Copy That Converts ALWAYS Starts Here [+ my research 101 process]

[This post is mainly for those of you writing your own copy. If you’re past that phase and plan to hire a copywriter, they will be implementing their own version of process I describe below.]

Many of the clients I’ve worked with over the years have tried writing their own website copy before coming to me.

Sometimes, the results were kind of ok, meaning, they were getting a few sales and/or inquiries from their website, but not enough to generate the kind of revenue they desired.

Other times, the results were crickets, no matter how much work these clients did to drive traffic to their newly (self) written website.

In most cases, this was because they didn’t do much – or any – research before writing their copy. Which meant they didn’t have a clear understanding of their ideal clients or customers, and what, specifically, the desires and challenges of this audience were.

This resulted in lackluster web copy that didn’t compel conversions, i.e., email sign-ups, booked consultations, or sales.

Now, here’s the thing.

I think when people are first getting started online, especially if they’re a single-person business on a tight budget, they should write their own copy.

[If you’re not sure if that describes your situation, you can check out this previous post I wrote, Should you hire a copywriter?]

Hiring a skilled copywriter can be pricey. Well worth the investment, but maybe not the best use of your marketing budget right out of the gate.

If you are in a place where your budget necessitates going the DIY route when writing your website or other copy, then the most important and useful thing I can tell you is this:

The first step is NOT opening a Google or Word doc and letting the ol’ creative juices flow.

No, the first, uber-important, non-negotiable step is research.

Whether you’re writing copy for your website, newsletter, sales page, landing page, or anything else for your business, the process must always start with research.


Any copywriter worth their salt knows this.

IF you want copy that converts browsers into buyers, or casual website visitors into email subscribers, or any other kind of important conversion that helps you achieve your business goals, then no writing happens until the research has been done.

Ok, I think I’ve made my point. 😊

What kind of research you ask?

To start, you MUST know your ideal client or customer and what their desires are related to the thing you sell, incredibly, insanely well.

More specifically, you must know how they talk about their problems related to the thing you sell, because high-converting copy comes from this voice of customer (VOC) data.

[Learn more about voice of customer research here. Caveat: the article on the other side of that link is more advanced than someone setting out to write their own website copy for the first time really needs, BUT, it will give you a great overview of what voice of customer research is, a downloadable message mining template, and BONUS – examples of effective copy written using VOC research.]

I’m going to show you a simple process I use for gathering voice of customer insights and message mining, and other pre-writing action items, using information you likely already have.

My Basic Research 101 Process*

[*Depending on the client I’m working with, this process can be much more involved than what I’ve shared below, but this will give you a standard research 101 process that works well, even if you’re just getting started and don’t have access to loads of data yet.]

Step 1: Prep

:: Client intake / discovery call

:: Read & review:

  • Client intake questionnaire responses 
  • Notes from discovery call
  • Backgrounder doc (This is the doc where I record insights & observations from the initial exploratory call I have with a potential client, before the client has hired me.)
  • Any voice of customer or other research the client has previously gathered into their ideal clients / customers and their pain points & desires
  • Client’s current website copy
  • Client’s blog posts
  • Client’s testimonials
  • Client’s social media channels
  • Marketing collateral the client has used in the past or is currently using
  • Competitor websites in the client’s niche

Step 2: Conceptualization & Development; Brainstorming Concepts

Take notes on all from step one and write down big ideas, hooks & concepts.

After everything in Step One is completed, I put together what I call the “Core Message Doc.” This document contains information about:

  • The client’s “big idea” [i.e., the answer to the question, “Among all the other ______ out there I could buy from, why choose to buy from ______?” I also refer to this as the “meaningful difference,” or the combination of things that sets the client apart in their niche, etc.]
  • The common objections they receive for resisting the sale and how to overcome those objections
  • Information about their ideal clients and unique selling proposition or “meaningful difference,” and how to craft a compelling marketing message using this info so the client can authentically stand out in their niche
  • Voice, tone & other language notes to use when writing the copy
  • Features and benefits of the clients’ products and/or services
  • Values the client wants conveyed in the copy

