3 Simple Hacks for Better Copy and More Conversions in Less Time

Joanna Wiebe of Copy Hackers joins us this week on The Digital Entrepreneur to offer up a handful of simple copywriting hacks that work especially well for digital products.

Joanna knows a thing or two about copywriting for digital products. Not only is she a digital entrepreneur herself, but her company has worked with some of the most well-known digital products out there: Buffer, Wistia, and even our own Rainmaker Platform.

In this 29-minute episode, Joanna and I discuss:

  • A simple A/B test anyone can use to gain valuable insight into audience behavior
  • The surprising button placement that actually worked wonders for one company (and the larger lesson this represented)
  • Why copywriting fundamentals like the Rule of 1 still work (and why we doubt them at our own peril)
  • What the “stages of awareness” are and why they matter
  • How to listen in a way that actually leads to meaningful results
  • The oft-overlooked importance of frameworks and formulas (like P-A-S)

And much, much more. We cover a ton in this episode, and we hope you enjoy it and get a lot of out it.

Don’t forget: Joanna will be speaking at Digital Commerce Summit coming up this October. Early Bird tickets are still available (as of now), so don’t wait to get yours. You won’t want to miss Joanna’s talk, as well as the presentations of so many other successful digital entrepreneurs.

For more information, go to: rainmaker.fm/summit

The Show Notes

3 Simple Hacks for Better Copy and More Conversions in Less Time

Voiceover: You’re listening to The Digital Entrepreneur, the show for folks who want to discover smarter ways to create and sell profitable digital goods and services. This podcast is a production of Digital Commerce Institute, the place to be for digital entrepreneurs. DCI features an in-depth, ongoing instructional academy, plus a live education and networking summit where entrepreneurs from across the globe meet in person. For more information, go to Rainmaker.FM/digitalcommerce. That’s Rainmaker.FM/digitalcommerce.

Jerod Morris: Welcome back to The Digital Entrepreneur, I am your host Jerod Morris, the VP of Marketing for Rainmaker Digital. This is episode number 20 of The Digital Entrepreneur. Today I am joined by Joanna Wiebe, the conversion copywriter for Copy Hackers, where they promise to help you write more persuasive, believable, and usable copy sans pixie dust, so you can boost your website e-mail conversion rates. I’ve had the good pleasure of working with Joanna, so we can certainly vouch for their work. They do a great job.

Something else that I learned recently about Joanna — I actually learned this earlier today — is that she likes making up new words, like indeedly for instance, and using them casually in conversation. I too share in this wonderific pastime, which may be why she and I get along so well. Joanna, welcome to The Digital Entrepreneur, it is great to have you here with us.

Joanna Wiebe: It’s wonderific to be here.

Jerod Morris: Yes, indeedly.

Joanna Wiebe: Indeedly.

Jerod Morris: Joanna’s appearance today continues our series here on The Digital Entrepreneur, where we’ve been talking with some of our esteemed speakers who will be at Digital Commerce Summit, which is coming up this October. Joanna’s going to be a featured speaker, and her session is going to be titled, “How to Make Good Copy Great When Selling Digital.” In this session, she’s going to be discussing real-life examples from actual projects that Copy Hackers has been working on with companies like Buffer, Wistia, and our very own Rainmaker Platform.

On today’s episode, we’re going to explore a few of those projects, some of those ideas here today. But make sure that you come to Denver so that you can hear Joanna and all of our other terrific speakers live. Early bird tickets are still available, so you’re definitely not too late. Joanna’s going to be there. I will be speaking. And, of course, members of the Rainmaker Digital team like Brian Clark and Sonia Simone will be speaking as well, along with a host of our friends from around the digital entrepreneurship space, including Rand Fishkin, Jeff Walker, Tara Gentile, Joanna Penn, Chris Lema, and many, many more.

As we say right there on the website — in the kind of conversion copy that we hope would make Joanna proud — this is the conference and networking event where you will discover smarter ways to create and sell profitable digital products and services. So don’t miss it. For more information, go to Rainmaker.FM/summit. That’s Rainmaker.FM/summit. Again, early bird tickets are still available for now.

