Copywriting

Explained and Demonstrated: How to Find Your Messages in Reviews on Amazon and TripAdvisor

You shouldn’t write copy.

You shouldn’t look inside your head for the messages that will convince your prospects.

You’re not your prospect. So how the hell could you know what they need to hear? It’s vanity to think you could.

Instead of writing your message, steal it. Steal it directly from your prospects. (tweet this)

I’ve given that piece of copywriting advice about a million times – including here, here and here – but never explicitly on this ‘ere Copy Hackers blog, strangely. And as a result, if you’ve heard that “Amazon review mining” or “TripAdvisor review mining” is something you should do to find your message and write better copy, you’re probably missing out on this teensy little point: how to do it.

How Do You Find Your Message
(And Stickier Copy) in the User Reviews on
Amazon, TripAdvisor and Other Sites?

First, here’s the idea.

If your message doesn’t come from you but rather from your prospect, then it holds that you should listen very closely to what your prospect says when she’s discussing products and services that either a) are yours or b) are similar to yours. Their words become yours. You’ll take what they say, and mirror it back to them

There are many ways to listen to your prospects. Most of them favor businesses with existing customers, a decent number of site visitors, or a solid and engaged email list. For example:

  • If you have customers you can connect with, you can interview them, record the convo, transcribe it, and scour that transcription for juicy tidbits. Groove did this recently
  • If you have visitors to your site, you can do on-site interviews and mine their open-ended responses for gold.
  • If you know exactly where your prospects hang out, you can go there, sit quietly and pretend to play with your phone as you secretly record their convos… then transcribe, scour, etc.
  • If you have an engaged email list that’s not uber-tiny, you can email a survey to them and mine their open-ended responses, again, for gold.

But what if you have zilch-o in the customer department?

Or what if – more likely – you’re totally terrified to get on the phone with a customer and interview them?

That’s where review mining is a godsend. Because products and services like yours already exist, it’s likely that people who have purchased and/or used those products and services have shared their opinions about them somewhere online. You can read through those reviews. Learn what people love, hate, are worried about. Learn what their expectations and motivations are for solutions like yours. And even find really sticky messages.

You Like Examples? How’s This for an Example

If you’ve seen me speak, you’ve seen me on Mixergy or you’ve read my ebooks, you might recognize this example.

I was working with a rehab center called Beachway, and I was struggling to find test-worthy messages because it was very, very difficult to interview past or existing customers and to survey them. This was largely because the subject matter was so emotional, coating the things I wanted to know – the drivers that pushed them to rehab, their fears about rehab – in either a lot of sugar or a lot of vinegar. It was hard to get true insights… so I turned to Amazon.

I looked up the following 6 books on Amazon:

  1. Under the Influence
  2. Drinking: A Love Story
  3. Addict in the Family
  4. Who Took My Husband?
  5. We All Fall Down
  6. Unwasted: My Lush Sobriety

It wasn’t the books themselves I was interested in. It was both the subject matter and, most importantly, the reviews actual readers had left.

For maybe 2 or 3 hours, I read through more than 500 reviews. I copied the actual language that book reviewers were using in their reviews, and I pasted their words – with as few ‘summaries’ or abstractions as possible – into 1 of 3 tables, exactly like so:

Amazon review mining for copy

(Here’s an editable version of that table – save a copy for yourself as you cannot edit this public one)

After I’d mined those reviews, I read through them… and one direct quote from a reviewer stood out more than the others. It became the following headline:

Beachway treatment

We tested that headline against the control, which was “Your Addiction Ends Here”. The new headline – the one I found in Amazon reviews – brought in >400% more clicks on the orange button… and >20% more lead-gen form submits on the next page. To be clear, that means the headline on the home page impacted sign-ups on the next page. That’s a powerful headline. And no other treatment has managed to beat, “If you think you need rehab, you do.”

You Won’t Just Find Copy in User Reviews –
You’ll Find the Messages You NEED to Put on the Page

When I was writing the Google Play description for the latest version of Flow recently, I went through the user reviews of the Flow app as well as the reviews of competing apps – like Asana, in particular.

