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Last week I went over crafting effective titles [webmasterworld.com] and how a title can be used to qualify a buyer. This week I'm going to cover creating copy that sells.
After you've gone through the trouble of getting the surfer to your page you want to keep them there for as long as it takes to get them to buy. This can take two minutes, or twenty. Your goal is create copy that sells to the impulse buyer as effectively as it sells to the discerning buyer.
First I'll go over the basics of copywriting. Members of the supporters forums, skip this if you've read it.
As a copywriter you have two objectives. Convince and stimulate. You must convince your reader that you have something distinctive to offer and stimulate them to purchase it. You can use the hard sell approach or the informational brochure technique but your goal will remain the same. Convince and stimulate.
Never lose sight of that goal.
Now I'll address the things you should do before you begin to write.
1. Ready your work area. Gather your notes, a dictionary and a thesaurus.
2. Research your product or service. You must define the product and determine which features and benefits will interest your buyers. Make a numbered list of the features and benefits the product offers. Evaluate the product as if you were the consumer. Query users of the product if possible.
3. Position the product. Determine how the product relates to similar products. Note different features and benefits. Make a list of what makes your product better. Are your competitors offering something you aren't?
4. Define your target market. You must tailor your writing to the taste of your readers. Are you targeting young adults or bank presidents? Housewives or cost conscious small business owners? Define your demographic target.
5. Decide on your marketing strategy. This is where you determine whether you want to use the hard sell approach or use the informational brochure technique or combine both techniques. Determine the length of your copy. If you can sell the product in 500 words, write 500. If you can sell the product in 100 words, write 100.
You need to remember these points while you write;
1. Your goal is to convince and stimulate. This is not the time to see how much prose you can write nor is it the time to impress the reader with your vocabulary.
2. Write in an active voice.
3.. Be truthful. Do not make false claims. Emphasize the selling points while sticking to the facts.
4. Be specific. Our widget software will work on most operating systems is bad. Our widget software will work on Win95, Win98, Win2000, WinMe and Mac versions OS8/OS9 is good.
5. Stay organized. Everything you write should flow from the first sentence to a logical conclusion. Don't refer to a point you made in a previous paragraph, simply repeat what you want to say.
6. Do not be afraid to repeat yourself. You want the reader to remember what you write. Do not be afraid to repeat yourself.
7. Write with clarity. Avoid long or complex sentences.
8. Use a bold font to highlight important divisions in your copy. Do not use multiple exclamation points to express excitement about your product's benefits.
9. Do not use humor to sell unless you are really good at it. You do not know if you are really good at it, only your readers will know.
10. Don't lose sight of your goal, which is to convince and stimulate.
Writing Copy That Sells
Before you write a single word learn the AIDA Formula.
Attention, Interest, Desire, Action
Attention - Every page you create offers an opportunity for you to grab the reader's attention. There are several common techniques you can use that are effective. You can use attention grabbing words like Free or Stop. You can draw the reader in by forming a question or you can rely on a simple factual sentence that appeals to their interest.
Stop! Don't Read This Unless You Plan on Traveling to Spain This Year
Free Ebook - Build Your Own Dollhouse Following These Simple Plans
Do you know what to do if you're arrested in a foreign country?
Turn Yard Clippings Into Compost
No matter what technique you use you must follow it up by maintaining their interest.
Interest - Now you need to deliver on the promise you implied in your header. This is where a lot of writers get it wrong. This isn't where you describe the product, your business or yourself. This is where you create interest and the easiest way to do that is by remembering that the reader is most interested in himself.
You've found the best price on Cuban cigars on the internet and just like us, you may be wondering why they're so cheap. Do you know that almost half of the Cuban cigars sold in the world are counterfeit? Are you wondering how you can tell the difference between the real thing and a fake? Do you know what to look for? Would you like to know?
We've created this Counterfeit Cuban Cigar Guide just for you so you can enjoy a fine Cuban cigar without falling victim to counterfeiters. This quide will help you spot the fakes at a glance. We've even included a price guide to help you recognize those deals that are just too good to be true. We know you don't mind spending money on real Cuban cigars but why take a chance on buying a fake?
