That is – if you’re tasked with writing content for your business – they’re a handy little tool to have in your arsenal.
And these days, I’m all about keeping my arsenal full of tools that’ll make my life easier.
What’s a swipe file, anyway?
Originally, swipe files started as collections of advertising copy or marketing materials. Copywriters, especially, would keep files of tried and tested ad letters to draw upon for ideas and inspiration.
These days, it’s more than just copywriters putting together files of great pieces of copy they come across. The guys over at Vero, an email marketing SaaS startup, talk about swipe files as one of the top things anyone interested in improving their email marketing should be doing.
Anytime you see a great subject line, a good offer, a beautiful design or great copy, just add the message to your swipe file. Pretty soon, you’ll have a repository of inspiration that you can tap into when you are working on your own campaigns.
I can see the wheels turning in your head as you’re reading this… and you’re saying to yourself, “You mean I’ve gotta make one more thing for my business?”
“Is this going to involve spreadsheets? Because if I have to come up with one more spreadsheet I’m going to scream.”
No, I’m not not psychic. I’m just bootstrapping it like the rest of you and that’s what would be going through my head.
Swipe files are definitely worth the minimal amount of effort because they…
1) Help you get past a mental block
Whether you can’t seem to find the right words or you’re having trouble coming up with a structure for a sales page, looking at good examples from across the web can get the creative juices flowing.
2) Make great topic generators
For those of us who need to write blog posts, articles, or just about any other type of content, having a stash of easy to access files at our finger tips can do wonders when trying to put the pieces together.
3) Keep voice of customer data close at hand
Whenever you’re doing a bit of research on writing something for a new product or service you’re interested in launching, making the rounds of places like Amazon reviews is helpful. Take screenshots of reviews of comparable products so you can go back over them and pull out recurrent themes and phrases to inform your own copy.
Types of content to swipe
You can find inspiration from just about anything online… but the best things to keep stashed are ones that:
Provide some sort of intrinsic value – namely they’re the best examples to follow
Support the kind of work you’re doing
Otherwise, they’re just making your cyber footprint larger by warehousing them and more difficult for you to find the items that actually will help you when you need them.
If you’re developing online marketing for your business, think about creating swipe files for:
Emails you’ve received with memorable subject lines or content
Landing pages or sales pages where the design elements and the copy work especially well together
Individual website pages that you feel do a good job and are representative of your style
Blog posts with topics you might like to cover
Any bit of copy with rock solid headlines
Use Evernote to organize your files
So, how do you create these swipe files?
Using a bookmarking tool for the Internet is the way to go. There’s no need for spreadsheets – unless you can’t live without them for everything.
Create Notebooks then Notes
Think of Evernote as your online filing system. You can create notebooks and then individual notes to stick in them.
Here’s just one set of notes grouped in a notebook in my Evernote account.
What makes Evernote so great for creating swipe files is the nifty little bookmarklet that you can attach to your browser. Go to whatever page on the Internet you like, click on the little elephant head icon, and get a smorgasbord of options how you’d like to save the content.
You can add tags to each note to make searching easier. Plus, you can add remarks and even highlight.
Swipe like a bandit…
The purpose of your swipe files are to inspire, give you ideas, show you how the masters of great copywriting and marketing put their content together.
I’ve spent hours pulling apart well performing sales and landing pages, blog posts and email campaigns. I’ve dissected headlines and button copy that have outperformed their control counterparts.
It’s not been to copy or lift pieces outright but to understand the why behind what’s worked and what hasn’t. And, that’s the benefit of having all these bookmarked and curated items to refer back to.
I can make the connections between what’s been done successfully before and how that might be instructive to what I’m trying to do.
How to get started with Evernote
I have paid for the Premium version of Evernote. It’s only $45 for the year and it allows you to search PDF documents and put your notes in a presentation mode (like Powerpoint.)
But, there’s so much you can do with the free version – simply start with that.
Here’s a couple of helpful articles that will give you the lay of the land.
As soon as a new client wants to talk about a copywriting project, one of the first questions I ask is, “Have you done any qualitative research recently?”
I’m talking about things like customer interviews, pop up surveys and email surveys. If they have done them well, the kind of information you can get from them is pure gold.
And, it makes my job a whole lot easier… which means they don’t need me to do as much work.
If you’re planning to write copy for your site or landing page – wait… don’t dive in until you’ve done a little research
Whenever you create copy online for your business, it needs to get the ultimate job done of selling for you. Otherwise, it’s simply taking up space.
To effectively sell to your customers, your words have to do a few things:
Key into how they speak
Reflect their state of awareness of your solution
Address their concerns or alleviate hesitations
Convince them to complete whatever goal you’ve set out for them
How you do all of that begins with having a solid understanding of who these people are – what makes them tick.
