Copywriting has long been the black sheep of the marketing world. It’s a crucial part of the marketing process, but it’s tricky, and therefore many overlook copywriting as something that will take care of itself.

Big mistake.

Numerous studies have shown that small tweaks to your copy result in huge returns.

Still, most don’t want to pay to have it done professionally, so how can you get away with writing copy that sells?

Easy. Like this:

  1. Know your target customer
  2. Focus on benefits
  3. Know yourself
  4. Keep it simple, Keep it on point, and Be specific
  5. Yell at them, Build trust, & Dissuade fear
  6. Make them like you
  7. Show them that others have already jumped aboard (Social Trust)
  8. Universalize your tone
  9. And finally – follow through

BAM – There you have it. 9 steps to write killer copy. Remember, practice makes perfect, but armed with this knowledge you’ll be well on your way to writing killer copy that converts traffic.

And it all starts with…

Know your target customer

The goal of any marketing campaign is to guide your customers through the Buying Funnel:

AIDAS Diagram. Photo courtesy of

Attention, Interest, Desire, Action, Satisfaction – that’s the name of the game.

5 steps to customer (and business) happiness. You’re going to use your copywriting to guide your customers through these steps, and all of your marketing copy should be unified in this goal. Thus, your landing page copy should per tailored to where your customer is in that process.

Optimize your landing pages accordingly.

Example: Let’s say you sell shoes. You’ve designed a landing page to target those who search for “Santa Barbara Shoes.”

Your landing page copy should be geared toward conversions, yes, but you should also recognize that at this point in the buying phase, those that are searching for something as generic as “Santa Barbara Shoes” are likely in the first stage of the buying process, and that’s Attention.

Your potential clients aren’t not sure what they want, or even what’s out there. So your first step for these keyword searches should be creating a landing page that captures their attention, engages interest, and stimulates awareness and desire.

Pro-tip: Use emotion – it’s the strongest stimulant.

Therefore, the landing page shouldn’t be geared to raising awareness, but more about getting the customer to take that action. This is where things like coupons, free shipping, ease of returns, customer service, and social trust metrics like “# of satisfied customers” comes into play. The desire is there, you just have to get the customer to convert:

Now, the amount of space you have to accomplish these goals differs with your target task. If you’re writing PPC Copy, you’ve got precious few words in order to attract your potential traffic.

But ultimately, for any of your copywriting, what you’re trying to do is offer meat, in the language of the dog, directed to the dog.

Let me explain:

Remember Pavlov’s dogs? It’s a classic experiment about classical conditioning.

Ivan Pavlov. Dogs weren’t crazy about this dude

Good ol’ Pavlov proved that he could stimulate a physiological response by conditioning dogs to know that when a bell sounded they would be fed. In this case, when Pavlov sounded the bell, the dogs knew (or thought) that they were going to be fed, and that stimulated the response to salivate.

Great response, no?

But imagine if Pavlov hadn’t used meat to stimulate the dogs. What if, instead of steak, Pavlov used… lentils.

Lentils don’t get dogs going like meat.

Nothing does, in fact.

So if you don’t present meat for your customers, they aren’t going to salivate. Period. End of story. They won’t be hungry. They’ll go elsewhere for the meat they desire.

Take-Home: Know your customers, and present them what they want (give them meat).

Keep it Simple

Additionally, if Pavlov hadn’t rung a bell, but had used a whistle beyond the range of their hearing, the dogs wouldn’t know it was dinner time.

Take-Home: The language you use matters. Don’t over-sell something, don’t use ostentatious language. All big words do is isolate people. If you can use a simpler word, do so. Or, as a student of mine pointed out, if you can use an Anglo-Saxon word instead of the Latin, use the Anglo. That requires you to know the difference between Anglo-Saxon and Latin words, however….

Alright, now you’re ready to start writing some copy. But before you do, you must…

Know Yourself

It might sound silly, but many small businesses, especially those early on in the growth phase, suffer from an identity crisis.

Before you write a lick of script, you’ve got to know who you are, what you offer, and what makes you unique. These are the things that your potential clients are going to be looking for, and they’re going to want those things quickly.

If you can’t define yourself and your service in a sentence or two, your first priority is to learn how to be able to.

Define. Your. Mission.

Learn what sets you apart.

Seth Godin called this the “Purple Cow,” and Santa Barbara-based Zeeblu spins this into a blue zebra:

The point is, you’ve got to know what sets you apart and highlight it. Level of customer service, cost, quality, whatever – you’ve got to know what that is and promote that so that you stand out from the crowd.

When you find your purple cow/zebra, whatever, you’re ready to put pen to paper.

When you do, be sure to…

Focus on benefits (not features)

I’m a big believer in the selfish nature of people and their time.

It stands to reason.

