Category: Copywriting

How to spot bad headlines before they make your visitors bounce – an intro to easy copy validation

User testing tools aren’t just for user testing experts.

In fact, five-second tests offer a quick, easy and (relatively) cheap way for copywriters and digital marketers to run quick checks on their copy (“copy validation”).

Most of us know we need to use data to help us know what to write. But you should also use data to help you spot if you hit or missed the mark.

That’s where copy validation comes in. When you validate your copy, you boost confidence in your work knowing that it’s making a great first impression – long before your client ever reacts to it.

Time (as well as this study) says we have as little as one-tenth of a second to make a good impression.

Psychology Today and Business Insider say we have about 7 seconds.

We see a face. We form a first impression. It’s human instinct.

Unsurprisingly, that first impression is largely emotional. And a recent study by neuroscientists regarding how our brain forms a first impression confirmed through neuroimaging that the amygdala and the posterior cingulate cortex (PCC) are key regions of the brain involved in that process. And if you’re not someone who throws “amygdala” or “PCC” around in conversation, let me nutshell this for you: both do a lot of heavy lifting in processing emotions.

brain regions

(Source: Kurniasanti, Kristiana Siste, et al. “Brain Regions,” licensed under CC BY-NC 4.0Medical Journal of Indonesia, 2019.)

robina weermeijer 3KGF9R 0oHs unsplash

(Source: Photo by Robina Weermeijer on Unsplash)

And the amygdala? Well it’s hailed as the integrative center for emotions, emotional behavior and motivation.

But breaking down the emotions behind a first impression is a little more complex:

A recent study at Princeton University by Janine Willis and Alexander Todorov involved a series of experiments focusing on judgments formed during a first impression drawn from a face. Those judgments were:

  1. Attractiveness
  2. Likeability
  3. Competence
  4. Trustworthiness
  5. Aggressiveness

So participants looked at a picture like this:

the new york public library 8Swf0oaXUrk unsplash

And then judged it on those five criteria above.

Interestingly, only 1 of those 5 judgments actually has anything to do with facial appearance: attractiveness.

Willis and Todorov’s methodology was as follows:

  1. Participants were told that this was a study about first impressions and that they should make their decisions as quickly as possible
  2. The instructions explained that photographs would be shown for short periods of time and that the experimenters were interested in participants’ gut reactions
  3. Participants were asked a yes/no judgment question – for example “Is this person trustworthy?”
  4. Following this yes/no judgment, the next screen asked participants to rate their confidence level in their judgment

They found that increasing exposure time from 100 to 500 ms increased confidence in the participants’ judgments. But that increase in exposure did not change their initial judgment. In fact, they found that the judgments formed after just 100 ms of exposure corresponded with judgments made in the absence of any time limits.

Or put simply:

First impressions are sticky.

Lizard brain strikes again.

2 lizard brain

Of course, your first impression could be wrong.

As social psychologist Dr. Leslie Zebrowitz states:

“We seem unable to inhibit this tendency [to make quick judgments] even though it can lead to inaccurate impressions […] and has significant social consequences.”

We’re talking about consequences like:

Judicial decisions.

Financial success.

And even election outcomes

Similarly, a study conducted by Todorov and Jenny M. Porter found that even minor, random variations in images of the same person resulted in different inferred personality impressions from their participants.

So they saw faces like this:

Similar expressions but different impressions

And for each face, they identified if the person looked like a mayor, a consultant, a villain, etc.

(You can find actual photos, etc from the study here: Todorov, A., & Porter, J. (2014). Misleading First Impressions. Psychological Science, 25(7), 1404-1417.)

In his book, Todorov shares his insights:

“What appearance-influenced voters are doing is substituting a hard decision with an easy one. Finding out whether a politician is truly competent takes effort and time. Deciding whether a politician looks competent is an extremely easy task. Appearance-influenced voters are looking for the right information in the wrong place, because it is easy to do so.”

What’s happening here is simple:

We’re looking for the easy button.

And just like that wrong snap judgment you made about that guy with the  resting bitch face (who now happens to be your best friend), you can just as easily form a wrong first impression of a website.

But unlike that friend, you probably won’t give that website a second chance.

Because in the case of your copy on a website’s home page, “wrong” usually means a visitor bouncing or (worse) a missed lead or sale.

Is our first impression of a website really that similar to our first impression of a person? 

In short, yes.

A recent study researching the speed at which we form opinions about a web page’s visual appeal concluded that we will assess this within 50 ms.

And this study confirms that the judgments made during our first impression of a website do in fact influence our perceptions of credibility and trust.

Much like our ability to draw inferences from facial appearances, our first impression of a website is also comprised of a complex process that quickly accesses a variety of components. Many of them are design, but your copy also plays a part.

If we consider that most users leave a web page in the first 10 to 20 seconds, the implications become quite clear. As Jakob Nielsen puts it:

“To gain several minutes of user attention, you must clearly communicate your value proposition within 10 seconds.”

The necessity for a clear value prop in your hero section isn’t news.

How to ensure your copy is making the right first impression: copy validation

Usability analyst Craig Tomlin suggests that there are three pieces of critical information a new visitor should be able to answer:

  1. Who are you?
  2. What product/service do you provide?
  3. What’s in it for me?

Likewise, Peep Laja of ConversionXL suggests that your first impression should communicate:

  • Where the visitor is
  • What they can do there
  • Why they should do it

As well as:

  • Your brand personality (chic, silly, sexy, savvy, smart, classic, etc.), and
  • Your differentiating factor (what makes you different from the competition)

So, where does the five second test fit into all of this?

In his book The UX Five-Second Rules, Paul Doncaster says the advantages of the five-second testing method include:

  • Speed
  • Efficiency
  • Portability
  • Flexibility
  • Simplicity
  • Convenience

(Those advantages were music to my ears the first time I read them.)

And while Doncaster notes that the original reason for this test was to simply confirm that the purpose of a content page was obvious, this testing form can also be used for bigger, more critical website components.

Like the hero shot of your homepage.

And he notes that, because we’re testing an “in the moment” response, you don’t need to have access to a bunch of existing customers with prior knowledge of the product or service you’re selling. It’s all about visual perception and short-term memory.

So, given what we know about the seemingly uncontrollable snap judgments our brain makes on our behalf that influence our behaviors and decisions, the five second test simply provides an opportunity to receive feedback on the information a viewer is gathering during those first critical moments.

And I repeat: you don’t need to be a user testing expert to start running these tests.

In a nutshell, the five second test is a type of survey methodology – you’re going to be asking questions and gathering responses.

That’s not so hard, right?

It’s basically like a really teeny tiny version of a customer interview. But with anonymous strangers. And copy that’s in development.

But here’s the thing:

Just because you’re sending your copy out into the wild for validation does not mean it has to be “ready” or “perfect.”

(Heck. It doesn’t even have to be done.)

This is about innovation. And it’s about trying to solve problems (hopefully without creating new ones).

So pull out that long list of value prop options, and choose a few standouts to test. Because we’re going to use an iterative design process to quickly gather feedback and continue writing.

The goal here is to improve through iteration… not just document all of its flaws.

So don’t get hung up on perfection.

(And, yes. I realize that is so much easier said than done. This is why you’re going to see some of my less-than-perfect tests below. Hi, my name is Carolyn and I’m getting comfortable being vulnerable.)


(If Kate Winslet can admit it, I can too.)

But, as with other testing methods, this test has limitations.

“When all you have is a hammer, everything starts to look like a nail.”

Five second tests aren’t always the perfect solution.

Similar to the way we form a first impression when we see a human face, in a five second span we are able to take in a lot of information… but may not necessarily be able to make sense of it. As Doncaster writes:

“A participant may take in a lot of information perceptually, but likely does not have time to make much sense of it as a whole entity, resulting in feedback that is limited in scope.”

In understanding the limits of a five-second test, you’ll be able to set up a test that effectively supports your learning goals.

A five second test can’t tell you everything.

And though this is perhaps obvious, it’s not the right tool to choose when the question you’re trying to answer requires more than five seconds of thought or consideration.

Hint: This means that body copy is not a good fit for this method of testing.

Where the five second test fits in your R&D tool belt

Conversion copywriters, this is where it gets particular important for you.

Five second tests are a great tool to add to your research-and-discovery tool belt for the simple fact that they allow you to focus on the first touchpoints between your copy and your audience.

And, as data analyst Tomi Mester notes in the article linked above, it’s worth mentioning that you’re not looking for statistically significant results here. You’re looking for insights that can help you form an educated guess. And steer you away from bad ideas dressed in sheep’s clothing.

And while Doncaster notes that homepages were originally “off limits” for this testing method, I would argue that because we’re testing an “in the moment” response, homepage hero shots and value props are ideally suited to this type of testing. Because this portion of your website is so critical to a visitor’s first impression of a website – and by extension of the company. Not to mention the success of the overall website as a whole.

So the five second test becomes an opportunity to:

  • Settle an internal bar where you have a team or internal stakeholders that have strong opinions about which approach they think is best
  • Gather intel about how clearly your copy is communicating an aspect of your desired message
  • Check the memorability of said message
  • Check the clarity of said message
  • And help guide your selection between value prop versions to begin validating before your copy goes live (or even graces your client’s desk)

Sure. You could wait to run A/B tests on your live copy (if traffic and conversion rate allow).

But why start with an experiment, with all its costs and risks, when you can first validate? Once you’ve validated a message, THEN split-test it.

The five second test offers immediate feedback and a chance to ditch poor performers – and test variations that may tank – before they cost you leads or sales.

How To Set Up Your Five Second Test So You Know Your Copy Is More Likely to Work

Here’s the step-by-step approach that I, a conversion copywriter who relies heavily on data and has run dozens of these tests, use when running 5-second tests:

  1. Select copy for testing
  2. Define testing goals
  3. Select the right 5 second test format
  4. Write the test
  5. Run the test
  6. Process the results
  7. Determine next steps
  8. Rinse and repeat (as necessary)

Now assuming you’re interested in running tests like these, here’s a breakdown of what to do at each step.

1. Select your copy for testing

For the purposes of ensuring a good first impression, you’ll want to choose copy placed at first touchpoints between you and your reader.

Me? I use this method primarily for testing homepage value prop copy.

While first impressions come from more than just headline copy, it’s already been noted here on Copyhackers that your value proposition is second only in importance to the visitor’s motivation for landing on your site in the first place.

With this in mind, it makes sense to test the clarity of your value prop’s first impression within the context of the hero shot.

As Joanna says:

“Visitors to your site need to be told what’s unique or different about you that they’d really like.”

With our gauge on likeability beginning to form during those first few milliseconds, ensuring the clarity of your homepage copy messaging (which is likely to be a version of your value prop) becomes all the more critical.

Because here’s the thing:

Ensuring that your value prop is making a good first impression will improve your chances for success (i.e., reducing bounce).

Running a series of five second tests helped me write this homepage hero copy: 7 Consulting by Hart live

The results? A 63.51% drop in page bounces.

Remember: good first impression = improved chances for success.

Other “First Impression” Copy Elements You Could Try Testing

  • Landing page headlines
  • Sales page headlines
  • Any other headline you might be working on
  • Facebook ads
  • Instagram ads
  • Adwords ads
  • Email subject lines

2. Define your testing goals

In the wise words of Lewis Carroll:

“If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.”

Similarly, if you don’t clearly define why you’re testing and what you’re hoping to learn, it’s unlikely that you’ll gather the results you’re looking for.

(More importantly, you risk wasting time and money.)

In the context of making a good first impression, you’ll most likely be defining your testing goals as one of the following:

  1. Is my value prop memorable?
  2. Is my value prop clear?

Tip: If you’re stuck on defining a testing goal, look to the 5 critical points of a USP and headline scorecard. Your low-scoring criteria becomes low-hanging fruit for testing.

3. Select the right five second test format

Based on your defined testing goal, you’ll select a test type.

Doncaster outlines the following four test formats:

  1. Memory dump test (i.e., what is most remembered overall)
  2. Target identification test (i.e., what is most remembered about a specific visual target)
  3. Attitudinal test (i.e., perceived appeal, quality and/or usefulness)
  4. “Mixed” test (i.e., combining aspects of the previously mentioned types of tests)

Four five second tests Copyhackers

Could your five second test succeed without defining a test type? Maybe.

But in doing so, you largely leave the results of your test up to chance.

Defining your test format not only helps you more clearly align your learning goals with your results, but it also helps you write a better test.

You don’t need to overthink this. Here are some guidelines to help you choose your test format:

  • Want to gain insights about the memorability of your value prop? Choose memory dump.
  • Want to gain insights about the clarity of your value prop? Choose memory dump or target ID.
  • Want to gain insights about the emotional response you’re eliciting? Choose attitudinal.

You’ll notice I didn’t mention the “mixed” test. Here’s why:

As Doncaster notes, it’s simply more difficult to create a solid “mixed” test and, by default, more difficult to gather useful insights.

Not impossible. But more difficult.

So in the interest of saving budget and working to eliminate non-responses, your best bet is always to stay within one test format. With that in mind, your rule of thumb should be:

One goal = one test format

4. Write your test

Just so you know, this is where most five second tests fail.

There are two critical written components to your test (aside from the copy you’ll be testing):

  1. Your welcome screen
  2. Your test questions

Doncaster’s book sets forth his testing rules based on the analysis of over 300 public online five second tests. Of the eight “violations” listed, five of them were concerned with the writing of the test.

Here are some best practices to keep in mind as you write:

1. Your welcome screen: keep it simple

This is the screen that your test participant will see immediately before viewing your test image. It’s at this point that you’re setting the stage for what’s to follow.

While this is certainly an important moment in your participant’s journey through your test, you can (and should) keep this simple.

Just like your value prop, your instructions should be clear, concise and specific. Here are some examples pulled from Doncaster’s rules, organized by test format:

Sample Memory Dump Test Welcome Screen:

“You will have 5 s to view the [image]. After, you’ll be asked a few short questions.”

“You’ll see a screen for 5 s. Try to remember as much as you can about what you see.”

Or, the basic welcome screen message:

“Look at the interface for 5 seconds and remember as much as you can.”


Important: At the time of writing, (my chosen five second test tool) limits custom welcome screens to researchers with a paid monthly membership. 

Sample Attitudinal Test Welcome Screen:

“You will have 5 s to view the [image]. After, you’ll be asked a few short questions about your reaction to the [image/design/message].”

“You’ll see a screen for 5 s. Pay attention to the general appeal of the [image/design/message].”

“After viewing the [image/design/message] for 5 s, you’ll be asked about your opinions on its look and feel.”

Sample Target Identification Test Welcome Screen:

If you are planning to only ask questions about one element among an image with many elements:

“You will have 5 s to view the [image]. After, you’ll be asked a few short questions about the [specific target being assessed].”

That said, if you’re hoping to understand whether the specific target is easily identifiable within the full design:

“You’ll see a screen for 5 s. Pay close attention to the [image/design/message].”

“After viewing the [image/design/message] for 5 s, you’ll be asked about your opinions on its look and feel.”

A word of warning:

Be careful that the information provided on the welcome screen doesn’t prime your users’ responses.

For example, if your welcome screen reads:

“Imagine you’re assessing companies that provide house cleaning services. You’ll see a screen for 5 s. Try to remember as much as you can about what you see.”

And then your first question reads:

Q1. What service does this company provide?

Well, you’ve primed the users response by tipping them off about what they’re about to see in the instructions. In turn, this will bias your results and waste the moment when your user’s memory is most clear. So don’t do that.

And on the topic of writing questions:

2. When it comes to your test questions, less is more

First things first: there’s no magic number for how many questions you ask.

That said, in the case of five-second tests, less is more.

The trace decay theory helps to explain the memory fade taking place in your participant’s short-term memory bank. Simply put, unless the information being transmitted is rehearsed, the short-term memory can only hold that information for 15 to 30 seconds before it begins to decay and fade away.

With this in mind. it’s best to ask the least number of questions possible to answer your research question and satisfy your learning goal. The original test questions used by Perfetti included only two questions:

  1. Recall as much as you can remember about the design.
  2. What is the purpose of the page?

In his book, Doncaster notes that of the 300+ tests he analyzed, 80% asked three or more questions. While most five second test tools cap out at five questions, know that you don’t need to max out your question capacity.

Doncaster makes a strong case for the “less is more” approach:

“In five-second tests, the acts of reading, understanding, and responding to questions place additional burden on the cognitive process in play, which contribute further to memory fade.”

Only ask what needs to be asked to satisfy your learning goals.

Lesson Learned: It’s not just about the number of questions, it’s also about their order

The final questions on your five second tests are like the (questionable) leftovers in the back of your fridge: A little fuzzy and likely to elicit an “I dunno” response. 🤷🏻‍♀️


We’re going to look at one of my very early five second tests.

My goal was to improve the clarity of communicating Consulting by Hart‘s services.

One of the issues with the existing copy that we identified during the initial project scope was that visitors couldn’t clearly identify the intended audience. As in, when it came to answering the question “Am I in the right place?” visitors may not confidently answer “yes.” The five second test run on the control hero shot helped us confirm this.

Here’s the control hero shot:

Screen Shot 2019 11 26 at 11.50.30 AM

We started by asking them this question: “What do you remember about the site?”

And here’s a look at the results to Q1:


My goal was to shine a spotlight on the services provided.

My original question order for this series of tests was:

Q1. What do you remember about the site?

Q2. What can you do on this site?

Q3. Who is this site for?

Q4. What is the name of their business? 

Notice any issues here?

For starters, Q4 doesn’t tie to the testing goal.

I also learned, through the gathered responses, that Q3 was open to misinterpretation. Some of the respondents interpreted this particular question as meaning “Who is this site representing?” or “Who is the company that this site is for?”

But the biggest issue?

Some of the most specific questions were asked at the end of the test. While the end results gathered were still promising (60% of the participants identified the name of their business correctly), this did leave my test with an increased vulnerability to participant non-responses.

Your solution: Ask the questions requiring the most specific memory recall first.

Your participants’ memories will be most clear immediately after your testing image disappears. From there, your participants’ short-term memories will begin to fade.

Doncaster dubbed this the “reverse-Polaroid effect” and noted that writing with this effect in mind helps you combat the “I don’t know” or “I don’t remember” responses.

If I were to do-over this test today I would rewrite those questions to look something like this:

Q1. What is the service or product this company provides?

Q2. What else do you remember about the image?

Here’s why:

Because the goal was to improve the clarity of the offer, I’ve removed all of the questions that do not specifically tie back to that goal.