Step 3: Competitor Research (and Brainstorming, Round Two)

  • Research other similar service providers
  • Review competitor websites client mentions in the intake Q
  • Add insights from this research into “Competitor Websites & Copy Examples” doc
  • Make notes on big ideas, hooks, and concepts from this research + notes on things to emulate, things to avoid, and ways to stand out, etc. 
  • Pull useful language from client reviews & testimonials; paste into Core Message Doc

Step 4: Complete Core Message, Features & Benefits, Objections to Overcome and Language Notes doc

I now have a completed Core Message Doc that contains all the necessary info & insights I’ve gained from Steps 1-3, above, organized in one central place. I refer to this document over and over again throughout the entire copywriting process, and it ensures that I don’t have to go back to 10 different resources as I’m writing.

So helpful!!

Step 5: Begin drafting initial round of copy

Application of the Process: Wedding Photographer

Now, depending on how much access you have to insights about the clients or customers you’re trying to attract, you may not be able to do all the steps above, but you will certainly be able to do some of them.

To wrap this up in a big, red bow, let me give you an example of how I could adapt the process above if, say, I’m a wedding photographer who’s had at least a small handful of clients, and I’m writing my own website copy with the goal of creating compelling messaging geared to my ideal clients and their desires and pain points, etc.

I’m going to review all previous client intake forms and notes I’ve taken on complimentary consultation calls. From this data, I’m going to make lots of notes on the language people use when they talk about services like mine – what they’re looking for in a wedding photographer, what objections or hesitations they have, what made them choose me, what other / how many other photographers they looked at before choosing to set up a consultation with me, etc.

If you’ve worked with even a few clients, you’ll have at least some of this voice of customer info to pull from.  

I’m going to review any client feedback and testimonials I have (including nice things people have said about my services on social media, and any client reviews I have from sites like Wedding Wire and The Knot). Testimonials and reviews are a great resource for language clients use to describe you and your services. You want to pay close attention to phrases that come up over and over again, because those are likely things that set you apart in your niche.  

I’m going to review any marketing collateral (brochures, Facebook ads, etc.) I’ve had others create for my business.  Some photographers will already have collateral they’ve had other professionals create; this can be a great research resource, if the collateral in question has delivered results.

I’m going to review a handful of competitor websites in my niche (photographers who have a similar style, offer similar services, and may work in the same local area). Here you’ll gather insights into how similar photographers talk about their services and their approach, and find areas where you can differentiate.

I’m going to go to wedding photographer review sites like Wedding Wire and The Knot, and find photographers who offer similar services / style / approach, and look through their reviews. Here again you’ll look for sentiments and statements that come up consistently, to get a bead on what people who hire wedding photographers like you are drawn to.

For example, you might see the phrase, “Jennifer made everyone so comfortable, and it showed in all the shots from our wedding day,” and “Jennifer is a genius at getting people to feel relaxed and at ease, even when shots are totally ‘posed.’ Even our posed shots look natural!” In that case, you know making people look and feel relaxed in every shot is one of Jennifer’s superpowers, and something her clients find worthy of praising. If Jennifer were writing her own website copy, this could become a key part of her client-attracting message.

Next, I’m going to dump all this info into my Core Message Doc organized into categories like:

  • How my ideal clients talk about their desires and challenges related to finding a wedding photographer
  • How my ideal clients talk about me as a wedding photographer
  • Intel about my unique selling proposition or “meaningful difference” – the combination of factors that sets me apart in my niche and compels clients to choose me over similar wedding photographers
  • Common objections for resisting the sale and how to overcome those objections
  • Voice, tone & other language notes to use when writing the copy
  • Features and benefits of my services
  • Anything else that will help me write compelling copy based on my ideal client and their problems, challenges, needs, wants and desires + my USP or “meaningful difference”

Once the above process is complete, then and only then am I going to start writing copy! 😊

Here are a handful of other good research resources:

  • Customer interviews
  • Amazon and other review mining
  • Forums where your ideal clients hang out
  • Facebook groups where your ideal clients hang out
  • Surveys & polls
  • The comments section of blogs your ideal clients read

The main thing is to do all you can to gather insights into the desires, challenges, and pain points + the ideal outcome / transformation your clients or customers want, and write all your copy based on that knowledge.

