The Most Crucial Ingredient of Persuasive Website Copywriting

July 21, 2011Leave a reply

There’s a story about Jim Camp, a leading global expert on negotiations, that can teach you volumes about how to make your website copywriting more persuasive.

Jim has been featured on CNN, CNBC, The Wall Street Journal, Fortune, Harvard Business Review, Fast Company, Inc., and more. He has trained and coached more than 100,000 people through thousands of negotiations in more than 500 multinational organizations.

Jim started his career selling water softeners door-to-door.

He was given a typical script slicked up with cliché sales techniques.

He spouted that script for two weeks.

The result? Utter failure. Not a single sale.

So he junked his script and started asking prospects if they wanted softer hair.

He translated his product features into relevant benefits for his prospects.

Sales boomed.

No One Wants a Drill

You’ve undoubtedly heard this phrase, and it’s absolutely true: No one wants a drill; they want a hole.

If you want to sell drills, don’t talk about the drill. Talk about what it will do for people.

In other words, be relevant to your customers.

Relevance is the single most important element of persuasive website copywriting.

Conceptually, that’s a simple concept to understand.

But the trick is this: What you think is relevant may not be relevant to your prospects.

To be truly relevant with your website copywriting, you must ditch your preconceived notions and understand what your customer wants.

Don’t Bury the Lead

In Made to Stick Chip and Dan Heath share a story that also illustrates this principle well.

Journalists are taught to start stories with the “lead” — the most essential elements of the story.

The phrase “burying the lead” refers to journalists shoving the most important element of a story deep into the story structure.

Screenwriter Nora Ephron, responsible for the Academy Award-nominated films “When Harry Met Sally” and “Sleepless in Seattle” (among others), started her career as a journalist.

The first day of class, Ephron’s teacher announced the first assignment: to write the lead to a newspaper story.

The teacher reeled off the facts:

Kenneth L. Peters, the principal of Beverly Hills High School, announced today that the entire high school faculty will travel to Sacramento next Thursday for a colloquium in new teaching methods. Among the speakers will be anthropologist Margaret Mead, college president Dr. Robert Maynard Hutchins, and California governor Edmund ‘Pat’ Brown.”

Ephron and most of the other students produced leads that reordered the facts and condensed them into a single sentence:

Governor Pat Brown, Margaret Mead, and Robert Maynard Hutchins will address the Beverly Hills faculty Thursday in Sacramento…blah, blah, blah.”

The teacher collected the leads and scanned them rapidly. Then he laid them aside and paused for a moment.

Finally, he said, “The lead to the story is ‘There will be no school next Thursday.’”


He translated the dry facts into a relevant concept for readers — the essence of the story they would truly care about.

He translated the “what” details into why they mattered.

Why do your products and services matter to your customers?

Why do they buy from you? What do they truly want?

If you sell shoes, do your customers want cured leather and quality stitching, or do they want to get rid of blisters and foot pain — to feel like they’re walking on air?

If you sell low gas mileage cars, do your customers want low gas mileage, or do they want more cash in their pockets and less financial stress?

The most important — and trickiest — step with your website copywriting is to determine what’s relevant to your prospects.

Once you’ve won the battle for relevance, website leads and sales are certain to follow.

Want to see how we can make your website more relevant and persuasive to your prospects? Get your free website analysis now.

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