And because the test is structured in a memory dump format, you’ll notice that I’ve now re-ordered the remaining questions according to specificity. This allows me to capitalize on the test taker’s memory when it’s strongest.

Finally, I’ve tweaked the wording of these questions to make my ask a little clearer. And adding the “else” in Q2 allows the participant to dump anything else they felt was memorable.

TL;DR: Think carefully about the questions you ask and the order in which you ask them. Order questions from most specific to least specific.

5. Run the test

You’re done the pre-work. Now it’s time to unleash your test on the public!

Here’s the step-by-step method to follow:

1. Load-in your test

If you haven’t already done so, you’ll need to choose your five second testing tool.

I like because it allows you to pay a small fee for platform-recruited test-takers. Meaning you don’t have to bug your friends, family, mom or colleagues to take your test.

(It’s free to bring your own participants to your UsabilityHub test, but it still doesn’t open up the option to write your own instruction screen.)

If you’re bringing your own participants, you may want to consider UserBob. It allows you to set up a test with a custom instruction screen and then pushes your test taker toward your chosen survey tool (like Typeform).

Lesson Learned: Choose your visual context carefully

You have a couple of choices when it comes to presenting your copy to your test takers:

  1. Test copy on a blank screen
  2. Test copy in a wireframe
  3. Test copy by editing copy on the existing site using an editor extension

(We’re going back to one of my first wireframed tests. I’m sweating.)

As previously mentioned, my goal on this project was to improve the clarity of the services my client provided.

Here’s that wireframed copy:


And here are some of the lacklustre answers I received to the first question:


Highlights include:

“The first thing was the big giant “X” going through the page.”

“It’s shaped like an envelope.”

Not exactly the great-first-impression-confirming insights I was hoping for. Womp, womp.

It wasn’t that the answers as a whole were completely unusable, but it became immediately apparent that my very lo-fi wireframe spoiled the results.

The solution: Test your copy in a visual context that isn’t going to distract your participants.

Here’s the thing:

Those spoiled results were entirely my fault. And I knew it as soon as they landed in my inbox. So I went back to the drawing board to try again. This time I tested my copy in a wireframe that actually resembled a website:


And the resulting answers were decidedly more focused:


Unsurprisingly, improving the visual context for the copy improved the overall quality of the answers I received from participants.

TL;DR: Choose your visual context with care. I like running tests on my copy in context because that’s how a new visitor will actually experience it. If you decide to run your wireframes, make sure they look as much like a website as possible.

2. Set your audience demographics

This step is only required if your testing tool will recruit participants on your behalf.

Your gut will tell you to narrow down the participant demographics as much as possible. The common thinking here is that you’ll receive more qualified feedback if you set your demographic filters to match your target audience.

Stop. Do not pass go. Do not collect $100.


Yes, validating your copy with your market is important.

But this isn’t the time for that.

This is about first impressions. Is the message clear? Is the message memorable?

That’s it.

You don’t need your testing participants to be carbon copies of your one reader. You just need them living in the same (figurative) neighborhood. Why? Because most demographic data doesn’t help you understand your typical visitor’s behavior.

Within your testing dashboard you’re likely to see at least some of the following options to filter your audience:

  • Language
  • Viewing device
  • Country
  • Gender
  • Age range
  • Education level
  • Employment status
  • Annual household income
  • Technical proficiency
  • Daily hours online

Of these options, I focus first on behavioral indicators, like education level, employment status, technical proficiency and daily hours online.

I also set the viewing device filter. This helps ensure that the participant is viewing my image in the correct visual context – i.e. I don’t get participants viewing a desktop hero shot image on a mobile device.

Depending on the project, I might also set the language settings to English. I’ve found that this can help protect my test results from increased “I don’t know” or “I don’t remember” responses from participants that might have English as a second (or third) language.

Bottom line: Skip the granular “female, aged 25-34” details and focus on big-picture behavior-driving demographics instead.

3. Set your audience size

This was one of the biggest questions I had when I first started using this testing method in my writing process.

The jury is out on the “perfect” audience size for testing:

  • Virzi says 3-5
  • Perfetti says 20
  • Faulkner says 10
  • Turner et al. says 7
  • And Nielsen says 5

After reviewing the research, I think that Nielsen’s suggestion of five is the sweet spot for our purposes.

Here’s why:

Nielsen suggests that your first five test participants will discover over 80% of all problems.

I won’t get into the specifics of Nielsen and Landauer’s formula (you can find that formula as well as the their graph demonstrating diminishing returns as new participants are added here), but usability experts do seem to agree that simple tests require fewer test takers.

Sticking with five test takers also helps you make the most of your testing budget. As Nielsen states:

“Doesn’t matter whether you test websites, intranets, PC applications, or mobile apps. With 5 users, you almost always get close to user testing’s maximum benefit-cost ratio.”

Granted, this decision is based on usability studies, not studies specifically relating to copy. But the fact remains that our use of the five-second test qualifies as “simple,” so using Nielsen’s rule of thumb works.

And, as Nielsen also suggests, from a cost-benefit perspective, you’re better to run plenty of small iterative tests than one large test.

I’ve experimented with larger audience sizes, but keep coming back to five participants.

Here’s why five is the magic number:

During my work with Portica, a project management tool built specifically for architects and designers, its founder mentioned how he felt they were missing the mark in effectively communicating how they differed from more widely adopted document storage solutions. They weren’t really a document storage solution, but their existing messaging didn’t clearly articulate the full scope of what it is they actually offered.

I decided to double my typical testing audience size on this particular project because we were limited to only a small handful of customer interviews. That meant that my VoC data was drawn largely from raw mining research and founder interviews. I felt that a slightly larger audience pool might help confirm whether or not I was on the right track with their new messaging.

Here’s round one, version one:


And here’s round one, version two:


What I found as I toggled in and out of the audience filters on my completed results surprised me.

The filtered responses of smaller response pools remained consistent with the full audience results.

4. Preview your test

This little step can save you from wasting time and money on a faulty test.

Here’s a quick checklist to help you run quality assurance (QA) on your test:

  • Welcome Screen
    • Are your welcome screen instructions clear, concise and specific?
    • Have you unintentionally primed your test taker with leading instructions that you should revise / remove to minimize bias?
  • Testing Image
    • Is your testing image fully visible without scrolling?
    • Does your testing image display your copy in a visual context that accurately represents the way in which a reader would experience it? For example, if you’re testing homepage hero copy, does your testing image resemble a hero shot??
    • Is there anything in your testing image that has the potential to distract your test taker?
  • Test Questions
    • Are your questions clear, concise and specific?
    • Are your questions in the right order for your learning goals?
    • Have you unintentionally primed your test taker with leading questions?
    • Are there any questions that are unnecessary in helping you satisfy your learning goal? (If so, remove them.)

This step takes about a minute total to complete:


But that minute can save you from wasting budget on a problematic test. Don’t skip it.

5. Let your test run

Arguably the easiest part of the process: hit submit and wait.

If you’ve opted to have your testing tool recruit participants on your behalf, you can typically expect your complete results in the next 5 to 45 minutes.

Go grab a coffee, your work here is done (for now).


6. Process your five-second test results

Your results are in! It’s time to get back to work.

There are a couple of different ways you can go about processing the results.

While the easiest and quickest way is to review your results inside your test dashboard, I prefer to process results in a Google sheet (you can find that template here) in order to have a full picture of my control and USP iterations as I work through my projects.


Inside that worksheet I note down my pre-work decisions, test conditions and any demographic filters placed. Once I receive my results, I begin making my notes and tallying repetitions in language used by the test users (similar to Ashley Greene’s method demonstrated during this Tutorial Tuesday).

If you’re anything like me, I’m sure you’re wondering:

How will I know if my results are “useful”?

I’m a firm believer that you can learn from all of your results.

Receiving non-responses like “I don’t know” or “I can’t remember” is a signal to head back to the drawing board and try again.

Likewise, if you receive a set of responses that indicate you’ve achieved your goal, that also becomes useful (and handy to report back to your client).

For example, watershed protection and preservation organization Friends of the Muskoka Watershed came to me asking for snappy copy that articulated their rather complex mission and methodology in a way that is easy to understand.

I first confirmed their hunch about general audience confusion during the homepage hero control five-second test (as well as audience interviews and reviewing traffic flow through Google Analytics).

I then found, through various research activities, that their “science to action” methodology was particularly attractive to their target audience and was also a key differentiator between them and their competitors.

From there I worked up a variety of customer-facing options and began testing.

Here were the wireframe images I started with:

First the “snappy” version:


Followed by the longer version:


What I found?

Only 20% of the “snappy” version test takers understood their core mission – protecting the Muskoka watershed.

Compare that to 60% of the longer version test takers.

These results supported my recommendation for longer copy. And I continue to develop and test this copy as we move toward a finalized project.

7. Determine your next steps

Did your shift in messaging help you achieve your learning goals?

  • Yes? Great. Move forward feeling more confident in knowing that your copy is communicating what it needs to communicate in those first five seconds of a visitor landing on the site.
  • No? Also great! Head back to the drawing board with that intel to continue working on your value prop.

Use those findings to inform future iterations of your copy.

8. Rinse and repeat those five-second tests often (and when necessary)

In the wise words of Eugene Schwartz:

“Copy is not written. Copy is assembled.”

An engineer wouldn’t release a new product without testing it, right? You are an engineer of words. Testing should be built into the process of assembling.

As Nielsen says:

“After creating the new design, you need to test again. Even though I said that the redesign should “fix” the problems found in the first study, the truth is that you think that the new design overcomes the problems. But since nobody can design the perfect user interface, there is no guarantee that the new design does in fact fix the problems. 

A second test will discover whether the fixes worked or whether they didn’t. Also, in introducing a new design, there is always the risk of introducing a new usability problem, even if the old one did get fixed.”

Everywhere he says “design,” replace it with copy.

I’m feeling a little like a broken record at this point, but here goes:

Your five-second tests are experiments.

Test early. Test often. And don’t let that perfection monster rear his ugly head!


Test your copy before you think it’s perfect.

And maybe even before you think it’s “ready.”

I typically start testing two or three customer-facing value prop options during my initial research and discovery work (before I present my messaging recommendations report), simply because it allows me to present some initial results to help guide my client in understanding why my recommendations suggest that one direction might be better than the other.

And it allows me to validate what I might think of a good idea as unclear and improves my work along the way to finalized copy.

The end result?

Copy that is communicating key information clearly within those first critical moments of a visitor landing on a website.

The critical deciding factors in whether or not you should test should be:

  1. Do you know what you want to learn?
  2. Will displaying an image, with copy, for 5 seconds help you learn this?

If you answered yes to both of those questions, then you should start testing.

This all sounds great. But how do I get budget approval?

Easy. I build my five-second test budget into the fee for my project.

This is now a non-negotiable in my writing process. So I don’t ask for permission.

Of course, exact numbers depend entirely on the project in question, but with each test costing about $10 USD, I usually build a $50 to $70 internal “Five Second Test Fund” into each project.

But if you want to dig in and get started right now, remember this:

“The best results come from testing no more than 5 users and running as many small tests as you can afford.” – Jacob Nielsen

User testing tools aren’t just for user testing experts. To get started with improving your copy’s first impression, you just need to be ready to learn and have some copy to test.

It’s all part of the iterative process on your way to making that great first impression.

Author: Carolyn Beaudoin, conversion copywriter

Editor: Joanna Wiebe, founder of Copyhackers

Peer reviewer: Talia Wolf, founder of GetUplift

The post How to spot bad headlines before they make your visitors bounce – an intro to easy copy validation appeared first on Copywriting for startups and marketers.

Breakthrough-or-bust emails

Best practices create mediocrity.

That’s my take, at least.

It’s also Dilbert’s take, I’ve just discovered:

Dilbert comic about mediocrity and best practices. Used with valid license for artwork. All rights reserved.

Something performs well a thousand years ago or twelve days ago, and it becomes a better practice. The repeated use of it turns it into a best practice – folks start to see it everywhere and think, Well, that’s gotta be THE way to do X. And then they start spreading that best practice in some part of their world, whether that’s within a five-person marketing department or across a 2000-person audience at an event or in an evergreen blog post that could see hundreds of thousands of visitors over the years… and voila.

Mediocrity is born.


The intent was to do better.

The effect was to shortcut thinking and normalize unchallenged marketing. To give us all something to say when we see copy, design, interfaces, etc that make us feel something:

“But isn’t a best practice X?”

(read: “This work challenges what I believe keeps me safe.”)

The designer or copywriter goes back to the drawing board.

And mediocrity gets reinforced.

Mostly, we want to feel nothing when it comes to marketing we’re going to approve, where we’ll be held responsible for it.

Sure, we respond best to other people’s marketing that moves us, like:




But when it comes to the marketing – and copy – we’re signing off on… well, when’s the last time you published something that made you feel something and, in doing so, made you uncomfortable that it would make others feel something and they might not like that you made them feel something? How often do you instead publish work that makes you feel safe, safe and only safe?

This past spring, we wrote a SaaS onboarding sequence that ticked all the boxes when it comes to email best practices. It made us all feel safe.

The email sequence in question was for Prezi, the leading presentation platform for non-linear storytelling.

The sequence we wrote was filled to ye olde brim with best practices in email marketing and SaaS user onboarding. Here’s an example of one of the emails we wrote, in its designed form – see if you can’t spot the best practices at play:

Image of design-heavy email, as example for case study.

Did you identify the email best practices?

It’s got everything all the “best practices” blogs, including in many cases our blog, say:

And ^^ that email ^^ also adheres to essential copywriting rules. That is, it follows one idea. It’s written for one reader (who, admittedly, could be clearer). It’s got one offer (which, admittedly, could be more irresistible). And it’s got one promise.

These were emails that were based on email best practices.

Internally, our team was like, “Cool beans. Let’s test it.”

When we presented this email copy to the Prezi team, everyone was like, “Cool beans. Let’s test it.”

We were on board. They were on board. All stakeholders were on board. Everyone was perfectly fine with these emails going out the door.

Nobody was sure these emails would lose.

That said, no one was sure they would win, either.

And of course…

When the Prezi team tested our new email sequence against the control, our results were



Like the emails had never happened.

Like Prezi had invested no time or resources in them.

Like Copyhackers had invested no time or resources in them.

Like they had never happened.

Except they HAD happened.

There were 1000s of Prezi trial users who’d been exposed to them. Thousands of Prezi users who’d taken very little action after reading them. Not NO action. But very little action.

Prezi users were saying this about our copy: “Meh.”

Worst thing is…

A part of me thinks all of us – my team and the Prezi team – were thinking the same thing.

We just didn’t say it.

Hindsight 20/20, sure – but here’s what I’ve started noticing about copy that doesn’t a) beat the control or b) lose to the control.

As soon as the world starts adopting a fashion trend, it’s already dead. Someone said that once. But you’ll have to trust me on that point because Google thinks I’m making it up. Evidently Dilbert doesn’t have a comic for that yet.

As soon as marketing recognizes a trend, it’s already dead.

Consider this now-famous Unbounce post about the trend in illustrations on SaaS sites, which appears to have been first sparked by this tweet by @jimmy_daly:

Sweet from Jimmy Daly featuring illustrations in SaaS design.

There’s never been a good idea that marketing hasn’t killed.

And I say that as a marketer. Who likes good ideas. Who’s had a few. And who’s killed many.

As soon as we get wise to something, it’s already too late. As soon as you hear about it, it may already be time to consider it “inspiration” and use it to spark a better, fresher idea. Customers are already tuning it out.

So with that in mind…

I started looking around at the emails I was paying attention to.

Because my thought was this:

There’s gotta be something out there that’s not an email best practice yet but could inspire great emails.

(Yeah, I’m a swiper. You should swipe, too.)

The first company that always springs to mind for me these days, when it comes to email, is Sticker Mule. Because their emails are all like this:

Sticker Mule email.

Basically, Sticker Mule emails break best practices in email copywriting.

When I first started getting Sticker Mule emails, they annoyed me.

They were so far from the vicinity of trying.

A couple lines of text. No voice. Nothing about the customer. Such focus on discounts. Even the from name was doing things wrong! Best practices hold that your from name should be the name of a person – but Sticker Mule keeps sending me emails from Sticker Mule.

Annoying disregard for writing great emails.

But then I noticed something:

I kept opening their emails.

I kept clicking their text links.

And I kept ordering from them.

Screenshot of the money I spent with Sticker Mule in 2019, totalling nearly $1500.

Over the last 12 months, in fact, I’ve placed eight orders with Sticker Mule and spent nearly $1500. On stickers. And packaging to ship the stickers in. But mostly on stickers. Oh and buttons! Buttons were my new thing for about two months, thanks to emails like this:

Another Sticker Mule email.

Truth be told, I rarely even buy the thing they’re promoting in the email.

I just click through, think about what I could do with whatever the promo is and then go shopping on Sticker Mule for something else that matches what I want to do now.

But it’s not just Sticker Mule that’s doing cool – aka different – aka rule-breaking – stuff with email.

Perhaps you’re familiar with CB Insights.

CB Insights is a reporting company for investors / stakeholders in all things up-and-coming tech, like what’s trending in investing. They send a newsletter to report out what they’re seeing, finding, wondering, etc. It’s a great newsletter filled with data and dollars and charts and graphs.

Very serious stuff.

Money-making stuff.

Machine learning is involved.

Very serious stuff.

But check this out.

THIS is how the CEO of CB Insights signs off each of his newsletters:

Anand Sanwal's signature: "I love you."

And it’s always been this way.

At least, for as long as I’ve been subscribing. When I first started getting emails from CB Insights, it was Jan 5, 2016 – and this is how Anand signed that newsletter:

Another example of love in the signature.


It’s amazing.

“I love you.” “I still love you.”


That signature in what is essentially a finance newsletter?

So while CEO Anand Sanwal is signing newsletters with the phrase most 1950s father figures couldn’t easily utter, if what TV taught me is true, which it definitely is…

and while Sticker Mule throws a friendly eff u at all of us crazies with our email best practices…

we’ve got this one other tricky style of email that was brought to my attention in 2019:

The 9-word email by Dean Jackson.

The 9-word email is an email framework that one of my team members told me about after I sent this two-sentence email, promoting a new blog post, to the Copyhackers list.

An example of a short email Jo wrote.

My team member was like, “You used the nine-word email.”

And I was like, “What’s the nine-word email?”

And she sent me to this article. (There are other articles out there. And videos. Worth a Bing. <– my husband keeps trying to make Bing happen, so that’s for him)

Technically, the email I sent was not THE nine-word email; it was just a short email. Whatever the case, I found myself introduced to the nine-word email framework, which exists to revive dead leads. It does so using this formula:

Subject line:
{recipient name}?

