The Definitive Guide to Copywriting by Neil Patel & Joseph Putnam

The Definitive Guide to Copywriting

Chapter Four

4 Persuasion Secrets of Professional Copywriters

We have become so accustomed to hearing everyone claim that his product is the best in the world, or the cheapest, that we take all such statements with a grain of salt.
Robert Collier

So far in this copywriting guide we’ve covered:

  • The importance of thoroughly understanding your product and the need to clearly define who your target customers are
  • How to survey your customers to peer inside their heads and learn which aspects of your product matter to them and what language they use to describe what you sell
  • How to write attention-grabbing headlines that convert

These first three chapters lay a solid foundation for your copy and provide a starting point for all of the writing you’ll eventually do. In this chapter, we’re going to discuss four secret persuasion techniques professional copywriters use to write copy that sells.

Pro tip one Emphasize Benefits Over Features

This happens to be one of the most basic copywriting lessons in the book. Every copywriter learns early on about the need to emphasize benefits over features, but surprisingly, it’s not something that comes naturally.

For whatever reason, nearly everyone has a tendency to write about features instead of benefits. With the Simple Survey Tool as an example, you might write the following copy:

Sign up for the Simple Survey Tool to get:

  • Unlimited questions
  • Multiple question formats
  • Javascript code installation
  • Customizable surveys
  • Instant notifications

What’s the problem with this copy? The problem is that it’s a list of features and not a product description that appeals to customers. Features are needed at the right time to show what’s included with the product, but they don’t convince customers to buy what you’re selling. Benefits, on the other hand, are much, much more persuasive at convincing customers to buy your product.

Prospects care more about the benefit provided by the product than by the features included, and they sign up to receive the benefit, not the features. More often than not, features are technical aspects that end up confusing customers. They appeal to a select, hardcore group of customers but confuse the rest.

Let’s consider an example that’s already been mentioned — high-speed internet.

Internet companies like Cox Communications and AT&T offer high-speed internet. Speeds range from 1.5 mbps to 50 mbps (and even higher in some cases).

So how should these companies sell high-speed internet? One way is to emphasize the download speed. A headline could say, “Get Internet with 50 mbps Download Speed Installed in Your Home Today!” The problem is that not many people know the difference between 50 mbps and 15 mbps. How much faster is 50 mbps? Is it a noticeable difference? Is it worth paying more for?

To the right buyer it is, but for others it’s not. So what really matters to customers? What matters are things like watching videos without buffering and playing video games without lag. If your internet helps with that, customers will be willing to pay more.

Thus, instead of using a headline like the one above, internet providers should use a headline like “Get Internet So Fast Your Videos Will Never Buffer” or “Get Download Speeds So Fast You Can Watch All the Online TV You Want without Interruption.” Both of these headlines appeal to customers who are tired of video buffering much more than a headline that talks about specific download speeds.

So when it comes to writing copy, you want to emphasize benefits first. Your goal is to lead with benefits and include them at the beginning of your copy. Then, after starting with the benefit, you can go on to list the features.

Here’s a great example: The folks at Buffer start out by talking about how their app is the smarter way to share. If you’re looking a way to work smarter not harder when it comes to social media, you’ve come to the right place because Buffer can help with that.

Next, they go on to talk about how Buffer will help you to be awesome on social media. Who doesn’t want a tool that will help them to be awesome? The copy continues by talking about more benefits of using the Buffer app: you can easily add great articles, pictures, and videos so they “automagically” get shared throughout the day. Sign us up. We want updates that share “automatically.” Seems like there’s a lot of benefit to using this app.

Then, after leading with the benefits of using the app, they list the features. You can post to multiple accounts, get analytics & insights, and invite all of your team members to use the app. Each of the bold phrases are features included with the Buffer. They aren’t necessarily reasons for signing up, but they explain what you’ll get by using it. Thus, in this example, Buffer leads with the benefits of using the app and then reinforces the benefit by explaining the app’s features.

Here’s what you need to remember: Benefits sell the product and give customers a reason to buy; features explain clearly what they’ll receive by using your product and give customers something to compare against the competition. Features are still needed, but they’re not the primary selling point.

This is pro tip #1 for copy that sells. The good news is that we’ve already recorded the big benefit of our product in the product description document (“Product Description — YOUR PRODUCT NAME”).

