What a Personal Development Classic from 1959 Can Teach You About Writing Web Copy That Sells

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[EDITING NOTE: This post was originally published in November 2014. Because its topic and principles are evergreen, and because I’ve gotten lots of questions lately about how to write for your ideal clients and how to “paint a picture” with your web copy, I’ve decided to republish it.]

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Wherein we talk about how to create killer copy for your small business website by painting a picture, and I give you an example of how it’s done . . .

So a few weeks ago I was at a friend’s house drinking wine, chatting, and having a gay old time, as the old-timers say.  On the way out the door, I stopped by her bookshelf – I’m a sucker for spying on what other people read – and spotted a book called The Magic of Thinking Big: Acquire the Secrets of Success . . . Achieve Everything You’ve Always Wanted, by David Schwartz, Ph.D.

(Even though this book is a classic published way back in 1959, I’d heard of it; in fact, it was on my mental list of “inspiring books to read soon.”  A mental list which, miraculously, hadn’t been erased by all the booze I drank on vacation last week, or I might never have remembered I wanted to read it.)

While the book is certainly worth reading so you too can train yourself to “harness the power of thinking big,” what I want to talk about today is a specific passage in the book that perfectly describes what your small business web copy needs to do if you want to attract your ideal clients and customers, and that thing is “paint a picture.”

This picture you’re painting with your copy is of your ideal customer’s ideal outcome, and if you do this well, these ideal customers will want to give you money for your products and services. 

Say, wouldn’t that be just swell?

Painting a Picture with Your Web Copy

On page 71 of the afore-mentioned book, the author tells us to “see what can be, not just what is.”  Which is a perfect instruction for small business copywriting.

He illustrates this concept by telling us about a successful realtor he knows.  This realtor is selling lots of unattractive rural property that other realtors in the same area can’t sell on a bet.  How does our realtor do this?  By selling the property not as it is, but as what it can be.

As the realtor states:  “I develop my entire sales plan around what the farm can be.  Simply telling the prospect, ‘The farm has XX acres of bottom land, and XX acres of woods, and is XX miles from town,’ doesn’t stir him up and make him want to buy it.  But when you show him a concrete plan for doing something with the farm, he’s just about sold.”

So here’s what successful realtor guy does:  He comes up with three possibilities for what the farm can be, and sells prospects on one of those three possibilities, fully fleshing out the benefits of owning this farm so the prospect can see in his mind’s eye exactly what an idyllic life he will have once the farm belongs to him, revenue-producing possibilities included.

Keep this technique in mind as you’re writing your own small business web copy.  You want to highlight the benefits of your product or service.  (“Sell a good night’s sleep, not the mattress,” as a famous copywriter once said.)  In our example here, the “XX acres of bottom land and XX acres of woods” are features, not benefits.  And while it may necessary to mention features at some point, remember “facts tell, benefits sell.”

The Realtor’s Painted Picture

In my favorite of the 3 scenarios, our realtor paints a picture of the farm converted into a riding stable.  Why does this work so well?  Because the farm is near a big city, which means access to a large, sophisticated market of eager end users of the riding stable. Our realtor knows that big city residents of a certain income level like to escape to the countryside to enjoy the great outdoors on weekends, and that many of those people like to ride horses.  All he has to do now is sell the potential buyer of the lot on this scenario.

So, instead of selling his prospect on XX acres of bottom land, and XX acres of woods, and is XX miles from town, he shares the compelling vision of a thriving riding stable business, with glossy horses and wholesome couples with disposable income riding off into bucolic nature with their picnic baskets full of expensive artisan cheeses and fine champagne. (OK, I made that last bit up – there is no picnic in the realtor’s painted picture, but there would be in mine.)

Using this method, our realtor says, “Now, when I talk with my prospects I won’t have to convince them that the farm is a good buy as it is.  I help them to see a picture of the farm changed into a money-making proposition.”

Smooth, right?   He is not selling the land, the dirt, the acreage – the features, in other words – but the full-blown dream of a horse farm with a riding stable and beautiful couples riding happily through the trees, which they will pay handsomely to do.

So whatever it is you sell, help your clients and customers see what can be for them, in their particular situation. Show them the payoff of using your product or services by selling them the solution, the results, the vision of what can be.

A Real World Example from the World of Interior Design

Now, let’s look at a real-world example of copy that does not paint a picture from the world of interior design.  Specifically, an interior design business’s “About” page.

Why an “About” page, you ask?  Well, here’s what I see over and over again on interior design websites and blogs:  designers using their About pages to list their education and design credentials, when what they should be doing instead is “painting a picture” of their ideal customer’s ideal outcome, while weaving in their credentials and experience.  Because even in your About page, you want to paint a picture of what you can do for your clients. 

This is a much more powerful way to connect with your prospects on an emotional level, which is key to driving more sales in your business.

(And because I would never want to hold anyone up to ridicule publicly, names and specific details have been changed to protect the innocent in the following example.)

Jane graduated from Parsons with a degree in interior design and a minor in studio art. She is an active member of ASID Carolinas Chapter and the local design community.  She attends many conventions and workshops locally and internationally to stay on the cutting edge of design. Jane makes each project unique for each client and has a fine-tuned ability to work with a variety of interior design styles and settings.  Her signature style combines practicality with sophistication.

Where do I begin?

From a strictly writerly perspective, that copy commits a cardinal sin – that is, it tells rather than shows.  We want to know HOW Jane makes each project unique for each client – show us.  Also, it’s boring.  And thirdly, it talks about Jane, not the client.

When looking at this copy from a “painting a picture” perspective, you can see that, beyond being deadly dull and not really saying anything very useful to the client, it does not, in any way, shape or form, make an emotional connection with the reader/potential client and show them what can be by working with Jane.

Here’s how we might improve Jane’s copy:

You’re one-of-a-kind.  An iconoclast.  The “rules” you follow in life are your own.  Not everyone gets it. And you want your home to be a reflection of your unique perspective.  Your approach to life can’t be replicated on an assembly line, and your home’s interior shouldn’t be either.  

