persuasive copywriting

Here are six different ways to AB test content elements and the things you should be measuring.
There is a critical part of your sales funnel that probably isn’t optimized.
When you think about CRO, you think about optimizing your online funnel – your emails, landing pages, checkout process, etc. – in order to acquire more customers.
What you don’t often think about is AB testing your content.
In fact, when it comes to content driven marketing, we rarely see the same commitment to testing, tracking, and optimizing that occurs elsewhere in marketing. Considering that content is found at the top of your sales funnel, the wrong content could be hurting your conversion rates.
Content can be tested in the same way anything else can be tested, and some elements definitely deserve a more CRO-esque approach.

Goals for AB Testing Content

One of the reasons that content is less-frequently tested, is that the goals are often unclear.
Content is great for SEO.
Content is great for educating clients.
Content is great for establishing your brand’s thought leadership.
Content is great for sharing on social media.
Content is also great for getting prospects into the sales funnel. This is typically done by collecting an email address to begin the conversation.
Here are the 6 different elements you should definitely consider testing. You can run any of these tests using these recommended AB testing tools, but I’ve also included some simple WordPress plugins as a viable alternative if you want to try this on a small budget.

1. Split Test Your Headlines

Your headline is arguably the most important piece of your content. It’s the thing that determines whether people click through from your email or social media post.
On average, 80% of your readers never make it past the headline.
Yup, only 2 in every 10 of your readers actually read past the headline. Even fewer make it all the way through the article.
Funny enough, it’s also one of the simplest things to test. It’s so easy.
You already know how to run an AB test. Applying that practice to your headlines is a simple 4-step process.
1. Brainstorm headlines to test.
Stephanie Flaxman of CopyBlogger says you should ask yourself three questions to make your headline the best it can be:

  1. Who will benefit from this content?
  2. How do I help them?
  3. What makes this content special?

Use your answer to those three questions to craft a headline that will demand viewer attention and channel readers to your content.
But don’t get too excited – The first headline you come up with will probably suck. Or maybe it will just be mediocre.
The whole point of AB testing is that you don’t have to come up with THE perfect headline. You simply need to come up with a variety of solid options, and then you can see what performs best.
This is why I recommend creating a list of 5-10 possible headlines.
Next, pick your two favorites and move on to step #2.
2. Send both versions to a live audience.
Now it’s time to test the headlines. You want to show one headline to 50% of your traffic and the other headline to the other 50%.
How you accomplish this will depend on how you acquire traffic.
For example, if you primarily drive traffic to your new blog posts via an email list, create your email and then send half of your subscribers the email using one headline and the other half the same email but using the alternate headline.
If your promote via social media, try posting at different times or across different channels using the alternate headlines and see what happens.
If you promote via paid channels, simply create two ads, using a different headline for each, and set up a normal AB test using proper statistical analysis.
Once you’ve run your tests, it’s time to review the data.
3. Analyze the results.
Which headline performed the best?
If your traffic is too low to get statistically significant results, it’s still worth running the tests. Your initial readers typically come from your email list or your most active social followers – aka the people most likely to share your content. Getting a feel for what they respond to is always worthwhile, and you might notice certain trends over time.
4. Implement the one with the most clicks.
Once you have your winner, simply set it as your permanent headline. That’s all there is to it.
But your headline isn’t the only thing that gets people to click.

2. Split Test Your Featured images

Content Marketing Institute, the industry leader in content marketing, found that “ad engagement increased by 65% when a new image was tested versus simply testing new copy.”
Brian Massey summarizes it well here, “Spend as much time on your images as your copy.”
Whether you’re using paid ads in your content marketing strategy or not, the image matters almost as much as the headline (maybe more).
So, how does one select the right featured image?
There is some science behind choosing a featured image. If you think about it, picking one image is harder than picking several. So, pick a couple and let your test results decide for you.
Here are three keys that will help guide your selection.
1. Pick something compelling
Your image should relate to whatever your article is about. That said, being relevant is pretty ambiguous.
This article from Inc is not directly relevant to the content, but our brains are designed to make connections.
not relevant but works
As long as you can relate it in some way, you’re probably OK, but you want your image to be compelling. Not any relevant image will do. Roy H. Williams, director of the business school The Wizard Academy, outlines a number of techniques that make images compelling.

