How to Get Better at Conversion Copywriting in 2014 – Tips From the Trenches

How to Get Better at Conversion Copywriting I’ve spent the last five years in the trenches writing, testing and optimizing copy for a multitude of clients in a wide variety of industries.

In this article I’ll give you what I consider to be the most effective and actionable tips for writing copy that has real impact on conversions.

If you want to get better at conversion copywriting in 2014 this one is for you!

1. Balance your creative and analytical sides

There is no doubt that the creative process of crafting copy and getting the words just right is a very important part of Conversion Copywriting. However, the analytical process of pinpointing what prospects need in order to make the right decision is equally important.

Conversion Copywriting isn’t just about writing copy that sounds good and works well on the screen, it’s about writing copy that will have a measurable impact in the minds of the prospects – and thereby also on conversions.

If you approach Conversion Copywriting from a purely creative stance, you are likely to be blinded by “wordsmithery” and end up spending a lot of time writing copy that sounds seductive but misses the mark completely. Vice versa, if you assume a strictly analytical approach, your copy will end up being mechanical, detached and awkward.

Both approaches fall short when used in isolation, and my best advice is to find a good balance between the two. This will give you the foundation for writing relevant, clear copy that is both effective and easy to take in.

Conversion Copywriting - balance between creative and analytical

2. Spend more time digging into the data

Digging into the data

Collecting and analyzing data is arguably one of the least sexy aspects of online marketing.

But the fact is that the more you know about your prospects – what they are thinking, how they interact with your website, and what obstacles they encounter along the way – the better equipped you will be to write relevant copy that has real impact on their decisions.

Personally, I have learned much more about effective copywriting by collecting and analyzing data than I have from any of the copywriting books and courses I’ve invested in.

Where to start digging

Google Analytics is of course one of the essential tools at your disposal, but you can get valuable data from many other sources. Here’s a handful of examples:

  • Customer interviews
  • User testing
  • Mouse tracking
  • Online surveys
  • Eye tracking
  • Review sites
  • Relevant forums where your target audience is active
  • Talking to the guys in support and sales

These tools and techniques will provide you with invaluable insight that you can use directly in your copy.

Moreover, if you prioritize getting hands-on experience, you will in time build up a deep and intuitive understanding of how human beings interact with websites and what makes them tick in different conversion scenarios.

It is also important to remember that copywriting isn’t just about cranking out headlines and body copy, it’s about fixing leaks and holes in your website and getting prospects through all the steps in the conversion funnel. In some cases, the right solution might turn out to be something as simple as changing the copy in a call-to-action button.

Identifying such optimization opportunities is infinitely easier if you know how visitors interact with the website and the individual steps in the conversion funnel.

3. Start working with hypotheses instead of guesses

In CRO, the quality of your copywriting will ultimately be measured by the effect it has on conversions – not how seductive it sounds.

If you are working as a copywriter on a conversion optimization project, it is important that the changes you propose are informed solutions to real problems – and not just arbitrary guesses.

In my experience, ideas for copy treatments that come about on a whim usually lead to poor results. You can of course get lucky and stumble into something that works, but in the long term it’s really not a winning strategy.

Formulating a hypothesis will help you scrutinize your ideas and evaluate how likely they are to have an actual impact on the decisions and actions of your prospects. In the long run this can save you a lot of time and money and help you achieve better results.

To form a solid hypothesis, you need to go through four basic steps:

1. Determine the relevant conversion goal(s)

2. Identify a problem and formulate a problem statement

3. Develop a specific solution

4. Articulate the results you expect to see from implementing the proposed solution

Let’s use the landing page for my free e-book as an example

Landing Page - 7 Universal CRO Principles

My research indicated that the time it takes to read the e-book could be a barrier that keeps visitors from downloading it.

I hypothesized that highlighting the fact that your can read the e-book in just 25 minutes would motivate more visitors to download the e-book.

In addition to this, data from the predictive eye-tracking tool Eyequant suggested that the first words in the first bullet point would attract initial attention from visitors.

This led me to hypothesize that the first bullet point would be the right place to address the time issue.

With this in place, I went through the four basic steps:

Conversion goal: e-book downloads.

Problem: the time it takes to read an e-book is a barrier that keeps visitors from downloading the book.

Proposed solution: tweak the first bullet point to directly address the time issue.

