These two blog posts were first published in 2013, as an e-book that used to sell on my website for $17. Now I’m giving it away for free in the form of two blog posts. Enjoy! Follow the steps, and soon you will be able to write sales copy to put your business on the road to further success.
Introduction to writing landing page copy
Soon you will be able to craft mesmerizing copy that converts traffic into sales.
This guide will teach you a tested and proven recipe that works every time.
You don’t have to be a creative genius or a good writer to make sales copy. It is not complicated or random. All you need is to stick with a few basic principles and follow simple steps.
Whatever you are selling, there is a style of sales copy that helps you meet your goals. Follow the easy steps in this book, and you will get refined sales copy that will inspire your target audience to act. Maybe you want them to leave their email address so that you can contact them. Maybe you want them to call you. Or maybe you want to make a sale right then and there by having them place an order through your website. In any case, your website has to inspire trust in your target audience. They will buy only if they believe they will get what you promise.
A promise is only as strong as the trustworthiness of the person or business behind it. Trust and credibility come from (1) high-quality web design and (2) a clear and straightforward message. Any website that aims for commercial success needs a solid sales message that converts traffic into paying customers.
You will learn how to draw people in. I will show you how to use psychology and the tricks of the trade that keep people reading and compel them to act. You will get the keys to making your website credible and trustworthy. You will learn how to write great sales copy that converts.
Why I made this guide
When I first started out as a freelance copywriter, I read many books about copywriting and marketing. I studied night and day. I wrote summaries. I did practice drills and studied the copy of famous copywriters from the past. In the meantime, I wrote sales copy for client websites almost every day from 2010 to 2013. I studied the craft. I started small and worked my way up to bigger clients and more challenging copywriting jobs. With each job came more experience and more results and feedback. I learned marketing and how to get people to buy products online.
Before I became a copywriter, I worked in sales and consulting. I also have a degree in psychology. I noticed things in common between sales and marketing and how the human mind is persuaded by an online message. By combining scientific theories, sales experience, and writing skill, I became a copywriting pro.
Before each new copywriting job, I reviewed my summaries and conclusions, working hard to apply them to my client’s landing page. That is how I found out the truth about many copywriting books: A lot of what I had studied was useless for the practical task of writing a landing page. As I worked with clients who had more experience in Internet marketing, I learned what worked and what clients and customers want from sales copy.
Most copywriting books mention a few things that are important. You have to know the basics. For example, everyone agrees that:
- You should know the difference between features and benefits.
- You should study your niche and know the fears and desires of your target audience.
- The headline is important for attracting attention.
- Bullet points make the copy easy to read. You should use “emotional words.”
Of course, these examples are just some of the basics. I mention these to show that copywriters agree on only a few things. Beyond the basics, there are various details and tricks that copywriters do not agree on. Each copywriter serves different clients and writes for various audiences. I was surprised to learn that a lot of the information and book knowledge was useless. When I applied it to write sales copy for a landing page, it didn’t work. The copy would be flat-out bad, or it was wrong for the type of audience I was trying to reach.
I have written the sales copy for dozens of landing pages. I reviewed my notes every time, and I noticed again and again that only a few methods and techniques worked. Some methods take too long to apply to landing page copy. Some things work only in a few rare situations. Some theories were just plain bad pseudo-science.
Now I know how to write a good landing page, based on 1) the techniques that work and 2) personal experience from working in the trenches of website copywriting. In this book, I share what I learned in an easy step-by-step format.
Writing sales copy made easy for you
This book will save you from figuring out what works and what doesn’t. The goal is to write a landing page for a website. To do that well, you don’t need to know everything about copywriting. There is no need to waste your time with things that don’t get results.
The guide you are reading now is my answer: a recipe for writing a landing page step-by-step. No B.S. No useless theories. No long procedures that nobody has time for. This is what has worked for me when writing sales copy for websites.
This recipe for writing landing page copy is tested and proven. I have developed it over the course of two years while working on landing pages for dozens of clients. It is refined, complete, and effective. Follow the steps and you will get refined sales copy for your offer. Put it on your website and it will convert traffic into sales. Writing sales copy will never be confusing or boring again.
This guide has a practical setup, and you can use it to write your sales page step-by-step. Everything is spelled out. You always know exactly what to do next, just like using a map to get from A to B. At each turn of the road, you can refer to the map to see where you should go next. Just as you can use the same map to go to different places, you can use this method to write a landing page to sell any product or service.
Why? Because the psychology of buying something is always based on the same principles.
