Read This Now For Better Web Copy

Your web copy is missing something. But you just can’t put your finger on it.

It’s no coincidence that your reader is missing something, too. He isn’t sure what his next step is, so he abandons the page and gets lost for four hours on YouTube instead.

Readers desperately need their hands held. Think of them as suburban teenagers lost in an Amazonian jungle. If only the jungle had clear paths, with signs pointing the way to the next destination…

Here’s your chance to be a sign-maker. Your web copy can be compelling, thoughtful, informative, clear and concise — but it will never, ever convince someone to take the next step without a clear call to action.

A call to action is a command that pops. It’s a next step that drives readers through the sales process. And it’s the most necessary part of creating web copy that sells.

A few good examples of calls to action

All of the web’s most successful brands grab readers with a call to action, gently nudging them in the direction they want to go. Sometimes, they even corral readers with not-so-gentle commands.

Below are a few great examples of powerful calls to action.

Blogger’s Delight

If you visit Problogger.net and aren’t sure what to do next, you’re in the minority. Wherever you go on the site, founder Darren Rowse has placed a clear “subscribe to the newsletter” call to action first thing on the right sidebar. At the end of each article, you’re invited to share your opinion in the comments. Past the article, you have a clearly marked “What Next?” section, paired with related articles for further reading.

Social Community, Decoded 

Pinterest is a great example of the perfect call to action. At the top of the page, the online community tells you what it is, how to use it and what to do next in two short lines and a red “Join Pinterest” button. I’m sure there’s plenty that’s sticky about the community itself — still, they did a good job reducing any barriers to entry for new users.

Specializing in CTAs

HubSpot has grown quite the reputation for its digital marketing prowess. When you visit the company’s site, you can see that they practice what they preach; the homepage hits you with a handful of benefits and an orange “See The Software” call that works well.

Tips for creating your own call to action

We’re all capable of creating great calls to action. And we absolutely must create them if we want to be respected web copywriters.

Most of these tips are pretty straightforward, but it doesn’t hurt to see them on the page so you can burn them into your brain.

  • Clarity is key: Your call to action must stand out from the rest of the copy, whether it follows a thousand words of copy or three sentences. For businesses, this usually comes in the form of a colored, eye-catching button to direct the visitor to the next step.
  • Start with the benefit: If you can work the benefit of the action into the call, that’d be great. For instance, if you want to coerce users into signing up for an email newsletter about beets, you might say something like “Click here for secrets to growing the best beets.”
  • Make it timely: Using words like “today” and “now” can help snag the customer that may not return without a good excuse to opt in that very day. Create urgency so you don’t lose customers that will convince themselves to come back but will never return.

Check out more great tips for creating calls to action. 

Share with us

Do you have a “go-to” call to action that works like a charm? Share it with us in the comments.

Attributes of Killer Case Studies

A strong story is one of the best ways to sell your company, service or product. Also known as a “success story”, a case study is one of the simplest and most resonant techniques to build compelling storytelling content.

Case studies are 1-3 page stories of how one of your customers/clients found success with your product or service.

This type of content gives you an opportunity to showcase some lively, descriptive writing as part of your marketing collateral. You can also add SEO, promote the story with a press release, use it to pitch reporters, turn it into a webinar or sales deck and feature it in a brochure.

Why are case studies effective?

A good story draws people in, creates an emotional connection and entertains the reader. Of course, those are only three things a story is capable of. They’re crucial to the success of your marketing.

One of the most important things a case study can do for a marketing program is temporarily take the marketer to an outside perspective. Whenever I write a case study, I make it a priority to talk to the person the story is about, rather than the client the story is for. The interview and resulting copy offer a unique view into the benefits of your products or services.

Case studies:

  • Engage customers/clients with a compelling story
  • Inspire empathy from potential customers
  • Illustrate how others applied your products/services
  • Showcase endorsed validation that your product/service works.

Before you get started, consider the structure.

The typical case study format

Successful case studies vary in terms of how they approach the story. But the basic structure is the same. Even if you plan to create a sequential narrative, you’ll still need to follow the guidelines of strong case studies if you want it to land.

The basic case study structure consists of:

  • Background: Here, you’ll explain who the customer is. This area should be short and sweet. Even a well-crafted boilerplate (if your client is into press releases) should suffice.
  • Problem: In this section, you’ll want to detail exactly what caused the client to seek out your services in the first place. In most cases, it’s usually some sort of business problem. For consumer case studies (and some B2B), perhaps there was no problem. But there’s always a catalyst prior to your business building a relationship with the client. Detail the catalyst if it isn’t technically a “problem”.
  • Solution: Now, it’s time for your brand to swoop in and save the day. If the previous section detailed a problem, how did you solve it? Be sure to dig deep. Ask the right questions to find the features or angles that offered the biggest impact for your client.
  • Benefits: Finally, if you can find ways to quantify the benefits, you can detail them in the last section. Of course, it doesn’t hurt to sprinkle this section with qualifiable benefits as well. But make sure to tie in some hard metrics (even educated guesses) to create a basis in reality.