Expected result: more visitors will download the e-book

Putting it all together produced the following problem statement and hypothesis:

Problem statement: “My target audience is busy, and the time it takes to read the e-book is a barrier that keeps them from downloading it.”

Hypothesis: “By tweaking the copy in the first bullet point to directly address the ‘time issue’, I can motivate more visitors to download the e-book and increase the conversion rate of the landing page.”

After formulating the optimization hypothesis and establishing that the it represented a realistic solution to the problem statement, I got cracking on writing the actual treatment copy for the bullet point.

Here you can see the original bullet copy and the treatment:

Control and Treatment bullet point

And here are the results of the A/B test I ran to find out whether my hypothesis would hold water in the real world:

Results bullet copy test

As the data clearly shows, my hypothesis held water, and I could conclude that addressing the time issue in the first bullet point did have the desired effect of getting more prospects to download the e-book.

Working with hypotheses provides you with a much more solid optimization framework than simply pursuing guesses. Moreover, going through the 4 basic steps will give you a pretty good idea of whether the results you expect to see from your treatment are in fact realistic.

4. Do more A/B testing to find out if your assumptions are true

Until you put your assumptions to the test and verify that they are true, they will never be more than just assumptions. We’re dealing with real people and real decisions. And frustrating as it may be, the truth is that people rarely act exactly the way marketers want them to.

Even if you base your work on a solid analytical process, lots of data, and realistic hypotheses, there is no guaranteeing that your optimization effort will affect your prospects in the way you expect.

The only real way to confirm whether you are doing it right is to test your treatments in the real world your on your flesh and blood target audience.

Even with years of experience and hundreds of A/B tests under my belt, test results still surprise me on a regular basis. I’ve learned the hard way that even the most logical tweaks can backfire. Here’s one of my favorite examples. In this case, adding a privacy policy to a sign-up form had the effect of reducing sign-ups dramatically.

18.70% drop in sign-ups by adding a privacy policy

Test results like these are humbling to say the least and they force you to scrutinize your work. Moreover, negative test results can teach you a lot and lead to incredible insight that you can use in other cases down the road.

The initial results from this privacy policy test led to a series of experiments that yielded valuable insight which eventually resulted in a privacy policy that did in fact bring about significant lift in conversions. Also, by applying what I learned from these tests to other websites, I’ve been able to generate quite impressive results for a number of clients.

One more reason why A/B testing is an important tool for copywriters

One of the main benefits of A/B testing is that you are running experiments live on your website, and your visitors are not aware of the fact they are part of an experiment. As a result you will get their true reaction in the real conversion scenario.

This is especially important in relation to copywriting, because people have a tendency to go into “over-analysis mode” when you ask them hypothetical questions about how they would react to a certain piece of copy in a theoretical conversion scenario.

The answers they provide will often not be a true representation of how they would intuitively react in the actual conversion scenario. If you want the real reaction, you need to test your copy live in situations where real decisions and money are involved.

Check out more case studies with examples from real A/B tests >> 

Closing comments, a little preaching and an awesome quote

Optimizing the digital experience is an essential aspect of Conversion Copywriting. But never forget that your target audience on the other side of the screen is made of flesh and blood.

Ultimately, human decisions and actions determine whether conversion rates go up or down. If you take the human aspect out of online marketing, your optimization efforts will never reach their full potential.

As my all-time favorite online marketer says:

“People don’t buy from websites, people buy from people.”

- Dr. Flint McLaughlin, MECLABS

Comments

  1. Bobby Hewitt says:

    A solid foundation is key Michael. Great foundational piece.

  2. Great article Michael. It really gets my head working and I can’t wait to get started A/B testing on our websites, when we will have the proper tools and tracking implemented

  3. Zafifi says:

    Greatp post, Michael.

    I believe this approach is even more prominent this year than years ago.

    As a copywritier, I’m eager to implement conversion copywriting for my clients but I’m still at a learning stage. May I know where can I get the full scoop about conversion copywriting (ebooks or courses)? Thank you.

    • Michael Aagaard says:

      Thanks Zafifi

      In my opinion, some of the resources is MarketingExperiments.com (the blog, the web clinics, and their courses).
      I’ve learned more from MarketingExperiments than any other company or website in the world.

      - Michael

  4. mOHAMMED SHAHJAHAN says:

    This is a great insight for Internet Marketers.Thanks for sharing,Michael.

