Categories
Copywriting

Copywriting Productivity Tools to Boost Your Writing

These days, I do a lot of SEO consulting and content strategy work. But a big part of my career was in copywriting. And when I write copy, some tools help me tremendously. Whether it's doing research, writing the copy itself, or working with my clients, there are certain resources that help.

I previously shared tools I use for SEO work. I use some of them for copywriting, too. Below are some extras that I specifically use. You don't need to be a copywriter. But these resources may help you either write your own copy or, when you outsource it, know what to look for or how to fix it.

Before I dive in, a caveat. These are my tools. They don't have to be your tools. By all means, use whatever you're comfortable with.

Google Docs

I use Google for pretty much everything. I used to do most of my copy work with Microsoft Word, but when Google came out with their online version (MS wasn't there, yet), I switched. It's not just for writing. It's great for sharing and collaborating, especially with clients, editors, associates, etc.

Google Sheets

Same thing with Google Sheets. With Excel, emailing files back and forth was a nightmare. Which version is correct? Where did I save it? Did I email a copy? Instead, I prefer to use one document in one central location. Plus, the beauty is that it can also import and export in a variety of popular formats.

Google Keep

Research is a critical part of copywriting — or of any marketing endeavour for that matter. I often come across a ton of passages, sources, citations, images, etc I want to use or reference in my copy. With my browser plugin, I can select and save as I go, and add comments and notes to them.

Google Drive

I used to use multiple tools for online storage. The problem was that things got scattered. I prefer sticking everything in one place. And since I use Google for everything (I use Google Workspace for my practice), Google Drive makes it easy to save, share, collaborate on, and associate files with.

Slack

I admit that, for the longest time (particularly when I ran my own agency), I used Basecamp to manage my projects. But as an advisor, I don't need it as much. Slack is simpler. Communication is the key benefit, with the ability to share, connect with Google assets, other apps like Zoom, etc.

Loom

Loom records my desktop and allows me to do copy critiques, project walkthroughs, demos, etc. It's a great tool to communicate questions to clients, staff, suppliers, etc. But it's also a great way to keep personal notes and record ideas. The fact that it integrates with Slack makes it a no-brainer.

CleanShot

Quite simply, CleanSot takes screenshots. But it's quite effective at that job. It allows me to annotate, edit, and store clippings to the cloud. It also makes it easy to add copy elements such as social proof, create GIFs, and even has a timer if I need to use my mouse during recordings (such as mouseovers).

Q&A Sites

I visit question-and-answer websites for my research all the time. They're rich sources of information for market research and ideas, too. To write compelling copy that connects with your audience, you need to know the questions people ask and how people talk about the problem you solve. My favorites include:

Grammarly

This is my favorite writing tool. I prefer it over Google Docs' built-in grammar and spellchecking tools. I occasionally use Hemingway App when I want to check my writing, or when I need to express something with more clarity and conviction. If I do use it, it's usually with the finished writing.

Headline Analyzer

Offered by CoSchedule, a marketing and editorial calendar, this tool provides a number of scores on your headlines, including readability, sentiment, skimmability, and engagement level. It also counts characters, which is good for headlines in ads and subject lines. I use it all the time.

RhymeZone

I've been using RhymeZone for ages. It's helpful to find rhymes, related words, poems, quotations, literary references, and word variations. With Google Doc, I use several add-ons like PowerThesaurus.org to find synonyms. But when I need to find a related word, a variation, or a descriptive word, I use RhymeZone.

Descript

This is the newest tool in my arsenal. Often, I need to transcribe recordings to use as content for my copy. I often use Otter.ai for my transcriptions, but Descript takes it to whole new level. Its machine-learning capabilities are truly revolutionary, like cutting out all the “ums” and “ahs” in one click.

(I wish I used Descript more. But since upgrading to Mac's Big Sur, it's not working anymore. They have said they're working on an update, so I'm patiently waiting. In the meantime, visit Descript and watch the video. It's impressive.)

There you have some of my most commonly used tools. I have more, but hopefully this will get things started. What are yours? Let me know.

Categories
Copywriting

Helpful Hints for Writing

Preamble: This post was originally written in late 2006. It's my answer to a common question I get quite often. It needed an update, so here it is.


Someone recently asked me this question: “I was wondering, ‘What keeps Michel Fortin writing?' I mean, Michel, what is your 3, 5, or 7-point formula to get an article on paper? What are some of the specific steps you follow?”

1. I Subscribe to Stuffs

I try to stay on top of my industry.

I'm subscribed to many newsletters and blogs, and I read every day. The wonderful byproduct of being immersed in my industry is that something I've read will stir a few ideas in my mind about something worth writing.

Pocket is my best friend. So is my RSS feedreader, Feedly. They have a folder and tag system that I love, which is great for saving and organizing articles.

Not only that, but Feedly's premium version has a built-in machine learning tool called “Leo,” which, based on my reading history and saved articles, will prioritize my feeds so I first read articles I want or prefer. If I don't have much time, at least I get to read as many of the most important ones.

I have feeds filed in several categories, including SEO, PPC, Copywriting, Marketing, WordPress (my preferred CMS), Google (all things Google), and Psychology (including ADHD).

I can also do an external keyword-based blog search so that Feedly finds feeds I might like to follow. Of course, I also have a search based on my name, my clients' names, and any brands I follow.

As for email, I file newsletter issues that I may use in the future and delete the rest as soon as I read them. But nine times out of 10, I will view the online version of the email and save it in Pocket.

In terms of software, I have used Ulysses, Grammarly, and Google Docs. But these days, I write directly into WordPress (Gutenberg). I might also use my text editor, which is UltraEdit for Mac.

Aside from Pocket and Feedly, I also use Google Keep. I used other note-keeping tools like Evernote and OneNote, but I still come back to Keep. It's simple. I also use a few Chrome extensions that add some needed features, like color-coded categories, adding indents, “save to keep,” etc.

The latter is important. If come across an article that has a passage I want to cite or need, rather than saving the whole thing (and forgetting what passage I wanted or why it was important), I select it with my mouse and right-click to save the selection to Google Keep.

2. I Start With The Skeleton

Articles ideas don't have to be new. What's new is my take on it. Something on which I want to opine or express my point of view. So a new article may be as simple as my own way of looking and expressing an existing topic.

I start with an outline, a skeleton article, with a series of bullets to prompt be about things I want to talk about. Sometimes, there are quite a few of them. Other times, there are none at all. I just start with a story or goal.

But if I do start with a skeleton article, I write down bullet points that represent what I want to cover in that section. Basically, they're idea blocks. But they're not written in stone. I prefer to remain flexible since, after I start writing, the flow might take me in a different direction.

The skeleton allows me to see, at a glance, the overall flow. I reorganize them if I feel there's a better structure and organization of ideas. Some points are best mentioned in strategic locations (whether it's storytelling, pacing, or clarity), and the outline allows me to do exactly that, even before I start writing.

I write in two ways:

  1. I start writing and let it go. (Cue Frozen soundtrack.)
  2. I start with the outline and expand each idea block.

The first often occurs when I have a pretty good idea of what I want to write about. Sometimes, I'll start with a personal story — something that happened or came across — that I feel will be a fitting idea to discuss.

Confession: I never put “ideas” aside for future content topics. I know some experts do this, like Jonathan Stark and David C. Baker (but I think David uses a dual approach, like this one).

I only use the articles I save (see previous section) to prompt me. When I get an idea to write something, and it's really good, I try to write it then and there. Largely because of my ADHD, my short-term memory is atrocious. So when I have an idea, if I don't write it the moment I think of it, I'll forget it.

