How to write content that converts?

How to write content that converts?

You have a mind-blowingly funky new website. You even did the content mapping and you’re absolutely convinced that your site offers just what your visitors want. From the tip of their toes. More than strawberry chocolate cake.There is only one problem. A rather big one: they are not converting. They’re not buying, they’re not signing up, they’re not contacting you. They’re not doing what you want them to do. Instead, they leave. Off to greener grasses. 

That’s unfortunate! But the good news: there’s something you can do. Because this scenario looks like you have everything in place, except for the oil on the wheels of your digital pickup: content that converts. Let me take you through my five quick wins to increase your Click Through Rates by turning ‘okay content’ into ‘good content’. No need for years of copywriting training - just some simple tips and reflection exercises that you can apply to your web copy today, whether it’s commerce or branding content you’re in.  

Write with a negative mindset

Sorry. Everything you learnt about staying positive and setting your mind to success: I need you to throw it overboard. Temporarily. For your reader’s sake. Because: in a world where freedom of choice has tsunamified our decision making, we tend to look at information that is offered to us with a ‘can I skip this?’-mindset. Ask people what annoys them most when browsing through their Facebook or Twitter feeds and their answer will be: stuff I don’t want to read. Saying ‘no’ to information has become our default mode. Our time and attention is scarce, so we use ‘no’ much more often than ‘yes’.

In this video, Barry Schwarz calls this ‘information paralysis’ and his TED talk on how freedom of choice paralyses us is a must-see for anyone working with information. It means something for you, too. To be precise, it means that you need to stop assuming people want to read what you have to say, and start to make your content urgent:

  • Establish trust
  • Convince the reader that what you offer them, is just what they need

Reflection

Ask a friend who could possibly be your site visitor to visit your homepage. Then ask him: if you would be in a hurry, what would make you stay or go? If there are any reasons to go, look for better ways to gain trust and become super-relevant. Then rephrase. Read on for tips on this.

Forget about good old AIDA - use PAS instead

If you have a marketing background, chances are you grew up with the AIDA formula: Attention, Interest, Desire and Action. However, this formula is outdated in times of digital. Because: the minute your visitor has landed on your website, you have already grabbed their Attention, right? That’s why you need a different and slightly more direct seduction method.

A psychological principle that you can apply here, is the fact that problems attract (even) more attention than benefits. People want to avoid pain, fear, worries, hassle and risks more than they want to achieve the good stuff. If you can convince your reader that you are here for precisely that: to solve a (maybe hitherto unknown) problem for them, you are in for the win. Let’s look at the last time you went off to buy a bed. Did you ask the salesman for ‘a bed’? Or were you hoping to get rid of that sore back/foggy brain/.. you wake up to every morning? Another, very compact example is the Evernote homepage. Problem: life can be complicated – Solution: Simplify it with Evernote. 

The Problem, Agitate, Solve (PAS) copywriting structure is a favourite for all sorts of marketing, from landing pages to newsletters, because it taps into the one thing we all hope to get from our fellow human beings: empathy. We don’t want people to sell to us, we want them to understand our fears (and –ok- then sell to us). 

Reflection

Do a PAS-reflection on your proposition pages by going through the following steps:

  1. Identify the problem that you and your product are solving. Describe it in as much detail as you can. It’s psychology: the more accurate (in your customer’s own words) and vivid the description, the more their instinct tells them that you must have an answer to that problem.
  2. Agitate: stir it up. You’ve identified the pain. Now you need to make it hurt by showing the cost of not taking action. But don’t agitate too much and indulge. There should still be a way out.
  3. Offer the solution. This is where you will make it all better. You reveal the solution – your solution – that will cure their pain. Illustrate it by showing the process of transformation: from problem to solution. The most convincing way to draw the transformation, especially for sales and inspirational copy, is using testimonials. These are also a very good way to gain trust (see #1). 

From here, you can reason your way to the offer or the response/action. 

Describe features as benefits

Once you come to describe your offer in more detail, it’s time to embrace another formula: FAB, or Feature, Advantage, Benefit. Because: features tell, benefits sell. Think about the bed shopping spree. Before you started your search, did you care whether it was a foam or latex mattress? Probably not. You were hoping to invest in a good night’s sleep and needed to know how the foam was going to help you with that.  

This means you don’t write ‘this laptop has an aluminium case’ (a feature) but ‘this laptop is thin, light and durable’ (three benefits that follow from the feature). Features are only of interest to readers with a highly technical background. For anyone else, they take too much time to decipher. Benefits, whether functional or emotional, on the other hand, are of interest to all potential users and should be backed up by features. If possible, you can even take it one step further and bring ‘value’, described in terms of business goals to the game. In other words, the "value" that you're selling is not the amount of product for the price, but the financial impact of the purchase compared against the purchase cost.

Reflection

Look at your offer page and reflect on the following to get the feel of FAB:

  1. Take a minute to identify the features of your product.
  2. Have you already listed them in bullets? Great, because that’s what readers like: scannable, easy-to-digest content! If not, do so.
  3. Rephrase all features into benefits…
  4. …and make sure they represent business value. See for example: “Missed orders resulting from lagging website speed cost your firm $5 million last year (problem). Because our hosting has a 99% uptime with guaranteed speed (feature), we provide you with a website that will never lag but will always be fast and keep your buyer happy (benefit, relating back to the problem and showing value).”