Which leads us to… first things first, asking the right questions
Earlier, when I said “pure gold,” you’ll find it when you ask the right questions. I’m talking about little nuggets of insight straight from your customers’ mouths. These are pieces of information that inform your copy so you can do all those things like address their concerns and provide the ideal amount of detail to your argument depending on how aware they are or not of your solution.
Okay, that’s all well and good… but how do you go about asking the questions that will get the kind of answers you need?
The most important place to start is with the goal you’re attempting to achieve. Without clearly defining what you want to learn, you may end up spinning your wheels.
Know what you want your survey to accomplish
Seems basic but it’s worth spelling out.
Let’s say you’re developing a new sales page for an existing product. You know where you’ll be driving traffic to get to the page but you could use some insights into how your customers perceive its value.
In this case, you’d focus your questions around how and why your customers seek out a solution such as yours. Knowing the words they use to describe the “how” and “why” can help you better reflect back to them their reasons for seeking you out in the first place.
From there, you’ll want to think about the following when putting together your survey questions to achieve the best results:
#1: Keep the number of questions to a minimum
Remember that most people have a limited amount of time and patience – along with goodwill. So, keep a survey such as this in the range of 6 to 10 questions.
You can glean quite a bit of valuable information to help your copy from even a small number of questions. Keep the survey short, to the point, and…
#2: Relvancy is key
Make sure your questions are relevant to the task at hand. This brings us back to knowing what your goal is. Refrain from asking questions just because you’d like to know the answers. If they’re not going to serve your direct purposes – leave them out.
#3: Focus on open ended questions
When you’re looking for copy to swipe from your customers’ mouths, you need access to their actual words. This means asking questions that require more than a yes or no. You want them to express themselves as openly as possible.
Allowing them to merely tick a box will only give you so much, so keep them to only one or two.
#4: Bias will get you nowhere
Repeat after me, “No leading questions.” Don’t do things like include superlatives to your questions. Asking what your respondent thinks about your bright and cheery website design plants an idea in their heads about the site.
Stay as neutral as possible in your wording to generate the most reliable answers.
#5: Don’t make people think
Just like good design and usability on a site, good questions should be easy to understand. If they’re vague or overly complicated, chances are you won’t get the answers you’re looking for.
For instance, I made the mistake of asking on a recent survey the question, “What types of online copywriting frustrate you the most?”
This question confused a couple of people. Without including the words “to write” at the end of the sentence, they seemed to think I was asking them about what types of pages are the most frustrating to read.
Needless to say, the answers did little to help in my research process.
Examples of questions to optimize a landing page
Best practices are helpful but examples are even better. So let’s get down to brass tacks.
Here are some examples of questions I’ve used in the past. The answers have been instrumental in helping me craft more effective copy on various pages – including long form sales pages:
“When did you realize you needed a product/service like ours?” – This is a question that will help you find out what the trigger events are going on in a person’s life that motivate him to seek out your solution
“What problem does our product/service lessen or fix for you?”- Here you’ll be able to find out what your customers consider the problem to be. You may find there are problems you’re solving that you didn’t know about.
“Did you consider any alternatives to buying/working from/with us?” – It’s always a good idea to know who your customers see as your competition. This will help you build a case as to why they should buy from you.
“What concerns or hesitations did you have before you decided to buy/work with us?” – Being able to address any sources of friction in your copy is incredibly important. You can reflect your customers’ concerns back to them in terms of how you or your business will alleviate them.
“What 3 words best describe our product/service?” – This can be a great question to add in. If you’re finding a few words that continually repeat themselves, you’ll know that they should be included in your copy.
This is just a start. Depending on your circumstance, tweak them as needed. Then, test them out.
If you need a little more help with the whole survey thing…
Not sure what to do with your questions once you get them together? Read my post on sending your survey out via email and the platforms to use.
The following scenario plays out in email inboxes everyday. Let me set the scene…
You get a friendly email from one of your favorite retailers letting you know that they’re having a special. Appealing looking pictures of pillows, pants, lawnmowers – whatever has been skirting the back of your mind but you haven’t wanted to pay full price for – gets delivered straight to your inbox.
There’s a coupon code in big capital letters with promises of free shipping.
“Sounds good,” you think. So, you bite.
You click through to the website only to find once you put the coupon code in at check out, you’re told that it doesn’t pertain to the items you chose.
You’re frustrated, annoyed, and likely ready to high tail it out of that website.
