Sometimes, things don't go as planned. Despite our hard effort, planning, and drafting, sometimes, results come in too late to be useful — assuming you even get results.
And while you might be inclined to blame the product itself, the offer, or even your inability to understand your customers, the truth is...
It's probably your writing style.
See, whether you realize it or not, your copy is always trying to get results. That's the whole point of copywriting.
And if your writing doesn't quite hit the mark, it won't do its job. It won't present your offer in the best, most resonant light possible...
Which means you can kiss those increased conversion rates goodbye.
Take the "brand as a noun/verb" phenomenon as an example.
If you need a Band-Aid, you use one... while failing to realize that the correct term is a bandage. If you need to research something online, you say you need to Google it. Rather than say you're taking headache medicine or aspirin, you say Tylenol or Aleve.
How did this happen?
Well, for one thing, these brands have advertised themselves in a way that makes them stick in our minds. Over time, seeing commercial after commercial, ad after ad, we start to associate that as the norm.
And it's especially true when the name of the brand is short. We, humans, love taking the easy way out. If we can convey a message clearly with minimal effort, we will.
But that's just the starting point.
It's one thing to convey a word, a quick way to describe something, and then... to resonate with people and prove to them that your offer is the solution they've always been looking for.
So, really, it's a giant blend, isn't it?
In order to convert, your copy needs to feature a catchy tone, brand name, or another form of hook, and it needs to back that up with compelling, resonant copy. It needs to be the complete package each and every time.
It's how you build up your email list, make more sales, boost your brand image, and develop a loyal following.
And it all revolves around one thing — copy.
So, let's hop to it. Let's tackle how to use direct response copywriting to easily increase conversions.
So here's the overall catch-22 that gets most business owners: there's direct AND indirect copywriting. Knowing which to employ is the hardest thing ever, next to actually doing it well.
Here's how to decipher things.
The purpose of indirect response copy is to plant a seed of the brand in your prospect's mind that will bloom later in the future, and several times after that.
Direct response copy, on the other hand, absolutely requires a call to action and a strong one at that. If you want someone to do something right away, you have to ask them to do it. If you try and act subtle, many people will miss the hint.
Indirect response copy thrives in a short-form environment. You don't need much to plant a seed in someone's mind.
Think of a Coke commercial:
Just saying the brand name probably has you thinking about Coke right now. Are you imagining a cold can, dripping with condensation under the afternoon sun? It's icy cold, refreshing.
Talk about a powerful image, from just ONE word.
This completes the objective, to get you thinking about the product, about the offer (drinking something cold and delicious on a warm day).
Now obviously that's just a brand name. Imagine if the scene was set for you. A little more detail, a little more staging. That's perfect, and shockingly, all you need to get people's thoughts going.
On the other hand, direct response copy works best with a long-form format. You can sometimes get away with short-form DRC, but this should only be if it's absolutely necessary, i.e. you only have enough space for a paragraph or two.
DRC is all about the details: you give people lots of details, and they use them to make an immediate decision.
You want as little guesswork as possible, as most people associate missing details with a negative detail.
You've probably experienced this yourself if you've done any online shopping.
When you see a product that undercuts the most popular product of that type, you start looking for the details on what allows it to be cheaper.
And if important details are missing, your mind immediately starts thinking that those details are missing because they're poor quality compared to the competition.
Think of that knockoff on Amazon. It's cheaper than the brand-name version because it's... got no reviews? Maybe it's missing product specifications, or images to show the product from all angles? Perhaps the third-party seller has gotten no feedback?
And yet the same can be said from products that are perfectly viable. If you don't include every possible detail, you're going to leave people wondering why.
They might even lump you in with the sketchy third-party seller, even if you're not remotely in the same realm.
People need information to make educated decisions, and DRC is all about getting immediate decisions. And oftentimes people won't make one at all if it isn't educated.
Indirect response copy is heavily business-focused: the business simply wants to get its name out there so that people remember it when it's relevant.
On the other hand, direct response copy is directly tied to the customer.
