8 Habits Of Conversion-Focused Copywriters

Most people write copy by following their instincts, listening to advice and soaking up conventional wisdom. But this will only get you so far. To get the best results you must test ideas, both conventional and unconventional, and see what works.

In this article, you will learn the one word that makes headlines convert, why you should go beyond your comfort zone, and other habits practiced by conversion-focused copywriters.

1. Timing It Right

Long before the Web, marketers already had a pretty slick system for measuring response rates. By running print adverts with different codes in the postal address, they could track the source of each order that arrived. They discovered that – at least where print ads were concerned – an early call to action typically brought the most sales.

On the Web, things are more complicated. If you ask for too much too early, people will say no before you can persuade them to say yes.It’s like when someone asks for your phone number when they barely know your name. The call to action comes too soon, so even if you give your number, you will feel ambivalent when they get in touch.

Think about when your audience will be ready to act, and whether you have done enough persuading by then. Take this example from Highrise. Rather than slapping a big button in the middle of the page, they make people read the copy first.

highrise homepage copy

Highrise holds off on its call to action until you’ve read the copy

Sometimes an early call to action works best, especially when readers are already primed to act and when the cost of acting is minimal. Test different ideas, and don’t assume early calls to action are always the best way to sell.

2. Using The Magic Word

You can write copy that’s clever or copy that sells, but rarely both at once. Clever copy may well bring people closer to your brand, but it won’t bring them closer to their wallets. When you’re focusing on conversion rates, aim for headlines that are easily understood.

Some copywriters write headlines after they’ve finished the copy, but I prefer to write headlines first. Sometimes I’ll go back and make changes later, but I like to use the headline to make big promises and then use the copy to meet them.

One little-known tip in headline writing is the power of starting with the word “get.” When you start a headline this way, it almost forces you to write an effective headline that focuses on the benefits your audience will receive. On landing page after landing page in different industries, I’m always struck by the prevalence of the word “get” in successful campaigns.

An example is Marketing Experiments’ work for Encyclopedia Britannica. When they replaced an empty question with a headline that started with the word “get,” conversion rates increased 103%.

Before

britannica-example1

Encyclopedia Britannica originally uses an empty question in its headline

After

britannica copywriting example

After switching to a headline starting with “get,” the conversion rate increased by 103%

After headlines, subheadlines typically have the biggest influence on conversion rates. They can make a striking difference to the effectiveness of the copy, but most marketers don’t bother with them at all. In another test by Marketing Experiments, this time for JumpBox, a subheadline added 88% to the conversion rate.

Jumpbox Before and After Conversion Rate

JumpBox previously used a headline with no subheadline. Then, after adding a headline, the conversion rate increased by 88%.

3. Going Beyond The Comfort Zone

John Caples’ Tested Advertising Methods is an excellent book about writing copy that gets results. Though it appeared long before the Web, it remains just as relevant today.

Chapter 17 is titled ‘10 Brain Teasers.’ You are shown 10 pairs of adverts and invited to guess which was a success and which was a failure. Take a look at the pair below:

(2) Suggestions for advertising a hair-growing remedy

2A: Suggestion Number One

Illustration: Man pointing his finger at another man’s bald head
Headline: “60 days ago they called me ‘Baldy’”
Copy Plot: The copy tells the story of a man who got excellent results from the hair-growing remedy
Offer: Free book, “The New Way to Grow Hair.”

 

2B: Suggestion Number Two

Illustration: Hair specialist offering a bank check to the reader
Headline: If I can’t grow hair for you in 30 days you get this check
Copy Plot: The copy explains that the check you get is your money back refund in case you are not satisfied with the results from the hair-growing treatments.
Offer: Free book, “The New Way to Grow Hair.”

 

“60 days ago they called me ‘Baldy,’” reads the headline in the first advert. You can imagine why some marketers would flinch at the thought of using baldy to describe their customers, even if it’s inside quotation marks. Why use derogatory language that’s likely to offend bald people who wish they had hair – the exact people the product targets?

While most people wouldn’t dare write copy so direct and forceful, the advert was successful. You can see how it might affect people viscerally. It makes you think of how you feel towards people who have called you Baldy, and then of your triumph over them when that label no longer applies to you.

Think about ways you can tap into your audience’s deep-seated feelings and direct them towards your products and services.

This can be done to varying degrees, so go as deep as you can. You know you’ve done it correctly when you feel uncomfortable at the thought of someone reading your words and knowing you wrote them.