The offer of free shipping actually loses the sale because most people don’t like promises that aren’t kept. According to Statista, 56% of consumers surveyed in 2012 dropped out of the checkout process when confronted by unexpected costs.
Generally, this applies to things like additional fees or taxes that weren’t spelled out ahead of time. Getting hit with shipping when you’ve been told you won’t, definitely falls within the realm of unexpected.
Breaking down where it can all go pear shaped – a lesson from the real world
Let’s take a look at a real life example… see where things went wrong along the way.
Here’s the top portion of an email I received from a local company that I’m a huge fan of and have bought items from in the past.
This jewelry company decided to use the Memorial Day holiday as an excuse to run a sale. Free shipping was the incentive which they made quite clear in the headline text and with the coupon code.
I searched around the email for a link or button directing me where to go. There was none as I scrolled to the bottom of the page. Eventually after clicking on the image, I was sent to the home page of the website.
A call to action with no clear trigger to trip is about as useful as an invitation to a party with no directions to get there.
I added two items to my cart, went through the checkout process, and got as far as typing in the coupon code.
No dice. The website denied the coupon because…the items were not eligible.
I went back to my email. Nowhere did it say the sale applied only to certain merchandise.
Guess what happened next? I got annoyed, then distracted, and ultimately, abandoned the website.
Be methodical with the entire process… from email to purchase
Start with your call to action
Decide what you want people to do and then make it clear and easy for them to do it.
Back in 1993, researchers in Palo Alto came up with the Information Foraging theory to describe how people search for what they want online.
In a nutshell, people behave like animals looking for food when surfing online – the only difference being humans tend to exert as little effort as possible hunting (for information.) We choose the path of least resistance and when rewarded with what we want will continue down the path.
So, providing a strong “information scent” – cues that give the visitor an expectation of a successful outcome by continuing down a path – can be the difference between action or inaction.
In the case of the above email from the Washington Post, it’s absolutely clear where to click. The big blue button leaves out the guesswork.
Takeaway: Don’t rely on people to figure out what to do. Expecting your visitors to click on an image in your email that links to where you want them to go is not enough of a scent trail.
Make sure your customer understands the offer
Seems obvious but as the first example shows, it’s not.
Reading the copy on the email allowed me to make assumptions about the offer. Nowhere did the text say that only certain items would get free shipping.
This brings us back to another important element of information scent and foraging:
Always tell visitors what they will find when they click through to the next destination.
By sending me to the website’s home page, my assumption that anything on the site was fair game for free shipping was reinforced. If the copy had made it clear which items were available for free shipping then sent me to that category page, I could have quickly decided to continue or not.
Takeaway: Make promises you can keep. That applies to even the most mundane of things. Put aside time to think through your button or link copy. Then, tell people exactly where you’ll be taking them once they click.
Put yourself in your customer’s shoes
It’s easy to be in a hurry. You’ve got a marketing calendar and you need to stay on top of sending out your promotional emails.
The problem is that an ill conceived email can do more harm than none at all.
Shoppers already have a multitude of reasons to abandon their online shopping carts. From mere distraction to slow page loading times, it doesn’t take much to lose a sale online.
Don’t make a lack of trust in the process be one of them.
Design your email and copy to reflect exactly what your customers will be getting and where you’ll be sending them on your site. If you do that, you’ll be one step ahead of the pack.
Start using the tools available to find out what your customers actually want… not just what you think they want. Surveys are a great way to start.
Start by getting your customers to answer your questions
The number one complaint I hear people say about asking their customers to complete surveys is, “I can’t ever get anyone to respond.”
I understand. I’ve had the same problem in the past. Here are a few tips to get responses:
#1) Be direct, clear and don’t ask for anything else in the email
I’ve made the mistake of confusing my email recipients by talking about too many things in the email and then having the call to action for taking the survey as almost an afterthought. Surprise, surprise… no one answered my questions.
Make this email simple, short and to the point. Keep it to only a few lines and make the link highly visible.
#2) Phrase your email subject as a sincere but small request
If you have a good relationship with your list, many of the people on it will be more than happy to take a minute to answer your questions. Frame your email title as a question along the lines of, “Can you do me a favor and answer 3 quick Qs for me?”
By letting people know that your request:
Will be a small commitment of their time
Serves a purpose – Let them know in the body of the email how it will improve their experience with your products/brand. The word because is magic.
Is highly appreciated and valued
you’re giving them fewer reasons to say “no” in their head.
Also, once someone agrees to a modest request, it’s far easier to get them to accept a larger one. This is considered getting a “Foot in the door” or a compliance/commitment technique studied extensively in the realm of psychology.
Go for a small yes and the likelihood of you getting a bigger one down the road increases.