And that’s all I got for ya today!

[If you want to learn more about writing copy that converts, be sure to get on my email list right over here. You’ll get instant access to the CREATIVE REBEL GUIDE TO WRITING A CLIENT-ATTRACTING ABOUT PAGE, plus copywriting & 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.]  

Gotta Be Those End-of-Summer Blues: It’s Time to Publish a New Blog Post, and None of My Long List of Post Ideas is Calling to Me {+ upcoming blog post topics}

Photo by Oscar Keys on Unsplash

Welp, here it is August 31, and boy, would I love to get a blog post published today.

I typically only publish one new post per month, and today is the last day of August.

So, it feels like I “should” spend the next 8-10 hours creating a stellar teaching post of some kind, something my audience could benefit / learn from, and publish it sometime before the clock strikes midnight.

But hitting a client project deadline today is more important. (Yes, on a Saturday.)

And the massive post about USPs (unique selling propositions) I’ve been working on for weeks (& weeks) is not quite ready yet.

Other excuses might include …

August has been one crazy month. There have been wins, losses, speed bumps, challenges, great new projects & clients, and other projects that I’m sad to see come to an end.

There was unexpected personal life stuff I couldn’t have predicted (of course, you never really can, right?)

And, I’ve been in a weird, low-energy funk for the last few days.

The end-of-summer-blues, maybe?

While I fully agree with respected copywriting mentor, Joanna Wiebe of Copyhackers, that you should not post simply for the sake of posting, but instead, post strategically to build authority, I want to write & publish something today.

That’s why I just spent 60 minutes going through my long list of topic ideas, scouring the internet, contemplating questions clients and email subscribers have asked me recently, reviewing a bunch of writing prompts I’ve collected over the years, and checking out the blogs of my favorite writers, copywriters, and business owners.

And still … I got nothin.’

Now, that’s not to say my blog post ideas list doesn’t contain what I consider great topics I’m eager to write about, just that none of them appeal to me today.

Yes, I know that sounds like whining.

But truth be told, each of them will require a fair amount of research and wrangling to write, which means anywhere from 10-20 hours, plus, to do properly.

And the current client project takes precedence on this sunny August Saturday; that’s just how it’s gotta be.

So today, I’ll simply share a small handful of the post ideas on my list, topics you’ll see me write about here in the coming months. Feel free to comment here or email me if one of these strikes your fancy or feels like something you’d love to know more about.

Current Blog Post Topic Ideas

#1: A review of my favorite personality-based brands, why I love them, and what they’re doing right that you can emulate. [On my short list: Saddleback Leather, Hiut Denim, Warby Parker, Casper, Trader Joe’s, Jeep, Mailchimp, Tom’s Shoes, Artifact Uprising & Really Good Emails, to name a few.]

#2: An FAQ post about copywriting & other topics related to the work I do with clients

#3: Why voice of customer (VOC) data is so important to creating compelling & resonant copy that converts, and how to collect it

#4: Big-ass round-up of killer copywriting resources

#5: A series of web copy and messaging teardowns

#6: Swipe files: how to use them; what they’re for

#7: How to create a clear path to buy on your website

#8: Email marketing / huge lost opportunity to relationship-build: I subscribed to the email lists of several ad agencies a few months ago, and didn’t receive a confirmation email from 90% of them, or any emails since from most of them. And these are agencies that offer email marketing services, fer cryin’ out loud!! Not sure what this post will end up looking like, but most likely will cover how to write an effective confirmation email and related follow-up sequence.

#9: My experience entering an email copywriting contest a few months ago, coming in 4th, and having my email copy dissected by an expert email copywriter

And that’s all I got for today.

If any of these topics resonate with you, let me know, or feel free to suggest others.

Now, it’s time to get on that client project so I can get it finished by 6:00 pm, at which point I will reward myself with my favorite Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, Vanilla Caramel Fudge. 😊


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