If I'm really pressed for time, I'll save it and make notes. I'll create a new post in WordPress, add the skeleton points I want to cover, and save it as a draft.

But I try to avoid this because, when the idea hits me, I tend to think of a hundred things I want to go over in that article. So even with the notes, I'll forget the bulk or depth of ideas that I wanted to address. I then get frustrated, which impedes my writing.

3. I Put Meat on Them Bones

Writing keywords in bullet form to expand on into full paragraphs is a way to give me a high-level view of the article structure at a glance — much like I do when I create content architectures for SEO purposes.

The bullet points are based on topics I want to cover, but the flow is important to make sure the reader gets the point I'm making. I'm not fabulously skilled at this, but it does help. I also write copy the same way. And essentially, the bullet points often become headers, too.

But bullets point are prompts. Guideposts, not goals. I might change them or go in another direction entirely if I feel there's a better idea or storyline.

I start with a key idea or point, perhaps a lede or hook, but might change this once I expand on the bullets and realize there's a better way to start the article.

I finish with a simple recap, as you may already be aware. But sometimes, it's a key point, an actionable step, a question to ponder, or a cliffhanger (maybe leading to another article).

I temporarily put my “critical editor” hat aside and I just keep writing. It's not easy, but I try to simply let it flow and don't even stop to read what I've written. Once done, I stop, read again and edit for style and grammar — of course, with the kind help of Grammarly or Google's spellchecker.

Sometimes I'll take whole sentences out I feel were just fluff. Other times, I'll add new ones in for more depth. I'll also rewrite passages I feel aren't clear. And I'll cut and paste some paragraphs where I feel they belong best.

In terms of proofreading, I re-read. But when I have a chance, I read the article out loud. I do this because I often miss things that are blatantly obvious. I read like I write. So I will miss things that are easier to spot when I “hear it” instead.

Plus, if I pause, fumble, re-read (because it doesn't sound right) at any point, then I know that I need to rewrite it for clarity.

There you have it.

It's not as magical as some people make it out to be.

Remember to be a sponge in whichever field you're in, and to squeeze the sponge when you need to. Thought leadership comes from having insights, but you can't pull any insights out of thin air.

If you ever feel you have writer's block, it's usually an excuse. It's your inner critic trying to force what you want to say to be perfect. As Dori Clark once said, “It doesn't need to be perfect, it just needs to be good and to be done.”

Once you start, even if you don't know what to say, ideas will start flowing.

But if you feel you truly have nothing to say, then that's a clue that you need to read more, get more information, learn more, subscribe to more stuff, and do more research. Because the sponge, after a while, will become so full that your ideas will be more than flowing, they will be overflowing.

Categories
SEO

How to Do an SEO Competitive Analysis

Yesterday, I completed several SEO audits. I really love doing them because they fire both sides of my brain: the analytical and artistic sides.

Some have said that it's the ADHD brain. Others, the marketer's brain. Either way, one client was specifically looking to get a leg up on its competitors who seem to be doing well organically. So I conducted an SEO competitive analysis.

I want to share it with you as it might be useful to you.

An SEO audit analyzes a number of factors to see if a website is properly optimized. It looks at a number of ranking signals, both internal and external, to help determine if the content is visible, relevant, and desirable.

There are three levels to my SEO audits:

  1. Behind the site (technical SEO)
  2. On the site itself (on-page SEO)
  3. Outside the site (off-page SEO)

I call them the “three Cs” of SEO audits: code, content, and conversation.

But to be more specific, here's a summary of each:

  1. Technical SEO looks at what's behind the site and includes any technical process meant to improve visibility. It reviews the site’s hosting, coding, speed, security, navigation, and user experience. In other words, it makes sure that Google can easily find, crawl, index, and use the content.
  2. On-page SEO looks at what's on the page and includes any internal signals meant to improve relevancy. It reviews the site's content and various page elements that support it (i.e., metadata, images, HTML, etc). It provides Google with enough information about the content to help it decide if it matches their users' queries.
  3. Off-page SEO looks at what's outside the site and includes any external signals meant to improve desirability. It reviews outside activities related to the website, such as conversations, brand mentions, and of course, backlinks. It helps Google to determine if the content is authoritative, valuable, and beneficial to searchers.

I'll save the audit process for another time, but one part of the audit looks at the content's performance, its competitors (and their performance), and any gaps that exist and can be capitalized on.

A gap analysis tries to reverse engineer a website’s competitive environment by scanning the topmost competitors in various SERPs (i.e., search engine result pages), and it identifies any opportunities for improvement, underexploited content ideas, and potential backlinks.

A scan looks at several things.

First, I look at what Google suggests are competitors. Also called “people also search for,” they are usually found after the first three results, at the bottom of the page, or under the site's Google My Business listing on the right.

While Google's machine-learning is getting more intelligent, it may still be wrong or misleading. For example, it provides a list of competitors based on other people's searches, and within my specific geographical area.

They may be alternatives to what Google thinks the searcher is looking for, and may not be true competitors. By “true competitors,” I don't mean competitors in the offline world. I mean those vying for the same traffic you want.

So to find true competitors, I identify companies by looking at:

  • Existing topics from my client's current website content;
  • Keywords Google suggests the site should aim for; and,
  • Actual queries people have used to find my client.

To accomplish this, I do a few things.

First, I use a few tools to help extract the information I need. I look at Google's keyword planning tool (from Google Ads), which suggests keywords for the site based on its existing content. I also use a few other keyword suggestion tools, such as UberSuggest and KeywordTool.

With Google Search Console, I identify what keywords people have used to find my client's website. I look at both the volume and the performance (i.e., how many impressions and how many clicks did a certain search query get).

Then, I put it all into a spreadsheet and review the list to see if it makes sense. Sometimes, some keywords are either too generic, have the wrong search intent, or are just wrong altogether. So I delete them.

Once I have a good list of keywords, I take the top 10 in terms of search volume (depending the size of the project, I try to stay around the top 10-20 keywords). Then, I use them to find competitors.

Please note that this is not keyword research. It's only meant to find true competitors. These keywords may not be worth ranking for, anyway.

Finally, using the queries I list, I look for the top 3-5 competitors that are:

  • Ranking the highest organically for the same queries;
  • Appearing in the local three-pack (Google Maps); and,
  • Buying Google Ads that appear under the same queries.

Once done, I list the URLs of my competitors and check them out. I want to know if they are viable competitors. Do they make sense? To do that, I check the site manually, and punch them into a site audit tool like SEM Rush.

In my spreadsheet and with each competitor, I add their estimated monthly traffic from SEM Rush (only organic traffic, not paid), number of keywords they are ranking for, number of backlinks, and domain authority score.

Competitors with little traffic and keywords, I dump. Those with comparable amounts of traffic or keywords to my client, I keep. And those that are higher, I highlight. I then sort the list from highest to lowest traffic numbers.

Next, I look at the top 10 competitors.

These are my true SEO competitors.

From that point, I do a number of analyses, such as a content gap analysis, a backlinks gap analysis, and a crawl of each individual competitor to look at their site architecture and anything the “pops out” at me.

What's a gap analysis? For backlinks, a tool like Ahrefs can tell me all the backlinks that point to my client's competitors that are not linking to my client.

Now, I'm a big believer in earning backlinks naturally, not doing outreach trying to convince others to link to me (or my clients). I know some SEO agencies do this and it's a major part of their practices. Some even do it in very tasteful ways.