Once you have their interest, it's time to move on to desire.
Desire - You've got their interest, now you have to create the desire for them to buy what you're selling. In simple words list facts, features and benefits. Give the reader reasons to buy your product or order your service. If your product will save them money, tell them that. Then tell them how it will save money. If your service will save them some time, tell them that but stick to the facts. Avoid words like mega, supreme or phenomenal.
Now all that's left is ask for an action.
Action - If you want the reader to act, you have to let them know. The action can be a purchase or you might simply be asking them to sign up for your newsletter or download an e-book. Your call to action can be as simple as a button that says, "Buy Now", or you can give the reader another reason to buy. Order Today and Shipping is Free or Act Now And We'll Take 50% Off The Purchase Price.
No matter what method you choose as your call-to-action make it prominent. Never make the reader search for a way to buy.
You need to remember these items after you have finished writing.
1. Use spell checking software.
2. You must get someone to proofread your copy.
3. You can't proofread your own copy.
4. You must revise and edit your copy. Check your facts, check your grammar and cut out every unnecessary word. Each word should serve a purpose. If you find a word that is not working, remove it. Replace expressions like, by virtue of the fact that, with the much shorter, because.
5. When you are finished with your revisions and editing you must revise and edit again.
6. When you are completely finished with all your revisions and editing, read your copy aloud. Make sure you kept your voice and tone consistent throughout you copy. This is especially important for large sites in which you write the copy over a period of several days or weeks. Revise and edit again.
Next Week- Motivation Techniques, Different Methods for Getting The Reader Motivated to Buy.
Order Today and Shipping is Free or Act Now And We'll Take 50% Off The Purchase Price
Does anyone from the UK know where this sort of language stands from a legal point of view?
What you're offering is effectively a sale, and therefore is subject to sale of goods act legislation regarding the previous price of the product...
...but maybe it does not constitute a sale if the text is persistent, in which case...
Doesn't the fact that this sort of language is persistent annoy customers? If I read "Buy today and get a 50% discount" i'll think to myself - yeah yeah, i'll still be able to get a 50% discount tomorrow.
Why not just emphasise your price at half the amount?
Stick to the truth and it won't annoy anyone. If you offer free shipping if they act now, you're fine. Run 50% off specials for 30 days and you're fine. Don't use Act Now And Shipping Is Free if you always offer free shipping.
Supply the details of your call-to-action with the much-hated asterik. ;) The reason those persistent calls to action remain is because they are effective.
You can also use, "First Time Buyers Receive Free Shipping - Click to Order".
The most important thing to remember is to be truthful. If you offer, "Free Glo-Pen With Purchase" and you send them their order on time and don't ship a Glo-Pen, you'll get email about the Glo-Pen.
Now, if you visit a site in January and they are offering free shipping NOW, and you return in February to order and the free shipping offer no longer exists do you commend the site for running an honest call-to-action or berate yourself for missing out on the free shipping?
As long as you keep your call-to-action honest, you should be fine. If you're using a dishonest call-to-action you shouldn't be in the marketing business.
The idea is to get the reader to act, preferably right then. If you're hawking your newsletter you could use, Sign Up Now And Receive A Free Download Of Our Top Affiliate Marketing Tips e-Book.
[edited by: digitalghost at 12:08 pm (utc) on May 17, 2003]
If you want to convert AIDA is so important and in a lot of sites I see sadly lacking. It really is great to see such high quality material on these boards. It always amazes me how much time people spend at the Google News board when most of them have yet to learn and apply the fundemetals. I hope to see more good stuff next week :)
Copy for websites seems to be an afterthought. The tech aspect of the web ensures that the coders and graphic artists are in on the development from the beginning and the job of writing copy is delegated to someone that can string together coherent paragraphs.
As the web continues to develop commercially I think you'll see more attention paid to copy. The direct marketers certainly seem to know the value of copy, unfortunately, they were also the first group to recognize how effective spamming can be. ;)
As websites mature they'll reach traffic plateaus and then the emphasis will switch to increasing conversion rates rather than simply increasing traffic. It hasn't happened nearly as fast as I thought it would though. I know people that will spend all day tweaking a graphic and churn out 10 pages of copy in an hour...