#3) Quantify your incentive (if you offer one)
Incentives to take email surveys, i.e. coupons, free downloads, one-on-one sessions, don’t always work. It really depends on your audience. So, be prepared for a bit of trial and error.
If you do decide to offer an incentive, make sure to quantify it. Let’s say you’re offering a free download to an e-book you sell. Don’t just say, “Take the survey and get my e-book for free.”
Make sure you quantify the value. If you normally charge $25 for your book, you need to tell your readers the reward for taking the survey is $25. Then, remind them how much $25 is worth – anchor it to something else like paying for a hardback bestseller at full price. Finally, hit on their fear of loss and the fact that if they pass this up, they’re essentially throwing away money and the chance to learn more about whatever it is you have to offer.
Say something like…
When was the last time you made $25 for sharing your thoughts for a mere 3 minutes?
Use good survey tools
There are plenty of online tools out there from free to paid versions that you can use. Here are just a few of the ones that I like:
Survey Monkey – They have both a free and paid version. The free version allows for 10 questions per survey and 100 responses per survey. This will not be enough for larger small businesses but if you are just starting out or want to send a very targeted survey by email to only a small segment of your list, it’s a good option.
Google Forms – They aren’t fancy (although there are some templates to choose from with graphics) but, they get the job done. Plus, Google does a very good job of allowing you to synthesize your data/answers into a user friendly spreadsheet form.
Typeform – This service has by far the most elegant and versatile types of forms. I started using it when it was in beta and loved it. Now that it’s out of beta, there is a cost to unlock your responses – unless you only use their “Core” features. If branding and the style of your forms is important to what you’re trying to accomplish, this may be the way to go. It’s definitely worth checking out.
Start thinking about gathering your customer data now
Whether it’s through surveys you send via email, pop-up surveys on your website, or phone interviews, understanding what makes your customers and prospects tick will make for more engaging content and the copy that makes it up.
Not sure how to put together survey or interview questions that will yield the best results?
We’ll tackle that one in my next post. For now, take a look at the online survey tools and get familiar with using them.
Tell me how you’ve gotten the best results with getting your questions answered using surveys.
If you’ve been reading about online marketing and websites recently, you’ve probably come across the words “conversion” and “optimization” a lot.
Yeah, they’re kind of like the new “it” words… the cool kids on the block. Remember when keyword search and SEO were all the rage?
That’s pretty much what’s happened to these guys.
What does Conversion Rate Optimization mean?
Let’s simply start with conversions as they relate to websites, landing pages or even emails. A conversion happens when someone takes an action on your site that you wanted to happen.
For instance, this can be as simple as signing up for your email list, clicking on an “add to cart” button or filling out a form.
These actions are what we measure and hope to optimize or improve. Therefore, Conversion Rate Optimization – or CRO for short – is the process of analyzing qualitative and quantitative data to understand and improve the performance of your website.
Think of CRO as a systematic way to figure out what’s preventing your visitors from doing the things you want them to do on your site – then, fixing them.
It’s not just about conversions…
There are loads of marketers out there telling you that you’ve got to “convert” more. “Get people to convert,” they say.
Sounds good. Right?
The thing is that just getting more conversions doesn’t necessarily mean increasing revenues and your profits. As Peep Laja from ConversionXL has noted,
…but the goal should never be to boost conversions. Just lower your prices by 99%, and conversions will go instantly up – but you will lose money. So in the end the question we’re asking is ‘how can we increase revenue, and do so at profit?’
You need to be thinking about the goals and objectives for your website and how that fits into the larger picture of your overall business strategy.
A whole lot of moving parts
CRO from soup to nuts can be a very complicated and time consuming process. It involves:
Qualitative research (customer surveys, user testing, interviews, heuristic analysis)
Quantitative research (Google Analytics mining, mouse tracking data, etc.)
Hypotheses, A/B and multivariate testing
Implementation of changes
And, that’s just the extremely abbreviated list. The fact of the matter is that you’ve got to collect good data and understand how to interpret it correctly in order to make meaningful changes.
What this means for your business
Attention spans have shrunk and website visitors have become more savvy.
Basically, more and more people expect faster results online while having less patience completing their goals.
Usability and clarity of messaging is critical. Whether people realize it or not, they are constantly making decisions based on interaction costs with a web page. If there are too many competing images, the fonts are too small, the information is irrelevant or difficult to interpret, you’re placing undo cognitive load on your visitors.
As the web usability expert, Steve Krug, says,
Don’t make me think.
When you design, build and write copy for websites or landing pages that require people to figure out how to get things done, you’re going to lose out in the process.
