PPC campaigns, email marketing, social media management, SEO optimization or good old fashioned word of mouth.
All viable and potentially profitable methods to grow your brand. But they’re also all very different.
A PPC expert couldn’t run a successful email campaign, just as a social media guru might struggle to achieve better SERP rankings.
Marketing is a multifaceted beast. Yet, regardless of the different stratagems, approaches or “hacks” required for each marketing process, there’s one element that is present throughout.
Call me biased, but any of the above-mentioned areas of marketing would fall flat without good copywriting.
- Keyword research is useless if you produce crappy content.
- Standing out on busy social media sites necessitates well-crafted messages.
- And PPC ads need to be compelling if they’re going to solicit that all important click through.
Whatever marketing method you specialize in, the ability to effectively communicate is what underpins your success.
And that’s a lot harder than it appears.
You’ve got to understand not just how to tell users what it is you can do for them. You have to know how to do it in the most convincing of terms.
And that means you’ve got to go beyond just writing copy. You’ve got to focus on conversions and employ a method now commonly known as conversion copywriting.
What is Conversion Copywriting?
They say a picture is worth a thousand words.
Even if few in number, the right words, carefully chosen and arranged in just the right way can be the most powerful message you can deliver.
Of course images, CTA placement and a sleek UX all help create a more streamlined path to purchase, but it’s the words you write that are going to convince users to take a chance on your brand.
And this is where conversion copywriting differs from regular copywriting.
Sure, both use words to effectively communicate with your audience. But conversion copywriting narrows its focus. Whatever the content, there’s always a singular goal.
To elicit an action.
It’s about delivering the right message at the right time to the right people. A message so compelling your users would be fools to not take the action you want them to. That action could be:
- Clicking a button
- Sharing on social media
- Adding an item to a cart
- Signing up to a list
- Or simply staying on page for a longer period of time
Conversion copywriting is specific. It focuses on a single action and bends words, phrases and selling points to achieve that single action.
It’s not a jack of all trades that can be employed across channels or goals. It’s the plumber hired to fix a leak, the electrician you bring in to repair that flickering light or the smart marketer you bring in to increase sales.
It is a powerhouse of persuasion. It blends both an intensely scientific analysis with creative flair to create a message so laser focused your target audience cannot help but take the action you want them to.
Here’s how the progenitor of the term Joanna Wiebe describes conversion copywriting:
“Conversion copywriting is there to take the best of direct response copywriting, that old school kind of stuff, and the best of what we know about human decision-making, the best of user experience styles, like we know about designing experiences, and moving people to act using an interface, or just the experience itself.
All those pieces come together to create what we call conversion copywriting, again where the goal is to get people to act.”
Conversion copywriting isn’t easy and it isn’t purely art. Creating content that not only holds attention but makes people want to click is no cake walk.
There’s a lot goes into creating kick-ass copy.
If you want your words to convert, then you’ve got to channel your inner nutty professor. You’ve got to follow a scientific process to understand exactly what your readers want. But once you know you can unleash the madness and get a little creative in how you implement those messages.
To help you create copy that converts, we’ve put together this step by step guide and have also created a spreadsheet that makes referencing all your research 10X easier.
The spreadsheet and guide work hand in hand. Before you move on, click the link below and be sure to copy the spreadsheet to your own Google Drive.
Start at the End
One of the basic tenets of conversion optimization is to stay on message.
One page, one purpose is the cry of many CROs, and with good reason.
Distractions destroy conversions.
And it’s easy to add those conversions in when you’re writing without a plan.
So before you write even a single word of copy you need to first understand what it’s trying to achieve. And that begins with asking yourself the following question:
What are you trying to achieve?
The answer you give to the above needs to be specific and actionable. Vague, BS business buzzwords as a goal aren’t going to cut it.
Increasing brand reach, getting the word out, and improving sales aren’t actionable on an individual level.
Sure, they’re the final result, but how are these goals achieved? Through small, individual actions.