"Stop! Don't Read This Unless You Plan on Traveling to Spain This Year"
I don't know if it's just me, but does such a sort of a double negative sentence require a greater amount of comprehension and attention from the reader? And therefore, is it construed as bad practice?
Again, thanks for the great post, DigitalGhost.
With that said, STOP is a word that gets noticed. You always have to consider the target readership. Simple headlines can be extremely effective.
Creating Valid Code is a simple headline, but to the people interested in valid code it's enough to draw them into the content. I'd like to add that you shouldn't get too creative with attention getters without thoroughly testing them. The KISS principle applies to coypwriting.
You have to consider the context of your copy as well. Stop! Don't might be just what you need on a banner ad to get eyeballs on it while a much simpler header is all that is needed on the page where you control the noise factor.
There is no such thing as perfect copy, but with enough editing it will be better copy. I haven't written anything yet that I'm entirely happy with, and I don't expect to, there's always one more edit...
I haven't written anything yet that I'm entirely happy with, and I don't expect to, there's always one more edit...
Nice to know I'm not the only one with this problem. Sometimes I have to sit back and think if that "one more edit" is really worth it, or if my time is better spent working on something new... or editing something old ;)
That's a problem that all writers face and you also run the risk of over-editing. I've looked at some of the things I've written and realized I edited out all the punch and left a skeleton. Then I have to go back over the copy and add some spice.
Writing copy is sort of like cooking. You need start with the proper ingredients but without the right amount of spice whatever you cook up is flat. Add too much spice and no one will eat it. Editing is the cooking time. Overcook it and it's not fit to eat.
There's my pathetic analogy for Friday. ;) Not quite as bad as Shrek and his onion. Best I could do on one cup of coffee and a melatonin hangover.
I think the problem that many people have is either adding way to much spice, which gives people indigestion when reading it, or they overcook and overwork it to death, until it is unfit for human consumption.
There seems to be a very fine line between the two, but once you get the hang of it, you can cook up some gourmet meals - and maybe become a master chef too ;)
I've got a new set of sites I'm working on that are web-to-phone. That is, customers can't click and buy anything - the sites are lead generating sites and I need customers to call our 1-800 number.
This particular product has a complicated sales process, with extremely high-end users. They need handholding and the ordering of the product can't be handled online. However, people look for tons of information for this product online. I want them to find me, have confidence, and call in to order from me.
Do you think there's a need for a different style of copywriting (either slightly or drastically) because of the different type of call to action? If so, how would it be different?
The motivations to buy can remain the same, fear, greed, exclusivity, etc. For websites that are web-to-phone I like to stress "friendly". While people are reassured by seeing a phone number on a site they plan on purchasing from there is still an intimidation factor when people are faced with making a phone call.
So I avoid using "Call Now To Speak To One Of Our Representatives" or "Call To Speak With Our Sales Department" and replace it with "Call Now And Ask For Chuck". People don't want to speak to "representatives" and they certainly don't want to talk to the entire sales department. Even if "Chuck" is busy when they call as long as "Linda" is there to answer their questions you're fine.
I also avoid the use of titles after names on the contact list. "Chuck Wilson - Sales Department Manager" doesn't appear nearly as friendly as "Chuck" does. People want to talk to people when they call, not titles. One of the sites I worked on about a year ago had a long list of contact names and all the names were followed by letters.
Martin Smith Ph.D
Pamela Jones Ph.D.
Susan Strong MBA
They received very few calls and the site was designed to be web-to-phone. We removed the letters after their name, turned Pamela into Pam, Susan into Sue and the volume of calls increased. Dr. Pamela Jones is intimidating, but anyone can talk to "Pam". I recommend saving the titles for business cards and correspondence after initial contact has been made.
It's important to maintain the balance between a conversational/informational site without stressing "corporate". People named "Bill" or "Pam" are accessible, William Fudd - Vice President of Regional Sales, Midwest Division, is not.