  • Silhouettes: We tend to fill in silhouettes with ourselves or our aspirational dreams.
  • Portals: Our attention is drawn into doorways, tunnels, windows and openings.
  • Cropped Images: When we are only given a piece of the image, we fill in the missing parts.
  • Faces: We stare at the human face. This can work against our headlines.
    Pro tip: If you use a human face, have them looking at your headline for best resuts.

The above image may not be highly relevant, but it’s use of a silhouette is compelling.
2. Make sure it is relevant to the post
Your headline and featured image should work together to be both relevant and compelling.
Let’s look at some other examples from Inc.
HeadlineImage Examples
Do you see how they combine relevant images with compelling headlines? It makes it hard not to click on the article.
Finally, the third important factor to consider when choosing an image is…
3. Always use high-quality images
I know you already know this, but I wanted to remind you. Nothing grinds my gears more than a blog post with a terrible, grainy image.
Once you’ve chosen your images, go ahead and start splitting your traffic.
Now you know how to optimize individual posts for conversions, but what about a more general approach to your overall content marketing strategy?
The next element you should be testing is content length.

3. Find Your Ideal Content Length

Now we’re getting into the overall content creation process. Testing your ideal content length will give you an idea to help you create a content template for all your articles going forward.
According to a study done by Medium, the current ideal content length is about 1,600 words; or, around a 7-minute read.
ideal length of blog post
However, this may not be the case for you.
Yes, the average posts that get the most shares are long, in-depth posts. But that doesn’t mean shorter posts don’t get shares as well. And more importantly, that doesn’t mean shorter posts won’t do a better job of driving qualified leads to your business.
The only way to know the optimum length of posts for your audience is to test it. In order to test the ideal length, you can take two different approaches.
The first and simplest option is to try a variety of content lengths over time and look for trends. You could publish a 1,500 word post one week, a 400 post the next week, a 4,000 word guide the following week, and an infographic the 4th week. Rinse and repeat. You should be testing out different content types anyway, and incorporating varying lengths of content within that schedule won’t require much more effort on your part.
The data you want to measure — time on page — is found easily in Google Analytics. This is a free analytics tool that any content marketer should become familiar with.
The second option is to split test a single post by sending segments of users to different length versions of the same post.
In similar fashion, test video length for views and watch times to see how long your videos should be.

4. Take Your Opt-in Forms Seriously

Opt-in or signup forms are a critical part of content marketing and sales funnels. It’s important that they are converting at the highest rate possible.
So what parts of your opt-in form can you test?
First, test the form length.
I’ve seen forms that ask for the whole shebang; everything from your full name to your phone number and more.
Believe it or not, this can work. Just take HubSpot for example. They have a ridiculous amount of free downloads, from templates to eBooks, and every one of them comes with a form like this:

HubSpot Form

HubSpot Form.

I put three pages into one image because it was too big to fit in one screenshot!
Here’s the kicker: They see tremendous success with this behemoth of a form. I’ve personally filled out at least a half dozen of their forms like this for free downloads.
So, what’s the ideal form length?
Well, take a look at this chart by eloqua.
optimal form fields
It seems the optimal number of fields is 7 because you’re getting the most information with the least drop off in conversions.
That said, you can potentially get close to a 60% conversion rate when asking for only a single piece of information.
Oddly enough, the data above suggest that having 7 form fields is better than having only 2. While this is just one study, it could mean that you’ve been asking for too little information and might want to revisit your opt-in forms.
Again, it’s all about testing.

  • In general, the more form fields you have, the lower your conversion rate will be, but the quality of your list will be.

Once you’ve determined the optimal number of form fields, it’s time to test location. Test placement on the page.
Typically, forms are located:

  • Place it at the top to clearly indicate that they must complete a form.
  • Place it at the bottom so that they can take action after consuming your content.
  • Place it in the sidebar, which is where readers look when they want to subscribe.
  • Place it in the content so scanners see it.
  • In a popup triggered by exit intent
Where you place your offers is as important as the length of your forms.

Where you place your offers is as important as the length of your forms.

Try multiple locations. Personally, I like to include one in the sidebar, one on exit intent, and one either in the middle of or at the end of my content.
Don’t overwhelm your visitors with too many choices. If you have four different opt-ins, some call-to-actions, related posts, and other things to click on, they may just leave your page altogether.

5. Split Test Your CTAs

Whenever you create a piece of content on your website, be it a blog post, a landing page, or even an about page, you should always ask yourself this question:

Where do we want our readers to do after reading this content?

