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Key tips for copy that converts

At the Copywriting Conference 2018 we learned some key insights for copy that converts. And we'd love to share these tips with you.

In short:

  • Psychological tricks only work if people trust you.
  • Keep it simple: good writing is invisible.
  • Don’t write vague copy that could apply to any company in any business and don’t use buzzwords. Everybody claims to be innovative and customer-focused. 
  • Do your research, so you can write specific copy AND convince your client of the effectiveness of your copy.
  • Communicate with your client to avoid confusion and wasted time.

Have we peaked your interest? We've got loads more conversion copywriting tips from all the speakers.

1. UX copywriters Francesca Catanuso and Jade Goldsmith: copy that converts

Jade Goldsmith and Francesca Catanuso, UX copywriters at Booking.comFollow Francesca Catanuso on Twitter: @AmsterFran or follow their Medium blog on UX copywriting: Booking.writes

We’ll be honest.

These UX copywriters were basically the reason we booked a ticket for the Copywriting Conference.

So yes, expectations were high. (And even better: they exceeded them!)

The 4 main insights from these two UX copywriters:

  1. It’s all about nudging
  2. Psychological principles only work if people trust you
  3. Conversion is more than just clicks
  4. You can never test too much

1. It’s all about nudging

The breakout session at the Copywriting Conference 2018
The session was a popular one.

If you’ve ever booked anything on, you might have noticed the calls to action or CTA's.

They don’t say ‘Book now’ until the very end. All the other calls to action are really friendly, never pushy. Their only goal is to nudge the visitor deeper into the funnel, step by step.

For example, this is the CTA copy you’ll see from the moment you land on their UK website until you’ve booked a room:

  • Search
  • See our last available rooms
  • I’ll reserve
  • Next: Final details
  • Book now

2. Psychological principles only work if people trust you

Psychological principles (such as Cialdini's idea of unity) only work if people trust you.

How to make people trust you?

  • Be transparent, don’t hide ‘the small print’ or spring extra fees on people in the last step
  • Be consistent so people don’t have to think twice about your message and feel sure about themselves
  • Show people they’re in control, by using the word 'you' a lot uses "you" a lot to show the reader that they are in control
By saying 'you' a lot, emphasizes that the reader is in control.

But of course, you can’t build trust overnight. has been doing what they do since 1996. Building trust, like building a brand, takes time.

3. Conversion is more than just clicks

‘Conversion’ can mean many things. uses a pretty broad definition:

“Conversion = causing a shift in user behavior”

An example:

Customer support got a lot of questions about the confirmation page. Mostly because people weren’t sure whether their booking had been confirmed.

That might sound silly because that’s basically the only thing the confirmation page says. But obviously, it wasn’t reassuring enough for visitors.

So over several A/B tests, UX copywriters tweaked the copy step by step to reassure people. The result? A huge drop in customer support tickets.

You’ll now see that the page is packed with words related to certainty and confirmation:

Booking's confirmation page is packed with confirming words

4. You can never test too much

  • Everything on's website is based on test results, not on branding guidelines. 
    They don’t have a style guide, because wording should be based on test results, not on guidelines.
  • Tests are iterated, to double-check and to rule out seasonality.
    Ski resort pages don’t get traffic all year,  for example.
  • Even fixing a mistake is tested, because the incorrect version might have performed better. 
    If you just fix it, you’ll never know.

Tip: want to get started with UX and conversion optimization on your own website?  Let our team of experts finds out where your site is leaking money, so we can help you get more leads, more sales and more revenue


2. Anna Gunning: how to avoid confusion and wasted time in projects

Anna GunningFollow Anna Gunning on Twitter: @agunning

  • Have you ever had misunderstandings with a client?
  • Have you had rounds and rounds of feedback - until you no longer recognized your original proposal?

If your answer is yes, then you’ll love Anna Gunning’s tips.

If your answer is no … Really?

Anna Gunning's advice: when you get a brief from a client, you should ask yourself 3 questions:

  1. Am I sure the information is complete?
  2. Are the mutual expectations clearly understood?
  3. Have I taken subjectivity out of the review process as much as possible?

Question 1: Am I sure the information is complete?

