Is there anything more overwhelming in the internet marketing world than having to write the sales copy used to pitch your products and/or affiliate promotions? Yes, I’m a freelance writer who’s pumped out over 1,000,000 words of paid content, but I’m not too proud to admit that the thought of having to draft a long form sales letter leaves me shaking in my boots…
Really, copywriting is both an art and a science, and it can take years and years of practice to get good at it. But since the alternative is paying thousands of dollars for a single sales letter, it’s a good idea to have at least a basic understanding of how to put together a functional piece of copy on your own.
So today I want to share my process for creating and tweaking sales copy. It isn’t perfect, and it isn’t going to produce the kind of content that makes angels weep and gets the stingiest buyers to open their wallets. It will – on the other hand – leave you with a working piece of copy that gets the job done in the least painful way possible.
I hope it helps de-mystify the process of copywriting for you as well!
Step #1 – Focus on Your Headlines
From my experiences (as well as every study that’s ever gone around claiming that the average visitor only spends a few seconds on a given website before deciding to click away), it’s pretty safe to say that your headline is the most important piece of your copy. Sometimes, I put as much effort into creating my headlines as I do the rest of the content, but it is possible to simplify the process.
When it comes to headlines, it isn’t necessary to reinvent the wheel. Plenty of people who are much, much smarter than me have done extensive testing to determine which headline formulas work the best in terms of triggering hidden emotional responses.
For example, an article on Copyblogger titled “9 Proven Headline Formulas That Sell Like Crazy” gives the following headline example using a formula that’s based on announcing exciting news:
“At Last, American Scientists Have Created the Perfect Alternative to a Mined Diamond!”
Even if your niche is the furthest thing from created diamonds, chances are you could repurpose this headline to suit your own needs. Check out the following examples:
“Finally, American Mom Discovers a Successful Alternative to Low Calorie and Low Carb Diets!”
“Never Before Shared Secrets Show You How American Investors Earn Incredible Returns on Their Money!”
“Introducing the Product Launch Formula – An Ideal Marketing Solution That Will Save You Money!”
For more examples of good headline formulas to model your introductory text after, check out any of the following articles:
Experiment with these formulas by writing down as many variations as you can think of that apply to your site. Then, take a break and come back with a fresh set of eyes later one – you’ll likely find that a few options jump out at you as the best options to use in your sales copy.
Step #2 – Tell a Story
There’s a reason we have fables that have lasted for centuries. People like stories – especially when we can see ourselves in them or apply their lessons to our own lives.
That’s why sales copy that tells a story is so much more effective than dry text. When you paint a picture of a character who’s struggling through a given problem, you give your reader a chance to identify with the problem being discussed and become more receptive to your proposed solution.
Check out the following two intro paragraph examples for a hypothetical acne cure product…
“Suffering from acne is no joke. In fact, it’s estimated that as many as 1 in 3 high school students may experience this debilitating skin condition sometime in their lives, leading to increased anxiety, reduced interest in social activities and lower self-esteem.”
“Sarah glanced in the bathroom mirror in despair before quickly looking away. “Pie face” – the other kids had called her, not knowing how much the insult stung. As she brushed the tears away from her face and resigned herself to meeting her tormenters once again, she wondered for a fleeting second, “Will I ever look normal?”
Guess which one of these is going to do a better job drawing people in?
The really successful copywriters have a way of weaving compelling storylines in throughout their text, dropping hints and mentions at certain points in order to keep you invested until the end. It takes practice to do this well, but for our purposes, it’s enough to insert mentions of the character’s storyline throughout the copy in order to parallel key points about the product as they are revealed.
Of course, you don’t want to lie about events that never occurred, as this could get you into trouble with the FTC. However, it is possible to develop a storyline that keeps your reader’s interest without asserting that the characters actions, in fact, occurred.
Step #3 – Sell the Benefits
Yeah, I know – this isn’t a really original piece of copywriting advice… However, it’s one of the most important, so I’m going to emphasize it again. Discussing product features doesn’t sell products – sharing benefits does.
A feature is a characteristic of a product. If you’re selling an info product, its features might include the number of pages, the methods covered, the bonuses included and so on. A benefit is the result that a buyer gets from these features.
For example, in our hypothetical skin care product from above, a feature might be that the book contains all natural acne remedies. To an acne sufferer, the benefit is not having to worry about the nasty side effects that some prescription acne medications can cause (Accutane, anyone…?).
