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Five Skills to Learn If You Want to Be An Online Entrepreneur, Part III: Copywriting

Welcome to Part III of my beginner’s guide to skills to learn if you want to be an online entrepreneur. Here’s the wrap up so far:

  1. Web Design
  2. Web Programming
  3. Copywriting
  4. Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
  5. Outsourcing

This week I’m going to talk about copywriting.  First of all, a little disclosure – I am no copywriting expert. I’m a wanna-be entrepreneur in the early stages of building my online business. So this post isn’t going to be a comprehensive resource that covers everything you need to know about copywriting. Rather, I’ll introduce the basics that I’ve learned from my extensive and OCD-like research and point you toward some cool resources I’ve come across. If you’re interested in the whole online-business thing, I’m guessing that at some point you might want to make a product. And most likely, you will want someone to buy that product.  That’s where copywriting comes in.

At it’s most basic, copywriting is the art using words to make people want to buy what you have to sell. In a more general sense, what you’re “selling” can be an idea or concept as well as a tangible product.

Newspaper editors, for example, know that to get people to read an article, you reel them in with a great headline. Then they read the first sentence, which also piques their curiosity, so they read the first paragraph. Each part of the article is designed with the purpose of getting the person to read the next part of the article.

When it comes to selling stuff online, a sales page should use similar tactics, except the goal, by the end, is to convince them to buy what you’re selling.

In my experience there are two kinds of sales pages.  There is the hype-y type, used by traditional internet marketers, with lots of yellow highlighter, exclamation points (!!!) and do-or-die statements (There are only 5000 2 copies left, BUY NOW or your first born child will die!).  Here are a few examples:

Affilojetpack – Affiliate Marketing System
Article Marketing Automation – Article Marketing Network

Sales pages like these may seem cheesy (they do to me, anyway), but from what I’ve seen there’s a reason people use them – they tend to work.

On the other hand, there is a more muted, alternative style of sales pages used by people who would probably not refer to themselves as internet marketers (although they are marketing stuff on the internet, so maybe it’s semantics). The type of nonchalant sales page that says, “Hey, you can buy this. Or not. I mean, it’s for people who are super cool, who want to be insanely happy, wildly successful, and remarkably attractive, so if that’s you, you can buy it. Whatever.” It’s so off-the-cuff that it piques your interest and makes you think, “Hey… that sounds like me, maybe I should look into getting this.” Here’s a couple of examples of this type of sales page:

Chris Guillebeau’s Unconventional Guide to Working for Yourself
M6 Method – Systematic Product Creation

I’ve found that people on either side of this fence feel pretty strong about the way they do thing.  The traditional internet marketers say, “Hey, my technique works!  I got more sales with yellow highlighter!” The “alternative” internet marketers say, “Hey, your sales pages are lame. I’m too cool for that.” Whichever approach you choose, you need to rigorously test different versions to see which “converts” (leads to more sales) the best.

These types of pages may seem different, but they both use the same key principles of copywriting:

Write a Strong, Compelling Headline

The headline is probably the most important part of your entire sales page. Web surfers are a fickle bunch. Think about it – when you visit a web site, you probably decide very quickly whether you want to stick around. When you write headlines, especially for sales copy, you want to clearly and concisely explain the benefits of what you’re selling. I wouldn’t be doing this topic justice if I tried to cover it myself, so instead I’m going to point you toward some of the best articles and resources I’ve come across (all from Copyblogger):

How to Write Magnetic Headlines
How to Write Headlines That Work
Writing Headlines that Get Results

Focus on Reader Benefits

A lot of people think the best way to sell something is to focus on all of its cool features. Like, “My widget is the best! It comes in all the best colors, and it can fly, and do your laundry, and snuggle with you at night.”  What you actually need to do is focus on the benefits to the reader. For example, “My widget will help you lose 10lbs, get promoted at your job, and get you a girlfriend.” See the difference? In the first example the sales copy is focused on the product. In the second, it’s focused on the customer.  People don’t care about all the cool features your product has. They care about how it will solve their problems.

Use a Call to Action

If you want someone to do something, the best course of action is usually to ask them to do it. Want them to subscribe to your email list? Share your content on twitter? Buy your product?  Make it clear what you want your visitors to do when they get to your site. A “call to action” is when you tell someone very clearly what you want them to do, like “click here,” “sign up” or “buy now.” Use obvious, well-designed links and buttons throughout your sales page some someone who is interested won’t be searching endlessly for how to buy.

Use Social Proof

Do you notice how lots of sales pages have testimonial after testimonial?  It’s because people would rather buy something that has already proven to be a good product than something no one else has tried beofre.  A good way to get testimonials when you have a new product (apart from making them up, which I don’t recommend) is to give out review copies in exchange for people’s thoughts on the product. Most people would be more than happy to write a great review for a product they really like. It’s even better if they’re willing to include a photo with their review, because potential buyers like seeing the faces behind the people recommending products to them.

Test, Test Test

No matter how much you follow the above steps, you never know for sure what type of content will convert the best until you test it. This means coming up with multiple different versions of your sales page, and using a tool like Google Website Optimizer to serve up different versions to different visitors to your site to see which gets the best results. You can test all sorts of things with this method – like headlines, length, fonts, layout and even the price that you’re selling your product for. Once you had enough traffic to each version of your sales page, you can do an analysis of which page converts the best.

Copyblogger -Blog all about copywriting (check out their section all about copywriting 101)
Google Website Optimizer – Tool for split testing sales pages
Psychotactics – Blog about psychology and marketing.  On the right side of the page you can download a free report about how to write great headlines (you have to subscribe to their newsletter, but you can unsubscribe easily if you don’t like it). I found this report really helpful.

Photo by alless&ro


  1. Hello Elana,

    This was a very helpful and well written post. In particular, I liked that you used actual links to the specific example of the “extreme sales pitch” and the more mild sales pitch.

    Very helpful.

    • Hey Izzy, thanks so much, glad you found it helpful! I find myself much more interested in the more mild form of sales pitch.

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