380: How to Become Good at Copywriting
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In today’s episode of The Startup Chat, Steli and Hiten talk about copywriting and writing good copy for startups.
When it comes to marketing your startup, your copywriting is one of the most critical elements that could make or break your campaign. But what is copywriting? It consists of all the content that marketers use to try to get people to take an action after reading or hearing them.
In this episode, Steli and Hiten talk about what copywriting is, why it’s important, tips that can help you write better copy and much more.
Time Stamped Show Notes:
00:00 About today’s topic.
00:47 Why this topic was chosen.
01:46 Why copy is important.
03:10 Why the copy you write is key to pulling people in.
04:43 Tips for improving your copy.
05:29 Why you should write copy with the customer in mind.
06:00 What makes good copy.
07:37 Examples of bad copy.
08:36 Another example of bad copy.
09:29 Why you should read your copy out loud.
09:23 One tip that can help you to write better copy.
3 Key Points:
- To me, copy is everything.
- You should write copy that a 5-year-old can read and understand.
- We are in a world were click bait, headlines still work.
Steli: Hey everybody.
Steli: This is Steli Efti and in today’s episode of the Startup Chat we want to talk about copywriting and good copy for startups. We just recorded an episode that was published before this one about how to optimize for sales when you’re a self-serviced product. We did touch a little bit on learning and mastering copy and copywriting there. I wanted to talk to you about this Hiten because I feel like copywriting has fallen from grace a little bit or maybe it’s just not as cool or hot of a topic, especially in SaaS and in startups. I feel like a lot of other topics in marketing have become much more popular, but I don’t see a lot of tips shared and oftentimes when I go and visit SaaS websites, I can just tell that this website, their whole focus was on beautiful design of the website, a lot of focus was … The copy was kind of like a secondary thing. It’s more the visual design and workflow of how a website or how landing pages are created that have become a lot more important, and the words themselves are not always as strong and as good as they could be. First of all I wanted to ask you if you have the same observation and then I wanted to just unpack the topic. What is even copywriting? What is good copy and how can people learn it and why it’s important for your startup.
Hiten: Copy is everything and copy is everywhere. I think all marketing starts with content and copy. The same with even if you’re doing video, there’s content there, there’s copy there that you write, the script or whatever. So I think words are everywhere. The majority of humans know how to read words. So to me, copy is everything. I would say I’m a student of copy myself and writing and communication. Copy is communication is another way to think about it. I really prescribe to the philosophy that you should write content and copy that a five year old could read and understand. That rule is like, you could say, “But my product is really advanced,” or “My product sells to developers,” or something. Yeah, I get it. I totally get it, but can a five year old understand it? I would still ask you that because we are in a place in the world where clickbait headlines still work which are really pithy, right? And just pull you in. We are in a world where our attention is drawn to many different places so I’m sure if we looked at the stats, the amount of seconds you have on your website to pull someone in and capture their attention is probably getting less and less or has gotten less and less over time. So because of these reasons, the copy you write is actually the key to getting people pulled in and wanting to engage with your product, your site, your website, your business, whatever you’re doing. Think about even all the ads you see on Facebook and other places that you actually like and enjoy. A lot of it is very simple messages that are very direct and they really hit on something that you care about enough. So simple language, a five year old can understand it and copy that really is engaging, pulls people in and really hits on the problems they have or the challenges or the emotion you’re looking to evoke. That is done with simple copy.
Steli: I love that. I love that framework. I think that for me, oftentimes it is understanding that the words you write and that you use, and this is true everywhere but I think in certain places because you are more restricted than in others … So a landing page or a homepage might have a lot more restrictions on how many words you’re going to end up using than a blog post where you could just decide to write up a massive article potentially. In general, I think one thing that a lot of times can lead to better copy and that a lot of people don’t use as a mind frame is to think of your copy as one part of an active dialogue between you and your prospect or your customer and actually think about what the customer would respond either verbally to you or in their mind. Oftentimes people don’t go through that exercise. They’re writing copy as if they were writing something, a speech, where you stand on a big podium and there’s hundreds of thousands of people and you’re just talking to a mic and say your prepared notes and the moment you’re done with your notes, you just run away and then people have to push a button, either yes or no or like or dislike or I sign up or I don’t sign up. I don’t think that’s a useful framework, although it might feel like a lot of properties online, you write something and many, many people will read it and you cannot really hear the response, but you should think about it more like a one-on-one meeting with a prospect or a customer. You sit down and you tell them some important things and you need to anticipate, when I say this is the value I can provide to you, what is the number one question that the prospect will have or objection to this or concern about it. When I tell them, “Please sign up here,” why wouldn’t they want to sign up? What would draw them away from this call to action? Just thinking about the responses and thinking about it more from a dialogue point of view versus a speech point of view can make a big difference in mind. And really distilling things down. To me, good copy oftentimes means distilling the truth down to its core essence, so using the least amount of words to communicate and have the highest potency of persuading somebody to take action or to follow your advice. So oftentimes when I look at copy, I think oftentimes we just write copy in a framework of what are all the things I need to say and we don’t really ask ourselves how can I say this in the shortest, more concise way possible. You said say it in a way that a five year old could understand it which is a beautiful framework. Then also asking, what should I say first and what should I say second? Because if you think about it like a dialogue, there’s a sequence that makes sense. There’s something you would say first and then something you would say second. There’s the most important message that you have and then there’s other nice to have messages. Just going through that exercise a little bit and thinking through it from the framework of having dialogues with people and anticipating their concerns, their confusions, what they think and what they need to know at what point in the conversation can be really powerful and is something that I think oftentimes we forget when we write copy.
