do that and the processes and systems and things that I use. And, yeah. So, all of them..."The Recipe" podcast is still going. The others, I'm having a bit of a break on it because the lockdown, inspiration is a little bit dry. But there's a great back catalog to chew through.
Will: And you've got that Facebook group, "The Misfit Entrepreneurs." What's a misfit entrepreneur?
Kate: It's the name of my book, I'm just gonna show, Will, my book to listeners. I wrote a book called "Confessions of a Misfit Entrepreneur," so, yes, I've got a good group, that's just a silly group. It's a business group with a lot of daftness in it. And then I also have a 10,000-strong group called "I Love SEO," on Facebook, where I pass out SEO tips as well. So, Facebook communities have been a big part of building up my business and my brand.
Will: Yes. And part of that, we talked about that in previous episodes, part of that it kind of comes down to the fact that, you know, Facebook groups tend to get a bit more favored by the algorithm it seems.
Kate: Massively. My Facebook page, what do they say now, about 3% of people see your Facebook page, even if they've liked it. So, but the engagement in communities is amazing. And especially if you manage to do a poll that kind of goes off, then you get on a bit of a chain with the community and people will see the next three or four posts that you post as well. But also they're just a great place to really listen to your customers. You know, I don't need to work out what I need to do next because they tell me what they want from me. And we have a laugh, and, you know, that's important in business as well. You can't take it all too seriously.
Will: Agreed, agreed. Well, a nice note to end on. Kate, thank you so much for your time and your experience and expertise. I feel like I've learned so much. And yeah, thanks very much.
Kate: It's been fab, Will. Thank you.
Will: If you enjoyed this episode, subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. And for more information about transforming your marketing career through certified online training, head to digitalmarketinginstitute.com. Thanks for listening.