  5. An excellent post. I am still new to content writing and I find this website very resourceful.

  6. Thanks for sharing. I especially like the way how you structure your experiments in section 3.

    • Michael Aagaard says:

      Thanks Charles!

      Yes, I’ve learned the hard way that structure is super important i CRO and testing.

      - Michael

  7. Erin says:

    Michael, I love the way you think and it always gets my wheels turning. Thanks for all you share. You are a brilliant mind and I always look forward to reading your latest.

  8. Jen says:

    I’ve been working really hard to educate people on the fact that there needs to be a balance between personality and data. Copy on websites seem to work so much better when you strike the right chord in terms of tone with your visitors while at the same time using research and data to back up what’s on the page. When it all comes together, it’s pretty magical.

    • Michael Aagaard says:

      Hi Jen – Thanks for the comment!

      I agree 100% – that’s really where things start to happen in terms of getting a positive reaction from visitors. In my experience, however, there are very few copywriters who actively work to find that balance. Usually it’s the one or the other.

      - Michael

  9. Stefan says:

    Really good summary, very easy and fast to read (of course always the biggest challenge). When i read somethin like this, it always comes to my mind that the pre-online-rules of classical journalism – as i learned them way back then – are just the same. Like “Know your reader” etc. That said i still can’t believe why so many older editors can’t get along in the digital world. It’s so simple if you already have the ability and creativity to write…

    • Michael Aagaard says:

      Thanks Stefan!

      I think the main difference between CRO copywriting and more classical writing genres is that in CRO we are optimizing decisions and solving problems that occur on the the “path to conversion”. Sometimes the right solution involves a few bullet point in the right column or tweaking a privacy policy. Many classic copywriters don’t have the necessary experience to spot such optimization opportunities.

      Being good at writing and being familiar with classical rules of journalism simply isn’t enough. An online copywriter needs to know about SEO, CRO, SEM, e-mail, analytics, buttons, how people navigate sites, how split testing works, usability, readability, design, and tons of other stuff as well. I think this is a major hurdle for many “old-school” copywriters.

      - Michael

      • Stefan says:

        Yeah, you’re right of course. What I mean though is that the basics – classical editors and copywriters learned long ago – lead to this: “SEO, CRO, SEM, e-mail, analytics, buttons, how people navigate sites, how split testing works, usability, readability, design, and tons of other stuff as well”. This is the digital answer of all the basic question used at print magazines. Like “Know your audience”. Today this means you have to know your Web analytics, CRM etc. I’m one of the few who have experience and degrees in both and it bother me that the classical writers don’t reach their digital potential – because of fear, ignorance and stubidity.

  10. Stan Eigi says:

    I like your point. Only way to get truthful information from test results is to make a test in real time, without your visitors/clients knowing they are being tested. It works, I know it myself. Great article, thanks for sharing.

    • Michael Aagaard says:

      Thank you Stan.

      Yes, in my experience A/B testing is a super important part of Conversion Copywriting. Once you really start seeing how (and why) real people react to your copy, it fundamentally changes your approach to copywriting. It is of course crucial that you can trust the data from your tests ;-)

      - Michael

  11. Thanks for the article Michael. Copywriting, A/B testing and analytics tools are the best friends of any online marketer.

    I agree that starting with a hypothesis is super important. As you begin to realize that you could be wrong, it tends to develop a better intuition in the long run. But the important part is to pick a side.

    Random guesses don’t teach us anything.

    Very well put article.
    Thanks,
    Puru

    • Michael Aagaard says:

      Thank you very much Puru!

      Yes, very good point that by constantly testing your hypotheses you will in the long term develop a better intuition.

      - Michael

  12. Ramnath says:

    Hitting the sweet spot and spending more time in the valuable content, as you insist will help in increasing the conversion !!

    Great post Mike!!

  13. Michael: As always, thanks for sharing such great information. I am a student of conversion and find your case studies very interesting. I just finished your ebook, “7 Universal Conversion Optimization Principles”–excellent!

  14. Recently we published an awesome case study: http://blog.usabilitytools.com/great-orchestra-christmas-charity-420-conversion-rate-increase/

    $300,000 was donated via website. It is a 420% conversion improvement. I hope our insights will be relevant to your work :)

    Cheers,
    Bart

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