How to use The 3 Essential Copywriting Techniques

Presented live on Tuesday, July 3, 2018

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When you write copy, you’re supposed to fill the page with something that’s compelling for every reader. But how?

In this tutorial, conversion copywriter Joanna Wiebe walks you through the 3 copy techniques you really should know if you care about your reader. You’ll also see how to make sense of what you learn so you can use these techniques in the next 20 minutes.

This tutorial is brought to you by Airstory writing software, used in this tutorial.


Introduction [00:00]

Joanna Wiebe: Cool. All right. The replay will of course then be available on as all of our tutorial replays are, almost all of them. We usually let you know if something will not be available as a replay, and you have to attend live to get it. Today, three essential copy techniques. I want to walk you through three of them, and then I want to kind of show you … Thanks, Brenda. I want to kind of show you how you would apply this on a website. This is again a live tutorial, so we’ll do our best to get through the details. But yeah, absolutely ask questions as we go through it, okay? All right.

Joanna Wiebe: I am going to share my screen. Because I’m not in sharing mode, sometimes you will see interesting chats pop up from people. Okay, here we go. Let me put that back over there. All right. Cool. I’m just going to get rid of that for now. All right. Three essential copy techniques. I’m going to walk you through them quickly and then we’ll head over to a homepage and take a look at them. All right.

The 3 Essential Copywriting Techniques [01:00]

Joanna Wiebe: Some of these you may have heard me talk about before, that’s why I’m calling them essential. But I don’t know if you’ve heard me talk about all three of them. The front-loading technique is … I’m sorry, I was just sharing the link. Which may or may not work for some of you, and may crash [inaudible 00:01:26] if you all try to get in there all at once. But we’ll see how that goes. Okay. 

1. The front-loading technique [01:20]

The front-loading technique is really, it’s a pretty simple thing. It goes back to essential user experience design, where you are … if you’ve heard of the F Pattern. I’m sure some people in the room have heard of Jakob Nielsen’s old and still perfectly valid … I think it was Nielsen, valid F Pattern, so the way people read online.

Joanna Wiebe: But [inaudible 00:01:52] so the idea is simply that when you’re thinking about how your copy sits on a page in particular. Because you can control it pretty well on a page. I know mobile and response and things like that. But kind of just don’t worry about that right now. When you are wire framing a page, when you’re laying out the copy for it, you want to front load. That means the most important stuff comes to the front of the line. Not the sentence, the line. We want to make sure that when you’re looking on the left hand side, when you go down and read the two inches that are left most on the page. If you were to scan just that you should be able to see leafy information, important information.

Joanna Wiebe: A lot of us have warm up copy and preamble stuff where we fill our sentences up with … I don’t want to say fluff, but it often does feel that way. When you’re like asking it if it’s doing important work, it’s not often doing important work. What you want to do is front load the words that people most need to see. That may be benefit type words like ‘fast’ and ‘easy.’ That may need to go at the far two inches of the page. Make sure that, again, people are just scanning and able to see the most important stuff as they move through. Again kind of with the F pattern. Which feel free to look up what the F Pattern is if you’re not familiar with it. But it’s really just like there’s an ‘F’ on the screen. People read that way. They’ll pay a lot of attention to the top part of the screen. Then less and less as you go. But they still pay attention to the things going over on that left margin. That’s why we want to front load. That’s where people are looking.

Joanna Wiebe: Put the important information where they’re looking. When people are running through scanners they’re often thinking about, “Oh. They need bullet lists; they need one sentence lines or one line sentences,” and things like that. That’s useful too but never underestimate the power of front loading your information. That includes when you are formatting a headline, let’s say. If your headline is two sentences like it’s two lines tall. You want to make sure that the words that are at the beginning of both lines are important information for the reader. If you are worried about voice, if you are trying to make your copy sound really light and easy … Yeah. Brett, the link may not work for you. We’ll get into that at the end by the way.

Joanna Wiebe: If you are trying to make that headline sound like, “Oh. It’s got a lot of voice.” Don’t put voice at the front of anything that you’re writing. Kind of try to push it in the middle of the sentence that you’re putting together. As you go through and write copy, think about front loading. That’s one of the three techniques. Can you reorganize your sentence to put the important information at the front? Again, I said sentence and I truly mean just the line. Or just thinking about how people look at the content on the page.

