How to Write Great Body Copy
- List features, benefits, claims and facts in an engaging way
- Answer “So what?” – give your user a reason they should care
- Provide proof – the bigger the claim, the more proof you’ll need
For my unwebinar with Unbounce, we solicited Qs in advance. And I was pretty surprised to find so many people asking similar questions that could best be summarized like so:
“What do I do once I’m done writing my headline?”
It’s funny. See, on the rare occasions when we’re NOT talking about headlines in this crazy copy hacking world, we’re talking about buttons or testimonials.
But what about the rest of the page?
What about all that stuff that actually makes up the whole page?
Nobody ever talks about writing body copy. But that doesn’t mean startups aren’t sitting in front of their screens – their fingertips hovering over their keyboards, and their eyes staring blankly at 700 or so pixels of empty space under the headline – wishing Copyhackers would post about this already!
So why don’t we talk about body copy? Simple: It’s a freakin’ huge topic. Basically, whenever we’re not talking about headlines or buttons, we’re talking about writing better body copy. Which means that all of the following Copyhackers posts are actually about writing better body copy:
- The “Show vs Tell” showdown
- How to create tone in your copy
- Make your copy sticky
- An ode to differentiation
As huge as the topic of body copy is, I want to share with you 2 sticky note-worthy phrases that will help you immediately answer one of the most common Qs startups have about body copy:
“How much is too much?”
Inspired by this question – which unwebinar attendees Janet K, Miha M, Chris O and Donna K asked (verbatim or nearly) – Lance spoke to how long your copy should go in this awesome “Automatic” post. Now I’m swooping in to tell you HOW to know when you’ve reached the point that you can finally stop writing and move onto either the next section of copy or the next page. And, as mentioned, the way to do this is to employ…:
The 2 Phrases to Tape to Your Monitor Today
The best body copy addresses features, benefits, claims and facts in an engaging way. But how do we make those believable? It’s your message’s believability that contributes most to your ability to convert your visitors. To increase the believability of your message – and write sexy-a$$ body copy that is more likely to convert – write these 2 phrases on a sticky note and post them to your monitor:
- So what?
- Prove it!
Addressing those 2 phrases alone in your body copy will help you:
- Know when to stop writing
- Know when to keep writing
- Cut unbelievable messages
- Increase the believability of believable messages
There is a world of people marching through your site with the firmly held belief that your ENTIRE reason for being is to part fools from their money. Your visitors are not interested in being fools; they’d rather be rich skeptics than poor fools. …And that’s why these 2 phrases – which your visitors will never actually see on the screen – are so powerful.
Here’s how you use them when you’re writing. Start by writing down a feature, benefit, claim or fact. Then, ask yourself, “So what?” (Note that, for benefits, the so-what is baked into the statement itself. At least, it should be… if it’s a good benefit.) Why should anyone care about the filter on your photo-sharing app? What’s the big deal with the biodegradable packaging your product is shipped in? Whatever the “so what” reason is, write it down on the page as support for the feature, claim or fact. Stop writing once you’ve answered the question.
THEN, prove what you’ve just stated by using a demo, a screenshot, a testimonial or a data point to bolster it. The bigger the claim, the more proof you’re going to need. (This is why long form sales pages for expensive products get so freakin’ long. Because you need 30 testimonials to get people to pony up $97/mo on a “how to get an interview” course.)
Real World Examples (‘Cos You’ll Only Believe Me If I Prove It)
Michael Aagaard of ContentVerve.com always posts wicked examples of tests he’s run. Here – although he’s referencing a call to action – we can see the “so what?” principle at work in the winning treatment:
The control tells you what you’ll get (a claim), which is cool. But the treatment tells you why you should care – as in, it answers the “so what?” question. It will then be the job of the ContentVerve.com newsletter to prove it. (Perhaps a well-placed testimonial or embedded tweet could work as proof here, too.)
PayTango.com does an awesome job of proving the benefit / claim they make in the body copy below the subhead:The so what of “incredibly fast transactions” is clearly and succinctly messaged: “No more fumbling with the cards in your wallet.” Then they prove the claim by adding a recording (which unfortunately requires you have Vine) to let visitors see with their own eyes. (Bonus points for adding “Don’t believe it?” as a message on the page. Why imply when you can directly address? Nice.)
Unless you’re supporting a major claim, you generally only need to state 1 reason people should care and show 1 proof point. That’s it. Your copy doesn’t have to go any longer than that. You can test longer – or shorter – copy. But if you’re really concerned about keeping things crisp without cutting out important messages, do this right now:
Get a black marker.
Get 2 sticky notes.
Write “So What?” on one.
Write “Prove It” on the other.
Stick them to your monitor frame.
And always reference the sticky notes when writing body copy.
If the good peeps at YCombinator’s BitNami were to pop some sticky notes on their monitors, perhaps their copy would address either So What or Prove It. The only hint of so-what is under “Or in the cloud”, and the closest we get to proof of what they’re claiming (i.e., run any app on any platform) is a lineup of 8 icons. No screenshots, no demos, no explainer videos, and just one small testimonial that isn’t positioned to support any messages. Too bad.
You don’t have to be “wordy” with your messages to be believable. But ask yourself: Am I compromising the believability of my copy just to appease some nagging voice in my head that says I have to squeeze all my messages into 3 short blocks of copy on a page? I mean, why do you even HAVE any words on the page if you’re not going to let them convince and convert???
…And, finally, if more words are required to convince your visitors to click that button, then those are words well-used, aren’t they?
The right amount of copy is the amount it takes to turn your visitors into customers.
Yours in succinct, believable copy that converts,
“70% of the time if the facts aren’t there, they’ll hurt you. It’s exactly as if you don’t have a piece of concrete in your building, and it collapses.”
– Gene Schwartz (in a 1993 speech)