What I found became a guide for my rewrite of the description. I found myself asking MetaLab’s Android developer Qs like these before I wrote a word:

  • Is it a native app? (Everyone seems to want this.)
  • Does it work offline? (Asana reviews show great disappointment that it doesn’t work offline. One said he’d like to see an “offline version that could store new tasks till I connect to the internet”.)
  • Is it fast? (Asana’s negative reviews have a lot to do with how slow it is. You may have an idea, but by the time the app loads and updates, the idea is gone.)
  • Does it allow subtasks? (Asana doesn’t seem to, and several people have said how important that is.)
  • Does it have “widgets”? (An Asana reviewer said this: “this app has no widgets, meaning that it completely disregards what may be Android’s single most effective feature for keeping task information at the user’s fingertips and making adding and managing tasks a seamless practice.”)

When you go through user reviews one by one, what’s really important to your prospects rises to the top. You see recurring questions, recurring statements. You hear their frustrations, and you can feel their excitement. This all makes its way into your copy and messaging hierarchy – the things you need to say, and the order in which your visitors need to read them. Naturally, this exercise reveals not only pure gold for copywriting, but also for product development.

Sounds Good – But Is Amazon Review Mining
as Easy as It Looks?

Before you even start digging through Amazon, TripAdvisor, iTunes, AngiesList, Yelp, YouTube comments, IMDB or HealthGrades – among a million other review sites – you’re probably going to run into a question I get a lot: “What product should I look for?” 

“We’re trying to get small businesses to choose our law practice. What books should I read?”

“We’re trying to sell bookbags to moms. There are no books about bookbags, and the reviews for bookbags don’t reveal much.”

“We’re trying to sell trips to Africa, but there aren’t any reviews on TripAdvisor for non-safaris in Africa.”

Deciding what books – or products – to read the reviews for is usually the hardest part. And it can get frustrating. So let me clarify. You are NOT trying to find reviews for products exactly like yours. If you can, great, but that’s super-rare. What you’re trying to do is figure out how your prospects feel, what they think, and what they love, hate, worry about, etc. Which means…

It’s about your prospects.

It’s about the outcome they’re seeking.

It’s not about your product. So it’s not about a book. Or a trip. Or a contractor. Or an app.

People first. That should not surprise you. After all, if we say anything on repeat around here, it’s this: it’s not about you, it’s about your prospects. That mindset will carry you successfully through any and every copywriting challenge you ever face.

So before you head to AngiesList to see how to sell a hammer, ask yourself these questions, in this order, to reveal the reviews you should go in search of, and where to look:

  1. Who is my target audience?
  2. What solutions do I believe they want from us? What are their goals?
  3. What solutions might they be using today to achieve those goals?
  4. If those solutions are online, where are they?

To illustrate how this works, let’s look at the Beachway example again.

  1. Who is my target audience?
    Addicts and their families.
  2. What solutions do I believe they want from us?
    To stop the cycle of addiction and get their lives back. To end the pain permanently. To do so quickly and with as little embarrassment as possible.
  3. What solutions might they be using today to achieve those goals?
    Reading books about addiction. Going to AA meetings. Talking to their pastor. Praying.
  4. If those solutions are online, where are they?
    Books = Amazon reviews. AA meetings = AAGrapevine.com.

So I’d go to Amazon and AAGrapevine, and there I would pore over what my prospects are writing there and fill this up.

Let’s try it again – but this time for something hard, like selling a SaaS solution for HR. I totally randomly thought this up, Googled it, and found this site: http://www.workday.com/. So let’s pretend we’re going to try to find test-worthy messages and stickier copy for Workday. We’ll have to make some assumptions here ‘cos I’m not sure who their target audience is, but let’s give it a shot nonetheless.

  1. Who is my target audience?
    HR departments in relatively large organizations (e.g., >50 ppl)
  2. What solutions do I believe they want from us?
    To lower costs in their org while keeping the best team-members happily employed.
  3. What solutions might they be using today to achieve those goals?
    Reading books about lowering costs in companies. Reading books about employee engagement. Reading blog posts. Checking out Glassdoor.com. Visiting forums. Attending conferences. Taking advanced degrees.
  4. If those solutions are online, where are they?
    Books = Amazon reviews. Comments on http://hrinnercircle.com/ and other blogs. Glassdoor. Forums = this one. Conferences = this one. Degrees = certificate, classesmore.

Lots of places to go looking for your messages, right? Watch the following video to see a shortened version of how I’d start analyzing Amazon reviews:

What do you think?

