Copywriting

How do you turn great home page copy into killer home page copy?

Optimization is an iterative process.

Your copy is never “done.”

So although we more than doubled SweatBlock.com’s revenue by applying these 3 copywriting principles – messaging hierarchy, specificity and appropriate CTAs – we weren’t about to stop there.

This spring, we worked with the SweatBlock team to run another copy test on their home page.

To Figure Out What to Test, We First Had to Do the Unsexy:
Develop an Hypothesis About What Wasn’t Working

When you get a statistically significant paid lift of 108%, you might tell yourself it’ll be tough to beat that winning copy.

And you’re right: it probably won’t be easy.

But it’s never “easy” to beat any copy. (Anyone who says “this’ll be easy” is trying to sell you something. Slowly back away…)

And of course the goal is not to beat the copy. …This is the part where I robotically repeat what we all say and hear at conferences: the purpose of testing is to learn. I mention that grudgingly not because it’s not true but because I get sooo tired of people scaring people off testing with endless rules and guidelines. (Aren’t we a little early in split-testing for so many bloody rules??)

Back to the point: We knew some things about what moved SweatBlock prospects. We needed to know more. Hence, test.

By the time we got to the point of creating a new variation for SweatBlock, we:

  • Knew the product well, having used it
  • Knew the audience well, having watched dozens of testimonial videos and read through 1000s of their Amazon reviews
  • Had a strong sense for what was working in the Control, given that we’d written it thoughtfully and intentionally

With so much more to learn, we needed to start by poking holes in the winner.

Picking apart other people’s work is always a fun exercise. Hence these fantastic comments on our earlier SweatBlock post.

So why not give it a try now? Go through the Control copy that follows immediately below, and think of what you’d do to improve it to the end that more people buy more SweatBlock:

Variation B becomes new Control - 550 wide

Here is a fraction of the list we came up with:

  • Woman in hero is facing away so we can’t see her dry underarms – perhaps better to see her facing forward to see a grey shirt that’s free of underarm wetness.

  • Should the hero woman be in a crowd, where she’s more likely to feel “sweat shame”, rather than alone?

  • Should we get rid of the global nav?

  • Maybe people want more than to “control” their sweat.

  • Does the SweatBlock product shot come too soon?

  • Does the free shipping offer come too soon?

  • Is the call to value in the hero too value-y and not action-y enough?

  • Do the media logos need an introduction?

  • Do we need the media logos at all? What are they there to do? (We didn’t place these thoughtfully in the winner.)

  • Should we try to get our prospects to feel more of the pain of sweating before we intro the solution?

  • Does the product “demo” (i.e., 4-step nighttime application) appear too soon for prospects?

  • The 7-day calendar – is it believable yet? We show 7 days, but it’s actually 6.4 days.

  • Many SB customers have tried countless solutions and may be so frustrated they’re considering Botox. Should we address this or compare the ease and affordability of SB to the drastic measure that is a Botox injection?

  • Perhaps the photos showing the various types of sweating aren’t big enough?

  • Maybe we should just cut that whole area with the 5 stacked photos and sweat types?
  • Perhaps those photos are too stock photo-y?

  • Are we minimizing the authority and influencer proof (i.e., doctor, Rachel Ray) too much?

  • By putting FDA compliant in the crosshead on the close, are we introducing concerns? Do we have reason to believe that prospects need to know about FDA compliance with such emphasis at this point?

  • If you get free shipping on 2 boxes, should we show 2 boxes in the close instead of 1?

  • Is there a better way to integrate the FAQs so they’re not so tacked on?

  • Where are all the testimonials???

  • Should we remove the CTAs in the footer?

  • Should we add in new messages? – countless Amazon reviews raved about using SweatBlock on hands, necks, backs, knees.

For me, a lot of those questions and ideas were… smaller. It felt like we could and should address some of them, yeah. But, well, really, they were just elements. They spoke to execution rather than something bigger and possibly more interesting. Treating them would be treating the symptoms, not the disease.

