Bad copy sucks.
It sucks to write.
It sucks to read.
It sucks the money out of your business.
That’s why there are over 140 million search results for “how to write good copy.”
Problem is, a lot of the advice out there is generic.
Have you ever stumbled across gems like these?
- Be persuasive!
- Check your spelling and grammar!
- Sound like a human!
As if you aspired to sound like a feeble, illiterate cyborg?
Please. You’re a savvy entrepreneur. You don’t need preaching; you need teaching.
As in: a blueprint that you can follow to start writing better copy for your small business. Not 100 Vague Rules from Captain Obvious.
Behold: 4 actual things you can do to start writing better copy today
While Mike and I come from different copywriting traditions (direct response and content marketing, respectively), we both passionately believe that small business owners are in desperate need of practical copywriting strategies they can implement right now.
The small business owners at ICON seemed to agree; because of their overwhelmingly positive response to our presentation, I’ve decided to share four of the strategies we presented with those of you who didn’t make it to our training session.
Strategy #1: set a destination
You’d be surprised how many companies (yes, even Fortune 500 corporations) forget this simple rule: For every asset you create, there must be a desired action you want your buyer to take.
Your landing pages, Google Adwords ads, emails, everything. Each of them needs to lead your buyer somewhere.
Take a look at this ad that appeared in my Facebook feed.
Believe it or not, the objective of this ad isn’t to get me to become an Ellevest customer. Sure, that’s the end goal, but one single ad isn’t going to convert me.
The objective of the ad is to get me to click a button (“Sign Up”). My destination, as the buyer, is a landing page.
Notice how every single line of copy is written to lead me to that specific destination? It:
- Catches my eye with a short, four-word headline that appeals to my status (Invest like a woman)
- Piques my curiosity to learn more (Why do women need to invest differently than men? Hmm, why do we?)
- Provokes me to question my current investment strategy (We make less than men do [for now], we live longer, and take more career breaks; now I’m starting to wonder if my current investment strategy is going to fall short)
- Solves my problem by offering more information on the landing page (It’s a New Financial Era… Sign Up)
The copy gives me a specific action to take (visit the landing page) but doesn’t ask too much of me (like trying to get me to talk to a sales rep after my first interaction with the brand). It’s the appropriate destination for someone like me, who might become a customer eventually but is just beginning to realize I have a problem that Ellevest can solve.
When I arrive at my destination—a landing page—it looks like this:
The objective of that landing page is to get me to click a button (“START INVESTING”). Every line of copy on the landing page leads me to my next destination, all the way down the funnel to final purchase.
When you don’t give your buyer somewhere specific to go, or you try to send them too far down the funnel too fast, they end up lost. Make it easy for them to act.
Strategy #2: the power of process
Most professional copywriters I speak with have a specific writing process they follow.
But what if you’re not a writer?
Next time you have to tackle a copywriting challenge, try following this method.
Intake: This is the research phase. Gather up the following information about your product or service and write it down on a page. Disorganized “word vomit” is fine here, as long as you have documented the following things:
- Target audience
- Core idea
- Call to action
Incubate: Walk away. Even if it’s for 10 minutes, walk away and work on something other than your copy. You’ll come back with fresh eyes—and good ideas.
- Go get something else done
- Sleep on it
- Walk the dog
- Go fishing
- Play a round of golf, Frisbee, etc.
- Just get your mind off it
Create: This is where you let your inner child play; there are no rules here. “Word vomit” is okay; have fun, get messy. Write down every brilliant and terrible idea that you have, with no constraints.
- Block out the time to be creative
- Cut off ALL distractions
- Set a timer (33:33, etc.)
- Pull out your research
- Have your templates handy
- Outline it and you’re half done!
- Let your inner child have at it…
Reality check: Now let your inner adult back into the room. Remember that checklist you made in Step 1 (intake)? Make sure your copy stays true to everything you documented.
- Edit in stages
- Checklists (spelling, consistency, etc.)
- Cut, cut, cut
- Every word must justify its existence
- Don’t fall in love with your “darlings”
- Read it out loud
- Have somebody else read it to you
Test and tweak: Groan! This phase is a bit irritating since you’ve already written your copy, and you’re itching to move on. But imagine if changing just one aspect of your copy could increase conversions 10 percent. Spending three hours to test one of these variables is more efficient than spending three days creating a brand-new asset.
- Buttons (CTA)
Strategy #3: listen to your prospect
What if you could say exactly what your prospects want to hear in order to buy your product or service?
It takes a bit of research, but you can.
Prospects (and customers) are pretty vocal about their preferences and buying habits. They may not reach out to you directly, but inside every statement they make about you is a hidden instruction manual on what they care about, and how to write to that.
Here are eight places you can start looking.
- Sales reps: What pain points did prospects share during sales conversations? When you write your copy, mention those pain points (and of course, how you solve them).
- Testimonials: When a customer is happy with your work, immediately ask for a written referral and permission to use it in your marketing. You can use customer quotes on your webpage and email copy, or get creative by using them as headlines or email subject lines.