What else can you do to craft an effective case study?

Tips for creating case studies

Building a strong case study will take a bit of time and energy. Done often for a single client, you’ll get into a groove that’ll greatly speed up the process. (Writing case studies for ecommerce software provider 3dcart has become pretty formulaic for me.)

Here are a couple of bonus tips for writing case studies.

  • Quote often: You’ve interviewed someone who gave you a glowing testimonial! Use that information so the audience knows this is coming from a valid source. (Hint: I usually craft quotes based on my notes and ask for permission from the client before the case study is published.)
  • Find the angle: If you have a narrow audience, writing case studies can get stale. Spice things up a bit by focusing on a different angle every time you write a new one.
  • Be descriptive: Get creative with it. Use saucier language and create a setting. Tell the story almost like you’re writing fiction.
  • Ask and answer questions: Ask the reader a question about what will happen next. Answer the question in the next section. But be careful: this can get cheesy if you take the wrong approach.

Why Would You Hide One of Your Best Attributes?

A small business owner once approached me for a copy project. We talked a bunch about the themes and messages he wanted to run throughout.

“What I want,” he explained, “is to give the impression that we’re a big company.”

This wasn’t the first or the last time I got this request. I responded: “Why would you want to hide one of your company’s best attributes?”

Alright, I probably didn’t word it that perfectly. But you get the drift. Time and time again, executives want to give the impression that they’re bigger than they are.

Guess which one Apple sponsored.

By projecting a big company feel, they think:

  • Customers respect a company that’s obviously been around for several years
  • A big brand equates to reliable customer service
  • Doing it longer means doing it better

In reality, customers don’t necessary want a big brand. They want big accomplishments. They crave reliable customer service. They want a reliable product or service. Big companies tend to assume small competition. As a result, companies like GoDaddy, Comcast, Best Buy and AT&T have customer service problems. Because they know they can get away with it. They’ve cornered the market. They put their big budgets into marketing and ignore things that customers care about.

Why project that image? Why not tout the benefits of a small company feel? Successful small businesses offer a more personalized experience for customers. Try carving out a niche on which you can actually deliver.

Small businesses imply:

  • They’ll work harder to get and keep their customers’ business
  • They’ll offer personal, human interaction
  • They’re trying something new that will advance the market

Your copy should embrace your aesthetic. Customers will thank you for your honesty. And maybe that honesty will result in massive growth. Then, you can start ignoring what your customers want. *rolls eyes*

Why I Had No Choice But To Stop Idolizing Kerouac

It’s a hard thing to get older. You end up replacing some of that good, old-fashioned idealism with tough cynicism. As writers, some of our biggest influences die right before us. You realize that you can’t be them, and you can only barely be like them.

Keep the dream alive. But don’t forget you’re living in reality. That’s why I scaled back Kerouac’s influence on my writing.

I can’t be the only writer out there that considers Kerouac a genius. How old were you when you first read On the Road? The book is wildly appealing at any age. But if you read it as a teenager, there’s a romanticism that seems imitable.

But Kerouac was one of a kind. And it wasn’t just On the Road. Novels like Big SurThe Dharma Bums and The Subterraneans are all intense, lively and inspiring reads. They brim with youthful energy fueled by alcohol, sex and art.

Everyone wants to attain the raw energy of Kerouac’s writing, even in the world of professional writing. How do you get there? Stop trying to imitate him.

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. But flattery will get you nowhere with a dead author. It certainly won’t get you anywhere as a living writer. Trying to imitate someone like Kerouac is a dead-end for a writer. Especially a professional writer. His big, sweeping sentences are the exact kind that can lose your reader.

It’s sad when you finally give up imitation. But it also opens up a whole new world. It’s a scary world. We want to imitate successful writers to use them as a standard for our own writing. When you give up those influences and write from your heart, you’re likely to lose faith in your own unique voice.

Fortunately, that’s how writers get prolific in the first place. Remind yourself daily that none of your favorite writers imitated their favorite writers. Inspire yourself by discovering a style all your own and hone it to perfection.

Sexy Ways to Seduce Your Audience

Slip into something comfortable. Preferably something velour. Lay back on this leopard skin couch. Relax. Notice the subtle aroma of incense wafting about you.

How was your day? I prepared a nice candlelit dinner. Can you hear the booming baritone of the incomparable Barry White? It’s drifting into the room at dulcet volumes. The lights are dim and your eyes adjust. Go ahead. Grab one of the chocolate caramels on the coffee table in front of you. Feel it dance upon your taste buds.

If you aren’t feeling a slight hint of surreal sensuality, I haven’t done my job correctly. Everyone knows sex sells. But are we losing our understanding of that concept?