In other words, “Where are we sending them next?”
A lot of people have no idea how to answer that question. I mean, it’s not obvious – especially when you have a lot of content you could send them to.
You might have any one (or more) of these CTAs in your content:

  • A lead magnet
  • Related blog posts
  • A “start here” page
  • A sales pitch/landing page
  • An initial consultation call
  • A content upgrade
  • An email subscription

How do you know where to send them?
The answer: Send them to the next stage in your funnel
Depending on your marketing strategy, this might mean immediately collecting a lead, or it could be something else.
Let me give you an example. ChannelApe provides integrations between the systems ecommerce websites use to run their business. ChannelApe offers a free trial for their automatic supplier integration as the next step for anyone reading their list of dropshippers.
call to action example
This makes sense because anyone interested in a list of dropshippers is probably also interested in integrating those dropshipper’s products with their store.
Notice how ChannelApe uses a bright orange background to help their CTA stand out from the rest of their content. Color is only one of the variables you should test on your CTAs.
In addition to CTA colors, you can also test:

  • Copy
  • Images
  • Offers
  • Positions

OK, let’s say you want to test the position of your related posts.
I know what you’re thinking.

“Bill, wouldn’t I just put related posts at the end of a blog post?”

Maybe. But what if your readers aren’t getting to the end? You don’t want them to leave, do you?
For that matter… what’s “related”? Are you tagging your posts and pages properly?
And what about the posts getting the most interaction? Don’t you think your readers would like to see those?
Or do you want to drive traffic to certain pages over others, like a “start here” page or a new blog series?
Do you see where I’m going with this?
The process of CRO, be it in your content marketing campaigns, your landing pages, or anywhere else, involves asking yourself questions about your readers in order to better understand how to help them.
Simply repeat this process of asking questions for every variable you may want to include, then put your answers to the test.

Conclusion: AB Test Your Content

Let’s recap:

  • You want your headlines and featured images to be relevant and compelling.
  • The “ideal” content length is 1,600 words, but you shouldn’t blindly follow that number.
  • The position and length of opt-in forms matters.
  • Always know where you want your visitors to go next in order to effectively use CTAs.

If there’s one thing you should take away from this post, it’s this:
The performance of your content is no less important than any other stage in your funnel. Always test the elements of your content by asking yourself relevant questions about your readers.
Have you ever tried to split test elements of your content before? I’d love to hear. Leave a comment below and let me know!

billBill Widmer is a freelance writer and content marketer. With over two years of experience, Bill can help you get the most out of your content marketing and blog. 

Sales and marketing have changed dramatically over the last few decades. Gone are the days when you need to go door to door to sell your products or services. Most startups these days don’t even have a phone sales team. With the Internet, it has all moved online.
However, just because the methods have changed, it doesn’t mean the underlying principles have. Penned in 1884, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini talks about persuasion as related to face-to-face sales.
The book has stood the test of time and is still one of the most accepted marketing documents ever produced. Even if you aren’t familiar with the book as a whole, you’ve likely seen or tested one or more Cialdini’s six principles in the past: scarcity, reciprocity, liking, authority, social proof, and commitment and consistency.
While I fully recommend reading the book in its entirety, this post will serve as a brief update on how each of these principles are used now and what you can expect from trying one yourself.

1. Scarcity

We always want what we can’t have.
Scarcity is the idea that there is a limited number of items left to buy or time left in which to complete the conversion. When something is scarce, we tend to want it more, if only just to possess something that’s not readily available.
Scarcity works best on customers who already have a need for your product or service as opposed to those just browsing. If you find that customers are sitting on the fence and not converting, a little indication that your product is scarce might get them to buy sooner rather than later.
There are multiple ways to create scarcity on a site. Let’s take a look at three.

Stock Scarcity

With a bit of red text, Ctrip calls out the number of remaining tickets right next to the CTA.

With a bit of red text, Ctrip calls out the number of remaining tickets right next to the CTA.

The Chinese travel site Ctrip is constantly updating the number of tickets they have at a specific price point. Apart from making the text stand out against the blue and white theme, it also implies a sense of urgency.
As customers look at flights, the text immediately captures their attention, letting them know that if they don’t purchase it now they won’t get that flight at all.
It works great for booking sites like flights and hotels, and it can be used to good effect on regular commerce sites, too. By letting customers know that a certain product is low in stock without mentioning when you’ll restock, you can get them off the fence.
Monsoon, an online clothing and accessories retailer, used to have a regular product page that didn’t indicate if stocks for a product were low. They hypothesized that adding a message when stocks were low might urge their customers to buy faster.
Knowing that there's only one dress left increases our sense of urgency.

