Good copywriting is about persuasion, not manipulation. It’s getting someone to do something that’s in their best interest through writing. And it’s the “best interest” part that’s important.
Effective website copy moves people from Point A—where they are now—to Point B, where things will be better for them.
SaaS Consultant & Copywriter Josh Garofalo has spent several years learning what does and doesn’t work when it comes to website copy with his business, Sway Copy. In this episode, he explains the human-centered tactics that are a win-win for both company and customer.
- Persuade, don’t manipulate
- Leverage tactics with empathy
- Amp up your testimonials
- Nail your headlines and keep features together
- Put your value first on your pricing page
- Show what gaps you fill
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22:49 – Conduct customer interviews and surveys
Josh conducts his copywriting work in two phases: the research phase that will inform what kind of copy the company needs, and the actual copy work. Customer interviews are the biggest part of that research.
“The most important work for me is definitely customer interviews, customer surveys, and message mining. So with all three of those, I’m basically getting at that before, during, after story. And I’m also getting into a why us and not them story. Most SaaS categories are extremely crowded. Why are they choosing us and not another provider that’s on the surface quite similar and probably just as good in a lot of ways? And then I’m kind of breaking all that down, organizing it, tagging it, so I can actually pull from that when I actually write the copy. What else would I go for? I will look at things like screen recordings using Hotjar. A lot of companies don’t have that in place. If they have Intercom on their site, I’ll go through that. And it’s extremely tedious, but also extremely valuable, especially when you start to see those same questions surfacing over and over again. It’s like, why isn’t this on the site? People are asking us over and over again, if they do this, if the product does a specific thing. That should probably be on the website, then obviously people care about it and they’re not seeing it. So that’s another place where I spend a lot of time. And then obviously I’ll speak to sales, support success, people who are customer facing.”
26:11 – Understand the competitive landscape
Part of the research process is understanding how the company compares to competitors so he can position them effectively. He gets this information from customer interviews.
“Before you chose my client, what were you considering? What were you using? I’ve actually had a lot of people where they’re like, hang on just a second. Then they pull up a spreadsheet, share their screen. And they actually have a list of 10 competitors and different criteria that were important to them. And they’re often willing to send that over. So if you collect enough of those, you get a really good idea of how you differentiate from the competitors and which criteria they’re evaluating on. That’s amazing when that happens, but it doesn’t always happen that way. So the other way that you can get that is, again, you ask that question, what were you using before? Or what were you considering? And then just kind of asking questions that get at the weaknesses of those competitors. Why didn’t this company work out? Why didn’t that company work out? For example, right now I’m working with, do you know Circle, the community platform? And it’s very obvious. If you ask a customer why don’t you just do this in Slack? You’ll notice a theme arising over and over again, which is Slack is chaos. You have a comment. If you’re not always checking in, you’re going to miss it. So there’s little incentive to go back and actually answer old questions because they’re just buried and no one’s going to see your awesome contribution. Whereas in Circle, everything is a lot more calm.”
29:33 – Choose customers with value to interview
Josh wants to talk to a client’s customers that have the most value. Those are newer customers who have just been through the buying and comparison process and know why they chose the client.
“A question I’ll often ask my client to give them ideas of who they should connect me with is, which customer would you love to replicate over and over again? Let’s get on a call with them. And then the other thing is I don’t want it to be five years since they signed up because everything’s changed. The landscape has changed. The product has changed. Their business has changed. So that customer who jumps in is getting actual value from it, is enjoying the product. And probably signed up within the past six months to a year. It’s usually fresh enough where they can actually talk about that experience where they were actually evaluating competitors and switching. And what caused them to look for a solution and switch? Because as we all know, the cost of switching is something that you have to overcome. You can’t just be a little bit better. So there’s valuable insight there. The other thing that I like to do is, and this is a lot harder, speaking to people who haven’t signed up yet as well. And it’s just harder to speak to these people because they’re less invested. It’s harder to get them onto a call, but if you can, it’s enlightening to see what it is that’s stopping them from signing up.”
51:55 – Persuade, don’t manipulate
Josh said copywriting is all about conveying that you know what is in a person’s best interest and you know how to get them to a better place. It’s persuasion, not manipulation.
“I would describe it as getting someone to do something that’s in their best interest through the written word. And I think that ‘in their best interest’ is an important part. That’s what differentiates copywriting and persuasion from manipulation, which I think is what most people are thinking about when they say selling is gross. It’s getting people from point A to point B where point B is a better place for them than point A and it’s using writing to do that.”
52:52 – Leverage tactics with empathy
Most of the tactics that help with persuasive copy tap into the basic building blocks of human relationships. They require empathy.
“It’s leveraging the building blocks of most of our relationships and what makes us human. So things like reciprocity is super important. Future pacing. We’re all trying to be a better version of ourselves. So if you’re writing copy and you can show them this is where you are right now, this is where you’re going to be, that’s also important, which kind of gets at empathy as well, which is another pretty core attribute of being human. If you can show people that you understand their current place, they’re more likely to believe that you have a way to get them to this more desired future state. I would say those are a few of the big ones. And obviously there’s mental tricks you can play like urgency and things like that. But I feel like maybe, at least in SaaS, people are wising up to that a little bit. You’re typically selling to a more educated, sophisticated buyer and they can see through those tactics that might work in the health and fitness and financial, direct response niche, for example. I think you need to stay away from some of that. But it’s really just the basics of showing people that you understand where they are right now. You have a good idea of where they’re trying to go. You have a path to get them there. You give them value before you ask for anything.”