Bigger research questions – based on bigger lessons to learn – might look more like:

  • Do people landing here feel alone? Will a greater emphasis on social, authority and/or influencer proof better speak to our prospects and compel them to buy?
    This would likely drive us to create a new variation that leads with and leans heavily on testimonials and shows of support from authorities.
  • Are non-readers struggling to see themselves on the page? Will more solution-focused or happy-outcome photos better speak to scanning prospects and compel them to buy?
    This would likely drive us to create a new variation that uses 1) more photos that 2) showcase wet vs dry underarms in a range of social situations.
  • Are prospects struggling to understand how SweatBlock will work in their lives and, thus, will more story-focused social proof and demos help convince them to buy?
    This would likely drive us to create a new variation based around a SweatBlock demo, a la infomercials and traditional consumer-goods long-form sales pages.
  • Should we treat this more like the great “miracle cures” of past direct response excellence? Are we jumping too quickly to the solution? Will spending more time on the problem before presenting the solution pull more prospects in so we can convince them to buy?
    This would likely drive us to create a new variation that uses the PAS framework, keeping most of the “solution” part of the page the same but leading with the problem and then agitating it.

Now comes the part where we separate the conversion copywriters from the conversion consultants.

(My favorite part.)

We decided to test the thing that would make our copy-geek imaginations light up. Because if you were a copy geek and could choose between indulging your copy geekery or not, what would you do?

Now before I get into what we did, you may recall that, at the end of the first SweatBlock post this week, I invited you to guess what we might have done to optimize our winning copy.

A big congratulations goes to Andre, who totally nailed it with his guess about what we’d test for this second round:

Andre's guess

Andre wins a spot in 10x Emails, our email copywriting course relaunching next month. (Andre: email me!) He knew we’d do this:

We Decided to Test a New Variation That Used the “PAS” Framework

The PAS framework is intriguing to moi because it’s an old-school copywriting formula / framework.

It’d be interesting to test on any page. But particularly on home pages. Because it’s not designed for home pages. …But that doesn’t mean it can’t work for ’em, right? Right!

Now combine the PAS framework with my frustration with home pages, which I mentioned in one of my recent posts.

Part of my problem with home pages is that they welcome so many different types of prospects – people in all stages of awareness, with varying degrees of intent – that they have to try to be everything to everyone. Which dilutes the message. Which makes the page nuthin’ to no one. (I know that’s a double negative. Work with me.) My general solve for this is to write for the 20 to 35% of the home page visitors that you actually stand a chance of converting. And that’s a good approach. But it makes for rather loose and generally ho-hum “I’m everything to everyone!” copy.

What I love is landing pages.

Landing pages follow lovely little rules.

Landing pages are meant for targeted audiences in a somewhat controlled flow, making them dramatically easier to write than home pages. And, BTW, it’s not like I’m not up for the challenge of writing a difficult page. I totally am. What I’m not up for is the moving target that is a home page. “Now it’s for you. Now it’s for you. Wait, now it’s for you. Forget personas and targets – home pages for everyone!”

Painful.

Landing pages, on the other hand, benefit from lovely little layout frameworks like AIDA. And like my personal fave: PAS.

Problem

Agitation

Solution

To use PAS when writing your copy, you simply start with the problem. Then poke at that problem so your reader can’t help but feel it. Then, when they’re itching for relief, present the solution.

Now let’s say you wanted to use PAS on your home page. That would require leading with the problem and then agitating it. (The latter is the hard part.) And that would mean you can’t do what we usually do on home pages: lead with your solution. Almost every home page you stumble across (except for large ecommerce and large publishers) leads with the product or solution, often phrased as a core piece of the value proposition. Take a look at the hero copy of a random selection…

Stripe’s home page

The value prop as the hero copy on Stripe's home page.

The Peak Athlete’s home page

Home page value proposition

Bluejeans gets to their value prop in the home page subhead

Blue Jeans home page copy

Value props, all around! We’ve seen that leading with your value prop on a home page can work wonders, as we wrote about here. We recommend to our students that they focus their home page hero on a strong value prop. So it’s not like it’s a bad practice to lead with a value prop. Not at all. It’s good!

It just makes leading with something else… scarier.

Now, wouldn’t you just know it – when I was looking for screenshots to use as examples, I went to Basecamp.com. And there I saw the closest thing to PAS I’ve ever seen on a home page:

PAS on the Basecamp 3 home page. And they use an open letter on the page, too. Because of course they do.

PAS on the Basecamp 3 home page. And they use an open letter on the page, too. Because of course they do.