2. The ‘you’ technique [04:50]

Joanna Wiebe: Okay. Technique number two, the ‘you’ technique. I talk about this all the time because it almost instantly makes your page better, makes your copy better, makes your email better. The ‘you’ technique is really, really simple. Take ever line of copy that you have, every sentence that you have and re-write it with ‘you’ at the beginning of the sentence. Every single one. You might be like, “That’s exhausting. That gets robotic. That takes too much time.” It’s all time well spent, for one, because you’re forcing yourself to make sure that every single statement you make on the page puts your reader far before you. A lot of us default to putting ourselves first and we don’t mean to. But we have a brief that sounds like we should. We have a thing that we want to communicate, et cetera, et cetera.

Joanna Wiebe: When you force yourself to re-write every sentence with ‘you’ at the beginning. You then are more likely to be sure that you’re actually writing copy that your reader is going to care about. Then once you’ve re-written every line like that, and trust me you will notice a difference every time you do it and you’ll get in the habit of just always starting with ‘you.’ Then you can go through when you’re editing, you can go through and pull out or re-write sentences that come off sounding a little robotic. That’s just a really simple technique to use to make sure that you’re always putting your reader first. Okay?

3. The ‘even if’ technique

Joanna Wiebe: Technique number three is the ‘even if’ technique. This is an objection stomper that is phenom. We want to overcome objections wherever possible. Perfect, okay? Now when we’re doing that, that means that when you put a benefit on the page usually, always you need to support that benefit with real proof. Proof is great. Social proof, data proof, videos. All these different types of things you can do to support a benefit and make it more believable. However, when you want to take a benefit that has real objections attached to it like you can write a home page faster with these techniques. Let’s say that was a benefit. You can write a home page faster with these techniques. What’s an objection that your prospect has? “I’m a crappy writer. I don’t have time for this. You’re going to tell me things that are way over my head.” Then you’d add “even if you think you’re a crappy writer.” Or “even if you think lessons on writing are over your head all the time.” Things like that.

Joanna Wiebe: You take the benefit you want to say. You tack on ‘even if’ and then you go forward and put in the thing that they’re actually thinking. The real objection they have, you just pop it in there. Now you’ve got a benefit statement that’s more likely to be believed. You still want to use social proof to support it but you’re actually on the page addressing the real problem, the real objection that your prospect has.

Joanna Wiebe: Okay. Cool. Those are the three techniques. The link is not a template so you should not have actually been invited to that at all. Because it’s just for me and Sarah so I think Sarah was just being super nice in popping it in there, but we didn’t need to share [inaudible 00:08:26] docs so don’t worry about it. All we’re going to worry about is looking at what’s on the screen. Don’t try to get into it because it’s just three techniques so just look at them on the screen. This is the lesson. There’s no point in putting this project into your [inaudible 00:08:40] projects at all. Okay. I didn’t tell Sarah that so it’s my bad.

How to optimize your content on a web page using The 3 Essential Copywriting Techniques [9:00]

Joanna Wiebe: We have these three techniques: front loading, ‘you’ and ‘even if.’ Now if we were to go through and you were going to optimize the copy … Yes, because she’s a saint. If we’re going through and you’re going to optimize the copy on a page. Let’s say your job is to come in and this is the new … I think it’s pronounced Seva for anybody who uses ConvertKit or is familiar with the ConvertKit team. Seems that they are coming out with a rebrand where they’re turning from Convert Kit into this. That’s an email I got yesterday so I obviously clicked through to learn more about it. I don’t know when this is ruled out or if this is entirely ruled out because when I signed into ConvertKit, which we use, it’s still called ConvertKit.

How to front-load your copy first [9:40]

Joanna Wiebe: We could look at this copy and ask how to apply those three techniques. Front loading. We like to start with front loading over [inaudible 00:09:44] Again. Front loading, ‘you’ and ‘even if.’ Look at front loading before you look at ‘you’. Because ‘you’ is about re-writing copy that’s in a really good form already. Front loading has to come before that because if you first re-write every sentence to begin with ‘you’ and then you realize, “Oh, I didn’t front load anything here.” Then that’s problematic. All I’m saying is do it in this order. Don’t over think it. Don’t even think about it. Just do it the way I tell you to. Front load first, then the ‘you’ technique, then worry about ‘even if’ later.

