If you wear most or all of the hats in your business, the chances are you have to write your own copy from time to time (unless you outsource it to someone like me). It can be tough to come up with fresh ideas and even tougher to figure out what works.
One of the most useful tools you can have at your fingertips is a swipe file. Think of it as your secret weapon, your ‘go to’ place for inspiration when you’re lost for words or not sure how to structure your copy.
What is a swipe file?
Most copywriters, designers and other creatives keep a swipe file, which Wikipedia defines as ‘a collection of tested and proven advertising and sales letters’. Essentially, it’s a file in which you can store marketing materials that have grabbed your attention.
Why not start one today?
- Look for pieces that have stood the test of time.
- Make a note of headlines that got you wanting to read more.
- Ask yourself why you clicked on a particular link and write it down.
- Which email subject lines made you open them? Why? What was it about them that captured your interest?
The next time you are sitting down to write some copy for your business, you can browse through your swipe file for ideas.
What a swipe file isn’t
Although a swipe file can be an incredibly powerful weapon in your marketing arsenal, it should be approached with caution. Yes, it’s fine to copy and paste links, words and content into your swipe file but it’s far from OK to copy and paste it straight into your campaign.
A swipe file isn’t a shortcut. It isn’t about plagiarising someone else’s work or copywriting by numbers.
What works for one business or industry may not translate to yours. The tone of voice may not resonate with your ideal customers or the headline may not feel authentic.
A great starting point
The purpose of a swipe file is to create a picture of what successful marketing looks like and use that as your starting point.
- Look at the structure of the copy – why has the writer written what they have?
- What have they said to get your attention?
- How have they talked about the benefits of a product or service?
- When have they introduced the offer?
- Have they tackled any objections the reader might have, perhaps with reassurance, statistics or social proof?
- Have they offered a guarantee or removed the risk of buying? If so, when have they done this?
- What call of action have they used to close the sale? What is it about it that works?
Once you’ve answered these questions, you might want to think about how the same structure and techniques could translate to your copy.
A swipe file lets you explore what’s working well in other industries and businesses and try them in your own. You’ll soon be able to tell whether it’s working. If it’s not, then your swipe file may inspire you to try a different direction.
Another thing copywriters love to do is keep a list of common words that generally perform well in campaigns. These might be words that spark curiosity – odd, one thing, surprise, simple, different – or words that suggest a threat or problem – danger, mistake, risk, damages, alarming, unwanted.
How to structure a swipe file
Swipe files come in all shapes and sizes. You might want to file headlines you’ve cut out from magazines or fill a notebook with inspiration you’ve seen when you’re out and about.
Personally, I use a digital swipe file in OneNote. Evernote would work just as well, as would a website like Tumblr.
In my swipe file, I have separate sections for headlines, calls to action, landing pages, web pages, newsletters and so on. I tend to copy and paste links I’ve found online to my swipe file or make a note of the copy that grabbed my attention, where I saw it, what campaign and company it came from, and anything else I think is relevant.
I find it fascinating to consider what words have been used where and why (but I know that doesn’t float everyone’s boat!), and to use that knowledge to improve my own copy.
What a swipe file demonstrates is that even the greatest writers and marketers draw on other people for inspiration.
It’s OK to try something new
I don’t use my swipe file all the time by any means. Most of the time, I prefer to start with a client’s briefing form and think my way into the head of their ideal customer. I like to try new ideas and explore the rhythm and flow of different words as I pull them together.
My swipe file provides a safety harness though, a place to go to learn from the best even when I’m sitting in my attic with just my sleeping cat for company.
So, do you have a swipe file? If you do, I’d love to hear what’s in it. If you don’t, why not have a go at creating one and then let me know how you get on in the comments below.