But to me, it's still icky. I don't like it. It may also be influenced by my fear of rejection, but I always preferred earning backlinks than spamming people to get them to link to me. But I digress.

The point of doing a backlink gap analysis is to see if there are any industry or common links that can be easily acquired. For example, most of my client's competitors had backlinks from the BBB, industry associations, and vertical-specific business directories.

As for content gaps, I look at what keywords each of the competitors' are ranking for. This will offer many clues as to what content ideas and topics my client should tackle. But more importantly, a gap analysis looks at topics that competitors are ranking for that my client isn't.

Finally, I use Google itself to see what it thinks.

Backlinks are actual links, but brand mentions are implied links. So I'll type in the competitor's name into Google and see what comes up. I want to see what kinds of conversations people are having about my client's competitors.

I also peek at “related searches” at the bottom of the page, which are Google's predictive list of searches based on what people have also searched for. They may offer a few ideas and additional insights.

This is list is not exhaustive.

Conducting a competitive scan varies and may have some additional steps that I'm not listing here. It depends on the nature of the project.

For example, what if a client doesn't have a website yet? Or what if the client has topics they want to rank for but that their current website doesn't cover well? A keyword extraction tool or Google Search Console won't help in these cases.

Sometimes, I may start by conducting some keyword research before doing a competitive scan. Other times, I may get suggestions from my client or my client's clients, to push me in the right direction.

Hopefully, this has been helpful.

Categories
Copywriting

How to Target Your Perfect Customer

The most important part of your copy is not your headline, not your offer, and certainly not your benefits. The most important part is your customer.

Sounds obvious, right? But I've critiqued some pretty good copy. Very well-written and compelling, too. But if the conversion rate is low (hence, the reason why I was hired to do a critique consultation), it's because these websites do not target the right audience for the offer, or the copy fails to connect with their readers.

Researching your customer in depth is vital to the success of your copy. It's not only an important component of targeting and qualifying the best prospect for your offer, but also an effective way to discover new ideas, different angles, captivating storylines, unsought benefits, and appropriate length and language of your copy that will convert more.

The question is, how do you target and connect with your readers?

First off, if your product has never been launched before, hopefully, you have done enough research to know your product is viable. But if you have, then you should have a good idea of who your market for your product is.

Knowing who your market is, and how and where to target them, are two different things. Your goal is to discover the qualities, characteristics, and behavioral patterns of your specific (or greatest) market. Then market to that audience with the right message, and do so more than any other and as often as possible.

Create a buyer persona of your perfect client. Then write your copy as if you're talking to that one single individual, as if it's a letter written one-on-one, and they're the only reader that matters in the world right now.

Here's how to develop a “buyer persona.”

Typically, there are four main categories.

The highest converting websites and most productive marketing pieces are usually those who have spent a great many hours interviewing clients, spending time learning about them (maybe even to be with them), asking a lot of questions, and spending a lot of time learning about:

  • Geographics
  • Demographics
  • Psychographics
  • Technographics

Empathy Starts With Discovery

It was Ken Blanchard, in the One-Minute Sales Manager, who said: “Before I walk a mile in your shoes, I must first take off my own.” Brian Keith Voiles, in an interview I gave him regarding the power of empathy in copy, said it best:

“The first thing I do is try to live a ‘day in the life' of my prospect. What keeps him up at night? What are his biggest concerns or his biggest joys? What's the first thing he does in the morning as he wakes up? Does he read the paper? What kind of paper? What sections? Does he hurt? Is he frustrated? About what? In all, I try to put myself in my prospect's shoes as much as possible and really try to see what he sees, thinks what he thinks, feels what he feels. The more I do, the more empathetic I am in my copy — and the more I sell.”

Demographics are the basic qualities and characteristics of your market. They include age, gender, culture, employment, industry, income level, marital status, and so on. Does your product cater uniquely to women? Is it more appealing to a specific industry? Does your product complement another type of product?

Geographics are the countries, locations, and establishments in which your target market resides or works, or those it frequents or to which it travels. Is your market made up of French Canadians? Are they urbanites or rural folk? Do they commute to work in large, busy offices or are they working from home?

On the other hand, psychographics are made up of the emotional, psychological, and behavioral qualities of your market. They include the emotions, buying patterns, purchase histories, and even thought processes behind people's decision to buy your product.

What is their religious or political persuasion? What interests and hobbies are they're engaged in? What previous purchases have they made, and other related products they have consumed?

Finally, there are technographics, which are people's level of sophistication with technology and their specific use of it. Are they early adopters or laggards? Do they use mobile devices to make purchases or are they primarily desktop users? Are they technically savvy or do they need hand-holding?

Bottom line, who buys from you specifically?

Try to be as specific as possible. Creating a buyer persona may seem like you're ignoring other markets, and if your market is indeed made up of wildly disparate personas, you might want to create more than one. But for now, focus on who buys from you the most or the most often.

In fact, the more specific your defined audience is, the more focused your targeting will be, the greater the connection with your market will be, and the higher your conversions will be. (Sounds contradictory, but I'll come back this and explain later.)

Intelligence Gathering

The two most important elements are, of course, demographics and psychographics. You should have a good understanding of who your client is, such as their age, occupation, marital and family status, etc. Hopefully, you also have information about their interests, hobbies, culture, aspirations, etc. If you don't, then you know what you need to do.

Another way to look at it, demographics show who may need your product, while psychographics reveal who may want your product. These are different! To determine who wants your product is to also understand why they want it. Some of the best market research has to do with how your market interacted with you and why.

Ask your current clients. Call them. Probe further. Many will appreciate that you're taking an interest in them. Say it's about gathering feedback in order to improve your level of service, which in reality, it is. For example, here's a list of questions you should ask:

  • Who are you, exactly?
  • What's a day in the life of “you” like?
  • What's your biggest challenge?
  • What's your biggest success story?
  • Why did you buy my product?
  • Why did you choose me over a competitor?
  • Why did you buy at that specific point in time?
  • Did you buy right away (on impulse) or take your time?
  • If you shopped around, what exactly were you looking for?
  • What other products / services / solutions did you consider?
  • What do you like the most and the least about my product?
  • Would you refer me to others, and if so, why? Why not?
  • What specific benefits do you enjoy the most in my product?
  • If you considered an alternative before buying, what were their benefits?
  • And so on.

These are immensely important questions that can help you, guide you, or even cause you to change your approach altogether.

Don't discount the power of doing marketing research, especially within your own backyard so to speak. You want to know not only who buys from you but, more important, why they do. In other words, think psychographics and not just demographics.

To illustrate the difference between demographics and psychographics, here's an example pulled from my own experience as a copywriter in the cosmetic surgery field.

Hair transplant doctors cater mainly to men who have experienced hair loss and are able to afford such an operation — i.e., men and bald men specifically are potential patients because they may need of more hair.

Psychographics, on the other hand, go a little further. In this example, they are comprised of men who not only need but also want more hair — since not all of them do. (It's a matter of priorities, just as the type of clothing one chooses to wear.)

They may seem to need more hair, but they might not want more. So just targeting “bald men” is not enough.

To target your best market as precisely as possible and generate better leads, doctors must take the psychographic element into account, such as their patients' lifestyle, their interests, the type of industry in which they work (since certain industries are image-related), as well as their previous buying habits (such as men who have already invested in other forms of hair replacement solutions).

The more information the better.

For example, you have a headline that said, “Are you losing your hair?” That appeals to your demographics. People who have hairloss will probably read the ad. After all, they “seem” to need more hair.

