Freelance Conversion Copywriter
As a product copywriter, I work with a lot of different founders across various types of products. While every product is different, there’s often overlap between the various copy challenges faced by my clients.
While there’s no substitute for working with an actual copywriter (hint, hint :-), here are 10 ways founders can improve their product copy, from UI to marketing site.
Whether we’re talking about establishing a consistent format for how you display copy across pages, keeping a consistent tone of voice, or just establishing a consistent punctuation guide (i.e. —consistent capitalization, periods at the the end of headlines versus no periods, etc), consistency, as they say, is key.
Exercise: do a quick pass through one of your marketing site pages (I like to start with the homepage). Take note of any inconsistencies, then establish a consistent format for the future (be sure to correct anything that doesn’t jive with whatever format you agree on).
There’s a rule in copywriting that you never want to see the same copy twice in one spot (i.e. — on a print ad, homepage, within a settings page, etc). The idea here is to simplify all concepts to only the words you MUST say to get the point across. No wasted words, people.
Exercise: go through your marketing site and/or product copy to see if any redundancies exist. If you see multiple examples of overlapping text on the same page or UI area, take the best of both ideas and combine them into ONE clear, more concise statement.
Similar to the Redundancy Rule, removing any unnecessary words or finding ways to shorten concepts can help clarify ideas or drive more actions. For example, why say “you have” when you can say “you’ve”? If you have a sentence like “Get your bank statement and your schedule in one place,” you don’t need to say “your” twice.
It seems simple and possibly obvious, but any opportunity for trimming should not be overlooked.
Exercise: look for lengthly descriptions of features on your marketing site and/or within product copy. Read through and remove any words you don’t need (or simplify by substituting conjunctions). With the trimmed down version, try rearranging what you have (or completely rewriting) into one sentence containing only the most important information.
Does your marketing site have paragraphs upon paragraphs of explanation text? Does your site feel more like a short book than a brief collection of features and benefits? As a copywriter who loves to write, I know the temptation that can come with wanting to go on and on.
I keep myself in check by working with my designer to figure out the ideal number of words that would look best from a visual standpoint, then I work backwards from there. Not only will your copy look better, but it will be shorter and easier to read as a result.
Exercise: take the most lengthy part of your marketing site or UI copy and attempt to trim it down to a 1–2 sentences (or use the length of a Tweet, 140 characters or less, as a guide). If you have a designer who you work with, ask him/her what the max number of words (or characters) you have to work with. *Bonus tip: I often work within an excel sheet with a character or word count equation built in, or I’ll use a simple tool like this.
When crafting a sentence, you should avoid leading with complicated words or concepts. Pull the reader in by using common language to describe a concept, then use the end of the sentence to drop in the name of a feature, or as an opportunity to use more complex words (if needed).
Let’s compare two examples to show you what I mean:
#1: Our Automatic book-keeping tool was designed with GoFund technology to help save you time and money → learn more
#1: Save time and money using our automated accounting tool → learn more
On the second example, we lead with a simple concept (“Save time and money”) to hook the reader, then we end on the more complicated part, the “automated accounting tool.” I chose to completely omit the “GoFund technology” part because we’re only introducing the feature, not telling the user every single thing about it. Also, if we really think that “GoFund Technology” is important to our users (it probably isn’t, btw) we can introduce that information on the landing page if they choose to click “learn more.”
Exercise: go through your marketing site / product copy and identify any areas of copy that could be simplified. Try rearranging the sentence to lead with simple words / concepts, or simply rewrite the sentence completely to feel less complicated.
Most founders are focused on the features of their product, not necessarily how those features can benefit their users. But users don’t care about features, they care about how your product makes them more awesome.
Let’s compare two examples to show you what I mean:
#1: We worked hard to create a car that gets you to work on time every day.
#2: Be the first one in the office everyday with a car that eliminates delays.
The first example leads with “we” — at this point, you may have already lost the user. “We worked hard” is putting too much emphasis on our role. “Gets you to work on time every day” — the only thing that’s relevant to the user — is last?! No, no, no.