“Are you still looking for {the thing you’re selling}?”

Which turns into something like this, for example:

Subject line:

“Are you still looking for smash-proof windshields?”

That’s the whole thing.

And the results people share when they use the 9-word email are pretty incredible. I haven’t seen actual support for any of this, but if you’re cool with anecdotal evidence, people have used that formula to sell bigger-ticket items with longer sales cycles, like:

  • Real estate
  • Vacations
  • Consulting services

The creator of the 9-word email, Dean Jackson lists these results for people who’ve used his formula:

A yacht broker sent “Are you still looking for a yacht?” and uncovered a $100 million dollar buyer. A Motorcycle jeans designer sold over $9000 in one week with a 9-word email.

Which brings us to this point:

There are more interesting things working in marketing than “best practices” expose us to.

Using the above proceeds of my email swipe file review, I went back to the drawing board to work on a new round of Prezi onboarding emails.

I tossed out everything we’d done in the “flat” round of onboarding emails except for:

  1. the subject lines (which had good open rates) and
  2. the basic flow of the emails – that is, which feature / benefit / outcome to talk about in the first email, then the second, then the third, etc.

In my writing, I swiped boldly from Sticker Mule… swiped lightly from CB Insights… and let the 9-word email keep me focused on a single point of relevance for the reader. In 45 minutes in my Macbook’s TextEdit program, I dashed out a brand new email sequence for Prezi, with this basic research question guiding the emails:

What if every single thing we know about emails needs to be challenged?

Y’know, just a small question. Challenging the work I’ve done for the last 15 years. No big deal. No big whoop.

With that and a new set of emails in hand, I reached out to Rita, Prezi’s lifecycle and growth marketing manager (who oversees email), to run my new copy by her. Thank God for Rita – she’s always open to experiments.

After some convincing – not a lot but some – Rita and the Prezi team were on board with testing our new round of emails, which we called “The Bare Emails Experiment.” Here’s a representative email from the sequence:

Prezi email - bare.

These emails are:

  • Intentionally stripped down visually – only a logo (to help with trust)
  • Short
  • Formatted simply, with one sentence per line and text links instead of buttons
  • Light in tone
  • Focused on instructing the trial user to do one thing

My favorite part? The sign off:

You’re wonderful.

It might be the kind of sign-off to make Anand Sanwal proud.

And best of all: some folks at Prezi and at Copyhackers did NOT like the sign-off.

Which is great.

As I’ve started noticing, the copy that’s worth putting into the world – copy that’s worth putting in front of people who’d rather you send them cat gifs but who would, at the same time, rather you not send them cat gifs – is copy that does not get boardroom consensus.

Copy that’s worth publishing is copy that some of your team will like and others on your team will dislike. This “group discontent” is what we hypothesize to be the foundation of breakthrough or bust copy.

Prezi tested our second round of emails.

And they beat the control with:

  • An 18% lift in trial-to-subscribe rate, at 95% significance
  • A 71% lift in number of presentations created in 7 days after send, at 100% significance
  • A 93% lift in the number of presentations per user, at 100% significance

However, that was only for one of their segments. For two of their segments, we saw the same thing as the previous time: flat results. So we’re now working on two new sequences for those segments, with a new hypothesis about how to achieve a breakthrough – this one swiping from the winning segment while doubling-down on relevance for the segments. (More soon!)

Of course, what we’re learning is NOT that emails should be a mash-up of Sticker Mule emails, CB Insights sign-offs and the 9-word email in order to convert.

Rather, emails have to be different from the norm or from best practices to stand a chance of converting. The flipside is that differing from the norm or best practices also puts you at higher risk of negatively impacting conversions. Safe copy keeps results flat. Everything else introduces the risk of winning big or losing big.

Internally, we’ve started using the old direct-response term “breakthrough or bust” to describe the outcome of deviating from best practices, where the idea is that copy that stands a chance of converting may be a total breakthrough or a total bust… and you can’t tell before you launch it. You just have to be cool with the risk.

We once again tested what was developing into a recurring “breakthrough or bust hypothesis.”

This time, the test was the trial-to-pro onboarding sequence for Doodle, an easy platform for scheduling meetings.

Here’s what a typical email from their Control sequence looked like. Have a read as if you’re a Doodle trial user:

A Doodle email.

If you stripped away the design in the above Control email, you might end up with an email that was very much like the Prezi “bare emails” experiment. Just add an unexpectedly emotional sign-off, and you’d be set.

We could have proposed Doodle test a bare version of the exact same copy they already had.

But if we did that… could we say we were following our higher-level “breakthrough or bust” hypothesis? Would we have actual reason to believe the new version would convert?

My opinion: nope.

We’re trying to increase conversions. So going with a “sure thing” seems to be the safest way to get there.

But that word “safe” is the first hint that you’re going down the wrong path. It takes you away from breakthrough or bust. It keeps you closer to flat results. Or so we’re learning.

Losing test after winning test after losing test, I have little reason to believe that the best next test to run is one based on copy that won elsewhere. Rather the best next copy test to run may be copy that’s the exact opposite of the copy that won elsewhere. If you repeat a winning test, are you running the risk of seeking a new best practice and, in turn, bringing the client / company closer to the point of mediocrity? I dunno. But it’s a question we’re always asking these days.

So what if we took the bare emails approach we’d used for Prezi… and swung the pendulum in the opposite direction for Doodle?

One of our philosophies at Copyhackers is that you should write for people who read. If you don’t want to write for people who read, you shouldn’t hire a copywriter and you certainly shouldn’t hire us.

Doodle’s control emails were written not for people who read but for people who scan. Their emails were, we identified during our audit, too safe. Too timid. Some might say… a little scared.

Most emails are.

Hell, most copy is.

So we decided, in the interest of writing breakthrough-or-bust copy – which by this time we were starting to affectionally call “BOB copy” – Bob is turning into a mascot around here BTW – that we should write emails that are quite definitely not safe. Certainly not timid. And 100% courageous – the opposite of scared. That might lead us to a breakthrough. Or a bust. But NOT flat results.

Our email conversion copywriter Nikki is one of the most courageous copywriters you’ll ever meet.

Here’s what an email Nikki wrote… and we proposed… and Doodle tested (Variation B) looked like. Give it a read like you’re a Doodle trial user:

A Doodle email.

The first half of the Doodle onboarding sequence we wrote followed a similar style and format as the above email.

It wasn’t until the second half, when we recommend Doodle start sending more sales emails, that our emails shortened up a bit and started to look more like this one, which is Sales Email #5:

A Doodle email.

But it wasn’t just the style of the emails we recommended that challenged both email best practices and the Doodle control sequence.

It was also the number of emails.

(This is where things get particularly interesting for this study.)

Doodle’s control sequence was 4 emails long.

Ours was 16.

Yup, we recommended 4x the emails to Doodle.

To summarize the changes we recommended that we believed to be BOB:

  1. Four times the emails
  2. Five times the sales emails
  3. A near-daily send frequency, compared to intermittent sending with the control
  4. Unexpected subject lines
  5. Subject lines that mimicked those used when scheduling meetings, which some could argue is a dark UX practice even though it was an important part of the message and not dark in intent
  6. Longer left-aligned copy with a narrative style
  7. A signature from someone at Doodle

We also wrote an email from Time itself. Not from Doodle. From Time, the thing Doodle helps you save:

A Doodle email.

And then there was this classic subject line, which helped this email earn the highest unsubscribe rate Doodle had ever seen: “My coworkers hate me.” See it here:

A Doodle email.

So that’s four times the emails sent.

Way more sales-focused emails.

Some tone “problems.”

Some long-ass copy.

And the results:

  • 63.9% lift in purchases of the Pro product
  • 18.3% lift in purchases of the Starter product
  • Double to triple the unsubscribes

But those lifts were largely for US-based trial users. The Brits and the Aussies responded better to the control sequence. As did non-English speakers.

A note from Val Geisler, our peer reviewer for this article and an email expert: Too many marketers think unsubs are a bad thing. Unsubs are GOOD in this case (and pretty much every case) because people who don’t want to hear from you shouldn’t hear from you.

Ready for something that’s quite a bit more interesting?

Because we’ve all seen stories of conversion lifts… and because this whole post is about how you can’t just repeat what someone did, hoping it’s a best practice, and expect to see the same results…

If you’re starting to think about how to write BOB emails or BOB copy for your organization, you’re going to need to get ready for… reactions.

Allow me to illustrate:

Exactly zero trial users replied to a single email in the Doodle control sequence.

Can you guess how many replied to the emails in Variation B / the BOB sequence we wrote?

Try 107 replies from Doodle Pro trial users… and 204 replies from Doodle Starter trial users.

Imagine explaining that to your success team.

Imagine getting the reluctant okay from your marketing team and the boardroom to move forward with a BOB email sequence… only to have CS call an emergency meeting when BOB launches to deal with 300+ emails from customers that include content like:

Please stop.

Your emails are hilarious.


Doodle is great. Trying to shame people into buying your product? Poor.

Even a paid conversion lift of >60% couldn’t keep your team from demanding you take the emails down. Which almost happened in this case. But instead we removed the particularly problematic email – which is the one with the subject line “My coworkers hate me” you saw above – and made some other technical modifications to deal with people getting more emails than they should have. Conversion rate stayed high. And angry emails went away.

Does it make you nervous, the idea of getting 300x the email replies you used to get?

It should make us all just as nervous to get ZERO replies.

But it doesn’t.

That part doesn’t make most marketers nervous. We try to keep our opens around 20%. And we use that as our primary measure of engagement. “People are still opening. We must be doing fine.”

You are doing fine.

Just fine.

Y’know that feeling when you have no feeling about something?

I don’t think I’m overly ornery when I say that most copy out there is meh at best.

Great copy lives on the edge of the blade.

And that’s why so few people write or publish it.

Great copy is uncomfortable. A few people around the boardroom table will love it, but the vast majority will shoot it down fast. Some think it will be the breakthrough a company needs. Others think it will tank conversions. If you were to ask the room to vote on whether they think it would beat the control, no one would say yes. Even the copywriter who wrote it.

THAT’S potentially great copy.

It’s also potentially shit copy.

There’s a name for it now. It’s called BOB copy.

It’s not “fake news” headlines or clickbait. It’s also not copy that’s filled with swearwords. Or takes a hard right when the market goes left. Or is about sex when it shouldn’t be about sex. Or is anything Cambridge Analytica would have signed off on – gross manipulation disguised as “persuasion.”

BOB copy makes you react. Makes you feel something. And for those huge marketing sins, it’s hated by the vast majority of the boardroom. A boardroom has never turned out great copy. Good copy, yes. The kind of copy your designer whips up while sketching out your new home page, yes. But not great copy.

You have the theory behind BOB copy.

Now add this checklist to the mix to help you identify if your copy is likely to be a total breakthrough or a total bust (and importantly: you can’t be sure which one of those it’ll be).

This is our current but growing checklist for writing breakthrough-or-bust copy.

[ ] It boldly breaks best practices for the medium or channel.
[ ] It boldly breaks best practices for copywriting for that medium or channel.
[ ] It boldly breaks best practices in design / design conventions for that medium or channel.
[ ] It leverages insights from data without said data choking or stifling potentially fruitful ideas.
[ ] It boldly runs counter to the Control.
[ ] It is still technically on-brand for the company.
[ ] You are scared to present it. But you know it ticks the above boxes.
[ ] You are certain many people will hate it. But you know it ticks the above boxes.
[ ] You know there is a WHY for every practice challenged.

If best practices breed mediocre results, Joanna, should I even learn how to write copy… or just throw wild guesses at the page?

There’s a rule in writing: you don’t get to break the rules of grammar until you know the rules of grammar.

My take is it’s the same in the copywriting world: you don’t get to break copywriting best practices until or unless you know those best practices. How would you know which best practices to challenge if you don’t know the best practices to begin?

Oh, and keep a swipe file.


The post Breakthrough-or-bust emails appeared first on Copywriting for startups and marketers.

Forget the Images: Long Facebook Ad Copy Works

Famous American investor Jim Rogers took a trip to Ethiopia.

It was during one of the worst famines in recorded history.

Foreign assistance to Ethiopia was, according to Rogers, commendable… but destined to fail.

See, 3 million Ethiopians were starving. But the country produced enough food to feed 60 million people.

They didn’t necessarily need more food.

They needed an infrastructure to carry the food they had from the rainforest to the desert.

So what’s that got to do with Facebook ads?

FB advertisers find themselves in similar situations when trying to troubleshoot ad campaigns that aren’t working.

They focus on bidding, on audiences and on ad structure – forgetting far too often about the importance of the most fundamental stuff in marketing and advertising:

Content and copywriting.

“But People Don’t Read Long Ads on Facebook”

Popular belief is that with Facebook ads, only the images matter; the copy does not. (This was particularly devastating for the Copyhackers team to learn.)

Most marketers also believe that the copy should be short.

But are they right?

AdEspresso recently ran a Facebook Ad Copy Length experiment that challenges this belief. In it, they tested seven different ads for the same offer, where everything was the same for each ad except for the copy. Here’s a summary of their copy tests:

  • Variation A: One Sentence, Version A (claim with data)
  • Variation B: One Sentence, Version B (question)
  • Variation C: Bullet Points
  • Variation D: Bullet Points + Emojis
  • Variation E: One Paragraph
  • Variation F: Three Paragraphs
  • Variation G: Six Paragraphs

AdEspresso then polled marketers to see which variation they thought would win.

Nearly half of the marketers polled guessed Variation A: One Sentence would win.

But not only did Variation A NOT win. It also had a much higher CPA.

Turns out Variation E: One Paragraph was the ultimate winner, followed closely by Variation F: Two Paragraphs and then Variation G: Six Paragraphs.

Even better? Not only did the longer copy in these ads bring in the most leads… but long copy also had the lowest CPAs across the board.

Test results showed one paragraph of copy outperformed short copy

That experiment showed a big increase in Facebook ad performance… based solely on changing the copy. (More about it here)

CAVEAT: When you write longer copy, you effectively change the message, too. So an easy argument here is, “Well didn’t the message also change?” Of course it did. Longer copy gives you room to explore more facets of a message, increasing your messaging surface area – or effectively increasing the size of the net you cast, allowing more message to pull in more people.

These results are not just for AdEspresso.

I once took a course from Perry Marshall, a business consultant endorsed by FORBES and INC Magazine. He also wrote the world’s best-selling book on Facebook advertising, and he teaches clients how to successfully write long-form FB ads. One of his clients, Revelation Pets, had a sales increase of 300 percent in the month after taking his course. And another student dropped her cost per lead from $7 to $1.76.

I’ve written about long ad copy and how it helped BetterBack – a company that appeared on Shark Tank – run a profitable campaign.

I’ve shared how long ad copy helped Strategyzer sell $2,199 event tickets at 1866 percent ROI.

But maybe you’re still not sure long copy actually works in Facebook ads???

Okay, lemme give you another example. But before we dive into it, think about the size of YOUR email list today. How many subscribers do you have? How many did you acquire last month alone? And how about last week?

With those numbers in mind, take a look at this case study:

Case Study: “I Will Teach You a Language”
uses long Facebook ad copy to get 3000+ subscribers in 1 week

I’ve been running campaigns for I Will Teach You a Language since September 2015.

Founder Olly Richards speaks eight languages and helps others learn new languages quickly through storytelling. For the past three years, FB ads have been consistently building Olly’s email list.

In a seven-day period recently, we received 3,118 opt-ins at £0.54/lead.

The secret is no secret at all: I consistently write lots of ads in which I engage in storytelling, which allows us to get leads at a good cost. I use long copy.

Here’s the ad that brought in all those leads in one week:

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And now take a look at the comments! That ad got 2.2k likes, 545 shares, and 443 comments (708 total comments, if we count nested ones).pasted image 0 12

SIDE NOTE: Also in this example, someone wrote a comment that got 18 replies related to the ad topic. Nested comments are more proof that they’re reading!

Long-form copy has been given a bad rap in the marketing world.

People love to tell you that nobody reads online.

And here’s the thing: that can be very, very true.

But any great conversion copywriter will tell you this: 

Don’t write for the people who don’t read online. Write for the people who do.

K, so how?

I’m about to walk you through 10 techniques for using long-form content and storytelling in Facebook ads. These are the exact techniques I follow to get results for my clients. And in case skepticism starts to creep in as you read – or in case you go put a pot of tea on and return to read the rest of this post having forgotten everything you just read – I’m also going to share a few more case studies as we go….

But first, let’s agree on this.

Engagement with your Facebook ads MATTERS.

Long ad copy can be incredibly engaging, and that’s a big part of what makes it a powerful weapon to fight off Facebook ad fatigue. And this is important for two reasons:

1) High engagement helps you get a higher relevancy score, which Facebook rewards with more impressions and lower CPM. Facebook itself recommends working on the ad text when it comes to improving the ad’s relevancy score.

2) Facebook ad delivery does not depend only on bids but also on the user experience. An official FB video says it is also about the user value, which combines both relevance and user engagement with the ad.

Agreed? Aligned? Got that tea made, and ready to hunker down? Let’s do this….

10 Techniques for Writing Effective Long-Form Facebook Ad Copy

Writing high-converting Facebook ads can feel intimidating, but you really don’t need to be an experienced copywriting expert to knock it out of the park.

Good ad copy comes 90 percent from reading and listening, and only 10 percent from the writing itself. Joanna wrote a whole book on listening for your message and teaches it all the time here, here and here.

Ready to test out long-form copy for yourself? These 10 tips can help you see results.

1. Understand and Reflect Your Customer’s Struggle… Specifically

If you were reading a page from your ideal customer’s diary, what would their struggle look like?

Understanding specific pain points and how your product or service can relieve them is key. Below is an example of an ad we ran that opens with a very visceral struggle:

Pain-focused ad
This long copy uses Joanna Wiebe’s favorite framework: PAS. Problem -> Agitation -> Solution.

Here are a few key things to note with this Facebook ad copy:

  • We built desire before pitching. We didn’t go for the hard sell. We captured attention, provided value… and then appealed to a need. At the end, we finally offered the solution: a downloadable training kit.
  • We were specific. We used a singular, detailed story that many people can relate to in order to evoke an emotional connection. We didn’t just say, “She felt like she wasn’t part of society.” We SHOWED how she didn’t belong. If you can apply specific storytelling to a pain point, you’ll see great results.
  • We didn’t cut out the stuff most marketers cut out. The parts of the ad copy that most engage your reader are the details. We didn’t lose sight of the need for details, and we didn’t prioritize some random idea of “always be short” over the power of storytelling.