Joanna, let’s dive in here, and I would like to kick this off with an admission that I need to make to you.

Joanna Wiebe: Uh-oh.

Jerod Morris: No, it’s okay, and it has nothing to do with the admission that we just talked about before we went …

Joanna Wiebe: Let’s not talk about that.

Jerod Morris: No, you will not. You spoke at the first Authority conference, which was now more than two years from the day that we’re recording this.

Joanna Wiebe: Right.

Jerod Morris: In your presentation at Authority, you spoke about improving our call to action buttons, and you discussed the two elements that prevent people from clicking on buttons, that is friction and fear. To this day, that is one of the lessons from that conference that has stuck with me. Every time I have a call to action button I’m always thinking, “Okay, how do I reduce friction and/or fear to make this as easy to click on for as many people as possible?”

I’m sure the alliteration had something to do with it. You also talked a lot about the lizard brain and engaging the lizard brain. I think just because this little easy framework — friction and fear — it works. So thank you for that lesson. It’s another reason why going to conferences is such a great thing to do. In addition to the networking, you can pick up these little nuggets that really carry through. Maybe everybody will have different ones, but I’m very appreciative of that one.

Joanna Wiebe: Oh, that’s cool. I’m glad you remember that. That’s awesome to hear. That was a really fun conference.

Jerod Morris: Yeah, it was, and this one will be good too. To start, just give us a little background, if you would.

Joanna Wiebe: Sure.

Jerod Morris: Can you explain a little bit more about what you and the Copy Hackers team does?

Joanna Wiebe: Yeah, absolutely. We get to work with some pretty cool companies — present company included — where we optimize copy, essentially, or we aim to, at least. Sometimes it works, other times it doesn’t. That’s the nature, and that’s why we test. We help organizations either write better copy, or copy that’s worth testing and measuring, or we teach them how to do it. Our blog teaches you how to do it. Our courses teach you how to do it. And if you really want to see how we work and to have us go in and help you hands-on, then we sometimes accept clients. Only the coolest clients, obviously. Just kidding. No, we’re really lucky to work with very cool people that we love, so that’s wicked.

That’s what we do, and the biggest thing that we focus on — outside of being really dedicated to copywriting and messaging — is testing. To be sure that we at least know if something’s working or not. Then we can hopefully have a good hypothesis so we know why it didn’t work or why it did work, so we’re not just constantly guessing and then guessing at something else and then something else. Yeah, that’s what we do.

Jerod Morris: Yeah, that’s the thing that’s been so clear in working with you guys, is the culture of testing that you have and the commitment to testing. Do you find with individuals that you work with, with companies that you end up working with, that the people aren’t testing enough or that there isn’t enough of a commitment to it?

Joanna Wiebe: Yeah. I think it’s a scary thing for a lot of people. It depends where you’re at when you’ve heard of it, but testing feels like … If you’ve just heard of it, it sounds exciting. And then you go and you look into it, and you’re like, “Oh man, I need so much traffic to test a page. And then I need to have a big enough change in the conversion rate to close a test. Wow, I need so much, it’s just going to be too hard.” But you try doing one test, you don’t get any conclusive results, and you just throw your hands up and say, “Testing doesn’t work for me.”

Then there’s the other end where it’s like, “Okay, we don’t test, we only engage in marketing automation, behavioral automation, behavioral marketing, and personalization as a subset of that. So if we A/B test, it’s within this really complex system of marketing automation, essentially.” Those are the bigger businesses that look at A/B testing as trying to find a single solution for a whole bunch of people, which we all know isn’t possible in most cases — to find a single solution or way to message something that works for everybody visiting that page or reading that e-mail.

At the other end of the spectrum, people discount it as trying to do too much with too little, and at the first side of it, the newer people coming into testing, it just feels like you need too much traffic to make it work. Naturally people shy away from it, and I certainly don’t blame them for it. When you get into testing there’s a lot to consider. Where the sources of traffic are, should you be including mobile traffic in your test? If not, should you be doing a separate test just for mobile traffic? There’s so much to think about that I think it can be a bit off-putting for people.