The problem is, they may not care about it. But if your headline said, “Suffering from hairloss?” now your ad is targeting someone who not only has hairloss but also cares about it enough to want to do something about it.

Aim For The Bull's-Eye

Nevertheless, arm yourself with as much of this type of information beforehand and your chances of achieving greater success with your product will be virtually guaranteed. You will know how to craft marketing communications that will appeal as specifically and directly as possible to that market.

Next, knowing this information will also help you target that market. Developing a buyer persona should give you a pretty good indication of where they hang out, where they will see your ad, or where they will learn about your product or service.

The following represents The Audience Targeting Model (a format to follow when targeting an audience, or while engaged in any targeting activity). It's in the form of three concentric circles — like a bull's-eye.

Audience Targeting Model for marketing
Audience Targeting Model for marketing.

Applying the targeting model is simple. Each circle represents a different level in the targeting process — the center being the first, your main priority, and so on. As the marketing adage goes, “fish where the fish swim.” Find places, events, or publications that meet any of the three, from the center out.

The center of the bullseye should be your main aim. These are things, events, or locations that are centered on your buyer persona. The second level consists of places, events, or things that are related to them. The third level, while not related, consists of those that are oriented towards your perfect customer.

Here's a quick description of each circle:

The Center (Bull's-Eye), or Audience Centered: It's what pertains directly to your target market. In other words, it's anything that meets your buyer persona (and does so immediately and as specifically as possible). Things like demographics, psychographics, and geographics are included, here.

The Second Tier (Middle Layer) or Audience Related: It's what pertains indirectly to your target market. Stated differently, it's anything that relates to or logically fits in your buyer's profile. This includes things such as direct competitors, complementary products, related industries, etc.

The Third Tier (Outside Layer) or Audience Oriented: It's what does not pertain at all to your target market but somehow matches or is oriented towards any of its areas. Examples are unrelated industries with which your customer is associated, other businesses patronized by your customer, other unrelated products they consume (products that do not complement, replace, or supersede yours, but are consumed by them), common threads among your audience (even if they have nothing to do with your product), etc.

Here's An Example

Let's say you're in the computer sales business. Your perfect customer is a person aged between 20 and 35, earning around $40,000, living in the eastern part of the United States, and working in the high-tech field.

The center or bull's-eye would include computer-related magazines, shows, websites, tradeshows, email newsletters, forums, social networks (specifically computer-related groups and “cliques” on those social media), etc. Wherever your perfect customer is targeted, based on the qualities and characteristics of your product or customer, should be your first goal. Your main aim. The bull's-eye.

The second tier are areas that are indirectly related to your buyer persona. Your goal would then be to target places, events, or things that are similar or somehow logically fit into your target market as well — in short, other related publications, businesses, or areas that target your perfect customer, too.

Areas include software magazines, trade publications, technology websites, industry associations, non-competing businesses, etc. An example would be other websites selling computer peripherals or software your client would need or enjoy, such as an accounting software package.

The third and final tier consists of totally unrelated areas your buyer frequents, without having anything to do with your industry. You want to be in front of as many of their eyeballs as possible, even if where you appear has anything to do with your product, industry, or niche.

Let's say, through some research, you found out that a large percentage of your target market are coffee drinkers. Then areas you would seek are coffee-related sites, specialty coffee magazines, coffee product stores (e.g., coffee maker companies, mugs, espresso machines, etc), restaurants, books on coffee, and so on.

It means that, as long as the audiences of such websites and publications logically fit into your target market somehow, even if, in this case, they have nothing to do with computers at all, then you've got it made. In essence, you're still aiming within your “dart board,” in other words.

Don't Play Darts in The Dark

The bottom line is, in order to convert at a much higher rate, you need to have the right message in front of the right people as often as possible. You not only need to know who your perfect customer is, but you also need to understand her, connect with her, and empathize with her.

So before targeting your buyer, create a marketing message or campaign that appeals to their persona as specifically as possible. Think of that one person as you create your message. How will they react when they see it? Does it match with what they're thinking? What will they say?

As Robert Collier said in his book, The Robert Collier Letter Book, you need to continue the conversation already going on in their minds.

When targeting your market, even if you aim for the bullseye but you still land somewhere on the dartboard (like marketing computer stuff to coffee lovers, using the example I used earlier), you're still hitting your market.

If your message is right but your targeting falls outside of that bullseye's center, people who fit your buyer persona will know it's meant for them, and they will be interested in what you say, feel connected with your message, and buy from you — as opposed to generic, bland marketing with which your audience feels no connection, no matter where on the bullseye they fall into.

In short, the less targeted and the more generic your message is, the less connected your copy you will be with your market. You might as well shoot darts in the dark and hope you're lucky to land on the board. Maybe.

Categories
Copywriting

How I Write Copy in Seven Steps

A lot of people ask me how I write copy. I don't mean the actual writing process (such as how I come up with headlines, bullets, offers, etc), but how I tackle the actual task of composing a new sales piece from scratch.

Everyone is different. My writing process is one developed over many years, and many people may adopt or dislike the same techniques. But in the hope that knowing my process may be helpful to some writers, I'd like to share it with you.

Of course, if I were to describe all of the steps, there would be way too much information to squeeze into one article. But for now, I can offer you a basic look at my methodology by giving you a short list of the seven steps I take.

Here they are.

1. Gather Initial Research

For starters, with all projects I ask that my clients take time to answer an initial, 25-point questionnaire. Their answers will provide some background information. I ask several questions from four main categories:

  1. The customer
  2. The product
  3. The business
  4. The offer

The first one, about the customer, is the most important. It's where I ask questions like demographics and psychographics, and try to build a perfect prospect profile or what's often called a “buyer persona.”

The others include things like features and benefits, stories behind the product, testimonials, actual results, the buying process, etc.

(The questionnaire can be an eye-opener for many clients because it forces them to dig for the answers, and to see what's missing with their current copy and where some of the flaws are. Many have said that the questionnaire alone was worth the price of admission.)

I want to know as much as possible about the product, the business, and the offer. This includes competitors, non-competitors, alternatives, and reasons why people choose to buy from my client — as well as why they chose another instead.

Admittedly, this questionnaire is just a start. But their answers, which give me some direction as to where to conduct further research, give me at least a basic understanding of their business, the purpose of the copy's message, and its goals.

Yes, that's “goals” in the plural.

There is the obvious main goal, which may be to generate leads or make sales. But other, secondary goals may include to dispel rumors, answer questions, build credibility, eliminate misconceptions, differentiate from the competition, defend one's reputation, etc.

2. Conduct Exploratory Research

Then, I read and study the answers carefully, and I conduct some exploratory research. That is, I try to gather as much information as I can — especially about the target audience. When I write copy, the bulk of my time is spent on research.

In fact, if I ever get writer's block and run out of ideas, I go back to conducting more research. Because the more research you do, the greater the number of ideas you will have at your disposal. The chances that something will stick out and prompt your writing will be higher, too.

I surf my clients' websites. I research their competitors. I look at some of the trends in that particular product category, market, or industry. I do comparative analyses, including building a list of strengths and weaknesses (if my client doesn't have this already).

I hang out where their readers hang out. I check out some of the websites they visit. I spend some time in forums in which they're active. I try to get a grasp of their language, their challenges, their industry, their fears, their goals, etc.

When I come across an important piece of information, I copy it into a document (often a Google document I can share), where I can easily append extra pieces of information, include any corresponding URLs, make additional notes, and more.

I create a new project in my favorite project management service, where I give access to all the key players, and start populating it with the information I gather.