Hi, I’m Jane, an expert in telling your story, your way, through your home’s design. Together we’ll create a truly singular space that boldly expresses your one-of-a-kind personality and translates your unique sensibility into a home that could belong to no one but you. 

My approach to design is less about rigid rules and color schemes and more about translating your personal tastes and preferred lifestyle into a sophisticated oasis that is luxurious, yet livable. The result?  A home that gives you that “I-can’t-believe-I-get-to-live-here” feeling every time you walk in the door.

Jane could add more “painting a picture” copy here, then add information about her training and design credentials.  But she should lead with painting a picture

Now obviously, if I were writing this copy for an actual interior designer copy client, I would meet with said client to get the details about their target audience and their target audience’s needs, wishes and desires so that I could write copy specifically for that audience.

Here the copy I wrote was meant to appeal to a design client who has a strong vision, knows what they want, and wants to work collaboratively with a designer to achieve their dream home design.   The copy would be vastly different if “Jane the interior designer” only worked with Moms on a budget with young toddlers in tow, or a family with teenagers and a grand home on the beach, or empty nesters looking to pare down.  You get the idea.

So that, my friends, is how you paint a picture with your copy.  

[For more on writing copy that connects with your ideal clients, sign up for weekly updates and get instant access to the CREATIVE REBEL GUIDE TO WRITING A CLIENT-ATTRACTING ABOUT PAGE, plus copywriting & web marketing tips and other goodies for creative freelancers & biz owners that I only share with my subscribers, delivered straight to your inbox each Tuesday.]

 

Embarrassing Web Copy & Marketing Fails

So the other day I had a meeting with the owner of a web design and development company who I may be working with on some upcoming writing projects.

Naturally, we got into a conversation about some of the unfortunate website mistakes we’ve seen over the years, on both the copywriting side and the design side – including our own.

Yes indeed, even the pros make mistakes and suffer web marketing fails.

For example, I remember back in the day when I was first getting started online. Those halcyon days when I actually believed that putting up a decent website, writing some basic copy, and doing a little bit of marketing each week was going to have new clients beating down my door, fairly busting a gut to work with me.

What actually happened?

Well, friend, they stayed away in droves, to quote the late film producer Samuel Goldwyn. (Well, ok, not completely in droves, I did get a few clients from that original website.)

But why so few? Why so many hours spent trying to be visible online to get merely mediocre results, despite doing everything I was told to attract clients through my website?

Turns out the problem was that my website copy was very “flackluster” (a new word I just made up on the spot to describe something that is both “flaccid” and “lackluster” at the same time, ha ha), and so it wasn’t doing me any favors in the client-getting and revenue-generating department.

And here’s the crazy part.

I knew exactly why I was getting these anemic results – I hadn’t figured out who my ideal clients were, or worked out what set me apart among others online who were providing similar services, and all this was reflected in my sad, generic, no-personality, underperforming web copy.

All of which lead to painfully average results.

Still, I dragged my feet for months to fix the problem.

I felt like I couldn’t step off the hamster wheel of blogging, social media posting and otherwise trying to be visible online for long enough to get clear on my ideal client avatar (ICA) and my unique selling proposition (USP), so I could write web copy that was actually compelling to my ideal clients.

Though I knew taking care of these two key things would start attracting more and better clients, and bigger paychecks, I resisted.

But finally, after too many months of craptacular results, and the looming fear that I’d have to go back to work for “the man” if I didn’t get this little challenge resolved, I decided I’d had enough and changed everything.

I got clear on exactly who my ideal clients were. I worked out what my “meaningful difference” in the marketplace was. I rewrote all my web copy, every last page of it, to be compelling, client-attractive and attention-getting to the people I most wanted to work with. I infused it with my personality, worldview and unique selling proposition.

And once I did that? Well that’s when things started to turn around fairly quickly.

I got more email subscribers almost instantly – from exactly the same amount of website traffic. I started getting client inquiries with email subject lines like “I want to work with you, please call me!” and “Photographer very interested in working with you,” sometimes several just like this in a single day.

I got more clients, and not just any clients, but clients who were ideal for me and who I absolutely loved working with. And I generated more income.

Again, I didn’t increase the traffic to my website to do this – I simply wrote better, more targeted, and more persuasive, personality-filled web copy that reflected my unique selling proposition and spoke directly to the kind of clients who were ideal for me.

Why, oh why hadn’t I done this sooner?

It pains me to think of all the wonderful clients, projects, and income I left on the table, simply because I wouldn’t slow down long enough to go off the grid for a couple of weeks to get my web copy in order.

But all’s well that ends well. And I needed to learn the lesson that not understanding my audience or my USP, coupled with the generic web copy that resulted, was never, ever going to bring in the kind of clients, projects and income I wanted.

So, what about you?

Is that where you are right now? Is your web copy “flackluster” and underperforming? Is it not doing its job?

(To be clear, if you’re in business, your website’s JOB is to get you consistent client and customer inquiries, new clients, and sales. If it’s not doing that, that’s a problem. A problem that must be fixed if you plan, like most of my clients do, to use your website as your main marketing vehicle.)

I’ve written about the importance of determining your target audience/ideal clients and working out your “meaningful difference” or unique selling proposition (USP) on the blog before. I even included free downloadable worksheets to help you get clear on these things so you can start getting more traction from your website.

You can check out those posts here:

The Dreadful Client-Repelling Mistake That Will Keep You Broke (and how to fix it)

Creatives: How to Uncover Your Unique Selling Proposition (and why you need to)

Now, if you’d prefer some one-on-one guidance to help you get crystal clear on your target audience and “meaningful difference”/USP, and how to implement these things on your website for better business results, I make a few strategy sessions available each month specifically focused on these two critically-important-to-the-success-of-your business topics. If you’d like more details, simply email me at Kimberly [at] kimberlydhouston [dot] com, and I’ll send you the info.

Why Most Product Websites Make Me Sad: The Good, the Bad, and the Unsightly

I recently got a comment on my Facebook page asking for examples of what I consider good home pages for websites selling physical products.

