4 Tips for Writing Successful Swipe Copy

2005 by Bruce Carlson

Master copywriter and marketer Dan Kennedy, in his highly
popular and successful copywriting seminars, likes to tell
his students that "sometimes good enough is good enough"
when it comes to a piece of sales copy.

What does Dan mean by this?

Simply put, you don't need to reinvent the wheel in order
to write successful copy. What has worked in the past can
and will work again.

Learning to effectively "swipe" from winning sales letters
is one of the most important skills you can develop as
a copywriter. And, contrary to what you may sometimes hear,
there is nothing "unethical" or "sleazy" about it. Every
great copywriter employs swipe techniques to some extent.

The key to writing good swipe copy is awareness. By keeping
focused on a few key areas you'll quickly develop a sense
of what can work for you and your market.

Here are a few tips for writing swipe copy that works.

1) Be on the lookout for parallel markets

Parallel markets to your own niche offer great opportunities
to borrow elements for your own purposes.

For example, let's say you're writing a piece for a website
that sells dog toys.

Your first possibility for a parallel market would be any website
that sells pet toys (other than dog toys). You'd also want to
look at sites that sell children's toys (although I certainly don't
want to imply that dogs and children have a lot in common!) :-)

After this you could stray further afield and look at sites that
sell other pet accessories. Keep in mind that you are looking for
successful sales elements that might work for you. Anything and
everything that looks like it could work for your own campaign
needs to be taken into consideration, as long as it's been proven
successful. Parallel niches offer a golden opportunity because of
their similarities to your own niche.

How do you determine if a parallel niche site is successful?

Use Alexa to see what kind of traffic they get. Search around the Web
a bit and see how often their name pops up. More than anything though,
just use your marketing instincts to sniff out the quality of what
they're doing in terms of direct response.

If you think they may be doing OK then sign up for their newsletter or
f.ree report or autoresponder series. Study their marketing diligently.

If you get even one idea for your copy from a parallel marketer then
you've done well.

Occasionally marketers hit the jackpot and find a full letter that fits
their market's purposes to the tee (with a few alterations needed here
and there). But more often it's an approach or an element of the sales
letter that proves useful.

2) Know your target market's level of awareness

As you know, you need to be on a very intimate level with your market.
You need to know their wants and needs inside out.

For freelance copywriters this can be a particularly troublesome area,
because freelancers often have difficulty just jumping into the prospects'
shoes at the drop of a hat. Thus many freelancers choose to specialize in
a few select niches whose target markets they do have a good understanding
of and/or can learn about without an inordinate amount of work.

But beyond a good working knowledge of your market's wants and needs there's
also a knowledge of its level of awareness or sophistication.

You'll want to determine how much knowledge your prospects have of techniques
used standardly in sales copy which targets them. With our dog toys example,
the online market's level of awareness would be fairly low. New ads for this
market could be brought in from other parallel areas without much fuss.

But with a market like online marketers, for instance, the level of awareness
would be quite a bit higher. Copy aimed at this audience needs to take that higher
level into consideration and not make the mistake of using worn-out copy from
the past that every marketer has seen a million times.

Over time the market's level of awareness will increase (and with the Internet
we find that online shoppers' levels of awareness in general are increasing,
thus making some of the techniques seen even a few years ago less effective).
And so you need to stay in tune with what's going on in the whole marketing
arena for your product or service.

After all is said and done, testing and tracking will show what's working
however. And in some cases marketers are genuinely surprised at how much higher
their market's level of awareness is than they had imagined.

Or lower...

3) Build a swipe database

All good copywriters keep a swipe file. Some have entire rooms full of old ads,
mail packages, and sales letters that worked in the past. And once in awhile they
package them up and sell them for a nice profit...

With the Internet it's easy to just save good copy to your hard drive or a folder
in your email program. When you run across something that catches your eye save it
immediately before you do anything else. Otherwise you might suddenly find yourself
immersed in other matters and forget about the sales letter you just read.

As so often happens in cyberland...

I kick myself sometimes because I forget to save a hot letter. And later on. when
I go back to try to find it, it turns out they've already taken it down because the
product sold out.

You also need to get on the email lists of people doing marketing in your niche(s)
so you can get their mailings. Some very good sales copy is written specifically for

The more material you have to work with the better. There just might be one little
idea in that ocean of material that makes the difference in whether your copy succeeds
or fails...that makes the difference between small profits and large profits.

So start a virtual swipe database. If you run out of room on your hard drive burn it
onto CD's. It'll take a while to fill a room with CD's full of swipe material!

By the way, nowadays on the Internet there are several "swipe file" products available for
purchase, but you need to be careful. These collections of "winning" sales letters are
often of very poor quality. So do your due diligence before you buy them.

In the direct mail industry the quality control is much more stringent. There are several
excellent collections published in book form and most good copywriters, online or off,
keep a couple of them on their shelves.

Some examples of these great works are Hodgson's "The Greatest Direct Mail Sales Letters
of All Time", Denny Hatch's "Million Dollar Mailings", and Herschel Lewis and Carol
Nelson's "World's Greatest Direct Mail Sales Letters". Hodgson's book is available in
PDF form from , a great website for marketing books in general.

Oh, and don't forget that your own past successful efforts are also good candidates for
a swipe or two...

4) Integrate Smoothly

It goes without saying that you should smoothly blend the material you swipe into your
own copy so that it looks like it belongs there. But it's amazing how often people fail
to do this.

Make sure to put the copy you borrow into your own voice so it reads as if it were
something you wrote. Novice marketing is often easy to spot because of the discrepancy
between the less-than-experienced voice of the marketer and the confident voice of the
good copywriter or copywriters he or she has borrowed elements from.

When you've got conflicting voices within a sales letter people pick up on it.

While most buyers don't care about good grammar, they will notice, even if it's on
a sub-conscious level, when your copy is out of balance. They'll know that something
"just isn't right". And that's all it takes for them to click out.

So make sure you put what you borrow into your own words. Authenticity is a genuine key
to direct marketing. Customers identify with a perceived personality behind the words,
not with the letters on the page.

You can borrow headlines, sub-headlines, bullets, stories, offers... Even ideas. The list
goes on. But make them a part of you! Not just a cut-and-paste job that stands out like
a sore thumb.

As long as you retain your own USP (Unique Selling Proposition) throughout your copy,
you will maintain your offer's consistency. And within that context you can then borrow
copy ideas to your heart's content. But blend the borrowed copy in smoothly. Spend a good
amount of time with this. It's definitely worth it.

Swiping is a part of everyday life in the copywriting world. And once you get the hang of
it, only hard-core copywriting students will pick up on what you've done.

Which is perfectly alright. You may even get a congratulatory note from them.

So go forth and boldly swipe. Because sometimes good enough is indeed * good enough *!

About the Author

Veteran educator and freelance writer Bruce Carlson would like to help YOU improve your online copywriting. Sign up for his Dynamic Copywriter newsletter at

Bruce Carlson