How to Write Web Copy that Converts – 8 Simple Techniques Based on 4 Years of Research

Screen how to write web copy that converts 2013-04-21 at 00.13.44“How do I write web copy that converts?” If you find yourself asking that question a lot, you’re in luck!

In this post I’ll give you 8 simple techniques that will help you get it right every time.

These techniques are based on what I’ve learned from 4 years of research and 300 copy-related A/B tests. 

1. Think of your web copy as a means to an end – but not an end in itself

If you want results, you need to start by setting goals. When your goals are set, you need to find out how to best achieve them.

I think we can all subscribe to the logic behind this statement. Well, the same logic applies to writing online copy that converts.

If you want to achieve results with your website copy, you need to start by defining the goal of the individual piece of copy. After that you need to find out how to write the best possible copy to achieve that specific goal.

If you’re writing copy for a sign-up form, you need to focus on the conversion goal of the form and the purpose of the copy: to get as many qualified leads as possible to fill out the form and sign up.

Therefore, it’s important that you can leave the ”artist” on the shelf for a while in favor of a more analytical/scientific approach that will help you focus on giving your potential customers what they need in order or make the right decision.

Art vs. Science

From an artistic or creative stance, the resulting copy may not be the most elaborate or inspired solution. But essentially that doesn’t matter – as long as the copy has the desired effect on the prospects.

Here’s an example from the real world

This is an example from a test I ran for one of my clients, Fitness World, a large Scandinavian chain of gyms. In this case I tested a headline variation on a PPC landing page that sells gym memberships.

I challenged the control headline, “You Work Out Smarter at Fitness World” (literal translation of the Danish original) with probably the most uncreative headline I’ve ever presented to a client, “Group Training & Fitness at Your Local Gym” (literal translation of the Danish original).

Most creative copywriters would probably laugh at my treatment and tell me to go back to marketing school. But the fact is that when we tested the two headlines against each other, my unimaginative treatment outperformed the control significantly and sold 38.46% more gym memberships.

38.46% lift in conversion by being less creative

My treatment clearly isn’t more creative, and that’s perfectly fine, because the goal wasn’t to write sexy, creative copy, the goal was to sell more gym memberships, and a 38.46% lift speaks for itself.

When I write web copy for conversion optimization purposes, I really try to remove my myself – and more importantly my ego – from the equation and aim for a scenario where the prospects don’t even realize that they are reading a piece of sales copy but rather just take it in as a natural part of their decision-making process.

I don’t get my satisfaction from people telling me that my copy sounds awesome - I get my satisfaction from seeing conversion rates go up… 

2. Focus on optimizing decisions – not web copy

In order to get more conversions, you need to get more potential customers to make the right decision and carry out a specific action on your website. Usually that action revolves around accepting an offer.

No matter what you want prospects to accept, the scenario is going to be more or less the same:

You offer your prospects something that represents a value to them. In order to get it, they have to give you something in return that represents a value to you.

This scenario will invariably start a process in the minds of your prospects where they have to assess and decide whether your offer is worth accepting. And there are really only two possible outcomes:

1. They can say, “Yes”

2. They can say, “No”

There will always be a number of factors that tip the decision towards “No”, and it is the value of your offer that has to tip the decision back towards “Yes”.

In order to get a conversion, the process has to end with your potential customers agreeing that what they will get in return is worth more than they have to part with.

Focus on optimizing decisions – not web copy

The decision-making process takes place in the minds of your potential customers, and optimizing this process should be your primary focus. Essentially, the most effective way of optimizing this process is to answer the question, “What’s in it for me?”

Here’s an example from the real world

I recently ran an A/B test on the newsletter sign-up form here on ContentVerve.com. The control featured a generic sign-up form that more or less just stated the obvious: that you can get fresh updates.

The treatment on the other hand promises a specific value in return by exemplifying what updates from ContentVerve.com consist of – thus answering the question, “What’s in it for me?”

ContentVerve.com newsletter sign-up increased by 83%

3. Start by asking yourself, “Why”, “What”, and “How” – in that order…

It’s such a cliché that asking the right questions gets the right answers. But when it comes to writing web copy that converts, asking, “Why”, “What”, and “How” – in that order – is in fact a super effective way of getting it right.

Why, what, how?

I emphasize the order in which you ask these questions, because I see a lot of marketers jump to, “How” too soon. They go straight to asking questions like, “How can I make this copy better?” or “How do I write higher converting copy for this landing page?”

The problem is that if you ask, “How” questions too soon you can easily be misled and end up missing crucial steps and focusing on the wrong aspects. Again, the goal is not to write sexier copy – the goal is to get more conversions.