Off the top of my head, I couldn’t think of a single one.  Yep, that’s right, I couldn’t bring to mind even one example from recent memory of a website selling physical products that made a lasting impression on me. 

Then I remembered I’d stumbled on some I loved in the last year or so, but dang it, I didn’t make a note of them at the time, so they disappeared from my memory like a fine vapor, just like that.

And that is unfortunate. 

But it highlights the big problem with many e-commerce and product sites: most are entirely forgettable.

What bugs me about the default kind of product website (examples coming up) is there’s no wooing of, and engaging with, the prospective buyer. Many of these sites feature tons of images with short and boring product descriptions (well, if they have to be boring, at least they’re short, right?), how to order info, and not much else. It’s all, “Well, here’s what we got; we couldn’t be bothered to make it look/feel/seem compelling or desirable in any way – so how many bracelets/hoodies/cheese logs do ya want?”

Plus, there’s not much to differentiate one site selling jewelry/clothing/food items/what-have-you from the next.  Most are soulless, corporate things that don’t move or excite the likely buyer, or call up any emotion at all, except for “Next!” as the potential customer hits the back button or navigates back to Google from whence they came.

Here’s what I’m talking about. One of these sites is trying to sell us some lovely men’s jeans, and the other, sterling silver jewelry:

Jeans {<– Click here}

Sterling Silver Jewelry  {<– Click here}

Notice the cold, impersonal feel.  Notice how everything is jammed together on the page, with nary a finely turned phrase anywhere to increase desire for or connection to the products, or paint a picture of how wonderful it would feel to own them.  This makes me sad.

What you want is personality.  Memorability.  Warmth and approachability. Copy that engages with the likely buyer on an emotional level, copy that forges a human connection. You want to give your web visitors an experience. We’ve talked about using personality to connect with ideal customers and stand out online before here and here.

Ok, you say, now I know what ineffective product site home pages look like, but what about product website homepages that get it (mostly) right, ones that exude warmth, personality and a sense of connection, sites that are memorable, engaging, and use copy well? Well, I toiled over my computer to find you a couple of examples, so let’s take a look at those, shall we?

Daniella Draper Jewellery 

Take a look at this site. {Click on company name above} It’s beautifully designed. It’s memorable. It’s evocative.  There’s a person looking directly at you as soon as you land on the page. There’s warmth and a sense of human connection. The likely buyer of this jewelry (or “jewellery,” as it’s spelled here) is going to be intrigued enough to want to scroll down and find out more.  It employs easy and intuitive web navigation.

Admittedly, there’s not much copy on the home page, but there are several markers of personality, warmth, and humanness, from the image of the young woman at the top of the page, to the picture of Daniella herself, to the Instagram feed featuring shots of Real! Live! People! wearing the jewelry and otherwise keeping it real, as the youngsters say.

Two of the brief bits of copy on the home page – “Beautifully British: Handcrafted Silver Jewellery,” and “Incredibly unique, designed and handmade by Daniella Draper” – begin to give you a glimmer of what you can expect from your experience here, and naturally compel you to explore more of the site if you’re the likely customer for this handmade jewelry.

Compare this site to the two I linked up above, where as many products as possible are crammed onto one page, making the products look janky and cheap, even if they’re not.

Hiut Denim Co. 

Again, notice the beautiful design and easy and intuitive web navigation. {Click on company name above}

The “Do One Thing Well” tagline instantly conveys passionate attention to detail, a love for going above and beyond to craft something amazing. And the images and home page copy all support the “do one thing well” ethos.  Very nice.

But here’s what I simply adore about the Hiut Denim site: its fantastic use of a Founder Story to set itself apart from all the other companies online selling premium denim.

Check out the “our story” copy on the home page to see what I mean. It’s actually more than just a founder story – it’s the story of how Hiut Denim helped Cardigan, a small town in Wales once home to the biggest jeans factory in Britain, get back on its feet again after the jeans manufacturing operation moved to Morocco.

How can you not love this? –> “So we decided 4 decades worth of know-how shouldn’t go to waste. That’s why the Hiut Denim Company was born: To get the town making jeans again.” Call me crazy, but that actually gives me chills.  

And talk about differentiation!  What a powerful and effective way to set themselves apart from other premium denim purveyors and forge an emotional connection with the likely buyer – because after all, you’re not just buying finely crafted and beautiful denim, you’re helping a town hold on to its livelihood.

The J. Peterman Company  

I always have to share the genius of J. Peterman when I’m talking about pitch-perfect product copy, because it’s the pinnacle of gorgeous and evocative product copywriting. {Click on company name above}

The beautifully written copy here reads like a story (just click on any of the individual product images), one you aspire to become a part of, or one you identify with, if you happen to be the likely buyer. (And that is who we’re talking to after all – we’re not trying to convince the unlikely buyer to buy our stuff, we’re trying to appeal to those with a predisposition or pre-existing hankering for the product.)

As humans, we’re hardwired to respond to stories, and the copy on the J. Peterman site taps into that longing brilliantly.

If your business sells products of any kind, your time would be well-spent studying the compelling product copy on the J. Peterman site.

Conclusion

What do these product company web pages have in common?  They are evocative. They convey warmth, soul, and personality.  They are approachable. They make an emotional connection.  There are actual human beings involved. They make you want to stick around and explore, even if you’re not planning to buy the goods right now.  They are memorable.

And importantly, the combination of web copy, photography, graphics, and the stories they choose to tell all work together to create an experience that will resonate with the likely buyer. This is what you want.  

In the comments below, I’d love for you to share your favorite product websites and tell me why they resonate with you.  (Even if it’s your own!) Go ahead, share your thoughts; I’d love to see what other product sites out there are making an impact!

[For more on writing copy that connects with your ideal clients, sign up for free weekly updates and get instant access to the CREATIVE REBEL GUIDE TO WRITING A CLIENT-ATTRACTING ABOUT PAGE, plus copywriting & web marketing tips and other fun stuff for creative freelancers & biz owners that I only share with my subscribers, delivered straight to your inbox each Tuesday.]