- Users don’t increase your list size, they sign up for a newsletter, lead gen offer or handout.
- A prospect doesn’t help you increase revenue, they purchase a product.
- You don’t get the word out, readers share a piece on social media.
These are the goals you need to set. You’ve got to drill down and understand what actions an individual user can take to achieve your goal.
This comes easier to some than others. Depending on how far along in your marketing you are you might already understand the exact goal of an email, blog post or landing page.
But for those who aren’t sure, I recommend asking the below questions in this order to help formulate a loose hypothesis.
Who’s your target audience?
Our target audience are young adults looking for cheap holiday deals
What problems do they face?
Paying too much for travel
How are you going to solve their problem?
Educate them on best methods to find cheap flights / Offer a service that finds them cheaper flights
Why – Why do you need/need to improve this piece of copy?
We need this email to help us increase sales / This email needs improving because conversions are below industry standards
What – What is the actionable goal of the copy?
We want people to click the link to a purchase page in the email / We want more people to click the in email link
How – How are you going to achieve the what?
Email will detail time sensitive offer before presenting large CTA
The answers above are nothing but placeholders for you right now. They’re based on your opinion which, whilst valid, counts for little in the eyes of your audience.
What the answers do provide is a direction. Sure it’s basic, but the simple act of writing out what you want to achieve will help you stay on track and quickly understand when you stray too far from the purpose.
I’ll drop a reminder later in the guide, but once you’ve completed your research stage you should be heading back to amend your answers before sitting down to write.
Once you’ve mapped out the basics of your goals, it’s time to move on to understanding how you’re going to communicate your key messages.
Every visitor to your business is fighting their own battle. And each person is at a different stage of that battle.
Some have only just discovered they have a problem, others know the kind of solution they need and some are pretty much sold on your service as the solution already.
These stages are often referred to as the stages of awareness and you’ve got to understand which stage your users are at to hit them with the perfect right message.
Eugene Schwartz outlined the basic stages of awareness. Knowing which stage of awareness your users are at will affect the kind of copy you produce.
I’ve built on Eugene’s stages below and added some extra information related to the content you’ll need to produce.
People who know and trust your brand. They may even have purchased from you in the past.
Show them the product and tell them the price.
People who know what you offer. They’re likely comparing your product against your competitor’s to find the best deal.
These people are going to respond best to direct offers. They know what you offer so just need a push to take a chance on you over a competitor. Offering a discount is a very effective push.
They know their problem and they know what the solution is. However, they’re yet to have found a product that solves the problem.
You’ve got to show the users why your product is better than others on the market. Offer proof and evidence of why your solution is so amazing.
They know they have a problem, but aren’t aware of the solution.
These guys are looking for help in solving a problem. Content that exacerbates their anxiety and presents the solution is ideal.
Everyone else. They don’t have a problem and aren’t in need of a solution.
The stages of awareness will have a huge impact on the kind of copy you produce in more ways than one. At the very basic level, it will dictate the focus of your copy. It tells you what people at that stage need to see in order to progress to the next stage.
However, it’s also going to affect the length of your content.
Take a look at the below examples for a Capital One Credit Card.
The first is the number one PPC result when searching “best credit card for travel miles”.
The search term signifies a solution aware user. They know the kind of product they want and are narrowing their search down to the best option.
Capital One have allowed solution aware users to compare all products they offer. Each entry is accompanied by the chief selling points making it easy for the user to find the product that offers the right solution.
Now take a look at the screenshot below.
That’s the landing page found from a Google search of “Capital One Venture Card ”. The search signifies a user who knows the product they want.
And true to Eugene Schwartz’s advice, Capital One have provided a shorter page that focuses on the product and offers a $0 fee to solicit a sale.
You can see that whilst both pages are pushing the same products, they have a very different focus and are very much tailored to a different need.
Understanding a user’s stage of awareness helps understand the focus of your copy along with dictating its general length.
Nailing the stage of awareness is key to getting your targeting right.
