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.]  

The Essential Piece of Copy You Must Master to Convert Web Visitors Into Leads and Clients

Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

Let’s just admit it: this here online marketing thang can be a lot of hard work.

The blog posts, the website copy, the weekly newsletters, the email sales campaigns, the pitches to potential clients, the sales pages, the landing pages, the fresh social media content that must be posted each day so you can stay “top of mind” for those who may want to buy from you . . . phew, I’m tired just writing all that.

Some days the amount of content we have to crank out to generate traffic, interest from potential clients, and signed-on-the-dotted-line business feels exhausting and overwhelming.

And if you’re doing all this work, you want to see results – in the way of people signing up for your email list, setting up a free consultation, requesting more information, visiting your bricks-and-mortar store, signing up for a free trial offer, buying your products, or taking whatever the logical next step is in your customer relationship or audience engagement process.

If you’re getting consistent traffic to your blog or website but your visitors aren’t taking these actions, take heart – the problem could be as simple as adding the appropriate call to action (CTA) in your blog posts, landing pages, emails, website copy and other online (and offline, if you do print advertising) content.

What is a call to action? 

A call to action is a clear instruction in your written communications – your newsletter and blog posts, your Shop or Work with Me page, your social media status updates, your ads and other sales materials – essentially anywhere you communicate with your audience – that directs said audience to take a specific action.

In a nutshell, the call to action is the very clear and uber-specific instruction telling your readers what to do next.

Because just like in “real life,” if there’s something you want someone to do, asking them to do it directly and succinctly is usually the most effective way to get what you want.

Examples of calls to action include:

“Sign up here for free weekly tips and inspiration I only share with my subscribers”

“Come in today for 30% off”

“Buy now”

“Re-tweet this!”

“Leave your comments below”

“Click here to subscribe”

“Order now to take advantage of this limited-time offer”

See? Not so hard, right?

Where to Add CTAs on Your Website

The appropriate place for a call to action depends on the purpose of your website, and what you want readers and potential customers and clients to do after reading a piece of content. The key is to not leave people hanging – give them clear direction on what to do next within or at the end of each page or post.

First, you’ll need to determine the optimal action you want your readers to take, depending on whether they’re reading a blog post, visiting your website’s home page, or checking out your Work with Me or Sales page, etc.

Here are a few key places to put CTAs:

  • At the end of blog posts, asking for shares or comments or directing people to sign up for your email list
  • On your email opt-in form asking readers to subscribe to your newsletter
  • In a newsletter asking readers to click over to a blog post
  • Within your blog posts directing people to something else you’ve written on your blog or elsewhere
  • On the home page of your website directing readers to contact you for more information or to book a complimentary session
  • On a sales page asking for a sale (you’ll want a CTA in several locations on a sales page – but this is a topic for another blog post)

How to Write Your Killer Call to Action

Now that you have some ideas of where to place calls to action to generate the desired actions from your readers, it’s time to develop your CTA copy.

The length of your CTA copy will be determined by where it is and what you’re asking people to do. For example, button copy will be short and sweet and say things like “buy now,” “sign up today,” or “get instant access.” Where you have room to write to your heart’s content, such as at the end of blog posts, your call to action copy may be longer.

4 Tips for Writing a Strong Call to Action

Know your audience. If you’re writing for an audience of lawyers for example, your calls to action will be worded differently than if you write for, say, circus clowns. Call to action copy for accountants would be different than for artists. You get the idea. You want to write in a way that resonates with your target audience and uses the kind of language they would respond to, based on their needs and desires.


  • Oyster, the Netflix of books, according to the interwebs, uses this call to action on their home page: “Read unlimited books, anytime, anywhere. Start for Free.”
  • The dating site OK Cupid uses this call to action on their home page: “Join the best free dating site on Earth. Start meeting people now!”
  • The wonderful novelty store Archie McPhee uses this call to action copy to get people to sign up for their newsletter: “Join the Cult of McPhee: Subscribe to Our Email Newsletter (A $700 Value!)”
  • From the home page of an accounting firm in my hometown: “Our dedication to quality, professional standards, and service is unmatched. Get in touch today.”
  • From a contact form on the website of a personal injury attorney: “No Obligation Free Consultation. Get Help Now!”

Define your outcome. For example, my primary goal is to get email subscribers. This is more important to me than getting social media followers, having people leave comments on my blog posts, or requesting more information. For you it may be different.

With that outcome in mind, the call to action I use at the end of most of my blog posts directs people to sign up for my email list. I don’t ask people to “follow me on social media!,” or “sign up for a free strategy session,” or “Click here to find out more.” It’s almost exclusively about the email list.


Here’s what I use at the end of most blog posts:

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

If your primary goal is to get people to sign up for a free strategy session, you could use something like this at the end of the body copy on your home page:

  • “Ready to get started? Book your complimentary Discovery Session now by entering your email in the form below. I’ll be in touch within 24 hours to set up our call to see if we’re a good fit to work together.”

Use action-oriented words. Begin your calls to action with verbs like “download,” “join,” “sign up,” “share with your friends,” “discover,” and “register now,” etc.


  • “Create an Event. It’s free.”
  • “Read the case study”
  • “Sign up and publish for free”

Convey the benefit. You want to demonstrate value and relevance to your target audience and offer a benefit that is meaningful to them based on their needs and desires.

Where I see the most need for this is in call to action copy on newsletter opt-in forms. Telling someone to “join my newsletter” or “sign up for email updates” just doesn’t cut it. There’s no benefit, value or personality whatsoever in those flaccid calls to action.

Instead, you want to get specific and focus the form copy on the main benefit your subscribers will receive, based on a problem they want to solve or a pleasure they want to gain.


  • Tracy Matthews Jewelry opt-in copy: Is your jewelry box a mess? Sign up to receive your FREE guide: Clean It Like a Professional and Keep It Tangle & Tarnish-Free!  Added Bonus:  By becoming a member you are instantly privy to FREE jewelry giveaways, special jewelry offers, and video tutorials.

The opt-in copy here leads with benefits: how to keep your jewelry tangle and tarnish free, plus access to giveaways, special offers and video tutorials. 

  • Interior designer opt-in copy: Enter your email below to grab your free guide, “From Chaos to Calm: 7 Simple Steps for Transforming Your Busy Young Family’s Home into an Oasis of Practical Luxury.” (Plus weekly design tips and inspiration I only share with email subscribers.)

I wrote this opt-in copy for an interior designer. You can see it focuses on the result the interior designer’s target audience wants to achieve:  transforming a chaotic home into an oasis of practical luxury.

  • My opt-in form copy: Enter your email to get instant access to the FREE Creative Rebel Guide to Writing an Ideal Client-Attracting About Page (so you never have to accept work from someone simply because they have a checkbook and a pulse, ever again.)

My audience of creative business builders often struggles with getting the right kind of clients, so that’s the benefit I focus on in the opt-in copy: writing an About page in a way that attracts ideal clients. 

Bonus tip: Where appropriate, promise instant gratification. It’s human nature – we all love instant gratification. This will depend on your desired outcomes and goals for your site, but where you can use words like “Instant Access,” “Get It Now,” “Instant Download” and similar copy, you’ll often see an increase in people taking action.

Final Thoughts

As the wildly successful copywriter and marketing strategist Dan Kennedy says, “After the headline, the call to action is the most important element of successful copywriting.” Your call to action is the key to getting website visitors to take those oh-so-important actions like signing up for your email list, reaching out to you directly, or buying your products and services.

 [A version of this post originally appeared on the site, Successful Blogging.]


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