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by Kevan Lee, Director of Marketing, Buffer
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7 Copywriting Tips for Growth Hackers, Curated From Experts

How did the copy on your website become the copy on your website?

Mark Cuban shrugging, a GIF

Don’t know? That’s the case for a lot of folks, and for many of the websites I’ve personally written too. (I work at Buffer and run a writing blog).

I’ve mostly ran with copy because it sounded smart or smooth or snappy, not because it was proven to convert.

Well, I’ve done some digging to see what actually works, and I’d love to share what I’ve found.

Below is a host of proven copywriting tips that you can test today. You’ll know exactly how and why the copy is there – and the impact it can make on your growth.

1. Start your pitch with a verb

The quickest way to help customers imagine themselves using your product is telling them what they can do.

With this is mind, when we’re coming up with new pitches for Buffer products, we try to brainstorm verb-first taglines, headlines, and call to actions.

For example, let’s say your company is releasing a shiny new analytics feature. What can customers do with it?

  • Discover your top referrers with ease
  • Cut the confusion with your business data
  • Find meaningful insights in seconds

Instead of:

  • More powerful, intuitive social analytics
  • 360-degree views of all your most important data
  • New! The next great analytics tool is ready for you

In terms of the data around this, Dan Zarrella ran an interesting study a few years back, analyzing the text in 200,000 tweets. He found that tweets that included adverbs and verbs had higher clickthrough rates than those using more nouns and adjectives.

Looking at the stats in our own headline and call to action tests, we’ve seen similar boosts. Here’s a peek at some of the copywriting we’ve used in our HelloBar, with the verb-first versions outperforming the rest:

Buffer's HelloBar results

2. Ask a question and give an answer

Many of the headlines and taglines I’ve written are questions. And for good reason: Questions are one of the top psychology-backed headline strategies out there.

But what kind of questions exactly?

Joanna Wiebe and the Copyhackers team did a fascinating exploration into the topic.

The team found that the best questions help visitors get stoked about trying your software, hiring your team, or submitting an order for an ugly Christmas sweater (if you’re into that kind of thing). You just have to ask questions in a way that leads to a resounding “Yes!”

Here’s a table breaking down questions not to ask and to ask:

Questions to ask and not to ask when writing copy

Notice the difference? The questions on the left are more company-centric and the questions on the right are more customer-centric (and enticing).

What kind of questions can you ask in your copy?

3. Focus on benefits rather than features

What your product is supposed to do

Samuel Hulick of User Onboarding created the above image. It’s a great visual representation of this exact point: Your product doesn’t do something. Your product allows your customer to be, to feel, and to achieve something.

Here’s a few questions we ask at Buffer when thinking through features versus benefits for new products (that you could ask too):

  • What will the person do with this product?
  • What will they be able to do now that they couldn’t before?
  • What problems does this product solve?
  • What positive effects will this product have on the user’s life?

On a related note, there’s an awesome bit of advice from Brian Clark at Copyblogger about the Forehead Slap Test. It’s basically this:

Have you identified a compelling benefit of your product that might cause someone to wake up from a deep sleep, slap himself/herself in the forehead, and exclaim, “Oh no! I need to do XYZ with product ABC!”

For example, I might not wake up mid-sleep for this headline: “Access all your files from anywhere”

But I might for this: “Never lose anything again!”

4. Let your customers write your best copy

Sean Ellis, who has been key to growth at Dropbox, Qualaroo, GrowthHackers, and more, popularized a growth framework that crowdsources your copywriting.

The framework goes a bit like this (as shared by Ty Magnin of AppCues):

  • Extract your product’s core value from its most passionate users, then
  • Use insights from those passionate users to shape the onboarding for future users.

This approach begins after a product has achieved product/market fit and there is a passionate user base on hand. Once that’s all in place, you can follow these six steps:

Step 1. Understand your “Must Have” users with a survey. These are the folks one who’d be “very disappointed” if they could no longer use your product.

Step 2. Find your product’s key benefit by asking your Must Have users “What is the primary benefit of (insert product name here)?”

Step 3. Discover your user’s intent by asking the same group “What were you hoping (product name) would do for you when you originally tried it?” This reveals different hooks into your product.

Step 4. Crowdsource your product description. Ask “Have you recommended this product?” For those who answer yes, ask them “How did you describe it?”

Step 5. Apply responses to your homepage. Congrats, your most engaged users have written your copy for you!