Personalise, personalise, personalise

People want to buy from people - nobody will deny this. But in the real world, lots of copy that is supposed to appeal to a human heart with human preferences, emotions and weaknesses, is all too often written like coming from a robot.

But: if you want to convince, you need a unique voice, giving you a personality that makes you stand out from your competitors. Give them good reasons (benefits!) to shop with you and not someone else, or else they will go shop with someone else (who gives them better reasons). Once you’ve found your own personal voice, focus on your customer, their needs, and why your product meets those needs. And yes, for that, you need to invest time in getting to know your customer.

Take a minute to look at the wording of your product or offer page and reflect:

  1. Count the number of you’s (or other customer-oriented words that show you know them)
  2. Are there no ‘you’s’? Then, you have work to do. Rewrite in a way that shows you know who you are talking to. Consider doing keyword research to figure out which words your audience uses.
  3. Use social proof: show your reader that other people, who are just like them, recommend you. This can be done in the form of reviews, testimonials, or good old statistics (‘40% already uses the app’).
  4. Count the number of I’s and/or we’s or other words that give you a distinct identity.
  5. Are there no I’s or we’s? Or no other identifyers? Consider taking a more personal standpoint in the way you present yourself. Don’t overdo it, but give yourself a distinctive voice that is authorative and trustworthy, instead of distant and machine-like.
  6. If you have duplicate content on your website (product descriptions from the supplier, for example): rewrite. Immediately. Duplicate content is killing your personality and your google search results (for good reason).

Writing killer calls to action

If content is the oil on the wheels of your digital pickup truck, then your calls to action are the gas pedal. No way forward without a proper action button to hit, right? That’s why I can’t leave you without going through my best practices in the wonderful world of writing calls to action that make your visitors want to beg to order your product.

Put real value behind your calls to action.

The only way to make visitors click, is by giving something they -not you- want. So no ‘click here’ or ‘enter email address’ (because: what’s the value in that?). A great rule of thumb is to finish the sentence ‘I want to…’ on your visitor’s behalf and make that your call to action.

Be very specific about what’s waiting behind the click.

Use verbs and describe actively what the end result of clicking will be. The more precise, the better. Will they learn how to knit owls? Say it and say it clear: ‘start knitting my first owl now’.

Don’t use ‘submit’ or ‘send’.

These words are too vague to reveal anything about what is waiting at the other end of the button. Instead, use ‘get your free trial’, ‘start shopping now’, ‘reveal my discount code’ or ‘ask our expert’. It’s way more clear and way more attractive than ‘submit’.

Use scarcity.  

There is a difference between ‘free trial’ and ‘claim your free trial now’. You see it? Limited availability. If your visitor has the feeling this is only available today, or for a select group of people, it increases desire. Never lie, but stressing exclusivity would only be fair to a product as special as yours, right?

Personalise.

First-time visitors look for other things than visitors that know you. Targeted calls to action that distinguish between different visitors with different needs have shown to increase conversion rates by 42 percent (source: Hubspot). And: shifting from second (‘get your free trial now’) to first person (‘get me my free trial’) has shown to increase another 90 percent.

Make them visible.

Use contrast, colour, and make your calls to action big, bold and clickable. Also: make sure it’s visible without scrolling down. The percentage of users that will actively search for your call to action below ‘the fold’ is very, very small.

No more than 2 calls to action per page.

Two at maximum, but one is enough already. You want your page to be a one-way-street, without confusion about where to go. With too many messages fighting for attention, you can be sure that nothing stands out. Of course, an ecommerce site by nature offers a results page with many ‘add to cart’ calls to action, but remember the information paralysis we talked about earlier: people think they want a lot, but having fewer options makes it easier to arrive at a choice confidently.

Experiment with wording and layout.

Don’t be static. The web is changing all the time so there is no reason why your calls to action shouldn’t. A call to action is easy to change to change, and it gives you an opportunity to track and test what works. Also, consider A/B testing to find out what works best for your audience.

Embrace conventions.

Conventions are there for a reason. Either people like them, or they don’t, but we’ve gotten so used to them that we can’t live without. Accept this. This means that getting all too creative might work against you and confuse visitors, instead of help them. So sometimes, just stick with the good old ‘add to cart’ and ‘log in’.

<illustration of some do’s and don’ts, see PPT>

What’s next?

There you go. My five best content and copy tips. From me, to you. You might think ‘how on earth am I going to rewrite it all from a negative mindframe ánd use the problem-solution structure ánd find the time to personalise my calls to action?’ Good point. I am not telling you to do it all, now. You could, if you have the time and like content creation as a process of perfected craftsmanship. But if not, don’t worry. Then have a look at your analytics to see where the quick wins are (you should do that in any case), pick the approach that resonates with you most and start improving.

The important thing is that you do something. Because badly written copy affects readers like a poisonous, moody friend. In the beginning, it might not look so harmful. The poison might not even be visible. But soon, it starts to itch. Visitors will subconsciously feel that someone’s not doing them right. It starts to itch more. Annoy, even. And then, that friend is not a friend anymore, but someone they used to know. They don’t tell you why, they just leave. For greener grasses. Make sure you keep your own grass green and juicy, free of poison, and your visitors will beg you to send them your stuff. I promise.