How to Write Better Copy: What I’ve Learned from Master Copywriters

Nov 12, 2018

It’s a terrible feeling. You’re hit with a great idea. At first, it’s a thrill because you know this is a message that will deeply resonate with your audience. But once it’s time to sit down in front of the computer and write it out?Nothing. The words just won’t come out.Can you relate? Facing that dreaded, white blank page when you have no idea where to start. It feels like banging your head against the wall. Every time you begin to type out a few sentences, the words don’t sound as good as they did inside your head. Or they don’t sound like you at all. We’ve all done it. Writing copy feels like pure torture, doesn’t it? At least, that’s what I used to believe until recently. But let’s back up for a moment.

Why Do We Need to Learn Copywriting?

Great copy is persuasive [Want to learn psychological principles to persuade customers to buy? Read this or this.]. It markets your business by telling a story that connects with your readers’ emotions. Ultimately, good copy persuades your readers to take action (like purchasing your products or services).  It’s powerful. Which means a good copywriter isn’t cheap. However, when you’re an independent business owner or you’re in the beginning stages as a startup, you might not have the budget to hire an experienced copywriter. Good news:You can DIY your copy even if you’re not a pro. Over the last 18 months, I’ve had the opportunity to interview some of the best copywriters in the world. We’re talking masters like Joanne Wiebe, Kevin Rogers, Neville Medhora, and Momoko Price. They’ve each taught me that you don’t have to become a master copywriter when it comes to selling your products.  In this blog post, I’m going to share with you the same methodology used by top copywriters today so you can apply their lessons to your own business right away.Ready to become a better copywriter? Let’s get to it.

Let Your Customers Write Your Copy

First of all, copywriting isn’t about wordsmithing. I can’t tell you how relieved I was to learn that you don’t have to get clever in order to write words that sell. Your copy doesn’t have to be sexy. Believe it or not, copy converts better when you let your customers do the talking.The secret to writing better copy is research. I learned this piece of advice from one of the world’s most prolific copywriters, Joanna Wiebe. She explains that the best copywriters listen to their customers. It sounds simple. But how do you let your customers do the talking? You go exactly where your customers are hanging out and eavesdrop on their conversations.

How to Write Better Copy = Research

Find out how they talk about their problems.

  • What are their dreams?

  • What’s stopping them from reaching their goals?

  • How can you take their objections and reframe them?

Then you’re going to use the same words your audience would use to sell your product. According to Joanna Wiebe, you take the parts of the conversation that jump out at you and write the copy using those exact phrases. You’re simply putting the words together on a page. Sounds easy enough. But how do you figure out what parts of conversations makes for useful, interesting copy?Let me explain.

How to Deep Dive into Market Research

Our gut feeling tells us the most important step in conversion copywriting is the part where we physically write it. Needless to say, that’s not how it should really work. The first thing to remember is the research and discovery phase is the key to becoming a better copywriter. Not the writing phase. And you know what? Once I understood that it suddenly clicked why facing a blank page is intimidating.Great copywriters don’t come up with a captivating message out of thin air. You have to listen to your prospects in order to discover your message.Joanna Wiebe shared two ways to approach research with me. As she explains, the route you choose is based on how much time you have to devote to this phase. If you have a lot of time, you can really dig deep into research and discovery by interviewing your customers. If you’re a regular listener to my podcast, you know I talk a lot about interviewing customers. That’s because I truly believe this step is absolute gold. Every time I’ve taken the time to sit down and speak with a customer one-on-one it’s been a mindblowing experience. You get clarity on steroids.

What’s the Goal of an Interview?

You want to discover what problems your customers are having OR the emotional core of their dilemma. This is how you find out their story. Not only do stories sell, but you might also discover uses of your product that you never imagined.Let’s take a look at the company PopSockets as an example. If you’re familiar with the brand, they sell collapsible grips and stands for phones. PopSockets started out as a fun accessory that was primarily used by kids and teenagers. The main uses for it were to show off your personal style, prop up your phone while watching content, and get a better grip while taking selfies.