If You Can’t Beat ‘Em, Join ‘Em: The Baby Carrot Story and Using Personality in Marketing

Baby Carrots_blog image

 

Consider the carrot. The baby carrot, to be precise.  

A nutritious, wholesome, feel-good snack you can feel smug about eating, what with its minimal calories and healthy dose of good-for-you beta-carotene.

And sure, they’re good for you, but the truth is, they’re just not that interesting, are they? I mean, carrots, right? They’ve been around for 2000 years, they’re not trendy or hip like ramps or kale, or whatever other produce happens to be taking its star turn this year; they’re not really unique or special in any way. 

So, what if it was your task to “brand” them? What if you had to come up with a way to position baby carrots so they could compete with, say, cheetohs, potato chips or other junk food as a snack alternative?

Maybe you’d think, well, let’s promote their health benefits, that’ll do it!

Unfortunately, that line of thinking happens not to work all that well.

(Horrifying factoid: In 2012, $116 million dollars was spent on advertising fruit and veggies. And $2 billion was spent on advertising junk food to kids.  Yes, you read that right – $2 billion dollars.  Damn, that’s a lot of money spent to convince kids to eat crap!)

Even though print and online publications have been touting the joys and benefits of eating fruits and vegetables for years, not to mention many dozens of stories appearing on TV about the dangers of unhealthy eating, produce still has trouble competing for our shopping dollars, and per capita consumption isn’t up.

What’s a carrot seller to do?  And what’s the point of all this talk about carrots, anyway?  

My point, and I do have one, is that with enough creativity and resourcefulness, you can uncover the benefits and bring out the personality of any boring old thing to make it interesting and appealing to your audience, as I talked about previously here

Bolthouse Farms did this with carrots a few years ago. And if you can do it for carrots, you can do it for your creative products and services.

How Bolthouse Farms Transformed Carrots from Boring Agricultural Commodity to Cool, Crave-able Snack

A few years ago, Jeffrey Dunn, President and CEO of Bolthouse Farms, which grows and processes more than a billion pounds of carrots a year, was shopping for an ad agency to help create a campaign around baby carrots. Bolthouse had never marketed its carrots before, but sales were down, so Dunn decided to shake things up and get creative.

But he didn’t want to appeal to smarts and responsibility as in, “eat carrots because they’re good for you,” he wanted to market his company’s baby carrots in a different way. He knew that pitting the health benefits of the cute veggie against the perils of eating junk food wasn’t going to cut it. Instead he wanted something funny and emotional that appealed to impulse snacking.

Enter ad agency Crispin Porter + Bogusky.  Instead of pitching a campaign centered around the health benefits of carrots, Crispin proposed aligning the baby carrot with junk food.

In an article in Fast Company, Omid Farhang, vice president and creative director at Crispin, said “The truth about baby carrots is they possess many of the defining characteristics of our favorite junk food. They’re neon orange, they’re crunchy, they’re dippable, they’re kind of addictive.”

The idea was to do the same kind of marketing for carrots as for things like Coke and cheetohs, because as Dunn was quoted as saying in the Fast Company article, “If all we do is tell people fruits and vegetables need to be part of their diet or they’re not going to be healthy – the rational approach – we have zero chance.”  

Think about it – we already know we need to eat our veggies, so telling us that in an ad campaign has no impact. As Farhang said, “What a silly use of advertising dollars to tell people that vegetables are healthy.”

Instead, the campaign they rolled out featured new packaging in which baby carrots were packaged like Doritos, in a crinkly potato chip bag with junk-food-style graphics, and an ad campaign with taglines such as “Eat ‘Em Like Junk Food” and “Baby Carrots: The Original Orange Doodles.”

You can read more about the whole she-bang in the fabulous article in Fast Company, “How Carrots Became the New Junk Food.” And check out the Bolthouse Farms website here for a great example of how to position with personality in order to stand out in your niche.

Marketing Lessons and Questions to Ponder

I don’t know if it’s because I once worked for an ad agency and I appreciate a killer creative marketing campaign when I see one, but I haven’t been able to get the Baby Carrots story out of my head since I first heard about it late last year.

It’s proof that positioning with personality works.  (Sales in Bolthouse’s test markets went up 10% to 12% over the year before in the year following the test campaign.)

Think about how Bolthouse Farms went against the standard approach in this campaign by deciding not to use a health benefits approach, instead aligning themselves with junk food.  How can you apply this kind of creative thinking to your own marketing?

Consider how Bolthouse uses personality to transform baby carrots from a healthy, but boring vegetable into a hip, crave-able snack.  Are there ways you can do this with your creative products and services?

Share your thoughts in the comments! 

[Sign up for free weekly updates and get instant access to the CREATIVE REBEL GUIDE TO WRITING A CLIENT-ATTRACTING ABOUT PAGE, plus copywriting & web marketing tips and other goodies for creative freelancers & biz owners that I only share with my subscribers, delivered straight to your inbox each Tuesday.]  

 

7 Ways to Improve Your Web Copy Today for Better Sales: Basics for Creative Entrepreneurs

7 Tips for Writing Web Copy

Let’s start with something that may be obvious to you.

Web content is different from other kinds of written content. And if you’re a small business owner, solopreneur, freelancer, or creative entrepreneur writing your own website copy, it’s important to know the difference. Especially if you’d like to get more clients, customers and sales.

You may read that and think “Duh,” but I’ve had half a dozen conversations in the last week with smart writers and/or marketers who were either curious about the difference between web content and other kinds of writing, or who didn’t understand there was one.

One newspaper columnist with 30 years of experience asked me how writing his weekly column was any different than writing for the web, and the PR Director of a very large organization who wants to hire a freelancer for a big web copy project bemoaned the fact that of all the experienced writers she’s interviewed recently, not one had web writing skills.

So yes, there is a difference between writing for the web and writing other kinds of content, and it’s important to understand what that difference is so you can get the most traction from your own web writing and marketing.

So for you small business owners, solopreneurs, freelancers, and creative entrepreneurs writing your own website copy, I’ve got 7 tips you can implement today to improve your web content to get better results in your business.

But first we need to understand how people look for information on the web.