Why?

Asking, “Why” questions first forces you to take a few steps back and get specific about the essentials of your offer and the aspects you need to cover.

Start by asking yourself, “Why would my potential customers choose to say, “Yes” to my offer?”

Write down as many relevant answers to this question as possible and edit until you have a list of the top three to five reasons why your potential customers would say yes. This exercise will give you a clear idea of what you need to focus on when writing your copy.

Now ask yourself, “Why would my ideal prospects choose to say, “No” to my offer?”

Write down as many relevant answers to this question as possible and edit them into a list of the top three to five reasons that your potential customers would say, “No”.

This exercise will give you a clear idea of friction and anxiety issues you need to address in your copy in order to make prospects feel comfortable enough to say, “Yes”.

What?

Once you have answered all the why questions it’s time to move on to, “What”.

“What do my prospects need to know in order to say, “Yes”?”, “What should I focus on specifically to convey the value of my offer?”, “What should I focus on in order to overcome the main reasons my why prospects would say, “No”?”

This exercise will help you get you more specific about what you need to write in order to accelerate your potential customers’ decision-making process.

How?

The answers you came up with for the why and what questions will provide you with a solid basis for answering the big, “How” question:

“How do I write the best possible copy for this particular conversion scenario?”

4. Assume no one wants to do, what you want them to do

Assume no one wants to do, what you want them to do

 

I spend a lot of time online reading web copy of all different kinds, but most of it falls into one of two categories:

1. Totally generic copy: BUY NOW, CLICK HERE, SIGN UP NOW!

2. Super salesy copy: Searching for the Ultimate XXX? Your Wait is Over!

In my experience, none of these approaches work well for conversion. The problem is that they do not convey any value and give no reasons why you should say, “Yes” – which is ultimately the goal of any piece of sales copy.

It seems as though such copy is based on the principle that prospects are dying to do whatever the marketer wants them to do. Unfortunately, the harsh reality is quite another.

People don’t lie awake at night all excited thinking of all the banners they are going to click the next day. And nobody gets up in the morning thinking, “I’m so excited – Today I’m going to sign up for at least two free newsletters!”

The trick is to assume that NO ONE wants to do what you tell them to do. That way you’ll force yourself to think long and hard about the value of the offer your conveying, and how you can present it the best way possible way to make even the most jaded and stubborn prospect go “Now that’s interesting!”

5. Use the word “Get” when drafting your web copy

One of the main things I’ve learned from all the testing I’ve done is that focusing on what your prospects are going to get out your offer is key to getting them to say, “Yes”

One dead simple technique for writing customer-centric copy is to use the word, get in your copywriting.

It’s not that, get has any persuasive super power. It’s just that get sends a clear signal that anything that comes after it revolves around something the reader can obtain. In other words, get implies that the question, “What’s in it for me” will be answered.

Here’s an example from the real world where simply changing the word, “Order” to, “Get” on a B2B site increased conversion by 14.79%

14.79% Increase in Conversion by Changing one Word in the CTA copy

By the way, this isn’t a fluke test. I’ve tested in multiple times and in different languages. Here’s an example from a Danish sister website where exactly the same exercise resulted in a lift of 38.26%

Bonus case study 2

Some of the headlines that have performed best in my tests have been, get headlines. But you don’t even have to use the word in your final copy. If you use it frequently while your writing drafts, you’ll automatically start focusing on what the prospects stand to gain by saying, “Yes”

6. Prioritize clarity over creativity

Web Copywriting is one of the most misunderstood areas of online optimization. One of the biggest misunderstandings is that you need to be a Don Draper-esque word wizard in order to write copy that sells.

My impression is that many marketers assume that the more creative or sexy messaging will by default be the best solution. But to be honest, I have never seen a split test where that assumption actually held water. And I have yet to see a creative message beat a clear, concrete value proposition in an A/B test.

Here’s an example from the real world:

I recently performed a headline experiment on a landing page for one of my clients – the Scandinavian gym chain I showed a case study from earlier in the article. The landing page was targeted at getting visitors from a January campaign to sign up for a gym membership.

The literal translation of the control headline is, “It’s Smart to Work Out at A Place with 100 Gyms” And the literal translation of my treatment headline is, “Keep Your New Year’s Resolution Easily and at Low Cost”

The sub-header was the same in both versions, and the literal translation is, “Workout throughout January for 100,-” (price stated in Danish Kroner).

Friction related to lack of clearity and relevance website copywriting

The treatment outperformed the control variant by 26% (statistical confidence 100%, sample size 7868 visitors).