I like to write web-to-phone sites in a tone that lets people know that when they call, someone is going to talk with them, not at them.
Very interesting post. I foresee a long thread here.
Allow me some questions: in the AIDA scheme, how do you see the use of banners (I use mostly the 460x80 banners)?
Do you think they are most effective in A, I or D? Or any of them? Any tips on how to combine banners and text?
Is this your intented audience? Thoughts?
A banner needs to get attention, and create interest. Do you recall those flashing banners? They get attention but fail to generate enough interest to make me click. Once you get their attention you need to generate enough interest to get them to click. Banner ads are especially difficult because people have developed "banner blindness".
>>Mini sales sites, sure hype up the product and convert to a sale. But, legit businesses can kill their reputation using this sort of copy.
I didn't mention "hype". I referred to benefits, features and honesty. Let satisified buyers "hype" the product.
>>and blatent promotional language like this on legitimate corporate
What blatant promotional language? If Microsoft wants to sell copies of Frontpage from its website, you can bet there will be a call to action on the page. There will also be a list of features and if the copywriter is doing his job the copy will stress the product benefits. If they want to push copies of Frontpage the call to action might include a reference to a discount.
I agree there is a time and place for certain tones and language. Discerning when to use the right language is part of the copywriter's job.
>>Yes, you use marketing and promotional language
What exactly is "marketing" language? I prefer to use a tone and style that connects with the reader. Motley Fool is a great example of a "corporate" site that doesn't use dry, lifeless, corporate speak.
If you're saying that certain calls to action aren't appropriate for certain sites, well, I agree. I would write in a different tone for an investment site than I would for a site selling costumes. However, if I want people to join a mailing list on the investment site I might use, "Sign up now and receive a free subscription to Investment Monthly". No hype, just a simple truth as an incentive for joining the mailing list.
[edited by: digitalghost at 4:48 pm (utc) on May 25, 2003]
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Microsoft uses no 50% off, no feebies, no limited time offers. This is what i refer to as hype. Just standard marketing calls to action are necessary - i.e. use of action verbs such as 'order today' and 'select your suite'. There seems a line between desperate sales pitches and confident sales pitches.
Many buy-now-or-die tactics go too far are a huge turn-off for me. If a company constantly offers limited time offers and discounts, i wonder about their credibility. Its like the infomercials or as-seen-on-tv ads - typically scams. I even read articles that stress making pop-ups for those who leave your site. If they didn't make a sale, that pop-up saying "STOP! Don't leave yet" is going to reinforce my opinion that I'll never buy from this company.
I think we agree. I see so many articles on how to write web copy and they stress what I refer to as quick hype because it is so hard to keep those web visitors on your site past 5 seconds. But, I would really like to learn something beyond this - like how does one sell services, not products. I think its different.
Exactly, it is hard to get people to stay on a site for very long, it's even tougher if all they find on a site is ad copy. I think we both find the over-hyped sales sites distasteful. On the other hand, I've seen many sites tiptoe around the issue of actually selling their products, and they do it so successfully that they don't sell anything. A simple call to action like "Order Now" would help move the reader along to the ordering process.
Then there's the infomercial... I can't stand them. But, those over-hyped, high-pressure sales tactics are effective. Why? Because some people need to be prodded into a sale. They might never use that nifty new egg flipper, but if they get 14 plastic utensils and a new oven mitt they can justify that $19.95 . And if you act now I'll throw in a set of Ginsu steak knives... ;)
One thing i did on my site was actually move away from a promotional price. Instead of sign up today and get rate X, I actually moved to a flat fee.
The amount I saved in
(a) reducing the amount of copy on the site,
(b) reducing the number of database rules (simplification), and
(c) in not having to answer people who wanted to know why they could not have the promotional price (even when they purchased late)
More than made up for the reduced number of buyers (yes there was a dropoff).
I reduced the overall price at the same time, but also removed the special offer.
Anyways, although I agree with many points made in the original entry on this thread, there is also a school of thought that says variable pricing is not a sensible tactic.
