Back in the Stone Age before the internet, it was much harder to reach customers. Google AdWords didn’t exist, Native Ads only existed in print newspapers and magazines, and people actually had to (*gasp*) speak to others on the phone or take a money order in the mail.
Luckily, someone (maybe Al Gore?) invented the internet. The internet has made lead generation and customer communication easier than ever, at least from a technical standpoint.
This has been both a blessing and a curse.
On one hand, you’re able to send out a “free” email at the drop of a hat. You can slap up a landing page and send traffic to it immediately (not to mention that you can quickly cut off or fix unprofitable ad campaigns). It’s all amazing, and we have it easier than ever before. However, the low entry barriers have allowed people to get sloppy...Especially when it comes to writing copy.
It’s cheap to fail. Therefore, most folks put in zero effort to begin with.
Now, there’s a time and a place to “move fast and break things.” It’s better to launch something with mediocre copy than to never launch to at all.
However, the copy you’ll often see isn’t mediocre. It’s downright terrible.
Despite all of the shiny objects people love to blog about – the hacks, tips, tricks, etc. – good copy is still one of the main drivers behind any ad campaign’s success.
These aren’t just words on a page. This is your sales pitch. You’ve got to take it seriously.
The bad news is that great copywriters are hard to come by. The good news is that YOU can write great copy, simply because copywriting is not creative writing.
Albert Lasker (considered to be the father of modern advertising) once said that copywriting is “salesmanship in print.”
Just as there are structures and formulas for in-person sales pitches, there are tried and true methods to write a good ad creative and landing page. And much like the best way to run a better Display campaign is to use other peoples’ success as inspiration, the best way to write copy is to use good copy as an inspiration.
Most great copy is “old school.” This is stuff that most people scoff at, but they shouldn’t be so quick to judge.
The specific words and phrases may have changed over time, but the general theory behind what works and what doesn’t work is the same.
In this post, you’ll see 6 of my favorite contemporary and historic tools that will help you to write copy that converts for any product.
Some of the best copywriters on the planet write for print magazines like Cosmopolitan, Maxim, and Men’s Health.
The headlines you see on the cover are designed to pull people’s attention away from their cell phones when they are standing in line at the supermarket. This is VERY HARD to do. The cover headlines need to be good.
Luckily, these copywriters know what sort of language jolts people out of the haze.
In fact, they have been testing and writing the same basic headlines for decades.
For example, here’s the cover of the May 1979 issue of Cosmopolitan magazine vs. the cover of the February 2016 issue:
Look very closely.
There is a difference in the language (for example, “#TBT” wouldn’t have made sense in 1979).
And the 2016 headlines are a bit shorter, probably due to the general public’s shortened attention span. However, the essence of the copy is the same.
You could tweak the 1979 headlines and use them today.
#2: Print Ads
The rise in popularity of Native Advertising has brought the advertorial to the internet. An advertorial is a sales page that’s designed to look like an organic news article or blog post.
Looking at Adbeat data, we see a lot of advertisers in the personal finance and alternative health spaces using advertorials. However, you can use them for just about any market.
Here’s an example of an advertorial landing page for LowerMyBills.com:
However, advertorials are not at all new. They have been used in newspapers and magazines for decades.
Here’s a classic newspaper advertorial by David Ogilvy:
And this ad by Gary Halbert:
Whether or not you’re interested in testing out advertorials, I highly suggest you take a look at current and old school print ads. Some great copywriters to look to for inspiration include Gary Halbert, Gary Benvicenga, Bud Weckresser, and Mel Martin.
Here are my two favorite websites for print ads:
#3: Direct Mail Sales Letters
Many a fortune has been made through direct mail. All of the top direct response companies like Agora, Boardroom, and Rodale built their empires by sending sales pitches through snail mail. Some of these companies continue to use direct mail today.
Direct mail was essentially email before the internet existed. Great copywriting was really the only tool they had to convince you to buy.
The letter went in the trash if it didn’t catch your attention immediately. Stamps, envelopes, paper, time, etc. was all costly. Sending out a bad piece of copy could mean utter financial disaster. This meant that direct mailers had to jump through a lot of hoops to ensure campaign success.
For example, a piece of direct mail often contained multiple “headlines.”
The first headline was typically put on the outside of the envelope to get someone to actually open it.
Here’s a great example from Jay Abraham’s “Mr. X” letter:
What business owner wouldn’t be curious enough to open this letter?
And of course, the sales letter always had its own headline:
Sidenote: One of the advantages of analyzing direct mail pieces and older advertising in general is that there was a built-in delay to purchase the product. It required a lot more work. You had to call a number, get out your wallet, recite your credit card number, or maybe even mail in a check or money order.
The prospect had more excuses to put off purchase. Advertisers needed to have a very compelling sales pitch that would yank the prospect from whatever he was doing at that moment and drive him to take immediate action.
What direct mail pieces should you study?
The masters at it are Agora, Boardroom, and Rodale. You can find swipes of their stuff here:
- Hard to Find Ads
- Ultimate Swipe File (paid, but worth it if you write a lot of sales copy)
BuzzSumo is one of the only modern tools you’ll find on this list. BuzzSumo is like Adbeat for content marketers. It lets you search for and browse top pieces of content sorted by the number of social shares. It also shows which pieces of content are the most popular.
For example, if you type in “big data,” you’ll see all of the top articles that contain this specific phrase:
You can use some of these pieces as inspiration if you want to write a blog post on big data. Since you know what people have liked and shared in the past, your article is much more likely to be successful.
BuzzSumo can help you come up with new blog topics, headlines, or help you keep tabs on your competitors. BuzzSumo is a paid platform, but there are a few free options that will help you get started.
#5: Amazon Reviews
Reading reviews of similar products in your market is also an excellent way to find the exact language used by costumers to describe either the pros or cons of the problem you have a solution for.
For example, if you’re selling a fish oil supplement, you can search Amazon for all current fish oil supplements. Then you can look at both the positive and negative reviews.
You’ll want to specifically take note of the language that the customers use in their reviews.
Here’s the positive with the benefits highlighted:
And now for the negative with the negative aspects highlighted:
This fish oil causes gas, “fish burps,” and has a fishy aftertaste. If your fish oil does not cause any of these nasty effects, you can use this in your copy, since this is a problem that people want to avoid.
Now you can combine the positive language with the negative. You’ll then have a product that can “enhance your mood, relieve stress, think more clearly, and relieve pain WITHOUT the nasty fish burps, fishy aftertaste, or horrible gas.”
Writing how your prospects talk – down to their very language – is so important.
Amazon Reviews, by definition, are written in your prospect’s language.
The key to never staring at a blank page again is all about preparation. When you front-load the work by doing your research, you’ll be able to crank out usable copy much faster. The tips in this article should get you most of the way there. Don’t shun the old school just because it seems outdated.