(Aside from being a repository, the service has many features that come in quite handy, such as to-do lists, message board, whiteboard, chat room, file uploads, milestone tracker, and more.)

The idea at first is to gather as much information as possible, including facts, features, data, results, etc. I add whatever information I find into the repository.

3. Pick, Prod, And Probe Further

Of course, a lot of it is also irrelevant. So I go through the information and pull out the important stuff. I compile, clarify, and expand. I cherrypick and highlight what's relevant, and file or discard the rest.

I might even repeat some of the earlier steps to make sure I've covered all the bases. After spending some time studying the information, I may ask for more clarification and dig deeper.

Digging deeper is a crucial step!

Sometimes, I do it to get a better understanding of the information. Other times, it's to get additional tidbits where I might uncover hidden gems I can use with the copy. You would be surprised by how much information clients keep from you because they feel it's irrelevant when oftentimes it's not.

But most of the time, it's to be able to later put what my clients tell me into words that specifically meet my client's audience at their level.

I tend to look at my job as “connecting the dots.” If the product is good and the demand is there, then my job is not to sell the product but to connect the desires and fears of the reader with the solution my client offers.

(Most of my clients are too “married” to their own products or businesses that they tend to be removed from their clients. So what they may feel is great about their product may not be a shared opinion among their target market.)

But here's my greatest tip…

Some of the best answers I get are in fact obtained while interviewing people. That's right: actually talking to people, whether it's the business owner or existing clients. In other words, picking up the phone and asking questions.

(Of course, I record everything and transcribe the interviews. I do this with the help of a conference call service and an online transcription service.)

This allows me to not only catch verbal cues and innuendos, but also to prod and probe further. I repeat what they say and sometimes end in a dangling preposition (grammarians be like “Oh, the horror!”) or conjunction followed by a pause, where the silence compels them to continue.

(For example, once my client answers a question, I'll say, “And?” “Or?” “But?” “So that…” “That's for…” “That means…” “Or else?” “In other words?” After that, I shut up. You'd be amazed by the kinds of answers they would give!)

I also try to speak with actual success stories. I interview satisfied clients, not just for the sake of gathering testimonials, and not just to ask a lot of open-ended questions to probe deeper as well, but also, and if I can, to actually get them to sell me on the product themselves.

These recorded interviews are worth a mint!

If I managed to get my interviewee excited and passionate about the product, in many cases they practically write the copy for me.

4. Create The Structure

Next, I try to find a storyline, a unique benefit, a certain angle, or a key piece of information. Some call it a “plot.” Others call it a “hook” or “the big idea.” It's essentially the one element on which the entire copy hinges.

This is the concept I often talk about called “storyselling.”

It may be a certain fear, a piece of news, a hot-button issue, a success story, a fascinating factoid, a sensational claim, a major benefit (even an unsought one), a sense of urgency, a “lie dispelled,” a secret, a myth, a hot trend, a controversial topic, an unexpected result, etc. You get the picture.

Once I've found it, I then create an outline. Often, I apply my QUEST formula, which is to “qualify” the reader, “understand” their problem, “educate” them on the solution, “stimulate” them on the value, and “transition” them into a buyer.

I don't write the copy just yet. I simply use the formula to create an outline that will guide me as to where specific pieces of information will be added.

The copy doesn't necessarily have to follow the exact formula, either. But it does give me some guidance as to what exactly I must cover, and where I must cover it.

Sometimes, I'll use it to create headers throughout the copy as the outline. These headers are not written in stone. They only give me some initial direction as to what, specifically, I need to cover at certain points in the copy.

Look at these headers as “guideposts,” if you will.

I also try to look at the copy from the perspective of a reader. For example, I'll ask myself, “What do I want and need to know at this point in the copy?” “What can potentially confuse me?” “What questions or objections might likely come up at that moment?” “What's going through my mind when I read this?” And so on.

At this time in the process, I write some notes on the copy, to myself, on what needs to be covered, what key pieces of information I must include, what ideas I want to expand on, etc. And often, I write these notes in point form.

5. Write The Copy

Next comes the creative part.

From the storyline and the guideposts I've set out above, I start writing the copy. I often begin with the headline or the bullet points, whichever is easiest. (It really depends on what comes to mind the fastest.)

Sometimes, a headline idea jumps out at me, particularly after doing the research and coming up with the “hook.” If so, I will start with the headline first.

The headline is not final, either. I sometimes come back and rewrite the headline once I finish the copy, even several times, because new and better ideas emerge later on as I write the body copy.

Both the headline and the storyline will give me a good indication of what I can write about, how to say it, as well as what options I have when I write it.

Sometimes, I just start writing and let it flow, and my writing takes a life of its own. When this happens, I allow myself the flexibility to just let go, but I will go back to it afterwards when I'm editing and rearranging the flow.

Remember, they are guides, not goals.

In terms of actual copy, I start writing and expanding.

  • I structure a skeletal offer (with premiums);
  • I create the opening or introductory paragraph;
  • I tell the story (based on the chosen storyline);
  • I list the features, advantages and benefits;
  • I expand on key items for the main body;
  • I incorporate or expand on story blocks;
  • I add Johnson boxes, remarks or sidenotes;
  • I reinforce key benefits and “reasons why;”
  • I build up the value and expand on the offer;
  • I form a logical and believable sense of urgency;
  • I inject credibility by adding proof elements;
  • I infuse testimonials in appropriate locations;
  • I write the guarantee (or guarantees);
  • I close with a call-to-action statement;
  • And I plug some “PS's” at the end.

Do I follow these steps every single time? No. Some people say copywriting is formulaic, and I agree to a large extent. But don't become so rigid that you write with blinders on and fail to allow yourself the opportunity to be different, to be interesting, and to connect better with your audience.

Look at a lot of salesletters these days. They often don't look like your typical “salesletter”. Salesletters have evolved to include multimedia, parallax (fly-in, dynamic copy), action-triggered content, mobile-friendly layouts, etc.

6. Rearrange The Flow

Then, I rearrange the content for flow. I don't edit the copy. I simply scan the copy to make sure it all flows nicely, and that the organization of ideas makes the reading pleasant, compelling, and easily understandable.

More important, I make sure the flow makes sense to the sale. Every new idea introduced must flow into one another and advance the sale.

I make sure to integrate headers at every two or three paragraphs to help break the monotony and compel scanners to start reading. If needed, I also copy, paste, and move blocks of text in locations I feel they are more appropriate.

(For example, sometimes it's better to credentialize the copy early on. Or some testimonials are best used as a way to handle objections and located where specific objections may come up. In fact, I use them where the reader might have a specific question that the testimonial answers.)

To help me, I work with multiple, tiled windows (i.e., side by side), all opened at once and each showing a different part of a same document. This is particularly helpful when I'm working with longer copy.

That way, I can easily scroll through each window to rearrange the content from one window to another (i.e., from one section of the copy to another).

From this cursory look at the copy, I can immediately sense if I need to also add certain elements, whether cosmetic (such as adding a grabber, a picture, or a graphic) or tactical (such as adding a sidenote, a proof element, or a Johnson box).

I also make sure that the copy follows the AIDA formula (i.e., attention, interest, desire and action). While it may seem redundant because of my earlier formula, I never forget the basics.

7. Edit And Expand

Once re-arranged, I then edit the copy. I read it to myself, slowly and sometimes out loud, to make sure it's easy to read and flows properly. If I stumble at any point or verbally struggle, I know that I need to rewrite that section.