Understanding What Your Users Want
We’ve got a goal for the copy and know the stage of awareness it’s aimed at.
We’ve got one more research stage left before hitting the actual writing phase. And it’s a bit of a pain, to be honest.
But when done properly it’s not only going to give you the words, phrases, and tone your users want to hear, it’s also going to take the hard work out of actually writing your copy.
Do not skip this stage. Brands who do end up with copy based on their opinion. A sure fire way to create copy that will fail.
You’re going to throw yourself into the middle of your target audience. You’re going to learn everything about them. Their wants, needs, complaints, gripes and the way they speak.
We’re not looking at traditional audience persona here. We’re focusing on problems, desires, wants, and needs.
We’re going to start with collecting some implicit data before heading straight to the target customer for their opinion.
Here’s how to gather the implicit data that will have put you on the right track.
We’re going to collect a set of information from your users. We’re going to look into the way they talk about:
- Your brand
- Your products
- Your competitors
- Your competitors’ products
The key with diving into implicit data is to know what you’re looking for. Ignore any references that state a product/service is good or bad.
You really need to know the why. You’re looking to find what it is that makes your target audience think that way.
Joanna Wiebe’s written a few great articles about how to collate data and swipe your copy. In them, she offers a great template for recording your findings. In the second sheet of your spreadsheet, you can find a slightly amended version of Joanna Wiebe’s.
You’ll notice four columns in our sheet and you’re going to fill them in with the below.
Problems – The problem your user faces / The problem a product solves
Benefits – The benefits of having that problem solved
Shortfalls – What your target audience wants but doesn’t currently have access to
Language – Any stand out phrases or wording
As soon as you come across something that fits one of the above areas and you think is important, add it to the spreadsheet.
If something comes up twice, then add it twice. Don’t worry about duplicate entries right now or even the little highlights that might show up. We’ll come to them later.
Now let’s find out what people are saying.
Social media has become the go-to place for consumers to brag, complain or simply shoot the breeze. There’s a ton of information available on various social media networks, you just have to know where to look.
You can either jump on a social listening tool like Social Mention or ViralHeat or simply set up a dashboard of relevant search terms in a tool like Hootsuite.
The above is an example from Hootsuite. I set up a quick dashboard that monitors mentions of large airlines. There’s always complaints on social media and they can be a great way to find what elements of a service users like, dislike or feel are lacking.
Any example of people getting a little vocal, either positive or negative is a great way to understand what users want. If I drill down into the complaints against British Airways on the right we find the below rants:
And just like that, we have our first elements to add to the spreadsheet.
Once you’ve got a good deal of info from social networks, it’s time to see what users are saying in reviews.
Depending on your product will depend on where you search for reviews. Apps will head to the App store, restaurants to Yelp, business software to G2crowd and so on and so forth.
However, whatever service, product or solution you’re selling, also check out Amazon. And not just for reviews on similar products.
Check out the reviews on Amazon books that are centered around your key offering. The self-help sections are great for this as people are actively looking for assistance on solving that problem themselves.
Let’s put it into context and stick with the flight theme. Imagine you have a course that teaches readers how to travel for cheaper.
The question you need to now ask is what are the people you want to sell to going to be reading?
In the case of cheap flights, users might be looking for books that advise them on cheap travel.
The below image is the result of searching “Find Cheap Flights” on Amazon.
The top result has 64 reviews, so it’s a great place to start.
Open it up, head down to the reviews and start digging through to see what you can find.
A quick note – I’d recommend ignoring one-star reviews. Generally speaking, they offer little value. They’re often written by those who aren’t the target demographic and are filled with irrelevant information and opinions. They often offer little more than “this is not good” which is of no use to us.
The above are the first listed reviews.
Without going super in depth to the other pages of reviews we can already pull some useful information from these.
