Online Copywriting Advice

Human visitors read. Bots scan and rank, but bots do it for human visitors. It will be moms, dads, sisters and brothers who read the page, and it’s those people who have the wallets with credit cards, and PayPal accounts. In this article we discuss core online copy writing techniques to help make your website more effective at selling and making money.

Speak to One Person
  • Hello Dear Visitors!

  • Hey You – in Front of The Monitor!

Which one gets your attention? Speak to one person. (Read those two salutations again to feel the difference =)).

Talk "For Real"

Talk as if you’re speaking to a person. Imagine yourself walking down the street and talking to your buddy. How does the conversation sound? Casual, relaxed, maybe even a few bad words here and there, and a couple of jokes. Talk to your visitors as if you’re talking to your buddy. Keep it casual.

The Internet is a very social, casual place. It even has its own language: LOL, LMAO, BRB, TY, etc. If you act casually you’ll be perceived more as a friend than a faceless corporate company. Check out Google’s approach, I think they caught the essence:

"More specifically, we’re updating ‘the backend’ (to employ that catchy, catchall moniker coined and lent to us by engineering folks who work on all of the technical fiddly bits behind the scenes but know we communications folks can’t very well say ‘We’re updating all of the technical fiddly bits behind the scenes and expect you, an enlightened Google user, to take us seriously or at least not wonder aloud ‘Wait, what sort of bits were those again?’"

They’re acting playfully. You can feel a real person behind those words, someone alive. Compare that to a faceless "we’re sorry for the inconvenience, XYZ Corporation strives to deliver quality services to it’s customers…"

Be friendly and drop the "corporate" veil. People will like you a lot more.

This principle also works in day-to-day communications. If you meet new people and ask "official" questions like where you work, where you live, where you go to school, and so forth, you’ll notice that the conversation is pretty dry until you hit a spot to which you both can relate. If, on the other hand, you cut through the BS and start out with a joke, you’ll see the "walls" melt a lot faster.

So drop the "official" BS and don’t be afraid to be playful in your writings… You dig me bro? =)

The goal of website copy, both sales letters and content, is to connect and relate to your ONE customer.

The next paragraph is a perfect example of how NOT to write if you want to connect with your audience from a Canadian Bank.

"If you want to purchase your home in the next couple of years, you’ll probably want to invest money in shorter-term vehicles that preserve your capital and are less likely to fluctuate in value….If you are not sure of your time horizon or risk tolerance…"

Shorter term vehicles? …Time horizon or risk tolerance?

I’ve made this mistake myself and seen many copywriters do it. By using smart words and jargon, we try to appear smart and knowledgeable. We feel those words spice up the writing, and give it a classy vibe. We feel smarter ourselves. In reality, technical words and jargon kill off your connection with readers and confuse them.

When Jargon is OK

Jargon is okay when you are speaking to a niche audience. For example, jargon would be expected in a white paper for computer programmers about scripting. In that case, jargon and technical terms INCREASE connection with the audience. You demonstrate your understanding and knowledge of the topic, and methodical, slow buyers need to see that you’re on the same page (or better, above them) before buying.

Keep in mind that this only works for audiences that know the topic inside out. When you expand your audience, you will need to simplify your writing.

Corporate Speak

George Orwell described corporate speak in his novel 1984. He called it Newspeak. The purpose of Newspeak was to eliminate free thought and thus limit the user’s perception of the world.

If you take a close look at the current state of the English language you’ll see that Orwellian prediction of its erosion is well on its way to being fulfilled. Corporations and governments hide their lies beyond the veil of vague language that has no visuals. Here’s a good example from George Orwell’s essay "Politics and the English Language:"

"Millions of peasants are robbed of their farms and sent trudging along the roads with no more than they can carry: this is called ‘transfer of population’ or ‘rectification of frontiers.’ People are imprisoned for years without trial, or shot in the back of the neck or sent to die of scurvy in Arctic lumber camps: this is called ‘elimination of unreliable elements.’ Such phraseology is needed if one wants to name things without calling up mental pictures of them."

