Sales copywriting 101: Five rules for writing high-converting copy

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Slumped at your desk with a second cup of coffee and sore eyes from scowling at your screen, you try to fill the page with words that will persuade a future web visitor to make a purchase.

Unfortunately, the right words refuse to come out. 

Does this sound familiar? 

In sales and marketing circles, it’s become trendy to praise great copywriting as the secret weapon that divides successful brands from the rest of the pack. Sure, “write words that sell” is sound advice. Well-written landing pages, cold emails, and sales enablement content are critical to converting leads into customers. 

Tell ’em, Dave.

But if you’ve ever put pen to paper, you know that writing high-converting copy isn’t that simple, is it?

The good news is: It’s not rocket science either. Even as a beginner or a “non-writer,” you can use the powerful mindset shifts and formulas in this post to quickly boost the quality of your sales copy.

Let’s go. 

1. Follow the AIDA copywriting formula

When you’re gazing into the abyss of a blank page, and you’ve yet to write a single sentence, it’s easy to wonder “What’s next?” 

This is where the AIDA formula, popularized by copywriting legend Gary Halbert, can get the ball rolling. From start to finish, the formula structures the specific stages you must include in your sales page, email, or any piece of writing that aims to elicit a response. 

aida sales copywriting

Breaking down the “Workplace Analytics” landing page from conference room scheduling tool Robin, here’s what the AIDA formula looks like in action.

  • Attention: Begin by grabbing the attention of your lead with an attractive headline that’s relevant to your prospect’s needs. Robin promises to reveal “Insights to advance your workplace.”  
  • Interest: Pique their interest and nudge them deeper into your copy with the opening paragraphs. Common examples include a personal/corporate story, a question to the reader, or a description of a problem/solution. To keep you interested, Robin elaborates on their headline and explains that their software will help you “Uncover how to tailor your office to your team’s needs with data-driven decisions.” and “Know what your team needs.”
  • Desire:After gaining interest, it’s time to explain how your product/service enriches your prospect’s life. On a sales page, this is often expressed through bullet points that describe benefits. On a cold email, it could be a short paragraph detailing the impact your product/service will have. Robin sets a great example of working up desire by vividly describing how you can optimize your office space and increase productivity.
  • Action: After impressing your prospect by showing how you can help them, invite him/her to take action e.g., click a link, fill out a form, or reply to an email. Concluding with a specific call to action “Request a demo,” Robin reminds you that their workplace analytics will help you “Crack the space planning code with insights built for the modern office.” 

2. Connect benefits to new realities

Sell the hole, not the drill”.

Copywriting tips like the above sound like absolute truths, but they still miss the mark.

As echoed by Peep Laja, founder of CXL, your copy should “Focus on articulating the value people will get. Make sure the copy makes it clear who it’s for, and what pain it helps to avoid, or gain it helps to achieve.”

While you might mention the “drill” or highlight the “hole,” neither of these are as powerful as drawing a line from the drill, to the hole, to a tangible result like kickstarting that first father-son DIY project, or putting up a new family portrait in your living room.

Effective copy connects all the logical and emotional dots to sell a successful experience to your prospect. One way to communicate this experience is to use the “so what?” hack. 

Simply read through the features and benefits in your copy, pause when you talk about your product or service, and then ask yourself, “so what?”

This forces you to articulate the desirable experience that your product delivers.

Apple’s iPod ad is a classic example. The feature is “1GB of storage for MP3s.

After asking “so what?”, however, this translates to “1000 songs in your pocket.”

Here’s another great example from Drift

The features and benefits are “conversational landing pages” that speak to customers. If you ask “so what?”, this translates to bypassing the usual barriers between you and your customer and going “straight to the conversation now.”

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3. Outshine competitors with specificity

In the early 1900s, advertising pioneer Claude Hopkins cemented himself in copywriting history when he catapulted Schlitz beer from B-list brewer to #1 in sales.

At the time, most beer companies spouted identical claims about the purity of their beers. In the ad that blew Schlitz’s competition out the water, Hopkins took another route. Instead of making generic claims, he told the story behind the beer brand, and vividly described the distillation process to drive the “purity claim” home. 

He detailed how the beer was cooled in a unique way that removed impurities. How each bottle was sterilized at least four times before being filled with Schlitz beer. Hopkins even drew attention to the fact they built a 4,000-foot well to supply water—even though the nearby Lake Michigan was a valid source.

A Claude Hopkins classic. We’re also pretty fond of this one.

Compared to the blur of statements claiming “the purest beers,” there’s no competition. That’s the power of specificity in your copy or story. It sets you apart from the crowd and resonates with prospects. Because when everyone out there is shouting “super,” “proprietary,” and “exclusive”…then no one is.

If you want to convey a unique attribute about your product or service, use ultra-specific stories and descriptions to show—instead of tell—how you’re “the most advanced” or “highest quality.”

4. Invigorate your copy with power words

A study by Elizabeth Loftus wanted to test if word selection could influence eyewitness testimonies. In the test, subjects were shown a video of different car accidents. After watching, they were asked, “about how fast were the cars going when they smashed into each other?

All subjects were asked the same question, although the word “smashed” was replaced with verbs of varying power like:

  • Contacted
  • Hit
  • Bumped
  • Collided

Researchers found that when stronger verbs like “collided” and “smashed” were used, witnesses estimated higher speeds. They were also more likely to falsely report that there was broken glass at the scene, despite there being no glass shown in the film. 

As shown in the research above, a single word change can have a drastic impact on perception. When you’re trying to get someone to take action, it has the power to instantly increase or decrease conversion rates

Pick your words carefully. Once you’ve written a solid first draft and you’re happy with your message, go back and inject vigor into your writing with these 801+  power words

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5. Practice a conversational tone

When we asked email copywriting expert Emily McGuire how non-writers can write high-converting copy, her biggest tip was:

Write like you’re having the conversations you want to have with your ideal customers. It comes off more conversational, personable, and helps your readers address their pain points easy peasy.” 

Or, as Privy CEO Dave Gerhardt puts it, “Write like you talk.”

Conversational writing makes it easier for your prospect to connect with you. And it’s not about throwing in the f-bomb, or divulging personal information. It’s about making your message easy to understand. You can do this by:

  • Breaking sections of copy into bullets points (like this).
  • Emphasizing important words.
  • Leaving enough whitespace on the page.
  • Using short sentences and paragraphs.
  • Treating subheadings like headlines.

Apps like Grammarly and Hemingway will also work to measure and refine how “conversational” your copy is. If you’re new to writing and want detailed feedback, go with the Hemingway app. It’ll summarize the reading level of your copy and mark complex sentences and bloated descriptions. 

Joel Kettle, a veteran copywriter, and ex-CBC columnist, recommends that you take conversational copy one step further by actually sitting down with and talking to your customers:

In reality, copywriting is a conversation between you and your customer. Your goal is to enter the conversation already happening in their heads. 

“So to do that, here’s my simple tip: talk to customers in a structured way. Ask them about their pains, their desired outcomes, and the things that might keep them from buying. Document how they talk about those things (and which things they talk about) and use THAT to inform whatever it is you write.” 

High-converting copy doesn’t have to be complicated

Contrary to popular opinion, copywriting isn’t an elusive art that’s accessible only to a gifted few. It’s more of science; one that focuses on understanding the conversation in your customer’s head and showing how you can help. 

Using the sales copywriting tips above, you can still write sales copy that gets your prospects to act, even if you’re a beginner or don’t consider yourself a writer. Once you’ve finished writing, use this guide by Copyhackers to measure the persuasive power of each element in your copy.

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