- There’s a lot of mention of the tips being common sense – Pain point for individuals is seeing similar, obvious information regurgitated across the web
- Unsurprisingly cost is a huge factor for nearly every reviewer
- Couple of mentions of the term step-by-step – People want you to spell out the exact actions for them
- Lot’s of mentions of search sites people were unaware of – People don’t know where to go to compare flights
Go through as many reviews of related products as you can to really find what it is your users find valuable about the information being provided.
Strip the reviews of key points, problems solved and of course the language they like to use.
Forums and Comment Sites
The final stage of implicit data collection revolves around forum sites.
Forums are amazing places to gather data because they’re an ongoing conversation and you’ll receive way more info than a single review or opinion.
People love coming in and offering their take on a topic. I find the best conversations are those that are quite divisive. They usually have the longest comment streams and really get to the heart of what people think.
Unfortunately, there’s not a huge selection of free tools that will allow you to search across multiple forums. However, the aforementioned Social Mention does include forums within its search parameters.
You can either use Social Mention and sift through the results for something that’s relevant or simply head to various forums and social sites like Reddit, find the appropriate sub-Reddit or conversation and search for relevant comments.
Save Yourself a Little Time
Collecting implicit data is something that’s going to take an age. All the tools I’ve recommended so far are free.
They’ll save you a great deal of time in looking into the conversations about your brand, which is a great considering they’re free.
However, if you want to really cut down on the time needed you might have to invest in a paid service. There are some great listening tools available that will collate data from all sources into one place. But for a price.
If you are interested in spending a little cash to save a lot of time I recommend checking out Brand24. It’s similar to many of the other paid listening services but also comes with a free demo period so you can see what value it can bring and whether it’s going to be of use to you.
Now let’s take a look at the secondary research stage.
Explicit Data Collection
Let’s face it, there’s no better way to understand the trials and tribulations of your target audience than to simply ask them.
You’ll not only discover what your users want and need, but you’ll also form a closer relationship with them by opening the dialogue.
But the success of your survey relies on you asking the right questions. And that’s why we collected implicit data collection first.
The implicit data you collected is going to help better target your survey questions. It’s going to steer you away from generic questions that offer a shallow insight into the needs of your consumers.
Let’s bring it back to our fictional travel for less course.
If you’ve done no prior research you’re going to have surveys full of generic questions like:
- What problems do you experience when looking for flights?
- How often do you travel?
- If you could change one thing about traveling, what would it be?
- Why did you choose to use our service?
Don’t get me wrong. These questions are still important, especially for understanding your target audience’s language.
But the collated implicit data’s going to help you better tailor them. You’re going to know if there are any questions you would have asked that aren’t important because they’re never talked about.
For instance, we know price is important (as is always the case), but we also know that people have a profound dislike of “common sense” advice.
So we could perhaps include a question that tries to determine what advice is determined common sense. Any terms or gripes appearing numerous times are ones to address in your copy.
Surveying, despite its usual portrayal, isn’t just about sending a mass email with a request to everyone on your email list.
I mean, businesses are at all stages of product development and growth. Some have email lists to exploit, some don’t. Some have great levels of site traffic they can target, others have a dozen visitors a month.
Thankfully there’s a survey method you can employ regardless of the stage your business is in.
For Those with No Audience
Most information around surveys says you’ve got to email those who are already invested in your brand. It’s good advice because those already invested in your brand are more likely to give accurate feedback.
But if you’re a new business and haven’t yet built a base, there’s still steps you can take.
Google Surveys will present a survey of up to 10 questions to users through their publishing network. Users are offered an incentive to complete the survey so you should end up with a wide range of results.
Targeting is based on basic demographic filters so you might not get the perfect prospects answering your surveys, however, it’s better than having sweet “FA”.
Amanda DiSilvestro has created a great guide on getting started with Google Surveys. You can check it out here.
Site Visitors but No Email List
First thing’s first. What the hell are you doing without an email list? Sort that out before you do anything else.
If you do have a decent level of traffic but no email list, consider using a tool like Qualaroo.
Surveying Your Current Audience
This is the best option. You should have an email list of potentially interested people for your product or service.
