#143: Why It’s Become So Darn Hard to Write Convincing Copy

As I talk with fellow copywriters about what’s happening in the business, one theme keeps coming up:

How increasingly difficult it’s becoming to write persuasive copy.

That’s long been an issue in the ultra-competitive direct response industries of financial newsletters, natural health and business opportunity.

(In fact, an insider recently shared with me that the copy and promos in some of these markets are quickly turning into a dangerous “race to the bottom.”)

But it’s also becoming a big challenge in other less aggressive settings—even in B2B content marketing.

To get some insights and answers on this topic, I recently turned to one of the top conversion copywriters in the business, Joanna Wiebe.

Joanna is the founder of Copy Hackers and of Airstory, a new content creation platform for marketing teams and educators.

You don’t have to be a direct response copywriter to get value from this episode. If you write any kind of persuasive content, I think you’ll find some great insights and ideas here.

The notes that follow are a very basic, unedited summary of the show. There’s a lot more detail in the audio version. You can listen to the show using the audio player below. Or you can subscribe in iTunes to get this show delivered straight to the Podcasts app on your smart phone, tablet or iPod.

Tell us about yourself

Joanna Wiebe is a conversion copywriter. She’s been writing copy for about 15 years. She started at a B2B agency and then worked as a senior copywriter at Intuit. About seven years ago, she started her own business, Copy Hackers.

She fell into copywriting. As a kid, she would watch “Who’s the Boss,” and thought the mom’s advertising job was cool. But she wasn’t sure if it was a real thing.

The day Joanna was to start law school, her dad passed away. She decided to defer her law school admission and do something else for a year. She learned about an opening for a creative writer at a marketing agency. She got the job.

You make the point that it’s become harder to write convincing copy. Can you explain?  

Today, user experience rules the online space. And user experience experts claim that people don’t read online. Their tests show people scrolling and moving their gaze across the page rapidly. So they conclude we need to make copy more scan-able because that’s what users want.

This reasoning has become an excuse to keep copy as short as possible. But then, no one converts!

As copywriters, we don’t necessarily want to cater to the users’ natural inclination to scan pages. We want to encourage them to pay attention.

In Joanna’s experience, people DO read online. After all, content marketing is based on people reading online.

However, we’re training users to scan by the short, meaningless copy we’re writing.

Writing for “scanners” should be a consideration, but not the top priority.

Copywriters are being put on teams that are responsible for conversion rates. But then they’re only allowed to use three words to grab attention!

People will read online—if you give them something worth reading!

How does this problem relate to the stages of prospect awareness?

If you’ve read Eugene Swartz, then you’ll know the five stages of prospect awareness:

  1. Unaware: Prospect is unaware of pain/problem.
  2. Pain/Problem Aware: Prospect feels some pain (i.e. acknowledges there’s a problem) but doesn’t know the solution.
  3. Solution Aware: Prospect knows the solution, but not the product.
  4. Product Aware: Prospect identifies your product as a possible solution.
  5. Most Aware: Prospect knows your product. Wants to know the deal.

You want to move people through these stages. But to do that, you need to know which stage they’re currently at.

If prospects are at the top of the funnel, you’re going to need a long-form sales page to move them through all stages of awareness.

Today, many designers just want to put a “free trial” button at the top of the page along with incentives to get them to convert. But prospects may not be at that stage yet.

If you’re given unrealistic goals (e.g. take prospect from “pain aware” to “most aware” in a few words), then you’re going to struggle to write convincing copy.

If you’re going to write convincing copy, you need to be given realistic conversion goals.

So how do we segment visitors to do this better?

One option is to use an automation tool, such as Brennan Dunn’s RightMessage.

Another option is to create a selection of pages.

You can start by selling your client a long form sales page. Once that’s written, you can chop the page into four sections to use as landing pages with some nurturing sequence emails in between.

Combined, these individual landing pages tell one long story. At the same time, new prospects can land on individual landing pages depending on where they are in their awareness journey.

Once you have the long form sales page, you have everything you need to get people to buy.

Tell us about Copy Hackers and Airstory

At Copy Hackers, you can learn how to write conversion copy. Joanna runs a free tutorial every Tuesday morning.

Airstory is a writing platform that Joanna has developed. It allows you to put notes, ideas and research together on one page and organize them.