You prepared to go boldly and confidently swipe messages from your prospects… without anyone being the wiser? You ready to stop beating your head against the wall wondering what the Helsinki to write? Or is this just too damn simple to work?

~jo

About the author

Joanna Wiebe

Joanna Wiebe - Copywriter and author of "Copy Hackers"

  • JillComm

    This is really helpful, thank you! I’ve read about this method before, but your direction to go specifically to Most Helpful, as well as the three buckets of what you’re looking for, helped me structure this for myself. What I had been doing was just noting themes in the copy, but to craft landing pages and such this method is invaluable. Off to Amazon right now!

  • This is genius! You can also mine any kind of reviews, even for courses. I might borrow this strategy, Joanna, thank you! 🙂

  • Brilliant Jo.

  • Thank you so much for this article and the video. I’ve been doing some research on Amazon, but felt kind of unsure of what I should be looking for. I’ve been writing somethings down but feeling like I’m more so doing the motions than anything else.

    This article really helped me feel a bit more clear about what I should be looking for and how to look deeper into what the reviews are actually saying and wanting. Thank you

  • Chris Raymond

    I enjoyed this article, it gave me an avenue to come up with ideas I would not have thought of. BUT: The background music in the video is very distracting: too loud, especially since there are lyrics. I suggest turning the volume down on that or swapping in strictly instrumental, if you feel that you have to have background. (Personally, I don’t get why everywhere you go, except for libraries, has to have background music.)

  • Sorry to rain on the parade of positivity around this post, but what it’s not taking into account is that review sites actively encourage people to review products. Take the Amazon Vine Program for example. Amazon sends free products to members of the vine program. As a result, lots of people write reviews on Amazon specifically to get into the Vine Program. By the same token, you need to be aware that many reviews are fake. I.E. they are written by the marketing team selling the products, or are outsourced to copywriters.

    • Rocky Kev

      Hi Andrew! You are absolutely correct that many reviews may be fake. But if you take a look, the author read over 500 reviews. Maybe 1/5 of them were fake, who knows. But now he has a idea of the pain points, and the language they use to describe it.

      Now, the next stage is USING that language. May it be for a landing page, talking to clients, whatever, to really validate your test. So it doesn’t matter that they’re fake or not. You still have to validate it in some other capacity.

  • This is fantastic info, Jo. I’ve already started answering some of these questions and they’re leading me in new directions already. When you can speak the language of your prospects, you’re miles ahead!

    Thanks!

  • Andrew David Shiller MD

    Something is missing in this post.
    I appreciate the idea of looking for the statements, desires, pains, and searches of my potential clients.
    And it makes sense, your idea of looking in book reviews.
    But the process you show in the video seems potentially misleading.
    If I go to one or two or five comments and grab the phrases that grab me as important, then I’m seeing what I think is important. How do I know how important those phrases are to the 587 people who reviewed the book? It seems like there needs to be some way to gather more data, and objectively analyze it to see what “wants, pains, needs” are showing up in a broader sample.
    Any thoughts about that?
    thanks

    • Hi Andrew. I’m not sure this will help, but I’ve read about this method several different places, and it is effective. But you’re right sometimes you can get a skewed picture of what the reviewers are saying if you only look at a handful of reviews. The recommendation I’ve been hearing/reading is to specifically look at the 3 star reviews of the book or product.
      The reason being, is that a lot of the time 5 star reviews talk about how perfect everything is and 1 star reviews talk about how terrible everything is. This can really skew your findings and research. But if you look at the 3 star reviews, these tend to be the people who give an honest review and add in what they felt was missing, what they didn’t like and how the book or product could have been better. This also narrows down the number of reviews you’d have to read but still gives you good insight into the consensus of the audience for that item.
      That’s not to say you shouldn’t look at the 5 stars and the 1 stars because there can be great tidbits there too. But the 3 star reviews seem to be the bread and butter for great product review information.
      I hope that helps.

      • Great approach, Aaron! I’d also add that the more important the message you’re looking to create (e.g., home page headline = important), the more reviews you should mine. For a message that gets a lot of eyeballs, it would be time well spent to check 50 or 100+ reviews…

      • You’re absolutely right Lance. The more important, the deeper you want to go.

