After taking improv classes for most of the last 3 years, I’m now taking a class in stand-up comedy. I did my first open mic at a small club here (and yes – it was so successful I floated around for two days afterward). Making people laugh is a high. Frankly, after being a college professor for 20+ years, I found this audience much more receptive, even though I appeared late and drinks had been flowing freely.

One reason I’d avoided stand-up is that all too many would-be comedians rely on cheap shots. They drop a few Tony Soprano phrases or discuss their body parts in more detail than a medical textbook (and far more graphically). The problem isn’t the language or the topics. In the comedy of the top pros (such as Joan Rivers or Lisa Lampanelli), I can appreciate what’s they’re doing even if I don’t always resonate with their material or personalities.

Copywriting works the same way.

Recently I posed a question in a forum to see what people thought of some titles I’m considering for my next featured freebie. Some of these titles have already been created and all are almost there,but I want to choose one to feature on my home page and business card.

In case you’re wondering, the titles are

5 Steps For A Hassle-Free Website Makeover (last weel’s call – still available)
Your 5-Point Website Profitability Checklist
3 4-Letter Words To Get More Clients Online (a cal I’ve done before)
5 Simple Web Design Tweaks To Get More Clients (available as an ebook)

Most people liked #1 and someone suggested combining the first two for
Your 5-Point Website Makeover Checklist

Of course, I’d love to know what you think. But what inspired this post was a comment suggesting that these titles were not especially original. When I’ve developed unusual titles, the commenter said, she’s clicked through “even though I wasn’t in the target market.

That comment gave me pause, as comments are supposed to do.

On the one hand, it is important to rouse your readers’ curiosity, especially for an email or blog post. But if you’ve got a problem, you respond to the words that describe the problem. Currently, since I’m doing a lot of screen capture videos, I’m quick to click on titles that promise to help me develop better videos. Similarly, people who commented on the post said things like, “I’m doing a ewbsite makeover, so I liked the first title.”

Of course if you can combine a clever turn of phrase with a clear identification of a problem, you’ve got the best of both worlds: you neatly capture a problem with a captivating phrase. For instance, Lorrie Morgan-Ferrero coined the phrase “Conscious Copywriting Formula,” which is much more clever than something like “Copywriting For The Conscious Entrepreneur Who Wants To Sell Without Being Sleazy.”

But just being clever doesn’t work. In fact, nobody liked the most original titles I proposed – “3 4-letter words to help you get more clients.” I’ve used it for an online free class but it’s strictly for curiosity and I wouldn’t use it again.

Stating a need isn’t the same as trotting out a cliche that’s usually manages to be vague as well as ho-hum. “Take it to the next level.” “Six figures.” ”Everybody has a coach.”

Just as it’s hard to be funny when you rely on story and situation than on a few commonly used words, it’s hard to write copy that appeals to curiosity as well as need. If you start noticing the top copywriters, you’ll notice they usually tend to emphasize clarity. Unlike comedy good copywriting has the luxury of often winning when you’re playing it straight.