By Brian Massey
Conversion Scientist, Conversion Sciences, LLC
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.
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 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.
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 a future post.
Photo courtesy andrewcs via stock.xchng.
About the Author
Brian Massey is the Conversion Scientist at Conversion Sciences and he has the lab coat to prove it. His rare combination of interests, experience and neuroses was developed over almost 20 years as a computer programmer, entrepreneur, corporate marketer, national speaker and writer. Conversion Sciences was founded to fill the Web with helpful, engaging and entertaining online Web sites that convert visitors into leads and sales. The company has helped dozens of businesses transform their sites through a steady diet of visitor profiling, purposeful content, analytics and testing. “There are places on the Web that make you feel like they were built just for you,” he says. “Is yours one of these? It could be.
See Brian Live!
Brian will be talking more about copy and its role in persuasion and conversion at the Conversion Conference 2012 on March 5th and 6th in San Francisco, California. Join him in his session on “Creating Killer Conversion Copy: Emails, Landing Pages, PPC Ads and More.” See the full agenda and read more about this session.
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