HOW PEOPLE READ ON THE WEB

Web users are busy; they want to get the straight to the facts. When they land on your website, they’re scanning the page. (Research on how people read websites found that 79% of users scan web pages, just 16% read word-for-word.)

The thing to keep in mind is that people on the web are typically in a hurry; they’re searching for answers to questions and solutions to problems. They quickly skim for information that meets their specific needs.

And because web users don’t know who is behind the information on a web page, it’s also important to use indicators that prove you’re credible. Excellent writing is one of the things that confer trustworthiness online.

I know nothing kills credibility faster for me than poor writing. Let’s be honest: bad content clumsily organized reflects poorly on your brand.

 

7 WAYS TO IMPROVE YOUR WEBSITE CONTENT TODAY FOR BETTER SALES

 

1. Tell readers what they’re getting in the headline

For example, I could have called this blog post “The Difference Between Web and Print Content,” or some other such dull thing like that, but would you be reading it now if I did? I bet not.

7 Ways to Improve Your Web Copy Today for Better Sales instantly tells you what you’re getting and sells the benefit of reading the blog post.

If you want to see examples of killer headlines that really get the job done, just check out your favorite magazines. Magazines spend thousands of dollars and do exhaustive research to figure out which headlines grab readers, so modeling their tone and structure will get you off to a good headline-writing start. (Another great resource for learning how to write compelling headlines is Copyblogger, or Jon Morrow’s free downloadable report, “52 Headline Hacks,” available on his website at Boost Blog Traffic.)

*Bonus Tip: Go to Amazon.com or magazines.com and read through a bunch of headlines for ideas on how to structure good ones; this is a veritable goldmine of killer headlines, and you won’t even have to get off your couch to do it. Score!!

2. Make your small business website content about the reader

I know this may be a hard pill to swallow, but successful web content (meaning: it helps you get more customers and make more sales) is not about your business per se, it’s about the solutions you can provide for the potential client or customer who lands on your website. Company-centric web content will turn off readers.

Of course your web copy is going to be about your business, your mission, and your products or services, but first and foremost it needs to clearly convey that you understand your audience and the results they want to achieve, and that you can help them get there with your product or service.

So talk about your business as if it’s a lovely gift you’re presenting to your web visitors that says, “Open me now, I’m exactly what you’re looking for!”

Let’s look at two examples from the world of wedding photography:

(In the first example, I’ve changed the name of the business and a couple of identifying details so as not to be a tool and call anyone out.)

At ABC Photography, we specialize in family beach portraits, beach wedding photography, bridal, maternity, newborn and senior portraits. Our goal is to provide the highest quality photography available. With over a decade of professional photography experience, we have the skills, reliability and experience needed to capture your most precious memories. If you are interested in professional photography services, please contact us to discuss your project or receive a quote.

Ok, that’s boring copy (another no-no), but the main problem is that its central focus isn’t on the audience or potential customer, it’s on the company.

Now compare that to this:

Head Over Heels. Hi there, lovebirds. Congratulations! After the question has been popped, it’s time to eat, drink and be married. Let’s talk about The Wedding Day. Here comes the bride and here come the cliches: “This is one of the biggest days of your life.” “When the cake has been eaten, all you’ve got is the photos.” When it comes to photography, we try to avoid clichés at all costs, while honoring the truth behind them.

For us, this isn’t just another wedding; it’s your wedding. We look for the thoughtful touches and shared moments that tell your story. Our photos emphasize the emotions, details, and moments that make your wedding uniquely you–your grandfather’s cuff links nestled in your bouquet; your mom’s reaction when she sees you in her old wedding dress; your end-of-the-night-get-away in a classic vintage car.

(This copy comes from Millie Holloman Photography, a great example of a photography website that combines beautiful images with effective web copy that makes an emotional connection with potential clients, which is just want you want your web copy to do). 

The copy in example #2 connects with the reader – it speaks to what’s important to them as a potential photography client – “thoughtful touches and shared moments that tell your story” – and avoids the worn-out clichés of standard wedding photography web copy.

Contrast that to the company-centric copy from the first example, which focuses almost wholly on the company, i.e., “our goal,” “we have,” “we specialize,” etc. People don’t really care who you are, they want to know how you can help them. They’re seeking the answer to the question, “WIIFM?,” meaning, “What’s in it for me?”

3. Lead with benefits, not features

I’m sure you’ve heard the old saw, “People buy based on emotion and justify based on logic” more than once by now. That’s because it’s true.

The goal is to connect with your audience on an emotional level, and you do that by selling benefits, not features. Features have their place, but’s it’s important to lead with benefits.

A feature is something your product or service is or contains, a benefit is what the product or service does or provides – the desirable results.

One way to make sure you’re focusing your web copy on benefits is by painting a picture of your potential customer’s ideal outcome.

As in the photography example above: “the thoughtful touches and shared moments that tell your story,” and photos that capture “the emotions, details, and moments that make your wedding uniquely you,” as opposed to something like, “our photographers are the most skilled and experienced working in the wedding photography industry today and use only the most advanced technology and equipment to capture your special moments.”

Think about your laptop. Its features are things like “Wi-Fi enabled, widescreen optimized, lighting-fast processor,” etc. But if you were selling its benefits, it might look something like this: “Don’t get tied down to an office like the rest of the 9-5 worker bees, get your work done quickly and efficiently from anywhere on Earth with the insert name of laptop here. For ultimate time and work freedom,” or something similar. (Think of how Apple sells its products – in fact, go to the Apple website and spend some time reading through the product descriptions if you want to see how leading with benefits works for product copy.)

Now think about the benefits your products and services offer your target audience – how they make the customer’s life easier, better, more fun, less stressed, healthier, or wealthier, etc. If you edit your web content today using this one tip you’ll be miles ahead of other small business owners who go on and on about features rather than benefits. (Features are important too.  While they don’t sell the product or service, they do justify the sale.)

Remember, “Facts tell, benefits sell.”

4. Make it short and to the point

As best you can, you want to get to the point quickly. Web users are on a specific mission, and if they land on your site and see they’ll have to dig through long-winded, jargon-filled web copy to find the answer to their question, they’re going to hit the back button quicker than green grass through a goose.