(Whenever I can, I even record myself. It's amazing how many errors I've discovered from listening to myself reading the copy than from simply reading it.)

I then expand, cut out, tighten up, and add more. I emphasize where needed, rewrite certain sections, and cut out as much of the extra fat as possible.

In fact, the latter is the most crucial step.

Why? Because when I write, I usually write with abandon. I let it all flow. I write like I speak. I repeat myself often, especially when I try to make a point or drive home a critical point. I try not to stop myself, or else it will impede my train of thought.

(When I stop writing, it start thinking critically. I begin to edit myself too early, which blocks the creative flow. I eventually lose focus because I spend too much energy on making sure I've said things right rather than saying the right things.)

That's why I wait until after I'm done, and only when I'm done, to go back and excise all the extraneous filler. I try to cut out as much of the unneeded copy as I can. Or, if what I say is indeed important, I try to find ways to say the same thing but in less words.

(Editing is probably one the most important strategies in writing copy, but it's also the most overlooked because it's the hardest thing to do for most copywriters. That's why it's best to wait until the end.)

Remember this: write first, edit later.

Finally, I focus on the cosmetics, since certain visual “triggers” help to increase both readership and response. So I touch up the formatting, typestyles, tables, colors, graphics, pictures, layouts, fonts, and so on.

After that, I'm essentially done.

Bonus Step: Revise!

Before I deliver the copy to my client, I still get my staff to proofread it for me. But I don't limit them to the grammar or style. I also ask them to signal any part of the copy where they feel confused, lost, or disinterested in the story.

(I also ask them questions about the copy to see if they truly grasped some of its key elements. If their answers are not good enough, I know I need to edit it more.)

This is important, since I often make the same mistakes I made while writing it when reading it back to myself. Also, knowing what the copy is all about can cause me to take what I say (or fail to say) for granted, and accidentally skip over what may be confusing to others.

(Don't discount having a fresh pair of eyes look at your copy for you. Before handing off the copy to the client, try to get someone else to read it for you.)

After it's all done, I then upload it to my client's project interface for my client to read and offer feedback. I revise the copy according to my client's feedback. (In fact, I allow my clients a free revision.)

There is no way to predict how well my copy will do. For most clients, my work increases their response rates — often, like gangbusters, too. But for some, my copy turns out to be a downright dud.

Maybe it's because the storyline is wrong. Perhaps the headline is the bottleneck. Maybe the offer is poor. I don't know. If it's anything specific with the copy, the only way to know is to test.

But in my experience, when my copy failed, it was largely because the audience wasn't targeted or the offer wasn't appropriate for them. And in either case, the copy would have never sold well, no matter how good the copy was.

Failure does happen. It happens to the best of us. But failure is also an awesome opportunity — an opportunity to learn, improve, and grow. That's why I appreciate it when my clients keep me posted on their results.

If you were to hire a copywriter, remember that I would trust a copywriter who failed and succeeded more than I do one who claimed to have never failed at all.

Some clients who are fanatical testers prefer to keep me on a retainer after the initial project so they can have me rewrite parts of the copy, or offer any suggestions on how to improve it without contaminating the initial control.

Nevertheless, these are the steps I follow.

I don't necessarily follow them to the letter all of the time. But hopefully, they have given you some fodder on your quest for better response.

Categories
Copywriting

Your Reader Wants To Know These 5 Things

The other day, one of my readers asked me the following question, which I found rather interesting: “Why should the author of a product be included in their sales copy?”

Seems like a pretty redundant question, right? Especially to any veteran copywriter or marketer worth their salt.

But the question didn't stop there. The reader offered the following insight, which explains why this issue was such an important one to him, and why I felt compelled to answer:

“Specifically, why do my readers need to know who I am or what I bring to the table? How does telling them my qualifications increase the strength of my copy? My product solves a medical condition. But I am not a doctor and I have never had this condition myself. I've spent a year researching the best method to cure this condition. I have a list of 20,000 people with this condition and converse with them a lot. I know pretty much everything there is to know about this condition and have made it into an ebook.”

The answer is quite simple, actually. In fact, in his attempt to defend himself (i.e., that he's not a doctor but has lots of experience and specialized knowledge about his market), the reader answered his own question. Let me explain…

Why should people buy from you?

This is not some new concept. John E. Kennedy, a Canadian fireman back in 1905, was the person who coined the term “Reasons-Why Advertising” in a book of the same name. (He was also the person who coined the famous term “salesmanship-in-print.”)

I'm a big fan of reasons-why advertising.

I always try to add as many reasons as possible in my copy, such as why the offer is made, why the author is making it, and why it's important to the reader.

Good, successful copy tells the reader why right upfront because they always ask. If you don't tell them, the irony is they're left wondering why you left it out. It is almost always a direct advantage to tell your prospects why they should buy from you.

Additionally, people want to know five different types of reasons. They are:

  1. Why you (the reader)
  2. Why me (the author)
  3. Why this (the offer)
  4. Why now (the urgency)
  5. Why this price (the value)

1. Why You?

Your copy should qualify the reader for the product you're selling and the offer you're making. As part of this qualification process, it should address why the reader is targeted to, and suited for, them — including in reading the copy in the first place.

For example, why is this important to them? Why is this copy, product, or offer perfect for them? Who is it not appropriate for? In other words, who should not read the copy?

2. Why Me?

Credentialization is an important element in copy. Your credentials — as the author, seller, or provider — are immensely important to build credibility and lower buyer resistance, particularly in this day and age of scams, cynicism, and competitiveness.

Tell your readers why they should read what you have to say. Whether you're an accredited expert or not, the more reasons you give, then the more credible you are, the more believable your copy is, and the more apt people are to buy from you.

(This is the section to which the reader's question above relates, and I'll come back to this in a moment as it is important — especially as it pertains to the lack of credentials.)

3. Why This?

Are you selling this product just to make money? Perhaps. But whether making money is the main reason or not, either directly or indirectly, your product exists and your offer is made for specific reasons. So why not put them in your copy?

Don't assume your reader knows or doesn't care about them, no matter how trivial you may think they are. If you don't include them in your copy, left to their own devices your readers will be the ones making assumptions. (And they won't all be positive.)

4. Why Now?

Jim Rohn said, “Without a sense of urgency, desire loses its value.” Whether it's direct (such as a deadline or limitation) or implied (such as missing out on something important), adding scarcity and reasons to act now is important.

But by itself, urgency is almost always suspect. So back it up with reasons why your readers should act now. Don't be shy in explaining why they must take advantage of the offer immediately, or what the consequences are if they don't.

5. Why This Price?

Why did you price your product or make the offer the way you did? Perhaps your price is based on industry averages. Or you're doing a clearance sale to make way for new stock. Maybe your product is new and you're offering an introductory price.

But do your readers know? Do they, really?

Don't be afraid to tell your readers why they should pay what you're asking for. Why is it valuable to them? At least compare your price to the ultimate cost of either buying an alternative (perhaps even competing) product, or not buying your product at all.

The bottom-line? The most important word in persuasion, according to Dr. Robert Cialdini, author of Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion , is not “you” or “free.”

The most important word in persuasion is “because.”

Now, let me go back to the original question…

In this case, this person has quite a distinct selling point. They are what is referred to as the “anti-authority.” Non-experts. Lay people. And the fact that they are not a doctor, which means they are more like their readers, can be positioned as a major advantage.

They did all this research from a layperson's perspective. They did all the legwork for their readers, which not only saves them time but also is perceived as less biased.