Step 6. Onboard users to your “Must Have” experience. Implement what you’ve learned on landing pages, home screens, onboarding flows, etc.

Below is the homepage example Ty uses in his post. It shows each of the three crowdsourced elements in action – key benefit, hook, and product description.

Salesforce website homepage

5. Be your own Hollywood, startup pitch person

Have you heard of the high-concept pitch?

The high-concept pitch originated in Hollywood, where producers would pitch studio executives with the catchiest, quickest summary possible. It’s an extremely short phrase, encapsulating an idea by comparing it to another idea.

Here’s a few examples:

  • Alien is “Jaws in space”
  • The Uber of personal trainers
  • The Birchbox of chocolate

If you go overboard, defining your startup this way gets comical (like this). Just follow venture capitalist Fred Wilson’s advice on this for that pitches to stand out from the crowd.

6. In need of a great word…why not make one up?

Christopher Johnson’s book Microstyle covers great ideas on how to write short form-copy like tweets, slogans, headlines, and more.

In the book, he lists seven ways to create a word from scratch – many of which borrow from literary devices like portmanteau, the joining together two or more words together to make a new word. Here’s the full list (along with some examples of each).

  • Reuse an existing word (Apple, spam)
  • Create a new compound word by sticking two words together (YouTube, Facebook)
  • Create a blend by combining one part of a word with another word or word part (Technorati, pastarazzi)
  • Attach a prefix or a suffix to a word (uncola, Bufferoo)
  • Make something up out of arbitrary syllables (Tivo, Cee-Lo)
  • Make an analogy or play on words (podcast, Sketchpaper)
  • Create an acronym (SCUBA, guba)

A bonus literary device: Spoonerism, interchanging the first letters of some words in order to create new words. Think Bleeping Seauty or chipping the flannel. This is mostly done in error or, if intentionally, done as a joke. Still, I’d expect it to be catchy if it were to pop up in a timeline!

7. Learn the science of customer development and saying “you”

I’ve learned a ton from our customer development team at Buffer, particularly in how you talk to people and learn from customers – both of which are super important for copywriting success.

One of the key things I’ve found in looking through the questions our customer development team asks is their emphasis on the word “you.” It’s one of the top five most persuasive words in the English language, along with “Free,” “Because,” “Instantly,” and “New.”

Here are a few more places where the word sneaks in to customer calls (notice that it’s often not just once but twice that the word “you” is mentioned, making doubly sure that person feels empowered to share their personal experience):

  • Can you tell me a little about how you do x today?
  • Do you use any products or tricks to get that done?
  • If you could wave a magic wand…
  • The last time you did x, what did you do right before you started and what did you do when you finished?
  • Is there anything else I should have asked you about this?

The takeaway? Hop on customer customer calls to inform your copywriting; you’ll learn pain points, knowledge gaps, and specific language your audience uses. And remember to use “you” in your copy. People love it.

No copy is ever bad copy

And finally, a word of encouragement.

Don’t get hung up on trying to make everything you publish 100% perfect.

Every use of copy is a chance to learn, see what works, and improve over time. Test out the above copywriting tips and keep us in the loop about what drives results for your business.

Now it’s over to you. What copywriting tips would you add to this list? Have you tried any of the above tips before? Let us know in the comments.

3 Comments
Author Kevan Lee, Director of Marketing, Buffer

Kevan Lee is a professional writer and editor with a knack for storytelling specializing in blogging, email marketing, and content creation.

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    • Aaron Orendorff

      Stellar post (as always) Kevan.

      “4. Let your customers write your best copy” stood out in particular.

      The whole practice of review mining and stealing your customer’s own words is phenomenal.

      Thanks, and happy Sunday. 🙂

    • Killer post Kevan.

      Totally agree with you on “Point #3”, especially considering Steve Jobs famous IPhone Launches.

      But I believe no copy is perfect before ab testing.
      So I would like to add a little point:
      “Lastly, don’t forget to test”

      Anyway, great read!

    • Timothy Kitchen

      6. Idea… HappinessOverload. Works for everything.

      On a real note, 1-3 were most helpful to me, I took notes for a new product I’m working on as I went. It got me thinking, for maybe most products, if you’re doing copy right and following the steps outlined in this article/doing the research…real, relatable, benefits based copy could be the most differentiating thing for businesses that make it*.

      *Given you’re getting traffic to that copy and your product does something sustainably useful**
      **But then again, if you’re doing copy right, you’ve found the thing that is sustainably useful 😉

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