      • Andrew David Shiller MD

        Thanks Aaron. Sounds like a very sensible approach. 🙂

      • Joanna’s method of focusing on reviews marked “most helpful” and looking for repeated themes, feelings, ideas and phrases coupled with remembering the context (books) are great “boundaries” to ensure we don’t over-rely on the findings.

        Also, 1-star reviews are great fodder for contrasting who the book’s ideal audience is not–very helpful in writing copy to weed out your non-ideal clients.

    • Sort the reviews by most helpful. Then take the text, put quotation marks around it and search Google. Sometimes the exact same words show up on other forums, pages, sites, books etc. Then you know!

  • AJO

    Great piece of article. Thanks for sharing.
    Akshay Joshi,
    http://ajo.co.in/

  • Tanya Outridge

    This is fantastic, thank you Joanna. I love the practical simplicity of your writing strategies. I have been studying copy writing for such a long time and have some long time favourites, but I am finding that over time they have merged the copy writing with techie information to the extent that the copy has been shoved into the back seat. You have re-installed it very nicely where it belongs…up front and centre. It is very reassuring.

  • Pamela Hirsch

    Thanks, Joanna, for this amazing piece! I have such a hard time figuring out what words to use with my target customers – usually you just hear “figure out what your customers want and need” but there is never any useable advice on how to do that. I can’t wait to try this out – today!

    • Joanna Wiebe

      yay! So glad it’s what you need, Pamela. Let us know how it works out for you!

  • I skimmed through this when it was first published. Thank goodness I have a good memory to find and read it completely.

    • Joanna Wiebe

      Great, Raymond – are you using Amazon review mining for a project?

      • Yes…used it for a landing page copy.

  • Good article. In the old days in an ad agency you’d be able to source all the information you needed for your copy via in-house planners, meeting the client, going round their factory and so on. Or in the case of your rehab project, by focus groups and research. Mining comments at Trip Advisor, Amazon etc is a nice way round it.

    • Joanna Wiebe

      Right? And even better than talking to the client and using their product is hearing the actual objections and desires – in real words – of the customer.

      The client can help us understand some things; I believe it was Schwartz who listened to a CEO for an hour and wrote a winning ad immediately thereafter. But, for me, listening to prospects and customers surfaces much more meaningful copy than listening to the client (who’s often better at explaining the raison d’etre for the product and talking through features).

  • Joe Large

    Really enjoyed the video. did you use Camtasia for doing this? Really like when there are hands on tips. Appreciate you doing that.

    • Joanna Wiebe

      Yeah, I use Camtasia. Glad you liked it, Joe!

  • Christine Lellis

    Joanna,
    Love that you’ve given such an awesome resource and video- I’m definitely adding this to my swipe file. I recently wrote a vacation rental ad and, after publishing, swapped out the headline for one inspired by a client review…it increased the conversion rate in a hurry! I’m always looking to use clients’ own words, so this mining strategy is gold. Thank you!

    • Joanna Wiebe

      That’s fantastic! Thanks, Christine – and nice work. 🙂

  • I love this premise of letting your perfect prospect write your copy for you.

    It makes me think of Shaune Clarke hammering into my mind years ago, the importance of getting good at interviewing (over the phone) your perfect prospects and the people actually selling the product in order to get the juiciest examples to use in your copy.

    He found that some of the richest ideas for his copy came when he was in rapport with a person who felt like he was genuinely interested in what their experience was with said product or service.

    When done right, a person can relax into the conversation artfully directed by you and can yield some awesome insights about the customer’s reasons for buying that you’d never thought to address before.

    Being that a person can write a review and be relaxed while doing so because they’re not under the pressure of having a person in front of/on the phone with them, it seems to me that this would also yield some awesome insights, more with people who are good at writing but less so with people who are nervous about writing.

    And that’s why I believe both interviewing and raiding reviews are both incredible ways to allow copy to be masterfully written for you and I thank you Joanna for reminding me of such an important lesson.

    • Joanna Wiebe

      Yes, there’s tons more to message finding than just looking through reviews, but that’s a great starting point. Thanks, Lewis!

  • Tim Baxter

    Video was a great addition to the blog post, brought it all together. Thanks! super helpful 🙂

    • Joanna Wiebe

      Cool, thanks, Tim!