They did all the searching for them. They analyzed all the data (from an outsider's vantage point) and cherrypicked the best answers. And they condensed and distilled their findings into one, easy-to-read, easy-to-find place.

Add to that the fact they conversed with over 20,000 people afflicted with this condition and know almost everything about it, makes them a lot more credible than some general practitioner who may have come across just a few hundred cases in their practice.

So this person is loaded with credentials, particularly unique ones, that definitely shouldn't be avoided or hidden from the reader. In fact, it should be not only communicated but also highlighted as a major benefit in the copy.

So, to the question “why you?” Because in the mind of the reader, you are the expert on this subject. Use your unique credibility and experience as a major selling point.

Categories
Copywriting

60-Minute Naked Truth Salesletter Formula

One of the most popular threads on my now defunct discussion forum for copywriters was one started by my friend Dean Jackson.

If you don't know Dean Jackson, he is a Torontonian, a real estate mogul, an information marketing millionaire (author of many programs, including the highly successful “Stop Your Divorce!”), and a darn-fine copywriter.

This post was extremely popular for a number of reasons.

In it, Dean shared his quick-and-dirty formula for writing salesletters really fast. It's a great shortcut if you want to write a barebones salesletter in less than an hour.

Above all, the idea behind this formula is to get you to start writing. Too many marketers and copywriters get stuck at the beginning, such as at the headline, and they fail to get any traction. They often blame it on “writer's block.”

According to Dean, this formula has helped him write several million-dollar salesletters for himself and others. With his gracious permission, I'm reprinting it here on this blog, along with some of my own editorial comments and tips…

Please note, this is not going to result in an extensive or exhaustive salesletter. But it will provide you with a skeletal outline you can either use as is, or easily expand from.

Remember, most people find that the hardest thing to do is to get started writing. It's easy to get caught up in trying to figure out the best hook or headline.

That's why its power lies in its simplicity. This formula is an easy, kick-into-gear way to get a really quick headstart. As Dean noted, “I'd rather be golfing than sweating out a sales letter, so I'm very interested in achieving quick results.”

It all starts with deciding exactly what you want someone to do. Once you've determined that, then it's to sit down for 60 minutes or so to write an unedited, rough-draft, handwritten letter baring the “naked truth” of what you really want.

Without any distractions. Without going into any tangents. And without stopping.

Dean suggests taking a pen and a legal pad, and start writing a stream of consciousness, by hand, to one individual person you imagine as your ideal prospect.

I personally don't mind using my computer, but I believe Dean suggests doing it by hand because it's harder to edit yourself when doing so. Editing as you write is one of the biggest crutches for copywriters that impedes their writing.

Also, getting to know your perfect prospect is crucial.

In our course, we share with you the exact process we go through to find markets and create “buyer personas” using spying techniques, sideways strategies, and unique and unconventional keyword research methods.

In it, we show you how to create a perfect prospect profile, a “buyer persona.” It's a perfect complement to Dean's technique as it will allow you to develop a clear understanding of who your prospect is, what do they want, and how do they want it.

Knowing this beforehand will allow you to sit down and write a salesletter faster than you've ever dreamed possible. The reason is, the information you uncover during that research will provide you with a ton of information you can use in your writing.

Nevertheless, the key is to write the letter as if they are the only person who is going to receive the letter. You write to that person and that person only. Personally, one on one.

At this point, you shouldn't concern yourself about the grammar, the look, or the techniques of copywriting.

As they say, “Write first, edit later.”

No one is actually going to see the letter at this point, anyway. You can edit it yourself afterward, or have someone else or hire someone else to edit it for you.

The key is to do it and do it as quickly as possible. Get yourself a timer, if you can. Limit yourself to 60 minutes. That way, you won't be tempted to stop along the way to edit yourself. Don't do it. Keep writing, and write like there's no tomorrow.

You must get yourself to sit down with the thought of having to get it all done in less than one hour. Write down just the essentials at this point. Keep it simple, keep your perfect customer in mind at all times, and keep it flowing.

Now, here's the 10-part letter formula.

Start with “Dear Dean,” which can be the name you give your perfect prospect. Remember, you can change it later. Don't worry about the headline at this point. Next…

1. Start with the purpose of your letter.

“I'm writing to you because I want you to…” Insert your naked-truth reason you're writing, as if you were making your request known to a lamp Genie who could grant your wish, like, “Take out your credit card and pay me $39 for my new book called…”

2. Reasons you are writing to this specific person.

“The reason I'm writing to you specifically is because I think you want…” And then list the reasons in bullet form, such as reason #1, reason #2, reason #3, and so on.

3. List the features and benefits of your product or offer.

“Here is a list of what you get when you [buy my book]…” Again, use bullets. First list the feature followed by the benefit after “which means,” such as “You get [feature], which means [benefit].” Write as many as you can drum up at this point.

4. Top 10 questions and/or objections.

You can say, “If I were to guess the top 10 questions or objections you will have about buying my product today, they would be these…” You then follow that by another bulleted list of the top 10 most asked questions or most pressing concerns.

5. Answers to those questions or objections.

“So here's how I would clear those up for you…” Same idea as point #4. List, in bullet form, the answers to each and every question or concern you've uncovered.

6. Explain the guarantee or how you are removing the risks.

“I want you to be completely without risk, so here's my guarantee…” Then explain how your guarantee works, how it reduces or removes the risk from the purchase in their minds, and how to take advantage of it if they need to.

7. The most important part: the call to action.

“It's really easy to get started. You just…” (whatever it is they must do, such as “click this button,” “fill in this form,” “call this phone number,” “return this coupon,” etc). Provide the exact, step-by-step instructions on how they can take action.

8. The result of their taking action.

“Once you decide to get started here's what's going to happen…” Describe what's going to happen once they go ahead. Educate them on how they will get their product, and how they will consume it. Tell them how to make the best use of their new purchase.

9. Add an element of scarcity or a sense of urgency.

“You need to do this right now because…” Tell them why they need to take action today. Is there a limit or a deadline? What will be the consequences if they don't take action? What are the ultimate costs of not going ahead today?

10. Finally, testimonials from satisfied customers.

“Here's a list of people who have already [done this] and exactly what happened for them…” Add testimonials or case studies from other customers. Of course, I don't need to remind you that they must be real and genuine. 😉

There you have it.

When you're done with this exercise in hopefully one hour or less, it's easy to start taking the barebone copy elements from it and dressing them up to take out in public.

You can add more, rearrange the elements, expand points, add proper transitions between each section, make it flow neatly, tighten it all up, and so on.

Once you've done this naked-truth, skeletal salesletter, headline ideas will naturally jump out at you. You will have some groundwork from which to come up with several headlines and possible hooks that will appeal to your perfect customer.

Remember, the headline's job is only one thing: to get your prospect to read your letter. Once you've accomplished that, the rest should be smooth sailing.

Tell me (or Dean Jackson) what you think! We would love to get your feedback.

Categories
Copywriting

Want Better Copy? Go On A Quest!

Writing copy usually involves two major things: figuring out what to say and then how to say it. The second part is usually the easiest, because figuring out what to say is often a whole lot harder than how to say it.

It requires a lot of research, creativity, time, and, of course, “sales detective work.,” as my friend and top copywriter John Carlton calls it.

But when I know what to write, when I figured out what I'm going to say, the question I'm often asked is, “Do you start with the headline, or do you work the headline last?”

Let me share with you a formula I use.

First, when I write a new piece of copy, I tend to start with the body copy, then create the headline and add headers/subheads throughout. With existing copy, it's the other way around: I start with a better headline — after reading the copy, and it's good — and then rewrite the rest.

