“The key to successful conversion rates is getting the right content to the right people at the right time.” Those are the words of Rick Sloboda, Founder & Chief Content Strategist at Webcopy+, who’s conducted web content studies with authorities like Yale University, and writes content for clients ranging from 1-800-GOT-JUNK to luxury fashion brands. Rick’s our design and development agency’s content partner, so we recently asked him about writing content that works.
What’s the most surprising thing you’ve learned about web copywriting since starting Webcopy+ in 2006?
That would have to be how many business owners undervalue web content writers and copywriters in general. The thinking is: “I can write, so I can write my marketing and sales content.” That’s like saying, “I know how to turn a wrench, so I’m going to maintain my car.” There are so many factors involved in writing good content, from conducting proper research to establishing the right information architecture.
How does the writing process start?
Extracting and assembling all of the necessary information from the client, competition and industry. A writer needs to understand the client’s short- and long-term objectives and goals, and their essence. What do they stand for and stand against? Who’s the direct and indirect competition? What’s the call to action — how do you want people to react and what do you want them to do? The call to action is often neglected.
How is the call to action being neglected?
Many businesses and agencies completely overlook the call to action, or CTA, which is imperative because it prompts visitors to take the desired actions. It’s sales 101 — you’re asking for the sale. If you don’t ask, chances are you won’t convert. I’ve been in numerous meetings and on calls where I point out the missing element, and hear the response: “Oh yeah.” It’s absolutely critical. In fact, I define the calls to action at the early stages of projects. That way, we can ensure every word and element on the website is geared toward getting the visitor to take that action, whether it be make a purchase, pick up the phone, request a quote, or what have you.
In your opinion, can good content not include keyword research?
In my 13 years of working on website content for companies big and small in numerous industries around the globe, I have only worked on a couple projects or so where keyword research wasn’t important. It’s highly valuable in determining which search terms people are typing into Google and friends to find your products and services. Businesses should never make assumptions that they know what the popular terms are. I know, from experience, people are often surprised to learn what the market is seeking.
Plus, to me, keyword research is an inexpensive form of market research. I partner with agencies that do deep dives for big brands to uncover market intelligence, but they charge as much as $30,000 to get the ball rolling. With keyword research, you gain an understanding of what people are looking for, and how they’re approaching their research — their mindset. It also provides insight into the language people use. The language people use in boardrooms and offices often don’t match the language prospects are using. When you use the same or similar language as your audience, it helps nurture rapport and trust, which helps boost conversions.
Agreed. What about the soft, fuzzy stuff? How important do you feel the emotional elements of website content are versus hard facts and figures?
It doesn’t matter whether you’re a weathered biker purchasing new tires for your Harley or a tween looking to buy lip gloss; as long as you’re human, you make decisions emotionally. We’re emotional creatures. So it’s vital.
Are you suggesting a biker buying tires actually wants to read fluffy, feel-good marketing copy?
It’s not about fluffy, sappy copy; it’s about writing to the person’s ‘trigger points’ — what he or she really cares about, tapping into their innermost fears or desires. Facts and figures have their place, but to engage people we need to convey the benefits. Tire tread, width and max load are important. But so is the messaging, branding and story of the product. What’s important to the person? Safety? Speed? Price? Dig deeper and you’ll learn it’s about how they feel. Perhaps the person is seeking a sense of security or belonging, dominance or control.
How do you figure out desires or fears at that depth?
With empathy and compassion through research, interviews and observations. You start getting into psychology and neuroscience. Web content studies I’ve been involved in revealed we can influence survey results simply by altering an intro. Words are powerful. They entice and persuade. They create emotional responses.
Is there a ‘right balance’ between presenting features and benefits?
They both have a role to play. People make decisions emotionally and then rationalize them logically. So the benefits are important to get people to care, creating that necessary emotional response. And the facts allow people to reinforce their emotional response or decision.
How about a real-life example?
Sure…there’s a man walking down a busy shopping district, and a briefcase in a storefront catches his eye. He stops. He already has a briefcase. But he really likes the one in the window. It’s super sexy — sophisticated with European flare. There’s the emotional response. And now he’s going to rationalize his response and desire to buy it. He might tell himself things like: “Mine’s looking a little worn,” “I just got a promotion and need to look the part,” and “I’ve been working long hours, I deserve it.” If he does a good enough job rationalizing it, he’ll walk into the store and think to himself how can he not buy it — genuine leather, comfortable strap, useful compartments, and it’s on sale to boot. Sold!
How do you decipher all of the benefits?
One way is to turn the features into benefits. You can do this using the ‘so what?’ technique. For example, the binoculars you’re selling have oversized lenses. So what? They provide low-light performance. So what? You can capture bright, sharp images from dusk until dawn. Now we’re starting to get somewhere! As we dig deeper, we’re increasing chances of engaging the person and getting them to take the desired action. There’s a saying amongst copywriters that goes back to before the Internet existed: features tell, benefits sell!
When it comes to web copywriting, is there a certain style that works best?
In general, 80% of people scan content — they don’t read word for word. So clear, concise content typically out-pulls long-winded content. In terms of style, it needs to be consistent with the company’s brand, and written for the audience. For instance, I work with an internationally renowned business advisor who wanted to inject humour in the firm’s messaging. It wouldn’t have worked because they all wear suits and ties, and are typically formal in approach and conversations. So the content style needs to be consistent and true to the brand. It needs to be authentic.
Also, something I often explain to clients is that I write for the intended audience — not them. If I write content that caters to the business owner, they might be tickled and quick to approve the content, but it could easily miss the mark with the target audience. I specifically write for the audience. And, by doing a good job writing for the audience, the company is rewarded with sales, revenues and loyalty.
What about marketing hype in copywriting — does it actually work?
For a quick sale, in some cases, it can. However, it can also turn people off. Hype or vast exaggerations make a brand look cheap and kills credibility. It’s best to be accurate and honest. Objective content builds trust, credibility and long-term success. Tacky lines like, “We’re the best in the business!!!!!” reeks of BS. You’re stating: “We’ve got nothing to say, so we’re going to compensate this with hype!” I suggest copywriters leave the hype to the spammers.
It’s also best to avoid clichés, which are often used by writers who are trying to be cute or clever. These overused phrases don’t really do anything for the business or consumer. Additionally, clichés can create cross-culture limitations and issues. Good copywriters stay out of the way of the message.
So kill the clichés and avoid marketing cheese. That’s thinking outside the box.
Rick Sloboda @webcopyplus
As the Webcopy+ website states: "If you’re creative, have a pulse and want to make the Web a better place, please take a moment to connect." You can connect with Rick by visiting one of his social media profiles below.