Specificity increases the likelihood that people will take action on your campaign. Two professors at Duke and Stanford University, Dan and Chip Heath, proved this over a 20-year research period. In their book “Made to Stick,” they described how concreteness and specificity make it easier for people to understand and respond to a message, which is what you want to happen in your Facebook ad copy.

In one of the book’s examples, researchers Shedler and Melvin Manis of the University of Michigan ran an experiment (in 1986). Subjects pretended to be jurors for a fictional trial about whether “Mrs. Johnson” should retain custody of her 7-year-old son. Jurors were presented with an equal number of arguments for and against. Experiment groups broke down like this:

  • Arguments for custody, featuring no specific details
  • Arguments against custody, featuring no specific details
  • Arguments for custody, featuring specific but unrelated details (e.g., a description of the boy’s toothbrush)
  • Arguments against custody, featuring specific but unrelated details (e.g., a description of the boy’s toothbrush)

How did jurors side?

Jurors tended to side with the argument that included vivid details. Even if the details were unrelated to whether or not Mrs Johnson was or was not fit to keep custody of her son.

This experiment demonstrates the impact storytelling has on an audience. Dan and Chip Heath note, “By making a claim tangible and concrete, details make it seem more real, more believable.” (Bookmark this tutorial on how to be specific in your copy)

2. Frame Your Message with Something Timely

Facebook is for new things. New announcements. New life changes. News. And new forms of news.

So little wonder stories that seem immediately relevant perform well as Facebook ad copy.

A while ago, I saw a story about a missing parrot who turned up speaking Spanish and without its previous British accent. I had a lightbulb moment and knew it would be the subject of my next Facebook ad. Here’s what I wrote:

Ad example
When you see something newsworthy, why not make it the basis of your new long-form Facebook ad?

Many stories that get covered by the media COULD relate to your niche. Spin the story into an ad.

3. Mine the Comments for Facebook Ad Copy Inspiration

The comments section on an ad will be filled with everything from the hilarious to the outrageous.

Sometimes you can mine those comments and turn them into ad copy. For example, someone left this comment on one of our ads:

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Of course I couldn’t use the same language left in the comment, but there was a seed of an idea there.

I wondered if, when trying to learn a language, it would actually help to date a native speaker.

So I searched Google for people’s experiences, both positive and negative. What I found became the ad copy below, where we used a different spin on storytelling – and some humour – to make a point.

Facebook ad featuring long copy example
Let the comments on your ad guide you toward the next ad you’ll write…

That Facebook ad copy follows the old copywriting rule: the job of a line of copy is to get your reader to read the next line.

Short copy doesn’t build up to the next line. Long copy does.

4. Use the Power of Analogy in Your Facebook Ad Copy

“Like Jaws in Space.”

That’s how the people behind the movie Alien pitched it. They took something their audience knew and wanted more of… and they connected it to their new product. And it worked – they sold the script and got funding. Because analogies and similes are powerful in sales. They help people understand more quickly – they’re a shortcut for actual knowledge.

For example, if you asked me “What does a Pomelo taste like?” and I answered “Like a grapefruit but without the bitterness,” you’d get it.

Analogies make it easier to understand something new by invoking concepts you already know. I try to use analogies frequently in my Facebook ad copy. They’re an essential part of good storytelling. Here’s an example:

Facebook ad copy storytelling
We compared learning a language to running a marathon.

Note that I always try to address what an ad will be about in the first sentence; doing so keeps people engaged. You don’t want someone to read three paragraphs about running before they realize that it’s really about learning Spanish.

Make the analogy clear up front.

Analogies can work for any type of copy. If you saw a headline that read, “A typical bag of popcorn has 37 grams of saturated fat – 17 grams more than the USDA recommends in one day,” would you know just how much this was?

The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) made this quantity applicable to consumers’ everyday lives. In a 1992 press conference, they announced:

“A medium-sized ‘butter’ popcorn at a typical neighborhood movie theater contains more artery-clogging fat than a bacon-and-eggs breakfast, a Big Mac and fries for lunch, and a steak dinner with all the trimmings—combined!”

That made the front pages of The Los Angeles Times and USA Today. The Washington Post wrote about it. And it was featured on CBS, NBC, ABC and CNN.

The public response was so strong, in fact, that movie theaters were forced to stop using coconut oil in order to keep up popcorn sales.

5. Write Facebook Ads Based on Common Mistakes or Rookie Mistakes

Let’s say you help people learn to cook Italian food.

You might want to run an ad addressing the common beginner’s mistake of adding pineapple to pizza or ketchup to pasta. (Yes, I got myself banned from Italy.)

Fixing common mistakes for your readers builds trust and demonstrates credibility while offering value. Here’s a Facebook ad that uses this strategy, highlighting simple mistakes and showing the fix.pasted image 0 13

6. Try Opening Your FB Ad with, “It’s a common misconception that…”

All industries are plagued by misconceptions that affect their image. It’s the reality of life.

If you’re able to address a misconception in your Facebook ad copy, you may clear up a customer’s conscious or subconscious objection. When addressing misconceptions, make sure to explain your stance and back it up with evidence and stories whenever possible. Here’s what this might look like:

Facebook ad objection-stomping
What is an objection you know your audience has? Write a long copy ad around that, neutralizing the objection.

7. Turn Your AMAs into Facebook Ad Copy!
Answer Questions You’re Always Asked

What’s one question you’re asked over and over? There’s got to be at least one.

Answering questions that your audience frequently asks will strike a chord with many members of your target audience, who almost certainly have the same Qs. It’s also another great chance to offer value to your audience and build a relationship with them early on. After all, for every person who dared ask a question, there are at least a thousand others who have wondered the same but never voiced it.

This is a high-converting ad we wrote to address a question we were asked regularly:

Facebook ad copy 2019
Write long-form Facebook ads that answer the questions you get asked the most.

To start keeping a collection of these questions – so you can write endless ads that follow this technique – try:

  • Emailing your list to ask them to submit their questions to you in a Typeform
  • Updating your welcome / nurturing / onboarding sequence with an email that invites subscribers to send you their most burning question
  • Adding a Typeform to your new subscriber or new customer thank-you page, asking people what they most want to learn from you
  • Embedding a form in the bottom of your blog posts, inviting people to submit questions
  • Hosting a Facebook ask-me-anything

8. Interview Your Clients and Use What They Tell You to Write FB Ads

When trying to come up with interesting copy, which would you rather do:

  • Sit at a cat cafe, staring at a blank page, looking confused, eating a big hunk of cake, getting frustrated and eventually leaving to sob in your car as you cradle your foodbaby.


  • Call up a client and ask them a question.

Reaching out to your clients offers a number of benefits. You can ask users how they’ve benefited from your product / service / solution and try to find out what made them convert in the first place. If you can, dig deep. You want to go beyond the general testimonial of, “He’s nice. I got good results.” You want specifics, and asking the right questions can help.

Some questions I like to ask include:

  • What was it like before working with / finding our product?
  • How did X help you?
  • What mistake did you stop making after working with / finding our product?
  • How did you address that mistake?
  • What’s one new thing you learned, or one benefit you gained, and what difference did it make?

Dennis Yu is one of the most influential people in digital marketing and Facebook advertising, with clients like the Golden State Warriors, Rosetta Stone, Nike and Adidas. For one of his workshops, I asked if I could lend a helping hand with the copy. When he agreed, I immediately asked him to connect me with past students he’d mentored so I could interview them. Below is an example of Facebook ad copy I wrote as a result of those interviews:

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Here’s the thing:

Everyone needs to stop thinking of writing copy as a sit-down-and-write exercise. Joanna says this all the time, and I think it’s very true.

Great copy takes what your prospect says / thinks… and puts it on the page. Your prospects then read the copy. And it feels like you’re inside their head. NOT because you’re a genius. But because you listened to them… you documented what they said… and you used it to write the ad they then read. It’s not about you. It’s not about your product. It’s all ALWAYS about your customer. 

9. Stop Hiding What Makes You Unique

When working with clients, I play a little bit of devil’s advocate. I’ll mention that there are 875 other companies doing the same thing… why should anyone even consider you?

The other person will immediately get defensive and start listing unique selling points that show how they’re different. I always tell them that those unique selling points are the things they should be writing their Facebook ads about.

Facebook ads can be used to disqualify your competition, giving potential customers reasons to choose you instead. When you say the same thing as everyone else, your selling power weakens and your message is diluted. People assume you have nothing different to offer because surely you would have mentioned it otherwise.

As part of AdEspresso marketing services, I was asked one day to help a client whose ads needed optimizing: This is a British brand that sells high-quality, made-to-measure Asian fashion.

During my call with the founder Jay, I asked: “There are lot of online and offline alternatives… what really makes you unique?”

Based on that question, he wrote the Facebook ad copy below:

Facebook ads
Turn your clients’ descriptions of their USPs and differentiators into their Facebook ad copy.

Focused on differentiators, this particular campaign got £22.2 in revenues for each £1 spent on ads:

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What’s unique about your product? Your team? Your service? Your location? Your facilities? Your process? Your motivation? Your story?

Why isn’t any of that guiding your Facebook ad copy?

10. Focus on the Individual-Level “Why” – Not a Generic, Vague Why – in Your Facebook Ad Copy

In 2017 approximately 19.8 million tourists visited London. That was 19.8 million people coming to the exact same place. And they all had different reasons for doing so. Some visited because there were more than 250 museums. Others came to shop. More still came for the food scene, or for business, or to see sites like Big Ben.

Your product or service will likely have many different use cases. It might solve different pain points that mean something different to each audience member.

Facebook ads are waiting to happen in each different use case.

When creating your Facebook ads, you need to consider the top five to 10 reasons that anyone might need your product or service. You then need to branch those reasons off into their own distinct ads. We did something like this for Vesna Hrsto, one of the top 10 naturopaths in Australia & New Zealand and a client of the AdEspresso concierge service.

Hrsto helps people suffering from adrenal imbalances.

One of the symptoms of adrenal fatigue is weight gain. Some members of Hrsto’s audience will care about weight loss, others will care about feeling tired, others will care about being moody – the list goes on.

Among her many ads, she ran one about helping people have more energy.

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That ad body copy focused not on ALL the whys… but just on one: being tired.

Not only did the ad get webinar registrations at $3.5/lead in the first week we launched it, but it also quickly generated five sales at a CPA of $90.58/sale – for a product that cost $497.

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Does Long-Form Ad Copy Always Work, Then?


Long-form copy doesn’t work BECAUSE it’s long.

Short copy can work wonders for highly engaged fans… for high awareness audiences… for markets that are extremely sophisticated… and for smokin’ great offers on products people already know and love.

Long copy can work wonders for newer fans… for low awareness audiences… for unsophisticated markets and disruptive products… and when you need to move a reader through multiple stages of awareness to get to a paid offer.

But keep this in mind:

Crappy copy never works.

Boring copy never works.

Whether it’s short or long, your Facebook ad copy will not move people to yes if it does not engage them. That means:

  1. Use the techniques above
  2. Always write a strong hook
  3. Stop striving for short copy
  4. Follow the other copywriting lessons you’re learning on Copyhackers
  5. Be strategic with your images and videos


PS: Worried about whether your long Facebook ad copy is compliant? Avoid FB ad account problems. Watch this Copyhackers tutorial on how to write compliant Facebook ads

Featured image by Steve Johnson on Unsplash

The post Forget the Images: Long Facebook Ad Copy Works appeared first on Copywriting for startups and marketers.

15 wicked good Halloween Facebook post ideas

Looking for Halloween marketing ideas? Facebook is a fantastic way to reach customers with targeted messages that endear them to your brand and motivate likes, follows, shares and sales. If you’re not sure which posts will spur engagement, you’re in the right place. Get started with the following 15 wicked good Halloween Facebook post ideas.

1. Photo contests

Halloween photo contests are one of the easiest ways to earn tons of social shares for your brand. Start with a killer prize, then ask your audience to enter by posting their best photos of:

  • Halloween costumes
  • Haunted house décor
  • Group photos
  • Pet Halloween costumes
  • Creepy local haunts
  • Spooky vacations
  • Halloween treats

If possible, select a theme that’s relevant to your products and services. For example, a grocery store might launch a Facebook contest for the best Halloween recipes.

Choose winners based on likes and shares, or use a third-party app to tally votes. By doing this, your audience will generate engagement for your brand.

2. Spooktacular sales

Hosting a Halloween sale? Facebook is a great way to get the word out. Incorporate frighteningly fun Halloween images into your posts, such as:

  • Ghosts, goblins and ghouls
  • Witches
  • Vampires
  • Werewolves
  • Pumpkins and Jack O’ Lanterns
  • Zombies
  • Bats
  • Famous horror monsters (Frankenstein, Jason Voorhees, Michael Myers, etc.)
  • Kids in Halloween costumes
  • Pets in Halloween costumes
  • Haunted houses

The goal is to make your posts stand out with a relevant Halloween theme that people want to share.

3. Event invites

If your business is sponsoring a festival, promoting a booth at a local event or hosting a special Halloween party, use Facebook to invite your audience to attend. You can:

  • Create an event on Facebook
  • Share the event on your Facebook page and within Facebook groups
  • Ask for RSVPs (people can select “Going” or “Interested” right on Facebook)
  • Offer incentives for people who RSVP, such as a freebie, VIP parking or a discount
  • Use Facebook ads to promote your event

If your event looks fun, event invites will earn interest and shares — ultimately driving customers to your door.

4. Halloween tips and tricks

Identify relevant tips and tricks you can share to help your audience enjoy the best Halloween ever. Ideas include:

  • Halloween costume ideas and DIY tips
  • Halloween decoration tricks
  • Halloween recipes
  • Halloween party hosting tips
  • Halloween crafts
  • Halloween on a budget tips

Again, the best strategy is to find a correlation between your tips, your audience and your business so you have a natural segue from post to sales.

5. Halloween lead magnets

Create an eBook packed with Halloween tips, then promote it on Facebook. The eBook serves as a lead magnet: To get it, your audience must visit your site and enter their email addresses, then you can market to them. Ideas include:

  • How to host the perfect Halloween party
  • 10 cool Halloween craft ideas
  • Halloween kids safety tips
  • Halloween cookbook
  • Halloween travel guide (spookiest places in America)

Your eBook should contain valuable information your audience won’t find elsewhere, and it can be peppered with product mentions to help influence sales. Plus, you can continue reaching your audience with ongoing email marketing.

6. Halloween safety tips

Create a series of Facebook posts focused on Halloween safety tips for kids. It’s a great way to earn shares, as parents will want to help friends and family members keep their kids safe, too. Ideas include:

  • Wear bright colors and add reflective strips so drivers can see children
  • Stay with a parent or group of friends — no one goes alone
  • Stay in trusted neighborhoods
  • Keep a phone handy and know emergency numbers
  • Have a parent check candy before eating it (plus tips on how to check it)
  • Make sure toy weapons do not have sharp points
  • Pumpkin carving safety tips
  • Stay on sidewalks and don’t text and walk
  • Safety tips for drivers

With a little research, you can develop a series of Halloween safety tips; or, create one post with a long list that’s infinitely shareable.

7. Scavenger hunt

Develop a fun, family-friendly Halloween scavenger hunt and promote it on Facebook. People who complete the hunt the fastest can win a prize. Have a family member submit photos of each item they find to prove they completed the hunt. Ideas include:

  • Items hidden around local landmarks
  • Clues to find local historical or creepy sites
  • Halloween-themed items found at home
  • Animals and items found in nature
  • Items found in local shops (you might even partner with local businesses to sponsor the scavenger hunt, so that players must visit each store)
  • Local restaurant menus

Do some research to identify the best Halloween scavenger hunt ideas for your business and audience, then promote it on Facebook.

8. Store décor and employee costumes

Spotlight your store and employees by posting photos of your Halloween décor and their best costumes. Ideas include:

  • Your store or storefront, transformed into a haunted house
  • “Monster” footprint stickers that lead to your best Halloween sales
  • Costumed employees in fun Halloween scenes (perhaps recreate famous movie scenes)

The idea here is to post shareable content that adds a human element to your business.

9. Creepy product promos

You invest a lot in making your products appeal to your customer base. For Halloween, have a little fun by creating creepy product promos that are sure to be shared. Ideas include:

  • Photos of products set in an eerie Halloween setting
  • A video commercial of a product used in a unique way by a Halloween character
  • A special Halloween version of one of your most popular products — a perfect idea for restaurants that can create unique Halloween-themed menu items

Have fun with this type of promotion, and you can create a unique Facebook photo or video that’s destined to go viral.

10. Halloween facts

Dig up interesting Halloween facts and statistics — another great way to motivate social shares. Ideas include:

  • Halloween statistics, such as how much candy is sold each year
  • Halloween facts, such as which costumes are the most popular this year
  • Historical and creepy facts about your town, such as famous local murders or the story behind that one “haunted” house

Look for ways to tie your Halloween facts to your business. For example, you might list the ten most popular Halloween candies, then let people know you have every one of them ready to go in a special edition Halloween gift box.

11. Halloween countdown

Create a unique post each day that counts down to Halloween. Some ideas:

  • Post Halloween prep tips by date, like the fact that you should know which costume you’re going to wear by day 15
  • Post a fun fact that correlates with the countdown number, like facts about triskaidekaphobia on countdown day 13
  • Post a tip of the day to a collection of handy Halloween tips and post a different one each day

A Halloween countdown is fun and engaging, and your audience will look forward to your daily posts.

12. Halloween survey

National statistics are one thing, but what do local customers like? You can use a Facebook survey to find out their favorite:

  • Halloween candy
  • Halloween costumes
  • Horror movies
  • Halloween traditions
  • Spooky local places
  • Halloween party games

Once the survey is complete, you can publish the results in a post that’s sure to be shared between local customers.

13. Repost memes

This one is super easy, but it can generate a lot of likes, shares and engagement for your business.

  • Search for Halloween memes that are relevant to your business
  • Post them and add your own commentary
  • Ask customers to post their favorite Halloween memes
  • Ask your audience to vote for their favorite Halloween memes — turn it into a contest!

Reposting memes is a great way to get more Halloween-themed content with minimal effort, but it can also serve as a natural segue to your business when you select relevant memes.

14. In-store photo booth

Use Facebook to invite customers to visit your in-store Halloween photo booth. You can:

  • Set up a photo booth in your store, complete with Halloween costumes and props
  • Snap photos and share them on Facebook
  • Offer customers an instant incentive for participating

This is a fun and engaging promotion that invites customers to interact with your brand and motivates Facebook shares, which will increase brand awareness and drive more customers to your door.

