Whether you’re launching your business online, or just giving it a spring clean, you’ll be taking all sorts of things into consideration: your snazzy brand, slick design, user-friendly interface and engaging visuals.
But often, one of the most important tools for engaging your audience is forgotten, and that’s your copy. After all, we can all write, can’t we?
Unfortunately, writing for the web is slightly more complicated than that, requiring a deep understanding of your audience and their needs and behaviours at each stage of their buyer journey.
Your copy must therefore reflect both your brand values and the content platform you’re using.
The good news is that because so many businesses don’t understand the value of copy, and are simply doing it badly, there’s an opportunity for you to shine out amongst the rest.
Whether you’re looking to sell, or simply nurture your customer relationships, if you put in a bit of groundwork now, you’ll see that great copy will help you get the most out of your customers in the long run.
In today’s article I’ll cover:
- What we mean by great copy
- How to know your target audience
- Understanding your buyer journey
- How to create content for each stage of the journey
- And finally, some tips for writing great copy
What do we mean by “great copy”?
Copy is all the elements of your online and offline material that involves words, no matter how small or insignificant the wording might seem. From 2 to 22,000 words, they all need careful consideration:
- Social media – Tweets, Facebook updates, LinkedIn posts
- Metadata: meta descriptions and title tags
- Paid social/pay-per-click (PPC) adverts
- Blog articles
- Website text
- Landing pages
- Product descriptions
- Calls-to-action (such as “shop now” or “go to checkout”)
- Email campaigns
- Downloadable whitepapers, how-to guides and PDFs
- Printed brochures, leaflets, posters and billboards
What we mean by “great copy” is simply copy that engages your target audience. This implies two things:
1. You need to know and understand your target audience
2. You need to create copy that engages with them
Know your target audience
Getting to know your target is audience is central to your marketing and sales strategies on the whole, but is particularly useful when getting your copy right.
It might take a bit of groundwork, but this step is crucial to getting your messaging on target, and creating the kind of copy that speaks directly to the right people at the right stage of their purchasing journey.
HubSpot is an excellent resource for businesses looking to define their target audience. They discuss “buyer personas” as a way in which to build up a three-dimensional idea of the various audience types you wish to target.
1. Think of your target audience and determine three or four broad types
2. For each audience type, create a fictional character to help you visualise them as a real person
3. Identify their:
- Role: Professionally and personally
- Goals: What does success look like for them?
- Pain points: What main challenges are they facing?
- Company: Industry they work in, size of company, who makes the decisions
- Where they get their information: Social media, blogs, offline magazines, online forums
- Shopping preferences: How much research do they do? How do they interact with vendors?
This work helps you to build up a realistic “story” around your audience members, which is the first step towards ensuring that all your marketing, particularly your copy, speaks to them personally.
Understand your buyer journey
Once you’ve developed a handful of personas, the next step is to take a look at their “buyer journey”.
Though marketing experts like to generalise about “buyer journeys”, or “sales funnels”, they look different for each business and for each persona.
For simplicity’s sake, expanding on the HubSpot template of the buyer journey, you should expect your audience to fall into the following broad stages:
At this stage your buyer is becoming aware of a problem or pain point, and beginning to look around for solutions. They’re looking for broad information, which will help them towards a solution.
The buyer is now looking for solutions to their problem, and is looking for more detailed information from a variety of sources to help them find the right one.
The buyer is now whittling down their list of brands, products and services before making a final decision on their solution. They need convincing that you are the best fit.
Your buyer is now a customer, but how likely are they to return or to recommend you to others?
Create great content for each stage of the journey
As we’ve seen, at the awareness stage your personas are only aware of their problem, not the solution, and are embarking on their initial research. They are sifting through broad amounts of information across a variety of sources, and may only start becoming aware of your brand in the mix.
Your goal: To make the buyer aware of your brand
Buyer’s need/behaviours: At this stage your buyer is still in a behaviour pattern where they’re growing aware of their own problem. They’re looking for very basic information on the problem, and are looking at a broad range of online and offline material and resources to help them.
Types of copy to adopt: Social media, paid social/PPC, blog content, keywords, downloadable industry data/quick guides.
Tone and content of copy: The tone you should take with your copy should be broad and the content problem/opportunity-focused. Use terms such as problem, issue, resolve, fix, improve, troubleshoot.
- Social media: Use appropriate #hashtags to help your tweets get found.
- Paid social/PPC: Use problem-focused words, such as “Paying too much for your broadband?”
- Blog content: Use long-tail, keyword-rich phrases to help your content get found by your potential buyer; keep your blogs simple and short-form, such as Top 5 problems you face when finding the right vacuum cleaner.
- Downloadable material: Brief yet informative guides to help with a particular problem; statistic-rich information; use email sign-ups in exchange for the downloads so you can target buyers in the next stage.