Long-winded copy usually happens when the business owner doesn’t have a clear understanding of what their target audience really wants or needs to know, so the tendency is to mention everything related to the business in any way, or trot out lots of credentials, etc.

You can avoid this by getting really clear on what your target audience wants.

If you spend some time thinking about your ideal customer’s ideal outcome, you’ll be able to get right to the point and convey how your business can make their desired outcome a reality.

5. Make it scannable and easy to read

Remember, 79% of web readers are scanning, not reading word for word, so create your content with this in mind. Think of it as the “bread crumb” approach – you lead readers organically through your content with markers like headings, subheadings, bolded text and hyperlinks to highlight the really important bits.

Use short, 2-3 sentence paragraphs, and keep it to one idea per paragraph.

Try using an inverted pyramid structure where you start the content piece with the conclusion, the way I did with this post:

Web content is different from other kinds of written content. And if you’re a small business owner, solopreneur, freelancer, or creative entrepreneur writing your own website copy, it’s important to know the difference. Especially if you’d like to get more clients, customers and sales.

6. Make it conversational, not boring (no jargon or formal-speak)

Write the way your target audience thinks and speaks. You can do this by paying attention to your current clients and customers and noting the way they describe their challenges.

There’s no need to write web content as if it were an instruction manual, yet I see this all the time. Inject some personality into it. If you know what your target audience wants, and how they think and speak, this won’t be difficult.

This is obviously going to depend on your audience – an accountant is going to write web content differently than a yoga instructor. But the end result should be the same – your web content speaks directly to the desires, wants and needs of your ideal client or customer and makes them eager to do business with you.

7. Include a clear call to action

A call to action is an instruction in your copy – whether that copy is on your website, in your newsletter, on your blog, or in your ads and other sales material – that directs your audience to take a specific action.

After your readers finish reading a particular piece of content on your website, there’s something you want them to do next – usually some action that gets them closer to becoming a customer. Say, clicking on a link to read more about your products or services, calling to ask for more information, visiting your store, or completing a sale.

A strong call to action is essential for making this happen. To make it more powerful, you can convey a sense of urgency with phrases like, “now,” “today,” and “for a limited time,” etc.

Call to action examples:

“Come in today for 30% off”

“Buy now”

“Sign up for our newsletter today and join the ‘Insiders Club’ for special subscriber-only deals”

“Mention this blog post for 25% off when you buy a 12-pack of yoga classes, for the next 7 days only”

“Follow us on Twitter for special promotions and behind the scenes shenanigans”

Rules are meant to be broken under the right circumstances, and you won’t always be able to follow all the advice here when creating your web copy, but apply these 7 tips where appropriate today to start getting better results in your business.

And there you have it. 7 things you can do today to improve your web copy to get more clients, customers and sales.

[For more on writing copy that connects with your ideal clients, sign up for free weekly updates and get instant access to the CREATIVE REBEL GUIDE TO WRITING A CLIENT-ATTRACTING ABOUT PAGE, plus copywriting & web marketing tips and other goodies for creative freelancers & biz owners that I only share with my subscribers, delivered straight to your inbox each Tuesday.]

 

 

How to Sell Any Boring Old Thing with Scandalously Good Copy

Archie McPhee Mini-Moonshine Jar Shot Glass

Archie McPhee Mini-Moonshine Jar Shot Glass

Do you think the thing you sell is too boring to write great copy for? Copy that sings? Copy that makes your readers want to pull the trigger on the “Buy Now” button?

Well.

There’s a way to make almost anything more enticing, compelling, and gotta-have-it-awesome through the use of compelling copy.

And I’m going to prove this to you by way of an example.

Behold, the boring old shot glass.  (The fun to be had during and after the use of the shot glass is another matter entirely. Ahem.)

Let’s look at how Bed, Bath & Beyond describes a shot glass:

Shot glass – fancy

These crystal clear shot glasses add style and glamour to your entertaining. The glasses have a sturdy feel and modern design, making them an easy match to your barware. Dishwasher safe. Set of six.

Shot glass – plain

The classic shape and subtle elegance of these sturdy glasses will be perfect for all occasions. The understated design will coordinate beautifully with any table setting. Each shot glass has a 2-ounce capacity. Dishwasher safe. Set of 6.

Ooooh, dishwasher safe, really?  2-ounce capacity? Sturdy? You don’t say! 

Now, if you’re shopping online for shot glasses and just want something sturdy and utilitarian (because lord knows, your shot glasses should be “sturdy” above all else), this may be all the persuasion you need to get out the credit card and place your order.  After all, it’s an inexpensive thing that doesn’t require lots of convincing to get one to click the “Buy Now” button.

But, what if, in tooling around the interwebz looking for the perfect shot glass, you came across this copy instead?

Would you like to swing on a star? Carry moonshine home in a jar?

If you’re a practicing hillbilly, the Mini Moonshine Jar Shot Glass could save your life. After you eat your vittles and get up some gumption, there’s nothing better than moseying out to your still and filling a big ol’ mason jar full of liquid lighting. However, as every health conscious hillbillly knows, a jar is a huge serving and when you’re drinking moonshine the word is “moderation.” This tiny glass jar is 2-3/4″ tall and holds 2 oz. of the hooch of your choice. See, we’re all about healthy hillbillies. Approved by the Hipster/Hobo Alliance.

That, my friend, is from the hilarious and wonderful Archie McPhee website.  Sure, they sell goofy novelty items, but their copy is brilliantly written, and you could do worse than studying how they create desire for their products through the use of dazzling copy.

So here we have product descriptions for a simple, run-of-the-mill 2 oz. shot glass.  A very simple, and even boring, product. Which one seems cooler, hipper, more gotta-have-it interesting?

Hands down, it’s the Mini Moonshine Jar Shot Glass.

What you’re seeing in action here is marketing genius – the ability to invest something utilitarian, plain and boring with real, live sparking personality.  And that’s the kind of copy that gets remembered, and more importantly, sells.

What makes this copy work?

