How are you feeling?
If you’ve been here before and have come to know and trust me, you probably feel quite comfortable.
Is it your first time? Now that’s an entirely different bale of hay. It’s human nature, right? When you arrive somewhere—or interact with someone—for the first time, you may be curious, but you can’t help being anxious.
Your guard’s up. Your wallet’s tucked away. Any little bump and away you go.
As you’ve surmised, I’m talking about your experience on a web page—one that until now, you’ve never before landed on.
Discomfort’s the mother of all conversion killers
Any copywriter worth his (or her) weight (or rate) needs to understand this reality and quickly wordsmith newcomers down a path to their comfort zone.
Where a web page is the terrain, the copywriter’s the tour guide, instructor, concierge, maître d’, and of course, sales clerk. If the copy can’t seal the deal, it must offer something compelling to start some sort of relationship.
Conversion, we say. Conversion, we seek.
But I’m not sure conversion is the right word
Apologies in advance for my anti-establishment point of view here, but the word “conversion,” a staple of the marketing vernacular, doesn’t do it for me. I say this because “convert” means to change or transform.
A Jew might convert to a Christian (it happens). A Cubs fan could convert to the White Sox (has that ever happened?).
I believe it’s remarkably rare a web site or page has that kind of power.
People come to your site because they already want something. Two examples:
- They want to date
- They want a problem-free computer
In the first example, you sell a dating service. Is it on you to persuade your prospect that companionship is a good thing?
And in the second case, your product is security software. Will you convert someone to believe software viruses are bad?
No. And no. See, your challenge is less ambitious. This thing we call conversion isn’t so much about transforming someone’s way of thinking; it’s tapping into a need they already have and motivating them to agree this is the time and place to take action.
You need to get them into a comfort zone.
A classic example of creating a comfort zone where a desire already exists. The famous “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” doesn’t say, “you should misbehave.” An ingenious twist communicates, “It’s okay to misbehave here.”
For the purposes of the lesson, I’m okay with us going back to “conversion” now. I just wanted to convert your perception of the challenge into a psychological realm. We’re going to focus on feelings.
When readers don’t feel good, they’re gone.
Of course, we’re talking about the human mind, so though this thesis may have begun to sound simple, we both know it’s not. Now I’ll unravel the antidotes to 7 common causes of discomfort.
- Lack of trust
Confusion is your first and worst nemesis. Clarity is the key to overcoming it.
Write a clear headline. I’m not saying don’t be clever. I read that often and reject the advice. However, you can’t be oblique. You can’t be ambiguous. So if you find yourself in a battle between clarity and cleverness, allow clarity to win.
For this, and every copywriting tip, put yourself in the mind of the reader. Something led your reader here. The most likely suspect was a search. It could have been something seen on social media. A referral is possible too.
In any case, you got the click. Now it’s your turn to click with the reader. Connect the before with the after. The key is the keyword, or words. If the visitor read “Conversion copywriting strategies” just a second ago, they should find the term again. Instantly. Prominently. First.
The Twitter ad above promotes a simpler CRM. A click takes me to…
Whoa. I’m lost. This confusing landing page has an oblique headline with no mention of CRM. Nothing even looks famililar. With the exception of the “Q” logo mark, I can’t see any connection between the ad and landing page.
Now here’s how to connect clearly…
Domo’s Twitter ad encourages me to learn more about how spreadsheets mess with my bottom line.
Watch the language. Two forms of linguistic turds get in the way of clarity: industry jargon and marketing bull. A great headline has neither, yet both heaps of dung continue to stink up headlines.
First, jargon’s deadly. It tends to turn corporate marketing teams on because they swim in the language of their industry daily. It turns readers off because they don’t understand.
Re-examine your headlines. Don’t try to sound knowledgeable. It backfires. Sound helpful.
Ask yourself: Are you using insider language? Can you be clearer?
Next, you need to nix the marketing babble. It’s possible you use throwaway words and phrases such as “revolutionary” and “state-of-the-art” unconsciously. Try to take notice.
If you don’t agree a headline like “Executing Real World Operational Strategies to Propel Innovation” confuses readers, we should agree this isn’t the right copywriting lesson for you.
Distraction’s a killer too. Focus is the solution. Granted, design elements are likely culprits for distraction, but this is a writing lesson, so let’s talk about how your copy keeps readers focused.
Keep it simple. An effective web page should have one job to do. If your page is a landing page with a form, its job is to get the form filled.
If it’s not a landing page, it’s a leading page. It still has one job to do: lead.
Can you try to communicate more than one message? Yes. But your additional messages should support your main message, so as to not introduce any distractions from the task at hand.