Knowing that there’s only one dress left increases our sense of urgency.

By adding a pointer if a certain item had 5 or fewer units left in stock, they were able to increase conversion rates by 10%!

Shipping Scarcity

Amazon's shipping countdown clock

Amazon’s shipping countdown clock

Oh Amazon, is there any conversion tactic you don’t use on your site? We’ve all seen the little shipping countdown they have for next-day delivery. It looks like a bit of innocent text, but to shoppers it means the difference between getting their product as soon as possible, versus waiting a few days. In this age of instant gratification, it’s enough to convince some people to buy right away.
Running a shipping countdown is a great idea for targeting impatient shoppers, and Which Test Won showed a 9% increase in conversions thanks to the introduction of a similar timer. Even if your shoppers aren’t impatient in general, you can take advantage of holiday shopping to offer priority shipping so they get their gifts in time.

Sale/Discount Scarcity

It's hard to miss this weekend sale on Threadless

It’s hard to miss this weekend sale on Threadless

Urban clothing retailer Threadless is always putting their sales front and center on their homepage. Doing so not only increases visibility, but also plays on the concept of Fear Of Missing Out where shoppers can’t stand to miss a deal since the sales are short-lived.
Again, we see red text playing a part as Threadless brings attention to their limited time sale. By saying it runs “this weekend only” it implies that customers will never see this kind of deal again. Deep down, we know that there will be more deals like this later, but the uncertainty coupled with the immediacy of this deal make us buy.
Be sure to mention the discount even on your product page. Corkscrew Wine had discounted one of their wines but initially they didn’t highlight that on the product page.
It's easy to miss that this wine is discounted.

It’s easy to miss that this wine is discounted.

To emphasize the discount, they added a big 15 percent off sticker and mentioned the discount in the title too.

To emphasize the discount, they added a big 15% off sticker and mentioned the discount in the title too.

Calling attention to the fact that the wine was on sale, even though the price was the same in both cases, gave them a massive 150% increase in conversion rates!

2. Reciprocity

You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.
The idea plays on the notion that humans are naturally inclined to pay back a favor, typically manifested on a website in two ways.

Free Offers

Conversion Sciences offers a free short course in exchange for your email address

Conversion Sciences offers a free short course in exchange for your email address.

You’ve probably already got pop-ups and email subscription forms offering your visitors a free resource in exchange for their email address. This is content marketing 101 and draws in leads that may later convert to customers.
But those email addresses would be useless if it weren’t for the principle of reciprocity. By getting something for free your visitors are now inclined to pay you back in some way, by either buying your product or telling their friends about you.
The more valuable the free offer, the stronger this effect is. In the example above, Conversion Sciences offers nine free articles on increasing website sales. On its own, it’s a pretty valuable offer.
But they take it a step further and offer a website review on top of that! Getting an expert to point out where you’re going wrong on your site is the kind of immense value that makes visitors want to pay for more.
If you think your one page report is enough to bring in sales, think again. While it may get you email addresses, it’s probably not valuable enough to get you more. Go big with your free offer and watch sales roll in.

Loyalty Programs

Gamification is a new term in the conversion world and a concept that I find really cool. Completing actions like purchases or filling out a form allows you to earn points that can be redeemed later for discounts and other perks.

Credit card companies have been doing this for a while, but other industries are just catching on that it’s a great way to promote loyalty and engagement.

Credit card companies have been doing this for a while, but other industries are just catching on that it’s a great way to promote loyalty and engagement.

The concept is simple. You reward your customers for actions that they take. The rewards reinforce repeated behavior and entice them to take more actions. The result is a cycle of loyal, repeat customers doing things you want them to do because they know they’ll be rewarded for it.
Starbucks is a great example of this. They boosted revenue by 11% by implementing a reward points program. For every dollar spent using a Starbucks Card, you get rewards. In fact, new card activations and reloads went up by 32% just because of that!
Gamifying your site doesn’t have to be as complicated as the Starbucks system. Even simple action-reward sequences, like getting a 10% discount for tweeting a product, work.

3. Liking

Users are more inclined to buy if they like the person selling or marketing the product.
Have you ever wondered why advertisements always have movie actors or sports stars in them? It’s because they are playing on the popularity and likeability of the celebrity.
It goes beyond just sticking a smiling face on every page of your site. You need to take both your ideal customer and product into consideration.


