We Discuss All Things Copy-writing With Joanna Ruth Wiebe
The original conversion copywriter, Joanna was the creator of Copyhackers. and the Copy Chief at CH Agency. For nearly 15 years, incredible companies like BT, Canva, Glowforge, Intuit, MetaLab, Prezi, SAP, Sprout Social and VWO have trusted Joanna to optimize their copy. And incredible conferences like Mozcon, INBOUND, SearchLove and CXL
Live have invited Joanna to teach their audiences to write copy that converts. And along the way, more than 70,000 people at early and growth-stage startups, small businesses, huge businesses, international agencies and indie establishments have let Joanna coach their copy forward, which is and has been a great honour. With a U. Because I’m Canadian.
Jonathon: Welcome back folks to the WP-Tonic show, this is episode 496. We haven’t got my cohost, but we’ve got a great guest. We’ve got Joanna Wiebe, and she’s from copy hackers. And she’s been on my radar for a while. I managed to bag her. She found some time to talk to us. We’re going be talking about all the world of copywriting. So Joanna, would you like to quickly introduce yourself to the listeners and viewers?
Joanna: Yeah, Wiebe is the last name. Joanna Wiebe, yeah, so I’m the founder of Copy Hackers and we teach businesses, largely tech companies, SAS, and ecommerce how to optimize or conversions largely using voice of customer research. So you’re using the words that your prospects use in order to help convince them to choose you.
Jonathon: That’s great. Before we get into the main part of that discussion, I just want to mention one of our great sponsors and that’s Kinsta. We’ve been with Kinsta for over three years now. They’ve been a major sponsor of the show for two years and they specialize in WordPress hosting. If you’ve got a woocommerce website, a membership site, or any kind of site that’s getting heavy traffic or is crucial to your organization; you should go now to look at Kinsta. They use Google cloud as the backbone of their system and they provide a really lovely interface, which you quickly get used to. And the main thing is their support is fantastic. Like I say I’ve been with them for the past couple of years. I’ve bring delight it with them. They’ve been gracious to be our major sponsor, and I really appreciate it. So go over to Kinsta for yourself or for your clients. And the main thing is tell them that you heard about them on the WP-Tonic show.
So Joanna, I’m at the present moment going through– I hired a professional copywriter about three weeks ago, and we’re actually going through the process of changing or going to change a lot of the copy on my WP-Tonic website. And it’s been a bit of an eyeopener because he’s insisted that we did a lot of testing and send out a survey to my existing customers. Is that one of the thing that a lot of people just don’t do, they just kind of write something and hope it’s going to be interesting to their target audience if they know what their target audience is?
Joanna: Yeah. I mean, I guess it always in my experience comes down to like the business and how data-driven they are. A lot of businesses talk a good game about being data driven when it comes down to actually putting a message in front of their customers, it’s dreamed up in a boardroom or a virtual boardroom increasingly. So, yeah and that’s just because– there’s a lot to be said; that’s my entire life’s work is about this. There’s a lot to be said about it, but when it comes down to it, yeah, absolutely. People come up with these ideas, they think, oh, I know what our target audience wants, so here’s how to say it. And they ended up churning out six word headlines that sounds like marketing copy and no one will ever pay any attention to any of it
Jonathon: I love it. I love what you’re saying, that in it. So, I’ve found, especially on the internet that people read things in a very different way than on more traditional way like newspapers, book, magazines. Would you agree with that? And how do people tend to read? As it got some linkage to maybe newspapers?
Joanna: So when you say that, what do you mean? You have found that? How have you found that? Like what’s–?
Jonathon: I think I just skim the page, look at the main headlines and then I do a kind of quick bend calculation; is this page worth reading a bit more, or am I on to the next one?
Joanna: And what makes you think is this page worth reading a bit more?
Jonathon: Oh, get detailed here; she’s putting me on the spot listeners and viewers. I suppose it’s– are they going to be talking about the thing that I’m on researching? Are they going to answer the problem that I’ve got? Something like that.