When it comes down to it though, A/B testing is really just, “Here’s the page that we’re currently working with. Here’s what we think we might want to replace that page with because we feel — based on a lot of different data points — that this is the stronger message to go with, but we don’t know. So we’re going to A/B test it one page versus the other.” That’s really, at its core, all it really has to be about. But it’s easy to over-complicate that.

Simple A/B Test Anyone Can Use to Gain Valuable Insight Into Audience Behavior

Jerod Morris: For someone who’s listening to this, maybe they’ve thought about testing but they haven’t done it yet, or maybe they have but it’s been kind of complicated and it feels real convoluted for them. Do you have any suggestions for a simple test folks can go out the door with? Maybe dip their toes in the water? Maybe it’s changing just a headline on the homepage or changing a button. Is there a universal first step people can take to start wading into the testing waters if they haven’t yet?

Joanna Wiebe: Yeah, and it’s basically those two things you just talked about, actually. There’s two ways that I recommend if you haven’t done a test before. The first one is to do an A/B test on your highest traffic page, generally. Generally on your highest traffic page, where that new variation you come up with has a new headline and a new button. Not one or the other, but both changed on variation B. That’s because that button is the real site of conversion. It’s where the measuring happens, on the button.

If you only change the headline but the button isn’t improved, then it complicates things a little bit, or it means you’re going to have to really swing for the fences with that headline, or be dramatically different. I recommend if you’re just starting out do a headline plus button test where that becomes your new variation. Another really easy way to start testing is to test the placement of that button or call to action. If you currently have it in your homepage hero section — where basically every digital business on the planet has a button, in that hero space — try moving it.

Now, obviously, any CRO person will absolutely say, “Well, you have to have a reason why.” We can get into that at some other point, but if we’re just talking about, “Here, test it,” just to get into testing, just to dip your toes in the water, then just test removing that from the hero and moving it further down the page. See what happens. Or test it as a sticky button that follows you as you go. Buttons are the absolute easiest test to start with.

Jerod Morris: But don’t move it so much that there’s increased friction.

The Surprising Button Placement That Actually Worked Wonders for One Company

Joanna Wiebe: The question when we’re like, “Okay, where does a button go?” is at what point is our prospect — our one reader, the one we’re actually trying to convert — at what point are they ready to move forward? You put a button in front of people, they will click it. People like to click the button. That’s the lizard brain, right? “Ooh, I see it, I just – Ta-da! I click it! I didn’t even really look at the things that I need to look at yet.”

We actually did a test on Sweatblock.com, which is an e-commerce site. It’s a little bit different. But we tested a variation of the homepage, kind of a one-pager. Our variation B moved the button way down. The control had the button in the hero section. Variation B opened with a problem agitation solution opening, which is kind of odd on homepages.

You usually just lead with the solution on a homepage and then you might try to back up and go into problem agitation solution as a framework. But we were like, “Nope, we’re not going to lead with the solution. We’re not going to put that button in the hero section. We’re going to lead with the problem. No button. We’re going to agitate the problem, still no button. We’re going to talk about the solution, and only when we’ve said enough about the solution will we put the button on the page.”

I actually just wrote about this on the site. We saw 45% more paid conversion when we did that. More products purchased — not just clicks, but products purchased — when we moved that button down and made people feel something first. The question is, where do you need to put the button? It obviously depends on where your prospect is at, but I would say be sure to be confident in your ability to move people to click, but don’t let them click whenever they feel like clicking. That’s part of having that button test.

Jerod Morris: Wow. That’s great stuff, right there.

Joanna Wiebe: It was fun.

Jerod Morris: Yeah, I bet it was. As I mentioned before, your session title is going to be “How to Make Good Copy Great When Selling Digital.” I want to talk a little bit about what that means, making good copy great. But not just for any reason, for any type of copywriting, but specifically when it comes to selling digital goods. Are there specific elements — and I think you just hinted at some right there — but are there specific elements to writing great copy for selling digital goods that may be different from other types of copywriting?