People want to know if you’re worth your salt before they waste any time listening to you. It’s the same with the guy handing you the flier in the street, and the message is simple:


When people are on your site, it’s all about them. Make sure that they know that. Don’t fall into the mistake of talking about you.

Check out this website from the Santa Barbara Small Business Entrepreneurship Center. This is cut from their homepage, and before I know anything about them, or what they do, I’m hit with a wall of text about who they are.

Right. Got it. No offense, but What’s in it for me?

A better design choice would have been one that speaks to the target customer’s needs:

“Get your business off the ground and running.” OR “What’s your goal? Here’s your solution.”

Or something thereabouts.

Take home: Make your copy about your customers, and they will thank you.

This brings us to…

Yell at them, Build Trust, & Dissuade Fear

Seems counter-intuitive, no? But it’s the truth. Well… sorta.

Talking firmly projects confidence, and people respect others with confidence. Many times people don’t know what they want – they want you to tell them what they want. So tell them. Use action verbs:

Just do it.

Act Now.


Check this out: You tell me which one reads better:

A: “They may not even be hungry. They’ll probably go elsewhere for the meat they desire.”

B: “They won’t be hungry. They’ll go elsewhere for the meat they desire.”

If you guessed B, cheerio.

Remove doubt from your copy, and your readers will thank you.

*Caveat* Confidence isn’t enough. You actually have to know what you’re talking about. But before you do so, you’ve got to build up your reader’s trust. To do that, you’ve got to form a relationship with them.

Think about it. When you compose an argument, you start by getting the people to like you. This is why speakers start off with a joke. Bust up the crowd a little bit. Use conversational tones. Use “you” and “I”. Tell a story. Use your own picture:

Me hogging the spotlight at Christmas.

In short, get them to know you (and hopefully like you). Then, once you’ve established a firm relationship, you can speak directly, but don’t come out of the pulpit all fire and brimstone, or you risk alienating your readers.

Make them like you.

Humans aren’t such tricky animals. Ultimately, we’re social creatures and generally pretty predictable. It’s upon this premise that an ancient martial arts trick rests.

Ask any 3+ degree blackbelt what they would do to stop a fight from happening, and they’ll respond: “Smile.”

Yep. Smile. That’s it. Ten years of kung-fu knowledge distilled into a single word. And marketers use it daily.


Because it’s a lot harder to hurt someone you like, and as humans, we’re hard-wired to respond positively to smiles.

It’s called reciprocity, and it’s a powerful marketing tool.

Don’t believe me? Ask yourself what happens when someone you don’t know follows you on Twitter. Chances are, your innate response is to follow them back. Take and receive. That’s our social instinct kicking in again there.

So when writing your copy, go ahead and yuk it up. Put some funny images in there. Lighten the mood.

Look at Groupon, they’re champs of the sly-quirky just to make you smile:

Yep. They’re the masters of quirky. And I should know, I used to work for them.

Show them that others have jumped aboard the bandwagon

This is another one of our innate human characteristics. We’re social creatures. Additionally, if someone else does it, it reinforces the feeling that if we do it too, we’ll be doing a good thing, and that will release a small amount of dopamine (happiness chemical) into the brain.

Predictable, see?

The rub is that if someone did jump off a bridge, you might not, but you’d want to know why, and if it was a good idea, and if you were missing out on anything.

Your copywriting can exploit this.

“Scientists in California don’t want you to know this amazing secret to dieting.”

“These celebrities do things just like us.”

“1000s of satisfied customers”

…and so forth. Use some social trust indicators on your website with logos and testimonials, and use it in your copy to slam home the trust instinct.

Universalize your tone

All of your web copy is going to be setting a tone. Is it funny or serious? Flippant or stern? Direct or vague? You have to make these choices and stick to them. Obviously, if you’re in the business of selling caskets, you’ll want to take things a bit more seriously than Groupon. But they have the luxury of selling fun times and fun things, so they can get away with a little playfulness. This is where knowing your audience is key. Figure out what you can get away with and then tailor all-out copy to suit.

Additionally, make sure that your tone is the same across platforms. You’re building relationships with people whether you’re aware of it or not. If you’re Joe Happy one day and then Stern Moe the next, people won’t know what to think. And if they don’t know what to think, then they can’t count on you, and if they can’t count on you, then they can’t trust you with their money, can they?

Follow Through

This is the end of the AIDAS marketing funnel. You want your customers to be your biggest proponents. Follow up with them. Thank them for their business. Make sure they’re satisfied. It goes a long way to repeat business and referrals.

Use the same tone in your follow-up copy as the rest of your marketing efforts and you’ll be A-OK when it comes to quarterly profit reporting time.

And there you have it. 9 steps to copywriting mastery. So what do you think? Have you got any copywriting tips that I missed? Care to share? Drop me a line in the comments and I’ll holler back!

-Hudson Hornick
Alchemy On Demand

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