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The Dark Magic of Conversion Copywriting with Joanna Wiebe


This episode is called the Dark Magic of Conversion Copywriting, but it’s a bit tongue-in-cheek. I’m talking with Joanna Wiebe, who is the original conversion copywriter. She’s also the founder of Copy Hackers and Airstory. and has optimized copy for Wistia, Buffer, Crazy Egg, Neil Patel, Shopify, Rainmaker and countless others.

Take-Aways and Highlights

  • Conversion copywriting moves people towards the right course of action for that particular moment.
  • Everything on your landing page should be about one thing.
  • The top 10% of your LP should match both the message of the ad and the stage of awareness your visitor is in.
  • The bottom 90% of your LP should move your visitor to the next stage of awareness.
  • Lead nurturing can turn unaware visitors into leads, and weak leads into strong leads.
  • The home page is the most challenging section of a website because it speaks to people across every stage of awareness.

Detailed Show Notes

Amy: We’re going to dive into copywriting and conversion copywriting today. Which is a little bit different than what we normally talk about on the podcast about paid search. But I think it’s really and important thing to understand. Especially since so much of our paid search results come directly how landing pages are performing.

Joanna: Yes, amen.

The Best of Direct Response + the Best of Creative = Conversion Copywriting

Amy: I’m wondering if you can start off by telling us what is the difference between a copywriter and a conversion copywriter?

Joanna: Yeah, I mean, I can try. We made up the term conversion copywriter, so I think I’m allowed to speak to it. So I’ve been writing copy for a long time. For 13 years. Which some people are like, “That’s not long.” Other people go like, “Wow, that’s a long time.” It’s a long time if you’re a copywriter, because – you might know that copy– If you’ve ever written copy or worked with copywriters, they tend to move out of copywriting into something else.

We made up the term conversion copywriter, so I think I’m allowed to speak to it.

And so, I’ve been at it a long time, and stuck with it, and done a lot of different kinds of copywriting along the way. But it wasn’t until – basically the past 5 to 7 years, where I started to focus more on copywriting that’s designed to move people to action. Which is what conversion copywriting is all about.

So copywriting is this huge, incredibly vast discipline. And it encompasses everything.

A TV spot is written by a copywriter.

A billboard is written by a copywriter.

The YouTube thing that’s scripted — that was scripted by a copywriter.

So there is all of this content out there that copywriters are creating. And of course, there’s the distinction between content creators and copywriters, which we can get into. But let’s just call it all: copywriters write a bunch of stuff.

Conversion copywriters are focused on a style of copywriting that’s closely tied to direct response copywriting, which traditionally has been really good in moving the needle for sales. And so, it’s closely tied to that, but it’s what I consider to be a more palatable version of direct response copywriting, which can often come off as skeezy and not trustworthy and that kind of stuff. So we take the best of direct response copywriting, and we marry it with the best of more creative copywriting. And we turn that into conversion copywriting.

We take the best of direct response copywriting, and we marry it with the best of more creative copywriting. And we turn that into conversion copywriting.

So to produce largely websites and emails that are designed– websites which include landing pages of course – -which are designed to move people to the right action for that particular moment in time. Does that make sense?

Amy: Yeah it does. So you said you originated the term “conversion copywriter.” Would you say that most people who are writing copy for emails and landing pages and websites are not focused on conversion…? I mean, I would say that they’re probably getting there. But is there still a distinction between people who are just like, “I like to play with words,” and aren’t necessarily keeping conversion in mind?

Joanna: Yes. There continues to be. And no fault of their own, I would say. A lot of the reason that copywriters don’t think from a conversion perspective, is largely because their teams don’t think of them that way. So when people bring a copywriter in – and I know this from having worked in house in particular, but also in an agency and with agencies. I’m now of course on my own. Now, have been for the past 5 years on my own at Copy Hackers.

There’s this sense among marketing managers in particular – and I’ve heard this term used before – that you’re going to wordsmith. I actually had one particularly infuriating marketing manager say to me, “Here Joanna, just fluff that up.” I’m like, “Fluff that up? I need to quit immediately.”

So, no I think the problem is that people don’t know what to do with a copywriter. And so, in turn, copywriters don’t know what to do as copywriters. So you tend to do the thing that pleases the person who wants you to write X. And if they say, “wordsmith it,” I think that –  unless you’re in a copywriting community, you don’t know that your job is supposed to be different from “wordsmithing” something, or fluffing it up.

