When I critique, edit, or rewrite sales copy, I discover that many clients commit some common errors.
Granted, not all of them are writers. But most of them fail to drive customer actions not because they lack writing skills but because they fail to look at their copy from their readers' perspective.
Although unintentional, they're so involved with their business or product that they tend to forget their prospects. They tend to explain things in ways that only they understand. They tend to forget the number one element in copywriting. And no, it's not the copy. It's not the offer, either. It's…
… The market.
If there's one tip that supersedes them all, it's this:
You are NOT your market.
Re-read that last line. Write it down. Put it on your office wall. Tattoo it on yourself if you have to. It's that critical.
Copywriters, including myself, often make the mistake of ignoring the market. When I critique copy without looking adequately at the market, I tend to ramp up the words, power up the pitch, and spice up the copy without fully understanding the reader and the words that will entice them.
The result is a poorly responsive piece.
Are my words to blame? No. It's what those words mean to the people targeted with the copy. There's an important axiom to remember:
Different words mean different things to different people.
Keep this in mind. And the more you research your market and the more your copy focuses on them (not from the author's perspective but from their perspective), the more sales your copy will generate.
Let me share with you three simple steps you can take now to increase the readability of your copy, the excitement level of your offer, and the responsiveness of your sales piece.
Drive Your Reader's Eyes
On the Internet, people don't read. They scan. Unlike a book that's read from cover to cover, people seldom read entire web pages from top to bottom.
How often do you read entire newspapers, for example? More than likely, you scan them quickly and stop at any headline that captures your attention, piques your curiosity, and pulls you into the article.
On the Internet, that behavior is even more prevalent.
Moreover, reading web sales copy, especially long copy salesletters, is a wearying task and hard on the eyes. So, don't write to be read. Instead, write to be scanned. Keep paragraphs brief, and incorporate headers throughout your copy in order to direct your readers' eyes.
Be pithy, punchy, and pleasing to the eye.
Make your lines short, either within small tables or columns — unless they're on a mobile device. And refrain from writing your paragraphs deeper than four to five lines, too. If you have to, cut them up into smaller ones. Above all, add a header at every two to five paragraphs.
Make your headers prominent by using different sizes, colors, or fonts. And avoid overused, stale, and hackneyed expressions. Lace your copy with powerful yet brief headers that are inviting, invoking, and informative.
When your readers scan your copy, your headers must be strong enough to stop them in their tracks and to make them feel that the following text cannot be ignored. In fact, write your headers with the assumption that the preceding text was not read at all.
More important, use words and phrases that will connect with your audience in a way they can instantly understand and appreciate.
In order to direct your readers' actions, you must first direct their attention. Capture their attention with a great headline, but a great way to maintain their attention is with blurbs and bullets.
“Blurbs” are tiny boxes or small groups of text, usually in a tabular format (much like bulleted lists but in columns and rows, and often accompanied by an icon or an image). Don't just use them with product features. Use them with lists of various types.
Bulleted lists are effective because they are captivating, intriguing, and pleasing to the eye. They can help to reinforce the offer, give readers a visual break, and are clustered for greater impact.
In fact, an effective way to use bullets is when they follow the words “you get” and “reasons why,” such as “with this [product] you get” and “here are the reasons why [you must buy now].” They give the reader the ability to know, instantly, what they get out of reading further or responding.
Even use bullets to list and emphasize the negative consequences of not enjoying the benefits of your offer if they fail to go ahead.
Drive Your Reader's Thoughts
Another yet probably the most important strategy is to use words and phrases that help to paint vivid pictures in the mind. When people can visualize the process of doing what you want them to do, including the enjoyment of the benefits of your offer, you drive their actions almost instinctively.
The brain, according to “Psycho-Cybernetics” by Dr. Maxwell Maltz, is a goal-seeking mechanism.
If I told you not to think of a white flower, you would still think of one because I directed your mind by giving it a goal (eve if it's a goal to avoid). But if I told you to think of a pink one, you would then not think of a white one.
In the last tip, we talked about directing your readers' eyes. But in order to direct your readers' actions, you must also direct their minds. Use mental imagery and picture words that invite, entice, and incite.
Guide the mind and you guide the action.
We think in relative terms. And we are predominantly visual, too. Our brains have a tendency to translate messages into their visual equivalents in order to appreciate what they are being told. In plain English, the mind thinks in pictures, and not in words or numbers.