We also listed benefits underneath each feature. At this point you may want to open the document to review those benefits and see if there’s anything you can add, but we should be good to go on this point.

Pro tip two Be as specific as possible

The second pro tip for copy that sells is that it needs to be as specific as possible. It’s easy to make general claims about a product, but specific proof is much, much more effective.

For example, a conversion rate optimization company could say that their service doubles or triples conversion rates. That’s great, but it’s not very persuasive.

General numbers and general claims are too perfect to be believable to customers. “Double or triple” is an estimate that’s easy to make up. How often does a conversion rate increase by a perfect 100%? Not very often.

So what should you do instead?

You should be as specific as possible. You should tell customers that your service increased conversion rates for a specific customer by 58% or saves you customers an average of $254 per year. Those numbers are more specific, more believable, and seem less likely to have been made up.

Writing specific copy is way more effective than making general claims. Here are a few great examples:

Example #1: Bidsketch

With this headline, Bidsketch displays the exact dollar amount their customers have earned by using their service. The specificity makes the claim much more believable and impressive. $1,900,000+ wouldn’t be nearly as impressive as $193,654,896. Either their customers have earned that much money, or they’re lying through their teeth. Most customers will believe the former when a specific claim is made.

Example #2: Copyblogger

In this headline example, Copyblogger uses a specific subscription rate increase to get their readers’ attention. They could have used a headline like “How to Significantly Increase Conversion Rates,” but that wouldn’t be nearly as effective. The specific number grabs people’s attention and makes them feel like the advice is proven to be effective and will provide a real benefit.

So as you can see, being as specific as possible makes your copy more effective. Is there anything specific about your product that will help you sell it to your customers? Are there any case studies where customers saved $X number of dollars or grew their business by X%?

Go ahead and open your product description document again (“Product Description — YOUR PRODUCT NAME”), and add new line in bold: Specific results. Underneath this line, create a bulleted list of any specific results your product has been proven to produce. It will look something like this:

Now that your specific results are recorded, let’s move on to to the third pro tip for copy that sells.

Pro tip three Target Emotions

When it comes to making a purchase, people are heavily influenced by their emotions. We think we make decisions based purely on logic, but really, most of our purchases are based on emotions.

The simple reason is that our emotions are tied more closely to our decision making than most of us realize. Antonio Damasio, a professor of neuroscience at the University of Southern California, has studied this extensively and has written about his research in a book titled Descartes’ Error.

In the book, Damasio talks about cases where patients suffered damage to their pre-frontal cortex, the part of the brain associated with emotions. The result is that they end up having difficulty making simple decisions.

In many ways, they maintain the same intelligence they had before the damage, scoring well on numerous intelligence tests, but with their emotions impaired, they have trouble making simple decisions like where to eat for dinner or what food to choose. They can list the logical benefits of each option but ultimately have trouble making a decision.

So what does this have to do with copy? Everything, really. If your copy only makes a logical appeal, you’ll miss the most important part of the brain connected to decision making — emotions. You can make a very logical argument only to miss the most important part of the brain you need to target.

Selling a product isn’t just about making a case for why customers need what you’re selling. It’s creating a scenario where people want what you have for sale.

Apple is a great example of this. The logic behind buying an Apple product is quite poor. You end up paying more for a product with worse technical specifications than those from another company. Ten times out of ten you can get more computer for less than when you buy one from Apple.

So why do people pay more for Apple products like a MacBook Pro? The reason is that customers want them. Apple knows how to push the desire button and make people want their product.

Customers line up to buy the new iPhone, not because it makes so much sense to pay the highest price for the latest phone, but because they have to get it before their friends do. They have to get the latest phone because they want it so badly.

You need to do the same with your copy. Instead of just listing features and checking off reasons to buy your product, you need to increase the emotional appeal of using it and create a desire in your prospects for what you’re selling.

Copyblogger does a good job of this with their homepage headline.

They don’t just make a logical appeal. They target their customers’ emotions.

Do prospects want to leave lame behind? Sure they do. Is that a logical reason to sign up for Copyblogger? Not necessarily but it definitely makes you want to sign up for their programs. Why? Because you don’t want to be lame.

Let’s apply this lesson now. Go to your copywriting document (“Copywriting — YOUR PRODUCT NAME”) and write a handful more headlines that target emotions.

Here are some examples for the Simple Survey Tool.

Each of these headlines are at least slightly more emotionally charged than the ones that were recorded previously. We’ll test them later to see how well they work.