Now that your buyer is beginning to consider solutions to their problem, they are sifting through information to help whittle down their choices. They begin to know your brand.
Your goal: To raise awareness of your product/service as their solution and build a relationship with potential buyers.
Buyer’s needs/behaviours: Your buyer is now becoming solution-aware, and is interested in all the paths they could take to solve their problem. They are assimilating a lot of information from a variety of sources, both on and offline.
Types of copy to adopt: Paid social/PPC, in-depth how-to guides/tutorials, case studies/testimonials, landing/product pages, fact sheets.
Tone and content of copy: Your content needs to be solution-focused, and demonstrate your knowledge and expertise in the marketplace. Use solution words, such as solution, tool, service, provider, etc.
- Social media/paid social/PPC: Solution-oriented tweets, posts and adverts, demonstrating your products and any offers that might be of interest.
- Blog posts: In-depth articles that are focused on solutions to problems. Use subheadings to help break up the content.
- Landing/product pages: Pay attention to your product descriptions and your overall landing pages. Use your words carefully to highlight the benefits of your products/services, but avoid exaggerated claims and overselling. It’s important to make sure you don’t draw the wrong customers in, as they might be disappointed later.
- How-to guides/tutorials: Demonstrate solutions to your potential buyers. Ensure that your guides are logical and easy to follow, for example by using step-by-step processes.
- Case studies/testimonials: Feedback from your customers will help your potential buyers decide whether or not you’re the right choice for them.
- Email campaigns: During the previous stage, you may have been able to capture the email addresses of potential buyers. Use these to send out email campaigns to start demonstrating your solution to their problem. Link to your whitepapers, tutorials and testimonials.
Your goal: To convince the buyer that you have the right product or service for them.
Buyer’s needs/behaviours: By now they have a list of product/service providers and are whittling down this list to find the best solution for them. They are now narrowing their search and comparing and contrasting options.
Types of copy to adopt: Long-form blog articles and whitepapers, email campaigns, testimonials, comparison tables, calls-to-action, offers.
Tone and content of copy: Your copy should now focus more on you, the business, as their potential solution. Focus on what solutions you can offer them that nobody else can. Use words such as compare/comparison, versus/vs, review, pros and cons, advantages and disadvantages, etc.
- Email campaigns: Your emails should be more “salesy” in tone, but not pushy. Calls-to-action should direct people to your product pages, or to your phone number, to encourage a conversion.
- Comparison tables: Use comparison tables to demonstrate the pros and cons of your range of products and services, and/or how they stack up with the competition.
- Calls-to-action (CTA): Help the buyer make a decision by creating bold CTAs to point them to an action, such as a purchase, phone call or free trial.
- Offers: For those buyers who need more convincing, an offer of a discount, free trial or free gift can help tip them over the edge.
Having made a transaction with you, your customer now needs nurturing to ensure their future loyalty and evangelising you to others.
Your goal: To ensure the buyer returns again and again, and recommends you to others.
Buyer’s needs/behaviours: By now, the buyer knows you, has made a transaction with you, and is either pleased with the service they received or has been left disappointed.
If they fall into the former category then they may well be ready to evangelise your brand.
However, although they may bring you more custom in the future, they might not be ready to buy from you again just yet. If they fall into the latter category, and have had a bad experience, then you have an opportunity to reach out, rectify the problem and make necessary reparations.
Types of copy to adopt: Email, social media.
Tone and content of copy: Your copy should focus on nurturing the relationship you already have with your customer. Keep the tone friendly and relaxed, and avoid pestering.
- Email marketing: Use your email campaigns to keep in touch with your customer. These need to be carefully timed and worded. For example, an automated email confirmation should be sent immediately after a purchase, then an email should follow a week or so later politely asking for feedback. Another couple of emails should follow to keep your customer in touch with your latest offers, new products,
- Social media: In the mix of your social posts should be updates to those who’ve purchased from you. These posts should demonstrate that you are still engaged with the industry, show off new products, and advertise offers and discounts.
Tips for writing great web copy
- Use subheadings to break up content and add form to the structure.
- Beware of cognitive load: sentences should be no longer than three lines and use lots of white space.
- Use bulleted or numbered lists to break up lengthy prose.
- Keep your personas/customers in mind: write in terms of you, the customer rather than we, the business.
- Write appropriately for the content channel: know when your content stops being a simple blog post and becomes a whitepaper; when a Facebook post becomes a blog article.
- Don’t write too much: If a section of copy becomes too long, then use anchor text to spread the content over a few pages.
As we’ve seen, great copy is integral to all aspects of your marketing. Although it’s only one element of content that you need to adopt alongside great images, video and design, the words you use in your whitepapers, product pages or buttons all impact on your audience and could be the difference between a one-off browser and a loyal customer.
Why not start by taking some time to familiarise yourself with your customer? Understanding their journey is central to knowing how you can tailor your copy to help them along their way.