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Evaluating Copy When You're Not a Copywriter

It happens all the time. You hire an agency or freelance writer to create copy for your company's product or service … the due date arrives … the project is submitted to you … and now you have to decide: Is it going to do the job?

You're not a copywriter. So what do you do?

No writing source is perfect, and you are wise to do your own evaluation in order to protect your investment, even if it's the 100th project from a writer who has performed well in the past. After all, chances are you paid a lot of money for it, because good copywriting isn't cheap. But it's not always good, no matter how much you paid.

Judging new creative can fall in the lap of many people: the company owner, president, marketing director or others. If you are not a creative type but your money is on the line, what can you look for? How can you feel confident about what you are about to spend even more money on to get placed, printed and mailed? Here are seven checks and balances to help you judge new direct response copy:

Does it pass the “If I were in their shoes” test? Too often people say, “I'd never open that” or “I'd never respond to that.” Well, maybe it's not for you! Go outside yourself and focus on your target audience. Rich? Poor? Male? Female? Educated? Old? Young? Gather the information needed to get a clear image of your prospect in your mind and then think, “If I were them, and in their circumstances, would this appeal to me?” Think about how they might react and whether it hits the target based on their wants, need and desires.

Does the headline make you want to keep reading? Whether it be a direct mail package, space ad, Web promo or any printed promotion: Is the headline too long? Too boring? Too unbelievable? Too complicated? Or does it suck you in and make you want to learn more? A good headline is short, specific and benefit-oriented, and it makes you want to read the subhead and then the copy. A bad headline can sink the whole effort.

Does the copy flow like a well-thought-out legal argument? Does it follow a logical sales path? Are objections dealt with early? Disjointed or unorganized copy frustrates readers and encourages them to stop reading. The copy needs a strong start; smooth, informative sailing in the middle and a powerful call to action at the end.

Were your questions answered? As you read and form questions about the product or offer, does the copy anticipate those questions and deal with them in a positive way? Every reader forms some type of question as she reads. Good copy anticipates the potential buying hurdles and deals with them.

Do you think, “I think this offer would be better if it had ___”? As you read, think about what may be missing. What could sweeten the pot? A better price. Another premium. A stronger guarantee. An expiration date. A discount. Free shipping. Another insert or copy block that strengthens the sales argument. Those small things can affect response in a big way.

Is it easy to read? The average American reads comfortably at an eighth-grade level. Does your copy avoid long words? It is compelling yet easy to understand? Does it flow from sentence to sentence and from paragraph to paragraph to lay out a carefully crafted sales pitch, with an easy-to-understand call to action at the end? Clever words, long words, big words or seldom-used words act as stumbling blocks for readers.

Are you proud of it? Does it represent the benefits of your product, service and/or offer? Your creative should be the best foot forward for your company. Do you think it is the best representative for your company? It should extol your virtues and benefits and explain why you rise above your competition. It should educate and help readers understand why they should act now. If you think it doesn't portray your company/product in its best light, ask for a tweak or rewrite.

If you can breeze through these seven questions and the new copy still makes you smile, chances are you have a potential winner. If not, go back to the writer and share your thoughts. After all, it's your money.

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