Joanna Wiebe: We can go through and look at those steps. Two inches along the side. Approximately two inches, right? I’d look at this page, you would look at this page, and we’d go down. We’d say, okay in the first two inches over to the left, am I getting important information? Am I understanding why I should read this as a reader? Why am I spending time on this? Now this home page may be meant for people who are already ConvertKit users. I don’t know the stage of awareness. I don’t know anything about the background. We have to keep that in mind when we are going through and assessing anything. I know that I don’t know a lot about it. All I’m going to do is take these techniques and try to apply them here. That’s that.

Joanna Wiebe: Two inches to the left, “Hi, Let’s chat.” That means nothing to me. That’s not meaty information at all. That’s okay but we’re just assessing right now. Is it okay? It might be okay. Let’s look for something important in those two inches. You can go to yourself., and look on your own screen if you want to and do that two inch test. They get into that, Heather. Why they actually changed from ConvertKit to this. They’ve got blog posts on it so you can look into that.

Joanna Wiebe: You’re a creator. We’re not in the ‘you’ side of things yet. We’re not applying the ‘you’ technique but it’s reasonably good that they’re already leading with ‘you’ a lot. But what we’re looking for is important information that’s a benefit, that’s a feature, that’s something that you can actually sink your teeth into and doesn’t feel like filler. That’s right. Let’s go down … Sorry. There’s a lot of things. “You might be a writer, podcaster … what of all these rules and creators want you don’t want to spend … How to make what you do,” … Are we getting anything? “The real work, the work you love. You don’t want to spend this,” … The only thing that really stuck for me. Just rapidly go through. “All creators experience … spent turning no … because without the money.” Okay. That’s beginning to be an important point.

Joanna Wiebe: You can see that when you read through this and you look along the left there’s not a lot to hold onto as a reader. No matter what we’re doing … and this is not a cut on ConvertKit’s copywriters at all. This is what we all have to just think about when we’re laying out a page. What is going on for our reader? Are they getting any information when they’re just kind of plowing through our copy? Knowing that, as much as we want them to read every single line and optimize for that, sometimes they won’t. They might be on their third visit, now they’re ready to read it. But when we look at something like this and if it’s your first visit or your first time reading it, is the important information front loaded? Or is it buried somewhere in there?

Front-load important information to your reader [13:00]

Joanna Wiebe: For me, I’m not seeing it front loaded at all. When I read through it, of course, they’re telling their own story and it’s a softer message on this page. But they’re still … As conversion copywriters, which is what we are, we need to make sure that we’re writing copy that actually expresses something that really matters to our reader. It can’t just be “I want to hear your story.” I would never do that because I’m a conversion copywriter. If we’ve got people on the page we need them to, yes, feel something for our brand. If this is about, “Oh, we’re shifting direction and now we’re all about creators.” Very cool. How much does your reader really care. That doesn’t mean there’s no room for this kind of thing. But do we want to dedicate a whole page telling a story behind our brand. Is that the kind of thing that we should be doing?

Joanna Wiebe: I’m not talking about their strategy here. I really want to focus on whether important information is being shared. But you can see if I’m scanning this, there’s some points about money. Spending my time. I saw spending my time on something. I saw “but without the money,” is a thing … “The ground only to be crushed,” I have no idea what that means. Took a big risk. Okay, cool. But you can see as you go down and look at these over the front loaded stuff. None of it is going to stick. None of it has real staying power for people. Again, it doesn’t mean it’s wrong. We’re looking at this as conversion copywriters. That’s all.

How to express important information from a brief? Front-load it [14:45]

Joanna Wiebe: So “from coming up with first product.” Okay. Something about products support. Okay, fine. Fun. Are these important messages that needed to be expressed? If someone gives you a brief to express certain things. If someone does that then you want to make sure that those points are at the front of the page. Front of what they’re reading, cool? Front loaded, just like I said.

Joanna Wiebe: When we look through it and assess it critically, this is not front loading information. I start to wonder, is there information on this page outside of them telling their story? Which again, okay, that’s just different from what we would normally do. “Hi, Let’s chat.” I’m not going to get into an assessment of the copy outside of that. We looked at front loading. Doesn’t seem to pass the test. 