The second example leads with a benefit that may be most important to the user, followed by the payoff (the car that makes the benefit possible).
I learned a lot about this concept from James Greig’s article on user-driven copy, which I would recommend you read, too.
Exercise: go through your marketing site and/or product copy and see where you may have opportunities to replace any feature-driven headlines with user-benefit copy instead. If nothing else, you should strive to have a BALANCE between copy that feels user-focused versus product-focused.
When you’re writing a sentence, pay attention to how it flows — not only from a conceptual standpoint, but from a sound, or euphony standpoint. Read your sentences aloud (and in your head) to see where users may get tripped up.
For example, did using a certain word in the middle of your sentence cause you to stop and have to reread the sentence, or pause slightly because the word felt out of place?
This can happen if you use words that create cacophony within your sentence (i.e. — by using a word that starts with an uncommon letter like U, Y, Z, Q, etc; if you use a word that has a totally different sound than the other words in your sentence; or if you use a complex word that is not used in everyday language, to list a few examples).
Exercise: read through your marketing site / product copy both in your head and out loud (feel free to ask friends to do the same for you). Pick out any places where you get tripped up while reading, or where you had to pause and/or re-read a sentence because you didn’t understand it the first time. Examine the sentence(s) to see which word (or words) is causing the issue, then replace the word or rewrite as needed.
This may seem silly, but you would be surprised how many times I click on a page expecting to see one thing, only to read information that has nothing to do with the title of the page.
For example, if you have a section on your marketing site called “How it works,” make sure whatever copy you have beneath that section or on that page is actually about, well, how your product works.
You don’t want the reader to go into a section or a page with an expectation for certain information only to have them feel (a) confused because the information in the section or page is not consistent with the title, or (b) frustrated because they don’t know where to find the right information.
Exercise: go through your marketing site / product copy and ensure all headlines match the content they are claiming to represent. If not, simply update the text to ensure all information is correct.
For products with multiple offerings, this one can often be a challenge. You may be one company, but if you’re selling multiple packages, services and offerings, your homepage (or other areas of your marketing site) may become cluttered and/or unclear.
More often than not, the offer can be found first in its simplest form within the hero spot on the homepage. A common way to address the offer in your hero message is to come up with 1 headline, 1 subheadline and 1 call-to-action. The trick is finding a balance between hooking your reader and explaining what your product is.
For example, if your headline is more conceptual / abstract, you may want to use a subheadline that feels more tangible and straightforward. If you feel like you can describe your product / offer in one line, then more power to you.
Exercise: take a look at your hero on your marketing site. Is there a clear statement on what you’re offering? Does your hero message act as a clean transition between Point A (conceptual offer) to Point B (tangible offer)? If not, try writing up a few simple lines for how you would describe your product — don’t try to put restrictions around what your writing, just let it flow first then trim later.
It’s easy to think we all have the answers for what our users want. We did, after all, create a product built FOR them, so we should know what they want better than anyone, right? Wrong!
The bottom line is, whether you’re the copywriter or the founder, no one can know for sure which types of copy will resonate with your users until you (a) have a chat with them to figure out what’s actually most important to them, then (b) test, test…and then test some more.
If you think poetic, flowery language will work, great! Write up some headlines in that style, then write up completely different copy and test both through A/B tests on your site, in ads, through surveys, etc.
If you think headlines leading with emotional benefits will drive more conversion, test that hypothesis, then test copy that leads with features.
Exercise: choose something you’d like to test with your users (i.e. — tone of voice, subject matter, order, etc). Write up copy (Version A and Version B) then test the copy on your site, in email subject lines, etc. There are hundreds of ways you can test copy, so you should be trying to find the words that will resonate with your users most.
After working with many founders, I know how hard it can be to run a company, get users and write copy that is clear, concise and drives conversions. For founders with little marketing experience, writing copy may feel strange and foreign, but by following the simple rules listed above, you can begin to understand the basics of product copywriting and how the right words (in the right places) can positively impact your business.
Annie is a New York-based product copywriter who works exclusively with startups and small businesses. Have a question? [email protected]
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