Welcome to the first tutorial in the series of three that is going to focus on one of the most important skills any online marketer can acquire – copywriting.
This is the skill of being able to write sales copy that convinces customers that read the copy to take the action you want them to take.
Most obviously, this would be to buy a product that you have written the sales copy for. However, you would also use copywriting skills to create persuasive landing page content that would convince the visitor to subscribe to your mailing list as well.
Basically, learning to be a copywriter is all about acquiring the ability to write advertising copy that persuades anyone who reads it to take the action you want them to take.
Okay, so with that basic description out of the way, let’s dive straight in.
As with many aspects of online marketing, the basic concept of copywriting is one that predates the Internet by many years.
In fact, classics of the advertising business such as ‘Scientific Advertising’ which was written nearly 100 years ago by Claude Hopkins contain a great many advertising and copywriting principles that are still applicable today.
At the same time however, the world has moved on since Hopkins wrote his masterpiece in 1923 so some of the strategies and tactics outlined in the book are a little dated now.
Even so, it’s a book that is well worth reading because it is still a fact that a significant proportion of the copywriting skills that applied back then can still be applied today, albeit with a degree of modification.
The fact that advertising copywriting came from the offline to the online business world rather than vice versa also highlights something that far too many online copywriters ignore to their cost.
Learning to write great copy that sells is an extremely valuable skill.
It is one that online marketers are willing to pay a lot of money for, particularly once you have acquired enough experience to be able to prove to them that your copy makes money.
But, here’s the thing to remember.
For every 10 potential customers that you might find on the Internet, there are 100 or 1000 potential customers who operate in the offline world of High Street business.
Do not ignore these people because once you learn to write great copy, you could potentially earn millions of dollars copywriting for offline businesses.
Even though writing copy for online prospects and customers is a little different to writing copy for offline businesses, it is not so different that you cannot do both extremely effectively and profitably.
At least in theory, copywriting should be a skill that is simple and straightforward to acquire and master.
In a nutshell, what you need to do is create copy that successfully pushes any prospect who reads your copy through a three step process.
Absurdly easy as it sounds, this is really all any copywriter in the history of the advertising industry has ever done. They pull the prospect in, keep them on the page and finally persuade them to take the appropriate action.
Take any sales page with which you are familiar or a sales page that you wrote yourself which has been successful, and you will find that to a large extent, it follows this exact pattern.
There’ll be a punchy headline at the top of the page that immediately piques your interest. After this, the main page copy pulls you along, giving you a ton of reasons why this product is for you and how affordable it is before finally closing with several reasons why you should buy the product now.
A similar theory (pull ‘em in’ move ‘em through and close the sale) is behind the often quoted AIDA sales copywriting acronym:
A = Grab their Attention.
I = Keep their Interest and keep it building.
D = Stoke their Desire to own the product and
A = Give them a reason (or many of them) why Action is necessary.
See how this almost follows the exact same pattern as the process explained earlier? The fact is that with a few minor variations, the objective of writing sales copy is always the same.
Grab them, shake them up and make them buy.
Although creating advertising or sales copy is not an online phenomenon, there are a couple of factors about writing for the Internet that make it a little bit different to writing copy offline.
The first difference is that whilst most advertising copy that is discovered offline is found by accident, it is not the same on the Internet.
For instance, whilst a prospect for a product in the offline world will chance upon the advert for (let’s say) the new Panasonic TV they have been considering for a long time in a newspaper or magazine, this is not what happens on the Internet.
On the Internet, the person who finds your copy is most likely to do so because they have used a search engine to find information of the kind that you’re presenting. They are therefore the one that is in the driving seat as far as your relationship with them is concerned.
This is a significant difference. It means that when they come to your site, they are at least partially ready to make a decision in a way that would be unlikely in the offline business world.
Consequently, they are probably asking themselves ‘buying’ questions like ‘Am I in the right place?’, ‘Is this the information I need?’ and (most importantly) ‘Am I in a position where I can go ahead with this right now?’
Your copy needs to address these questions in the headlines, sub-headlines and first paragraph because you need to convince them that they are in the right place as soon as they land on your page.
More than anything else, you need to convince them that you do have what they want or need because this is the first step towards grabbing their attention and persuading them to keep reading.
Knowing exactly what action you want anyone who is confronted with your sales copy to take is an extremely important question but one that very few copywriters consider before they sit down to start writing.
The problem is that most copywriters understand that the final objective is to generate a sale or land a list subscriber. They do not however think about the process through which the prospect has to go to arrive at that point.
Here is what I mean.
When I sit down to write copy, this is the process ‘map’ that I always use:
Now, you might think that there is nothing particularly revolutionary about this process and you’re right. Nevertheless, working your way through this when you are writing copy is still a great discipline that will keep you effectively focused.
The problem is that most marketers write copy that only concentrates on the ‘do’ element of the process – ‘I want them to buy my product’ or ‘I want them to subscribe to my list’. However, if you have not worked through every other step of the process, the last one is not going to happen.
Even the ‘do’ step should be broken down into bite sized, easily digestible chunks.
For instance, your first ‘do’ step is that after they have read the headline, you want them to read the first paragraph. When they do so, the first paragraph should make them ‘feel’ that they must ‘know’ what is in the second, hence they keep reading.
Don’t write the copy as if it’s an essay or one long article.
Instead, write it to encourage the reader to take one small step at a time rather than trying to push them through it as quickly as possible so that they get to the end and buy.
As the saying goes, Rome was not built in a day and you should avoid the temptation to go ‘straight for the kill’ as so many would-be writers do. Trying to push the reader faster than they want to go will drive them away.