  • It’s funny.  Now funny doesn’t always work, but for this product it does, and for Archie Mcphee as a company it does, because their whole company persona is irreverent and F-U-N, fun.
  • It shows personality – this is key.  This is the Archie Mcphee “voice.”  Even if you didn’t know where the copy came from but were familiar with the company, you’d likely be able to pick it out of a police line-up as Archie McPhee copy.
  • It’s unexpected. “If you’re a practicing hillbilly” is not something you expect to see in a product description, is it?  And it sets the tone right away for the rest of the description.
  • Notice how they “paint a picture” with copy“After you eat your vittles and get up some gumption, there’s nothing better than moseying out to your still and filling a big ol’ mason jar full of liquid lighting.” You can just see a dude (or dudette) with overhalls “moseying” out to the still to get a refreshing dose of moonshine, now can’t you?
  • It’s so damn entertaining you can’t help but keep reading.  And because of that, it’s memorable.  And memorable is good.

In the copy examples above, which one would you remember at the end of the day?  Which one would you still be smiling about? Which one would you be more interesting in owning?

So, personality – if you can add it to your product descriptions, sales pages, web copy, emails, social media status updates, and all the other content you write for your business or your passion project, you will be ahead of the “boring and forgettable” game, engage more of your ideal audience, and generate more interest in your offerings. 

[For more on writing copy that connects with your ideal clients, sign up for free weekly updates and get instant access to the CREATIVE REBEL GUIDE TO WRITING A CLIENT-ATTRACTING ABOUT PAGE, plus copywriting & web marketing tips and other goodies for creative freelancers & biz owners that I only share with my subscribers, delivered straight to your inbox each Tuesday.] 

 

For Creatives: The Secret to Transforming Your Boring, Lackluster About Page into an Ideal Client-Attracting Magnet

(Wherein we talk about the critical importance of a well-crafted About page that generates leads, and I show you a before-and-after of how it’s done.)

Write a Client-Attracting About Page

Did you know your About page is one of the most-visited pages on your website, and often the page that determines whether the potential ideal client who just landed there will choose you, or one of the 7,698 other creatives online who do what you do?

Yet I see so many creative professionals online who either don’t have an About page at all, or who simply throw up a standard, boring bio and call it done.

This is a huge wasted opportunity, because a knock-out About page is one of the most effective ways to set yourself apart online.  It’s essential for strengthening your brand identity, and the ideal place to create a connection with prospective clients.  And best of all? A well-crafted About page can generate leads.

Which means you don’t want to ignore this page or half-ass it. Yes, it can be difficult to write.  You don’t want to sound arrogant or full of yourself, I get it.

But here’s a little secret copywriters know for writing a killer About page that instantly connects with ideal clients, with the added bonus of being easier to write without sounding like a braggart:

Your About page isn’t about you so much as it is about your ideal client or customer and their challenges and desires, and the solution you offer that can help them achieve their goals.  You want your About page to answer the question “what’s in it for me?” for your ideal clients.

Lead with how you can help your ideal clients. Demonstrate you understand your audience and their fears, desires and goals first, then talk about your experience, training and other relevant background information. Because when a potential client lands on your site, they don’t care about you yet, unless and until you demonstrate you get them – and have the solution they seek.

{There’s a much more thorough discussion of how to write an effective About page, including a step-by-step template, in my free CREATIVE REBEL GUIDE TO WRITING A CLIENT-ATTRACTING ABOUT PAGE here.}

To illustrate how this is done, I’ll show you how I transformed a dull, ineffective interior design About page into a compelling, client-attracting thing of beauty.

EXAMPLE OF A “BAD” INTERIOR DESIGNER ABOUT PAGE*

For this example of a “bad” About page, I found six About pages (among dozens) of interior designers who lead with writing about themselves on their About page instead of focusing on the kind of clients they want to attract.

*Every word of copy in the following example is a real, true sentence I found on an interior design website About page. (In other words, “I am not making this up,” as writer Dave Barry would say.)

 

:: EXAMPLE: THE ABOUT PAGE, BEFORE ::

Jane Smith Design is a full-service interior design firm with over 10 years’ experience in the design and construction industry.  Jane specializes in interiors, space planning, and construction management, working integrally with every member of the design and construction team. Her diverse and imaginative portfolio speaks volumes and demonstrates her diverse range of creativity.

Jane graduated from Parsons with a degree in interior design and a minor in studio art. She is an active member of ASID Carolinas Chapter and the local design community. She attends many conventions and workshops locally and internationally to stay on the cutting edge of design.

Jane began her professional career at a local architecture firm where she focused on residential and commercial interiors. In 2008, she opened Jane Smith Design, a full-service interior design firm.  Jane’s fundamental belief is that the design of interior spaces should be elevated beyond what people typically expect so that their day-to-day experiences in their everyday surroundings can be enhanced. With her varied residential and commercial experience, she is able to address the functional needs of any space while still creating the desired aesthetic.

Jane makes each project unique for each client and has a fine-tuned ability to work with a variety of interior design styles and settings.  Her signature design style combines practicality with sophistication.  Jane Smith Design can offer you everything from a few hours of design consultation to a full home or office remodel.

:: END OF EXAMPLE ::

So, what’s so wrong with that About page?

For starters, it’s written in the third person, which puts a barrier between you and your potential clients. If you want to make an instant connection with your audience, you’re going to need to be real, be human, and be your quirky self – and it’s difficult to make that happen if your About page is written in the third person.

What else, you ask? It’s boring, overly formal and full of jargon; it’s lacking in personality or emotional connection; and it’s terribly “me-focused” – there’s not one iota of anything in that copy that shows Jane understands her ideal clients, is there?

The page’s worst offense is the way the copy doesn’t connect with the reader by talking about what’s important to them as a potential design client – it doesn’t answer the “WIIFM” question – “What’s in it for me?”

Instead it leads with Jane’s background, experience and design credentials, which we don’t care about yet as a potential design client until we know that Jane gets us and the design challenges we want solved.

Now let’s take a look at the rewritten version.

