Should I optimize for conversion or rankings? How do I ensure good readability? What copy is most important to focus on? How do I know if I’m doing it right?
Fixing your website copy can be a daunting task – especially if you don’t know where or how to start! But have no fear, this article is packed with inspiration and tips that will get you off to a flying start!
1. Make sure visitors can actually read your website copy
If you want your copy to have full impact, you have to make sure that visitors can actually read your website copy. In my experience, design and copy go hand in hand, and layout has a major impact on readability.
To illustrate this point, let’s have a look at an experiment I recently ran on FreeMake.com’s landing page for their YouTube MP3 converter. In this case, simply changing the font color of the headline from orange to black was enough to increase downloads by 6.64%.
Font size, white space, paragraph length, line height, background/font contrast, line width, bullet points, sub-headlines are all factors that impact readability.
As a guideline don’t go smaller than 14px, keep your paragraphs to a maximum of 4 lines, stick a line width of 650px or less, and keep a good amount of white space between lines.
My friend Peep Laja from Conversionxl.com wrote an awesome article on how to improve website readability – check it out here >>
If you’re in the mood to really geek out on font optimization, read this article >>
2. Get real clear about the value you offer
The longer it takes your prospects to figure out what your offer is all about, the more likely they are to leave your website and move on to one of your competitors.
So don’t waste their time and make them jump through hoops. Tell them clearly how they will benefit from accepting your offer, and give them a good reason to say, “Yes!”
In my experience, there’s a direct correlation between how clearly you convey the value of your offer and the likelihood of getting a conversion.
In this example from BettingExpert.com, a simple exercise in making the headline more clear and relevant to the motivation of the prospects increased sign-ups by 41.14%.
The control headline asks a very broad question instead of providing prospects with a clear reason to say, “Yes” In fact, it isn’t really a headline, it’s more of a statement in the form of an open-ended question to which there really is no answer.
The treatment, on the other hand, is very concrete and provides the prospect with a clear and relevant reason to say, “Yes”.
For more on how to write clear and relevant web copy, check out this article:
Or download my free ebook 7 Universal Conversion Optimization Principles
3. Pick low-hanging fruits
Why make things more difficult than absolutely necessary? Instead of spending days contemplating where to start optimizing, you might as well learn from my research and use your energy where it counts.
In my experience, mission-critical elements like headlines, sign-up forms, and buttons are great places to start. They attract a lot of attention and represent some of the few areas on your website where you can be 99% sure that prospects will actually read the copy.
Moreover, because these elements play a critical role in the conversion scenario, relatively small changes can have a major impact. I’ve performed tons of tests where minor tweaks to button, headline, and form copy have resulted in major lifts.
Here’s an example from a test I ran on the payment page for WriteWork.com – a subscription-based education website for college and university students.
In this case, tweaking the button copy and adding the benefit, “Get started”, increased conversion by 31.03%. This is the very last step in the conversion funnel, and every single conversion means money in the bank – so this simple tweak represented quite a return on optimization.
For concrete tips on how to write effective headlines, sign-up forms and calls-to-action, check out these articles:
4. Stop relying on assumptions – start testing
One of the main things I’ve learned from 4 years of A/B testing is that people don’t always behave the way marketers want them to, and it can be extremely difficult to predict the actions and reactions of your target audience.
On your website, slight copy variations can have a major impact on conversion, and sometimes the results can be counterintuitive – to say the least.
As this test clearly shows, even the most logical assumptions can backfire – big time! And if you base all your marketing decisions on assumptions, you could be gambling your budgets away without even knowing it.
If you are new to testing, here’s a good article to get you started:
If you are looking for easy-to-use testing software, I recommend VisualWebsiteOptimizer.com
5. Prioritize people over robots
There can be no doubt that copy is one of the most important aspects of onsite Search Engine Optimization. But dude it’s 2013, nobody wants to read obvious SEO content – not even the search engines!
Everything points to the fact that Google prefers natural content over content that’s been super optimized for search engines. Moreover, there’s no point in getting great rankings if your content doesn’t help convert visitors into paying customers and/or loyal followers.
So focus on your flesh and bone target audience – but help the robots find your content.
For tips on how to write content that ranks, check out this infographic >>
I also wrote an article on how to do keyword research on the fly. It gives you a bunch of tips for how to find hot keywords and take advantage of long-tail phrases.
6. Ask your target audience what they want
Instead of spending hours guesstimating what’s in the mind of your customers – why not get the answers “straight from the horse’s mouth”?
A while ago I decided to write a free ebook for ContentVerve.com. I had two ideas and I couldn’t decide which one to go with, but instead of making an executive decision myself, I decided to ask my readers what they preferred.
I did so by setting up a simple pop-up survey on all pages of the blog. The pop-up simply asked people to pick the book they preferred.
After 444 responses, I could see a clear tendency – 58.8% of my readers preferred an ebook on conversion optimization rather than an ebook on optimizing call-to-action buttons.
I use Qualaroo.com for such surveys – It’s a great tool.
Doing surveys, phone interviews, and user tests are all excellent ways of getting insights and ideas for relevant, high-converting content. For more on using surveys to get answers from your customers, check out this post.
For an in-depth look at talking to customers and asking the right questions, read Kristin Zhivago’s excellent book Roadmap to Revenue.