Your information is not complete if you don’t understand: 

  • The customer
  • What you’re selling
  • How to influence the decision-making process

> You don’t understand the customer
You can’t sell to everyone – even if your clients say you should.

It’s your job to tell them otherwise. Focus. Who is your target audience?

Do customer research, such as interviews.

Example questions: 

Example questions for customer interviews by Anna Gunning
Anna Gunning's example questions for a customer interview

If you can’t do interviews, use online resources:

  • Review sites: Google My Business, Amazon
  • Industry and community forums
  • Reddit
  • Quora
  • Competitor testimonials

Read the discussions. Find out what issues people are struggling with, what triggers them, what words they use …

When you’ve got all the data you need, bring them together in this table:

Anna Gunning's table for bringing customer research together

Now there’s a blueprint for your copy!

> You don’t understand what you’re selling
People aren’t buying a product or a service. They’re buying a solution to their problem.

Ask your client to fill in the gaps in this statement:

Our customers need a better way to … because …

Most clients will think of something like this:

Our customers need a better way to learn about what we are selling because we haven’t been generating enough leads.

Not the most convincing copy.

Help your client fill in the gaps in a customer-oriented way, such as:

Our customers need a better way to design PDFs or e-books because it’s too expensive for them to pay a graphic designer.

When you understand what you’re selling, there’s one more vital question: what are your differentiators?

Your client might say: “We’re customer-oriented and offer a high-quality product.”

But as a copywriter, you should never settle for that kind of input. That could be about any company in any industry.

It’s your job to ask: “So what?” (Or more politely: "Why?")

And keep asking why until you get specific input.

Such as: “We reply to all customer emails within 24 hours” and “Even without any graphical skills, you’ll be able to design a professional-looking e-book within 20 minutes”.

> You don’t understand how to influence the decision-making process
Find out what stage of awareness your reader is in.

Is she aware that:

  • She has a problem?
  • There’s a solution?
  • Your client offers the solution?

You have to know what she already knows. And what she needs to know to take the next step.

Question 2: Are the mutual expectations clearly understood?

Check off these things with your client:

  • Objectives
    What are we trying to achieve? More sales leads, brand awareness, website visits, event attendance …?
  • Target audience
    Who are we targeting?
  • Key takeaway
    What is the key takeaway? E.g., a product benefit, an offer, an invitation.
  • Call to action
    What are we trying to get the target audience to do? Book an appointment, visit a landing page, make a purchase … And is there a specific deadline for this?
  • Deliverables
    What is the client expecting to receive? Detail specifics such as sizes and formats, e.g. “You’ll get the copy in a Word document, A4 size.”
    This might sound obvious, but your client will appreciate the clarity. And will get exactly what she expected.
  • Relevant past performance
    Ask for detailed information on open rates and click rates of previous campaigns. If previous copy has worked particularly well or not, this is useful information for you.

Question 3: Have I taken subjectivity out of the review process as much as possible?

If you take care of steps 1 and 2, you should be good.

You’ve done your research. So whenever the client asks you to change something for no apparent reason, you can refer back to the research.

It won’t be your opinion versus your client’s opinion. It will be research data versus your client’s opinion.

3. Ryan Wallman: the bloodhound of bullshit

Ryan Wallman was speaker at the Copywriting Conference 2018Follow Ryan Wallman on Twitter: @dr_draper

Ryan Wallman is allergic to corporate bullshit and to making things sound a lot more difficult than they are. Or, to quote the 'bloodhound of bullshit': 

"I'm trying to pay a phone bill, not get to f*cking Mordor."

In his talk, he shared a few of his favorite examples:

Starbucks: "Delivering an immersive, ulta-premium, coffee-forward experience"
Is this what you would say if someone asked you what Starbucks does?

How to write bullshit-free copy:

  • Never say ‘innovative’
  • Use concrete language
  • Write (mostly) short sentences: over 32 words is too long
  • Take the Flesch reading ease test. Based on your sentence structure and vocabulary, you get a score. The higher your score, the easier your copy is to read: 
    The Flesch reading ease score
    The higher your score, the easier your text is to read.
  • Use the Hemingway app: find out how to make your writing bold and clear by shortening your sentences or eliminating passive voice and adverbs.

