Conversion Copywriting Guide: The Art (& Science) of Online Persuasion

12 Minute Read | Conversion Rate Optimisation

If you’re reading this guide, you probably already know two things: what a conversion is, and that you want more of them.

But in case you fall into the “what is a conversion? What am I missing out on?” camp (don’t worry – it’s a big group!) a conversion is basically this: A visitor to your website completing a desired action.

This can include a tonne of things. It may mean a sale, requesting a quote or demo, submitting an enquiry, subscribing to a newsletter, or something as simple as downloading a pdf, watching a video or clicking a link. Some of these we call micro-conversions, because they’re smaller steps on the way to a bigger conversion.

Ultimately, a conversion is when a customer does something that helps you reach one of your goals.

What is conversion copywriting?

So what is conversion copywriting? In a nutshell, it’s using your words to inspire people to act. More specifically, it’s inspiring them to take the action that will lead to your goal.

Conversion writing is compelling, persuasive and actionable. It taps into what your target readers need instead of pushing for what you want. This is an idea we’ll get into in the first part of this guide. Conversion copywriting is a practice you can apply to all your writing, especially across your website. If you want to know where to start before applying it, check out our Content Audit Guide too.

If you execute the tips within this guide, your copywriting experiments will lead to incremental improvements that could result in big things for your digital strategy and your business.

What’s in this guide?

In this guide, you will learn why putting your audience before your product is the key to successful conversion copywriting, plus the five most important parts of your copy for creating high-converting pages.

We’ll also teach you some valuable principles (not hacks!) for writing each of the core elements. They are:

  1. The call to action: How to get your readers to act
  2. The hook: How to reel your readers in
  3. The benefits: How to show what you can do for people
  4. The answers: How to answer the uncomfortable questions
  5. The social proof: How to prove what you say

Your audience matters more than what you’re selling

The first rule of conversion copywriting is to always put your reader first. You might be encouraging them to do something you want them to do, but they have to genuinely want to do it themselves, and they have to see that you care about their outcomes.

You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.

Putting your reader first starts with truly understanding your reader. You have to know who they are, what they want and why, before you write even one word of your copy.

There are many ways to build a clear picture of your target audience, from surveys and interviews to workshops and big-data-powered market research.

At Kwasi, we build Digital Personas based on real customer data. We map Customer Journeys based on their online behaviour and demographics. We believe that a good understanding of an audience includes:

  • Demographics: the basic building blocks of who they are, like age, location and gender
  • Psychographics: a more complete picture of who they are, including their interests
  • Motivations: what they want to achieve or overcome. The goals, problems and challenges that drive their behaviours
  • Emotional resonances: the emotional triggers that drive their motivations, behaviours and get their attention
  • Behaviours: where they look for information, how they look for it and how they spend their time online

The elements of highly effective conversion copywriting

There’s five key components of copywriting that are important to focus on in order to improve its power to convert readers. Perversely, we’ll start by looking at the last one.

Call to action

How to get your readers to act.

The call to action (CTA) is literally just that. It’s the part of your copy that tells readers exactly what they need to do to achieve their goal – and yours.

It’s a direct statement that inspires your reader to take a desired action, and it should match the goal for your page. For example, “Download our Conversion Copywriting Guide to learn the secrets to persuasive copy.” That might be the CTA for a landing page that designed to get visitors to download a Conversion Copywriting Guide!

To write an effective call to action, you first need to work out:

  1. What the goal for your page is: what do you want readers to do?
  2. Why the reader would want to take that action, i.e. the benefits to them.
  3. The emotions that drive the reader’s decision: how will taking this action make them feel? What emotions would lead them to make it?

Using this information, you can write a call to action.

A good call to action:

  1. Matches the goal for your page
  2. Completes the sentence “I want to…” for your target audience.
  3. Is actionable: it starts with a strong, compelling verb.
  4. Is succinct and laser-focused.
  5. Is placed on the page at the point where the reader is most likely to want to take action.

Examples of effective calls to action

Spotify clearly spells out what you’re going to get and for how much – all with very actionable language. They’ve paired with with an emotion-based headline that is also highly actionable:

Spotify call to action example

Crazy Egg, a company that’s completely focused on conversion optimisation, uses a call-to-action button also shows a strong action-results connection:

Crazy Egg call to action button

And who can argue with anything that’s as aspirational as the call to action for Monster’s job finder that simply says “Find Better”?:

Monster call to action

The hook

How to reel your readers in.

Almost every visitor to your page will make a snap judgement about it in an instant – as fast as 50 milliseconds according to one study (that’s a five-hundredth of a second).

So what does that mean for your conversion copywriting?

It means that the very first thing you show them has to hook them, and fast. That’s the hook’s job. A great hook:

  • Is attention grabbing
  • Shows an understanding of your reader’s motivations
  • Entices them with a promise of a solution
  • Conveys your brand – what makes you unique
  • Keeps people reading

And all in a very short amount of time – which means you need to be able to do all this in as few words as possible.

Every word counts when it comes to writing a great hook. Before you write yours, you should work out:

  • What the one key motivation for your audience is
  • What the key terms are that demonstrate you understand their motivation
  • What your unique value proposition is that directly meets that motivation
  • What power words grab your audience’s attention
  • What terms and language showcase who your brand is

Hook examples

The following examples of headlines succeed at most or all of these:

Evernote hooks the reader with a big promise.

Evernote hook example

Contently focuses on transforming the way the reader will execute on their goals.