59:15 – Amp up your testimonials
One of the mistakes people make with their website copy is using short, pithy testimonials or putting them at the bottom of the page. Instead, use specific testimonials in context.
“One thing that I see on a lot of websites that I think is a missed opportunity is testimonials that have either, A. been dumbed down so they’re just a nice pithy one or two lines that basically say this product is amazing. I think that’s a big wasted opportunity. And two, testimonials that are dumbed down or not, but hidden in a slider more or less where they think people are going to get to the bottom of the page, which if you’ve looked at any analytics, you know a lot of people won’t reach the bottom of the page. And that they’re actually going to sit there and watch those testimonials scroll by, which if you’ve ever watched recorded sessions, you know people don’t do that either. I think there’s a much better use for social proof and that is let it be a little bit longer, let it be specific, but then make sure it’s contextual so that it’s actually slotted in alongside something you just said. So you can build this pattern of we say something, we make a claim, and then we show you that a real customer is saying the exact same thing. Basically echoing it back. I think that’s a much better use of social proof.”
1:00:45 – Nail your headlines and keep features together
Another two mistakes people make with web copy are vague headlines and breaking up a product’s features into separate pages. Both of these work against communicating your value.
“They’d be much, much better off with a very specific headline that says, this is what we do and who we do it for, or this is what we do and why we do it better than the people you’re probably considering alongside us right now. That would be a huge improvement for a lot of different companies. And then I guess another thing I run into a lot is companies who have a lot of different features and then feature pages. They will use the homepage to drive them into individual feature pages. And what that does is unless they then go through a lot of feature pages, it gets them thinking about your product as this little point solution, when really it’s a much broader platform. And it skews their view of the product. And then when they get to the pricing page, what? It’s 500 bucks a month? And it’s because they don’t see you as this complete, I hate to say it, but all in one solution. They see you as a little point solution and it just doesn’t match up with the price tag.”
1:02:26 – Put your value first on your pricing page
One of the most important things you can do is to make sure your pricing page shows the ROI of your product alongside the price.
“What most pricing pages do is you’ll click over to it and then you’ll have your tiers right there. And you’ll see it’s three tiers. But if you think about that common pattern of landing on the homepage and going right to the pricing page, those prices aren’t attached to any type of value. You have really no idea what you’re getting for those prices. So I like to do actually is if someone clicks on a pricing page, at the very top it might say something like pricing or a headline that alludes to the fact they’re on the pricing page. A testimonial or two that talk about ROI. So not just, this is a great product, but we’re able to do so-and-so five times faster. Or we’ve saved $50,000 this year because of this product. Then maybe three to six of the core benefits, features or capabilities that you know people value and then the pricing table. So that if someone just goes right to the pricing page, in a little bit they’ll see that whatever price you’re going to see, there’s an ROI on it. People are getting an ROI. And they have at least a high level of what they’re getting for that money.”
1:04:06 – Don’t listen to copywriting myths
Two myths that Josh thinks should disappear are that all copy needs to be A/B tested and that you shouldn’t look at your competition.
“A/B testing, you gotta A/B test everything. I don’t agree with that, especially in my market. I think most of my clients aren’t actually in a position to A/B test. I think we spoke about that a little bit earlier. The other thing is don’t look at the competitors. A lot of people will say, don’t look at the competitors, just do your own thing. I think that’s also terrible advice. I think the problem is people look at their competitors to see what they should be doing, rather than looking at your competitors to find the gaps that you can actually exploit. So you’re one of 10 companies doing a fairly similar thing. Is there something that you all do that customers really value, but no one is really taking ownership of? Like, we are the email marketing solution that does this. The other ones do it too, but you’re the one that’s making it a star of your value proposition. There might be an opportunity there and you will not find that unless you look at the competitors, unless it’s like pure luck basically.”
1:07:27 – Show what gaps you fill
The SaaS marketplace is crowded. Companies need to do their research and not just use voice of customer data, but clearly show who they’re different from the competition to succeed.
“You have to at least accurately talk about what you have. It doesn’t have to be pretty, but if you can have a solution to a real problem and communicate it in a way that people can understand, then that’s the next way to win. And then after that, you need to have the product. You need to be clear on what you do and communicate it clearly. But you also need to pile on the voice of the customer, this layer of the voice of the customer. And that’s how you get that relatable copy that the end-user or the technical person doesn’t necessarily need, but the buyer does need this voice of customer. And now I think we’re getting to this place where marketers are even smarter. They’re doing the voice of customer. There’s a lot of good products and now we need to help the customer not just add another solution to their consideration set, but give them permission to stop their search, which can go on forever, and just pull the trigger on one and feel good about moving forward. And that’s where, like you said, that this comparative messaging is going to become a lot more important now. And that can be explicit like comparison pages, but it can even just be in your homepage, in your why us page and throughout the website. Rather than it just being why us, show how your product is a reaction to something that you’ve seen in the market, because it should be anyways.”
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