Why Copywriting Fundamentals like the Rule of 1 Still Work

Joanna Wiebe: I have found that selling digital goods has more to do with traditional direct response copywriting than not. Using the old tried-and-true rules that we read about from Shorts and Caples and all those awesome dudes — those still work. Those still completely and totally work. It’s when we pretend that the rules have changed that we harm our conversion rates.

There’s this sense that people buying online or people reading online are these completely different thinking beings that don’t follow any of the old rules and can’t be persuaded the old ways so we’re going to just throw stuff at them. They like to look around so let them look around. But we haven’t found that that’s been anywhere near as successful as controlling the flow of information.

That comes out in different ways. Sometimes it will mean we take a long-form sales approach and we put it into a “palatable” form on the page so it doesn’t look like a long-form sales page. It still acts like those old sales letters, it just doesn’t look like a letter. When it comes down to it, it’s really about those formulas and frameworks and just listening to your prospect and repeating what you heard on the page. That goes a long way. You think back to Great Leads and books like that, where they talk about basically what I’ve summed up. I don’t even know if it was from the book, I read it so long ago.

The rule of one, where you’ve got one reader, one offer, one big idea, and one promise. If you still follow those when selling on a landing page — it’s hard to do that on a homepage because you generally don’t have one reader, but that’s a big discussion unto itself — if you follow those parts and organize your page with that in mind, you can still see great conversion lift. We did something similar with Buffer, which I’ll be talking about at the summit so I don’t want to talk too much about it. Come to the summit if you want to hear the story.

We followed some of that like, “Okay, what do we need to say to the prospect to move them from the stage of awareness they’re at to the stage of awareness we need them to be at on the page in order to move forward to the point of being a paying customer for Buffer? For their business plan?” We did some cool stuff, we saw very cool lift, and that’s all I’m going to say about it because we’re talking about it at the summit.

What the “Stages of Awareness” Are and Why They Matter

Jerod Morris: You mentioned the stage of awareness. How do you know what stage of awareness folks are at on different pages and in different parts of the process?

Joanna Wiebe: Yeah, totally. Generally a good thing is to look at where they were before, and that should indicate in many cases — maybe not all cases, but we’re looking for as much solid info as we can use. Sometimes it’s imperfect, but oftentimes it’s better than nothing. We look at where they were first. That could mean, “What keyword phrase did they use? Or where were they? Was it a Facebook ad that brought them to us? Are they already on our list or are they not on our list? Are they a returning visitor or are they not a returning visitor?”

Those sorts of things can help us say, “Okay, if they searched a branded keyword phrase like ‘Buffer for business,’ or ‘Buffer for business pricing,’ chances are good they’re in product to most aware.” Those are the two places we’d want to put them, so where do we then kick off the page, that landing page for them? Well, we’ll want to mention the product if they’re in product aware. We might also mention it if they’re in most aware, although what the page looks like will probably be different for those two.

A most aware person — it always depends, but a most aware visitor landing on a landing page meant for most aware visitors is probably going to see a shorter page that does more of the things that we see in Cialdini’s Influence. All of those sorts of persuasion techniques that are great for the lowest hanging fruit, like a lot of social proof, urgency — maybe scarcity, if you’ve got it. Those sorts of things that we hear about as persuasive but that might not work as well for somebody who’s solution aware. But for product aware or most aware they could work much better.

Now, product aware — we might find ourselves putting a lot more on the page to get them to the place where they’re ready by the end of the page to pay. I don’t know, is that clear? I feel like I could talk for an eternity about stages of awareness.

Jerod Morris: No, it is. I think it’s important. It’s funny, because I think we got into this on the call that we had earlier today too. You can have this great piece of copy and it feels really well written and it feels good, but you can’t really tell how successful or good a piece of copy is outside of the context. You’ve got to understand when the person who is the target of this copy, the audience, when are they getting it? What do they know? What have they done already? Where are we trying to get them to go?

I think you don’t want to over-complicate it, because I think the fundamentals of copy are pretty simple. But you also don’t want to underestimate the importance of really understanding the context and putting that copy into the right context for the audience member so that they can actually take the next step that you want them to take.