These are the people who are going to be purchasing from you and so will be the best guide for what copy will have maximum effect.
When it comes to an existing customer base you can jump on one of the services like SurveyMonkey to create a targeted survey that asks the right questions.
When creating your survey steer well clear of multiple choice.
Multiple choice is pretty useless when it comes to finding the right words to sell to your audience.
Remember, we’re also looking for the language they use to describe their troubles so you want to let them ramble on a bit.
Along with using open-ended questions you’re going to want to follow the below guidelines:
- Keep your survey as short as it can be without compromising quality
- Each question should have one objective
- Ask questions neutrally. Don’t lead the customer, you’re trying to find out what they think
- Devise a logical question flow
Finding What’s Important
At this stage, you’ll have a spreadsheet full of your users’ pain points, thoughts, and needs.
But not all of that is going to be useful.
You’re going to have to cut out single references and solitary issues. Yes, you’re creating a targeted message, but you need that targeted message to appeal to as many people within your audience as possible.
So sift through the information you’ve collected and tally how many times a pain point or desire is mentioned.
The more often mentioned, the more important it is for you.
If you downloaded our spreadsheet there’s already a formula which will highlight duplicate entries for easy identification (the first 8 language entries are automatically copied over up to sheet three for you)
I recommend cutting duplicates from this sheet and pasting them into the relevant section on sheet three. It just collects all useful data in one easy to use space.
If you’re not using out free download (or even if you are, do this as a double check) I recommend sorting the first three columns alphabetically. Just as a reminder, those three columns are:
That’ll help group your entries that begin with the same letter together so you’ll have an easier time noticing where entries are duplicated.
Copy and paste any duplicates that you’ve missed into sheet 3.
This is where we take a step back and once again look at our hypothesis.
Use the information you now have at your disposal to revisit your initial thoughts and bring them more in line with the desires of your customers.
Get Your Wireframe Right
So you know what it is your customers want and you have a sheet of the language they use.
It’s now time to dive into the creation of your copy. And the first step is figuring out where everything is going to go.
And remember, copy dictates design. It’s your copy that delivers the message so base design around your copy elements.
Don’t worry too much about figuring out how to present your messages. There’s plenty of tried and true formulas you can (and should) use to help structure your message.
Whilst there’s numerous formulas out there, I’d recommend starting off with one of the below two.
Use these formulae in conjunction with your research to structure your message for maximum effect. Draw up a wireframe and list out exactly what points you want to address at each stage and include a few of the noticeable language points you picked out.
Writing Your Copy
You know what you want to say and, thanks to the framework you’ve chosen, you know how you’re going to structure your message.
All that’s left now is to actually write.
But hold your horses.
This isn’t a case of sitting down, staring into the middle distance and waiting for inspiration to hit.
All that research wasn’t to gain a general idea of what to say. It’s a pre-prepared cheat sheet, one which contains the message you want to deliver and the right way in which to deliver it.
The language your prospects use to describe their problems, needs and desires is the exact same language you should use to inform them about your product.
You’ve got to serve their own language back to them.
It’s partly due to expectation. If your prospect sees a headline which perfectly mimics their own thoughts back to them they’re more likely to click.
If you can mirror more of the language your users use back to them, they’re more likely to take note of what you’re saying.
But that mimicry of language also helps build trust.
In a study by Northwestern University, mimicry of language was found to have a direct correlation between trust and lexical mimicry.
Let’s put it in relatable terms. You’re reading this so I’m assuming you know more than a little about online marketing.
Now imagine you head to a digital marketing conference and are approached by a salesman trying to win you as a customer.
He says all the right things to grab your attention, throws out some relevant buzzwords and has that oh-so-lovable salesman demeanor.
But something doesn’t feel right. So you question him with in-depth questions about the product. All that’s returned are the same tired buzzwords every other salesman on the floor is spewing.
“We’ll help increase your conversions“, “We create custom omnichannel experiences” and so on and so forth.