:: A Better Interior Design About Page ::

(*IMPORTANT NOTE:  If “Jane” were a real client of mine, she’d answer an in-depth questionnaire about her ideal clients, the way she works, her design philosophy and aesthetic, and other pertinent details.  Since I don’t have that here, I used quotes and information from interviews I found online with a hip young designer whose interior design work I happen to love, “pretending” she’s Jane the client and using some of her story, quotes and background info to write the “better/after” version of this About page. 

This “after” About page is crafted solely on the basis of the information I was able to find out from reading interviews with the designer, it is NOT the current About page on her website.  This designer’s business is in the South; she works with “families with young kids or messy grown-ups looking for a sophisticated interior that is human-proof – peanut butter, dog hair and red wine, no problem!”)

:: EXAMPLE: The About Page, After ::

Accessible Luxury for the Modern Young Family on the Go

[This headline speaks to Jane’s ideal customer – a busy family with a hectic schedule who want a beautifully designed interior that’s “human-proof,” i.e., “accessible luxury.”]

Dog hair, sticky kid handprints & red wine spills.

Modern, sophisticated design.

The truth? You can have both.

You’re a busy professional with a demanding career, soccer practices, dance recitals and playdates to ferry the kids around to, dinner dates with your significant other (when you can find the time), and possibly a menagerie of pets at home to boot.

Crazy-busy? Yes.  Ready to give up and give in to the idea that a young family with kids, careers and a rambunctious pet or two isn’t meant to come home to an oasis of comfortable elegance at the end of (yet another) jam-packed day?

Definitely not.

[The section above focuses on Jane’s ideal clients and their needs and desires; it demonstrates that she has a genuine understanding of what her ideal client’s life is like. This establishes emotional connection and trust.]

Hey, I know kids, pets, and red wine are facts of life (they’re definitely the facts of my life), but that doesn’t mean you can’t have an inspiring, sophisticated home environment – one that stands up (gracefully) to your energetic young family’s wear-and-tear.

[What I did here, using the parenthetical – “they’re definitely the facts of my life” – won’t always be applicable, but here it lets Jane’s potential clients know that she’s just like them – a wife and mother with a demanding career and a busy life who still believes she deserves a beautiful home.  This also goes to establishing trust, and if they don’t trust you, they ain’t buying from you.]

That’s where I come in.

I’m Jane Smith, and I create interiors that are luxurious, yet livable, for the modern young family on the go.

[Here Jane talks about herself (after she’s focused on her ideal clients and their wants and needs), and begins to tell us about the solution she offers, one that is specifically geared to her ideal clients – busy young families on the go.]

I’m a Parsons-trained interior designer and an active member of ASID Carolinas who honed my skills at the elbow of master French designer Robert Couturier.  I’ve been called a “decorating superstar” and a “Southern visionary with an impressive sense of style,” but at the end of the day?  My most important goal is create a space that works for the family living in it, so they get to experience that “I can’t believe I get to live here!” feeling every time they walk through the door.

From French Modern to Classic Contemporary to Southern Traditional with a twist, I create interiors that balance natural elegance and glamor with practicality.  My designs combine casual, organically modern style – think sophisticated finishes, elegant nature-inspired elements, and gorgeous lighting – with durability that stands up to your life:  sticky fingerprints, dog hair, wine spills and all.

[More details about Jane’s business and her design philosophy.  If she wanted to include her backstory – as it relates to her business and the solution she provides – she could do it here, or link off to another page on her site.]

What Others Are Saying

“With 2 small children under the age of 7, two dogs, and a crazy schedule, I’d almost given up on the idea that my home could be beautiful, comfortable AND practical at the same time, but Jane made it happen.  She created a true sanctuary for our family that we’re thrilled to come home to every day.” Abby M.

“She’s a creative genius, I could not be happier with the beautiful, warm, calm space she created for me and my husband.  Bonus: she’s a dream to work with – friendly, down-to-earth, and easy to talk to and collaborate with.”  Elizabeth G.

“We still can’t believe we get to live here, in our own personal magazine spread.  Our teenagers actually want to hang out at home now.”   Tom and Cindy H.

[Social Proof section:  Be strategic about the testimonials you choose – again, they should speak to the ideal clients’ wants and frustrationsYou don’t have to call this section “What Others Are Saying” – call it whatever makes sense to your personality and writing style.]

Enter your email below to grab my free guide, “From Chaos to Calm: 7 Simple Steps for Transforming Your Home into an Oasis of Practical Luxury.” (Plus weekly design tips and inspiration I only share with my email subscribers.)

[The *incredibly important* call to action.  It could be a prompt to sign up for your email list, or call for a free 15-minute consultation, or whatever specific thing you want them to do next.  It should be the next logical step in the process that deepens the relationship with you.  In most cases, that will be to sign up for your email list. This is where lead generation comes in.]

:: END OF EXAMPLE ::

 

Notice how the rewritten version of the About page leads with the potential client’s challenges and desires, then later talks about Jane and her qualifications. This serves to create trust by proving that Jane understands her ideal clients and the specific solution they seek – in this case, “accessible luxury for the busy young family on the go.” This is what you want to do too if you want to attract your ideal clients.

At a bare minimum, you want to include the following on your About page:

  • A client-focused headline
  • A client-focused first paragraph
  • Then a paragraph about you and the solution you provide geared specifically to your ideal client’s challenges and desires
  • A call to action, such as signing up for your email list or calling for a free consultation, etc., so you can collect leads

Remember, a knock-out About page is one of the most effective ways to set yourself apart online, essential for strengthening your brand identity, and the ideal place to create a connection with prospective clients.  And if you’ve done all that effectively, adding a call to action to your well-crafted About page will generate leads. And who doesn’t want that?  Nobody, that’s who.

[For more on writing copy that connects with your ideal clients, sign up for free weekly updates here and get instant access to the CREATIVE REBEL GUIDE TO WRITING A CLIENT-ATTRACTING ABOUT PAGE, plus copywriting & web marketing tips and other goodies for creative freelancers & biz owners that I only share with my subscribers, delivered straight to your inbox each Tuesday.]