Contently hook example

Paper aims for something a little more philosophical.

Paper hook example

The benefits

How to show what you can do for people.

Your benefits get to the core of why you are the best solution. But here’s the challenge: they aren’t actually about your solution. They’re really all about your customers.

It’s important to note that your benefits are not the same as your features. Your benefits are the goals you help your readers achieve. They’re the problems you solve for them and the challenges you help them overcome. It may also be about how you do these things, but it shouldn’t really focus on you.

For many copywriters, this area is the hardest to stay focused on the customer, rather than the product or service. But a good conversion copywriter bucks this trend. A good conversion copywriter begins the process of writing about their benefits by answering the following questions:

  • What are my reader’s motivations?
  • What goals do they need to achieve?
  • What problems do they need to solve?
  • What challenges do they need to overcome?

Only having answered these questions do they then ask: how do I help my readers with those? The answers to these questions will provide the framework for your benefit-driven copy.

Good benefits copy:

  • Leads with the main benefit to the reader.
  • Answers the question “what’s in it for me?”
  • Matches the reader’s goals, problems and challenges?
  • Follows up with a brief explanation of how you provide the benefit.

Examples of benefits-focused copywriting

The following are examples of strong, customer- focused benefits.

Squarespace leads with what you can achieve with their product, followed by a sentence explaining how:

Squarespace benefits copy example

Hired offers three reasons you’ll love their platform – all of which demonstrate the benefits of their features. Note their focus on how their features will make the user feel.

Hired benefits copy example

For people who want to send beautiful emails, Active Campaign explains how their software lets you do it:

Active Campaign benefits copy example

Overcoming objections

How to answer the uncomfortable questions.

Here’s a scary truth: you don’t just have to convince readers why you’re the right choice. You have to convince them why you’re not the wrong choice.

For every need that you’re able to satisfy by showing one of your benefits, your readers will have a handful of objections that are stopping them from converting. Some may be deal breakers if you can’t address them properly.

When you wrote your hook and benefits, you answered your reader’s “why should I?”. Now you have to answer their “Why shouldn’t I?”. You have to soothe any doubts they have.

These are potential objections your readers might raise. As counter-intuitive as it sounds, you have to raise them first: so you can answer them quickly.

Before you can write effective answers to these curly questions, you need to work out three things:

  1. What are your reader’s objections – why might they not choose you?
  2. What questions do your readers usually need answered before they can make a decision?
  3. What is their decision-making process?

By knowing the answers to these questions, you will know what you need to add to your copy to address them.

Effective answers copy anticipates and resolves potential objections by:

  • Addressing them directly, if you can overcome their objection (e.g. if your readers are price-conscious and your product is affordable).
  • Justifying your position (e.g. by demonstrating that an expensive product includes features that make it worth the cost).
  • Comparing; placing your solution in a more favourable context (e.g. the cost is less than alternatives, or potentially less costly than not meeting the reader’s motivations).
  • Or re-prioritising by highlighting which factors are more important and which are less.

Examples of overcoming objections

Lauren Hannaford’s FHIT website addresses objections and common questions with an FAQ page:

FHIT overcoming objections examples

Unbounce takes the exact opposite approach: using  the headline on their homepage to show straight away that their solution overcomes their target customer’s main objection:

Unbounce overcoming objections example

Back it up with social proof

How to prove what you say.

Unless you can back up your claims, that’s all they will ever be: claims. Your readers want to know that what you’re saying checks out, and they’ll only truly trust this if they can see it coming from someone else, especially if it’s someone they know and trust already.

Social proof demonstrates how valuable your solution is for real people and organisations – especially if they’re similar to your target audience. It includes:

  • Testimonials
  • Ratings & customer reviews
  • Logos
  • Endorsements
  • Case studies
  • Usage or market data

And can come from experts, celebrities and influencers, peers and the wisdom of the crowd.

To find social proof for your business, it’s helpful to know or look for a way to find out:

  • Who your customers are
  • What they’re saying about you
  • How you’ve helped them solve a problem or achieve a goal

Effective social proof:

  • Uses credible, trustworthy independent people – ideally, similar to your target audience
  • Shows who benefits from your solution
  • Proves a key benefit of your solution, or
  • Answers an objection of your target audience
  • Connects emotionally or to a key motivation
  • Can tell a story: [solution] helped me [do what] by [how].

Social proof examples

Direct quotes are always an effective form of social proof, as it uses the exact language of your customers:

Social proof example: direct quotes

Klear pairs testimonial quotes with another extremely form of social proof – client logos. Naturally, the more recognisable the client, the more effective the proof (Rand Fishkin’s face is also plenty recognisable to anyone in this audience’s industry):

Klear social proof example

Hootsuite demonstrates the power of “wisdom of the crowd” social proof with some pretty big numbers:

Hootsuite social proof example

Conversion Copywriting isn’t set and forget

Having read this far, are you ready for a little bit of bad news?

Everything we’ve covered in this guide is best practice (we don’t believe in hacks!), but that doesn’t mean it will universally work equally well for everyone, every industry, business type and even for every page on your website.

When you write for conversion you need to pay just as much attention to the results as the words. If something works well, do more of it. If something doesn’t work as well as you want, try something different.

Conversion copywriting isn’t set and forget. It’s about testing, experimenting and continually optimising your copy. The aim of the game is to keep making things better and better.

Keep going at conversion copywriting and small changes will snowball into something big.

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