The problem is that people don’t know what to do with a copywriter.

And so, yeah, there’s still a big distinction there, and there are very few conversion copywriters out there. And even if they’re not calling themselves that, the people who are conversion-focused copywriters are so few out there. It’s a growing number, but it’s very hard to find them. But when you do, in my experience at least, they make an incredible impact on a business. 

Copy Hackers will soon be adding a new Q&A-style forum-esque area, which will be a good place for copywriters to get to know each other. Sign up and wait to be notified!

PPC Ads & LPs Need Crisp, Focused Messages

Amy: I’m sure that they would. There is such a difference between just tweaking or fluffing up – that’s a horrible– But there’s a huge difference between that, and actually writing for the action, right? Writing for the ultimate goal.

And I think that’s where there’s some overlap with paid search and conversion copywriting. Because, for a lot of other digital marketing tactics, it’s just like, “Well generate awareness. Get people to maybe be a little bit interested.” And when we’re talking about paid search, we’re like, “No, you’re driving an action. If your ad doesn’t lead to a sale, it’s not worth being an ad.

So there’s definitely some overlap there. But at the same time, they’re such different media. What I’m going to do to make a paid search ad work really well is not what you’re doing to make a landing page work really well. There’s a lot of differences between that too.

Joanna: But yeah, there are differences of course. Basic things like we get more words, so we win.

We can write some more words. But they work closely together, and there are things that a conversion copywriter could obviously, actively learn from somebody who spends parts of their days optimizing the words in paid search ads, right? Even in our conversations that we’ve had before, you and I. I’ve learned so much about things.

And it’s about getting down to that crisper message, that is extremely difficult to do. But it’s a skill that you’ve got to have. That we all have to have if we want to write copy that’s going to actually move people to do the thing that:

  1. They should want to do by the time they’re prompted.
  2. That we want them to do.

But there’s some overlap there, certainly. There’s also distinctions between the 2, but there’s some good overlap.

Amy: Especially when we get to what the conversion is, what the ultimate goal is. We’re both beginning with that end in mind, right? So the ad needs to compete in a crowded space to get there. And then you need to compete to basically keep their attention, and get them to actually click on that next step.

Joanna: Exactly, yeah. We work hard. I should stop doing conversion copywriting, just go do that creative stuff again. Life would be so easy. I’m just kidding–

Amy:  Oh that’s the life.

Joanna: It is. What are we doing? Making money, that’s all.

Amy:  I was having this conversation in an episode a few back – where they were talking about, “Like well, if you’re client’s just happy and they don’t care, they’re not engaged – that’s less work for you.” I’m like, “Yeah, but I need to feel competent. I’m not happy unless I’m actually getting stuff done.” So I think maybe it’s kinda like your personality where you end up. But it also does happen to – like you said– drive the “greater goal” of revenue.

Joanna: Yeah. But it’s true.  I started out at an agency, and then I moved to Intuit. And when I was at Intuit, it took a couple of years for them to really start talking about split testing and conversion rate optimization. But it was still pretty early on in CRO days. Went into it, adopted this sort of approach.

And so, as soon as they did – and we started to see that we could measure the impact of our words – something that had been so up in the air, that a marketing manager could say, “Hey Joanna, fluff this up.” And now there was no way she could get that phrase out of her mouth, because that would be a really ridiculous thing to say. Once you start realizing that everything’s measurable, and we can see that these fluffy words you want us to use aren’t driving conversions, and the words that are better selected are.

So for me, I’m the same as you, right? I want to be able to measure the impact. And the moment you do, the moment you see that that’s possible, it’s kind of validating for somebody with a softer skill. And you want to know that you’re contributing something real, and not just like putting icing on the cake or something like that. Which is a bad analogy.

Amy: No, I know what you mean though, yeah. So here’s a question for you. If I’m driving paid search traffic to a landing page, and I’m not getting the conversions that I want. What are some things I should look for on the landing page that if I were to improve them, might make a difference to how my campaign’s doing?

Joanna: Okay, totally. Handful of things here. And it’s great, I love optimizing landing pages for paid traffic in particular – love and adore it.

I love optimizing landing pages for paid traffic in particular – love and adore it.

Because you get to get pretty crisp with what you put on that page. Because obviously we’re always writing to towards single goal. So that’s the first thing. One of the first things to look at. There’s a handful of things. But – is everything on the page about that goal? 

