It’s a question that keeps coming up again and again.
I really didn’t, but focusing more on digital marketing these days, particularly after years of being a “top copywriter” (which is a label often given to me by my peers, although I think that’s vastly overstated), this is the question one recent aspiring copywriter asked me.
I realized, maybe I should write something to finally explain it. So I decided to answer that question once and for all in here. To do this, I need to give some background to put things in a better context.
If you don’t know my story, here’s a quick summary.
I was married at 19. My wife had a two-year-old daughter, whom I’ve virtually adopted. Being a father was redemptive somewhat, as I was abused by an alcoholic father who was institutionalized with Korsakov’s Syndrome (also known as Korsakoff’s Psychosis), which is a mentally degenerative disease caused by years of alcohol abuse.
But because of my childhood, I had a tremendous fear of rejection.
(I learned that wasn’t entirely true. At 52, I was diagnosed with ADHD. And a common symptom among people with ADHD is RSD, or “rejection sensitive dysphoria.” Which explains the tremendous fear of rejection and the struggles I had since I was a child. So my father wasn’t entirely to blame.)
Anyway, I wanted to fight my fears and dove into sales to fight them. After all, “do what you fear and the death fo that fear is certain,” right? You get rejected a ton in sales!
But of course, I failed. And failed miserably.
Working on straight commission, I accumulated a mountain of debt, bought groceries on eight different credit cards to survive, and decided to declare bankruptcy at the tender age of 21. It was a big mistake, I know. But I was young, foolish, trying to be a good father (unlike mine), and desperate to “succeed.”
I was an insurance agent at the time. Back in the 80s, the common practice was knocking on doors and cold calling to find prospects. At the time, I moved to the countryside in a tiny little town where my wife came from. So I inherited a sales territory in which I knew absolutely no one.
Naturally, referrals were non-existent. I had to find a better way to find leads.
I tried something different. I wrote letters offering a free assessment and mailed it to people in my sales territory. People called me and booked appointments. Not many but a few. The wonderful part was, I no longer had to be rejected. Plus, I also had an open door to call people back to see if they received my letter.
The result? I became the top salesperson in my district and then in all of Canada.
Granted, I had a head start and later that year many veteran salespeople in my company crushed my results. But for a fleeting moment in my life, it felt as if a door was opened and success was possible. It also proved that there’s something to this “copywriting thing,” which got me excited.
The next year, I was hired as a sales consultant for a hair replacement company that also offered surgeries through a partnership with a hair transplant surgeon. I also worked on commission, too.
By applying the same tactics from my insurance job, I wrote direct mail campaigns, created full-page display ads in newspapers, and even produced 30-minute late-night infomercials on TV. Bookings and sales were skyrocketing. My employer was a happy camper.
And at the time, I made more money than I ever have in my life!
I eventually became a “marketing consultant” for other cosmetic surgeons, which was my preferred niche. (The reason I say “marketing consultant” is because copywriting wasn’t well-known back then, and medical doctors would never dare hire a “copywriter” much less a “sales consultant.”)
Also, at the time, I convinced clients to create a “web page” on this newfangled thing called the “world wide web.” I told them that it was like an electronic version of the yellow pages and becoming more and more popular. Since most of them had invested in yellow pages, this was an easy sell.
So I wrote copy for the web. This was circa ‘92 to ’94.
A few years later, I decided to design my first website in ‘95 and to incorporate myself as “The Success Doctor” in ‘97. The name came about because I helped doctors become successful. (I also had aspirations of becoming a motivational speaker. But marketing and copywriting was more fun, I later found.)
I eventually became quite busy as word got around. I was hired by non-medical doctors, too, including chiropractors, weightloss consultants, nutritionists, acupuncturists, etc. Then I expanded more, including lawyers, accountants, salons, real estate agents, and other service providers.
Over time, more and more clients hired me to write and design web pages, landing pages, and email marketing campaigns. I guess you can say that this was when I was becoming more well-known as an online copywriter and Internet marketer than a mere copywriter.
Here’s the thing.
I love copywriting. But I remember clients screwing my copy up badly.
Once I gave them my copy, they would put it up on their websites. And it looked awful! In some cases where I had a piece of the action (i.e., royalties), I was bummed out because, naturally, conversions sucked. And of course, I was the one to blame. Even though I knew my copy was rocking.
So I repositioned myself as a copy “designer.”