15. Infographics

Infographics are ultra-shareable content that’s perfect for Facebook. Ideas include:

  • Halloween recipes
  • Halloween costume tips
  • Halloween stats and facts
  • Halloween décor tricks
  • Halloween safety tips
  • Most popular Halloween movies
  • Most common phobias

Create an eye-catching infographic that’s packed with valuable or entertaining information, and you’re sure to get social shares on Facebook.

Facebook is a great platform for promoting your business at Halloween. The best part? You can take advantage of social post tools to schedule your entire Halloween series in advance — set it and forget it! That way, you’ll be free to focus on other Halloween marketing initiatives while your Facebook Halloween campaign runs on autopilot.

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© 2019, Brian Morris. All rights reserved.

The post 15 wicked good Halloween Facebook post ideas appeared first on VerticalResponse Blog.

Two powerful ideas to help you become the signal instead of the noise

powerful ideas

By Keith Reynold Jennings {grow} Contributing Columnist

My entire career has been dependent on an ability to get people to try, buy or donate to things that might seem unnecessary or inconvenient. Selling powerful ideas is hard work that demands head and heart. And I’ve failed much more than I’ve succeeded. (I’m betting you have too.)

Whether you’re in marketing, sales, fundraising, recruitment, volunteerism, leadership, or even a parent, your success depends on your ability to get others to take action, whether that’s trying, buying, changing, donating, or doing something new.

The problem is that it is becoming almost impossible to connect to people in the moment when there are so many fun distractions in this digital world — especially when you’re trying to tell them or sell them.

But there is a way to overcome this.

Two powerful ideas

When I think of professionals “out there” who, week-after-week, are on the line for getting people to do something they don’t want to do, I can’t help but think of preachers and direct marketing copywriters.

Every time they do what they do, they know instantly whether it worked. Did someone give their life to God? Did someone try or buy?

I look for authorities and models who have sustained success over at least a decade or two. I’m not interested in one-hit-wonders or those who were at the right place at the right time when a platform or trend took off.

Over the years, when it comes to crafting messages that compel action, I’m inspired by the work of Mark Ford and Andy Stanley. We’ll discover simple patterns these masters use to sell their ideas.

Step 1: Focus Your Message on the “Power of One”

Co-founder of American Writers & Artists, Inc., Mark Ford enjoyed a very successful career as a direct marketing copywriter, author, publisher and real estate investor (among other things). He has mentored many A-list advertising copywriters.

Years ago, Ford had an “aha moment.” As he evaluated articles he had published within the year to see which ones readers rated the highest, he discovered that those with the highest scores focused on a single idea.

Those that didn’t perform as well took a more kitchen sink approach — “Here’s everything-you-need-know about this topic.”

This made him wonder if the same phenomenon existed with advertising copy. It did.

The more Ford looked into this, the more he uncovered the power of a single idea everywhere he looked. He came to call this the “Power of One.” Here are the five necessary elements, according to Ford:

  • One big idea — What’s the one thing prospects need to know?
  • One driving emotion — How will this affect how they feel?
  • One captivating story — Who is an authority on or beneficiary of this idea?
  • One desired benefit — What can this idea help them achieve?
  • One inevitable response — What should they do right now?

If you start with these five elements, it will force you to focus in a way you can leverage the Power of One. Each time I start with this, I discover that my ideas are all over the place, because I want to share as much as possible.

The beauty of the Power of One is that it challenges you to hone-in on a single, compelling idea your audience can immediately grasp.

And now that you’ve focused in on your one big idea, it’s time to frame that idea into a narrative that drives action.

Step 2: Frame Your Narrative Using “Me-We-They-You-Us”

Andy Stanley is the founder and senior pastor of North Point Ministries, which has seven church campuses around Atlanta and 90 network churches worldwide. North Point is the second largest church in the U.S., as far as I can tell, and touches around 185,000 people weekly.

Stanley has developed a sermon structure that consistently and effectively plants simple, actionable ideas into congregants’ heads. So as they face challenges in their daily lives, they are able to quickly recall and apply God‘s teaching. Stanley calls the structure “Me-We-God-You-Us.” Here’s how it works for Stanley:

  1. Me: Let me tell you something about me
  2. We: I’ll bet this is something we all have in common
  3. God: Here is what God says about it
  4. You: This is what you need to do about it
  5. Us: Wouldn’t it be great if we all did this?

Of course, you and I aren’t preaching the Gospel. So we can frame our business narratives using Me-We-They-You-Us:

  1. Me: Let me tell you about a problem I’ve had
  2. We: I’ll bet you’ve experience this problem too
  3. They: Here’s what authorities on this topic have to say
  4. You: Here are some steps you can take to address the problem
  5. Us: Imagine how much better things would be if we all addressed this problem

How to Focus and Frame Your Next Message

One of the things I hate about so many articles I read is that you rarely get to see someone apply what they’re teaching. So let’s fix that!

My current problem: I need to re-focus the presentation I give to our new company associates during their full-day orientation. The presentation I’ve been giving is good — it has consistently received strong scores — but it’s not great. The reason it’s not great is that people have connected emotionally with what I’ve presented, but they’ve not consistently taken action afterward.

My metric is activation, not satisfaction. I want the majority of new hires to take action and get involved serving in their community.

The problem I have is there’s so much I could share on how serving others drives job success, personal health and happiness, etc.! Where to start? What to focus on?

Here’s how I used Mark Ford’s “power of one” to focus my message:

  • One big idea: The highest performing employees across companies and industries focus on helping others before helping themselves.
  • One driving emotion: Work/life fulfillment
  • One captivating story: According to Dr. Morten Hansen, research reveals that high performance is directly correlated with contribution, not satisfaction.
  • One desired benefit: You can achieve success AND significance in your career
  • One inevitable response: Choose one service activity to do in the next 30 days

Now let’s frame it.

  1. Me: I want to be successful in my work. But I want that success to mean something and matter to others.
  2. We: I’ll bet you wrestle with the same tension.
  3. They: The latest research reveals that serving others in and beyond your job impacts your success, happiness and sense of purpose.
  4. You: Here are some steps you can take today to start serving others.
  5. Us: Imagine if every associate in our company put others first and actively contributed to the well-being of others.

That’s a pretty powerful message! But it took a lot of work to get it to this place.

I’m happy to share that I gave this presentation at this month’s new hire orientation. It’s still too soon to say whether it was a success, but I received emails from some of the new hires within 24 hours of my presentation saying they had already taken action.

Normally, this would be the right point to bring this article to a conclusion.

But Wait! There’s More!

Here’s how I used Mark Ford’s “power of one” to bring focus to this article:

  • One big idea: The “power of one” plus “me-we-they-you-us” are a powerful and proven way to influence action.
  • One driving emotion: Success
  • One captivating story: Lessons from a direct marketer and a pastor.
  • One desired benefit: A lift in the number of people taking action.
  • One inevitable response: Try using these techniques to focus and frame your next speech, article, email, team meeting, etc.

Then I applied Andy Stanley’s sermon structure to frame this article:

  1. Me: I’m continually in search of proven ways to influence people to take action.
  2. We: I’ll bet you deal with this too.
  3. They: Here’s how a direct marketer and pastor have successfully focused and framed their messages for decades.
  4. You: Here’s how you can apply these techniques to strengthen your messages.
  5. Us: (Keep reading below…)

Imagine how much more effective our marketing would be if marketers, salespeople, fundraisers, recruiters and leaders applied these powerful ideas before vomiting on us with their “messaging.”

I truly hope this has given you some inspiration to test drive these powerful ideas on your next speech, piece of content or sales pitch. Share this with your team and those you mentor to help them get to the next level in their work.

I’m curious, what technique or framework has consistently worked for you? What continues to help you influence others to take action? Please share your learnings with us in the comments. We’re in this together!

Keith Reynold Jennings is an executive and writer who serves as vice president of community impact for Jackson Healthcare. He’s also an advisor to goBeyondProfit. Connect with Keith on Twitter and Linkedin.

The post Two powerful ideas to help you become the signal instead of the noise appeared first on Schaefer Marketing Solutions: We Help Businesses {grow}.

In Favor of Long, Image-light Ecommerce Emails

We’ve written about email on Copyhackers… a lot.

And for good reason.

In 2019, email still has the highest ROI of any marketing channel ($42 return on every $1 spent, according to Litmus). And McKinsey found that email is 40x more effective at acquiring customers than Facebook and Twitter – combined.

Email just plain works.

And here at Copyhackers, we take optimizing email… seriously. Very seriously.

We wrote about optimizing SaaS free trial emails, upgrading launch emails and sending B2B cold emails that actually work.

Yet… we’ve never tackled this beast: ecommerce emails.

But we’re not going to stay silent any longer.

There’s too much at stake…

In ecommerce, the average order value from email is 20% higher with 3x the conversion rate compared to other channels. Email is your best fuel for customer retention, and Harvard Business School found that just a 5% increase in retention can increase profits by 95%.

Ecommerce emails done right can be the lifeblood of an ecommerce business.

Yet, many ecommerce stores are deeply underinvested in email.

Even though 59% of marketers say email gives the greatest ROI of any marketing channel… 64% of ecommerce marketers expected their company’s email marketing budget to increase or significantly increase in the following year.

They’re realizing they need to be spending more on email marketing.

Not surprising, given that Pure360 found in a survey of 205 marketers that 9 out of 10 brands are behind the email marketing maturity standards they expected.

Beyond the numbers, it’s something that email consultants like myself see every day.

Austin Brawner, my friend and the CEO of Brand Growth Experts, has had a similar experience to mine.

I once heard him say, “I’ve been in hundreds of email marketing accounts and I have yet to see someone who’s sending too many emails.”

He’s right. Though many of us are worried about over-emailing, that’s rarely the problem. And big wins can come from small, strategic optimizations.

That’s why I almost always encourage clients to invest more in their email marketing. I know the impact it can have.

Like when I optimized the welcome sequence and abandoned cart sequence for my client, EcoVibe Style, I was able to increase their revenue from email to 38%… from a mere 8.7%.

That’s a 236% increase in revenue from email… from just two sequences.

But the difficulty isn’t in convincing store owners to care about email marketing. They know they should optimize their email marketing.

The struggle store owners are having… is in knowing how to go about optimizing their email marketing.

The (email marketing) struggle is real

The DMA’s email marketing survey asked marketers about their most significant challenges to investing more in their email marketing.

Their top answers were: “limited internal resources,” “lack of strategy” and “lack of content.”

So they want to send more emails… but they struggle to get the strategy and content expertise they need to do so.

Bottom line…

Ecommerce email marketing requires a great deal of expertise.

There’s a lot of know-how that goes into emails that convert.

There are sequences and newsletters, send times and from names, dozens of ESPs and email clients, subject lines and calls to action, exit intent pop-ups and floating bars…

When I started out as an email marketer, I was overwhelmed, too.

And when you finally decide on your strategy and get your technical pieces all set up, and it’s time to write an actual email… then you have to know what to put in that email. 

You need to figure out what will get the attention of your recipients, so all that time and money you’ve invested actually pays off.

When you finally sit down to write an email…

That’s the moment of truth.

Everything you’ve invested into your software and your content comes down to how well that email performs.

And… it’s only getting harder to win the inbox. 

The typical professional receives an average of 121 emails per day. Getting YOUR email to stand out is… tough.

Marketers know how hard it’s getting.

Which is why some resort to a strategy I don’t recommend:

Sending sale email… after sale email… after sale email… after sale email…

Every day, like clockwork, I get an email from Crate & Barrel.

Here, in my inbox, to announce a very exciting, ultra-exclusive, can-you-believe-it, hold-on-to-your-hat…. SALE SALE SALE!

And every day, their email goes… unopened.

But, I do understand why they send me these emails.

It’s an easy pattern to fall into: you send an email blast and it doesn’t get the conversions you’re after. So you send another email with a steep 40% discount and – BAM! – lots of people buy.

You try to go back to sending an email without a discount but it’s still not working. So now you send…


…and you get lots of conversions again.

Before you know it, every email you send out is a sale email.

Even if you’re not quite at Crate & Barrel’s level… it’s always tempting to send that sale email.

You want your email to pay off, after all. But… you also don’t want to get stuck sending emails that no one pays attention to.

And if you abuse the Sale Email, its magic starts to wear off.

The response from your subscribers changes from buckets of revenue to… deafening silence.

Unlike SaaS email marketing – where the bias tends to be toward nurturing subscribers, rather than selling to them – it seems that ecommerce has the opposite trend: selling without nurturing.

And Seth Godin would not approve.

The father of permission marketing, he revolutionized the way people think about marketing in the digital age:

“Permission marketing is the privilege (not the right) of delivering anticipated, personal and relevant messages to people who actually want to get them. It recognizes the new power of the best consumers to ignore marketing.“ – Seth Godin

Marketing is easy to ignore. Especially in a crowded inbox.

So if you can send those relevant, anticipated messages your subscribers crave, you’ll be that unexpected gem people look forward to getting emails from.

And thinking of email as permission-based marketing sets us up well to answer the question…

Well, what do customers want
in their email marketing?

They want variety.

The problem with Crate & Barrel’s emails isn’t that they’re sales emails.

It’s that they’re ALL sales emails.

If you’re having a sale tomorrow (and every day until the end of time), why should I be excited about today’s sale?

If, however, every time you send me an email, I can’t be 100% sure what’s going to be in it (cool content? a funny story? new products? or maybe even a… SALE?!?), then I’m anticipating and wondering what’s in your email.

Novelty is the best tool email marketers have to keep subscribers engaged.

Neuroscience research supports the idea that novelty is almost as effective at grabbing our attention as physical need.

…Meaning something new is almost as exciting to my brain as something that will satisfy my hunger.

(And I get really excited when I see a box of donuts.)

You can also see proof of the power of novelty by looking at the counter-example…

What happens when you don’t switch it up?

I see this often with my clients: they’ll find a subject line that works well, so they reuse the same formula. But, pretty quickly… it stops working.

It happened with one client recently…

My client found great success with a subject line that followed the formula…

“[Product] is back!”

His email got an open rate 30% above their average open rate.

Not too shabby.

They used that same formula with a different product again, and this time they got another open rate 39.9% above average.

Great! This formula works like a charm.

But when they used it for a third time… their open rate unexpectedly dropped to 8.7% below their average open rate.

What happened?

The subject line wasn’t novel anymore, so people stopped paying attention.

Very quickly… after just three uses… this subject line formula was dead.

An attention-grabbing air horn can turn into snooze-inducing white noise pretty quickly in the world of email.

That’s why a combination of sales emails peppered in with other kinds of emails is your best chance to keep people interested.

Let’s see how top brands use novelty
in their email marketing

Top brands that do this well use three different kinds of emails:

  1. Sales emails
  2. Nurture emails
  3. Engagement emails

A sales email is going for the close – like a promotion or a product announcement.

A nurture email is nurturing subscribers and building their affinity for the brand and product line.

And an engagement email is going for a click, rather than a sale – linking to content like blog posts, surveys and social media.

Kettle & Fire, a brand selling bone broth to health-conscious customers, uses all three kinds of emails well.

Sales emails that provide discounts and make the case for their product:

Ecommerce sales email example
Sales email: welcome.
Sales email: abandoned cart.

Both emails are driving toward the use of a coupon. The welcome email is selling people on the brand, and the abandoned cart email is selling them on the product.

Kettle & Fire is anticipating where the customer is at and, in turn, matching their message to what the customer needs to hear (i.e.: “You’re likely here because you heard bone broth promotes skin, nail, joint and digestive health.”)

They also use nurture emails that educate people on bone broth and its importance for gut health:

Nurture email.

This builds a loyal subscriber base that can point to reasons why Kettle & Fire’s products are desirable.

And they send engagement emails that get people clicking through to their website and their content and building their relationship with Kettle & Fire.

Engagement email.

This email does a great job of showing why their content is worthy of a click – and sends readers clicking through to an email course.

Kettle & Fire rotates between these three kinds of emails, always trying to anticipate where the customer is in their journey and giving them the message they need to hear at that moment.

Another brand that does this well is Moo, a company that sells business cards and stationery.

They rely on design to drive curiosity in some engagement emails:

Moo engagement email.
Moo engagement email.

And then go full plain-text in other engagement emails:

ecommerce welcome campaign
Moo engagement email.

And also send a mix of sale and nurture emails:

Moo sale email.
Moo nurture email.

A short sale email driving you to an exciting, unusual sale. And a welcome email nurturing you on the brand.

These brands do it all. They use a variety of email types and use short emails alongside longer emails to engage their subscribers.

Now, I want to stop here, just in case the thought in the back of your head is…

“Wait, but people don’t read long emails. They want images, not text.”

If at this point, this is all making sense to you…

But you’re worried about sending longer emails that people have time to read…

There’s a study you might want to see.

In 2014, Hubspot surveyed thousands of people asking them what kind of email they preferred to receive: HTML or plain-text.

And their answers support the idea that you should send design-focused emails.

HubSpot email survey

They said they preferred HTML over plain-text.

And when HubSpot asked if they wanted mostly text or images in their emails, they said images.

HubSpot email survey

So… all of this would indicate that we should send short emails, right? More images. Less text.

Well, here’s where things get interesting…

What people say they want in email vs. what emails they actually preferred to engage with… tell two completely different stories.

HubSpot email survey

Increasing the design of HTML in the email – with more design and more images – actually decreased open rates. If you’re like “email content doesn’t affect open rates” (which it does), the study continues…

HubSpot also found that emails with more images had lower click-through rates. Zero images in an email generated the highest click-through rates.

So it makes sense why many marketers believe that more images and more design is better for email marketing.

After all, that’s what people say they want. But what creates actual conversions is text (ahem, copy!) and simple design.

But, there’s a place for both kinds of emails. Design-rich and text-rich emails nurture and engage subscribers in different ways. And you can use text-rich emails when you want to increase conversion rates. (I prefer the nice sound of a ka-ching to praise, personally.)

So there’s a place for emails with more design than copy, and emails with more copy than design.

Now, we just need to figure out when a text-rich email makes sense and when you should be more to the point.

“How do I know how long to make my email? Then figure out… what to write in it??”

Well, dear copyhacker…

Let’s get copyhacking.

And let me show you the formula and template that will…

Let you determine exactly how long to make every ecommerce email you send. And solve the problem of what copy to include.

We will do this by answering four questions:

  1. What’s my One Reader’s beginning stage of awareness?
  2. Where’s my One Reader in their customer lifecycle?
  3. How many emails are in this sequence?
  4. What’s the one goal of my email?