The WebDAM landing page contains multiple messages, but they don’t distract me from the star of the page, the DAM selection guide. Same here…
Build your case. You might have a series of benefits to reveal. You may have some proof points. Features. Prices. All good, provided you stay on point and build a practical case stepping from point to point in the sequence you anticipate will be the most comforting for your reader.
Set your points apart, but glue them together thematically. Use subheads, lists and captions reminding yourself visitors are skimming. Their eyes are jumping around. Don’t fight it. Embrace it.
I like to write pages that make sense to the visitor who reads only the headline and subheads. Or only the captions. Or only the form.
Even the call to action should have stand-alone power. Try making the copy of your CTA or button, caption, or any sort of visual device focused enough to tell the story in one urgent heartbeat.
The CTA on this Shopify landing page reads, “Create your store.” The offer’s value is unmistakable.
Write what needs to be written. Don’t abide by some theory you’ve read stating a specific type of page should have a specific length or word count. Horse hockey.
Don’t count characters, but make every character count.
Your approach for building a case with multiple supporting points should progress from the most important to least. Think chapters. The first one must be the most gripping. Each should compel the reader to keep reading. If you get to a flimsy one, kill it. You’re done. Call for action.
Apathy is a lack of interest, enthusiasm, or concern. Apathy might set in at any step along the way if your “pitch” begins to feel optional, less urgent, or irrelevant.
For instance, you could have arrived at this article with a big interest in conversion, but a slight indifference about copywriting. It’s my job to make sure you stay emotionally invested in “conversion copywriting.”
Consider your battle with apathy never-ending. Check your copy top to bottom to make sure you’re not all “hook” and no “line and sinker.”
I’ve created an ABCDE checklist to help you understand, apply and remember some useful tips to win the battle against apathy.
Application—Do not pass go without a selling proposition. You need to be able to articulate how your offer applies to the reader’s needs.
Start with determining what your customers want to achieve.
What specific outcome sounds like success?
~ Gregory Ciotti, Writing Value Propositions that Work
Benefits—Deliver the answer to the question, “What’s in it for me?” If you’re struggling to get features out of the way and arrive at a clear benefit statement, try filling in the blank in this simple exercise:
How to ______________________________ .
Context—Put yourself in your reader’s shoes. Don’t be afraid to be specific or even polarizing. Disqualification is powerful too. I recommend treating your offer as a cause. With a cause in mind, your copy should rally the right people and repel the wrong ones.
Difference—Yours isn’t the only solution of its kind. What can you deliver that no one else can?
Emotions— Identify the emotional needs your customers have and use power words to tap into them. Keep in mind, every decision we make is to avoid pain or seek pleasure.
The hero shot on the Vendemore home page features two lines of copy to deliver:
- Context: For marketers struggling to support sales with qualified leads.
- Difference: The point of differentiator is highly focused budget allocation.
- Emotions: Notice the deliberate attempt to address a pain point? Lack of appreciation (or love) from the sales team.
Conversion experts are so focused on persuasion, in my estimation, they downplay entertainment value. You shouldn’t.
You can’t bore people into buying.
As a communicator, no matter what you want your audience to do—learn, respond, share, attend, sign-up, try, buy—if they tune out, you lose. Boredom’s the deal breaker.
Think about all the things you start, even in a singe day, but don’t finish: articles, emails, webinars, websites, landing pages, podcasts, videos.
For me, even with meetings or conference sessions—scenarios where it’s awkward to leave—I may hang in there physically, but checkout mentally. You do the same.
If attention’s the web’s golden goose, boredom’s its rotten egg.
What’s a writer to do?
Make it fun. The concept couldn’t be simpler. Don’t be so serious. Have fun. Tell a little story.
But wait, you say, this is serious stuff. My reader is a making an important business decision. While it may be true, your reader is a human like you. He or she eats Doritos, shares funny YouTube videos, and takes out the trash.
Find an appropriate emotional hot button and push it.
Ask questions. Introduce a character the reader can relate to. Speak to their memories, values and dreams. Use your sense of humor. Get them involved.
And always, always, remember the fastest way to bore your reader is fixating on your company. Your page must be about the reader. If your post-copywriting checklist were to have just one item it should be: Who are we talking about here?
Give it rhythm. In addition to putting some heart in your copy, give it a pulse with good rhythm. Make your first paragraph brief to help get the reader into the page.
Avoid long paragraphs and use lots of paragraph breaks. When you write a long sentence, follow it with a short one. The goal is to keep the reader engaged and her eyes moving.
Your copy stops working when reading it feels like work.
At any point, when the copy begins to look or feel monotonous or intimidating, find ways to break it up. Change the pace. Inject skim-friendly elements in the form of:
- Bulleted lists
- Photos with captions
- Pullout quotes
(Notice, please, my many attempts to use all of the devices I listed to keep you engaged in this ultra-long post.)