Pro tip four Leverage testimonials

In addition to the tips listed above, pro copywriters know how to leverage testimonials to get the maximum credibility with customers.

The reason is that prospects take everything you say with a grain of salt. When you say, “We’ve got the fastest internet in the universe!”, even if it’s true, prospective customers will assume you’re biased, because, well, you are.

But when you share a client testimonial, you instantly gain credibility. Words from a customer’s mouth are much, much more trustworthy than a similar statement from a business owner or salesman.

You can use testimonials to increase the believability of your copy and to say things you otherwise wouldn’t be able to say. This is the main reason why so many websites use testimonials on their site. They’re leveraging the believability of customer testimonials.

Testimonials can be used anywhere in your copy, but they’re particularly useful when used in the following ways.

Testimonial Use one: To say things you can’t

Testimonials come in a lot of different forms. One of those forms is an extremely flattering recommendation of your company. Customers may talk about how your service was so amazing that they wish they could join your team, or something else equally flattering.

These are things you can’t say yourself. You can’t say, “We provide service so amazing you’ll wish you could work with us.” Thus, you can use customer testimonials to say things you otherwise couldn’t say.

Here’s an example where a customer provides an extremely flattering recommendation of WP Engine’s hosting service.

Testimonial Use #2:
To strengthen key aspects of your copy

Some testimonials are general, but some talk about specific parts of your product or service that you’d like to emphasize within your copy. In this way, not all testimonials are created equal. Some are more strategically important than others.

Your job is to figure out which testimonials match specific parts of your copy. Some of them might talk about how much they love instant notifications. Others may talk about how much they appreciate pre-formulated surveys. The key is figuring out which ones will strengthen your copy the most and to use them at the appropriate time.

For example, if you have a service business, you might have a testimonial that talks about how effective your process is. You may also have a section on your website that describes your proven process. Instead of adding the testimonial randomly somewhere on the site, you want to match it with the section that’s the most appropriate so it strengthens key aspects of your copy.

Switch Video does this on their website. Part of their homepage talks about their proven, 5-step process as seen below.

Directly underneath, they use testimonials that talk about Switch Video’s process as a way to reinforce the copy listed above.

Both testimonials (in case it’s difficult to read them in the screenshot) speak highly of Switch Video’s process and support the 5-step, proven process listed above.

Testimonial Use #3: To highlight key clients

You can also use testimonials to highlight key clients and customers. Often, there are companies you work with that prospects aspire to be like. Maybe it’s a larger company or a well-known entrepreneur.

Your goal is to leverage these testimonials to show off your work for these clients. A testimonial from an impressive, big name client can be worth hundreds from regular clients. Thus, you want to leverage your biggest clients to impress the rest of your prospects.

Neil does this on QuickSprout with the testimonial from Michael Arrington in the sidebar ad shown above. Michael is someone that a lot of people in the publishing and internet marketing community look up to. Using his testimonial not only provides credibility for Neil, but also highlights a customer that a lot of prospects look up to.

Testimonial Use #4: Headlines

Headlines can be used in the three ways mentioned above, and they can also be used as a headline. In doing so, you lead with words from your customer’s mouth which means your headline is extra credible. Instead of seeming like a hollow claim, it will read as a trustworthy review from a client.

Angie’s List uses this technique on their homepage as seen below.

Angie’s List uses a customer testimonial as a headline on the homepage where customers will read it right away instead of saving it for a place later in the copy where customers may not end up reading it at all. This provides a believable, meaningful headline that’s carefully selected to say exactly what they want it to say.

No matter how you end up using them, testimonials are a powerful way to increase credibility, strengthen key aspects of your copy, say things you otherwise couldn’t say, highlight key customers, and capture the benefit of using your product in your customers own words. Even though they aren’t written directly by a copywriter, they’re important pieces of copy that can be placed strategically to achieve the maximum impact.

Bringing It All Together

This chapter presents four powerful techniques professional copywriters use to write copy that sells. You’ve learned:

  • The importance of emphasizing benefits over features.
  • The need to be as specific as possible.
  • How emotions are connected to decision making and therefore selling.
  • How to use testimonials to increase the credibility of your copy.

In the next chapter we’ll discuss more tips for writing copy that sells, including, what may come as a surprise, why your copy shouldn’t be about you or your business. Continue reading to learn more.