After you are done with the step-by-step writing process, you will have sales copy that is ready for your landing page. You will have copy that you can feel confident about. When you are done, you will have taken the simple steps that work. You will be in a position to profit from the results.
You don’t have to be “creative”
Maybe you believe the TV-image of the copywriter, and you think that copywriting takes a lot of creativity or a brilliant idea. But that is just not true. The notion of creativity in copywriting is old-fashioned. The myth of the copywriter as some creative genius comes from a different age. Back then there was no fast and cheap split testing, and marketers did not yet have a scientific vision of human psychology.
You can read Claude C. Hopkins’ Scientific Advertising to learn how businesses measured advertising results in times before the Internet. You can watch Adam Curtis’ documentary The Century of the Self to understand how marketing was done throughout the 20th century. That way of doing things is portrayed well in popular television show Mad Men. On the Internet, though, it doesn’t work like that. Different media need different marketing methods.
Shows and movies make you believe that an “advertising creative” spends day and a night brainstorming, scribbling notes, and chewing a pen, all the while drinking large quantities of booze and coffee. They always have some hard deadline where they have to show a brilliant idea or their job is at risk. You don’t see the actual creative process. Quality copy arrives in a flash–or not at all.
It makes for a good story. The copywriter supposedly has a divine power called creative talent, and the brilliant copy comes from thin air as a reward for long suffering. Copywriters are made to look like struggling artists who find truth and beauty by serving the muse, but this view is just plain wrong.
Creativity plays a role only at the stage of product development and branding. Your creative talent is most useful with what business strategists call “positioning.” For selling things on the Internet, positioning happens at the stage of product creation, market research, and driving traffic. That is where your creativity as a marketer is tested.
Creativity isn’t a must have when you write sales copy. Today, copywriting is at a stage where you follow a surefire step-by-step process. There’s nothing mystical about it. Writing copy for a landing page does not take luck or a flash of brilliance to make it perform.
So let’s take the first step in getting your sales copy done.
Step 1: List the features
First, you are going to define the key elements of your offer. The result will be a diagram that shows the logic of how the customer will get value.
Copywriter Andy Maslen, author of Write to Sell, and Neil Rackham, author of SPIN Selling, recommend distinguishing between advantages and benefits, to define the offer with a deeper understanding of how the value is delivered. Personally, I create a diagram that shows the relationships of the features and benefits. I call it a Features – Advantages – Benefits (F-A-B) diagram. It is a reliable technique for organizing your sales message.
Most copywriting books will tell you to make a list of features and benefits, but they do not tell you how to organize them. You can’t keep it all in your head if your product or service is more advanced than a pencil or a T-shirt. While you are writing, the whole offer must be visible at a glance. That is the basis of a surefire writing formula.
The F-A-B diagram will show:
- all the features of the product or service;
- how the features give advantages to the customer;
- and how the advantages realize benefit(s).
The features of the product or service are there for a reason: They help the customer. For example, fresh ingredients make the food tasty and healthy. Or an energy drink with electrolytes helps you recover faster after a workout or a night of partying. Or the features of martial arts school are the realistic situations and practical training that teach you how to win a real fight on the streets. Features are the simple facts about a product or service that make it valuable.
I will talk about the details of advantages and benefits later. For now, just take a look at these F-A-B diagrams to see what you are making at this stage.
Here are some examples from real copywriting jobs I did for clients. Don’t worry about the details yet. Later on, you will see how to make this diagram for your own sales page.
You can now make a list of the features of your product or service. This step can take a hired copywriter a few hours of research and interviews. As the business owner, however, you already know exactly what you are selling, so you can do this in only ten minutes or less.
Write down everything that you know about your product or service that makes it good. For now, just stick with the basic facts. Later on, you will use this list to define the advantages that realize a benefit for the customer.
Here are some more examples of feature lists I made when writing landing page copy for clients. These lists were the outcome of taking Step 1 in those copywriting jobs.
Features of an online job board – software-as-a-service
- web based
- detailed and complete
- low cost
- no dealing with the IT department
- admin area
- one-step job applications
- bridge between a static page and full ATS
- website visitors can subscribe to job openings by email or RSS
- company jobs stream
Features of training at a self-defense fighting Academy
- realistic situations
- practical training
- simple techniques
- psychology of aggression
Features of a women’s fashion business for sale
- 1000 items in stock
- working website with shopping cart
- reliable supplier from China
- high-quality loungewear collection
- style blended with comfort
- effortless style
- practical and simple
Features of a flavor-enhancing business for sale
- established repeat clients
- secret recipe
- no staff
- minimal advertising
Step 2: The psychology of advantages and benefits
Marketers and salespeople know how the features of a product or service give the customer advantages. It is natural for them to talk about features to describe the product and to highlight the advantages for the customer. It will not take too long to list all the features.