By all means, include features in your sales copy, as people do want to know what they’re getting when they buy your product. But don’t expect your readers to extrapolate what these features mean for them. Do the dirty work ahead of time and lay it out as obviously as possible what your readers will feel and experience when they buy.
The easiest way to do this is to start with a bulleted list of your product’s features. Then, next to each bullet point, write out the benefit of each feature in terms of what the buyer gets out of the deal. Once your list is complete, make sure every piece of information you’ve written winds up in your sales copy.
Step #4 – Don’t Overdo It
Traditionally, the amount of copy you need to sell something has been tied to the purchase price of the product you’re selling. Selling a cheap report for a few bucks? A short, to-the-point sales letter should be enough to get the job done. Pitching a $1,000+ coaching program? You’re going to need the kind of long form sales letter that keeps readers scrolling down the page for hours.
Now, there are people who will tell you that customers are becoming more resistant to long form sales copy online, as well as people who will tell you that it’s as effective as ever. My position is this – write the best copy you can for the product you’re selling.
If you aren’t a strong writer, get in, make your point and get out. Incorporate the techniques above, of course, but don’t think that just because some internet guru tells you that your sales letter needs to be 5,000+ words that that’s the only way you’ll make sales. Writing long copy just to do so without understanding the science behind what makes these types of copy work for the pros is almost certainly going to lead to worse results than simply writing the best clear, concise sales copy that you can.
How can you be sure that you aren’t overdoing it? Simple – start with a clear outline of your sales
message. For our hypothetical acne cure product, the sales message might be written as follows:
• Acne is an embarrassing problem
• It can make you self-conscious and make it hard to meet new friends
• If you didn’t have acne, you’d feel better about yourself
• What would that type of solution be worth to you?
• There is a solution…
• Here’s what it does and how it does it
• And its cost is very reasonable, compared to the suffering you’re experiencing
• But if you’re still worried, I’ll guarantee your purchase
• So try it now – what do you have to lose?!
(Your particular sales copy might have more key points or fewer, but this is a solid general structure for how many sales letters are laid out.)
Each of these bullet points could then be turned into a separate sub-heading and used to mark different sections of the content. Just flesh out the story line so that one section flows into the next and you’ve got yourself a finished sales letter!
Step #5 – Test, Test and Test Some More!
You all know I’m a big fan of split testing, but here’s why it’s so important when it comes to copywriting… If you aren’t a good copywriter (and really, very few of us are), you can’t assume that the text you write at first will be any good at converting visitors into buyers. To make it better, you can either dramatically improve your copywriting skills or you can split test different elements in order to make more sales.
Obviously, I recommend the latter, as it’s much faster and easier to implement than becoming a copywriting expert. I’m not going to go into how to split test here (as I’ve already covered this extensively in my post on split testing), but I do want to share a few of the elements you can test in your sales copy that have led to the biggest conversion gains for me.
• Your headline – Remember when I said that you should pick a few different options from the headlines you generated earlier in this process? Here’s where you’re going to use them. Given how important your headline is in capturing your readers’ attention, split testing different options here is well worth the time and effort.
• Your sub-headlines – Ideally, your sub-headlines should provide the framework of your sales copy (as in my example above), but they should be written in a way that moves the reader through the story. Since writing these types of sub-headlines isn’t all that intuitive, it’s a good idea to spend some time reading other sales letters in your niche and applying the lessons learned to your own copy through split testing.
• Intro paragraph – Like your headline, your intro paragraph serves an important role in engaging visitors and keeping them on the page. That makes testing different intro paragraph options a great way to reduce your bounce rate and encourage your visitors to stick around long enough to get involved with your copy.
• Call to action – The call to action comes near the end of your sales copy, when you’re asking the visitor to stop reading and start buying. Since this text plays a vital role in making sales on your
website, it’s an ideal place to test different options and improve conversions.
• PS text – Many copywriting gurus will tell you that the “PS” text at the very end of your sales copy is some of the most frequently read text on your entire page. This text is your last chance, “Wait – don’t go!” copy, so making it as effective as possible through split testing is a great way to capture visitors who are on the fence about purchasing.
At the end of the day, remember this – your copy is never going to be perfect. You aren’t Bob Bly or Michael Fortin, but you don’t have to be either. Follow these guidelines and make a consistent effort to improve your skills – with time, you’ll become more and more effective, resulting in more and more sales flowing into your bank account.
Any questions about writing effective web copy? Anything that’s still scary to you even after reading through these guidelines? Share your thoughts in the comments!