The concept of leading prospects step by step through your sales copy makes sense for another reason as well.
This is the fact that if you do the job properly, you persuade your prospect to read the sales copy the way you want them to read it, which is in a logical, progressive manner.
If however the copy does not grip your readers attention, the prospect is more likely to read the headline, scroll to the bottom to look at the price and only then start reading the copy if the price looks reasonable.
Unfortunately, the price would only ever be considered reasonable in these circumstances if it is a cheap one. As they haven’t read the copy to understand what the product or service on offer does, they have no idea what price is reasonable. The only price they could conceivably consider reasonable in these circumstances is a rock bottom figure.
So, remember to use the process chart shown above to ensure that all of your copy is methodical and step by step.
This concept is a bit like an extension of the one featured immediately above except that instead of focusing on what you want the prospect to think, feel and do, you reverse the process to try to see things from their side of the fence.
You do this to put yourself in a position where you can answer the kind of questions that a prospect for this product will have.
Firstly, you need to know what the benefits of the product are from a customer’s point of view. Jot down every potential benefit on a list before moving on to the next part of the process.
Okay, the next thing that you need to establish is the most burning questions that potential buyers in your market might have.
The first question that every prospect for every product asks is ‘what’s in this for me?’, what benefits will I enjoy if I buy?
To extend this concept still further, you should also understand that every Internet user who is thinking of spending money online does so for one of two reasons.
On the one hand, they may be willing to spend money in an effort to increase their happiness or pleasure levels whereas on the flipside of the coin, they are ready to spend money to solve their problems or take away the pain.
It is an indisputable fact that being able to take away the pain or solve their problems is a far stronger motivational angle than providing additional pleasure or happiness.
So, what pain do they have and how can your product be positioned as a solution to their problems or an answer to their pain?
To answer this, you should establish what the most frequent or urgent questions that are specific to your product are.
For example, if you are planning a new weight loss product, what pain do people in the niche have and what are the most urgent questions overweight people need answers to?
The easiest way of answering this is to log on to Yahoo! Answers (use any Yahoo! login details you have or create a new account) to find the questions that people are asking.
Even more helpfully, find the questions that seem to re-occur time and time again because these are obviously the questions that the majority need answers to.
Once you have compiled a list of questions that are asked in your niche, you can create simple bullet point lists on your sales page that provide answers to these questions.
This is a great way of creating bullet points because one of the biggest mistakes made by many would-be copywriters is to fill their sales copy with boring bullets.
They state facts or features rather than the exact benefits that the prospect wants to know about. Doing this will ultimately damage your sales as it encourages page visitors to skim the content rather than moving through it step by step.
If on the other hand you create bullet points based on answers to the questions you know people are asking, you are giving them the information that they most need in an easily understandable, instantly accessible way.
Consequently, even if they had previously been tempted to skim the page, it is far more likely that they will go back to read everything you have written because the bullets give them the answers they have been seeking.
You have in other words convinced that what you have to offer is what they need. This naturally makes it far easier to keep them on the page, walking them through the copy as suggested earlier.
Using scarcity and urgency
Many copywriters understand that one very effective way of persuading site visitors to take action now is to include some element of scarcity and/or urgency in the offer on the page.
However, one thing that many miss is that to take maximum advantage of scarcity and urgency, you must start to do so as soon as the visitor lands on your page, in the headlines and sub-headlines in other words.
For example, make it clear from the get-go that the offer on the page is available for a strictly limited period of time.
Alternatively, you could highlight the fact that there are only a limited number of your product available (although you should not do this with digital products because most Internet users can see through this as a marketing ploy) or you could highlight that this is a seasonal special.
It doesn’t really matter how you introduce the element of scarcity and urgency, the important thing is that you do so from the top of the page.
You should then re-emphasize this fact at strategic points throughout your copy but for maximum effectiveness, you must introduce scarcity and/or urgency at the very top of the page.
This is yet another tactic designed to keep the visitor reading the page in the way you want them to.
Writing effective headlines
Perhaps the biggest mistake that copywriters sometimes become prone to with their headlines is to allow their own sense of cleverness or ego to get in the way of writing a headline that tells the visitor exactly why they should keep reading.
The point to understand with the headlines and sub-headlines on your page is that it is the information and the message that matters, not the clever words or smart grammatical or linguistic trickery that counts.
In effect, bad writing skills allied to a well crafted message that tells the prospect exactly what they will get from the product will always win over superbly well crafted messages that say little or nothing.
Focus your mind on the needs, wants and desires of your prospects when you are creating every section of your page but especially when crafting the headline, sub-headline and first paragraph.
Of all individual elements on the page, these three are probably the most important in terms of dictating whether the visitor stays or leaves. You must therefore feature a headline that tells them exactly how they will benefit by continuing to read your copy.
You must tell them exactly how they benefit from owning your product from the off. They are not interested in the fact that you happen to be #1 on the Google search results page or that you have been featured in the newspapers or on TV. They’re only question is ‘what’s in it for me’ and you need to answer it as quickly as possible.
And keep your headlines as short as possible. Don’t be tempted to use 20 words when 4 will do the job just as adequately just because you can.
Remember, not only should the message hit home but you should also make it as easy as possible for your visitor to understand that message too.
Incidentally, you probably know that most people buy based on emotions rather than on reason and logic, right?
Well, they do, which is why this really handy free little tool that enables you to analyze the emotional impact of your headlines is so valuable.
In this first tutorial, we have covered many of the basics of effective copywriting for the web. In the next two tutorials, we will gradually move on to some more advanced ideas and concepts that you can use to improve your copywriting skills further.
It is now recommended you proceed on to Part 2 – It’s All In The Words.