You can see it clearly in action when you turn on CNN or FOX News. "A local merchant whose daughter’s leg was cut off by a cluster bomb, wife shot in the head by a machine gun strafe and son’s stomach butchered by a grenade, is taking his revenge with an AK47." Such people are called "Terrorists" and "Insurgents" by the "news" media. As you can see, those words conveniently eliminate all visuals and conceal brutal reality from a sleeping Western population. This is exactly the purpose of Newspeak, or as we call it – corporate speak.

As a website writer you can contribute to the restoration of the English language by using more visuals in your writings. Avoid accepted "terms" but rather paint a picture in the mind of the reader. Take a color palette and a brush. Draw the sun, the sky, the water and the grass. Draw a water droplet falling down from the edge of a green leaf down to the moist summer grass.

Once you do, your readers will feel the difference. As opposed to reading predetermined words and phrases with little meaning, they will see your idea behind their words and use their imagination.

Check out the Web Economy Bullshit Generator for more corporate speak and read Orwell’s Politics and the English Language.

A key concept from the book Persuasive Online Copywriting is to paint a picture. Instead of telling your reader "this is how it is," let them feel it:

  • This was an engaging ride in the F-16 jet.

  • As the G-Forces pulled my lips down to my chin and my belly onto my spine, I executed a Chandelle. I feverishly inclined to the left, pulled the stick and pressed left rudder pedal onto the floor. Falcon F16 obeyed my commands like a trained German Shepherd dog and pushed my blood to the bottom of my feet, almost knocking me unconscious. After coming out of the turn I fueled on the afterburner and pulled the stick, taking a vertical position and speeding upwards into the sky.

Source: optimization.ca

The second version paints a picture. The first version tells me nothing. This is one of the keys of a successful sales letter. Let readers feel your product; let them experience it.

Our subconscious mind sees no difference between imagination and reality; this is why dreams seem so real. When you ignite your reader’s imagination and charge in with emotion to the point where readers experience your product in their imagination, their subconscious mind assumes they already experienced it, which brings them one BIG step closer to the purchase.

This is actually the whole idea behind visualization and autosuggestion described by Napoleon Hill. Once your subconscious mind experiences imagination CHARGED WITH EMOTION, it affects the conscious mind, its daily thoughts, and actions. It influences a person’s CONSCIOUS actions to bring that person closer to the object of imagination.

It’s cool, freaky, mechanical stuff. check it out.

Get rid of the "We"

Big brands like IBM, Ford and others have worldwide name recognition and can afford to brag about themselves all they want. They have the brand power and spend millions on advertising. Small companies naturally copy from the best and assume it works. Though copying from the best works in many cases, copying copywriting from big corporations DOES NOT; it lead to the "we-we" virus, where companies do nothing but brag about themselves "we are… we are the best… we’ve been doing it.. we … we… we.."

Avoid talking about yourself, even on the "about us" page. State how you BENEFIT your visitors and focus on YOU instead of WE.

Imagine if this article were focused on me. I’d just brag about myself, without any effort to help you, saying: "I do this thing all the time, I am the best at it." In reality I am far from the best; so are many companies that claim "we are recognized leaders…"

Drop the "we" and focus on "you."

Many websites miss a call to action. Visitors are shy. You have to take the initiative yourself, otherwise nothing will happen. Put clear calls to action in visible spots.

Links vs Graphics

Studies showed that links work better than fancy graphics. Keep in mind that anything that looks like a banner is perceived as a banner – hence it’s automatically ignored. Jacob Neilsen did banner blindness studies and found that users automatically ignore anything that looks like an advertisement, even if it’s not. Don’t make your call to action look like a banner ad.

Sales Letters

Sales letters can hurt and help. They can increase conversion rates but limit the audience. Going with a sales letter usually works if you’re shooting for a VERY niche audience.

If your market is somewhat broad, it’s harder to cover it with a sales letter. What works with one type of person falls on deaf ears with another.

Here are some good books if you want to writer sales letters:

  • The Online Copywriter’s Handbook

  • Persuasive Online Copywriting

  • Tested Advertising Methods

Also check out Copyblogger. For examples of sales letters (usually full of HYPE), explore the Clickbank marketplace.

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