That depends on your definition of ‘sexy’.

Today, big brands like GoDaddy (woof) use blatant sexual imagery to sell. But sex sells itself. If that’s your strategy for seducing your audience, you better start over. Consider this: researchers at Iowa State University found that “viewers of programs with sexually explicit or violent content were less likely to remember commercials immediately after watching and even 24 hours later.”

As a writer, you should already have a grasp for why this is. Favoring your primary message is the best way to keep your reader on task. You want the reader to be turned on by your product. To accomplish this, seducing your audience takes place in undertones. It requires subtlety. Here are a few ways to get it done.

Consider alliteration an alluring aloe. Overusing alliteration translates to cheesy copy. Used sparingly, alliteration creates enticing, compelling moments of copy that add a layer of sexiness to your content.

Play with your diction. Everyone has words they consider emotional triggers. Want to sex up your copy? Use loaded words. A word like ‘succulent’ can evoke a strong response. Go ahead. Say it out loud. Succulent. Rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it?

Massage some tight words. I’m consistently saying that strong copy is highly understandable. You wouldn’t speak in Shakespearian dialogue to a modern audience, for instance. But a colorful word every now and again can add some flair to your copy, even if it’s a bit more high-brow. Provide substantial context clues. And have a clear understanding of your audience before you head down this path.

Take us to another world. There’s no better way to seduce your audience than to get sensual. Use sensual stimuli to take your readers out of their desk chairs and transport them to another world. You can accomplish this by describing how things smell, taste, feel, sound and look.

7 Writing Techniques to Engage Your Audience More Directly

Are you communicating with your audience or just talking at them?

This is an important question that marketers should ask themselves daily. You know you and your business aren’t the center of the universe. But you have to tell yourself that every day if you want to communicate effectively.

Direct communication is necessary, even if your audience consist of yellow sexless freaks.

As in life, taking someone else’s perspective is difficult. But it’s absolutely critical for your marketing. Gathering information on your audience is the first step. The second is to gain the insights you need to take action. Put yourself outside of your comfort zone. Below, you’ll find 7 writing techniques to help you engage your audience more directly.

1. Write the first draft of your copy from the buyer’s perspective. This is a great exercise from which the remaining tips on this list should follow naturally. Pretend you’re the buyer for a second. It’ll help take you out of your own shoes and write from a less self-centered perspective. Now, write your copy from that perspective. You can deconstruct and reconstruct that copy to make sense for your purposes, but you’ll gain the benefit of the other perspective.

2. It doesn’t get more direct than ‘you.’ Amateur marketers love to start sentences with ‘we.’ But if you want to sell something, it isn’t about you. It’s about the potential buyer. Direct address using ‘you’ feels more conversational. Subconsciously, readers understand that the copy answers the question, “What’s in it for me?”

3. Frame the challenge. Empathy is a simple tactic to connect with your audience right off the bat. Direct address requires you to immediately step inside the shoes of your reader. What irks them? What issue are they grappling with on a regular basis? Frame the challenge and follow with the solution.

4. Focus on benefits and differentiators. You have the solution. What’s in it for the reader? They probably don’t care about the nitty-gritty technical details. They just want to know what they get in exchange for their money and time. It’s likely you have competition, too. How are you different? Make your differentiators clear and concise.

5. Use relatable examples and anecdotes to empathize. Everyone loves a good story. Using relatable examples helps readers more clearly envision how you could help them out. You may do this quickly to introduce a bit of copy. Or, like shopping cart software provider 3dcart, you may want to build case studies as marketing collateral.

6. Honesty truly is the best policy. Compelling copy surprises the reader. In business, honesty can be hard to come by. That’s why it makes a great technique for direct address. Say something honest and surprising. Then, tie it to your message. For instance, I’m not wearing any pants.

7. Speak their language. Without getting buzzword-happy, it helps to speak the language of your audience. For example, if you’re selling a complex tech product to a non-technical audience, stay away from industry nuances. Whatever the language, make sure you’re speaking like a human.

Copywriting Is Dead

Have you ever assembled a piece of furniture? Reading the directions is like taking a blow to the head from a drunken frat boy.

Reminds me of the old days of marketing. No one talked like a human. Companies loved the sound of their own voices. Business is catching up with the world of social media, and it turns out people would rather hear from real human beings.

Copywriting is dead — at least in the traditional sense of the practice. What I hope this blog will impart on its readership is that you can all finally drop the act. Throw formality out the window and start speaking to your target audience in a voice they can relate to. And don’t be afraid to end a sentence or two with a preposition.

You’re asking, “Who the hell is this guy?” I’m just a man, like any other. I’m also a freelance writer. I’ve ghostwritten a business book, created web copy for entire websites and dabbled in writing mediums you’ve never even heard of.

I write good, and I’m here to help you write gooder. So let’s get this thing started.