Joanna: I don’t know. It’s different for every user, right. But I think it’s always interesting that we can switch from saying, oh, we should be data driven in how we write our messages. And then you know, let’s do surveys to see what people are looking for only to then say, Oh, I’ve found in my experience that, you know, people based on you quickly scan a page, and if it’s interesting, then I’ll say, or if there’s a reason, but nobody knows what the reason is. Like, there’s this general myth out there that everybody comes to a page scanning madly for something so interested in doing anything else, but be there, then why the hell did they come into the first place, and then just taking off to another site? And then it’s like, well, so people then say, okay, let’s write, copy that can be quickly consumed. And let’s just think about those scanning eyes and nobody reads online. And then they end up with sites that barely convert and they wonder why? It’s because you’re making a bunch of stupid assumptions about how people consume content when people are people. And we all are adapting to reading everything, to consuming everything online, not necessarily reading everything, but consuming our content online. So unless we’re all the laziest, dumbest people on the planet, I don’t think we have reason to believe that nobody reads online and that we should just be solving for scanning eyes. And if that’s your audience, I pity you because good luck selling to them or making any real money off them.
Jonathon: Well, I think I probably assumed that because I suffer from a bit of dyslexia myself personally.
Joanna: And so that’s like one experience, right?
Jonathon: I tend to scan anyway. Now, that’s my morphology if you understand, so I take what you’re saying because you tend to apply what you do, you think everybody else does it that way, don’t you?
Joanna: A hundred percent. And there are admittedly, there are a lot of people who moved really quickly to make a decision. Like there are those four key decision-maker modalities. And one of those is going to be a really spontaneous decision maker where they’re only going to scan the top of the page. And so, when you’re going through and you’re looking at like Hotjar or FullStory or something, and you’re looking at click tracking and where people are paying attention, there’s so much focus at the top of the page. “Oh, let me think, oh, that’s where everybody is.” But there are these different types of decision-makers, and some of them are at the top, but you also have to pay attention to the clicks that are down further down the page and the attention that’s further down the page. Unfortunately, marketers love to rush to conclusions so that they can make really fast decisions.
Like, “Oh, let’s do this all differently.” And it’s really easy when you’re talking about data driven marketing and you’re sitting around looking at, you know, a click map of a page. And for everybody to say, “Oh, look, everybody’s clicking at the top of the page. Let’s just cut the bottom of the page.” And everybody agrees because it’s hard to argue with that. You can see all the clicks are up there, the ones at the bottom, do they really matter? Kind of like completely disregarding all of the people who are actually going to read a lot more, particularly people who are the decision making phase of their search, and they’re far more likely to read a lot more. So there’s first, the decision making modality is like how a person actually decides; do you go methodically through something? Are you very analytical? Are you looking for like a lot of data and facts and figures and you want to know every feature inside every single thing you’re consuming? Or are you super-fast, or are you super emotional or whatever those other things they be?
But then there’s also at what point are you in the buying cycle where you need more information and you’re actually just trying to solve your problem. So you’re not interested in just the surface level of things you need to know, like real features. And this happened to me actually recently I had to set up new internet or our office space that we’re not even at. But I had to set up this business internet and they had written– this was for Shaw here in Canada. They had written their website to be so short, so quote unquote to the point, but not my point their point. So, to their point that I didn’t even know what these things were that they were lumping into bundles. When you click to learn more about each of these features, there was nothing, there was like a paragraph; when I’m actually going to spend six or $700 a month on this intranet and everything that comes with it.
And the best you can do is make assumptions about me being a quick decision maker, because that’s how you make decisions. And then we all of course, again, yeah, wonder why people don’t convert. I didn’t end up going with that package. I could have gone with that $600 package if I’d been able to consume any information about it, instead of just the surface level, so I went with the $200 package. They lost $400 a month in that one case by failing to give me the persuasive information to get me to say yes. I still went with them, but for far less than I was actually assuming I would have to. So we’ve got to think about different decision makers and stop trying to lump everybody into like, here’s how people do things online. We do everything differently in everything in life, and suddenly we’re like all the same online. We’re not.
Jonathon: And also I don’t do this, so if I declare how I do things, but I have learned the hard way through loss sales. Because I also think the people that are really serious about maybe buying your product, trying your service, they do then read literally everything on the website. From top, like, they go to the frequently asked questions section, they go to the– they eventually read everything, and they go back multiple times to read everything. That’s what I’ve found out; you think I’m right on that?
Joanna: Well, it depends on what type of decision-maker you are. Like, I think about– I’m a very, largely, I wouldn’t say spontaneous, but I believe really strongly in my own decisions. My husband on the other hand is not that type of decision-maker. He is so methodical. He will, at every stage, even when he’s an early consideration stage, he’ll still read everything. He’ll put spreadsheets together online.