Joanna Wiebe: Yeah, exactly. This is something that any UX person would absolutely agree with, that context is huge. Even as you’re talking, I’m thinking of how these disciplines all come together today and how it’s helping us all, I think, to produce better materials that are — all of these same principles keep coming up. Like you say, where’s the context? Where are they actually at in experiencing our brand or our product?

If you don’t think about that — this is why targeted landing pages are so important. They’re so easy to create today, as well, that it’s shocking when people don’t. If you write and you send everybody to one or two landing pages that are somewhat generic, they’re just never going to work as well. Or you send e-mails that aren’t specific to what a person’s really going through, they’re just not going to work as well. We all know that.

But sadly — and I know why it is, I go through this for business too — it’s like, “Okay, well I have to prioritize what I’m going to do,” and doing something else generally looks better than sitting there and saying, “Okay, well we have to write six different drip campaigns for six different triggers. It’s going to be a 10-week job to get to the point, and we’re going to have one person on it full time.” You’re like, “Holy crap, well what if they don’t work?” Yeah, it’s true. If you don’t know the context or you don’t know where the prospect is at when they’re looking at the page, none of us should be terribly surprised when they don’t convert as well.

The Difference Between What You Care About and What Your Prospect Cares About

Jerod Morris: Do you think that that’s one of the biggest mistakes that you see individuals and companies make when it comes to their copy? What might be some other ones?

Joanna Wiebe: Yeah, it’s a biggie. It’s not knowing the reader you’re talking to so you put down on the page what you think. I hear this a lot, even in our comments on our blog. I’m sure you’ve seen the same for Copyblogger when you’re talking about copy. We had a bunch of comments recently on one of our posts where we asked people to comment on what they would differently with the copy. One thing that kept coming out was, “I would need to see this,” or, “I wonder about this.” The person is thinking that because they care about it, the prospect cares about it.

Obviously as we’re talking about it, everybody listening is like, “Well, of course not.” But how often do we actually sit there and do that? Write a page where we’re like, “Oh, okay, well let me imagine what you want to know in order to move from where you are to where we want you to be. I think you might care about this, so I’m going to make this the headline.” That’s, I think, the biggest problem, and it happens again and again. Imagining that you could possibly know what your prospect wants, or that your prospects wants the same things you want in the order you want them. For me, that’s an ongoing, continual problem.

Jerod Morris: How do you get around that? To start, you have to have some kind of hypothesis. Is it then just refining based on data and what you see? How do you approach that?

Joanna Wiebe: Start with lots of data. I know that that can be problematic for people who say, “Okay, that’s our business before. Data reflects the business as it’s been and the users we’ve had, not who we want.” If you let that be your reason not to use research or data, then I don’t know. I’m sure other people will know how to help you — hire somebody who does. I don’t know. What I know is that if we look at the data — like the analytics, like click-tracking on the site — if we ask questions about the landing page that identifies who you are …

Help me understand. Put a Hotjar poll on the page you want to optimize and ask questions, or a question, to help you figure out where that prospect is at so you can write for them. Then put click-tracking on there to see where they’re not paying attention. Then consult your actual survey responses that you might have that are from a larger survey that you’ve done, where you can split your data up. Do those sorts of things and you’ll be more likely to write a page.

But that’s how you find what you ought to write about. We all know it’s not sitting there, staring at the page, thinking, “Hmm, what do I care about? To optimize this page, what do I want to know differently? What’s not on here that I need to see?” We all know that’s not the way to do it. Usertesting.com — you can send people on and actually pinpoint. I know it doesn’t get that granular, but you can get down to marketing managers and have only marketing managers — let’s say if you wanted to sell a product to marketing managers — have marketing managers on usertesting.com spend 20 minutes. Get 5 of them to spend 20 minutes on your page answering questions, and that alone will illuminate some opportunities for you and some of the things that your prospect might actually care about.

How to Listen in a Way That Actually Leads to Meaningful Results

Jerod Morris: Yeah. As we were working with you, that was one of the things that you guys did early on and wanted to even do more, was talk to actual customers.

Joanna Wiebe: Yes.

Jerod Morris: How important is that?

Joanna Wiebe: It’s everything.