Your next step in making your F-A-B diagram is connecting the product features with the advantages they give to the customer. This step is easy for marketers who already know their target audience. Have you spoken in person with many of the users of your product or service? Then you know the advantages well. Enter the advantages in your spreadsheet, drawing program, or flash cards. Then simply draw arrows between the features and their advantages. The arrows show a causal connection: Only features can give advantages, and every advantage is caused by at least one feature. Maybe you are not yet familiar with your target audience. If so, I recommend that you put off listing the advantages until you finish the next part about buyer psychology. After that, you can define the advantages and the benefits at once.
Why people buy stuff
Every copywriting book refers to ideas from psychology that describe what drives people to buy things. Theories and models from buyer psychology help you understand what benefit your customer gets from your offer, and I use a few concepts time and time again.
Your target audience will buy from you if they believe your product or service will make their lives better. Therefore, your sales copy must make that claim or suggestion with evidence of credibility. Your target audience will believe you can help them by various kinds of proof. We will talk about that later. First, we have to look at what “better life” means. There are two ways in which someone’s life can become better:
1. They have a practical problem, and they need a solution now.
2. They want membership in a certain group or class of people.
Benefits of practical solutions
Whenever people become aware of a practical problem, they feel that they have lost their well-being. There is a nagging sense of incompleteness until the practical problem is solved. They can’t have visitors while the toilet is clogged. They have to see the dentist to have their toothache treated, or they will not rest until they have their website up. Any urgent problem motivates people to buy a product that solves it now. They need a solution to restore a basic level of contentment.
You don’t need much buyer psychology to write the landing page copy of a pure solution. There is no rocket science in viewing the target audience as a person with a problem. The only thing you have to make sure you get right is to understand the issue of the person who makes the decision to buy. For example:
People who have a new dog or puppy are interested in dog training. Their “problem” is that they don’t know how to train a dog. They are interested in tips and techniques for training their dog. Hobbyist gardeners are looking for practical information about gardening. Single-and-looking people want information about dating, such as how to how their best side on an Internet dating website. People with high blood pressure want safe medicine that lowers their blood
pressure back to normal.
If you are selling a solution, the landing page copy has to:
1. show that you understand the target audience’s problem, and
2. prove that your product or service is the best solution for your audience.
When your product or service is business-to-business (B2B), you are always selling a solution. The benefits of B2B solutions are:
- saving money
- saving time
- more revenue
These can also be stated as a promise for more profit or a better return-on-investment (ROI). People with final responsibility make every decision while thinking in terms of profit and ROI, so phrase the benefit that way if your target audience works at the executive level.
In B2B selling, it is important to remember who decides to buy from you. That person may not be the same one who will be using the product or service. Salespeople call the buyer the “Yes-person” or the “Decision-Making Unit” (DMU). This is the manager or owner who has the authority to make purchasing decisions at the price level of your offer. The B2B sales copy must always be targeted at the “Yes-person.” Complete the F-A-B diagram with the advantages and benefits from the perspective of the “Yes-person.”
Once I wrote the copy for a client who was selling a software application for fast and easy scanning of business cards. People who go to conferences and trade shows were the target market. They get large stacks of business cards from new contacts. With my client’s software, they could digitize and upload all their business cards in a short amount of time, to have all their contacts in a digital format, available anywhere.
After I had written the copy, the client said he had to reconsider the whole value proposition. My sales copy made it clear that the product was a promise of saving time. That was the only benefit, but we didn’t know if the people who would save time by uploading their business cards were the same people who would purchase the software. The time-savings for the decision maker (the Yes-person) might not have been big enough to justify the cost of the product.
The lesson: Something that looks like a cool idea, at first, can be useless in the cold light of business economics. Keep that in mind. When selling to a company, the benefits you promise are: saving money, saving time, or bringing in more revenue. Anything else is a feature or an advantage. Your copy has to prove that your offer makes enough money or saves enough time for it to be the best option from the viewpoint of the Yes-person.
Benefits of emblems
Even if people don’t have practical problems that need to be solved, their lives can still be better in another way: by belonging to a group or social class they admire. This group or class of people is perceived to have qualities and privileges that the prospects currently don’t have. Their lives may already be good, but they will be even better in this new group.