Testimonials can help your site create the trust you need to win over new visitors. Everything from the written praise on your homepage to the retweets by industry influencers can help you stand out to users who might be on the fence about converting.
In the example above from Buzzsumo, a content marketing tool, we see three testimonials from popular marketers. You probably recognize these faces yourself and you may have come across Noah’s blog or Rand’s whiteboard videos. Those testimonials are perfectly targeted at the software’s customer base, and their likeability plays a huge part in conversions.
In fact, testimonials are so powerful that they can increase conversions even without the name-dropping. WikiJobs, a graduate jobs website in the UK, wanted more people to sign up for their practice tests. Initially, their page had no testimonials.
For the test, all they did was add three testimonials in, without names or faces.
Boom! Those three lines, which could very well have been made up, increased their conversions by a whopping 34%!

4. Authority

Just like with using celebrities, many advertisers also use authority figures like doctors. This is especially common when it comes to health and hygiene products like toothpaste or soap. The doctors are probably just actors, but the fact that they are wearing a white lab coat is enough to influence many people.
Introducing the principle of authority into your site means coming across as an industry expert and therefore increasing the trust a user has for your brand.
For example, Kaya Skin Clinic, a retailer of complex skin products, wanted to increase the consultations made through their site. Their initial page mentioned their expert dermatologists, but the call to action was booking a consultation.
To further emphasize their authority and expertise, they tested asking visitors to sign up for an expert opinion instead.
That small change outperformed the control by 138% and increased sales by 22%! By simply implying authority their visitors were more likely to convert.
I personally think there is a bit of overlap when it comes to authority, liking, and social proof, but here are a few examples of sites taking their authority to the next level:
It doesn’t get much more obvious than this. This legal site did almost the same thing as Kaya and added the word ‘expert’ wherever it fit. For businesses in industries like Law, Medicine, Healthcare and so on, it’s important to establish expertise even if it means adding the word ‘expert’ to your site.
Of course, there are more ways to display authority and expertise on your site. USAA does a great job of using images to convey a sense of professionalism and knowledge regarding investments. Both the stock ticker and app screenshots imply that they know what they are doing when it comes to managing your money, especially if you don’t know the first thing about it.
When it comes to your site, a combination of professional design, authoritative copy and images of experts can go a long way in building trust and increasing conversions.

5. Social Proof

Monkey see, monkey do.
If there was any doubt that we evolved from apes, this principle should clear it.
Social proof is all about leveraging the fact that we are more comfortable performing a certain action, like buying your product, if we see that others have done it before. It’s a great way to reassure nervous users that your company is legitimate and others have purchased your product or service.
Most people know the impact that adding reviews can have on your conversion rate, but there are a few other ways to leverage social proof.

Social Stats

Got a big following on social media? Try including it in your header like Sneakerwatch to increase your credibility. They have almost a million followers if you add all those numbers up. That’s like saying there are a million people who love the company so much they want to stay connected on social media.
Going back to the Kaya case study, they tried to go one step further with their CTA and added their Facebook follower count.
Again, the act of adding social proof helped even more and increased conversion rates by a further 70%.
Beware though, if you have really low social media numbers, this might backfire on you., an ecommerce store that sells plumbing, electrical and gardening suppliers, used to have social media buttons on every product page. However, their share numbers weren’t very flattering and it actually lead to negative social proof that lowered their conversions by 12%.

Show Off Your Accomplishments

Have you won an award or been recognized somewhere? Sing it from the (figurative) rafters by putting it on your homepage to help reinforce your offers in the eyes of your users.
This example from World Nomads combines social proof, authority and liking by adding logos of well-liked and trustworthy brands that use their insurance. The implied question is, if these brands can trust World Nomads, why shouldn’t you?

