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Un-slimy copywriting for conversions

I'm no stranger to writing landing page copy and CTAs, but I've got a few new landing pages that I need to create, so I thought I'd brush up on copywriting for conversions.

I found plenty of general advice and some bad advice too. But I also found some gems that are specific to indie hackers. Here's what I found.

What copywriting isn't (or at least shouldn't be)

Real quick, while diving in, what I saw over and over was that copywriting is about persuasion - about getting somebody to do something. And if you boil it down, I suppose that's true. But it too easily gets into the realm of manipulation. And in my book, manipulative copy is bad copy.

I'll talk more on slimy copy later, but this is just to say that there's another way to approach copywriting. To me, copywriting is about conveying your product's value effectively. That's it. If you do it well, then a reader from your target market will convert if it's the right solution for them. You don't need to try to get them to convert regardless of whether it’s the best solution for them.

So it's less about hacks and psychology; more about knowing your audience, understanding their pain points, and communicating the truth of how your product can help them.

Just my $0.02. Moving on.

Copywriting for conversions

The two toughest things about copywriting (IMO):

Let's start with two of the toughest tips:

  • Write tight copy. You have to be so concise that it hurts. It's harder than it sounds because you have to convey more information in fewer words. But it's critical — particularly for landing pages and conversion copy. So ask yourself whether every word, every sentence, and every paragraph adds value. If not, don’t add it.
  • Beware the curse of knowledge. You know the problem you're solving and the solution you're providing. And it's very easy to assume that your reader knows it too. They probably don't. And to make matters more complicated, sometimes they do. So write for your readers. Don't over-explain or under-explain. This requires a lot of knowledge about what they know and what they don't know — about your product, about the market, etc.

Writing tips (for conversions)

If you can do the above, you're halfway there. Here's how to get the rest of the way:

  • Write like a human. Not like a robot. And not like a company. If you're an indie hacker, use that to your advantage! Be personable. Use "I" instead of "we". That goes against best practices, but indie hackers can and should do things differently.
  • Develop your brand's voice… but again indie hackers have an advantage here. Your brand voice is probably just going to be your voice. So write like you speak.
  • Write at a 6th-grade level. Use jargon only if it makes sense in your niche.
  • Avoid buzzwords. They aren't fooling anyone.
  • Work backward from your objective. What do you want? To impart value? Conversions? Shares? Know the goal and work toward it.
  • Don't bury the lede. Classic advice, and important. If something will get the user to read on (or convert), keep it above the fold. Deeper dives and explanations can go below the fold.
  • Directly address the needs of your target audience. When it comes to landing pages, if you have multiple targets (which, generally speaking, you shouldn't until your product is established, unless you’re running validation tests), create different landing pages for each one.
  • Handle common objections before they can make them.
  • Use social proof — testimonials, big-name customers, number of customers, etc.
  • Back up what you say with numbers and data (but don't overwhelm them with data). Representing it visually can sometimes help.
  • Focus on benefits (over features).
  • Leverage social listening to understand pain points and what the market is looking for.
  • Use shorter sentences and paragraphs.
  • Write confidently.
  • Ask questions to get people thinking.
  • Use active voice
  • Use descriptive language (but don't get too poetic). As they say, "Show; don't tell."
  • Incorporate images and gifs to make your point. Yeah, it's not copy, but still.
  • Have fun with it and make it interesting. Bored leads do not convert.

Call-to-action tips

CTAs deserve their own section. They're incredibly important.

  • Connect it to the benefit. Never use "check out this thing" or "get started" as a CTA.
  • Start with a verb.
  • Use first-person ("my" instead of "your")
  • Make the button or words stand out. You don't want it to get lost
  • Put it at the top and bottom of your landing page. In long-form content, add it in multiple places, but make sure you don't hurt the readability. Put it between sections.

Formatting tips

Formatting of the copy can actually be even more important than the copy itself.

  • Use effective headers.
  • Use font and font size to your advantage - typography isn’t just for looks, it’s for readability,
  • Make it easily skimmable.
  • Make your site clean and easy to navigate.

Editing tips

Always, always, always edit your work.

  • Try reading it out loud.
  • Don't edit right after writing it. Step away from it, then edit it with fresh eyes.
  • If grammar and spelling are not your strong suits, or if you're writing outside of your first language, hire an editor.
  • On the flip side of that, don't follow the rules too closely — sometimes poor grammar can make a point.
  • Use tools (more on this below).

SEO tips

SEO is obviously extremely important in copywriting, but I'm not going to cover it much in this article. I wrote about it recently if anyone needs a primer on the topic. For now I'll just mention a couple of things:

  • Avoid keyword stuffing. That's a thing of the past. Just say what needs to be said as quickly as possible.
  • Write for humans, not Google.

Frameworks

Did you know there are copywriting frameworks? There are. Like, a lot of them. Here are a few:

  • AIDA: This one is the most common. Grab attention, hit them with interesting facts, share stories/benefits to generate desire, and lay out your desired action.
  • AIDCA: The same, but add in conviction. Meaning social proof, stats, and so forth right before the action.
  • PAS: This is best when you want to focus on a problem and your solution (e.g. landing pages). Present the problem, create agitation by diving into it more, and offer a solution.
  • ACCA: This is best if your target customers don't know the problem yet. Present the problem in a way that creates awareness, explain why it's a bad thing (comprehension), create conviction (social proof, etc.), and provide steps for action.
  • QUEST: *Qualify who the solution is for, show that you understand by relating to their problem, educate them about the solution, stimulate them (features, demos, social proof), and help them transition into a customer by showing them the action to take.