For example, if I told you to think of a garbage can, you're not going to think of the word, like “G,” “A,” “R,” etc. You'll visualize a garbage can. The more I describe it to you as well as the more senses I engage in my description — including its color, smell, and texture — the more realistic it becomes in your mind.
But don't stop there. Compel your readers not only with vivid picture words and mental imagery but also with stories, examples, analogies, and metaphors that they can intimately understand and appreciate. Help your readers to paint the kinds of pictures you want them to paint.
The more vivid the words paint, the easier it will be for the mind to decode the message you are conveying into something your readers can understand, appreciate, relate to, and, above all, act upon.
Want some ideas for metaphors and analogies? That's where researching your market comes in handy! Connecting with your market gets a heckuvalot easier with the more you know about them. Learn their habits, get to know their vocabulary, listen to their stories.
Do that, and you will never have writer's block. Guaranteed.
Drive Your Reader's Actions
“Timid salespeople have skinny kids.” I learned this famous Zig Ziglar saying way back when I was in insurance sales, fresh out of college. And the saying remains true today, even with online sales copy.
Too many people tend to assume that websites are intuitive. “My clients are not dumb,” they exclaim. “They can guess their way through!” Or “I don't want to insult their intelligence.”
Thinking this way may be more insulting than you think. People have comfort zones. And their defense mechanisms are always alive and kicking, waiting to justify their non-decisions by drumming up even insignificant, negative, and totally erroneous perceptions about you.
Therefore, fail to lead them, and you are placing your copy — not to mention your pocketbook — at the whim and mercy of your reader.
Start by taking readers “by the hand.” Tell them or show them what you want them to do, even if what you want them to do is simple or obvious. Adding simple “hand-holding” components to your copy may seem trite. Some even discount the use for they believe, for example, that a website should be intuitive.
The aim of good copy is to temporarily suspend disbelief, but great copy is to temporarily suspend critical thinking.
It's about avoiding procrastination, not about compelling for action.
I often make the case that a book or magazine is limited by its front and back covers. But a website, however, is not. If the goal is only to inform your visitors, and like the closing of a book once it's finished, the only thing left to do will be to close the browser window or leave the site.
But if you require some kind of response, even if it's to just to keep reading, then you must integrate words that direct the reader and elicit some kind of response.
Whether it's to join, subscribe, buy, call, email, fill out a form, download, or just click a link, incorporate action words and don't be afraid to ask them to “visit here,” “download this,” “buy that,” “join now,” “read more,” and so on.
Besides, tests show unequivocally that response rises dramatically when the copy is “directional,” even when the copy aims to sell a sophisticated crowd like engineers and scientists.
We are all desperate to be lead. It's part of the human psyche, regardless of the intellectual level of your target market.
In order to encourage longer stays, repeat visits, and, above all, online sales, you need not only to direct your audience to take some kind of action but also to make it easy for them to do so. And the most important step in accomplishing that is to never leave them guessing as to what you want them to do next.
They're the Driver, But You're The Tour Guide
In the final analysis, when I conduct copy critique consultations, about 97% of the websites I analyze are lifeless, confusing, or unproductive. You always want to elicit some kind of response from your visitors.
Write your copy by integrating some of the above tips.
Don't distract them with too many of the above, either. For example, if you offer too many choices, visitors will find it hard to make one. Instead, offer choices later on based on the specific path or paths a user follows.
I agree that copywriting may not be an easy task for many. But one of the most important steps you can take is this: look at your website through your readers' eyes. Imagine coming across your site for the first time. What would you read? Where would your eyes go? What would your mind think?
More importantly, what would you do?
If you hesitate at any point, realize that hesitation on your part is confusion on the part of your readers. And confusion often leads to procrastination. If your readers are confused, they will do nothing.
Ultimately, transform the words on your website into blinders that will steer visitors in the direction of your choosing.
Michel Fortin is a senior marketing specialist, renowned copywriter, and digital marketing expert. For the better part of 30 years, he's produced countless successful marketing communications and profitable campaigns that generated in excess of $300 million in sales. He's broken many industry sales records, including being instrumental behind the first ever “million-dollar day” online marketing campaign in 2004. He's worked with thousands of businesses and entrepreneurs around the world in a wide variety of industries on building their businesses, improving their marketing, and increasing their profits. He's a published author and often speaks at industry events. To connect with him, visit his LinkedIn profile where he is most active.