‘What’s in it for me?’ You need to front-load it in every paragraph [15:30]

We want to go through and see what the point is for every paragraph that you have here. What’s the point? What is in it for your reader? Why do they care? That’s right. You’re a creator even if you don’t think of yourself like that way. They’re trying to express something about you feeling one way and actually being a different … whatever. But you have to go through and assess it. What’s the point? Why does that line exist? Why am I taking my readers precious time. We all know how precious that time is. Spending it on something where there is no essential message to that line because we … I don’t know what I would front load here. Right?

Joanna Wiebe: Just like Brett just chatted. It goes back to really essential copy righting stuff like, what’s in it for me? Exactly what Brett just chatted over to the panelist. The rest of you didn’t see it. But 100% what’s in it for me. When you can front load things then you can see, Okay. Is there any meat in the sentence? Is there a reason for this paragraph to exist? If there’s not, what is it doing on the page? That’s where when we talk about long copy versus short. You might say, “Oh. That’s a long page.” But all long copies still has to exist for a reason. There still has to be a reason for every single paragraph or sentence to be on the page. That’s how we edit things down to the point that they’re actually still long in a lot of cases. But meaningful for your readers so they know why they’re spending time there. They’re getting something of it.

Joanna Wiebe: This could just be a branding exercise which it seems to be. They’re not looking to convert. They’re looking to get their brand out there. Okay. Fine. But even still, when you’ve got readers on the page, you want to respect every second of their time. That’s where a conversion copywriter would do something other than this.

How to use the ‘you’ technique in copywriting [17:18]

Joanna Wiebe: The ‘you’ technique we can see. “Awesome. You’re a creator,” starts with you. Great. I’m connecting on this page. “That’s right – you’re a creator.” So cool, they still said you’re a creator. This is clearly a ‘you’ focused sentence. Fantastic. “You might be awesome but regardless of how you identify yourself,” awesome. I don’t need every single line when it’s published to follow the ‘you’ technique. We need to make sure, though, when we’re going through it that we rewrite every sentence to begin with you. Then tweak it so it doesn’t sound robotic. “Creators want to create,” there might be a way to re-write that to have ‘you’ on there again. “You don’t want to spend your time on marketing tactics,” cool. Good. We’ve got a lot of ‘you’ going on.

Joanna Wiebe: Then it switches to ‘our.’ “Our team is no different. Each one of us.” Now they’re talking about them. Because this is a branding exercise you could see why they would want to talk about themselves. When you read through it does it still matter to you in the same way, when you seem them talking about themselves suddenly? If I really loved the team then, yes. If I’m a fan of these people. Imagine if some person … if it’s Taylor Swift. You love Taylor Swift. The you love hearing about what’s going on in her life. I’d have to believe that for this to switch over to “Our team is no different. Each one of us,” for that to still keep engaging people, where they keep talking about us … You can see, “We exist … That’s our mission … We exist.” This whole section is about them.

Joanna Wiebe: A common mistake that people make … Again I’m not tearing down this copy, we’re just talking about it. But a common mistake that people make when they’re writing they’re “About” page. They actually think they’re allowed to talk about themselves. You’re still not allowed to talk about yourself. Just forget ever talking about yourself. You can express things about yourself through the eyes of your prospect. Always thinking about your reader first. How’d you re-write these so that they’re still about your reader. That doesn’t mean you should know, “Our team is no different.” It means maybe this line doesn’t belong here. Or maybe only this line exists as in “our team is different.” Then you still get into this and re-write this.

Re-write the ‘our’ sections to lead with ‘you’ [19:40]

Joanna Wiebe: What do I care about this? What do I care? Each one of us could tell you a story about how we got stuck doing work we didn’t believe in. Make that matter to me so you’re connecting with me. But how can you re-write this? That’s our challenge as copywriters. Re-write this, don’t just cut it, don’t just throw it out. Can you re-write this and the sentences that follow all the way down to here, to lead with ‘you’? Raven just mentioned this, “About pages are not actually about you.” Honestly, unless you’re like Steve Jobs with fan boys way back when. Where you want to hear … tell me. Just give me a little insight into your life. Most of us will never, ever, ever care about this much detail. Not on your home page especially. Then when we talk about ‘About’ pages still make it about your reader. Your story told through them.