Like if the goal is to get people to opt into read an eBook – is there anything on the page that isn’t in support of them opting in to read that eBook? So there’s that. So is it written towards a single goal? But that’s kind of further down, I wouldn’t start there. I would start with the obvious stuff, which is matching. And now, we break down matching into 2 parts.

Use Stages of Awareness to Match – then Exceed – Expectations

Joanna: So here’s what I look at when I’m looking at a landing page. I break the page into the top 10% and the bottom 90% essentially. The top 10% is all about expectation matching. That’s how we’ve learned to see it over time. Over lots of tests. They’ve taught us these things. The bottom 90% is about expectation exceeding – essentially, right? It’s a pretty simple way to divide a page up.

The top 10% is – when we talk about expectation matching, we’re talking about 2 things there.

  1. Message matching. Big, big deal on the landing page.
  2. Awareness matching. Which is something that people think about a little bit less. But they ought to think about it at least as much as they think about message matching.

When we’re writing a landing page, or when we’re looking at a landing page – or anybody who is writing one – should be thinking about the stage of awareness of the prospect arriving on the page. And depending on the keyword phrase, you should definitely know a good deal about that stage of awareness.

So if there are 5 stages of awareness, usually we’re operating in the space of – for landing pages, we’re operating within

  • a pain aware state
  • a solution aware state
  • a product aware state

So pain aware, they’ve got a pain, and they’re searching for something that’s related to that pain.

Solution aware, they’ve already identified their pain. They’re aware that solutions exist. And now the keyword phrase that they would search would be likely tied to solutions – like online invoicing tools. Okay, well they’re aware of online invoicing tools. They’re past that point of the pain, like, “I hate invoicing,” or something like that. Onto online invoicing tools, but not quite at the point of like searching for Fresh Books – by a product name, right?

Basic things you guys are already thinking about, but what do those stages of awareness mean? And are you matching that stage of awareness at the top of the page? So if it’s a landing page for a solution aware person, where they’re, again, looking for online invoicing tools – they land on the page, and at the top of the page they see Fresh Books. That could be the problem.

Are you matching that stage of awareness at the top of the page?

They’re not at product aware yet. They’re at solution aware. We could hypothesize that they’re at solution aware, at least, based on what they’ve searched. They might be aware of Fresh Books, but might not yet see it as the solution that’s worth considering for what they’re going through for their pain. So we’d want to match the solution awareness stage, or basically – in more general terms – you want to match whatever stage of awareness it is that the person arriving on that targeted landing page is in.

The Landing Page should move the reader to the Next Awareness Stage

And then, on the page, we want to move them to the point of getting to that next stage of awareness. So, solution aware, moving to product aware. That could be – as you move down the page, and you move into the expectation exceeding area, you are maybe speaking more to agitate some of the pain that they were in, that you know they’ve experienced. Because they’re past that pain awareness stage. But they could still of course feel the pain.

Other things that you want to do in the expectation exceeding area, to move them toward considering that Fresh Books might be the solution. That could be a comparison chart that they download, comparing online invoicing tools, let’s say. So if that were what you were moving them toward, great. But if you’re not, then that’s another thing that we’d point to.

Are you moving someone from the stage of awareness they’re in, to the stage of awareness you want them to be in? Or are you skipping past stuff and saying, “Hey, start your free trial of Fresh Books today?” Which is like 2 stages of awareness ahead. So I know this is like talking in lots of unseen grids in my head, as I’m speaking about it. But it really comes down to that initial thing. Divide the page into it’s 2 parts, and then the top part – make sure you’re matching where the user or prospect is at.

The bottom part is all about moving them to a stage where they’re ready – where they’re at the next stage of awareness, and they’re ready to do the action that makes the most sense for the stage of awareness that they’ve just been entered into. So that’s where I would start looking at it, and that usually opens up a lot of ideas and questions and points to some quick fixes.

And then points to new things, like, “We could hypothesize that the opt in bribe in this case – or the ethical bribe is not a good match for the stage of awareness. What can we do to optimize the opt in bribe?” Things like that. Does that make sense?

Driving Free Trials isn’t as easy as it seems

Amy: Yeah, that makes perfect sense. What you just brought up about different stages of awareness is something that I don’t hear that talked about very much.