How to Write Better Copy: Popsockets Phone Grip

PopSocket Grips for your phone.

After a couple of years of rapid growth, PopSockets learned it wasn’t just kids using their products. Adults suffering from diseases like arthritis and Parkinson’s were using the collapsible grip to make their devices easier to use.Do you want to know the real reason why the inventor of PopSockets created the product in the first place? David Barnett came up with the initial idea because he was tired of his earbuds getting tangled up. That’s right, PopSockets were originally designed to wrap your headsets around them. It turned out millions of customers weren’t using the product that way. The point of this story? You’ve got it. Get to know your customers more intimately and they can offer you insights that you wouldn’t have ever dreamed of on your own. In fact, PopSockets has taken feedback from their users to transform their marketing efforts over the last couple of years. Interviews open up a ton of doors.By now we understand the ultimate goal is to find out their emotions and motivations. It’s important to keep this in mind as you conduct an interview. On the other hand, the essential part of this step is to listen for HOW they describe these feelings. You won’t strike gold from the beginning of the conversation--it takes time for people to open up to you. The best messages are often hidden. They’re not going to give you instant takeaways most of the time. Of course, this is why I absolutely love interviewing. Great answers generally come after you ask a follow-up question or seek clarification on a previous response. The next step is to get the interviews recorded and transcribed. (If you’re looking for a transcriptionist, is what I use for all of mine. It costs $1 per minute of audio and the quality of work is usually excellent.)Joanna Wiebe notes that you must narrow in on the parts you find interesting; the sticky ideas that jump out at you. Remember: We’re looking for how people describe their emotions. What exact words do they use? What did they say that made you pause to think?

How to Write Better Copy: Joanna Wiebe on Interviews

Interviews take time but believe me when I say they’re 100% worth it. Once you have this explosive clarity, your copy will literally begin to write itself. Anyway, let’s stop right there for a minute because I can probably guess what you’re thinking. What if you need to bring in revenue fast? Or your product is brand new to the market? Keep reading to learn more about the second method for market research.

Research & Discovery (When You Don’t Have Time)

Don’t have time for interviews right now? No problem. There’s a solution, and our favorite Copyhackers likes to call this “review mining”. This process works when you don’t have a lot of time or money to invest in the research phase, or when you’re a startup who doesn’t have much of a budget to spend yet. Here’s how it goes.  Find your customers online. Discover which social media platforms they’re active on and listen in. You can watch their stories, read their comments, or get inside their group discussions. Visit the online forums they use and check out the various responses. Are you selling a service or activity? Look for a review website like Yelp or TripAdvisor. Or what if your business is entirely new and you’re selling a product? Eavesdrop on the competition by browsing through reviews on websites like Amazon. You’ll come across hundreds of thousands of reviews. With that in mind, it’s easy to get lost in the sheer volume of research available on the internet. Let’s not forget this exercise should NOT be time-consuming. When we’re message mining via interview transcripts, we look for sticky messages that jump out at us. The ones that stop you in your tracks. Similarly, you only want to pay attention to the juicy nuggets of information that jump out at you as you skim through reviews, forums, and social media interactions. Odds are that many reviews won’t be that useful. Once you’ve highlighted those compelling messages it’s time to start organizing the memorable parts on your page. These sticky words and phrases now make up the skeleton of your next piece of copy! Doesn’t that sound easier than starting with a blank page?Note: Even though you stand to gain an impressive understanding of your potential customer by review mining, I still recommend you interviewing your customers later on down the road. After you’ve identified your target market and have a little wiggle room in the budget. Once you have the bare bones of the copy in place, it’s time to bring it all together.