Joanna Wiebe: Awesome. That’s the ‘you’. We go through and re-write with the ‘you’. This is a huge opportunity from this point on to re-write the sentences with ‘you’. That’s why I chose this page, by the way. It was fresh and it had a few things that directly aligned with what we’re talking about today.

How to use ‘even if’ in your copywriting [20:55]

Joanna Wiebe: Now ‘even if’ is something where you’ve got, again, that benefit that you’re saying and then you have an objection that you know your prospect has to believing that benefit. If you can go through your page and you can’t think of any place to put the ‘even if’ clause that may mean either you have written the most compelling page ever, or you don’t have a strong benefit on the page. Benefit when it’s phrased right, and this happens pretty easily for most of us … that means really for everybody. A benefit should generally have at least a small objection behind it. Really, really, that can really happen. Then you’d say the ‘even if’ side. We’d go through and we’d read every line and ask ‘even if.’ Can we put ‘even if’ on there?

Joanna Wiebe: “Creators want to create,” even if, we could through something on the end of that. But that doesn’t make sense. We’re going to look for a benefit and then pop ‘even if’ onto it. Where’s the benefit? This is all about you, which is cool. Your story. We don’t have anything happening here that could allow us to do the ‘even if’ technique. We kind of get into something a bit meatier when we get into these bullets here. “We play by rules that help us, help you.” Again, we’re back to a we challenge. “Will this help creators earn a living?” These are just telling you important things. If anybody, when you’re reading through this, if you could identify anything … I read through this and couldn’t identify a point at which we would naturally put in an ‘even if.’ Except possibly in the “We care more,” but that’s my challenge.

Joanna Wiebe: No matter what I read on this, there’s no … Obviously this is about branding. Totally. But again … why? Why go into this much detail on a home page? There’s a strategy there. But from a conversion copywriters perspective, I don’t walk away with anything more than a branding exercise that I’ve been a part of. I’ve just had my eyes open to something that’s going on behind the scenes and is now about to be shared with everybody. The ‘even if’ technique … that I didn’t see any place where I could apply the ‘even if’ technique.

Joanna Wiebe: We finish this page going, “Okay. This is not a page that’s designed to convert people. It’s designed to make them feel something about this new Seva brand.” However there should still be important information that you would front load. Otherwise, what’s it doing? There should still be ‘you’ focused language, not ‘we’ focused language. There should be a point at which people to be asked to believe in something bigger. Something that they didn’t understand before. Otherwise, it feels just like a lot of puff. Not my cat, Puff. A lot of puffiness, right? That’s the problem that a lot of us have to face as copywriters. People think our job is just to put things on the page and fill it up with stuff. That’s bad for all copywriters. In my lengthy experience doing this, it’s not beneficial for any copywriter to write copy that doesn’t have a thing that it’s actually trying to sell people on. You are still trying to sell people on being part of this mission, in this case. Make sure it’s all about creators.

Joanna Wiebe: Did we see any important information outside of those bullet points? I didn’t. That’s where if anybody was hired for this, any copywriter, if they were like, “Cool. Let’s bring in a conversion copywriter to take this and actually make sure that we’re still getting the branding information across. But we’re also filling the page with something that is going to be truly compelling for every reader.” There are opportunities there.

Joanna Wiebe: Karen just got a little … Yeah. Again, I’m not tearing down this page. This is one example of a million examples out there where a conversion copywriter would look at things differently. It doesn’t mean we don’t believe in branding. But we do care about our reader more than we care about ourselves, and talking about ourselves.

Q&A [25:40]

How to use the two inch rule when you have responsive pages? [25:40]

Joanna Wiebe: That is it for the actual tutorial itself. I’m going to stop sharing. I see that there are two questions here. Okay. Lisa asks, “But how does the two inch rule apply when you have a responsive page and can’t control line breaks?” It’s admittedly harder. There are times when you actually can’t control it. But then there are times when you can like the first word in a sentence, or a new paragraph. You can always control that. Always do your best to make sure that the first word along the left, wherever possible. That might just be the first word in a sentence, the first word in a headline, the first word in a paragraph. I say word, but that could be two or three words. Those are the most important words that you can possibly work on in that space. Do your best with what you’ve got to apply that rule wherever possible. When you can’t, you can’t. But when you can, you should.