Customers are only going to be directly converted of their own volition, so if your copy isn't appealing to the customer, you aren't going to get the conversion rates you're looking for.
So we've clearly gone over what direct response copy is, but how do you actually write it? What are the general steps you need to follow? What subtle changes can you make within each step to maximize your conversion rates?
Fortunately for you, this is what this entire blog post is about.
What do people need to do before they can be converted? They have to get to your call-to-action.
But they have to be interested in your copy from the get-go.
You can craft perfect copy, but if you aren't grabbing peoples' attention immediately, there's a good chance that copy is going to go to waste.
People are notoriously impatient when it comes to the internet: studies have shown that you'll lose roughly half of your potential users if your webpage takes longer than 3 seconds to load.
So you can imagine how many readers you might lose if your copy takes a few paragraphs to get going.
Just to further affirm this, David Ogilvy, one of the most successful advertisers of all time, has given the rule of thumb that headlines account for roughly 80% of why people are converted by an ad.
This pattern can actually be found in a scary amount of statistics, in a variety of different areas.
The top 20% of the causes account for 80% of the effects. This is true for wealth (the top 20% of people control 80% of the money).
Same with computer science (fixing the top 20% most common bugs fixes 80% of the errors), sports (20% of the exercises/habits have 80% of the impact), and hazards (20% of the hazards account for 80% of the injuries).
...I think you get my point.
So it's pretty safe to say that the top 20% or so of your copy (the headline and the intro) is responsible for 80% of the conversions.
I can rattle off statistics all day, but they won't help if you don't know how to make an effective introduction in the first place, so what's the strategy there?
Well, there's a number of different formats that can be used, and I can't tell you which one will be most successful for your particular application, but I can at least give you an idea of how to utilize each.
Follow A Basic Format
This is a general format that can be used anytime, anywhere, to generally good effect. There's a few elements here (that you'll find are more emphasized in other formats):
So why are these elements important?
Ogilvy himself used this format for one of his car ads: "At 60 miles an hour the loudest noise in this new Rolls-Royce comes from the electric clock". Breaking it down...
Of course, if you know exactly what you want to accomplish with your headlines, you can create some more specialized ones...
The Direct Format
As you might imagine, the direct format is...direct. There is no fluff whatsoever. The headline instantly states the copy's purpose and perhaps the call-to-action as well.
If speed is your number one priority, this format accomplishes that: people will know exactly what you're selling and how to buy it right after reading the headline and introduction.
The Indirect Format
You can go for the polar opposite approach and be mysterious, but it can backfire. Sometimes you need a carrot on a stick for someone to start moving in the first place.
But if you're being...abnormally vague, there's a good chance people will wonder why and keep reading to find out the details that they so sorely want to know.
The Q&A Format
Q&As interest anyone who is asking the same question as the copy, so if you are fully aware of what your target audience is thinking, catching them off guard by "reading their mind" can be incredibly effective.
The Testimonial Format
What better way to relate to a customer than to have a customer's testimonial be your headline?
You have to have the "right" testimonials for this to be effective (ones that have a certain sense of "oomph" like "this is the best X I've ever tried..." from a well-known figure in the audience).
But if you can immediately prove legitimacy to your readers, they'll be much more willing to give you a chance.
Good headlines hook the reader, but good bodies are what sell the reader.
Obviously, the content that you use will vary heavily based on the product of interest, but here are a few general guidelines to follow:
Arrange Your Points In Order Of Importance
Naturally, the sooner you give the reader a reason to buy your product, the sooner they'll start looking for a way to actually go all the way and buy it.
If you order your points in order of importance, those big selling points will come earlier in the copy, therefore making it more likely that someone sees them and gets convinced.
Trying to arrange things in the opposite direction will result in some people losing interest halfway through before they get to the really juicy stuff.
Stay On Topic
Before you even start to write your copy, you need to know exactly what you want to talk about and don't deviate from it.