<3 Basecamp

The team at Basecamp has always represented to me the ultimate marketing team. As long as I’ve been reading their stuff – and it’s gotta be a solid 8 years now – they’ve promoted the idea that everyone on a product marketing team is a copywriter. If you work at Basecamp, you’re involved in copywriting. So little wonder they’re testing or they’ve arrived at the PAS framework for their home page.

Now let’s return to the home page in question: SweatBlock.com.

With a pain-aware reader in mind, I wrote the new top 800 or so pixels of the page using PAS.

Make No Mistake: Writing a PAS Home Page Made Me Uncomfortable

It seems easy enough to present a problem and agitate it, doesn’t it?

Until you sit down to do it.

What kept getting in my way was not just the possibility that the right prospects to convert might not be further up the ladder than Problem Aware, which PAS is ideal for. To convert Problem Aware prospects, you need to move them from Problem Aware to Solution Aware to Product Aware so they’ll buy. And I was gonna try to do that on the page. Not a tiny feat.

…But that wasn’t the problem. After all, the last round of tests we’d done on the home page had also tried to move prospects through multiple stages on a single page, but that version hadn’t even had the benefit of a framework. So using PAS to frame such a page made me feel more confident than when I’d used nothing at all.

What was getting in my way was the force of every single home page convention that PAS was forcing me to ignore. For the past 20 years, we’ve been carving into stone home page rules like:

  1. Start with a statement of what the product is and does (which we’ve been hearing since at least 2002)
  2. Emphasize your differentiator in seconds to reduce bounce (since 2003 or earlier)
  3. Get to the point (discussed here)
  4. Start with the most important point (as here)
  5. Your headline should say what the product is, say what the prospect gets or say what they can do with it (as here)

Imagine each of those conventions had a voice.

And they were all shouting at me as I tried using PAS.

It was extraordinarily painful to push their voices away and just focus on the prospect’s problem: sweating excessively. Please take this as the warning that it is. Should you decide that you, too, would like to test a PAS home page, know that you will struggle to quiet ye olde voices – the Jakob Neilsens, the Bryan Eisenbergs – but that you must push through all of that.

At least, that’s what I did. And here’s how that turned out.

And In This Corner: Our PAS Home Page

Lemme show you the wire I sent to Chase at SweatBlock, and then I’ll tell you wassup with it:

PAS Home Page CHRP

We led with a pain we’d heard a lot: excessive sweaters are sweating for all sorts of reasons. It’s almost never ‘cos it’s hot out.

We agitated that pain by reminding them that sweating isn’t just about ruined clothing. Excessive sweating makes you feel trapped. It can’t be solved with regular deodorant – that’s why you find yourself avoiding light-coloured clothing, layering your shirts, tucking tissues inside your shirt – the list goes on. (It actually goes on for 8 bullet points.)

We continued agitating with the true story of Brianna, a woman who struggled with sweating in social situations. Her problem culminated in an embarrassing event at her child’s school, following which she went home and Googled “excessive sweating.”

The perfect segue for the page.

At this point, we introduced the solution. This just so happened to be the same point at which Brianna found the solution: SweatBlock. In fact, Brianna’s whole testimonial follows the PAS formula – it’s almost like the page is a large extension of her story.

From there, we started to bring in much of the page that had already won. Here’s what changed:

  • We revised the hero to more seamlessly connect the new PAS top with the rest of the page.
  • We added more proof points, like 4 million towelettes sold.
  • We removed the 4-step “demo” because I wasn’t entirely sure prospects needed to see that in order to buy. It may be worth testing the addition of it later.
  • We changed the use case area (i.e., where we wrote about nervous sweating) to a 4-column area. This area didn’t make it into the final version we tested.

The SweatBlock team was keen on the test, God bless ’em.

But they weren’t sure if the hero image should be of a man or a woman.

So they ran this as a three-way split test (i.e., A/B/C), where these variations were tested against each other:

A B C Sweatblock Test

 

This is the easier-to-read closeup view of the PAS addition:

PAS Top Only

So, do you think this PAS addition has what it takes to beat the Control, which already proved itself to be a high-converter?

Could either Variation B (woman) or Variation C (man) outperform the Control?

If so, which one? Or could both do the trick?

Did our copywriter-geek gamble pay off?