People who wish to belong to a particular group want to buy products and services used by that group. People can be aware that they want a certain product, yet may be unaware of the reason. They can be unaware that they want it because it marks them as a member of a certain group. They think they are buying a solution for a problem, but the actual reason they buy it is to project the image and qualities of a certain kind of person.
People that want to belong to an admired group will be looking to buy something as an emblem: some accessory that shows, to themselves and others, that they are members of this respected group. Teenagers start smoking to look like cool grownups. Someone gets the same hairstyle as a celebrity to look glamorous. A tattoo can make you look tough or rebellious.
Keep emblems plausibly deniable
Wanting to be part of an admired group is an unconscious desire. There are exceptions; some people in your target audience will be aware of this desire when they feel it. When you are writing sales copy, though, you must treat this desire as being unconscious. Anything they want has to stay plausibly deniable. That is a fancy way of saying: “Let’s all pretend we are sensible people who buy only stuff we need.”
People are unlikely to admit that they want to belong to certain group. They keep the desire unconscious by repressing it. If someone were to tell you that you want a BMW or yacht because you want to belong to a certain group, you would deny it. Your denial is plausible because it just as well might be true. People will stop reading any sales copy that claims they have a desire for social climbing.
Sales copy never makes an obvious promise to belong to a new group. That would make your audience feel like you are talking down to them. This benefit of belonging to a new group should be only hinted at. That is why emblems are often advertised in visual media like billboards, TV, and magazine ads.
Many products and services do both at the same time: They solve an urgent problem while also being emblems. Electronic gadgets, various types of education, and big houses are sold that way.
For example, people need a smartphone to solve the problem of mobile communication, but they want an iPhone because of how Apple products make them look hip and rich. It is a part of their identity, and they will buy an Apple product even if it’s not the best solution. Apple’s style of sales copy and marketing is optimized for that, and it never breaks plausible deniability. There is a funny video that illustrates this. You can find it on YouTube by searching for “I want the iPhone 4.” It’s a conversation between two cartoon bears, one of which is working in shop selling smartphones, and the other is a customer. She wants to buy an iPhone 4, but the salesbear explains in detail why other smartphones are better. He is very convincing, but the prospective buyer keeps saying: “I don’t care. I want an iPhone.” They keep arguing until the salesbear supposedly drops dead from an aneurism because the prospective customer “is so [email protected]#$ing batsh!t stupid.” Then the prospective customer leaves to try to buy her iPhone 4 somewhere else.
That video is funny because it breaks through the plausible deniability of the desire behind owning an emblem. It is a joke about people who bought an iPhone 4, and this video insults them in a way that your sales copy should not. If your website copy sells an emblem, it should be about only the problem it solves, while the benefit of group membership has to be suggested by imagery and writing style.
How to suggest the benefits of emblems
Most luxury items are emblems that mark the buyer as a member of a group that has a certain amount of wealth. All luxury items have wasteful parts that are beautiful, but not functional. The reason this wasteful part is beautiful is exactly because it is wasteful. The item gives the images of the owners a boost because they are rich enough to afford it, and most people respect wealth. If you are interested in how this works, you can read Theory of the Leisure Class, by sociologist Thorstein Veblen. The first few chapters are the most interesting for marketers.
When you write copy for a product or service that is sold as an emblem, you assume a high pose. Take a look at Apple’s website. Short sentences. Firm rhythm. This iPad Sells Itself. Also, note the use of images. Any web shop for sunglasses or designer clothes uses the sales copy to draw attention to the images. Contrast this with landing pages that sell only a solution to a problem. There you see that the images draw attention to the copy, or there are no images at all.
Two other sources that give insight into emblems are the movies Catch Me If You Can, with Leonardo DiCaprio, and The Talented Mr. Ripley, with Matt Damon.
Catch Me If Can is about a con artist who fakes his way around the world by using uniforms and props to play a role, like an actor. The con artist uses that position to commit fraud. For example, he cashes fake checks while pretending to be a pilot. He looks like a pilot and talks like a pilot, so the bank teller believes his bluff when he cashes a fake check from the airline. This movie shows the power of emblems when projecting a certain image.
The main character of The Talented Mr. Ripley does something similar: As a shortcut to an upper-class lifestyle, he murders a friend to steal his identity and take his place. This movie shows an example of someone who values appearances more than reality. People often don’t care about the causes and effects of consumption and net worth. You can buy a Mercedes on credit or pay for it with cash. It’s the same car, and people will perceive you as having the same amount of wealth.