  • hello

    I liked this complete piece of document so much that saved it for future reading. More over video is done well and so much is self explanatory via video. thanks for this

  • Douglas

    Thanks for such a useful tip. Watching your brief video walk-through made the whole process very clear. Video walk-throughs are so great.

    • Joanna Wiebe

      Thanks, Douglas! I kept the video short – because the process can take a few hours – but I hope it gave the essentials to help you through.

  • Debra

    Thanks for describing review mining in such detail. I’m going to give it a try this afternoon.

    It sounds like you sometimes use the actual words of reviewers in your copy. Clearly this isn’t academic writing, but are there ethical considerations around this?

    • Joanna Wiebe

      Funnily, I get this question all the time when I speak about this practice. There are copyright rules/laws you can look into for the province/state/country where you do work, but in my experience a) you’re never going to swipe more than the acceptable “10%” and b) it’s not formally published copy you’re swiping so it’s not protected in the same ways.

      The FTC is like the ethics board for advertising, and the only reason they might raise an eyebrow at our use of our prospects’ words is in the event that we swiped a claim that we couldn’t substantiate.

  • Love this! it is the same technique researchers use to locate relevant literature for the lit-reviews. It was one of those face palm moments for me as I work to set up copy and blog posts for our vacation rental (www.SeaRanchAbaloneBay.com). I went to TripAdvisor to see why and who are going to The Sea Ranch, CA. I added an extra column that mines for our persona -who are going and why are they staying. As you said it must be person first.

    • Joanna Wiebe

      Very nice, Donna! Be sure to look for people who aren’t going to Sea Ranch, CA, too, to get a sense for what those non-consumption folks might also want from you.

  • Oscar Gil

    This was an awesome article!

    • Joanna Wiebe

      Why thanks, Oscar. Are you planning on using what you’ve learned?

  • vbhagat

    Great post Joanna. If you’re looking to do content mining about business software products like Workday and Asana, may I suggest TrustRadius as a resource. We have 2.5 million words of insights contributed by real business software users. Here’s content on Workday – https://www.trustradius.com/products/workday/reviews; and Asana – https://www.trustradius.com/products/asana/reviews. We also summarize sentiment across reviews ourselves when we write Buyer’s Guides like this – http://www.trustradius.com/guides/ab

    • Joanna Wiebe

      Very cool — it’s more like mining your testimonials, but same general idea. (Just requires you have users in order to get juicy insights. Or maybe there’s a version of your service that pulls in reviews of other products?) I wouldn’t normally ‘allow’ a comment with links to be published, but it sounds like your service could really help.

      What we need — and I’ve been trying to get someone to build this for an eternity 🙂 — is a solution that scrapes reviews, comments, forum discussions, etc. and reports insights about your market, products/solutions, their pains, etc that you can then use in your copy. Startup world… validate and build it? (Cuz it’s just that easy, right? 😉 )

      • benursal

        I’ve been yearning for such product too, Joanna. That would save so much time and give power to non-copywriters to write good copy…

      • vbhagat

        Our approach is to try and become the destination where authenticated real user insights are authored, and to organize/ curate the content to make it accessible and easy to digest. Our primary audience are software buyers, but clearly there’s a wealth of information for any marketer/ copy writer that wants to dig in. We debated scraping comments from across the web – the challenge is that there’s some much “noise” and it’s hard to find the “signal” – insightful commentary that you can trust.

  • I love it, Joanna! I saw a video where Jay Abraham mentioned using reviews to inspire your copy, but it didn’t get into nearly the level of detail you did. And I really appreciated your distinction about focusing on the target customers instead of specific products. I’d previously written off this technique because I have a service-based business and didn’t know how to apply it. But now I think it’s time to give it a shot! – Corey

    • Joanna Wiebe

      Yeah, this idea totally comes from Jay Abraham. Like you said, he didn’t get into it… and given that we use it *all the time*, I thought it was high time we share. Def don’t write it off! It works, it works, it works. 🙂

  • Aisha Reid

    Thanks for a really helpful article. My company’s going through a website revamp at the moment and so it’s come at just the right time!

    • Joanna Wiebe

      Very cool, Aisha! Starting with your prospects’ words is sure to help your conversion rate on the new site.

  • Thanks for the great tip Joanna. I’ve not come across this approach before, very handy indeed!

    • Joanna Wiebe

      Glad to hear it, Kevin! It’s a good-er.

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