Jonathon: He’ll do that? That will drive me bunkers.
Joanna: Like, we complement each other that way, so it’s like, okay, again, everybody makes decisions differently, and so we don’t have to. Increasingly tech is getting so much better that you don’t have to rush to make assumptions about what your prospect is looking for, how much they need to hear. You can have like your core of your site and then personalize the experience based on what people are clicking on, how long they’re spending on a page, is this their third visit to the page? So you can start to then develop more like, oh, now we can put this message on there. We can populate this dynamically based on what we’re doing, what we’re seeing them do, sorry. So we don’t have to decide anymore.
You don’t have to just sit there and said, you have to have a baseline and control that can be based on like, okay, based on what we’re seeing in the data, we know that these type of people are coming here and they’re generally looking for this level of information. And based on better practices, we know demonstrations sell better than anything else on the planet. We know when we make a claim, we have to support it with social proof. So there are like basic things you can do on that control version. And then from there, as you track what people are doing, assuming they accept cookies, as you can track what they’re doing on your site, you can serve them up information that’s actually really going to be useful for them based on where they are. It just requires that we be better marketers.
Jonathon: Yes, that’s true. So basically, you know, we’re suffering from the plague, you know, the world is ending. I’m going a bit stir crazy Joanna, I haven’t left my home office for the past six weeks. I think my mental faculties are slowly deteriorating
Joanna: I feel you.
Jonathon: Hopefully, well, I’m losing track of what day it is, who I’m supposed to be, if it wasn’t for my calendar, I would be in a really, really hot mess, but my calendar saves me. But you know, are there trends that you’ve noticed recently when it comes to copy that you think that are really interesting that really you’ve tried yourself, but gets some results?
Joanna: Like with specific regard to like the pandemic or just in the past couple of years?
Jonathon: In the past couple of years.
Joanna: Oh yeah. No, the thing that we’ve seen and we do a lot of testing at the agency side of our business. And what we’ve seen is it’s the old, there are no best practices. As soon as something’s the best practice break it because it’s white noise now. So yeah, that’s basically when it comes down to it, we try to test things that are as largely as far from comforts as we can be while still being on brand and matching user experience expectations, and like those better practices. But when it comes to writing copy, I mean, we can see like as soon as something– it depends. It varies so much, so all our– our general take right now, when we’re writing copy outside of basing things on voice of customer data is break it, break it, break whatever you can, break the message, say it differently. Say it so differently it’s like very uncomfortable for everybody. And that tends to be something that at least you get a reaction with that. So, because we do a lot of split testing, there’s a lot of flat test out there. Typically, the tests that you feel are like going to win, where everybody in the room is happy about them, they do nothing at all.
Like if everybody’s agreeing that this is the test to go with; throw it out the door, it’s not going to work. It is hugely unlikely to work. If there are conflicts, if internally people are like, no, we’re not doing that. That’s crazy. And someone else like, actually I think it just might be crazy enough. That’s typically if there’s that little conflict happening, it’s typically a good place to start a test, but for us, that’s what it comes down to. Now, there are still things that quote-unquote work like referring to voice of customer data to find like what people– what that moment of highest tension is that people might be experiencing when they first consider using your solution, and then, leading with that, putting a headline in the first person and in quotation marks, like those sorts of things continue to play well. But when it comes down to it, all of the best practices, you break them and then you are more likely to get the results in our experience. It’s very upsetting.
Jonathon: As you’re explained it that’s why I have you on the show you because you’re the expert on this. And I have known that you’ve worked with a couple people that I really respect and they said I should have you on the show. But as you say to say obvious, but you just don’t do it. Do you? There’s a lot of forces stopping that from happening, isn’t it? But we’re going to go for our break folks, and when we come back, we’re going to be delving in this world of copy-writing and using words to get results, right? We’ll be back in a few moments folks.
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Jonathon: We’re coming back. I’m missing my co-hosts though Adrian, he kind of puts me, right? I’m sure Joanna is totally capable of putting me in my place.
Joanna: If I must.