26% more conversions by being clear - not creative

From a creative stance, my treatment sucks! It’s super boring and lame compared to the much more sexy control variant. Nevertheless, the test data speaks for itself, and the “boring” version performed significantly better than the “sexy” control variant. But why?

The control sounds good but it’s difficult to understand. I have to do a lot of thinking to translate the messaging into a benefit. “Why is it smart to work out at a place with 100 gyms? Oh yeah, it’s probably because I have a wide variety of gyms to choose from.”

The treatment on the other hand is both clear and relevant, and I don’t have to do a lot of thinking to understand the value. “It’s January, I feel fat, I made this New Year’s resolution to get fit, I really want to keep it, what should I do? Oh yeah let me take advantage of this January discount and get cracking on my New Year’s resolution!”

I’m not saying that you should never use creative copy – I’m saying you shouldn’t do it by default. As the case study above illustrates, being creative just for the sake of being creative can seriously hurt conversion.

7. Write clear and relevant copy – Don’t waste your prospects’ time

Your potential customers will often go through the entire decision-making process in a few seconds, and lack of clarity and relevance is a major conversion killer.

The more time your potential customers have to spend in order to figure out what your offer is all about, the more likely they are to leave your website and move on to one of your competitors. The more clearly you express the value of your offer and why it’s relevant to your prospects, the more likely they’ll be to choose it.

So don’t waste their time with hype, fluff, and over-creative marketese. Tell them clearly how they will benefit from accepting your offer, and give them a good reason to say, “Yes!”

Here’s an example from the real world

In this example, adding clarity and relevance generated a 99.4% lift in conversions on a PPC landing page for Denmark-based Saxo Bank. The landing page pitched a trial account for a Forex trading platform, and the conversion goal was to increase the number of trial account sign-ups.

99.4% increase in conversions

If you compare the two versions, you’ll see the treatment is super focused on conveying the value of the offer, while the control is much more vague. Where the control asks the question “Why trade Forex with Forextrading.com?”, the treatment actually answers that question by giving prospects relevant information and solid, credible arguments why they should sign up for the trial.

What is more, the control copy didn’t follow up on the value promised in the PPC ads that actually did a great job of emphasizing the selling points and value of the Forex Trading demo: free, no risk, no obligations, $100,000 demo account.

In the treatment, I made sure to follow up on all the selling points, benefits and features mentioned in the PPC ads.

8. Answer your potential customers’ top questions

Marketer! What's in it for me?Although many marketers fail to realize it, answering questions is an essential part of marketing and sales. Your potential customers will always have a number of questions that you need to answer in order to make them feel comfortable enough to accept your offer.

Essentially, when they have asked enough questions and gotten enough relevant answers they will be ready to buy. Any person who has experience selling face-to-face in the brick-and-mortar world will back this up. Well, selling online isn’t different – you need to provide your prospects with exactly as many answers via your web copy as you would verbally in a physical sales situation.

Common questions – that you probably recognize from your own buying behavior – include, “What does it cost?”, “Will it work?”, “Can I trust this website?”, “Does the product fit my needs?”

The questions your prospects are asking will of course vary depending on the product you are selling. So you need to find out precisely what these questions are, and there are a number of ways of doing that.

If you have regular contact with current and potential customers, simply listen to what they say and make a note of the questions they ask. If they’re asking about prices as the first thing, you probably need to provide price information on your website or landing pages.

If you don’t have direct contact with clients, approach customer support or sales. You’ll be amazed at how much valuable information that can be retrieved by talking to the people who spend most of their days on the phone with clients and prospects.

Dig in your analytics data and find out what your visitors are using Site Search for. If they are using site search to find answers, it’s probably because you aren’t good enough at presenting that information up front.

A few useful resources:

When it comes to interviewing customers and getting them you give up priceless insights, Kristin Zhivago is the master. I did a podcast with here a while back where she goes though some of her unique techniques – Get Kristin’s tips here >>

Another marketer who has tremendous success answering questions from potential customers is Marcus Sheridan of TheSalesLion.com.

In this video interview I did with Marcus in 2011, he explains all about his technique. If you don’t know Marcus already, do yourself a favor and watch the  video – this dude is on fire!

Bonus tip – Test, test, test your copy! 

Life would be easier if the one-size-fits-all, cookie-cutter approach worked – so much easier! However, in my experience there is no such thing as a global solution that works every time.

All products, offers, websites, and companies are different, just like the motivations of your potential customers will be different. You need to find out what works on your specific target audience – and the only way to do this is through rigorous research and testing.