If I’m responsible for driving paid search traffic, I might have a landing page. I more likely to have a home page. And so, just continuing on the example of Fresh Books. So I’m driving traffic to a SaaS product, where the macro conversion is going to be like, “Start your free trial,” right? That’s what we’re going to ask of people. We’re not going to ask them to enter their credit card, but just to start their free trial.

But I’m being asked to use that page again – even the home page for awareness – for me, the digital measurement framework that I would more likely use would be awareness, interest and desire – all of those things. But however you divide it up. If you say, for pain and for product and solution.

I’m being asked to drive everything to that one spot. So if I’m going to assume responsibility to say, “Hey client–” Or, “Hey boss, this really isn’t the right or appropriate page to be driving someone who’s saying, “Why does my accounting suck? ” ”

So if – I have my ads, and then I have this page that I can see doesn’t match where someone’s at at all. What would be some good steps for me to take to start researching. “Well what should we be offering?” What is maybe that grid or that ethical bribe that I should offer? Because this is – like you said – it’s 2 steps removed. Where would I get started to learn about what content would be appropriate?

Joanna: Yeah. I mean there are basic rules of thumb. But it really comes out to the most obvious thing. So the further a person is from product aware and most aware, and the–

We have to talk a bit about intent with that as well. But let’s keep it simple, simple-ish.

So when someone’s in a product aware or most aware stage, it’s usually a good idea to try to move them towards the conversion. Like the paid conversion in many cases. So most aware might be moving them into– I mean, for a SaaS product, the real goal is to get them into the trials. That’s the ultimate conversion. And then we take over with on-boarding once they’re in there.

If you’re product aware and most aware, it’s most likely about the time you get to the end of the page, you should be in a good position to start a free trial. If you’re in solution aware, I would have a very hard time believing that at the end of a solution aware page, you should move a person into a free trial. So if I search “online invoicing tool,” we might all sit here and think, “Well no, obviously it should be perfectly fine to move them into a free trial.”

But then I would ask, “Why is it so hard to get some people into that free trial that we think should be really easy?”

Why is it so hard to get some people into that free trial that we think should be really easy?

If they’ve searched “online invoicing tool,” you’ve brought them to the point of understanding that Fresh Books is an online invoicing tool. “Here’s all the proof to support it being an awesome tool. Why wouldn’t you get them to start a free trial?

And I would say, “Because they’re not quite there yet.” A few emails that nurture them are really good. So if they’re at a stage where they’re looking for – again – online invoicing tools. Maybe they’re in a comparison mode. So we’d have to hypothesize what it is that they’re looking for. We could put on the page, we could – of course – do like a poll or a pop up question that asks them something more specific to help us understand what it is that would be the best call to action for them to take.

But usually we find that if you’re in an unaware, a pain aware, or solution aware stage, you should be opting in for something that nurtures you as a lead. Nurtures you into a free trial, which every SaaS business thinks it’s the world’s easiest thing to get you into a free trial – until they try to do it. And then they’re like, “Oh it’s not actually that easy. People don’t sign up that easily.”

Or, if I’m solution aware, and I sign up for a free trial at the bottom, I actually don’t quite know why Fresh Books is right for me. I just know that it was easy to get into. And someone said I should try it, so, “Okay, I’ll try it.”

But now I’m not the strong lead that I could be, if you nurtured me a bit. Got me to a product aware state. And then even moved me into a most aware state, where all you really have to do is then – I’m ready, you just have to increase my intent, make me feel it a bit more.

Give me some urgency, give me maybe a sense of scarcity of some kind. I mean those – that’s where those little kinds of tricks come into play. But you might not even need those at that point yet.

So long story short, I would say that for us, we look at it as a general rule of thumb is – if you’re product aware or most aware, it’s usually safe to go for the conversion that the business most wants, which is paid or trial. If you’re unaware, pain aware, or solution aware – it’s usually best to get them to opt in, and then to nurture them through the next stages to the point that they’re most aware, and raring to go.

Informed Tests are Best

Amy: What aspects of a landing page or copy in general do you feel like your clients always want to test? Like, “Well let’s just test this.” But you’ve found it doesn’t even make a very big impact. You could test it, but that’s not going to move the needle on, increasing conversions on your page.

Joanna: I’m jaded about testing right now. I’m like, “No, that won’t work. That won’t work. There is no good idea right now.” Because so many tests don’t move the needle. Not because they weren’t well informed. But because people are crazy, and they make ridiculous decisions, in spite of everything you think you’ve learned about them. 

