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 Copyhackers 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: https://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 https://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