Even on your own website slight copy variations can have major impact on conversion. And sometimes the results can be counterintuitive – to say the least.

Here’s an example where I thought I could increase conversion by adding a privacy policy to the sign-up form on a betting site. However when I tested it, it turned out that the privacy policy had a direct negative effect and decreased conversion by 18.70%! 

Decrease in conversion by adding a privacy policy

This case study is a perfect example of the importance of testing whether your optimization efforts are in fact optimizing the performance of your website.

Comments

  1. Michael amazing post as always and very inspiring video with marcus.

    • Michael Aagaard says:

      Thanks Yassin – Yes, Marcus is without a doubt one of the most inspiring people on the planet!

      - Michael

  2. As David Ogilvy said: “If it doesn’t sell, it’s not creative.”

    Therefore your first piece of copy is creative.

    QED

    • Michael Aagaard says:

      Ha ha nice one – Mr. Ogilvy also said “I do not regard advertising as entertainment or an art form, but as a medium of information.” and “A good advertisement is one which sells the product without drawing attention to itself.”

      - Michael

  3. Great piece Michael! It was very inspirational and it helped me optimize a project I have been working on. Hope to see you again soon.

    • Michael Aagaard says:

      Hey buddy! Thanks for the comment and good luck with the project.

      I’m glad the article could give you some inspiration ;-)

      - Michael

  4. Just implemented the “Get” idea into a sign up form for a client. Now we wait and see…Great tips! Thank you.

  5. I love the case studies, but the interview is out of this world! Thank you ever so much for putting it out there!

  6. Hi Michael

    I just started my journey into the big world of optimizing, and I must say I feel I’m learning a lot, from reading your articles, videos etc.
    It’s always nice when people with passion share there work, thx

    /Thomas

    • Michael Aagaard says:

      Hi Thomas – Thank you very much, it means a lot to me!

      Good luck with your optimization endeavors.

      - Michael

  7. Hey Michael, great post with the different examples. I skipped the interview to begin with, but then thought “why not give it a try”. Just spend 1 hour writing down questions from customers. Perfect inspiration. Hils i founders house ;)

    • Michael Aagaard says:

      Hi Tobias – thank you very much!

      Yep Marcus is a major resource for awesome inspiration ;-)

      Jeg hilser!

      - Michael

  8. An enlightening post. Especially your point about leaving “the artist” be and focusing on the results instead. That’s something i really have to remind myself of!

    • Michael Aagaard says:

      Thanks Katrine – I’m glad you liked the post!

      Yes, the part about leaving the artist on the shelf is by far one of the best pieces of advice, if you want to write copy that converts.
      The same goes for design that converts. You need to look write and design with the end goal (conversion) in mind.

      Say hi to the rest of the crew at Atcore HQ! ;-)

      - Michael

  9. Great post! I’m actually preparing to do a lot more ezine marketing and also finding this information can be very helpful my friend. Also great blog right here with all of the valuable details you have. Continue the good work you’re doing here.
    It’s much appreciated!

  10. Very informative post. I especially liked #8. It’s so important to put yourself in the cuistomers’ shoes and build a list of questions they would ask rather than what I, the writer, think they should ask.

    • Michael Aagaard says:

      Thanks Lynn – yes, I agree! The way I see it, empathy is a very important trait for any online marketer. In my experience, real success comes about when you really start to understand you potential customers.

      - Michael

  11. Quite an inspiration article. Hope to continue following you for more of this. I am going to incorporate these ideas into my copies.
    Austin

  12. Thank you for clearly pointing out these guidelines. I just started learning about PPC and with my self-confessed still-thin understanding of its concepts, even an effective ad copy becomes useless when its corresponding landing page doesn’t sell.

  13. Hi Michael

    Excellent article. For next year’s campaign, remember that New Year’s resolution is NYTÅRSFORSÆT – Not …fortsæt – check out http://www.sproget.dk.
    :-)

  14. Great article and the interview with Marcus was really inspiring.

    • Michael Aagaard says:

      Thanks Tayo – yeah I love listening to Marcus talk about content. His energy is amazing!

      - Michael

  15. Hi Michael.
    Always great cases and good inpiration from you – i’ll try to test some of your experiences on some of my websites.
    Again thank you for sharing knowledge and test.

    • Michael Aagaard says:

      Hi Mark – thanks a lot!

      So glad to hear that my work can offer you some inspiration for your own experiments.
      I’d love to hear about your some of your results! So feel free to write me.

      - Michael

  16. When someone writes an article he/she maintains
    the plan of a user in his/her mind that how a user can be aware of it.

    Therefore that’s why this post is outstdanding.
    Thanks!

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