But to be more helpful than that – clients often of course want to test their headline, especially their home page headline. I caution people away from their home page. The home page is hard to write. Because it – I’m going to say those 3 words again – stages of awareness. But because everybody goes to it. We all know this, right? Like there’s so much traffic going into this one big dumping ground. And then you’re supposed to like push them in the right directions. But you have to first match where they’re at.

If the rule of copywriting is, and continues to be, to join the conversation happening in your prospects head – and we have to join that at the top of the page. This is what that 10% that I talked about before is all about, is where they’re at.

You have to match that, and then move them to where we want them to be. Then if that’s the case, how do you write a home page headline? How do you do that, that’s going to speak to all the different people in the stages of awareness, with different levels of intent? How will you write that? You can’t.

That’s probably why a lot of people hire a copywriter to work on their homepage, ’cause they’re like, “This thing is nuts.  We don’t know what to do with it.” And they’re right not to. So oftentimes, you just – you default to a value proposition, which is nice. But it asks everybody to care about the same thing – and they don’t. Someone in a pain awareness – where they’re aware of their pain, doesn’t care about the things that someone in a product stage does care about.

So how do you join the conversation happening in their heads? You’re kind of screw-balled. So that’s the question that I get. It’s really around, “How can we optimize our home page?” And it’s very, very hard. But that’s a big one.

Obviously buttons are a big one. And I like a good button test. I like an informed button test. That’s one that usually feels like it’s an easy sort of thing. And then you do the test, and you’re like, “Wait, that did not perform the way we thought it would at all.” So it’s like there are no easy tests. There are no sure things.

But we have found that things that have low impact are really all those things that are ill informed. So if you didn’t do the work of the initial research to figure out what’s wrong, learn about what might be the better thing to put on the page. And then prioritize those ideas, again based on what your prospects, your customers and your former customers have told you.

If you don’t start a test or a copy optimization exercise with that initial research in mind, lord help you. It’s going to be – it’s going to be a long couple of weeks while you run that thing. ‘Cause it’s very hard to move a needle if you haven’t got something that’s informed. And I say that after having just run a test that was based on this exact idea around – should you even bother researching, or can you really just take a wild guess at copywriting? Put some best practices into place, and see a lift.

And so we did this with Vertical Response, with their home page. Ugh, home pages – once again. But we took some – quote unquote – better practices in copywriting. And we said, “Okay, we won’t do any research, we’re just going to take the messages that are there. We’re going to rewrite them, not change the design, not change anything. And see what happens.”

And – quelle surprise –  we ended up having a totally flat test. And that was with 3 variations against the control. All 3 had been written by conversion-focused copywriters that know better practices, that work on this stuff all the time. And it was flat. And we strongly believe it’s because it was just not informed by anything more than guesses and hunches. So that kind of test is never going to get you the impact that you want.

Amy: Yeah, so that makes a lot of sense. I guess I was thinking that you were going to have – and this probably speaks to the kind of client you have. Because, for me, a lot of times, my clients will be like, “Well I don’t know what to put on a landing page. Should I put the picture of the blonde or the brunette? Should I test the color of the button? Should it be orange or green? What’s going to help me the most?”

Joanna: Should the blonde girl be looking at the button or looking at the headline?

Amy: Yes exactly. And that’s the kind of questions I always get. I’m like, “Really? You’re never going to get anywhere with that. Like you have a bad headline, and you have a bad page. And no one cares about the image.”

There are no shortcuts in conversion copywriting

Amy: I’m actually kind of heartened where you’re at the point, where you’re like, “Okay well the most important part is that it’s an informed question, and you’ve researched it out.” And then it’s not just like people like spit-balling these stupid things that maybe they read on like, “Top 10 things to change about your landing page” and then they want you to do it for them.

Joanna: Exactly, right? I love the world of conversion rate optimization. But there are some clickbait-y things out there where– And I don’t even think it’s the writer that’s putting them out, so much as it is this desire – this hope among marketers and business owners that you can just do 1 quick thing and get a huge lift.

The world wants to believe in shortcuts. And we can thank copywriters for selling them on the idea that there is such a thing as a shortcut for something that there is not a shortcut for. There’s just not. There might be a faster path to growth, but there’s rarely a shortcut. So yeah, it’s – it’s hard, it sounds like you hear the same things that I hear.