6. Commitment and Consistency

When I started playing poker, I’d make a very common mistake. If I had bet money pre-flop, I’d continue to bet even if the flop was terrible. After all, I’d already made a commitment, so I might as well continue staying in the hand. Needless to say, I lost a lot of money!
You see, people like to stay consistent. If they make a commitment, they try to keep it. So instead of going for the big sale right away, try starting with a smaller commitment and then increasing the ask later.
For example, if you’ve ever applied for a loan, financed a car, or mortgaged a home, you know that the process of actually getting approved can be daunting. You are often faced with pages of forms that seem to drag on forever. In order to make this easier to manage, sites like to begin with a small commitment that is followed by small and consistent steps.
Take this booking form for an airport parking service in Edinburgh. Just looking at the page makes me want to run away. There are so many form fields!
Thankfully they realized this and split it into a multi-step form. Sure, it’s the same number of fields eventually, but by breaking it up, it doesn’t look so daunting.
This resulted in a 35% increase in form completions. By making the user enters some personal information, they are ensuring the user is committed to the process of providing more information and completing the application. These initial steps help weed out users who aren’t serious and provide higher quality leads.
When customers hit the ‘Continue’ button, they are taken to the next step. Since they’ve already made a bit of a time commitment, they’re more likely to stay consistent and continue filling the form.
Many software companies use this concept when they offer free trials. By entering an email address, you can get started using the product immediately, and each step in the onboarding sequence builds your commitment.
Ecommerce companies, on the other hand, tap into this concept when they up-sell customers. They start off with an expensive base product, like a phone or computer, and then upsell customers on accessories. Having already paid a big sum for the main product, customers are likely to pay a comparatively insignificant amount to further enhance it.
Finally, info-marketers flip the script and sell customers cheap products first before upselling to higher priced courses. Again, the commitment principle is at work here, taking advantage of people’s tendency to stay consistent.

Harness the Power of Persuasion

With the exception of adding social stats to your home page, all of these tips are going to be more complicated than changing the color or copy of your CTA. Consequently, make sure you take the time to plan out each change while considering your audience and goals.
Be warned, though! It would be easy to misuse one of these tactics and do more harm than good. If you go back to the WikiJob case study, you’ll see that the testimonials were just plain-text quotes with no attribution. Of course, those were real quotes, but it’s not hard to ‘cheat’ a bit and make up your own.
Similarly, it’s easy to fake social proof numbers or mislead customers into thinking that your stock is running out. The problem with this is, apart from being entirely unethical if you get caught it could be disastrous for your business.
Recently, JC Penney had to settle a class-action lawsuit for creating fake sales and discounts. In many cases they would double a product’s price and then put it on ‘sale’ for 50% for a limited time. As we’ve already seen, a discount scarcity tactic like this can increase sales, as it did for JC Penney, but when the truth came out it hurt them financially and eroded customer trust.
So if you’re going to try any of this out, make sure you do it the right way. Don’t create scarcity if there isn’t any, don’t manufacture testimonials, and don’t artificially inflate your social proof. Harness the power of persuasion while maintaining your customers’ trust.

There’s comfort in familiarity. Whether it’s an old favorite dish at a neighborhood restaurant, or a sweatshirt you’ve kept in the closet since high school, people like to stick to what they know. The new and unknown is unfamiliar and a little daunting. And it keeps people from branching out to trying new things.

A little familiarity goes a long way when visiting someplace new. (via MarketingLand)

A little familiarity goes a long way when visiting someplace new. (via MarketingLand)

This applies to your website as well. When a first time visitor comes to your site, will they find familiar markers to guide them around? Or will they be confused by the completely new experience?
What can you do to make your site new-user friendly? Brian’s new post on MarketingLand is full of great tips on things you can do to make your site more familiar and comfortable for brand new users. A few suggestions from his post:

  • Make sure things work on your site the same way they work on other sites.
  • Speak the language of your visitors.
  • Give them a few options

Brian pulls some similar (and humorous) examples from his recent travels overseas, and illustrates how frustrating it can be to arrive somewhere new and be unsure of how to perform tasks that should be easy and commonplace.
Check out his entire post here on MarketingLand for an in-depth look at creating a user-friendly and familiar experience for your brand new site visitors.

You don’t have to be a copywriter to know crappy copy when you see it. Use these 10 ways to find out if your copy converts visitors into customers. Know bad copy when you see it. Read on.

Does your copy convert visitors to customers? If you read this article and then go out and read your landing page or website copy, odds are very good that you will be embarrassed. Don’t be. It is not a helpful response. The proper response is to change the copy on your site. It works. You can completely revamp your website and increase conversions without changing one pixel of the design.

Please, for all of our sakes, change the copy.

Knowing bad copy when you see it will keep you from writing more of the same boring Styrofoam flavored copy. Here are 10 ways to know that your copy is going to convert visitors to buyers and one bonus tip.


Does your Copy Convert Visitors to Customers? Use these 10 ways to find out. Know bad copy when you see it. Read on.

Does your Copy Convert Visitors to Customers? Use these 10 ways to find out. Know bad copy when you see it

1. Does your Copy Convert Visitors to Customers? Does it Speak Specifically to Someone?

If you can’t tell who the copy was written for by simply reading it, you are in trouble. Who are your customers? What happened in their lives that made them come to your site at this particular time? Profile your visitors, understand their motivations, and write to their issues. Personas help.

