Today, four ways to write better sales and marketing copy…
It’s Monday — which means today I get to open up the ol’ mailbox and answer YOUR questions!
To have your question answered in a future Mailbox Monday issue, drop the question in my mailbox here.
Here’s today’s question…
Here’s my biggest need right now, that I hope you can answer in a Mailbox Monday issue.
I’d like to know some practical exercises to improve my copy.
Also, what’s a reliable testing methodology when putting your copy out into the web?
Let’s dive in…
Instead of writing copy, write a persuasive letter to a close friend…
Most novice copywriters — and even many pros — write copy that reads like COPY.
What does that mean?
In short, it means you don’t sound like a human being. You sound like a marketing robot who spits out junk you read in the ad classics.
YES, you should absolutely study from, learn, and occasionally apply more technique-based and tactical lessons from the advertising classics… Folks like Schwab, Ogilvy, Caples, Collier, Schwartz, and others all deserve their spots on your advertising bookshelf (and, in fact, you’re committing copywriting malpractice if you haven’t studied them).
But remember: great advertising feels eminently HUMAN.
That is, you strip away all the fancy language and creative copy — and just communicate. From one human being to another. As if that person was your best friend (or a well-loved relative), who you are trying to persuade to do something because it is in their best interest.
So: how do you practice this?
Instead of writing to a nameless, faceless prospect (or worse, a market), find a friend or relative who you care about, who is likely a good prospect for what you’re selling.
And write a persuasive message to THEM, trying to convince them to buy the product or service you’re selling.
You don’t actually have to send it to them (although you could, and if they ask, “How do I buy?” you’re on to something).
Rather, the simple act to writing to them specifically is good practice for the kind of really powerful human-connection copy that truly great copywriters write.
I often get asked how I can consistently churn out these daily essays, at the quality and length they are. Many who ask are even more astounded to hear I typically write them in under an hour.
This is because it is habit.
You have to make writing a habit.
Try to write about interesting things, regularly, and you’ll find your writing quantity and quality improves.
You don’t have to start a daily essay series. You could write for yourself. Or to a friend who will put up with you sending them a ton of writing.
And try to write persuasively. Think about what action you’d like to inspire through your writing, and focus on that as you plan what to write.
Set aside at least an hour every day dedicated to a type of writing that comes relatively easy. These essays fulfill that for me. Client work usually doesn’t. The idea is that if the writing comes easy, you’re probably filtering yourself less. Which leads to better writing. The more you do that, the more the approach will bleed over into all copy.
Another idea: try writing “leads” to ads in this time. Be on the lookout for ideas. (If you’ve studied my High-Velocity Copywriting and the three Big Idea types, it will help.) Write really bad first drafts of the different ideas. The idea is to really just churn out a bunch of copy. The more you do it, the more organized and focused your thinking will become, the more the writing itself will become habitual, and the better you’ll get.
Start a peer review group…
I’ve gone on record multiple times against peer reviews. Or at least, against peer reviews in a certain context.
My general complaint? They tend to cause reversion to the mean. Which is a concept from statistics that basically says they make everybody average.
That’s GREAT for novice copywriters, doing a peer review that includes at least a few copywriters who can bring their copy up.
But, if there’s a copywriter in the group who is truly good and wants to do things differently, innovate, and may create breakthroughs that way — they can be forced back into the mediocre middle by an overzealous peer group.
Assuming you’re relatively novice though, it could be beneficial to bring together some peers to regularly critique others’ copy and to provide feedback.
Everybody can work together to raise everyone up. And hopefully different writers in the group can bring their own experience and leadership to help you identify areas where you can improve.
If you need a great system and structure for doing this kind of peer reviews, there’s no better choice than Copy Logic by Michael Masterson and Mike Palmer.
As an aside, I think it’s even more valuable to get a job (at least for a while) in a company with a copywriting culture, that offers this avenue for feedback. A lot of my earliest lessons in copy came from regular work with peers and mentors who had a lot more experience than me, who gave me feedback to get a lot better, fast.
Test lots of copy…
This speaks to the second part of the question above.
And it’s legitimately a great way to get better at copy.
There is no better judge or teacher for what makes bad and good copy than the market.
If our goal is to put copy out there that gets response from the market, the only true way to get actionable feedback is to put the copy in front of the market.
And so the more copy you can test, the better you’ll get.
Because every test is a data point and learning opportunity for what worked better than what.
Many famous copywriters were relentless testers, more so than they considered themselves writers or wordsmiths. Caples instilled a culture of testing in his entire agency, and reportedly had huge filing rooms’ worth of paper records documenting advertising test after advertising test.
When you commit yourself to the discipline of testing, you don’t even have to get great at copywriting. You just have to test enough that the odds are on your side you’ll have a few things that work a lot better than the others.
As far as HOW? That’s both easy and hard to answer. Easy because there are now a million testing tools that make it technically easy. Hard because the real answer is “it depends” based on where and how you’re testing.
Facebook Advertising and Google AdWords now both have split testing built in. ClickFunnels has it built in. My WordPress theme, Divi, has a testing functionality.
You can get independent platforms and installable tools for testing. The technical part isn’t really the problem. You just have to learn whatever is most relevant to you and your tech stack.
There are a couple key concepts I’ll share, before wrapping…
— Test dramatically different things. If you test things that are very similar, such as an orange versus a red buy button, you’re likely to get very similar results. If you test a 1-page sales letter versus a 16-page sales letter, you’ll get dramatically different results. That might be extreme, but it makes the point. The bigger the differences, the more likely it is that you’ll learn something relevant.
— First test where the traffic is. Tests tend to require a lot of views or impressions to get useful data. So it’s most useful to test the top of the funnel first, where you get the most traffic. So testing external paid ads is high-leverage, because it can drive more traffic into the funnel (and you can test that later).
— Go with the random split. This is important. If you test one ad with US traffic and another with Canadian traffic, you’re not actually conducting a good test. Because you don’t know if the difference is from the ad or the traffic source. Most testing tools with split traffic randomly and automatically across different test panels (e.g. Ad 1, Ad 2). This is REQUIRED to get representative data for the market as a whole.
— You’re going for statistical significance. There’s a whole pile of statistics behind effective marketing testing that I don’t need to go into here. The most important for you, though, is statistical significance. That basically measures the likelihood that your test results would repeat themselves in the future. 100% is impossible to get. Anything below about 95% means you probably shouldn’t rely on it. 98-99% is ideal, if you have enough traffic. (Note, sometimes this is referred to as a “confidence score” or similar — it means the same thing.)
— What you test is what you’ll learn from. Any one test will tell you what worked in that specific situation. Nothing more, and nothing less. So, test two headlines against each other, from one traffic source, and you learn which headline works best from that traffic source. This is typically why experts recommend you test one thing at a time. If you test two headlines across two traffic sources (and don’t have the stats prowess to split out what contributed to the final results), you’re risking learning something that’s just not true. The benefit of regular, consistent testing is that it will help you develop a subconscious sense of what works and what doesn’t.
Turns out this kind of turned into two essays in one…
If you ARE into testing…
I’ll have more good news on that front soon.
It’s a very important skill for anyone in marketing to have at least a general grasp on.
Yours for bigger breakthroughs,