With these like, “Oh I read a blog post where this guy got 900% lift by just changing the language on his buttons, so let’s do that.” Like, “Oh lord. This is going to go really badly.”

Amy: Or I read this post that says you were doing it all wrong, because our headline is the wrong number of words.

Joanna: I hate the assumption that – this immediate assumption like, “Oh no, that’s not 6 words long. The headline’s great if you just cut it down to 6 words.” And I’m like, “What are you talking about? Like where did you get that idea?” I know generally where you got that idea, and I wish I could stop the idea from happening. But it’s happening, and I wish that you would just – not take the things that you hear as the gospel.

I was at Call to Action Conference last year, and this guy in the audience was asking me a question when I was on stage. And he’s like, “Well I know that video always performs better than copy.” And I was like, “Hold on. Hold on, what are you talking about?” And he’s like, “Well it does.” And I was feeling a bit like diva at the moment I was like, “This is my stage, and it does not always perform better.”

But people take these ideas, and they really treat them like the gospel, even though they haven’t run a test to validate that idea at all. They read about it, they want to believe it. God bless their little hearts for it, but it’s just not the right way to approach testing or optimization at all.

Amy: Right, and that’s such an interesting term too – like, the gospel – right? It’s the opposite of data driven, it’s religion. And I don’t know why people buy into it. It just drives me crazy how much theology there is that replaces data. We’re like, “We love data. And here are the Top Deadly Sins.” And you’re like, “What? It doesn’t make any sense.”

Joanna: That’s true. You should do a post or just like a separate podcast on that alone. Like, it’s interesting.

Amy: That was my manifesto. So if anyone has not listened to my Manifesto, Episode 1

Joanna: Oh I haven’t. I’ve got to go listen to listen to it right now.

Amy: Yeah, ’cause you didn’t know this was live yet. So that’s why.

Joanna: I didn’t know. I’m allowed to get away with not having listened. I didn’t know it was live yet, so my bad. But I will, that sounds incredible. I’ve never heard it talked about that way.

Usability fixes rarely need to be tested

Amy: Are there any changes that you can make on a landing page, that you’re so confident in – that you’d suggest without testing? So quick example: if there’s no conversion mechanism on the landing page, maybe let’s add one. Stuff like that, that you just find – this is actually going to perform, we don’t need to run a test.

Joanna: I think there are usability fixes that just rarely need to be tested, right? If you’ve got a heat map on your page, and you know that a button that you want to get clicked isn’t getting clicked. You can assess it, assess what’s around it, and make informed decisions on what you might do with it, with regard to the user experience.

So if a button’s gray, and you want people to click it, you probably want to make it a contrasting color, right? Like I don’t think you have to test that. You could test it just to see and be sure. But it’d be a real edge case for that not to actually increase clicks on that button. So you just have to make sure that you’re getting the right clicks on the button, of course.

But make something gray colorful. It’s more likely it’s going to get attention, more likely it’s going to get clicked. So there are usability fixes that I think people could easily implement on their sites, to get really quick lift actually, or just quick optimization.

I love so much. I learn so much every time. Obviously taking certain things with a grain of salt, and not asking people what they would like, or what they would buy, but what they’re experiencing in that moment.

You can learn so much, then you don’t need to split test. Which is good for a lot of businesses that just can’t– You just don’t have the conversion rate or the traffic to support a split test. So trying to test something, when you don’t have the traffic to do it, is very painful. If you can fix some usability issues, without necessarily split testing. I mean the riskier the thing is, the more you should test it. But if it doesn’t feel like a risky thing, then it might be safe for you to just go ahead and do it.

trying to test something, when you don’t have the traffic to do it, is very painful.

Don’t work on products that don’t have product-market fit

Amy: So you have a client who asks you to optimize a landing page. The goal is to improve conversions here. But the situation is that the product on the landing page, it doesn’t solve a problem, and there’s no clear benefit. And, They’re charging too much. There’s all these problems that can exist where you’re like, “I think that optimizing this is almost like wordsmithing. Like it’s just not going to help, ’cause the problem is the product.”

Do you ever say to your clients or prospects, “You don’t have a landing page problem, you have a fundamental business problem.” Or do you just say, “Okay, well I’m going to take what you gave me, and I’m going to make it as good as I can. And then we’ll see what happens from there?”