Do the 3 Essential Copywriting Techniques apply to emails? [26:21]

Joanna Wiebe: Maureen says, “Do these three techniques apply to email as well as web pages?” Okay. Yes. For today’s email, that went out to bring you all here, I rewrote that after putting the email together. I rewrote it with these three techniques just to make sure that anybody who was attending and then later went back and saw the email, they were like, “Hmm. She did apply those rules.” I absolutely did. If you look at today’s email you can see leading with ‘you’, you can see front loading information, and I don’t think I put an ‘even if’ in there. But I thought about it! It didn’t make sense to put it in there. Do it in your emails as well. Absolutely. The ‘even if’ technique alone … like each one of these alone. You don’t need to do all three, you should. But each one of these alone will make your copy better. Just the ‘you’ technique. Just use that for the rest of your life and everything will get better that you write. Then add in other things as well.

Joanna Wiebe: Okay? Cool. So Sarah has posted a link where this replay will be available if you want to watch again, or get someone on your team who keep reviewing your copy and rewriting your ‘you’ sentences in the wrong way. Be like, “Here. Watch this. See what Jo said about it.” Then you guys can discuss it. You can have those tutorials … Oh. Jorge just asked a question. “Therefore, is it better to left align the key message or headline at the homepage rather than centering it?” No, the point is not just to follow the F Pattern. It’s to front load. That’s the thing.

Joanna Wiebe: If you have a centered headline, or a centered cross head, or a bullet point, or whatever it might be. It’s not about left aligning things. It’s about thinking where your readers eye is and putting the right information there. This is just on page messaging hierarchy stuff. You want to make sure that if you have a centered headline. If you can control the line break for that centered headline, you do so in such a way where the front two words of line one and line two are the most important words. You wouldn’t want to see ‘the’. ‘The’ would be pointless at the front of your second line. It might be okay at the front of your first line. This is stuff you get into as you start playing around with it, right? But when you’re trying to decide where do I break my headline? When you can decide that, what goes on the next line, make sure that the place where you break it puts the most important information for the second half off that … we just want to make sure we’re not burying stuff. That’s it.

Joanna Wiebe: It’s so easy to bury this information and just go like, “Oh. That’s just how the page is formatted.” But we can help control how the page is formatted and apply these very simple techniques to make sure that our headline has the right line breaks, at the right parts. That we have the right breaks wherever we can control it, okay? Okay. Cool, cool, cool, cool. Cool.

Joanna Wiebe: All right. Awesome. Mark just asked, “Will Copyhackers get rebranded to CoHa?” I like it. I do. I think we’re going do it. Yeah. I like that change. I don’t see that happening. Again, I’m very excited for ConvertKit. We love the team at ConvertKit. They’re awesome people. They’re doing great work. It just happened that I saw this page as I was preparing for today’s tutorial and that’s why we brought it up. But nothing against anything else. You can assess any page and find problems according to conversion copywriters with it. Cool. A branding copywriter would be like, “Joanna, I got news for you,” and we would have a big discussion about it.

Joanna Wiebe: All right. That is all for this weeks tutorial. Next weeks tutorial, if you launch anything. If you are part of anything. We have Abbey Woodcock coming in. She was Ramit Sethi’s copywriter for years. She has been behind launches like Ryan Levesque Ask Method. Ramit Sethi’s many launches. She has been part of millions and millions and millions of dollars in launches. Whether you do course launches, product launches. Any kinds of things that you’re trying to put out there with a bang at any point. If you’ve ever done these before you know that these are hard things to pull off. People stress about their launches. I’ve stressed about my launches so I’m so excited to bring Abbey in. She’s going to talk about how to create a launch command center. Basically how to project manage your launch. Very important information. If you have launched before, if you haven’t launched before, if you might be part of launches at any point. Be sure to join us for our next tutorial Tuesday on July 10th.

Joanna Wiebe: Thanks, everybody. Awesome. Thanks, Sarah for taking care of everything as we went through today’s tutorial. We will see you all next week. Have a great week. Bye, guys.

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