- Reviews: Whether it’s Yelp, Facebook, Google, or another platform specific to your industry, prospects and customers are probably talking about you. When they say something positive, reach out and ask for a quote. (Pro tip: when they say something negative, reach out and see how you can repair the relationship.)
- Case studies: Case studies are a copywriter’s gold mine. Because they contain so much information about your customer’s problems and how your business solves them, you can extract dozens of copy lines from a single one.
- Conversations: Next time you’re lucky enough to have a few minutes to chat with a customer, ask them to take a look at a piece of copy you created. Ask an open-ended question (such as, “What do you think of this copy?”, “Does this copy speak to you?”, or “Would you take action based on this copy?”) and they’ll almost always point out ways you can improve.
- Interviews: A professional copywriter can give you really valuable insights, but what about your buyer? Ultimately it’s their opinion that matters most—after all, they’re who you’re writing for. Ask a customer for at least 30 minutes of their time (60, if you can get it) to provide you with feedback on your marketing. You might offer a small incentive for their time, but you might be surprised to discover how willing people are to give you their opinions if you simply ask.
- Forums: In many industries, customers flock to online forums like Reddit, Quora, or smaller sites dedicated to specific topics. People reveal concerns, vendor selection criteria, and other information with their peers in a way they wouldn’t do with your business directly. Even if you can’t find your customers, there are probably similar buyers out there talking to each other. Listen! As an example, imagine that you’re an auto mechanic. Try searching online the way a user would (“How to pick a good auto mechanic”) and see what other buyers have to say. Just be careful not to chime in with any self-promotional content.
- Surveys: If you’re storing buyer contact information in a database somewhere (and I hope you are) then you have endless opportunities to survey several buyers at once about their interests, concerns, preferences—really, anything you want to know. Use that data to create highly targeted copy; just be careful not to overwhelm them with survey requests.
Strategy #4: get formulaic
I wish this was the part of the post where I could give you a magic formula to write perfect copy and make millions of dollars doing it.
Unfortunately, that’s not possible. (Yet. Let’s see where AI takes us in the future.)
There are, however, thousands of copywriting formulas that you can use as a foundation to build your next asset. Do an online search for “copywriting formulas,” and you’ll find thousands of very useful ones.
Then, try a few different formulas to see what gets the best response from your buyers. Ideally, for each type of asset you create (landing page, email, etc.), you’ll have at least three formulas you can fall back on when you need to write something very quickly.
Does using a formula make your copy boring? Not at all. Your buyers aren’t going to know that you followed a formula, and you’ll be able to write much faster if you can start with something rather than nothing at all.
Here’s an example of a formula that I use as a template for high-converting landing pages; it can be easily adapted to any topic, as you’ll see below.
1. Headline: 100 Ways to Make Social Media Easier = [Number] + [Pain Point] + [Solution].
When numerals appear in headlines (“100” versus “One Hundred”), we often see a lift in conversions. That’s my starting point; next, I write to the pain point (social media is difficult)—then wrap it all up with the benefit of the asset the buyer is going to download (making it easier). Variations:
- 11 Steps to Calm Job Interview Nerves
- 3 Tricks to Restore Sparkle to Old Jewelry
2. Subheadline: Discover the strategies and tools used by the most popular social media account owners—now available to you in one convenient checklist = [Contents] + [Social Proof] + [Benefit].
Since we know that buyers are more likely to take action when the copy is specific, I lead with an explanation of exactly what I’m asking them to download. Next, I validate the quality of the content by mentioning its status among high performers in the field. Finally, I share the benefit they’ll get from taking action (in this case, convenience). Variations:
- Master the powerful mental tricks used by top executives to gain focus and confidence before a big meeting — with step-by-step instructions
- Discover the method that professional jewelers charge over $100 to remove tarnish from precious metals, in just 10 minutes
3. Graphics: include a thumbnail
I snuck this one in; it’s really more about design than copy. But, in many cases, words and pictures work together to produce a better outcome than either one alone. (There are exceptions to this, but I won’t get into that today). In nearly any test I’ve run, showing an image of the offer improves conversion rates for webpages.
4. Lead form
Okay, I snuck this in too because it’s technically a user experience (UX) issue. But placement of your lead form matters to the overall flow of your message. Put it above your headline and nobody is going to know what you’re asking them to download, purchase, or do. Put it too far down the page and many buyers will bounce before they see it. As a general rule, make sure that the lead form is visible when a buyer first lands on your site, whether it’s a desktop or other device.
The final word
Any of these strategies will work—but only if you put them to work. Even trying one or two of them should score you a significant improvement in both the speed of your writing and the results it produces. Best of luck!
Clare is the associate copy director at Infusionsoft, where she works to craft meaningful messaging for a worldwide audience of small business superheroes. Her 10-year marketing career has deep roots in content strategy, with an emphasis on B2B technology. Outside the office, Clare can usually be found indulging her passion for language as a creative writer, prolific reader, and inexorable chatterbox. She is a proud parent of one daughter and self-nominated captain of Team Oxford Comma. Connect with Clare on Twitter @clarekirlin.