Start optimizing, even if you’re site is small
Here’s the deal. No matter the amount of traffic you have on your website you can run split tests (running one version of a page against another to see which one is more effective.)
But, with very little traffic the time it takes your test to get to statistical significance could be so long – say 6 months – that it makes no sense to do. You need to get enough good data over a reasonable period of time – otherwise, you’ll be setting yourself up for making poor decisions.
Low traffic doesn’t mean you can’t still optimize. You’ll have to rely more heavily on qualitative research.
This is where heuristics, heat maps and customer interviews come into play.
Not sure what any of those entail? Stay tuned for upcoming blog posts where I’ll talk about the qualitative research end of things, how you can use it to improve the copy as well as the overall usability on your sites.
In the meantime, check out these resource posts for more information:
Just this morning, I was looking for a plumber online. Plumbers, electricians, painters – these are the types of people that I really don’t like to hire without a recommendation.
The first thing that goes through my mind is:
“Is this person any good?” Then… “Is he honest?”
…and, my least favorite, “Should I keep my 80 pound dog by my side the whole time in case this guy is a nut?”
Without a referral from a trusted source handy, I searched the Internet and looked at several websites.
Most of them were terrible (the ones that actually had websites.) They had little information and no testimonials.
I wanted social proof – something telling me that other people had used one of these guys and happily lived to tell the tale.
Social proof done right makes a difference
There are various forms of social proof you can have on your website.
Testimonials, reviews, Twitter or Facebook follower numbers, just to name a few…
…and, they help with conversions. Big time.
Robert Cialdini, the guy who literally wrote the book on the psychology of persuasion, names social proof as one of the six principles that makes up its foundation. Think laugh tracks for sitcom television shows. While annoying, they work.
People have a tendency to follow the herd. It’s no different when visiting websites. We like to know that others have taken the leap – hired, bought, etc. – first before making a decision.
But… yeah, there’s a but in all of this.
Like most things, you need to put some thought into how you present social proof on your website. Otherwise, you might find it doing more harm than good.
Add a photo to testimonials (whenever possible)
For various reasons, it may not be possible to add a photo along with a testimonial on your site. However, if you can, do it. Here’s why.
A 2012 study called Nonprobative photographs (or words) inflate truthiness – don’t be put off by the title, Stephen Colbert didn’t write it – found that people placed more weight on information when a photograph was attached. This study included photographs of lesser known celebrities where claims were made. Those claims made alongside a photo were more likely to be deemed true.
One of the best ways to utilize testimonials on websites is by embedding tweets.
They provide a degree of legitimacy in so far as they come via a third party application, Twitter. Here are two that I’ve placed on my main Service page. They give insight into why these people have been happy with my work and they are clickable. Anyone can reach out to these women and ask their opinion directly.
Negative social proof is worse than no social proof
Adding a Facebook or Twitter counter that notes how many followers you or your business has is fine as long as it reads more than a handful of people.
My friend Francisco over at Social Mouths has a lot of Facebook followers. He does an excellent job of showcasing the fact that there are 19,000 reasons why you should be listening to what he has to say.
Simply by removing those share buttons, the company was able to increase click through rates on their product pages by nearly 12%. In this case, less was definitely not more.
Make your testimonials easy to read
Words of admiration are wonderful but big walls of text are not. If your clients write you a testimonial in the form of a novel, chances are your visitors won’t read it.
The reality is that most people scan websites to get just enough information to fulfill their needs. Psychologists call this “satisficing.” You can read more about it within the context of website usability and copy on the Nielsen Norman Group site.
Like any website copy, create easily digestible chunks of information with relevant sub-headlines for your testimonials.
Think of these sub-heads as micro synopses for your testimonials. Summarize in a few words what the main message of the testimonial is so that your visitors can quickly key into what’s most important to them. For instance, one visitor might find the fact that you always deliver on time more critical than your amazing creativity. If you can alert people to it in a sub-head, they may be more likely to read the entire testimonial.
If you don’t have any testimonials or reviews on your website, start working on getting some. The best time to ask for them from clients is right after you’ve completed a project. Be specific in what you would like them to talk about – even loosely frame something.
Basically, make it as easy as possible for your clients or customers to write something good about you. Don’t make them work or it might not happen.
Finally, pepper those words of praise throughout your site where they are the most relevant. If you’ve got great reviews for a particular product, make sure they go with the corresponding page.
So tell me. How have you used social proof on your website? Do you think it has made a difference?
“What Jen Havice explains in this short book is nothing less than a degree in message mining—what messages you need to share, what words to use, and how to find them. It’s an easy read that packs a major marketing punch.”
—Rob Marsh, conversion copywriter and strategist, Brandstory