4. Arousing Curiosity

Sometimes you’ll see a headline and feel you have to click through to find out more. Last week I visited Hacker News and noticed a link to an Economist article titled “A simple experiment suggests a way to encourage truthfulness.” The article describes an experiment that found people are less likely to cheat when they are given more time to consider their response:

The researchers’ apparatus for their experiment was that icon of sinful activity, the gambling die. They wanted to find out whether people were more likely to lie about the result of a die roll when asked that result immediately, or when given time to think.

If you didn’t click on the link above, you probably feel much less inclined to do so now that you know what the experiment was and how it ended up.

There’s an easy way to write copy that leaves your audience curious. Start by listing the important points you want them to learn. Then, for each point, come up with a headline that explains the what, without explaining the why or how. Here is an example for a company that makes accounting software:

Point Headline
The software allows you to complete your accounts on your own, so you can save on accounting costs Save $300 each month for your small business
One customer, Harry Martin, fired his accountant because the software made everything easy Discover why Harry Martin fired his accountant

 

Next, choose the headline you think will work most effectively. Then you will find it easy to set the pace at which to introduce the why and how into the body copy.

Writing copy that makes your audience curious is an especially effective technique when your audience has no idea they need your service. If someone is searching for accounting software, a more direct approach would likely work best. But if you are advertising to a more generic audience, consider using people’s natural curiosity to get them interested in a product they didn’t know they needed.

5. Not Judging A Method By Its Reputation

Sales letters convert incredibly well. They allow you to immerse your audience in your message, and to give them one clear path from arriving on your page to buying your product. But because so many sales letters are used to flog miracle diets and get-rich-quick schemes, most marketers have never considered using them for other types of products and services.

A typical sales letter is one long page crammed with copy, testimonials, bonuses and a big fat discount if you buy today. This approach can be effective, but you don’t have to adopt all these aspects to achieve powerful results. The main benefit is the way the page focuses on the copy, so this is the part you should try to replicate.

Try writing a sales letter landing page for important actions you ask of your website visitors, whether it’s buying a product or signing up for a newsletter. For design inspiration, check out this example sales letter created using Premise. Notice how the page uses the core elements of a sales letter, but without a sleazy design that could cheapen your brand.

premise landing page

This design from Premise can achieve results without cheapening your brand

6. Choosing The Right Verbs

There is plenty of evidence that starting calls to action with verbs is the best way to get results. Many people, however, make the mistake of assuming that any verb will do. In your average day browsing the web, you will be asked many times to “click here,” “sign up” and “submit.” These verbs often work reasonably well, but they rarely work best.

The main problem is that most calls to action ask the audience to complete a task, rather than telling them what they will receive. Instead of asking your audience to “sign up for a free 30-day trial,” tell them they will “get unlimited access for 30 days.” The former suggests your audience should fill out a form; the latter suggests they will get something for free.

Facebook does this well. Rather than asking you to “Add App” or “Install App,” they invite you to “Play Game.” Zynga also uses this approach. Rather than asking you to “Add on Facebook,” they invite you to “Play Now.”

angry birds facebook login

Facebook invites you to “Play Game” rather than “Add App”

empire and allies

Zynga invites you to “Play Now” and the link takes you to Facebook

7. Understanding The Audience

Many marketers make the mistake of overestimating their audience’s rationality. Around 40 years ago, Walter Mischel conducted an experiment where he left four-year-olds in a room with only a single marshmallow and a bell. If the children were able to wait in the room until the researcher returned, they would get two marshmallows instead of one. If they weren’t able to wait, they could ring the bell, the researcher would return, and they could eat one marshmallow straight away.

Only around 30% managed to wait 15 minutes until the researcher returned, and they went on to be more successful in later life. “The child who could wait fifteen minutes had an S.A.T. score that was, on average, two hundred and ten points higher than that of the kid who could wait only thirty seconds,” reports the New Yorker.

No matter the age or discipline of your audience, everyone has a repressed desire for instant gratification. So when you’re writing sales copy, don’t tell your audience what they will receive months and years later: tell them what they will get now.

Shopify is one example of a website that does this well. It could talk about how its ecommerce software could save you thousands on web development costs, or how others have made millions from selling products with its software. Instead, it focuses on satisfying its audience’s desire for instant gratification. The headline reads: “Create your ecommerce store today with Shopify,” and the call to action reads: “Create your store now.”

shopify homepage

Shopify fulfills its audience’s urge for instant gratification

Think about how long it takes for customers to realize each of your product’s benefits. Sometimes you will find that weaker benefits perform better just because they happen right away.