A few examples to prove that you can write effective copy in simple, short sentences:

"This car will help you up the corporate ladder. Just drive it to work early and work really hard." Volkswagen ad
Volkswagen proves that copy can be simple and great.
An apology ad by KFC
An apology ad by KFC, with a twist. 

4.  Anna Johnston: on biases and how to use them in your writing

Anna Johnston, speaker at the Copywriting Conference 2018Follow Anna Johnston on Twitter: @manvellwriting

Humans are irrational beings. We are all driven by biases. And as copywriters, we can make use of these biases.

Anna Johnston shared her best tips: 

1. Keep it vivid

We don’t relate to vague, big numbers.
But we do get triggered by:

  • Smart numbers: say “3 out of 4 people”, not “75% of people”
  • Individual cases: tell one person’s story, highlight individuals
Highlight the remarkable: an ad by Stabilo
"Highlight the remarkable": an ad by Stabilo, making use of our preference for individual stories.

2. Keep it simple

We are constantly bombarded with information. If you want to be heard, you have to keep it simple:

  • Make choosing simple
    Try the decoy effect: adding an unattractive option to highlight the benefits of the other options
  • Don’t give too many reasons
    The more arguments you use, the less powerful they become (the dilution effect)
  • Use simple words
A slide by Anna Johnston: use simple words
One of Anna Johnston's slides, showing very clearly why you should use simple words.

5. Doug Kessler: the power of metaphors or ‘the elephant in a nutshell’

Follow Doug Kessler on Twitter: @dougkessler

Metaphors can be powerful, especially in advertising: 

The damage the sun can do to your child's skin is like a face tattoo. (Ad by Boots Soltan)
The damage the sun can do to your child's skin is like a face tattoo. (Ad by Boots Soltan)

Doug Kessler's tips for using metaphors the right way in your copywriting:

  • Make it fresh: if it doesn’t shed a new light on something, don’t use it
  • Make sure the reader knows the source
  • Don’t mix them too much
  • Keep in mind ALL connotations, including negative ones
    E.g., atomic bombs were a disruptive technology, but you might not want to compare your business to them.
  • Make your metaphor worth it:

"Don’t make your reader pause without profit." - Martin Amis

6. James Daniel: the secrets of his award-winning direct mail campaign

James Daniel, speaker at the Copywriting Conference 2018Follow James Daniel on Twitter: @jdcopywriter

James Daniel revealed the strategies behind his award-winning hearing-aid campaign in the UK. 

When he came on board as the copywriter-strategist, he made 4 huge changes to the direct mail flow: 

  • Build on momentum
    In the original mail sequence, months would go by before people got another letter from the hearing-aid campaign. James decided to add an extra mail, so people wouldn't forget about it in the meantime. 
  • More simple, conversational style
  • Variation to find out what objections people are triggered by
    What arguments work or don't work? James wrote different variations of each letter, to test different content and see what arguments led to the highest conversion rates. 
  • Segmentation 
    People over 60 have different questions about hearing aids than people in their 20s. So he wrote different copy for different segments.  


7. Celia Anderson: tone of voice 

Celia Anderson from Siblinc, one of the speakers at the Copywriting ConferenceFollow Celia Anderson and her sister Silvia Lowe on Twitter: @siblinc

Siblinc writes for fashion brands. Celia Anderson shared her tips for creating a tone of voice toolkit.

When it come sto tone of voice, it's crucial to be consistent across all platforms (direct mail, social media, blogs, radio/TV, billboards ...) 

Celia mentioned 2 useful free tools, that we use as well and we'd love to recommend to everyone: 

  • Charactercountonline
    This tool doesn't just count the number of characters. It also keeps track of how often you use specific words. Which is interesting for search engine optimization and to check whether you're focusing on the right topics. 
  • Grammarly 
    To check your English grammar and spelling. It even helps you shorten sentences and avoid repetition. 

Finally, a big shout-out to the conference organizers ProCopywriters, the alliance for commercial writers in the UK.
If you're a UK-based copywriter they're definitely worth checking out.

And who knows, maybe we'll see each other at next year's conference?


P.S. Want more tips for writing for the web? Check out our in-company workshop Writing for the web: 1 day packed with hands-on tips you can implement yourself.

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