Desire – Friction = Conversion rate.
Friction subtracts from your conversion. Simple. Of course, the idea of the “comfort zone” at large is to remove the discomfort that is a source of friction.
In this section, we’ll focus on a major source of friction in the mind of your reader: something feels difficult. Difficultly works against you, obviously. Your reader’s looking for ease.
Let’s look at a handful of specific strategies for removing difficulty factors in your copy.
Introduce ease. There’s a reason smart marketing plays often highlight things such as shortcuts, secrets, fast tracks, templates, cheat sheets, checklists and so forth. We face difficult challenges and crave simple solutions. Write passages assuring readers you’re leading them down the fast and easy path.
Reduce risk. “What if” always lingers in the mind of the potential buyer. Whenever possible, introduce a safety net. Aim to address fears with practical reasons to be fearless.
Speak to the dream. “Yeah, but not me” is a common reader mentality and a big source of friction. Assure your reader the dream is attainable. Help him or her imagine the satisfaction of realizing a positive outcome. You’ll find writers addressing this approach often by stating something to the effect of “I once had the same problem you’re facing.”
Overcome objections. With each solution you propose, anticipate the reader’s subsequent objection and address it.
When writing the headline for this post, I anticipated the reader’s objections… “I won’t understand SEO”… “It’s complicated”… “I don’t have the attention span to read about search.”
Lack of trust
“Know, like and trust” is the trifecta of success for sales and marketing. I’ll assume your reader’s on your website and has therefore come to know your brand, so I’ll discuss ways to increase confidence by getting liked and trusted.
Write conversationally. Though it may have helped in college, formal writing fails in the real world. You’ll gain credibility and your reader’s confidence when your copy feels conversational, casual and caring. Be direct. Use plain and simple language. Break grammatical rules.
We talk too much like marketers because we’re not listening to our customers….
I found Autopilot’s landing page (above) to be jargony and impersonal. My rewritten version (below) borrows language from a customer testimonial.
Use first person. Want to be likeable? Be real. Consider the reader a friend. Write in first person. Hi “you.”
Empathize. “Develop pathological empathy for your customer,” says author and content marketing queen Ann Handley. Do your research and win your customer’s trust by writing the things that show just how well you understand their needs.
In this before and after, I used the voice of the customer to write an empathetic headline, which demonstrates more empathy for the customer’s real challenge.
Offer proof. Psychology teaches us endorsements increase our comfort level when making decisions. “Social proof” is marketing speak for publishing evidence your product, service, content, or people, have earned the approval of others. Heighten the reader’s trust with testimonials, reviews, ratings, badges, customer logos or any numbers that suggest what you offer is a winner.
KISSmetrics pours on the social proof with a testimonial, a customers count and client logos.
Creating a curious “itch” is an effective tactic for email subject lines, headlines and social media updates. However, when it comes to moving website visitors to the next step in the buying process, the last thing you want to create is mystery.
Give your visitor ultra-clear directions.
Call for action. People are far more likely to do what you want them to when you ask them to in the form of a call to action. You’ll need to consider the content and layout of the page when deciding where to place your call to action and how many times to offer it. At the very least, include a call to action in your conclusion.
One choice wins. You may call for action more than once on a page, however the action itself should be singular. To achieve conversion, your page should focus on one clear request. More choices = more confusion. More confusion = less conversion.
Reiterate the value. An effective call to action reminds the reader one last time what they will get. Generic words such as “submit” or “click” lack a value proposition. Don’t fear writing longer calls to action. Something like “Enroll in the the free course now” works great.
Use compelling verbs. You’re asking for action. Use active verbs. Words such as “get,” “reserve,” “try,” “buy,” or “start” are all strong candidates. Conversion testing often indicates a first person voice (e.g. “Sign me up”) will improve your results.
Square tells you to “Start selling today.” Note the use of an action verb. The “get started” button includes one too.
You have seven jobs to do
Your goal as a conversion copywriter is to steer the reader into a comfort zone. You achieve the goal when you gain the prospect’s trust, when he or she believes you’re going to be helpful. You offer a valuable resource.
On every page, your challenge is to lead the prospect closer to doing business with you. From the headline to the call to action, an all points between, discomfort is a deal-breaker.
Remind yourself with every creative decision you make, every line you write, you need to:
- Overcome confusion
- Avoid distraction
- Foil apathy
- Elude boredom
- Prevent friction
- Displace lack of trust
- Remove mystery
That’s how you put your readers in a comfort zone. And though you may not change or transform them, you’re likely to get them to feel good about taking action.