But when it comes to the specific terms you believe to be important, statistical significance, banner blindness, latent conversion, etc. they haven’t a clue.
Now where does your trust in that brand lie?
Sure, they know the general buzzwords anyone could learn after 10 minutes on a digital marketing website. But they don’t know some pretty key terms for success.
Would you trust them to handle your conversion optimization? Or are you know questioning their ability?
Using the right language to convey the right message at the right time is what this is all about.
Use the research you’ve completed to understand not just the issues your users face, but how they talk about solving those issues and you’ve got a recipe for maximum effect copy.
Editing For Maximum Impact
There’s ongoing – and rather furious debate – in copywriting. One that’s been going on for longer than most of us have been marketing.
And yet, there’s still a huge division on who’s right.
Is long copy really more effective than short copy?
Every so often a new article will come up detailing how a brand increased conversions by increasing the length of their copy.
A few weeks later, another study will appear outlining how a rival brand cut copy by 50% and saw a healthy uplift in conversions.
So what should you do? Write short, to the point copy, or long winded high-value copy?
Stop thinking about length. The length of your copy is not what determines it’s success. What does, is how useful it is.
Your copy should be as long as it needs to be and no longer. Don’t take 1000 words to say what could be communicated in 500.
This will, of course, differ on content goal and stage of awareness, but the point stands, say what you need to without useless fluff.
It’s unnecessary, frustrating and will lower conversions because people don’t want to read fluff.
Write everything you need to communicate out in full. Use the language you collected in your research and then channel your inner slasher movie antagonist and cut everything that doesn’t directly contribute to your key conversion goal.
Here’s a quick rundown on editing tips I use to decrease word count without losing effect.
GIGANTIC CAVEAT – These are very general editing guidelines. They should be used on all the copy you write yourself. The words, phrases, and imagery you pull from prospect reviews and opinions is sacred. Don’t touch that stuff. That’s the stuff that will best resonate with them.
1. Cut Useless Linking Words
Brevity in conversions is something of a contentious issue.
Brevity is widely lauded as key to effective copy. But sometimes less isn’t more, more is.
Case in point.
However, the word supplement is key to the product. Sure one word has been added, but the title is still succinct.
And that’s the key. Keeping things succinct.
You’ve got to get rid of terms unrelated to the product. Increase word count by all means, but before you do ask yourself if what you’re adding helps clarify the offering, adds more value or simply bloats your word count.
If the latter, then get rid.
If you’re not sure, then test. I could be wrong.
2. Power Words!
Grabbing attention is difficult. But people are predisposed to find certain words more attractive.
Words like free, save and their ilk are favorites of CRO advice across the web.
The below is an example of how Rich Page increased conversions by 316% by using a few of the web’s favorite conversion copy words like free and miss out.
Read through your copy and replace any non-quotes with more powerful words that are more likely to gain attention.
Editing is a key stage of creating more effective copy, but don’t get caught in a loop. Don’t continue to edit if it’s delaying your publication date.
The most valuable editing advice and optimization data come after publication and when you see how your users react to the live piece. Which unfortunately means that when it comes to conversion copywriting…
It Never Ends
So you’ve done your research, found your key messages and created kick ass copy that solves problems, addresses concerns and uses the same language.
Job done, right?
Come on now. You’re smarter than that.
A CROs work is never done. The steps listed here are the only way to get some good copy up on your site.
But if you want to turn that good copy into great copy you’re going to need to continually monitor, measure and improve.
You’ve got to continue to split test your copy and see which variants and message best resonate with the people who read what you’ve written.
Split testing your copy will give you actionable data that will help you improve your conversions. It’ll take what is already a high converting piece of copy and take it’s conversions into the stratosphere.
I understand that this is a long and arduous methodology. But it’s worth it.
Nail your copy and you’ll have created a round the clock salesperson who continues to convert and bring in the dough.
If you’re going to implement this guide with your brand, be sure to first download the accompanying spreadsheet by clicking the below.