(As always all thoughts expressed are mine and reflect a point of view, not hard and fast factual rules)
school of thought that says variable pricing is not a sensible tactic.
I would prefer to see a regular price, or if you have a special, for that to be listed as a discounted price without an "expiry".
Of course, you could always offer a secondary special with an end date that would go to all your newsletter subscribers, but one that is not listed on your webpage itself.
Writing good copy is a bit like a gold medal at the Olympics: from the outset is looks simple and straighforward.. but it is really that simple? Most athletes will probably tell you no.
Great work DigitalHost! * Thanks *
Lisaevenson, I agree too on a lot of your comments
4. Define your target market.
One my friends who has decades of experience as a copy writer offered me what he calls "the litmus test for good copy." The idea is to write for your hottest prospect - the person who would really want what you're offering if they only knew what you've got.
I call it the "DeNiro effect". If your best prospects can't recognize themselves in your copy, if you don't generate that "hey, you're talking about me" response, then your copy is less than it could be.
Before my friend let me in on this "secret", which is really nothing more than precise targetting, I was writing rather flat footed copy. I was trying to talk to absolutely everyone who might stumble across my page, and I was anxious about losing a single reader.
As a consequence, the people most likely to buy were not getting the fact that this product/service was really created for people exactly like them.
So I learned to relax about those fringe prospects. Instead I create scenarios of the exact kind of person who could use the product, and I write directly to them. I often flesh these prospects out in detail - name, income, family details, car, hobbies, whatever it takes to make them real in my mind.
When I write to the best prospect I can envision, right square in the center of the target market, then I also end up converting more people who are a bit towards the edge of center.
Dell is a big respected company in the same area and we know E-commerce is their biggest producer ... If you check their website you can see most of the techniques mentioned by DG . They feature tons of free offers / time senstive promotion etc etc ...
Hard Sell always works and that too for consumer goods! . The only place it may not work is in B2B .
I always increase conversion with a Bigger size "Click here and Buy Now" link , ya it make my site look ugly but i dont care until it produces more sales :)
[edited by: gopi at 5:02 am (utc) on May 26, 2003]
so much of marketing is getting reminded of the things you know better about, but just never quite implement
I will use this entire thread in some new copy I'm just now sharpening pencils for, thanks especially digitalghost...
Just to add another pointer... The wording is important as you mentioned, but it's also good to format the links or calls to action to keep the copy flowing better too, like instead of:
Click here for our widgets. [webmasterworld.com]
Having a period kills it I think and makes the user stop when what you want is for them to continue/click-through.
I'm in B2B/Service. I've actually gone this route and slapped myself.
Over half my client base is B2B - I sure know what you're talking about here. B2B copy requires a whole different gear. A strongly focused marketing message, delivered in a straight forward, concise and informative voice is the only way I've ever found that works.
Business prospects don't have time for BS, and they can smell hype a mile away, because it wastes their time. But even with all that time pressure, B2B sales cycles are usually much longer than B2C. An immediate "find the page, make the purchase" is a real oddity.
In fact, I've often gone back to clients and asked for a more solid set of sales points or a more exact profile of the target market. Is the copy for the person with the checkbook, the actual decision maker? Or is it for the "decision influencer" -- someone who may be the person with the problem, but no right to commit the dollars without approval of a higher up.
Pulling the keywords from server logs is almost a must for developing exactly the right phrases in my copy. The decision influencer often searches in 4,5,6 word phrases. Copy that mirrors those exact words can get your company on their "short list", which is exactly the "conversion" you hope for from a decision influencer.
But then you need some copy that they can take to the person with the checkbook - maybe a nice downloadable PDF. That way you're also giving the influencer the tools they need to take to the finance department and bring the final conversion home for you.
The C-level person (CEO, CFO, CIO) needs a whole 'nother message in a whole 'nother voice. These folks are not usually familiar with the gritty details of the challenge your product/service addresses - and they don't want to be.
So copy that generates a B2B conversion often requires getting "inside the head" of 2 or 3 very different people.