Hiten: Yeah. It’s so easy to just want to say everything you want to say, then your copy gets long. It gets into more than a line or two. Things get really messy. The amount of sites that I go to where the copy is just hard to understand, has jargon, is really long, you can tell that they’re just trying to explain everything to you all at once. It’s ridiculous. I think that what they don’t realize is that people are there on your site and they’re there for a specific purpose and you’re just getting in the way with your copy. So if you can figure out how to say something very specific, that would be good. So just for fun I went to a site today, and right now, just a random site from Product Hunt and you know what they say at the top? It says literally, “The Simplest Way”.
Steli: “The Simplest Way”. That’s the entire-
Hiten: “The Simplest Way”. No, it says “The Simplest Way to Do ‘X”. Right?
Steli: Okay, yeah.
Hiten: And I’m like, really? Is it the simplest way? And then it says, “No registration needed. Simply copy the code and embed it into your website.” I’m like, wow.
Steli: That’s not that simple.
Hiten: Yeah. It’s just like trying to make something simple that really isn’t and trying to make it sound simple of feel simple when it really isn’t and it says, “The Simplest Way”. So you know, it’s just some random site I picked up, right? And that’s how they pitch it. So it’s like mind-blowing to me that we’re expecting people to use our sites with copy like that. So here’s another example: I went to this site, focusmate.com. A random site, no relation to me. It was just from Product Hunt and it says, “Distraction-free productivity. Focusmate virtual coworking helps you get things done.” See, this is better. Not great, because I still don’t know what I’m going to get. I don’t know virtual coworking is, but that first part of distraction-free productivity? Okay, that got me. I want to know what that is. They pulled me in. They pulled me in so much I was willing to read the second sentence. After this though, I’m gone. I don’t know. I don’t need this. It’s also easy to screw it up even if you get it right, right? Because distraction-free productivity is exciting and the name focus makes me feel that, but then when you go deeper you’re just like, I wonder what this is about but I’m not interested in it enough to keep going.
Steli: I love that. So here’s my tip, I think, for this episode. The one other tip is read your copy out loud and more importantly, have other people, random people, read your copy out loud. Oftentimes when you have somebody else, well, even when you read it yourself, sometimes you’ll realize that when you read things out loud that they don’t make sense or they are hard to read so you stumble and you have to restart the sentence multiple times or you read it wrong, right? Because the sentence is overly complicated or there’s words that are too hard to say. Whatever it is, reading it out loud yourself should always be something you check. But I find it beautiful when you have somebody else read your copy out loud and you observe their body and their facial expression, their body language and facial expressions. You will see people, if their eyes light up as they read things, if they smile as they read things, if they feel comfortable or if they frown because they have to focus because it’s so hard to read this shit or if they have a facial expression of confusion. If they read it and they seem to not understand what the end of the sentence is. So they finish it up and they give you that impression of, wait. Is this everything? What am I supposed to do now? Just reading somebody’s body language and tonality as they read your copy can give you all the clues if you’re copy is exciting and crystal clear and inspiring somebody to take action and to feel confident and have clarity or if you’re confusing people, if you’re giving people too much work because it’s really tiring to read your fucking copy because it’s so long and so complicated or if it’s confusing. Oftentimes we don’t go through that exercise. We write up some words, we design the look, we send it to somebody, that person, because we’re all very visual, usually just glances over the written words and just looks at the design and goes, “Yeah, that image isn’t cool and can we put that button more to the left and make it green?” The copy doesn’t get the love and the importance that it really needs to have maximum impact.
Hiten: I couldn’t agree more. Read it or have someone read it out loud.
Steli: Out loud. There you go. That’s it from us for this episode. We’ll hear all of you very soon.