Do We Have a New Winner?
The Results of Our Home Page Copy Split-Test

Indeed, we have a winner! Two winners, actually.

Both variations brought in more paid conversions than the Control.

Here are the results:

  • Variation B (PAS, woman) produced a paid lift of 49%, with 99% confidence
  • Variation C (PAS, man) produced a paid lift of 46%, with 99% confidence

So, at least for the SweatBlock business and audience, the PAS framework worked on the home page.

I’m particularly excited about these results because they suggest that a home page doesn’t have to be an absolute guessing game or designed to speak to a broad audience. If you have reason to believe that the people you can convert on a page are in X stage of awareness – even if they’re landing on a catch-all home page or one-pager – you should test messaging for X stage of awareness, not for all the stages.

Further, these results give me greater confidence in trying PAS in other places. It is a really cool formula. Works again and again. There’s a reason it’s my fave. 🙂

You should give it a shot with your next test.

~jo

About the author

Joanna Wiebe

Joanna Wiebe - Copywriter and author of "Copy Hackers"

  • John Campbell

    Hi Joanna. Been following your epic content for quite a while, and this is gold. I recently designed and wrote the copy for this landing page that I’m about to put into action… I feel like it’s plagiarism, except I haven’t used any of your words… just the framework:
    http://viability.io/wp-content/themes/viability/img/PAS-landing-page.jpg
    Your uninhibited critique would be fantastic…

  • Amazing article Joanna and excellent takeaways!! Can’t wait to revamp the copy for our home page using the PAS framework, which should be interesting since we have services rather than a product… I’ve used it often for a sales page but, THIS just pushed me over the edge for using it on home pages as well;) Thanks again for a brilliant post!!

  • Hisham Assi

    Amazing article. You deserve my email. Take it. ?

  • Your Sweat Block ad is amazing, Joanna. It was used as an example of a fantastic home page example in our online business course. You read my mind. When you asked for examples of ways that would dramatically make it better –I kept thinking of the Dove commercials. Branding Sweat Block by sharing stories featuring customers is perfect! Plus it adds that ‘humanized’ marketing touch that’s becoming popular. Now how can we use your ‘humanized’ copywriting creativity for smaller businesses? ~Keri

  • Greg Manter

    The emotional tug of the PAS ad reminds me of a old classic — the Charles Atlas ad about “the insult that made a man out of Mac”.

    It’s a strong formula. Nice work.

  • I just checked their home page and saw that they have gone back to the Variation A …. still testing or getting ‘cold feet’?

  • Ummm.. this post is amazing!! Personally, I prefer the PAS approach. I do understand why companies choose not to use it, but the results you got really speak for PAS.

  • SuccessWorks

    Hi, Joanna!

    Thanks so much for linking to my post — I appreciate it! 🙂

    BTW, I LOVE Basecamp’s copy, too! They always write fantastic customer-centered copy.

    🙂

  • I nearly lost interest in the article when I saw the original homepage. Sorry. So glad I kept reading to the homepages revised using PAS. I do not know anyone who is really aware of their sweating problem so for this I think the agitation works. The kicker IMO is the early use of a personal story. Other situations, I’m not so sure…

    For example, agitating about “your copy boring the crap outta prospects” to highly motivated copywriting aspirants is a bit of a turnoff to me. Why would I be reading your stuff if I wasn’t problem aware? 😉 BTW I realise you are using this because you have no doubt tested it but …

    How does your signup conversion rate change when you use less agitation and more solution benefits/inspiration/authority/testimonials?

    Great topic Joanna!

  • Matt

    Will be reading all of this shortly, so if you talk about my point, sorry for being redundant.

    The one concern I have that was not addressed strongly enough IMO is safety. Now, I do not have the problem this product is trying to solve so I may be of a different mindset but I would be highly concerned about the effects of basically blocking my sweat glands off.

    We sweat because we are supposed to, so the idea of clogging the pores where my sweat is supposed to leave my body sounds like it could have unintended consequences.

    I would not by this product for myself, but in order for me to recommend it to someone I know I would need to be further convinced that it is safe to use the product for a prolonged period of time.

    • Joanna Wiebe

      You bring up an ongoing question in copywriting: should we say something that might introduce an anxiety or objection for our reader? Maybe it’s not a yes or no question. Maybe it’s a when. Nonetheless, it’s an ongoing consideration and totally worth testing.

