Your web copy is the conversation you have with your customers, and like all first impressions, it can make or break you.
To craft high-ROI copy that pulls people in, you need to remember that you’re writing for humans: those complex, starry-eyed, hopeful bundles of beating hearts and fears and histories and dreams. You’re not writing for all of humanity, either: you’re writing for a specific target, your ideal customer. The success of your copy hinges on your understanding of your audience and ability to carry on a compelling conversation with them. Memorable conversationalists understand what you want, speak your language, build trust, and ease your fears.
Sounds easy enough, but this simple wisdom gets lost in marketing just as it does in our daily conversations. To elevate the ROI of your web copy, here’s five essential tips to keep in mind:
1- Shine the Spotlight On Your Customers
Copy that converts never leaves the customer wondering, What’s in it for me? As an expert on your product, however, your own knowledge and bias can get in the way of this principle.
Because you have an intimate understanding of how your product can improve customers’ lives, it’s easy to assume that they do, too. It’s perfectly understandable that you want to share that awesomeness with the world, but you need to forget your own agenda and speak solely to the needs and desires of your audience. Review every single sentence on your website and ask: Is the focus on your passion and mission, or on the people you serve?
Let’s say you’re a massage therapist, and your website reads: “Manhattan’s elite, award-winning massage therapist.” While you might understand how your magic touch can benefit clients, this descriptor doesn’t necessarily convey that. It’s focused on you, not your client. Something like “Overworked? Melt stress and tension with a deeply relaxing massage” or perhaps “Stress have you stressed? Treat yourself to deep relaxation” would more effectively speak to the souls of the people you want to reach.
Speaking in the second-person (you, your, and yours) is one excellent way to shine the spotlight directly on your customers.
2- Benefits > features
As an expert on your business or product, you’re proud of its key features. But customers don’t care about what matters to you. They care about how it’s going to affect their life, which is why you want to sell the result (benefit).
If this distinction feels blurry, remember that features are something that your product does or has, aka, the shiny bells and whistles. A feature might be wireless surround sound that works flawlessly without Wifi. The benefit, then, is the ability to entertain in your home with confidence in your sound system.
Let’s view this through a human lens: Imagine showing up to a date, and you’ve barely sat down before the other person launches into a list of their accomplishments without asking you a single question. In copywriting terms, he or she is all features--with no benefit to you. A lot of websites are the digital version of that person. Differentiate yourself by being the exception.
3- Remember the rule of loss aversion
It’s also valuable to show customers the negative impact of not using your product or service. Remember, people are far more likely to act to avoid pain than get gain.
A classic formula called “Problem-Agitate-Solve” (PAS) from copywriting legend Dan Kennedy harnesses this psychological rule to connect with customers:
1) Problem: Identify your customer’s problem
2) Agitate: Stir up the painful emotions connected with the problem
3) Solve: Swoop in with the solution
The issue is, most web copy makes a beeline toward the solution and skips the middle step. But humans are emotional creatures, and emotion is what drives us to open our wallets. So after identifying the problem, it’s essential that you paint a vivid picture that shows you understand the full, painful scope of consequences that this issue drudges up. Once customers can viscerally feel it, you have their attention and can get to the good stuff.
Let’s go back to the speakers example. There’s a lot that goes into hosting a successful shindig, and music is a vital element. Thanks to this sound system, people can worry about one less thing: the playlist cutting out. “Agitate” the issue (being a bad host) by illustrating the unease that guests feel when the music stalls--and then explain how your reliable speakers are the perfect antidote.
Note: This rule shouldn’t be used for evil! I just want to drive home the value of showing your audience that you understand their problem, validating their fears, and then unveiling the answer.
4- Harness the power of stories
Great stories=great ROI. Stories are the universal way that humans connect, share, and create meaning, and all successful brands leverage stories to create wildly loyal followings.
So, how can you infuse your web copy with memorable stories that create rapport? We don’t want the cardinal rule (put the spotlight on your audience) to fly out the window: the stories you share must be hyper-relevant to their values and deepest desires. Stories might be universal, but your messaging shouldn’t be. Always prioritize the needs of your humans and speak directly to them.
Your “About” page is perhaps the best opportunity to do so. This is the place where people check you out and are totally hooked or...not. Don’t squander the opportunity for connection with generic filler words or an inauthentic mission statement. In “The Storyteller’s Secret,” Carmine Gallo writes: “Every company needs a vision, but the vision falls on deaf ears if not accompanied by a compelling backstory. The backstory gives the vision meaning.”
Pay attention to the stories of where you’ve been and how you got to where you are. People feel a deep connection with brands who share their why. Don’t be shy if that backstory includes a struggle...all the best ones do!
5- Don’t be a snooze
Safe is boring, long-winded is boring, generic is boring. Push the boundaries a bit and spice up your copy with personality and humor (within your brand tone and style, of course). Stuffy corporate bios, for instance, are one common pain point for websites. People are incredibly interesting, successful, and unique, so make sure your copy reflects that (and remember to tell a story for ultimate engagement). Reading your work out loud can be a transformative practice. Boring yourself? Continue tweaking!
Note: There’s a fine line between creative/compelling and overly clever/cute. Clarity should be the deal-breaker here. If what you're saying is at all ambiguous, scrap it. You can always test more risque ideas in e-mail sequences with customers who know you better.
Finally, if you’re having trouble or getting stuck, check out your competitors. Browse their sites and take note of what you like and don’t like about their web copy to help you move forward.
For a quick summary…
Great web copy follows the same principles as great conversation
Forget your own agenda; the spotlight is on the customer’s needs
Craft every sentence with the awareness that people are wondering, What’s in it for me?
Highlight the benefits over the features
Identify a problem, validate it, talk about why it sucks, and then solve the issue
“Storify” your web copy to make an emotional connection with your audience
Keep it short and simple, but never boring
When you follow these tips, you’ll be well on your way to creating a space to truly live in the hearts and minds of your customers.
And as always, if you have copywriting projects or questions about putting these tips into action, feel free to drop me a line at email@example.com.