(If you’re not sure about all this “One Reader” and “stage of awareness” talk, check out 10x Landing Pages by Copyhackers. Yup, the foundational copywriting training in that course works for emails, too.)

Cool! There’s your answer. End of article.

I kid, I kid.

Let’s break down those four questions. And work through an example so it’s crystal clear.

We can use the email sequence from the sustainable apparel client I referenced earlier. I’ll show you how I built their welcome sequence to get them their 236% increase in revenue from email.We’re going to answer the four questions, then use them to fill in this template (which you can download for your own use):

And once that’s filled in, we’ll know exactly what content to include.

(Don’t worry about that template for now. We’ll come back to it later.)

Step 1. Find your One Reader’s beginning stage of awareness

If you’re not a seasoned copywriter yet, then stages of awareness may sound strange. Here’s a quick refresher:

Picture a slippery slope.

(Yes, I stole that from the great Joe Sugarman.)

Here’s how Joanna illustrates the stages of awareness and how they impact what you’ll write:

And here’s a modified view of that for ecommerce specifically:

If your prospects (your not-yet customers) are sliding down a slippery slope, on their way to becoming your customers, then they need to move from pain aware all the way through most aware to get there.

At each new stage, they come closer to buying your product, and importantly you cannot skip a stage.

If you want your prospect to turn into a customer, they cannot go from pain aware straight to most aware. They need solution awareness and product awareness to continue sliding down the slope.

So, in our example – the welcome sequence for the sustainable apparel brand – our one reader is new to our brand and probably knows little about what we offer.

So, in this case, I assumed they were in the earliest stage of awareness: pain aware. We use that information to answer the first question:

  1. What’s my One Reader’s beginning stage of awareness?
    Pain aware.
  2. Where’s my One Reader in their customer lifecycle?
  3. How many emails are in this sequence?
  4. What’s the one goal of my email?

Great. One down, three to go.

Step 2. Figure out where your One Reader is in their customer lifecycle

Lifecycle marketing is the idea that customers go through a… well, lifecycle.

In the early stages, a prospect becomes aware of you. Then they buy from you. (Hooray!) Then, they might buy from you again. (Whoopee!)

…But eventually they lose interest in your products or stop needing them (how many {something funny} does one woman need anyway?) and they move on. 

A sad day, but an inevitable one.

To visualize, the customer lifecycle looks like:

Here are the main stages to remember, as they relate to email marketing:

  • New: New to our brand, never purchased
  • Abandoned cart: Close to purchasing
  • Post-purchase: Just after purchasing from the brand
  • Lifecycle: The natural lifecycle of a product when it would make sense to purchase again (e.g. for a 30-day supply of vitamins, the lifecycle would be 30 days)
  • Winback: When a customer has lapsed and is not purchasing at the normal lifecycle interval.

For our example…

Since it’s a welcome sequence, then we’re sending these to prospects who are new. They have yet to make a purchase from us.

  1. What’s my One Reader’s beginning stage of awareness?
    Pain aware.
  2. Where’s my One Reader in their customer lifecycle?
  3. How many emails are in this sequence?
  4. What’s the one goal of my email?

Moving right along…

Step 3. How many emails are in your sequence?

Now, this is something you can decide before you start creating content for your email sequence. It depends on the timing of your emails and how long you want your sequence to run.

If you’re sending a newsletter, then that would be a one-off and you can just fill in ‘one’. (The formula works the same way for newsletters.)

To help you decide how many emails to include in your sequence, here’s benchmark data from Klaviyo on how emails perform based on how many there are in the sequence:

For my sequence, I wanted to send four emails (so I could send a mix of sales and nurture emails). So let’s answer question #3.

  1. What’s my One Reader’s beginning stage of awareness?
    Pain aware.
  2. Where’s my One Reader in their customer lifecycle?
  3. How many emails are in this sequence?
  4. What’s the one goal of my email?

Step 4. Figure out the goal of your email

And finally, we move from questions about the entire sequence to questions about each individual email.

To do this, we need to refer back to our template from earlier:

Now, let’s fill in the pieces that we already answered from the first three questions: lifecycle, stage of awareness and number of emails.

Now, for each of the four emails in this sequence, we need to decide on what kind of email we’re going to send: nurture, sales or engage.

Determine the kind of email you’ll send based on your goal:

  • Sales emails sell, so their KPI is revenue (if you’re generating more orders) or average order value (if you’re generating larger orders).
  • Nurture emails nurture, so the KPI… depends.
  • Engagement emails engage, so their KPIs are click-through rate followed by active time on site.

Now, let’s look at my welcome sequence for my sustainable apparel client.

In my four-email welcome sequence, I’m going to send:

  1. A welcome email with a discount coupon (which is the incentive to opt-in).
  2. A nurture email that tells a story about the brand.
  3. A second nurture email that tells another story about the brand.
  4. A reminder email – that their discount coupon (from email #1) is expiring today.

That means emails #1, #2 and #3 are nurture emails because we’re nurturing new subscribers. And email #4 is a sales email because it’s the final email in the sequence and it’s closing on the expiring discount. So now our template looks like this:

(Note: email #1 has Sales listed as a secondary goal. We won’t use that in our formula, but I included it because we may want to use revenue as a KPI for that email – since it has a discount coupon included.)

Now, let’s use our formula to fill in all the grey cells for us.

Here’s the formula that will eliminate the guesswork from how long to make our emails:

For nurture emails, the ending stage of awareness of that email is one stage past the beginning stage of awareness of that email (e.g. Problem → Solution, Solution → Product).

For sales emails, it doesn’t matter what the beginning stage of awareness is. The ending stage of awareness is always most aware. (Since we’re trying to make the sale).

For engagement emails, the beginning and ending stages of awareness are the same. Since we’re trying to engage, not sell.

To make it easy, here’s your handy-dandy formula:

Nurture email: Add +1 to Stage of Awareness

Sales email: Ending SoA = Most Aware

Engagement email: Beginning SoA = Ending SoA

So for our example welcome sequence, this fills in the rest of our template to look like this:

Of course, this formula didn’t give me the description of our One Reader at the top.

I got that from all my voice of customer research. (You can check out content from master researchers – like the tutorial of Copyhackers’s own Hannah Shamji on getting quality VoC from customer interviews – to learn how to get inside the head of your One Reader.)

Armed with your VoC research, and now with this template, you can see how to work your VoC data into the email sequence you’re building.

Now, I made two promises to you…

That you’d know how long to make your emails AND that it would become clear what to write in your emails.

So let’s see how this template helps us with both of these problems.

Problem #1: Knowing how long to make your email

Just as the original conversion copywriter, Joanna Wiebe, teaches: copy is as long as it needs to be.

And you can figure out how long a piece of copy needs to be… by looking at the beginning and ending stages of awareness.

(Where your prospect is now vs. where they need to be for your goal.)

This template shows our beginning and ending stages of awareness for each email.

Let’s look at emails #1 and #4 from our sequence to see how this template influenced their length.

If you remember, both emails are giving a discount to the subscriber. So it would seem like they’d be identical in length. Right?

But what the template shows us, is:

  • Email #1 moves from problem aware to solution aware
  • Email #4 is already at most aware – and stays there

So email #1 is slightly longer than email #4 because it has more work to do. And email #4 is just going for the close.

Email #1
Email #4

They’re both discount, promotional emails, but that’s not what determines length. It’s the stages of awareness from our template that we need to adhere to. Here’s how to figure out how long your email should be:

The greater the distance between our beginning and ending stage of awareness of the email (with problem to most aware being the greatest), the longer our email needs to be.

So, length: solved.

Problem #2: Knowing what to write in your email

Now, this is the real magic of filling out the entire template.

To find what content is best, you need only to isolate the email that you’re currently writing and find the copy that solves your problem. 

Let’s look at email #2 for this one.

For this email, we’re moving the One Reader from solution to product aware for sustainable apparel.

So she knows about other sustainable apparel options, but she wants to know why our line of clothing in particular is better than our competitors’. And she’s frustrated that most sustainable clothes don’t look great and are expensive.


Now, all I have to do is weave the VoC I have from my research into an email about how problems with sustainable clothing shopping (the solution) are solved by a particular brand: EcoVibe (the product).

And the resulting email…

Armed with this template, and your voice-of-customer data, writing your email is largely done before you even open up your blank Google Doc. You know where to start, which is a great way to end Blank Page Syndrome. And you know your destination, which means you’re less likely to ramble. Now just plug that VoC into a compelling framework! Well, there’s a little more to it…

“I still don’t want to send long emails.”

If you’re still against writing a longer email with more than just a sentence or two of copy…

Darling, let’s not fight.

Let’s compromise.

Try writing an email with just a bit more length, but feel confident by putting a call-to-action above the fold.

Like I did in the first email of this sequence:

So no one has to read, if they don’t want to. They can click-through right away.

(And you and I can pick up this discussion later.)

“Okay, but what about campaign emails? Those go to a variety of people.”

You are absolutely right. I’ve got a suggestion for how to handle the varied audience of a typical email newsletter, but first I want to say…

THIS is exactly why segmentation is so powerful.

Segmentation helps you know which portion of your audience you’re speaking to, where they are in their customer lifecycle and what their stage of awareness is. The better your segmentation, the more you can dial-in your messaging and use this formula to your advantage. (Jo talks more about segmentation inside 10x Emails.)

But if you (like many ecommerce stores) are sending newsletters to your whole list…

You should switch it up between longer and shorter emails. Just like the examples I showed you above from Kettle & Fire. By getting different messages to your email list, you’ll get more of the right message to more of the right people.

Use nurture, sales and engagement emails to engage your whole email list. Use variety to target the natural segments within your email list.

A quick note on the engagement email –
the bread-and-butter of email newsletters.

Many times your campaign emails will be engagement emails. That’s the classic newsletter email that people think of when they think of marketing emails, where you link to content and try to get people to click through.

So let’s talk about what an engagement email should look like. Since, from our formula, you remember that the beginning and ending stages of awareness are the same.

Engagement emails, as you expect, should be very short.

Our stage of awareness doesn’t change with an engagement email. The content that people click through to might change their stage of awareness, but that’s not our email’s job. Our email’s job is to get them to that content.

So, here, the copy should be very short. Just enough to entice them to want to know what’s after that button.

That’s why the very short Moo engagement email works.

It’s doing just enough to get you curious, and not distracting you with anything else.

Copyhackers also sends engagement emails that follow this principle:

Just enough to make your curious about the content. Nothing else to distract.

It’s your sales emails and nurture emails that will be longer. Since those need to bring your subscribers further along in their journey. So make sure you’re still including engagement emails in your email newsletter strategy.

Your ecommerce emails…
mapped, wrapped and ready

By answering the following four questions:

  1. What’s my One Reader’s beginning stage of awareness?
  2. Where’s my One Reader in their customer lifecycle?
  3. How many emails are in this sequence?
  4. What’s the one goal of my email?

And armed with our voice of customer data and the answers to those four questions, we are able to fill in the white cells of this chart:

Then, use the following formula to automatically fill in the remaining grey cells:

Nurture email: Add +1 to Stage of Awareness

Sales email: Ending SoA = Most Aware

Engagement email: Beginning SoA = Ending SoA

We’ve mapped out the entire content strategy of any ecommerce email sequence.

Whether the emails you’re sending are automated, a single newsletter, a 10-email long sequence… or any other hypothetical you can imagine, with these tools in your arsenal, your email content strategy is solved.

So you never have to stare at the blank page again.

The post In Favor of Long, Image-light Ecommerce Emails appeared first on Copywriting for startups and marketers.

Instagram Captions for Ecommerce: Why Visuals Are Only Half the Picture

With Instagram’s growing user base, high engagement rate and increased Average Order Value (compared to Facebook), you already know that being present on Instagram is non-negotiable.

You post high quality product images, tag your products for maximum shoppability, post daily stories, have all the right hashtags, dabble in influencer marketing and endlessly fuss over your feed’s aesthetic….

Only then you’re left shaking your fists at the sky and cursing the dreaded algorithm because your post didn’t get much traction

But when it comes to your Instagram captions, you slap together two to three words, chuck an emoji on the end and call it a day.

So the thing is… it’s not the algorithm’s fault. 

It’s yours.

Because that caption you barely gave a thought to? It’s the key to increasing your engagement, your reach and, yep, even your sales.

Sure, Instagram might be a visual platform, but your captions will make or break your posts.

As Joanna has pointed out, captions and visuals need to work together:

“…the image may capture attention – but it’s
the copy that closes people.”

– Joanna Wiebe,

Let’s take a look at the most liked post on Instagram ever:

With over 53 million likes, it’s an EGG (yes, as in the kind you scramble on a Sunday morning).

It’s not even a particularly interesting picture of an egg.

But the caption gives people a reason to like, comment and share. The caption is the reason it went viral. And without that caption, it wouldn’t be a world-record-breaking egg.

The more people that liked, commented on and shared the egg, the more people it reached because:

The Instagram algorithm has heart-eyes 😍 for engagement

When Instagram first introduced the algorithm back in 2016, it seemed like all hope was lost.

Cue the angry hashtags and floods of influencer tears.

But at the risk of sounding crazy, the algorithm is a good thing for your account.

Like most algorithms, it exists to create a positive user experience by showing relevant content (so users stay on the platform longer).

And according to Instagram, what users see is directly tied to which accounts they engage with.

(Call me slightly evil, but that’s something you can use to your advantage.)

And even though The Egg has shown us that the caption is crucial to increasing engagement, many brands still consider captions an afterthought.

But not you. 

Not anymore.

You’re different. You’re smarter than that. You know that pretty pictures only get you so far.

And from this day forward, you’re going to use your captions to engage your audience, sell your products and increase customer loyalty.

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You in? Then let’s write some scroll-stopping captions

Start by getting their attention, fast

Instagram users are in the habit of scrolling, double tapping and sometimes skimming the first few words of a caption – which means those first few words need to sink a claw into their eyeballs if you have any chance of keeping their attention.

It’s no different than a blog title or email subject line – if you want someone to read more, you need to lead with your most important message upfront.

Pique their curiosity, pick a fight or tease them with what they’re about to learn, and you’ll have them hitting the read more button rather than looking for something more interesting.

You can even throw in an emoji or some all caps to help draw the eye to your first line. However, in the name of all things scrolly, let that first line sit on its own. Give it space to do its thing.

As an added bonus, if you share your post to Stories (which you should, because extra reach 🙌), you can choose to have the first snippet of your caption show there too – enticing people to click through to your post. 

Here The Beauty Chef sets up the first two lines of its caption to pique curiosity with an intriguing question that leaves readers wanting to find out more:

Give ’em something to stop for

Users are selective with what they’ll pay attention to, so if they’ve deemed you worthy, then you’d better make it worth their time. The unfollow and mute buttons are only a click away – and they won’t hesitate to use them.

Avoid being ignored, muted or unfollowed by creating content that educates or entertains (ideally both, if you can manage it).

People are also more inclined to share something useful with others:

“People don’t just value practical information, they share it. Offering practical value helps make things contagious.” 

― Jonah Berger, Contagious: Why Things Catch On

To pull this off, find out what your target audience struggles with (hot tip: try asking them) and create content that teaches them how to solve that problem – just like Go-to Skincare has done in this how-to post:

Format, format, format

If people don’t read every word of a blog, they’re not going to read every word of a lengthy caption.

The truth is that the majority of people are scanners – which is why you need to format your caption in a way that makes it scannable.

And although Instagram limits formatting options, you can still use:

  • Line breaks to separate paragraphs
  • Emojis to create visual interest (or to create a bullet list)
  • Brackets, all caps or *asterisks* 
  • Strategically placed hashtags (because they show up as a blue link)

So even though your options are limited, there is no excuse for assaulting your audience’s eyes with unreadable walls of text.

Instead, break up your caption by using line breaks, emojis and all caps to create visual interest:

Keep it casual

Instagram isn’t the place for overly formal language, but beware of trying too hard to fit in…

With that in mind, here are a few tips for nailing your voice on Insta:

  • Aim for casual language and a conversational tone, keeping in mind how your audience speaks.
  • Whatever your voice is, keep it consistent. Nothing screams “identity crisis!” more than a voice that changes from post to post.
  • Avoid trust-destroying inconsistency by dialing in your brand voice and (especially if there are multiple people handling your social media) defining it via a brand voice guide.

Above, Il Makiage embraces the same bold, cheeky tone used throughout its copy.

Talk up your product… a bit

With 80% of Instagrammers using the platform to help make purchasing decisions, your caption is the perfect place to talk your product up without having to get too salesy about it.

There are a few ways you can do this:

  • Highlight the problem your product solves
  • Talk about a lesser known use case for it
  • Tell a story around how your product was made or why you picked a certain material or ingredient
  • Talk about a specific feature and its benefit in depth

This can be as simple as listing out features and benefits (bonus points for using checkmark emojis to break it up):

Let your followers see the real you

Connection might sound like a warm and fuzzy word, but it has real-life impact – building trust, increasing the amount customers spend and strengthening customer loyalty.

Think higher purchase frequency, higher average order value and higher customer lifetime value – in other words, the metrics you want to focus on to offset customer acquisition costs.

In practice this means letting customers see behind the scenes, featuring team members and simply being present and responsive.

Plus, when prospective customers know there are real humans (that they can put a name and a face to) behind a brand, they may be less inclined to fire off a nasty customer support request. For example, Koala (an Australian mattress company) could easily come across as a faceless big brand, but by adding a bit of fun behind-the-scenes content, they keep it personable.

Go all-in on engagement

If you’ve spent 0.5 seconds on the Copyhackers site, then you already know that having an appropriate call to action is non-negotiable.

And yet, even after crafting a scroll-stopping caption, the CTA is often nowhere to be found – leaving the user with no other option than to move on.

But with the Insta algorithm favoring content that people engage with, your main goal for every post should be this:

to encourage interaction.

This can be as simple as:

  • Asking a question (who, what, where, why, how), or
  • Prompting action (tap, check out, comment, visit, tell, tag, share or save)

‘Tag a friend’ captions (like tentree’s example above) are everywhere – because they work.

Ok, so now you know how to nail those Insta captions, you’re done, right? 

Hahaha, cute. 

But no. 

We’re not done yet, because…

Your captions aren’t the only place to include copy

Sure they’re important (see: literally everything above), but here are a few other spots where copy can improve your Instagram game:

Level up your bio. No, really

Don’t let the 150 character limit fool you. Instagram bios may look simple, but there are lots of opportunities to level up your copy here.