      But figuring out what goes on the page and the order in which it goes is NOT about figuring out what we would want to see. It’s what our One Reader needs to see. That one reader has spent years with his arms pinned to his side, layering his clothes, wearing black, hoping when he heads into the bathroom that he doesn’t see enormous wet blotches under his arms. This is a real pain that is daily felt by real people. SweatBlock is safe – and we do get into that – but much more interesting for our One Reader is solving his pain. So that’s why we make sure they know we can solve their pain before we get into FDA approvals, etc.

  • Kyle at Mine Safety Center

    So if my math is right (which is always a huge IF) you raised their revenue by almost 3X?

    I think we’ve hit LUDICROUS SPEED!

    • Joanna Wiebe

      haha – yeah, it’s been good for biz. 🙂

      • Kyle at Mine Safety Center

        Always great! One question, It doesn’t look like their H1 has an identifiable keyword in your PAS version.

        Has that had any effect on their SEO rankings?

  • thierry

    Love the new copy Joanna and the process. Hey since I was the only one speaking about the temperature (hot), did it give you the idea of the way you presented the problem (you used it as foundation to the problem). If so I also deserve a free training 😉

    • Joanna Wiebe

      haha – I’d almost give you the training just on effort alone. Alas, you had to guess what we decided to test – and Andre hit that one on the head. Keep trying. 🙂

  • Robert van Tongeren

    This is awesome! Gonna have to try it!

    One question: I noticed the picture of ” Brianna” changed between versions… I never really consider just adding a stock-photo to a testimonial, because it seemed… fake? Should we feel comfortable doing this?

    • Joanna Wiebe

      Well I didn’t have a picture of Brianna when I put the wireframe together. So I used a stock photo. The SweatBlock team replaced my stock placeholder with a different photo – but it’s a pretty polished photo, so I’m not sure if it’s the real Brianna. The testimonial, of course, is 100% authentic and word for word. The photo is to draw the eye there. Yeah, there are obvious associations between the testimonial and the photo, so that’s definitely a consideration.

  • Aisha

    Such a great post. It really goes to show the importance of testing copy and NEVER making assumptions! We’ve got a new client at my agency who this will definitely be worth testing the PAS method with.

    As always, I will stay tuned for your next post!

    • Joanna Wiebe

      Awesome, Aisha! Yes, test all assumptions. Every copywriter I talk to has a dozen stories on how the thing they thought would work didn’t work and the thing everyone thought was doomed was actually brilliant. We just don’t know. We test informed guesses.

  • Cammy

    Hi Joanna, thank you for sharing. Really love learning through your work.

    I’m curious about one thing you mentioned in the results – “99% confidence.” What does “confidence” actually mean pertaining to the copy, and how does one measure that?

    • Joanna Wiebe

      That means that it’s virtually guaranteed that the new copy outperformed the old copy. That is, if they implemented the new copy, they could reasonably expect the lift to stick. We tested whole-page variations against each other, so it means that everything to do with that whole-page change is responsible for the lift – including the design. Make sense?

      To measure, we used a range of split-testing calculators. By using multiple credible calculators outside of the testing platform (which was Google), we could feel solid about reporting the results.

    • Hey @disqus_o745z7ZYXE:disqus just to help clarify the concept of statistical “confidence” for you:

      When an A/B testing case study reports that they got a certain result with 95% or 99% confidence, it’s stating that the test is 95% or 99% certain that the difference in performance is NOT due to random chance.

      In other words, it’s saying “We are 99% confident this difference in performance is *not* due to a false positive/random blip.”

      It’s a stats thing. But very important to understand when running tests!

  • Fantastic post – thank you !!!

    • Joanna Wiebe

      Thanks, Scott! Glad you liked. 🙂

  • Andre

    Great post! I got it right! And the test actually improved the results. But I wasn’t expecting to see myself in a blog post today. That was too funny. Thanks Joanna!!!

    • Joanna Wiebe

      Yeah, nice work, Andre!

  • Hi Joanna,

    Oh my God! Brilliant 😉

    I’m a big fan of “Pain Marketing”, so I love PAS.