Deviations are only going to reduce the quality of your copy: they can confuse your readers (What are they trying to sell me? I thought this was about something else...) and can cause people to lose interest if those tangents are irrelevant.
If you've already written your copy, go over each and every sentence and make sure there's an underlying unifying theme among all of them. Consistency is key.
Write About Benefits Over Features
I know it can be exciting to write about all of the cool new tech your product uses, but people want to know what your product can do for them, not the specifications of your product.
They couldn't care less about what makes up the product, but rather they care about the package as a whole and its applications.
Your premium banana peeler can be made of 24-karat gold with 0.00000000001% tolerances and Bill Gates's signature, but the price has to be valuable to the customer, not valuable based on the materials alone.
It might cost $100,000,000 per unit to manufacture, but I can guarantee that pretty much nobody thinks it would be worth that much since the benefits are almost useless.
Specifications can be a good addendum to the rest of your copy, as the readers you have already hooked probably want to see those kinds of details.
But the primary focus should be on what your product does, not the product's raw technological details that people then have to decipher.
What do people like to hear from an ad? Here's a list of benefits that your average person might be sold on:
These are very generic statements, but you get the idea. If the product serves a clear purpose that interests the customer, they'll be more interested in buying said product.
Even if a modern smartphone is priced at the exact price of the materials involved, people care about what the hardware lets them do, not the hardware itself, so if the software/hardware is lacking, you will lose customers.
Avoid "Shady" Advertiser Words
How many TV ads have you watched? Tons, probably? You've probably noticed that a lot of them sound really similar. They use similar voices, similar themes, and most notably, similar phrases.
You've probably found that you've subconsciously tuned many of these commercials out because of those phrases too.
As you can see, the advertising world has a certain subset of words and phrases that people just immediately think of as "shady" or "insincere", so avoid using those to avoid triggering those thoughts.
Some examples include:
There's plenty more where these came from, but you probably know exactly what types of words/phrases I'm referring to by those examples.
So what can you do as a copywriter? Use synonyms that haven't been "tainted" by their use in advertisements that try to over-promise and under-deliver.
On that topic, Ogilvy says to not "address your readers as though they were gathered together in a stadium" and instead says to "pretend you are writing to each of them a letter on behalf of your client" since they're alone when reading your copy.
Basically, try and describe your product from an outsider's perspective, instead of getting overexcited by your own product's awesomeness and over exaggerating in the process.
Consider Your Audience And Their Devices, Then Format Your Copy Appropriately
The modern world is a lot different than the past. This is especially true for advertisements. Advertisements are no longer limited to print or word of mouth, and as a result, advertisements are everywhere.
This is because of all of the different mediums we have through which to view them. And all of those different mediums tend to be used by different people for different reasons.
Because of this, you need to keep those differences in mind and format your copy according to who you expect to see it.
As an example, a phone user tends to be looking for quicker results and is more likely to act upon a phone call CTA for example.
On the other hand, a desktop user is probably looking for more details and is looking at them more closely, so they need lots of content, and emails or other desktop-friendly CTAs work more effectively.
I can't go over every different medium, but in general, the relevant things to change based on device/audience are the attention-grabbers, length, word-choice, and call-to-action.
Use Readability Testers
Imagine the average person. Half of the world is...less intellectual than that person.
Because of this, ease of reading is key. Simply put, the easier your copy is to read, the more people will try to read it in the first place.
This doesn't mean that you're writing less effective copy; you're just using sentences and paragraphs that anyone can understand, instead of obfuscating their meaning in complex figures of speech.
How do you write in an easier-to-read way? In general, use lots of shorter sentences instead of long ones, and keep your vocabulary in the "everyday" range instead of pulling out the thesaurus.
Of course, if you want to objectively test your readability, there are plenty of sites online that'll do that for you. My personal favorite is the Hemingway App, available online and as a desktop app.
If your copy is a PB&J sandwich, the body is the bread, and the headline and call to action are the PB and J respectively. If you leave one out, the sandwich is incomplete, and the same goes for copy.