Let’s start with the Name field ← because no, your name does not go here.

You really thought you had that one figured out, didn’t you?

But names are a searchable field on Instagram, which means that rather than wasting it on repeating your business name (a version of which should be your @handle), you need to include a keyword or two here instead (or as well) – the same way Dirt has included “Laundry Detergent” in theirs.

That way, when a user is searching for what you offer, you’re more likely to show up in the results. 

And once they do find you, it’s your bio that helps them decide whether or not to hit that follow button.

That’s why a good bio is similar to your homepage headline: it needs to tell the reader what you’re offering and why they should care.

Think about including your flagship product (or the two to three you’re known for) in your bio, along with your point(s) of difference, shipping info, sales/discount codes or a branded hashtag if you have one.

Make your bio easy to read by including emojis and line breaks. 

(Pro tip: you’ll need to type your bio into the notes app on your phone and then copy and paste it into Instagram to get those sweet line breaks to work.)

And given that your bio is the only Insta space that allows an external link (aka: The One Link to Rule Them All), make sure you give people a compelling reason to click that link.

Here’s an example of a concise but powerful Instagram bio that ticks the boxes:

Put copy right into your images 

Instagram is a visual platform, and users are conditioned to quickly scan post and story images to decide whether or not the caption is worth reading.

Take advantage of this by adding copy to your image – using it to either get your point across in full or to entice them to read more. 

These can be on-brand text graphics, branded gifs, screenshots of reviews or less polished but highly-shareable meme posts.

Get a good convo going

The real power behind Instagram is that it gives consumers the opportunity to communicate directly with brands via comments and DMs.

These casual conversations are essential for building relationships and have a positive impact on trust between a brand and consumers (plus there’s a connection between engagement and consumer loyalty).

So whether they’re asking a question about a product via DM, commenting on your post or responding to your Story… potential customers will interact with your brand. (Instagram still has a 1.2% engagement rate, miles ahead of other platforms.) And that’s kinda the whole point.

Beyond customer acquisition and loyalty, these conversations can also serve as a source of voice of customer data, giving you insight into how they describe your product, what they love about it and the outcome they are looking for. 

Engaged followers are warm prospects, and if someone is asking a question, then their finger is hovering over the Add To Cart button. But they’re not the only ones who can see that comment and your reply. By answering questions publicly (and adding them to your website and product page FAQs), you can help move multiple prospects toward buying.

On the flipside, nothing raises suspicion (and signals that a brand is either unresponsive or doesn’t care) more than unanswered questions on a post…. 

Don’t have time to respond to potential customers? Outsource it to your customer service team or hire an engagement manager – just make sure that they’re equipped with the info they’ll need to get the job done.

Give your product descriptions a fresh eye

The introduction of shoppable posts added a whole new area to optimize: your Instagram product descriptions.

Insta is still trialling the in-app checkout feature (and the jury is out on it, given that you can’t upsell and won’t capture customer emails), but in the meantime users can still tap on a product tag in your post to be taken to a in-app product page with a ‘View on Website’ button.

Tagged posts also show up under the shop section of your feed, like this: 

So a user can browse all of your products easily without clicking over to your website. And with the addition of the Shop section to the Explore page, and an instant Wishlist created when users save a tagged product, it’s obvious that Instagram is going all in on getting users to shop.

You can import your product descriptions into Instagram (along with the product) straight from your store, but make sure that the formatting doesn’t disappear. Nobody is going to read your blob of text if it’s all smooshed together without formatting.

And with the app still pushing users to your product page, if your description doesn’t cover all the essentials (things like fit, materials, ingredients and shipping), now would be a good time to get on that.

Use copy to encourage post-purchase sharing

People love to share their unboxing experiences (which might be why there are over one million posts under #unboxing).

And while this doesn’t technically fall under Instagram copy, having packaging copy that consumers deem share-worthy can increase social proof, get your brand in front of more people and supply you with a healthy stream of user-generated content (which you can repost to your feed).

Take Go-To Skincare’s Transformazing mask for example, with its bold on-package quotes featured in customer posts and stories consistently since its release.

You can also harness the power of surprise and delight by including Easter egg copy. A line of unexpected copy on the inside of a box or bottom of a package can not only positively impact customer satisfaction, but is just the type of thing that could get someone to share.

But don’t just leave it up to chance. Use product tags and/or transactional emails to ask customers to snap a pic and share using your branded hashtag ← *tada* instant social proof and user-generated content.

SHHHOWERCAP uses the shipping notification email to encourage customers to share and tag:

…And it works, with #SHHHELFIE clocking up over 1,200 posts.

Alright, NOW we’re done (for real this time)

You now know that crafting compelling Instagram captions is just as important as finding the perfect visuals, and you know exactly how to use your social media copy to capture attention, build trust and influence purchase decisions. 

Which means it’s time for you to go and sharpen up your Insta captions and copy already and get ready for your post engagement to soar. #whatchuwaitingfor? 

The post Instagram Captions for Ecommerce: Why Visuals Are Only Half the Picture appeared first on Copywriting for startups and marketers.

How to Engage Instagram Followers with Copy So They Love Your Brand and Buy Your Products

I remember when Instagram was yay high. When we were just kids posting filtered photos of street graffiti.

That all changed when I signed on as YOGABODY’S in-house copywriter.

The company’s Facebook game was on point, but we wanted to give it a bigger go at selling our products on Instagram, too.

Whoa, whoa, whoa. You mean to say I can’t just use pictures of fit yoga women and the quote “If you can’t handle me at my worst, you don’t deserve me at my best” and call it a day? 

Not anymore. That’s right… Instagram is straight grown.

Oh, they grow up so fast.

To boot, its users aren’t preteens just handing out those red-hearted likes like candy on Halloween night anymore. They’re also… shopping. 

Instagram users spend $65 on average per purchase (more than on Facebook), and the ‘gram has seen a 115% increase in engagement since 2012.

What does that mean for your eCommerce business?

Instagram captions perform better
when they use conversion copy techniques.

The copy is the difference between a follower (who likes your photos) and a customer (who buys your products). 

Images may grab the reader’s attention as they endlessly scroll, but according to Instagram’s algorithm, posts that get activity (likes, comments, shares and tags) are seen as valuable and therefore are promoted beyond your feed.

Your Instagram caption—AKA copy (we’ll use these terms interchangeably for this article)—engages your new followers with your brand, which leads to conversions and sales.

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Take Glossier for example. Vogue staffer, Emily Weiss, took her lifestyle and beauty blog and spun it into a hugely popular Instagram account where she then launched her beauty line, Glossier. The account now has over 2 million followers and an eCommerce company valued at a billion dollars.

In this in-depth look by Sked Social at Glossier’s Instagram marketing strategy, we see that its posts sometimes hit a 10% engagement rate, immensely overshadowing the average rate of 3%. “They’re knocking it out of the park,” writes Kat Boogard. She says:

“They didn’t fall into the common trap of so many companies where social media was an afterthought—they were proactive about it from the get-go. In fact, Glossier’s account had attracted 13,000 Instagram followers before any products were even launched on the brand’s e-commerce site.”

Sked Social’s Kat Boogard

You can still grow your Instagram using great copy even if you don’t have the cult-like following of Emily Weiss.

Let’s look at clever captions that make you likeable.

Instagram gives you 2,200 characters to play with in a caption. 

That’s a lot. That’s like a miniature sales page!

While you may have roughly 300 words, not all of them will display in your follower’s feed. Instagram truncates your caption.

That’s why it’s vital to plan those first 2 (mobile) to 3 (desktop) lines with care to not get cut off at an inopportune moment.

Unlike Kanye, Instagram does this with your best interests in mind. They do it to not clog up the feed. Here’s what the max may look like (outlined in red):

Dermstore, which sells professional-strength beauty products online, uses this bite-sized moment to highlight their subscription box service. This is a perfect example of getting your readers to nod their heads in an enthusiastic “yes” to your question. That’s always good copy… even in an Instagram post. 

The gold standard: write 125 meaningful characters before the “More…” shows up. 

There’s truly so much you can do with that. 

Like use it as a way to update your followers about re-stocks.

Mention a sale.

Or use a pop culture reference.

Hey… if Joann Stores (formerly known as Joann Fabrics)—you know, the ones you associate with your elderly neighbor who knit you a scarf that one time for Christmas—can trendy-up, so can you.

Again, Instagram rewards posts with tons of comments and likes by sending them beyond the wall—ahem, beyond your feed. So not EVERY post has to be sale-slash- product-oriented. 

But how do I do all that without a big budget? 

Glad you asked…

Post user-generated content.

Here’s the thing: 

Instagram users love to crowdsource their content. 

So how do you take advantage of that? 

For starters, you can repost what others have said about you (hello, Voice of Customer data!)—or—this could mean asking influencers and customers to post about YOUR products directly.

For copywriting’s sake, you’ll want to focus on simply reposting user-generated content: show off your customers showing off your products, just like in the GoT example above. 

  1. Someone creates something amazing using your product. 
  2. You see their post. 
  3. You post their post. #repost

It leads to a feel-good trust factor from your fans. And your audience gets to see what your product looks like in a real-life sitch. 

Here’s an example from @yogabody. We shared a native post from a Yoga Trapeze user (a YOGABODY product). 

I always carve out some time to scour through native posts looking for something I could use—essentially gold-mining.

If the original caption includes a positive comment about our product… YOINK!

This is a golden opportunity to post a customer review directly in your feed, so your audience gets a quick bite of a real review that also feels super genuine.

If your product isn’t talked about (yet), you can #regram someone within your realm.

Dermstore uses an original caption that shows their voice, followed by a quick mention of the user’s photo (for proper cred). 

The upside is possibly getting on that special someone’s radar. The downside: it may look as if you can’t create your own content. Use this tactic very sparingly.

Here’s how to #regram:

For photos, you can do this manually.

  1. Take a screenshot of the photo you want to regram.
  2. Use the photo editor on your phone to crop everything but the picture.
  3. Share to Instagram.
  4. Add a unique caption and @tag the original user in the post.

For videos, you’ll need a reposting app. I recommend SkedSocial.

To emoji or not to emoji?

I won’t keep you waiting… 

The answer is…

YES! They’re a quick way to show you’re human. That you’re a clever human. That you’re a trendy, clever human behind the caption. Not at aaaall a copywriter/business person sweating over which emoji to use and where. And what’s this eggplant one and why is it so popular? And oh god how do I emoji?!????

I gotchu. Here’s an app where you can urban dictionary the straight heck out of those little hieroglyphics beforehand just so you don’t make a blunder by accident. Or simply see which emojis are trending so you can have up-to-date lookin’ copy. Because it really matters.

To be honest, emojis are also great for breaking up text, spicing up your copy visually and saying things with fewer words. Here, Glossier uses a down arrow to mean “post your answer in the comments.”

Also, instead of saying “click here,” you could post a pointing finger emoji instead. Here are some ideas of common Instagram copy in emoji form:

☝ Click the link above / check link in bio

👉 Here’s the link

👇 Check the link below / Leave your comment down below

🙏 We are grateful / We love it!

🔥 Hot sale

🚨 New sale / Important 

💣 / ⚠ time-sensitive sale

💯 The best deal around / We agree!

📷 This photo was taken by:  / Photo cred to:

💬 ⬇ This asks the audience to leave a comment

✔ Use this to separate new points

But more than that, they actually stimulate a feel-good response from readers which, say it with me folks, creates engagement

An engaged audience will read a full (300-word) caption.

As people spend less time on desktop reading and an average of 53 minutes per day on Instagram, that means it’s possible to deliver information to them on their favorite social platform.

Here’s how you can do it in a way that makes sense for your business:

Show the benefits of your product. 

The Honest Company, founded and run by none other than the Jessica Alba, specializes in ingredient-safe baby products made from renewable resources. They highlight their Organic Belly Balm in this post via photo and loootsss of text. 

Tell a story through case studies or other narratives.

You can try in the third person as @honest does here:

Or interview customers and post their story in the first person:

Real human stories like these are 22x more memorable than facts.

Post an update on the company (or other really valuable information).

By now you may be thinking… yeah, yeah, yeah, I’ll engage my customers with these excellent tips of yours, Kaleena, (aw shucks) but how do I get more of these Instagrammers-who-shop to follow my account?

Use hashtags so customers can find you easily.

Instagram allows a maximum of 30 hashtags, which is more than enough for the average eCommerce business. These tags are not just some trendy way to play on Instagram but rather a business tool to get people to find your brand. 

Think of it as the SEO of Instagram. 

Without them, customers will never see your content. You neeeeed to incorporate them into your posts. There are three levels of hashtags you’ll want to brainstorm and use. 

ONE: Geotags.

They get 79% more engagement and yet, only 5% of posts have ’em! 

Essentially, geotags mean you are placed in the geotag page of that city/place. And the better your post natively performs, the more likely Instagram will push it toward the top of the said page.

These tags are great if you also have a brick-and-mortar store or a pop-up like the Glossier example above.

At YOGABODY, we saw a 10% spike in user engagement when we went from a simple #yoga to adding #yogainbarcelona and #yogalosangeles geotags.

TWO: Branded hashtags.  

These hashtags should relate to your products, brand name and brand slogan. 

For example, if you’re a zodiac-inspired jewelry company called Gemini Jewelry and you sell necklaces on Instagram, your branded hashtags may be #geminijewelry and #whatsyoursign.

Quest Nutrition, which sells protein-rich treats like this White Chocolate Raspberry Quest bar below, sprinkles its branded hashtags #OnaQuest and #Questify into almost every post.

THREE: Niche hashtags. 

At YOGABODY, we quickly realized that #yoga is too broad a term —there are around 70 MILLION (!!) posts for that word in the Discover section of Instagram at any given moment. Content gets buried in an instant, only leaving the biggest and baddest of companies to be seen.

Michael Aynsley exemplifies this further in his 2019 guide for hashtags

“Let’s say you’re a social media manager for a travel agency. There are a ton of hashtags that are popular with jet-setters: #welltravelled, #justbackfrom, #whatsinmybag, and #passportexpress—to name a few. Tag your posts with any number of these and you will likely get a few extra likes.”

But don’t do any guesswork here.

You’ll want to play with different Instagram keyword tools to find a handful of hashtags to begin with, then check Instagram analytics after some time to see what’s working and what’s not. 

But just like SEO keywords in a blog post, many Instagrammers see too many hashtags as spammy.

To avoid this, intertwine brand-related hashtags into captions because these are the ones that get a good response and add voice to the copy. 

Leave geotags and niche keywords in the first comment of the post. 

They’ve found you, followed you, interacted with you and seen your products… Now what?

Let Instagrammers know what they should do next with simple calls to action (CTAs). You can ask them to buy your product, shop your store, or share with a friend.

To choose your CTAs, you’ll need to think about what’s your company goal. Are you interested in building a community? Brand awareness? Product awareness?

On other platforms, CTAs typically include a link so that the next step is as easy as pie. However, Instagram removes clickability within captions to improve user experience (and let’s be real, keep you on their platform for as long as possible). 

That’s why the most common CTA you’ll find on Instagram is “Click the link in bio!”

Here, Reformation, a sustainable fashion company, uses this tactic nicely. Mind you they’ve gone beyond writing a simple “link in bio” because that’s so 2018.

Like above, CTAs belong at the end of the caption, after you’ve already warmed up the ‘grammer with why they should care and what’s in it for them.

Here’s why:

Humans love to talk about themselves. So, get them talking!

Not only does it start a conversation, but it may also get you some juicy voice of customer data.

(BTW—you can create graphics like that in under 5 minutes using Canva.)

Here are some other CTAs you can use:

  • Head to our stories to shop!
  • Join our affiliate network
  • Download the full guide
  • Tell us your favorite!
  • Tag someone who’d look good in this (emoji)
  • Share your (insert on-brand related term) down below

Take a Gary Vee “jab, jab, jab, right hook” approach by asking followers some easy asks like “enjoy!” “comment!” “check the link!” before bigger asks like “shop”, “share”, or “buy.” 

Your bio: The elevator pitch of Instagram.

You have ~10 words to sell yourself.

What do you have to say? This will make or break you!

Just kidding. It’s actually totally changeable at any moment. 

As Allie Decker writes in this great article about Instagram copy

“Brainstorm a few key terms that people might be looking for in relation to your brand, products, or industry. Add these to your bio where relevant. Using Foundr as an example, you’ll see words like epic instead of awesome and the word startup, knowing that our audience responds positively to terms like these.”

Allie Decker

If and when you do have a branded hashtag you want to encourage followers to use, it’s good practice to list it in your Instagram bio for ease of reference—just like Joann does.

Your bio is still the only place where you can post a live link. But you do not have to keep it static.

In fact, I’d recommend you constantly change yours. Perhaps as often as you change the bedsheets. I know it’s a hassle, but it should be done weekly.

Why? That link is a chance to increase traffic to your promoted content. 

Play around with your entire Instagram bio according to the product or sale you want to highlight or drive traffic to partner accounts such as a blog, podcast, eCommerce shop, or other business. 

Since the majority of Instagram users are on mobile, you’ll either want your link to direct traffic to a landing page or use a bitly link pointing to your shop.

If you have sooo many things you need people to see, and you’re not about that ever-changing bio life, try an app like Link.tree or which house all the links you’d need followers to be driven to. This is what that looks like:

How to write Instagram copy that won’t be overshadowed by a badass Insta-photo

  • Be punchy within the first 125 characters (that’s what the audience first sees)
  • Feature customers and how your brand helped them with a struggle through storytelling
  • Use emojis related to the post and your brand; use emojis to break up text and point the readers in the right direction
  • Post user-generated content to get your audience involved and feeling like rockstars
  • Let readers find you through the following hashtag types:
    • Geotags like #yogalosangeles.
    • Brand-related like #geminijewelry #whatsyoursign
    • Niche terms like #yogaeverydamnday
  • Scatter a few on-brand hashtags within the caption if you wish, all others belong in the first comment of the post
  • Use CTAs at the end of your post with action verbs like share, comment, shop, go, tag, check, buy, or tell

A picture is not worth a thousand words—choose yours carefully and #shineon.

The post How to Engage Instagram Followers with Copy So They Love Your Brand and Buy Your Products appeared first on Copywriting for startups and marketers.

The ‘Complete-Nobody’ Guide to Guest Posting Fame and Fortune (By the Guy Who Built a Career Out of It)

Once upon a time, I was a nobody…

A little over five years ago, I found myself unemployed and unemployable.

That’s not hyperbole.

Before launching into guest posting and content marketing, my first dream – if you can believe it – was to be a pastor. I earned my undergraduate degree in English and went on to graduate school for a Masters in Divinity.