8. Winning Trust

I recently worked on a copywriting test for an enterprise software company. The original copy mentioned the yearly saving its customers would make from using its product, so I tested using a monthly figure instead of an annualized one. Then I tested different monthly and yearly savings that were all below the original amount.

In the end, I got the best results from offering a monthly saving that was less than half of what was originally promised. Even though the original figures made sense, the client’s audience found the lower numbers to be more persuasive.

Even when your copy is true, it needs to be believable to gain the trust of your audience. It is common for companies to make a similar mistake with testimonials. They choose the most enthusiastic testimonials to put on their landing page, but these are rarely the ones that perform best. Instead, they should pick the ones that sound authentic, while also alleviating a fear or explaining a benefit.

Check out how Rackspace approaches testimonials for an example of how to do this right. On its Flexible Test & Dev Environments page, it includes this quote from MindSnacks’ cofounder Karl Stenerud:

The main reason we use the cloud for testing and development is the convenience: spinning up a new server in the cloud without all the setup hassles makes cloud-based development a more attractive option overall.

Notice how the quote is relevant to the page, and is therefore likely to be more effective. Rackspace could have chosen a quote packed with superlatives, but instead it chose something that sounds authentic and addresses the needs of its audience.

rackspace testimonials

Rackspace uses relevant testimonials that address the needs of its audience

These are just 8 ideas to increase your conversion rates through more effective copywriting, and there are plenty more. Never stop testing new ideas, and you will continually reduce your customer acquisition costs and make it increasingly harder for your competitors to catch up.

About the Author: Craig Anderson is a copywriter at Cooper Murphy, the copywriting and content marketing agency. Email Craig to find out how Cooper Murphy can increase your conversion rates.

  1. Thanks for the very usable tips. I like it.

  2. We use copywriting more so for our direct mail campaigns and there’s a lot of good info here!

  3. Thank you for simple, but effective examples, clear writing (well I suppose you are a copy writer!) and some very useful practical tips. I was struck by tip 2 the magic word ‘get’ and am going to use this idea this afternoon!

  4. This is an excellent read, and on Friday too so I’ve got time to setup a plan for the coming week to change some non-engaging headlines. Good effort here, looking forward to your next article.

  5. These are extremely useful tips which I think every writer needs to know. Thanks so much for sharing these!

  6. Very practical tips. I love the examples.

    It’s interesting how emotion plays a huge role in the success of calls to action… how the “baldy” ad performed better than the “bank check” version.

  7. Great tips, this is one of the three best articles I read this month. Bad timing (CTA) is typical beginner’s mistake.

  8. Great stuff, the ‘point & headline’ is especially interesting. There’s a whole another side to copy writing that really is a psychological art.

  9. Great ! This is what i was looking for my adword ad copy writing. I’m sure after implementing these tips in my (25+35+35) character text, I’d get better result. Could you please share some more tips which will be directly focused to ad copy writing?

  10. Very good and thank you, though of course the Britannica example is utterly misleading. They had an entirely new headline making a complete, precise promise of a benefit rather than a limp question.

  11. You guys are absolute gold. Every time I read your blog I learn something incredibly useful validated with real-world proof. Doesn’t get better than that.

  12. No small feat packing a short copywriting course into one post. Thanks for sharing.

  13. loved this article. hope to improve my copy skills.

  14. Corky Swanson Aug 09, 2012 at 9:16 pm

    A great post on writing copy. I did notice that although Highrise does put the copy before the button, the prominence of the button “see plans and pricing” really makes it a sub-headline. Visually, it’s an early call to action. Really got a lot out of this. My next review post is going to begin with “Get.”

  15. Got a lot out of this article – I’ll be using that magic word “get”. Also the diagram of benefits to headlines – a great idea. Thanks for this – I’ve bookmarked it

  16. Get in your customers head. Winning their trust by being believable, congruent and relevant to the page. Got it. Thanks

  17. I’ve never done copywriting before, but I can tell that the info here are all golden! Great tips for an absolute beginner like me, thanks!

  18. Great practical advice, nicely packaged. Thank you!

  19. Thanks for writing such a comprehensive article. Have bookmarked and emailed it to a copywriter!

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