Enough acronyms for you? Then let's move on.

Copywriting for conversions: What not to do

You'll find a lot of bad advice out there. Here's some of it so that you can avoid it.

Slimy tactics

  • Emotional manipulation (like FOMO). Note: FOMO isn't necessarily a bad thing. If you're offering a holiday discount, it needs to end sometime, right? And people need to know when it ends. It just gets slimy when it's contrived and you're jamming it down peoples' throats.
  • Color theory (and similar . Again this is not inherently slimy, but come on… do we really need to use the color of a button to make someone more likely to click it? Or can we just provide them with information and trust them to make the right decision for themselves? Just use colors to make your product look good, and to make sure important information (e.g. CTAs) stands out from the rest.
  • Promising things that your product barely delivers on.
  • Fake social proof. I know at least a few entrepreneurs who have bought reviews or just made up a testimonial themselves. Ew.
  • Clickbait. Especially misleading clickbait.

A/B Testing

[Cue double-take.] Yeah, I am saying(ish) not to test your copy.

Folks will tell you that you try some copy, test it, adjust it, test it, and keep doing that ad infinitum. I disagree. That's great for established companies that have the time and resources on their hands. But I think it's a waste of time for indie hackers.

Obviously, honing your copy is important. But do it upfront. Ask for feedback here on IH, or from colleagues, or even potential customers. Then go with it. If your conversions are lower than you think they should be, of course, you should adjust it. But avoid endless optimization and meaningless copy tweaks.

A quick note on AI

I'm not personally a fan of writing with AI. I think it's a good way to make humans even less capable of communicating.

Plus, I actually tested it as an option for my other newsletter and it was more work to edit it than it would have been to write it. So for me, it's not really an option right now. But these days, I can't really talk about copy without mentioning it. And from what I've seen, a lot of indie hackers are finding it super useful — not for creating polished copy, but for getting you started. It's apparently pretty good for inspo, and it can get your copy to a place where you can then edit it and add your voice.

@iamjankoch shared some solid tips a few weeks back, which I thought might be helpful if you decide to try using AI. I'll paraphrase:

  • Keep your input simple and concise so that it can better understand the crux of it.
  • Provide clear instructions and concrete examples
  • Edit, edit, edit. It is just a tool. You still need to put in your own voice and remove extraneous information.
  • Know (and designate) your use-case.

Tools

  • Grammarly: I'm a huge fan of Grammarly. And their free tier does the trick nicely.
  • Hemingway App: I mentioned before that you've gotta write for a 6th grader. Hemingway App tells you how to simplify your writing. I've used it a ton.
  • Thesaurus.com: I use it all the time. Super helpful.
  • Headline Analyzer: Tells you whether your headline is engaging.
  • Convertize: If you do want to do some A/B testing, this is a handy tool for that. To each their own.
  • The Most Dangerous Writing Prompt App: This is a fun one for practicing writing. It gives you a prompt and you write about it.
  • Copy.ai: If you want to go the AI route, there are a ton of options. This is a leader in the space.
  • Jasper: Jasper is another leading AI tool.

Resources

A lot of marketing and copywriting books are a little slimy. These came recommended and seem a little less slimy:

Here are a couple of courses:

Here's some inspo:

Newsletters

  • Marketing Examples: Harry Dry again. There are often good copy tips in there.
  • Marketing Experiments: This one is new to me but I saw it recommended. Apparently, they run a lot of interesting experiments, some of which have to do with copy.
  • Ariyh: Big fan of this newsletter by @tdmck. He often shares studies about copywriting.

What did I miss?


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  1. 1

    A great post and list of tools. Thanks!

  2. 1

    Enjoyed this, merci!

  3. 1

    loved these tips so much i had to comment just to thank you for sharing them (plus all of the great resources) 👏

  4. 1

    What a gem of a post!
    Followed some of the links right away; tons of helpful info. Thank you @IndieJames

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  6. 1

    Thanks for the mention, @IndieJames!

    I have nothing to add to your post, super comprehensive, especially around the aspects of tight copy and tone of voice.

    Just spent 90 minutes with a local agency to create a lead magnet for a new funnel for their video marketing services and tone of voice was a big discussion point.

    If I had more time, my comment would have been more concise :)

  7. 1

    I worked at a content agency for a while and yeah, tight copy is hard. You grow up being taught to add filler until we reach a certain word count... but then you get to the real world and realize that no one is going to read that fluff unless they're being paid to grade it.

    That 'curse of knowledge' point is interesting too. I tend to over-explain so that my copy is accessible to everyone... but that's gotta be pretty annoying for most of my site visitors.

  8. 1

    It always amazes me how well shady copy works — people love the stuff. Shouldn't surprise me though, I guess. People also flock to companies that exploit your data and all kinds of other things! 😡

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