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Being able to write well is only the first stage of effective copywriting. It’s the foundation on which a content-creator’s value is built.
But this doesn’t lead immediately to writing that provides a return on investment – or a Return on Content™ (RoC™), as we call it at Ad-Rank Media. Even if your copy is being read and enjoyed, if it’s not leading to conversions (meaning: getting a customer to do what you want) then it’s not going to be helping your bottom line.
Luckily, there are reliable methods behind creating copy that works. These methods come into being as a result of experience, as well as careful testing to see what really works. Since it’s been shown that only small changes to copy can have a dramatic change on conversion rates, we decided to put together some tips to help your copy engage, convince and then convert users into customers. Which is, at the end of the day, why we’re here.
Research the brand
It happens all the time. Allowing brilliant, funny and inventive writers to do as they please, and writing something we’d all like to read – but doesn’t fit at all with where it’s supposed to be. This is a shame because it’s so easily avoided.
Before a writer even thinks of a headline, they should spend time familiarising themselves with the brand for whom they’re writing. Sometimes this takes just five minutes of wandering around a website. Sometimes it can be tricky, and delving deep into the company literature is what’s required to get real insight. This is an obvious first stage, but worth pointing out as it’s so often omitted by writers with great ideas, too keen to get pen to paper before they really know what they should be doing.
Ambiguity in language can be wonderful – in poetry, for example. But human beings have very little tolerance for it when they’re looking at something they might want to buy. This concept should be applied especially to the tiny pieces of copy used to introduce and navigate web pages. As soon as a user lands on the page, they should know where they are and what’s on offer. For example, a ‘Services’ tab in your top navigation – even if your website has what you in do in neon letters at the top, this should be change to ‘X Services’. Nothing should be left to chance.
Small and perfectly formed
Following on from removing ambiguity, the small and essential pieces of copy should feel… well, perfect. The aim is for them to immediately turn on a light in the user’s brain. The less effort a user needs in order to understand what’s going on, the more likely they are to convert.
Sometimes this has more to do with site structure and SEO than copywriting – but these things are always closely related. After all, someone has to write the words that people are going to click. An example of the importance of thinking in this way came recently in the words ‘Work With Us’. These words appeared in a top navigation, and led to a portal for potential employees. A kind of conversion, if not monetary. We felt immediately that it should be changed to ‘Find a Job With (x)’ – a small and perfectly formed piece of language, instantly making its purpose clear.
Sometimes, tiny changes in language have big impacts on how people behave. It’s been shown very clearly that using ‘my’ in calls to action leads to higher conversation rates – ‘Start My Subscription’ rather than ‘Start Your Subscription’. That pronoun change has been shown to increase conversion rates by up to 24%. There will be some clever psychological reason behind why it seems to work, but meanwhile, since the tests show clear results, it’s best for a writer to always keep it in mind.
Not too long and not too short
Page length is a hot topic when it comes to copywriting and SEO. Deciding on word counts is a bit of a dark art, and often relies more on instinct rather that guidelines set in stone.
The fact is that, while generally speaking search engines like lots of relevant content, and rightly so, if you’re trying to get 800 words out of a writer, when really there’s only 300 good ones to be written, you’re going to end up with poor copy, and an unhappy team. While if your aim with a webpage is to improve organic search, longer is normally better, however if it’s conversions you’re after, then short pieces of copy can do their work very efficiently. In fact, images accompanying excellent calls to action can often work best of all.
If a page isn’t doing as well as expected, even though it’s full of good copy, it becomes time to test and see what users respond to best. If users are not converting, try replacing the copy with other forms of content, and see if things improve.
Test the tone
Copywriters often work with style guides, and will always be under some limitations as to what they can write. While these limits are there for a reason, they should be considered as something to hover around and occasionally threaten to cross. Copywriters should be encouraged to keep up to the limit as much as possible, because that’s where the sweet spot is – where you surprise someone just enough so that they’re compelled to stay on the page. If a phrase is a little bit unusual but interesting and likely to keep a user engaged, keep it in. People aren’t idiots – a fact that many copywriters (and, indeed, marketers) tend to forget.
An example of this principle in action came recently when one of our writers used the phrase ‘dabble champagne’. Normally you would have to dabble ‘in’ something, or just generally dabble. But why not dabble champagne? The phrase was just right – interesting but not bizarre, flirting with being too much but staying just within the limits of the brand.
Aiming for ‘just right’ is, in fact, the best way of thinking about good copy. Absolute perfection. Keep in mind what’s written above, and getting close to that aim will be easier – and your conversion rates will go up as a result.