Joanna: I would never work on a product that doesn’t have product market fit. If you’re not there yet – which is scary, because a lot of startups just don’t have product market fit. So that’s one thing I wouldn’t– If a product doesn’t solve a problem, or if it’s not a painkiller – if it’s supposed to be some sort of vitamin or drug – or whatever. If it’s not meant to be a painkiller, does at least do something else with extreme emotional appeal.

It’s not to say that I expect the client to come to me with everything all neatly tied up in a box. But if a product doesn’t solve a problem, copy won’t do it.  The old adage,it’ll make a bad product fail faster. You might be able to get a lot of people who are like, “Oh, I’ll give that a try.” Then they try it, and they’re like, “What?” So that’s not good. So I won’t take that on. Because I want to work with businesses that are trying to solve problems.

So for me, yeah, I’ve had to say that before. Like, “This is not going – I can’t write your copy for you.” Which is why I try a product before I agree to work with a client. And that’s saved me from a lot of situations, or at least a good dozen situations where I’ve been like, “It’s not going to work for me.”

So as long as it’s solving a problem…Copy can only help you if you’ve got something good to sell. And then it can help you like crazy. But if you have something that doesn’t have a problem that it’s solving – or if it’s doing it in a really crappy way, there’s not much that can save you – sadly.

Copy can only help you if you’ve got something good to sell.

Amy: So that’s really interesting to me, that you would say no to a product if you hadn’t tried it. Does that mean that you’re – kind of your target market? I have a lot of clients that are B2B. I have no idea what this thing even is, what it does – or how I would even use it. But I’m still driving traffic to their page, because that’s what I’m asked to do.

Joanna: But you work with an agency, right? And so I work – I’ve run my thing.  For me, I’ve only got so much me available. And I know that if I’m going to break myself trying to figure out how to sell this thing, there are better ways for me to spend my time than doing that .So that’s one of the things, right?  I don’t get handed a client, or I’m not like, “Oh here Joanna, you’re on this client.”

Amy: It sounds like an amazing position to be in. To be like, “Well, I can’t test that. I can’t wrap my head around it completely. And so it’s just not a good fit.”

Joanna: There’s a big cost, right? Like an opportunity cost in saying, “Okay, I’ll work with you and try to sell this product.” Because tomorrow, Google could come along and say, “Well actually we want to hire you.” And I’m like, “Oh I don’t have bandwidth, because I’m working on this shitty product over here.” And I should be working with people who are selling actual solutions. But instead, I agreed to do this waste of time thing.That’s been my take on it at least. I might be – down the road, I might look back and say, “Oh why didn’t I–?” I’ve actually – anyway, I won’t get into that one either.

Amy: I feel like so often, I’ll get like, “Hey, this thing it’s not working at all, and there’s no like signs of life in it. But if you just work your magic with driving traffic, then it’ll pick up.” And I’m always like, “No, it won’t.” But I’m just waiting for someone to prove me wrong, and be like, “We went on to make a billion dollars, and you said it couldn’t be done.”

‘Cause I feel like I more often err on the side of, “No, you just don’t have your act together. No this isn’t going to work. And driving more traffic isn’t going to solve it.”

Joanna: You hear a lot of people thinking that paid search will quadruple their business, and they don’t even have a business in place – there’s nothing there to quadruple. It’s again this look for a shortcut. Just throw money at it and make it happen. Am I wrong? Does this happen a lot?

Amy: It certainly does. This is something I’ve been thinking about – where do people get this idea, that you can just throw money at the problem and it solves it? I feel like some of it is our fault. As we go and pitch people and we’re like “you can get these amazing results that we got for other clients!” Yeah, well the other clients had something in place that allowed this to happen. If our prospects don’t have that, and they don’t understand that they need something else other than just marketing, then we’re setting this expectation, or almost illusion, of something that’s going to work that might not work for them.

Joanna: It’s true. But you never really know until you’re in it. It’s hard to know until you’re working on executing.

Amy: I have so many more things I want to ask you, and discuss. ‘Cause I think that your take on this is just so valuable. But to keep this within time, I think we could end the conversation now, and hopefully you can come back on on a future episode. And we can discuss more copywriting, just everything copywriting from you. ‘Cause I just – like I said, I love your take on it.

Joanna: Oh, sounds fun. Yeah, thank you. That would be awesome. I love talking about this stuff with you.

Amy: Okay, great. Well thank you so much. I feel like we’ve gotten so much value out of this conversation. So really appreciate you being on. 

Resources & References

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