How to Organize Your Messages On a Page

The key to organizing your research is to figure out a tool that works for you. This is up to your personal preference. You can clip the most important messages into a tool like Evernote or Airstory. If you want to keep things really basic, you can stick to a simple spreadsheet.  For instance, before conversion copywriter Momoko Price organizes copy onto the page, she collects her research into an Excel spreadsheet. In this example, she explained how to use Excel for categorizing survey responses. She creates a blank column next to the customer answers and categorizes them into tags. These tags are based on the overall themes that she comes up with after reviewing the surveys. Once you’ve got that nailed down, you’re going to tag the sticky, juicy messages that caught our eye before. Even though Momoko Price was referring to surveys in this situation, you can apply this technique to your review mining or interview transcripts too.But there’s one small catch. It’s important your copy isn’t a summary of the research. You want to keep the exact language that your customer uses in here. We don’t want to re-write what they told us because then we end up sounding like shady, aggressive marketers.

“Your page should become a mirror where your prospect sees themselves the way they want to see themselves.” Joanna Wiebe

Once you’ve arranged your research, it’s time to get your copy in order. Want to know the best part? Master copywriters have a shortcut for that too. In order to transform your messages into a piece of copy, use frameworks. You can borrow these frameworks from the world’s greatest copywriters with something called a swipe file.If you’re not familiar with a swipe file, it’s a collection of writing files that you can refer to for inspiration. Many swipe files include ads that have been proven and tested in the market. You can locate them on websites like and you can start building your own swipe file. Whenever you run into a remarkable ad, save it to your folder to reference later.

Warning:  The ethical way to use a swipe file is for inspiration. You don’t want to directly copy any of the ads or steal other writers’ work.

Two popular copywriting frameworks are PAS and AIDA. Joanna Wiebe frequently uses PAS. If you’ve never heard of this acronym, it stands for Problem, Agitate, and Solve. You present your problem, agitate it to make that pain point more powerful, offer your solution, and wrap up with a call to action.

How to write better copy - Problem Agitate Solve Formula

Other great copywriters like Neville Medhora prefer the AIDA framework. This framework refers to Attention, Interest, Desire, and Action. In fact, Neville Medhora claims he uses AIDA to write all of his content, not just sales copy. Only he doesn’t start from the beginning.He starts with action. The reason behind this is that it becomes easier to write the rest of the page when you know what goal you’re trying to achieve with your copy. This one single tip has helped me write blog posts like the very one you’re reading. I always start with determining the key takeaways.“But wait. This post is about how to write better copy, isn’t it?” By now you’ll have realized you haven’t actually written anything yet. That’s the point! You’re still organizing the research. Moving your message into these frameworks means never having to face the evil blank page again. This is where the final step comes in.

Transform Your Copy With Editing

The last phase of writing better copy is the editing process. Although this comes at the end, editing is where the majority of work comes in. Fortunately, polishing your copy up is far easier than writing it from scratch. Some people find this step to be fun, even if you’re not a pro writer. Joanna Wiebe acknowledges that editing is like cleaning up your words. You go through your copy line-by-line and smooth things out. Remove any words that are clunky or don’t fit in with your overall brand voice. Every line must serve a purpose. If you happen to run into a message that doesn’t truly matter to your customer? Delete it. Although your specific language comes from what your customers are really saying, the tone of your copy should reflect your company. If you’re struggling to identify your brand voice, think of it this way: Your voice is the personality of your company. It must be consistent.

Here are some other questions to consider while editing:

  • Is your copy motivating your readers to take action?

  • Does it accomplish your goals?

  • Are you serving your readers?

  • Do you use specific words and language?

  • How does it make you feel when you read it?

Once you’ve thoroughly combed all of your copy, let someone else review your work. I think having a person outside of your company read your copy helps because they can quickly identify any parts that might be confusing or dull.(Don’t forget to do a final proofread after you’ve finished editing! You want to catch any typos, misspellings, or grammar mistakes. They can sneak their way in past even the most experienced writers.) So, what does all of this mean?

Key Takeaways

  • You don’t have to be a professional copywriter to produce good copy. Writing better copy comes from listening to your customers.

  • Talk to your customers and listen for your message.

  • Use online review mining to find sticky messages when you don’t have a lot of time (or any customers to talk to yet).

  • Take frameworks and apply them to your research so you’re never writing from a blank page.

  • Edit your copy to make sure it’s compelling and convincing. Don’t forget your call to action--you have to tell people what to do next.


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