I always hated the word “writing,” anyway, because most people think of writing as putting words down on paper. But they tend to neglect the creative aspect of writing. They ignore that it’s about strategy. I spent just as much time on the formatting and the look-and-feel of the copy, too.
For me, the experience of consuming the copy, the sales aspect, the story, as well as the elements that drive the eyes into the copy, the copy cosmetics (as Dan Kennedy would say), and the ways the copy flowed on the page were critical and super-important to the copy’s performance.
I also consulted clients on their traffic and demand generation tactics because I wanted some level of control over the quality of the traffic that hit the copy. The market is just as important as the message. So I did a lot of SEO, traffic generation, affiliate marketing, campaign management, and so forth.
But I also did a lot of ⏤ what I later discovered was called ⏤ CRO or “conversion rate optimization.”
In short, you must match your message to the market. It doesn’t matter how great your copy is if the market is not a fit. But then, once they hit your copy and consume it, the way they experience your copy is just as important. That’s where there are elements BEYOND copy that play a major role in conversions.
This thinking, by the way, was the impetus behind my writing “The Death of The Salesletter” back in 2004, because it’s where I knew sales letters, online copy, and Internet marketing were heading.
In it, I talked about personalization, dynamic content, micro-conversions, targeting, the way we read and experience copy, etc. Things that are commonplace today in the world of digital marketing.
I wrote code since I was 11 and designed websites since I was 22, so doing stuff like this fascinated me. In addition to writing copy, I loved developing landing pages, designing them, doing SEO work, and most of all, working to make sure the experience of reading my copy was as optimal as it could be.
But I digress. Let me back up just a tad.
I met my second wife who was in the same industry. This was back in 2004. But since dealing with the news of her cancer diagnosis the week before our wedding until her passing in 2015, my wife’s disease was (and would later become even more so during the rest of our marriage) the center of attention instead of my clients.
My business took a backseat so we could focus on her chemo and radiation treatments.
But I was kind of lucky in that, in 2008, my mother was diagnosed with the same disease. In 2011, we set up a hospice in our home for her and she passed away later that year (in fact, it was the day after my birthday). I say I was lucky because it gave me a glimpse into what was to come and prepared me for it.
In other words, it showed me what I was getting into with my wife and helped me to grieve before I had to.
And sure enough, my wife was diagnosed as terminal in 2012. But just before she passed in early 2015, my father passed away a month before. His heart simply stopped during his sleep. It’s one of the many issues caused by Korsakov’s disease, which is the weakening of the heart muscles.
So you can say that 2015 was probably the worst year of my life.
In 2017, my only sister who struggled all her life with multiple ailments (and was certainly affected by my parents’ passing let alone years of my father’s abuse) passed away in her sleep. Just like my dad.
Throughout this time, I remarried to a wonderful woman and since then decided to join the workforce. I left my business behind for a while. (I always worked as a side hustle on a handful of clients, but I didn’t have the headspace or motivation to work in and on my business full time.)
I worked in a digital marketing agency as Director of Marketing Communications and SEO manager. We were a Google Premier Partner, and I supervised a team of about eight people and managed 35 client accounts.
After a few years and being in a much better place, I left the agency and eventually decided to go back into my own business. But like the very first time when I started out, I am a “marketing consultant,” or better said, a “digital marketing consultant.” Someone once said “full stack marketer,” which is a label that fits me well.
But a copywriter is always a copywriter.
Copywriting was and still is a big part of what I do. But it’s no longer about just writing. It’s about designing the user’s experience. THAT is what I fell in love with, and it’s the part about online copy that has always excited me.
Creating phenomenal user experiences, especially buying experiences, starts with how qualified the user is. A user's intent hugely determines their level of attention prior to hitting your website. But once they do hit your site, then the UX and CRO components are just as crucial.
Ultimately, the quality of your conversions is directly proportional to the quality of the user's experience.
That’s why I love SEO and CRO, and not just copywriting.
All these components work hand-in-hand.
Yes, my work still includes writing copy. But it also includes delivering the best experience possible, from how people consume the copy to the way they engage with and act upon that copy.
Michel Fortin is a certified digital marketing expert and renowned copywriter who specializes in a unique combination of SEO, CRO, and UX to improve traffic, leads, and revenue for his clients. For the better part of 30 years, he's produced countless wins, generating in excess of $300 million in sales and results that have broken many industry records. He has worked with thousands of businesses ranging from individual entrepreneurs to enterprise-level multinational companies. He's the author of two top-selling books and often speaks at industry events. To connect with him, visit his LinkedIn profile where he is most active.