Jerod Morris: Yeah?

Joanna Wiebe: For me, it’s everything. Interviews alone. There’s all sort of stuff that you can go out and do. We talk about this all over the place. I could make a list, and probably just will. Interviews are hands-down — they’re the thing you want to do least, and they’re always the most revealing if you can get somebody to sit there and talk with you on the phone or in person for an hour, and listen like a crazy person. Just listen the whole time and then transcribe what you’ve heard. Yeah, for me — and I know others will say they don’t do it this way and it works for them to do it their way. Cool. All I can speak about is for me. And for me, time and again, I get the best results when I just shut up and listen and then repeat what I heard.

Jerod Morris: I think that’s true for most folks. It’s so important, and it is underrated.

Joanna Wiebe: Yeah.

Jerod Morris: It’s interesting. What would be your biggest general piece of copywriting advice for folks? I feel like what you just mentioned, listen — the irony of that being the biggest skill that you can have as a copywriter, someone who is producing content, is to actually listen … Maybe that is the best piece of advice. But what is your best general piece of advice for folks to take their copywriting to the next step, to get a little bit better today the next time they write some copy than they were before they listened to this episode?

The Oft-Overlooked Importance of Frameworks and Formulas

Joanna Wiebe: Yeah, I would say listening, doing that research, that’s huge. In one hand: research. In the other hand: frameworks and formulas. I took a long time to come around to the idea of not basically starting from scratch, or of letting somebody else tell me how to frame the page or how to organize a headline. I think a lot of us as copywriters — you still identify heavily with the writer side of that, which is nice and great. But I recommend you have something else you’re writing on the side as a creative project and then make copywriting about copy writing. That means take frameworks and formulas and use those.

This is the hardest thing for people to get their head around. Even when they start listening, they’re like, “Oh, cool. I got all these survey responses. There were these long answers, and look at this sticky copy in there, awesome!” They go and start using it on the page, but they use it without any formulas, without any frameworks, without any way to say this is the right way to organize it. And that’s a problem as well. Don’t try to dream it up from scratch in any way, shape, or form. Listen, and then take what you have heard, and use frameworks like PAS, which I mentioned already and which happens to be my favorite for organizing any message or writing anything. PAS comes through for me every single time.

Jerod Morris: Which is problem, agitate, solve?

Joanna Wiebe: Yes, exactly. Sorry. Headline formulas, crosshead formulas, and button formulas. Just use them. I know it feels like, “Ugh, it’s not as fun,” but you know what’s super fun about it? You get to see cool results. For me as a copywriter, that’s where the real fun is, when a client’s like, “Holy crap, you actually brought in twice the number of paid conversions, that’s amazing.” That’s going to feel better than saying, “Oh, those are my words on the page, organized as I think they ought to be.”

Those are the two things. Research in one hand, frameworks and formulas in the other. Put your hands together.

Jerod Morris: Yes, and it simplifies it. Maybe it makes it less art in your own mind, but it simplifies it and you can be more efficient and get better results.

Joanna Wiebe: Yeah, absolutely.

Jerod Morris: It all makes sense.

Joanna Wiebe: I find that, at least.

Jerod Morris: Yes. Excellent. Joanna, this was great. I can’t wait to hear your presentation at Digital Commerce Summit and see what great nugget you say that I’m still thinking about and talking about on podcasts two or three years later.

Joanna Wiebe: Sweet, and I can’t wait to reveal your giant secret.

Jerod Morris: Cut. Yes, it’ll be great. We hope that you will join us at Digital Commerce Summit. Go to Rainmaker.FM/summit. The dates are October 13th through the 14th. We will be in beautiful Denver, Colorado. As I said, on the date that this episode goes live, early bird tickets are still going to be available. I don’t know how much longer they will be, but they are still right now, so go to Rainmaker.FM/summit. Get your ticket and join us in Denver. We can’t wait to see you. Joanna, I will see you there.

Joanna Wiebe: Yeah, thanks a ton, Jerod.

Jerod Morris: Absolutely. We will see you all there and on next week’s brand new episode of The Digital Entrepreneur. Have a great week.