2. Copy that Converts is Written Naturally

Do people talk like your copy is written? Does it convey meaning with the kinds of metaphors, euphemisms and engaging omissions that are used in speech? Or are the words straining to persuade the reader, attempting to touch on every point necessary to make the reader buy?

“Clarity trumps persuasion,” says Flint McGlaughlin of MarketingExperiments.

Stop persuading. Start communicating.

3. The Copy on the Page Matches the Offers in your Ads

Your visitors didn’t get to your site by magic. They got there from one of your ads, from a search engine or from a referral. Does the copy on your home pages and landing pages pick up where your ads started? Does your “Title” and “Meta Description,” which the search engines display on their results page match the copy on the page itself? If not, you are breaking what the Eisenberg brothers call the “Scent Trail.”

At each step of their journey to and through your site, there should be something familiar, something related to the previous step. Nothing provides scent better than headings and copy that draws on a common thing. Images and color are also affective, but that’s another article.

One of the most expensive mistakes is made in pay-per-click (PPC) or Google Ads advertising on search engines. If you offer a discount in your PPC ad, the page they come to or landing page should have the discount clearly visible. Too often, great offers in ads are defeated when the visitor is taken to your homepage, on which the specific discount cannot be found.

Yes, to do this effectively means that each ad should have its own landing page on your site.

4. It gives the Reader Information They Can Use

Is the copy persuading or being helpful? It’s not about who you are and what you do. How can your visitors solve their problems with your offering? Do you present a good value proposition?

When I visit your site, does your copy answer any of the following questions for me:

  • How does it work?
  • How will I use it?
  • Which features should I care about?
  • What should I be cautious about?
  • When does it make sense to try something different?
  • How do I justify the cost?
  • How do I sell this internally?

These are just examples, but you need to understand that they are fundamentally different from telling the reader that you will give them “unparalleled visibility, divisional support and alignment.”

5. An Experienced Copywriter Wrote It

Don’t look at copy as filler on your page. In the hands of an experienced professional, your copy will increase the effectiveness of your website and this will translate into more leads and more sales. Unlike design, though, we can all create copy. And unfortunately we do.

As I have said before, treat copywriters like designers. Get two or three “sketches” of the copy. Choose one. Correct the errors. Leave the rest alone.

6. Copy that Converts Visitors to Customers is Efficient

Long copy is OK. Rambling copy is not. Use efficient copy of any length to engage your reader.

Amy Lemen recommends using copy indexing formulas to help you measure the efficiency of your copy.

7. Your Analytics Tell You It’s Working

Google Analytics is free, easy to add, and relatively easy to learn. Use it or use something else. Then ask someone to show you how to check the following. If copy changes don’t make these better, try again. The company that knows grows.

  1. Bounce Rates: How many people leave immediately when they come to my pages? You want this to be low, at or below 30% usually.
  2. Site-wide Conversion Rate: How many people visit the site? How many people take action by completing a form or buying something. When you divide the latter by the former, you get your site-wide conversion rate. You want it to be higher over time.
  3. Exit Percentage: Which pages most often cause people to leave the site? These pages are either solving their problems completely or turning them off. Take a look at them. Try to get the exit percentage down.
  4. Page Conversion Rate: For those pages that really count, the pages where people buy, find out how many people took action and divide that by how many people visited. This is your conversion rate for this page. You want it to be higher over time.
  5. Online sales: How much stuff are you selling online?

8. You had a Person Edit it, not a Committee

Having a whole website go through a committee is a bad idea. Just because your marketing manager developed the product messaging doesn’t mean she should write or edit the copy. The product manager should only look for errors, not rewrite. The CEO needs to know the end result.

9. There Are Links Throughout the Copy

When someone reads your text, they are engaged. In fact, they are probably less likely to see supporting information in the left or right columns of the standard webpage. Use links within paragraphs to get readers into the site. Don’t over-do it, however. Too many links or links that encompass lots of text will make the paragraph difficult to read.

This is great for SEO, too. It provides an internal linking structure that helps search engines understand what the site is about. Your copywriter should be using important keywords for these links.

10. Get Someone from Outside the Company to Participate

Internal writers are often too close to the material. Consider a copywriter from outside the company. This also requires that you go through the process of communicating what your company does.

You’ll be surprised at how difficult this will be, even with a sophisticated copywriter.

This process should help you refine your messaging, and maybe delay updates until you’ve got a coherent story that the average human will understand.