Then, my life imploded. 

It started with a wrecking-ball event out of my control and culminated in a bomb I assembled with my own two hands – made of resentment, anger and entitlement. 

I won’t belabor the details. Suffice to say, there I was: 31 years young, standing amidst the burnt rubble of a life torn down.

The one thing I had going for me was that my previous life had taught me all communication is sales: getting what’s inside my heart and mind into someone else’s in a way that makes them say, “Yes.”

The only other thing I had going? Desperation.

“Aaron,” I thought, “you’ve got to do something to eat. You can communicate pretty well. Maybe there are people out there selling things to other people who can’t communicate well. Maybe they would pay you to help.”

And thus, a marketer was born.

I hit the ground running with the speed and tenacity only one part desperation and two parts ignorance can provide. (Thank God for the latter!)

As I began devouring the likes of Copyblogger, Neil Patel, MarketingProfs and – yes, not to suck up – Copyhackers, I noticed a unifying ingredient on their sites: logos.

Logos depicting where they’d published and clients they’d worked for. Logos that screamed social proof: “These companies and people trust me. They gave me money. You should too.”

Logo envy, the desire to look like somebody even though I was nobody, took over my heart.

After grinding out the first few months as a newbie online writer, I began researching a select handful of sites. It started with niche marketing publications – like MarketingProfs, Copyblogger, Content Marketing Institute and Unbounce. 

When the approach I’ll detail below worked, I then sent off a completed article to multiple mainstream sites. Low and behold, Entrepreneur picked it up.

Aaron Orendorff's first guest post on Entrepreneur
I didn’t know anything about Mindy Kaling prior to writing this guest post but, in the fall of 2014, she was the top-searched celebrity according to Google Trends

Entrepreneur even told me I could continue to submit to them. 

The lights came on. That was the a-ha, holy shit moment!

If all I did was study what publications already loved, layer on something trending (either from search or social) and craft an entire article just for them… the doors would open.

And open they did – even for a nobody like me:

Aaron Orendorff's collection of sites where he has successfully guest posted
Just a few of the over 40 publishers I’ve guest blogged for over the last five years

Guest blogging was the primary sales funnel that grew my freelance writing business from nothing to six figures in a year and a half. 

It gave me authority and social proof (when – to put it bluntly – I didn’t deserve either).

Eventually, guest blogging landed me a job as editor in chief of Shopify Plus – the enterprise arm of the world’s fastest-growing and most-valuable non-Amazon ecommerce brand.

The key to my success was guest posting – an all-out blitz across mainstream and niche publications despite starting out with zero credibility and zero connections.

Over the last four months, I’ve damn near killed myself putting together Master of Guest Blogging – the inaugural course in Copyhackers Content School. It contains everything I learned on both sides of the divide: as a guest blogger and as an editor in chief.

The more time I spent working on the course, the more thankful I became for my original two parts ignorance.


Because had I known and adhered to what gets passed off as guest-blogging guidance, I never would have made it.

If you’re a would-be guest blogger, three myths stand in your way. Three lies that will condemn you before you even begin.

So, let’s name the demons and demolish them!

Pst… in the third myth I’m going to introduce you to a few people who aren’t writers but have used guest blogging to grow their businesses by leaps and bounds.

Within the course, there are actually 35 original contributions from leaders across a host of professions: SaaS developers, founders, growth strategists, ad buyers, ecommerce owners and (yes) content creators as well as lowly writers.

I asked Joanna real nice and she said we could give away that entire BONUS PDF. Discover how guest blogging helped fuel their businesses along with the one thing they wish they knew before they started…

Bonus: Authority and the Benefits of Guest Blogging PDF

Download the BONUS: Authority & the Benefits of Guest Blogging (PDF)

Guest posting myth 1: You have to be special, creative and talented

Confession: I’m probably the least original dude you’ll ever meet. The fact that I wear the title “creator” is nonsense.

However, in the world of guest blogging, my lack of originality is far from a detriment. It’s probably the leading characteristic of my success.

What do I mean?

No matter how journalistic a site or publication may appear, editors care about one thing: popular content

Popular content equals traffic. And traffic equals ad revenue, subscribers or (in some cases) customers.

Editors want articles that align with what’s currently working for their site, without overlapping or cannibalizing existing content.

While popular content looks different publication to publication, within a publication – and even within a publication niche – it changes very little. 

The secret is…

Popular content isn’t invented. It’s discovered.

Unfortunately, most writers don’t put in the work upfront to figure out exactly what already works. 

Good news: if you do put in that work, you’ll be lightyears ahead of the competition. Not to mention, more than halfway toward the goal of seeing your words come to life.

I do tons of research before I ever write a word. (What’s more, when I was editor in chief at Shopify Plus, I salivated over submissions that showed that same level of preparation.)

For example, in addition to that first post on Entrepreneur when Mindy Kaling was trending, my research process landed me on Success Magazine when Jimmy Fallon was hot and again when Stephen Colbert took over the Late Show.

Aaron Orendorff's guest posts in Success Magazine

It served me at Unbounce when Straight Outta Compton dropped and made me an official top-performing blogger at Content Marketing Institute multiple times over.

Aaron Orendorff's guest posts for Unbounce and the Content Marketing Institute

It even got me into places like Mashable and The Next Web, which – because I don’t have any technical expertise – I have no real business writing for.

Aaron Orendorff's guest posts for Mashable and The Next Web

Maybe you’ve already noticed a pattern. But ‘celebrities-plus-pop-culture-equal-editorial-hallelujahs’ is just the tip of the iceberg.

What began as (1) collecting 10 of a publisher’s most-popular articles via Buzzsumo, (2) noting their topics and headline patterns and merging that with (3) whatever celebrity was currently ranking on Google Trends

…eventually became a 10-step template; a (dare I say it) scientific process for the pitch-perfect guest post.

Pitch Perfect Template: 10 Steps to Reverse-engineer the Perfect Guest Post

Let me break it down for you…

Start by creating a Google Sheet. 

First, enter 1-20 in Column A and then use the 10 steps above to label the rest of the columns:

Preview of the Reverse Engineering “Yes” Template within Master of Guest Blogging
Preview of the Reverse Engineering “Yes” Template within Master of Guest Blogging

1. Popular

Collect 10 to 20 of your target publisher’s most popular existing articles using (1) onsite lists – normally on their homepages or within specific sections – (2) “best of” round-up articles or (3) social media counters (e.g. Buzzsumo).

Drop those URLs into column B.

2. Headlines

Copy and paste all the headlines from those articles (one by one or by exporting them from Buzzsumo) into column C.

3. Headline characters

Enter the formula =len(C2) into the next column – where C is the column and 2 is the row. That will automatically calculate the number of characters in the selected cell. Drag that cell down to the end of your list and run the AVERAGE formula at the bottom.

Behold, the power of math – the perfect length for your headline.

4. Headline patterns

Examine each headline like a popularity bloodhound.

Do they use numbers, names, scientific words, questions, trends, “how-to” phrases, contrarian perspectives, the promise of intrigue and surprise or any other dominant patterns?

A sampling of additional headline questions from inside Master of Guest Blogging - plus, there’s WAY more!
A sampling of additional headline questions from inside Master of Guest Blogging – plus, there’s WAY more!

5. Word count

Use Bulk Web Page Word Count Checker to drop in batches of 10 URLs at a time, download the Excel file, paste the corrected word count into your Google Doc and then… AVERAGE.

6. Formality Score

Skim each article – paying special attention to the introduction (lede) and conclusion. Then, give each one a formality score of 1 to 3:

  1. Weekend Cookout (Hella informal)
  2. Casual Friday (Formal)
  3. Gala (Most formal)

7. Subheadings

Roll through the articles again, this time noting their subheadings:

  • How many?
  • Use of numbers?
  • Title case or sentence case?
  • One or multiple lines?
  • Punctuation?

8. Links

Hover over each of the links in the articles and note whether they’re onsite or offsite. Also, count the total number of links. (Links are SEO currency. Editors know this and treat them accordingly.)

9. Data Points

Tabulate the total number of data points contained within each article. Data is how a pub shows proof. This will immediately tell you how much evidence you’ll need for your guest post.

10. Media

Media is a catchall term that identifies five elements… 

  • Images: Number and kinds
  • Gifs: Number and yes or no
  • Videos: Number and sources
  • Custom visualizations: Yes or no
  • Copyrighted media: Yes or no

In the end, what you’ll come away with is a comprehensive checklist to guide you into the perfect article.

Your comprehensive checklist to guide you into the perfect guest post
Your comprehensive checklist to guide you into the perfect guest post
Even better, by following this process you’ll be in the trenches over and over with your target publication’s most-popular pieces!

Time spent marinating inside those articles is invaluable.

Of course, the question is: Why spend all that time researching a single pitch?

Guest posting myth 2: Pitch first, ask questions send articles later

Pitch is a terrible word. Why? Because pitch implies sending an idea or a listicle of ideas.

The problem with that is…

Online publications feed the beast; they’re hungry for content. Ravenous.

As a result, editors are busy AF.

Editors don’t have time to look at a portfolio of previous articles or to cook up a topic and angle. Nor do they want to wade through a 10- or 20-point list of “article ideas and headlines.”

That’s homework. Never give an editor homework. Instead, make it as easy as possible for an editor to say, “Yes.”

A pitch doesn’t do that (except for top-tier print magazines). Most only add effort to an editor’s already crowded plate.

Having lived on both sides of the divide – as a guest blogger and as Shopify Plus’ editor in chief – I know this all too well.

What I longed for at Shopify was a guest post I could hit “Publish” on as quickly as possible with as little back-and-forth as possible.

As a guest blogger, instead of sending pitches, I sent completed articles customized for each publication. All but one of my breakthrough guest posts came from sending a fully researched, custom-tailored, completed article with a short email that basically said:

“Here’s a finished article. I wrote it just for you.” 

Followed by a link to a Google Doc or an attached Word document.

Inside the full Master of Guest Blogging course, I walk through a host of real emails I have sent to editors – some successful, some not.

Those hard-won lessons culminated in three short email templates and two journalistic templates. Here’s one of the three short versions:

Short email template for guest posting pitch to editors

Seriously. That’s it!

I used that template as a cold email to kick down the doors at pretty much all the mainstream sites shown below:

Huffington Post was the outlet that truly taught me the value of less is more when it comes to pitching…

I literally tried to crack Huffington Post for years. Here’s a mere sampling of the emails I sent to various editors:

Various guest posting pitch emails sent to the editors at the Huffington Post

Each time I would load the emails with more and more places I’d written for or stats on my articles’ performances – all evidence designed to make someone say, “Ah, Aaron Orendorff is somebody. We should publish his article on our site.”

Guest posting pitch email sent to an editor at the Huffington Post

Alas, each and every one of those pitches were either rejected or (by and large) ignored.

Ironically, the email that finally worked was one line sent straight to Arianna Huffington herself…
Successful guest posting pitch email sent to Arianna Huffington

Finally, success:

Response from Arianna Huffington to Aaron Orendorff's guest posting pitch email

Not only is that the most successful template I’ve ever used, but the illustrious Andy Crestodina also immortalized its ethos in his book, Content Chemistry, as well as blowing up my social accounts every few months by including it in a number of his conference presentations:

Andy Crestodina presents Aaron Orendorff's short email pitch for guest posting in a presentation at the CTA Conference
Image via Kelvin Claveria (Twitter)

But, what if you’re not a writer?

Guest posting myth 3: Guest posts only work for ‘content creators’

There are plenty of objections to adopting guest posting as a growth strategy for your business. Most of them – to be honest – are excuses to shield us from the risk of rejection.

The most-plausible sounding protest goes like this:

“Sure, guest blogging worked for you, Aaron. But you’re a writer. I’m not. It won’t work for me.”

Lies! But don’t take my word for it.

Rather than try to convince you that guest posting can add fuel to any career path or service… instead, I asked 35 influencer-status leaders in a variety of industries three questions:

  1. Has guest blogging helped you grow your business?
  2. How has guest blogging helped grow your business?
  3. What’s the one thing you wish you knew when you started?

Here’s the best part…

20 of the 35 were not writers or content creators!

Using an incredibly scientific scale, here’s how their answers to the first question about “has” guest blogging helped shook out…

  • Hell yeah! 63%
  • Yes: 26%
  • Sorta: 11%
  • No: 0%

You can grab all 35 answers to the second two questions, so – for now – I simply want to highlight three of my favorite responses from two non-writers and one content creator.

First up: Savannah Sanchez, a paid media manager at the Facebook agency Common Thread Collective. Earlier this year, Savannah published her first guest post. The result?

Savannah Sanchez on guest blogging
Savannah Sanchez, Common Thread Collective

“After guest blogging on Sumo, I was able to generate a significant increase in leads and traffic to my website, social following and Common Thread Collective.

“It was a huge win all around – and it never hurts to have your boss see business come in from your offsite efforts.

“From there, I’ve often referenced my guest blogging when submitting to speaking opportunities. Plus, it’s been a great bonus to include the article on my personal website to add more validation of my expertise.

“Last, my guest blog is also ranking highly for the “Facebook Metrics” keyword, which is an awesome spot to be in (especially heading into the holiday’s peak campaign season).”

Her advice to would-be (and soon-to-be!) guest bloggers is equally illuminating:

“Keep engaged with the comments! It’s easy to forget to comment moderate when the blog doesn’t live on your own website.

“However, there could be valuable potential clients that are asking questions in the comments of your guest blog.”

Second, Ross Simmonds – CEO of Foundation Marketing. You may know Ross from his top-rated conference appearances, his prolific Twitter output or his writing.

But, Ross is not a writer by trade. Instead, he’s essentially a CMO (chief marketing officer) for hire who majors on strategy, ecommerce operations and video marketing:

Ross Simmonds, Foundation Marketing, on guest posting
Ross Simmonds, Foundation Marketing

“Guest blogging was the fastest way for me early on in my career to build relationships with some of the best in the industry, build an audience, establish authority and drive more traffic to my site.

“As I began writing for bigger publications, more opportunities unlocked and with every opportunity came the chance to connect with a new audience. It’s one of the most effective ways to reach an already engaged and targeted audience.”

His tip on how to “drive additional eyeballs to existing content that you have developed” stopped me in my tracks:

“One of the key drivers of our agency’s early success on Slideshare was the act of embedding our decks into guest posts.

“This resulted in generating more than 1M views on Slideshare and generating thousands of emails.”

Third, Josh Steimle – our token writer. 😉

Josh is the author of The 7 Systems of Influence and Founder of MWI International Digital Agency. Pay special attention to his careful selection of sites to publish on and how that correlates with results:

Josh Steimle, MWI International Digital Agency, on guest posting
Josh Steimle, MWI International Digital Agency

“I’ve written 300+ articles for more than two dozen top-tier publications like Forbes, Entrepreneur and Mashable. But – when it comes to building a personal brand – guest blogging for smaller, niche sites has been a necessary ingredient to give me ‘street cred.’

“That enhanced credibility has led to more revenue for my companies, speaking gigs and a book deal.

“For example, when I went to launch my masterclass on how to become a contributor, guest blogging on ProBlogger allowed me to get in front of my ideal audience where they were hanging out and in a more credible way than if the same post had been in Time or Inc.”

What did he wish he knew before he got started?

“Don’t use impersonal templates for your pitches with a cluttered list of ideas! Any website worth guest blogging on gets hundreds if not thousands of pitches per month and they can spot a template pitch a mile away.

“The worst offender I see starts with: ‘I see you post about [topic]. I really liked your post [post title]. I would like to contribute a guest post on this topic at no cost to you, just include a link to our website.’

“Instead of doing what everyone else is doing, playing the guest blog lottery and hoping you win by sending out a lot of emails, send fewer emails but increase the quality.”

“First, verify that they accept guest blog posts… Second, if they do accept guest posts, write a paragraph or two that don’t merely prove you know what they’ve already published but show you know where they’re going and what they want to publish in the future.

“Think of a blog owner as a collector of rare animals and find what’s missing from their collection. 

“If someone came to me and said, ‘I see you’re focusing a lot these days on your 7 Systems, but you haven’t published a lot about System #3 and I have some ideas for guest posts that could give you more content focused on that,’ then that would be pretty compelling.

“It would prove to me they’ve gone further than a temple and they really know the content on my site. Who knows, perhaps someone could even convince me to start accepting guest posts with a pitch like that.”

Want even more guidance and inspiration? Then grab all 35 of the original contributions here…

Authority & the Benefits of Guest Blogging (PDF)

Authority & the Benefits of Guest Blogging (PDF)

One last (BONUS!) guest posting myth: The truth is #LetsGetRejected

Finally, the last and perhaps most dangerous myth about guest posting is: “No means it’s over.”

Let me assure you of two things.

Number one: rejection is coming. Number two: rejection is just the beginning.

I’d wager 75% of all my published articles were rejected by at least one outlet (often more than one).

The keyword in that last sentence? Published.

Within the course, I pull back the curtain on the reality of rejection and share how those same articles – with slight tweaks – got almost immediately approved by a different site.

In fact, to show I’m serious, this is what the true behind-the-scenes history of my first mainstream article – the one about Mindy Kaling – looked like:

Email history of guest post pitches by Aaron Orendorff

I’d sent that exact same email not only to seven different addresses at Entrepreneur… but a week prior I’d also sent it to multiple addresses at:

  • Huffington Post
  • Mashable
  • Forbes
  • Inc.
Each of those pubs either rejected it or didn’t respond to the same f****** article. Seventeen nos. But, it only takes one yes.

With every article I wrote, every pitch I sent, every pitch I resent… and resent – as my finger hovered over the trackpad… my cursor atop the scariest button you’ll ever see in your life – “Send” – every time, I told myself:

“Let’s get rejected.”


Because I knew that fear was going to be the thing that stopped me. Fear of hearing no. Fear of hearing nothing. Fear of being told, “This isn’t good enough. You’re not good enough.”

And so, I embraced the fear. I rigged my heart and mind – I steeled myself against the terror – in the only way I knew how.

I made rejection the goal.

I wanted to be the kind of person who does shit. Fear was and is the only thing that stops me – that stops any of us – from doing really, really, really great shit.

Embracing the oncoming failure inverts it. It turns fear on itself.

If you’d like to join me on the journey, you can sign up for the course here. Just remember: #LetsGetRejected.

Please, tell me when you do.

And… when you don’t.

The post The ‘Complete-Nobody’ Guide to Guest Posting Fame and Fortune (By the Guy Who Built a Career Out of It) appeared first on Copywriting for startups and marketers.