Direct response copy needs an effective call to action. You can't create a response if you don't give someone a reason to respond in the first place.
In order for you to make a good PB&J sandwich, you need some good bread (the content), good peanut butter (the headline), and good jelly (the call-to-action). Any part that's lacking will make the others seem worse.
So what do you need to make an effective call-to-action? Here's a list:
Active Word Choice
A CTA that is confidently claiming something or asking for a response is going to work much better than something that is just...there.
Because of this, you should use words that are "taking action" rather than passive words, such as:
Instead of telling someone to "submit" something, you should have a button that says what the user is thinking, like "let me in, give me access, etc".
"Submit" is just too vague and weak to inspire a response; it can still work, but the conversion won't be because of the word choice.
On the other hand, buttons that say something like "let me in" put the power in the user's hands by giving them a button that instantly accomplishes what the user is looking for.
Additionally, you should use "enthusiastic" words to get people excited. Exclamations are great for this, but pretty much anything that gets people riled up and ready to take action is what you're looking for.
If you can get someone excited to buy into your product, they're less likely to back out halfway through the process.
A Sense Of Urgency
Humans in general suffer from a chronic fear of missing out. Because of this, if we think an offer is limited, we give it a hefty amount of thought.
Do I want the offer? Is missing out on the offer going to make me feel bad later? Is this offer such a good value that I'll feel bad for not buying it, even if I don't really want it (say, for scalping purposes)?
These are the kinds of thoughts that limited-time or limited-stock offers can induce, and these are strong thoughts too. If there's an offer like that, we take our time and make sure that we aren't interested before we back out.
What better way is there to get someone to buy something than to ensure that there's no reason not to buy it? If there is little or no risk to an offer, people will feel much safer about giving it a chance.
There's a variety of ways to do this, but here are a few examples:
Deliver A Device-Specific CTA
Just like with the body, your CTA should be adapted to the devices you think your readers are using.
Fortunately, nowadays it's easy enough to have multiple setups for a single webpage so that you can have the best format for everyone, instead of picking and choosing.
That being said, you need to know what to change, which is a difficult topic. But in general, just be logical.
A person using their phone is in an obvious position to call or text a number, and a person on their computer is one tab away from sending an email or downloading a program.
Those aren't the only examples, but other examples should be easy enough. Just think about what your readers are doing with each device, and when they're doing that, then deliver a CTA that makes the process as quick and easy as possible for those conditions.
Focus On A Unique Selling Proposition
This is probably the most important part of any call to action, and also the simplest part to write about.
If your CTA doesn't advertise the unique parts of your offer, why should people care? There are millions of alternatives, so what makes your offer unique?
Your CTA should specifically answer those questions, and answer them well. You can have an amazing CTA, but if the offer isn't amazing, that CTA won't do anything.
Hopefully with this exhaustive list of techniques that go into direct response copywriting, you'll be able to make copy that accomplishes what you're looking for.
Indirect response copywriting has its place in the industry, but its effects are usually more subtle, and when a business is just getting started or trying to stabilize, immediate, impactful results are necessary.
That being said, if you aren't sure of what type of copy will work best for you, or aren't confident in your copywriting skills as a whole, there's no shame in hiring a digital marketing consultant.
They exist for a reason, and oftentimes hiring them will be cheaper in the long run than trying to struggle your way out of a difficult problem on your own.
But regardless of what your next step is, I hope it'll be a successful one. I maintain this blog entirely to help enthusiastic entrepreneurs like you get your head in the game, so your successes are also my successes.
Want higher conversions on your landing pages, sales letters, emails, or ads? It might be time for you to work with an expert copywriter. I’ve driven tens of millions of dollars in revenue for hundreds of clients over the past 10 years — including some of the largest B2B companies and digital brands in America.
Using my words, I’ll tap into your prospects’ deepest desires, deploy my menagerie of psychological sales triggers, and prime them for the sale. The result? More wins for your business and more revenue and profits in your pocket. Sound interesting to you? Click HERE to learn more about my copywriting work and see if we’re a good match.
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