Bonus: Does your Copy Convert Visitors to Customers? Test Your Headlines

Your heading are critical to scanning readers. Try different headings, font sizes and colors. Be patient. Watch your analytics for benefits that last.

Litmus Test

Do you enjoy reviewing the copy for your website? Do you feel pride when you read it? Is it something you’d consider adding to your portfolio should you find yourself looking for work? If not, imagine what your visitors think. “Good enough” just doesn’t convert as well.

If you can’t write like these guys, please let someone else do it.

Here are some resources to grade your copy:

A good writer can create images better than a graphic designer.

Whenever we design a Web site, we inevitably ask our graphic designers to give us three comps. Then we, the completely unqualified non-graphic-designers decide which one we “like” best. We might even ask a number of our equally unqualified colleagues to tell us what they think.

Zero Steps to Copy That Will Make Visitors Stick

Zero Steps to Copy That Will Make Visitors Stick

Then we pay a copywriter a fraction of what the designers get, and ask them to write the copy for the site, knowing full-well that when we get it, we’ll revise it until every ounce of color, every animating metaphor, and every shred of a story is squeezed out onto the ground in a pool of red ink.

A good writer can create images and convey meaning better than a graphic artist because the writer has the richer toolset. Put down your red pen. Trust your copywriter.

Be Bold and Your Visitors Will See You That Way

If you’re designing a new site or refreshing an old one, it’s time to be a little daring.

Tell the designers to hold on until you’ve completed the copy. They’ll look at you like you have an arm growing out of your head.

THEN, start interviewing copywriters. Tell them that you’ll pay them to develop three different versions of your Copy Body, the document that contains the text from which you will take your copy when writing headings, text, offers, emails and any other Web-based communications.

The interviews will be short. You’re looking for a certain reaction.

When you present this proposal to the right writer, their eyes will flash. A smile may creep across their face of its own will. Be careful, though. If they say “You’ll pay me?” you’ve gotten a false positive. You want to choose the writer who feels that you’ve just opened the door to their a cage of mediocrity.

If you let them out, they’ll take you with them.

Be very clear about what you’re trying to accomplish as a business and what your visitors are trying to accomplish. Give them a set of personas if you can.

Take No Steps

Once you have your three copy “comps,” do not allocate time to have the writing revised by a committee. Do not attempt to combine the best from each. Do not seek to insert superlatives that declare you the “leader,” to be “unique” or “innovative.” If you have to say it, it ain’t true.

If you have the right writer, one of your choices will be far out, one will be written in business speak, and one will be somewhere in between. Throw away the one written in business speak and consider the remaining two very carefully.

Select the copy body that best illustrates your value proposition, the one that captures the essence of your company without stating it. Look for metaphors that can be applied to a variety of your benefits. Seek a story that can stitch every page together into a coherent theme.

Then fix the inaccuracies, and leave everything else alone.

Does this sound scary? Wait till you see what’s next.

You Can Let the Designers Into the Room Now

If you’ve selected an engaging copy body, it’ll be really clear to the designers what their designs should express. They can create real images from the ones your writer paints with words. They can guide your visitor through the story with navigation. They can throw away stock photos of pretty people and choose images informed by metaphor and analogy.

Give them the copy body, the corporate style guide and tell them to create a design. One design. Sure, you’ll make decisions along the way and maybe even significantly change the first comp, but try to let them do what they do well.

Steps You Could Add to Copy that will make Visitors Stick

If you realize the immense advantage that powerfully written copy gives you, consider investing in some testing. Implement two of the three copy bodies on your home page and on key landing pages. Use analytics to see which makes visitors stick and which generates more leads or sales.

  • Which has the lower bounce rate?
  • Which home page generates more page views and more time on site?
  • Which has the higher conversion rate?

There is no better way to know if you’ve made the right decision than to test. And you may need some proof when your colleagues tell you that your copy isn’t “corporate” — and they mean that as a criticism, not a badge of honor.

Do you know a great copy writer? Do you have a success story or test results that demonstrate the power of effective writing? Let us know in your comments and I’ll feature you in an future post.

21 Quick and Easy CRO Copywriting Hacks to Skyrocket Conversions

21 Quick and Easy CRO Copywriting Hacks

Keep these proven copywriting hacks in mind to make your copy convert.

  • 43 Pages with Examples
  • Assumptive Phrasing
  • "We" vs. "You"
  • Pattern Interrupts
  • The Power of Three
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