Sometimes (in fact, a lot of times), my client's copy is already pretty good. The culprit behind a poor response, and this is true almost nine times out of 10 in my estimation, is a poor headline. And it's often the one element I test the most, too.

Reason is, the headline is the pivotal element in copy upon which the success of your copy will hinge. If people are not interested enough in reading the copy further after reading the headline, they will leave without reading any more — regardless of how good the copy, the product, and the offer are.

So I tend to try to find a good hook for the headline.

After a little bit of detective work, usually by going through some of the answers my client gives me after filling out my intake questionnaire, this usually comes to me after tinkering with the headline a bit, sometimes after writing several of them until I come up with the one I think will pull best.

Headers are usually parts of the copy — spread throughout where they make sense, create curiosity, and force the reader to stop scanning and start reading.

With new copy, I usually start with an outline, but I really don't write the actual headers. I often start with the concept or idea I want to introduce in specific sections of the letter, but then write copy and use headers at that point, all based on the flow of ideas.

Most of my salesletters focus on five core components.

What I usually do when I write copy is follow a “5-step guide,” if you will. It's sort of my take on (or a complement to) the AIDA formula: you grab their Attention, arouse their Interest, build their Desire, and then ask for some kind of Action.

My formula is this: I call it going on a “QUEST.”

  1. Qualify
  2. Understand
  3. Educate
  4. Stimulate
  5. Transition

It's like traversing a mountain, so to speak, when you start climbing the mountain on one side, reach the summit, and start climbing back down on the other side. And just like climbing a mountain, the incline is where much of the hard work is done. Almost all my salesletters take on this quality.

Here's what “QUEST” means:

Q = Qualify

You qualify the reader and weed out the non-buyers and tire-kickers. It's good to ask questions at the beginning or set the stage by giving a scenario they can immediately relate to, such as by talking about how terrible things are with “X” problem, or how nice it would be to solve “Y” problem.

You also try to denominate who usually has this problem, who this solution is for, and/or who it is not for. You can do this outright, but I often incorporate this into a story. The aim is to create awareness, qualify the reader, and more importantly, reinforce how qualified the reader truly is, in their mind, for the offer.

This is especially true where there's a bit of an education involved — where the prospect doesn't really know or is not fully aware there is a problem in the first place. Or they know about the problem and it may be in the back of their minds, but my job is to bring it to the top.

In fact, this is why the next part is crucial and flows from the first.

Because, the next step is to…

U = Understand

After qualifying the reader, you express how much you understand her. You connect and empathize with them. You expand on the problem and agitate their pain. You “add salt on the wounds,” so to speak or, at the very least, bring the problem to the top of their minds.

You not only get the reader to identify themselves with you, but also magnify the problem in their minds. You share their pain or in their pain, and you tell them how much more painful it is either because there is no solution out there, or because other solutions are insufficient for whatever reason.

You can also use this section to tickle their curiosity about a potential solution and insert specific benefits other solutions don't have but without fully disclosing “your” solution yet. Mention a unique selling point, a nice-to-have benefit, that will be linked with your solution.

I would include a story behind the product based on that fact because it's not only a great place to build credibility and give the reader reasons why they should keep reading, but a great way for readers to identify themselves with the author and build a certain affinity with her.

When you introduce the solution later on, you can tie it to all of these. It's like telling the reader: “Wouldn't it be great, if…” And later, your solution comes along and answers that very question.

And that leads to the next step, which is to…

E = Educate

You educate the reader on the fact that a solution exists. This is where you introduce your product or service — but not the price. This will come later. At this point, you expand on the fact that a solution exists, is perfect for their situation, and is unlike and better than all the others.

This is usually it's in the middle of the copy. It's where the reader has reached “the summit of the sales mountain,” if you will, on their quest to traverse it. It's also a great place to build on and emphasize credibility introduced in the previous “U” portion of the formula.

This includes credentializing the author and why should one listen to her. It's also a great location to talk about the features of your product or service, dispel any myths, and respond to any objections regarding the product or service.

It's also the location where I add proof elements, case studies, testimonials, etc. In fact, I tend not to add any testimonials until this point or further because they tend to be off-putting. (If they are vigorously aware of their problem and they're hurting already, testimonials a little early won't hurt.)

Once they're educated, the next step is to…

S = Stimulate

You stimulate the reader on the offer. I guess you can also say that “S” stands for “sell,” too, as this is the location where the bulk of the selling really takes place. This where the offer is made and the value buildup really starts.

You list and expand on the benefits. (In “E,” I start to talk about features and describe the product. But here, I talk benefits and link them to the features described in “E.” Also, it's a great location to add value to the offer, such as offering premiums, guarantees, value boosters, a sense of urgency, etc.

It's a great place to add comparisons, too, such as with competitive alternatives, as well as with the risks and costs of not buying — including missing out on the potential benefits, pecuniary losses, ultimate costs of not using the product, etc.

Use this section to link the offer to the rest of the formula. That is, you restate some of the problems mentioned in “Q,” how the solution answers the greater problems talked about in “U,” and how it links to all to the features and benefits described in “E.”

After that, you then…

T = Transition

You transition the reader from prospect to buyer. It's the “call to action” section or the close, in other words. This includes the order area or order form, and it's where you talk about the offer, the price, and the options if any. Above all, it's where you make the reader feel as if they already own the product.

It's a great place to summarize the offer, talk about the guarantee, and perhaps introduce new points not discussed to this point to spur action, such as adding an as-of-yet undisclosed benefit or bonus — also called “pot sweeteners.”

Now, I don't follow this formula precisely as I just explained.

QUEST is a guide, not a goal or a rule.

I usually start with QUEST as an outline first and use it to create a skeleton salesletter. I then refer back to it to guide me as I write. Once the outline is made, I expand on each point and “go with the flow” of what I think is best for the offer throughout the salesletter.

I also write header or subhead ideas in that outline, too. But when I expand the copy, if needed, I'll move ideas around for better flow or rewrite the headers as I see how they fit in the QUEST formula, all keeping the following in mind:

  1. The header introduces a new piece of information. It's specific and descriptive. It has an element of intrigue or curiosity. Best of all, it has an inherent benefit — whether it's of the offer or one in reading what follows. (Usually, it's the latter.)
  2. It helps to introduce the following section. It should make sense and read as if the person never read the preceding copy. It somewhat explains it as to not confuse and push people away. (But it doesn't explain it entirely, as the next point reveals.)
  3. Above all, it also piques their curiosity in order to force them to stop scanning and go back to the beginning of the copy — as people usually scan and read the headers when they hit a salesletter for the first time.

The third one is the one I use the most.

My favorite is when the header introduces a portion of an idea, sometimes followed by an ellipse. Or when it hints at a bigger payoff in the copy, like some kind of newsworthy topic — think of a newspaper's front-page headlines that force the reader to buy the paper.

Incidentally, some people may call this “clickbait.” Clickbait doesn't deserve the bad rap it has been given. The reason for the stigma is when it's used as a “bait and switch,” where the header promises but the rest fails the deliver. You don't need to lie or exaggerate. Just be intriguing.)

To continue my mountain-climbing analogy, headers are like “knots” or “hooks” in the rope, so to speak. They force people to stop and pull readers back into the copy (or keeps them reading and clinging throughout the copy).

Finally, don't follow the QUEST formula “to the letter.” Use it as a guide.

Just like there are different mountains of different shapes and sizes, there are different markets with different levels of awareness. Each climb should also be different. And the view is different at every vantage point along the way.