Another example of an emblem of wealth is a watch. It is supposed to solve the problem of not knowing what time it is, but that is not the most important problem that a watch must solve.
Luxury items are sold as emblems of groups that have the image of being wealthy and sexy. If the buyers wish to appear rich or sexy, they believe the wealth and sexiness will rub off on them from the new social role they can play with the emblem they bought from you. That is especially true for B2C offers. In contrast, B2B offers are straight-up about becoming wealthy; the product itself will not be viewed as an emblem, but more as a tool to get things done.
Emblems offer the benefit of social climbing. Buyers want to belong to a group that they perceive to be more wealthy or sexier than the groups they are members of now, so they will spend on the emblems. Here is an example of a household item that becomes a luxury item and emblem. It’s a simple air conditioning unit (AC) for use in a house or a small office.
A feature of an AC is that it blows cold air. The advantage of that is that it makes your house cooler. The benefit it that you are more comfortable. Because the human body likes an ideal range of temperatures, it feels better within that range. As a solution to a problem, there is no psychology involved. Most companies sell this product as an ordinary commodity that solves a practical problem, not as an emblem of wealth and class.
The other day I saw a TV commercial that was selling an AC as an emblem. It briefly showed a good-looking young couple going about their day. When they get home, they relax and flip on this particular AC unit. The couple in this commercial had a distinct look. He wore a suit and she a nice dress, and they did things like playing tennis and driving a nice car. These things suggested they were, at least, middle class and possibly wealthy. The AC unit had a sleek design, and it was probably expensive. The commercial suggests that buyers will appear to be wealthy people and that this AC unit is an emblem of wealth, just like an expensive car or a big house.
Here is the F-A-B scheme of this AC unit, as portrayed in the commercial. We see how a product that solves a practical problem can become an emblem of wealth through suggestive imagery.
Watches are another example of an emblem of spending power. The price of an emblem is the most important thing about it. An emblem puts the owner firmly in the class of people who can afford to buy it. Imagine sales copy for a watch that talks about how well it tells the time; that would be a big mistake.
As has been shown in scientific experiments, everyone is subconsciously aware of this role of emblems. Women find men who wear expensive watches more attractive. People who wear a shirt from a designer brand get treated better by strangers. Designer fashion and accessories are beautiful because they cost money.
Each new season, well-known fashion brands have new colors that are all recognizably different from the seasons that come before it. To wear the new colors, you have to buy new clothes. You have to spend money to keep up. You can still wear the same clothes as before, but the colors from the previous season look old. They are not beautiful anymore. Therefore, everyone can see how much money you spend on clothing.
People also use their phones and laptops as emblems. A MacBook Air or iPhone might not be the best value for the money for someone. A simpler or cheaper phone or laptop might be best for them, yet many people convince themselves they need an Apple product because of what owning an Apple product says about them. The product is an emblem first and a piece of hardware second.
These are just a few examples. Most products are used as emblems, even when their first function is to solve a problem. While you are lining up features, advantages, and benefits, you should be aware of both types of functions.
Some products and services are bought to impress ourselves. It is not a signal of wealth or sexiness, but a badge that we buy for ourselves to mark a step on a journey. Internet marketers often target the beginner of a niche. Beginners are ready to spend money. They purchase a product to solve the problem of the beginner, but buying something is also a sign of taking the next step and being committed to the chosen path.
Knowing the target audience of an emblem
To write sales copy for an emblem of membership, you must have insight into the hidden wishes of the target audience. If you are lucky, you have spoken with them and interacted with them face-to-face. When I write sales copy for a client, I interview that client about the target audience and fill in the blanks based on buyer psychology.
Another way to get to know your target audience is to spend a few hours per week on forums where they hang out. If you are new to the niche and you do not know those forums, just go to your favorite search engine and type in “dog training forum,” or “weed growing forum” or “whatever-your-niche-is forum.” The top three results are where your target audience spends the most time talking about what they like.
If I sense that I don’t understand the audience well enough, I check out the competition to see how they address that same target audience. Sometimes I get good ideas from that, sometimes not: The competition’s success might be based on something other than well-targeted copy. The competition might have a good sales team, a good SEO person, or good social media presence. In that case, their ideas about the target market might not be visible from their website, so then you should stick with your own ideas.
Continue reading Part 2, where we finish writing your sales copy.