    What’s curious is that this week I watched http://www.marketingexperiments.com/marketing-optimization/fear-based-messaging.html

    I guess what is really curious is human behavior — so testing is game never ending 😉

    • Joanna Wiebe

      Great link! Humans are completely mad. Oh, what fun to try to figure us out.

      • So true 😉

        In fact, I was so puzzled when I saw that experiment.

        Well, we can’t take nothing for granted. We must keep learning… applying… testing — and that’s the beauty of copy 😉

  • Mark Brophy

    Tests made me wonder could you do a design that works with girl on the left and guy on the right. Would need a bit of design tweaking but might beat both – as both are quite polarising to the other group from a 1st impression perspective.

    Did they analyse the sex breakdown of the two groups as opposed to just the % uplift?

    • Joanna Wiebe

      Are you asking if they identified the paid converters as M or F? If so, um, no. That would be cool. But, yeah, no. 🙂

  • Jessica

    I swooned at this article.

    Finally! Homepages aimed at people and the emotions that drive them to your page, instead of value props that may hit, but nowhere as powerfully as seeing something resonate deeply with you and knowing this company ‘got’ it.

    I’ve gotten so sick of the typical homepage – most of which use value props. Some are fantastic, most are uninspiring and look like cookie cutter pages of each other with a few variations of color, images and words.

    Using PAS means opening up a flood of new possibilities – strong, effective and building an intimate relationship with visitors even on the first page they see.

    It’s acknowledging the feelings behind the problem they have which prompted them to do a web search and stumble upon your homepage in the first place. And then reading your copy and knowing they’ve arrived.

    Or getting them to realize how their problem affects their life and makes them feel even if they haven’t thought about it before, and talking them like a therapist straight to the glorious Buy Product page.

    Man, it’s like the golden sales letters of old reincarnated in a Web body.

    Awesome article, and fantastic application of PAS.

    Looking forward to more case studies like these!

    • “I’ve gotten so sick of the typical homepage – most of which use value props.”

      … Badly written value props, at that. Or worse: “intriguing” brand statements that say nothing, blaaaaaargh. Couldn’t agree more. This was the best/most inspiring CRO case study blog post I’d read in a looooooong time!

    • Joanna Wiebe

      Yes! Totally agree – and thanks. I’m planning to present on old school copywriting for new school marketers at HeroConf this October. Planning to share a bunch of other studies like this one. Love bringin’ back the oldies!

  • OMG, that PAS home page is eff-ing fearless in its “rule”-breaking!!

    In all honesty, I would never have assumed that “going long” like that on a home page — esp. burying the CTA soooo far down the page, damn — for a simple/relatively cheap product like SB would work so well (that is, unless I had some answers from, say, a visitor survey that strongly indicated Problem Awareness).

    Even Basecamp’s long-form-ish homepage uses a funky CTA box that follows the reader down the page as they read.

    This is amazing!

    Here’s my question: how did you decide to go with a PAS approach and target the more Problem-Aware audience for this round of optimization?

    Was it just your previous success rate with PAS copy on landing pages and you wanted to see whether it could apply? Some other indication from visitor behaviour/feedback? I need to know!!

    • Joanna Wiebe

      Thanks, Momoko. 🙂 I was seriously uncomfortable writing it. And it could’ve gone either way (obviously!). Thank goodness, it worked out.

      As for the PAS approach and targeting Problem Aware visitors, I was thinking of this page more like a sales page. With that sort of mental model, the DR writer in me saw SweatBlock as a fabulous “miracle cure”, which made me think of starting with the problem and agitating it before revealing the miracle.

      I’d eliminated Product and Most Aware, although those are worth testing in another round. The reason is that SweatBlock also sells on Amazon, so I reasoned – and this doesn’t mean I’m right – that if you knew of the SB brand, you might go straight to Amazon to get Prime shipping. Might. Maybe.

      The control felt like a Solution Aware page already.

      And I sure as hell didn’t wanna write a page for Unaware.

      Thus, Problem Aware. And because PAS as a framework is SUCH a natural fit for Problem Aware folks, I used it.

  • Whoa! This is so fascinating. And totally unsurprising. I love PAS, especially on homepages. I’m not actually a massive fan of value props. Mostly because emotions are my jam.

    Question though: Why is the winning homepage not their current homepage?

    • Joanna Wiebe

      Because the testing continues!

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