What's your name?
Conversion copywriting has one job– geting prospects from “this is fascinating” to “where do I enter my credit card number?”
My name is Rishi and I’ve been thinking about conversion optimization for the last 12 years. I’ve written 750+ articles and you’ve just stumbled onto the most important one.
Conversion copywriting isn’t very different from the umbrella topic of copywriting. From my perspective, the key distinction is that the conversion in conversion copywriting is all about conversions driven by some online activity. As long as the sales process involves some type of online behavior, tied to some specific business goal then the language built for that outcome is conversion copywriting.
Outside of the medium and some of the tracking mechanisms that digital technology offers there is no distinction.
There is no great conversion copywriting who isn’t also just a straight-up great copywriter.
In this article, we’re going to share everything we know about conversion copywriting.
But before we go deep into the topic let’s take a bigger picture view– let’s study the history of copywriting.
The History of Copywriting
Copywriting is an interesting topic because it mashes together the disciples of writing and marketing. Writing that is designed to get consumers to part with their hard-earned money is copywriting. It very much has a sales role.
A discovery was made in China. It was a copper printing plate and it dated from the Song dynasty (960 to 1279). What’s fascinating is that this printing plate was used to print posters with a rabbit logo + the text “Jinan Liu’s Fine Needle Shop” and this sales copy: “We buy high quality steel rods and make fine quality needles, to be ready for use at home in no time” (source)
For the next 800 years, brands were effectively just doing their own advertising.
But at some point, they realized that the copy they were writing for their ads didn’t have the same pull.
The thing about copywriting is that its effectiveness is a moving target. When the consumer isn’t used to being pitched then just drawing their attention to the availability of an idea (like the needle shop ad above) is enough. But imagine if Jinan Liu was competing with 34 more needle shops in that local market and her competitors noticed and copied her quality message, would that add still work? Nope. Jinan Liu would need to discover a new Selling Angle.
In order to constantly churn out new ads, the manufacturer either had to spend more time thinking of ad concepts and figuring out where to place them or they could focus on what they were good at (needle making) and let the writing specialist take care of the advertising copy.
This is how the modern agency was born in 1877 and it went by the name J. Walter Thompson. These guys understood the power of copywriting as you can see from their ad for their own services:
With the birth of newspapers and magazines we now, for the very first time, had a way to target very specific types of buyers. People who read Scientific American were quite different from people who enjoyed Godey’s Lady’s Book. This took copywriting to a whole new level. We were no longer writing for all types of buyers. We were writing for buyers with very specific behavioral profiles.
Why Conversion Copywriting is THE way to Grow Sales
There are many ways to optimize conversion rates but adjusting words is the most energy-efficient strategy. Sure, you would redo a photoshoot or update your product packaging but those options are expensive and time-consuming.
How Conversion Copywriting and Buyer Psychology Relate
Conversion copywriting and buyer psychology should be treated as synonyms because one doesn’t make sense without the other. If I’m Oral B and trying to sell an electric toothbrush to someone who has never used one and is quite ok using the plastic brush then I’m going to have to get into this buyer’s mind. First I’m going to have to figure out how to get her attention since she isn’t looking for an electric toothbrush. I could use copy like: “Toothbrush technology hasn’t changed in 20 years. Here’s why you should be concerned about this”
Next, I’m going to need copy on the landing page that builds a case against non-electric toothbrushes. But I can’t just jump into my spiel, that would come across as too pushy. I need to start by reflecting on what the buyer knows– that non-electric toothbrushes work. I’m getting the reader to gently nod in agreement. Once I’ve earned a few nods of agreement I can gradually start talking about the incredible odds we had to get over to bring this electric toothbrush to the market. Then I’m going to have to get her excited to want to try our invention.
None of what’s described above is possible if the marketer isn’t perfectly tuned into the subconscious decision-making process of the buyer. The marketer has to understand the psychology of the buyer.
How Marketers Think About Conversion Copywriting
It isn’t nice to generalize but based on the conversion copywriting we see on eCommerce sites it’s pretty clear that most marketers think just giving a quick product explanation by listing features and benefits is where the job ends (click image to see full size view):
Beachwaver is an incredibly successful DTC brand and this is their bestseller. We aren’t suggesting they are the only site that is falling for this trap. We’re using their site to make a bigger point.
How To Think about Conversion Copywriting
The reason why the best-selling page on Beachwaver has the description shown in the screenshot above is that marketers have been wronglytaught that their job is to present features and benefits. But describing features and benefits isn’t enough if the goal is to see this: 💳
You need to be able to sell the crap out of the situation.
And if you’re annoyed with the salesman analogy you aren’t going to like the next part.
The marketer isn’t just related to the salesman. There are two other relatives we’d like to introduce you to– your debating aunt and lawyer uncle.
Debating and Conversion Copywriting
Now let’s look at the final family connection– the one between the conversion copywriter and his debate champ aunt. Copywriters who can learn the techniques debaters use to build arguments will simply convert more first-time buyers.
Another quality I admire about debaters is their ability to argue one side of the argument and then seamlessly shift sides and make an equally compelling case for the opposing view. This isn’t just natural talent, it’s conditioning a muscle and we talk about it further in this article: Debating and Conversion Copywriting
What Do Conversion Copywriters Have in Common With Lawyers?
A lot. The way I don’t see a distinction between conversion copywriters and salespeople I also don’t see any difference from a suit-wearing lawyer. Lawyers get a bad rap but we hope to change your mind in this article: What Do Conversion Copywriters Have in Common With Lawyers?
How Storytelling Connects with Conversion Copywriting
We’ve already seen how conversion copywriting is basically a way to deliver your sales pitch. If the copywriter is connected to the salesman we might as well also use the trick the salesman uses most often– storytelling. Turns out, there is a deep evolutionary foundation of storytelling. It’s something that goes back thousands of generations, way before we had the written medium.
Storytelling is all about helping one human experience someone else’s experience. Storytelling connects us.
We understand the power of stories intuitively. Recent scientific work is adding more data to support how stories can alter our behaviors and attitudes. It’s all very exciting.
Oxytocin (also called the love hormone) is a key brain chemical. It’s produced when we are feeling a sense of safety and care. Scientists ran an experiment where they recorded the baseline oxytocin levels of subjects before the experiment. They then exposed them to an emotional story and then measured their oxytocin level, and guess what? It was up. Further, the amount of oxytocin released was an indicator of the participant’s willingness to take action. Getting the shopper to take action is a key component of conversion copywriting.
We explore the topic of storytelling in marketing in this article: People Are Drawn to Storytelling.
There is an aspect of our approach to conversion copywriting that our colleagues don’t like and we discuss that next.
Conversion Copywriting Without User Research
Most marketers don’t do conversion copywriting how we do it. The best marketers will tell you, “you can’t formulate any copy ideas without first doing tons of user research.”
There is no doubt that user research is powerful. It has its place, we just don’t think it’s the first thing the marketer should do. We neatly present our case in this case against user research article.
Recap & Next Steps
Wow, look at you, you’ve come to the end of Chapter 3. This is a key chapter because it talks about the most important tool in our toolbox and the one we use most often– conversion copywriting. We converted the history of conversion copywriting. Then we showed how marketers typically think about it, and how you should think about it– like a sales pitch.
We also brought our debating aunt and lawyer uncle into the discussion. And ended by building a case against user research.
In Chapter 4 we’re going to show where you need to deploy your sales pitch for the maximum conversion impact: CHAPTER 4: Product Page Optimization