7. Start answering your potential customer’s questions
Your potential customers will always have a number of questions that you need to answer in order to make them feel comfortable enough to accept your offer. Essentially, when they have asked enough questions and gotten enough relevant answers they will ready to buy.
Any person who has experience selling face-to-face in the brick-and-mortar world will back this up. Well, selling online isn’t different – you need to provide your prospects with as many answers via your web copy as you would verbally in a physical sales situation.
Common questions – that you probably recognize from your own buying behavior – include, “What does it cost?”, “Will it work?”, “Can I trust this website?”, “Does the product fit my needs?”
The questions your prospects are asking will, of course, vary depending on the product you are selling. So you need to find out precisely what these questions are, and there are a number of ways of doing that.
If you have regular contact with current and potential customers, simply listen to what they say and make a note of the questions they ask. If they’re asking about prices as the first thing, you probably need to provide price information on your website or landing pages.
If you don’t have direct contact with clients, approach customer support or sales. You’ll be amazed by how much valuable information you can get by talking to the people who spend most of their days on the phone with clients and prospects.
A marketer who has tremendous success answering questions from potential customers is Marcus Sheridan of TheSalesLion.com.
In this video interview, I did with Marcus in 2011, he explains all about his technique. If you don’t know Marcus already, do yourself a favor and watch the video – this dude is on fire!
8. Assume that no one wants to do what you want them to do
I spend a lot of time online reading web copy of all different kinds, but most of it falls into one of two categories:
1. Totally generic copy: BUY NOW, CLICK HERE, SIGN UP NOW!
2. Super sales copy: Searching for the Ultimate XXX? Your Wait is Over!
In my experience, none of these approaches work well for conversion. The problem is that they do not convey any value and give no reasons why you should say, “Yes” – which is ultimately the goal of any piece of sales copy.
It seems as though such copy is based on the principle that prospects are dying to do whatever the marketer wants them to do. Unfortunately, the harsh reality is quite another.
People don’t lie awake at night all excited thinking of all the banners they are going to click the next day. And nobody gets up in the morning thinking, “I’m so excited – Today I’m going to sign up for at least two free newsletters!”
The trick is to assume that NO ONE wants to do what you tell them to do. That way you’ll force yourself to think long and hard about the value of the offer your conveying, and how you can present it the best way possible way to make even the most jaded and stubborn prospect go “Now that’s interesting!”
9. Use the word “Get” a lot while drafting your copy
One of the main things I’ve learned from all the testing I’ve done is that focusing on what your prospects are going to get out your offer is key to getting them to say, “Yes”
A dead simple technique for writing customer-centric copy is to use the word, get in your copywriting.
It’s not that get has any persuasive superpower. It’s just that get sends a clear signal that anything that comes after it revolves around something the reader can obtain. In other words, get implies that the question, “What’s in it for me” will be answered.
Here’s an example from the real world where simply changing the word order to get on a B2B site increased conversion by 14.79%
By the way, this isn’t a fluke test. I’ve tested in multiple times and in different languages. Here’s an example of a Danish sister website where exactly the same exercise resulted in a lift of 38.26%
10. Before you start optimizing, ask yourself, “Why”, “What”, and “How”
It’s such a cliché that asking the right questions gets the right answers. But when it comes to writing web copy that converts, asking, “Why”, “What”, and “How” – in that order – is, in fact, a super effective way of getting it right.
I emphasize the order in which you ask these questions because I see a lot of marketers jump to, “How” too soon. They go straight to asking questions like, “How can I make this copy better?” or “How do I write higher converting copy for this landing page?”
The problem is that if you ask, how questions too soon you can easily be misled and end up missing crucial steps and focusing on the wrong aspects. Again, the goal is not to write sexier copy – the goal is to get more conversions.
Asking why questions first force you to take a few steps back and get specific about the essentials of your offer and the aspects you need to cover.
Start by asking yourself, “Why would my potential customers choose to say, “Yes” to my offer?”
Write down as many relevant answers to this question as possible and edit until you have a list of the top three to five reasons why your potential customers would say yes. This exercise will give you a clear idea of what you need to focus on when writing your copy.
Now ask yourself, “Why would my ideal prospects choose to say, “No” to my offer?”
Write down as many relevant answers to this question as possible and edit them into a list of the top three to five reasons that your potential customers would say, “No”.
This exercise will give you a clear idea of friction and anxiety issues you need to address in your copy in order to make prospects feel comfortable enough to say, “Yes”.
Once you have answered all the why questions it’s time to move on to what.
“What do my prospects need to know in order to say, “Yes”?”, “What should I focus on specifically to convey the value of my offer?”, “What should I focus on in order to overcome the main reasons my why prospects would say, “No”?”
This exercise will help you get you more specific about what you need to write in order to accelerate your potential customers’ decision-making process.
The answers you came up with for the why and what questions will provide you with a solid basis for answering the big how question:
“How do I write the best possible copy of this particular conversion scenario?”
What you should do now
The tips and links in this article should give you plenty of inspiration to start fixing your website copy. Now go to your website and look for places where you can apply what you’ve learned.
Mission critical elements like buttons, headlines, and forms are a great place to start. But be careful with relying on assumptions and remember; testing is the only way to gain certainty that your optimization efforts actually work.