Jonathon: I’m on my best behavior listeners and viewers. So yeah, this is kind of like– what was that saying about the [inaudible18:48] of copy-writing? You know there’s so many sites, so you read but it’s linked to what we just said in the first half. You read a few paragraphs and you think I read that I didn’t understand a word, it’s just filler, you know, its mindless filler. I’ve just wasted 15 seconds my life.
Joanna: Yeah, if you even bother to have a reaction at all to it. Most of the time you just stare at the screen, just blank, just like nothing’s getting in because they’re not even trying because it’s a bunch of marketing copy and you can tell it’s marketing copy. And the worst thing about marketers and I am a marketer, but I’ve identified some problems with us, which I’m sure other marketers I’ve done too and non-marketers. But, marketers love making things sound like marketing. They love it. When it sounds like smooth and flowing and clever, they’re all like high fiving each other. And it’s like, dude, nobody cares. You made it sound like you’re trying to get people to buy something from you. Thumbs up, well done; it’s awful. And then same time, they’re not even trying to get you to buy something from them. It’s not even like, well, it’s hard sales copy, which you could at least forgive because it would increase paid conversions; they’re writing blind crap that sounds like, it’s just you ignore it. It’s all ignorable safe words. I was reading on a website yesterday for– we do these weekly live copy-writing tutorials. And for one example, in this particular one, I was over on the QuickBooks website, and I have a background. I worked for QuickBooks for years so there tend to be–
Jonathon: I don’t see you as a QuickBooks lady.
Joanna: I’ve been a long time. No, I loved it. I honestly loved writing for QuickBooks. Unfortunately, you do come up because there’s so much data, so it’s really great to work with a company like that. But, you do you end up with crappy headlines. So one of them was, bring your financials into focus; that was the headline we were working on. And you know, everybody who approves that copy was like, that’s beautiful. It’s perfect. That’s great. We love it. That sounds so good. And they’re telling themselves things like, oh, financials into focus, alliteration. They’re like proud of themselves for that. And again, this is what full respect is. I know there were copywriters involved who are probably like Joanna for real. Like, I didn’t want to write that either, they made me. And I get it, right?
Joanna: But it is, it’s this like really? It’s a line that is trying to be ignored almost, like boring, boring word, your financials. The only interesting thing there is your, because it’s talking about me into focus. I don’t know what you’re trying to tell me. And it’s not like you’re peaking my curiosity so I want to keep reading, and that can be of course a great strategy for headlines and cross. I’d say just enough to get them to want to read the next line. That’s not what this is doing though, this is just like marketers agreeing that this is the softest message that will, nobody, which is great, you shouldn’t be offending people, but it will also move nobody. Nobody will feel anything about it. Nobody will walk away remembering a single thing they heard. At best, you’re probably asking them to focus on your ratings and reviews, put your five-star on there. You’re asking them to focus on more visual, like quick ques, like any certifications, or other logos, brands that are using it, but when it comes to looking at actual words on the page, no one, no one will remember them. And if they do, they won’t necessarily walk away knowing what that meant, what does it mean to bring my financials into focus? I’m a small business owner; do I really walk around thinking I want to bring my financials into focus? No I don’t.
Jonathon: I don’t know, you might be that type of person.
Joanna: Oh no, nobody says that. Someone might say that.
Jonathon: I thought at the beginning of this conversation, you say you could do that.
Joanna: There might be someone who’s like, great; I want to bring my financials into focus. This is perfect, good. That person is probably a marketing copy-writer who is running their own small business. And they like it that language. But most of us, most of us are not talking that way so we have to listen to what customers say.
Jonathon: Let’s get this discussion back on track because I’m naughty. I normally have my co-host that pulls me in, but I might want more worse. But now, we have a lot of WordPress type people listening to this show, a lot of business owners have got a successful plug-ins; we have a lot of them on the show as guest, trying to build their own businesses. So like my cohost runs a very successful plug-in business with a plug-in that is a CRM it’s called Groundhogg. And he tells me they had to revamp their website, and he said, well, I kind of copied, you know, not totally copied, but I kind of copied to a degree, which is acceptable. One of my leading competitors because I know they really successful and you go to all these websites, especially that are SAS product-base, they have like the free price table and then they have the key features. And I went to his it’s like that, have you got any advice when you’re trying to explain a product and a service to new people that come to your website in an effective way? I know that’s an enormous question, but I’m asking for just a couple of little insights. I’m not asking for the full answer because I know that’s ridiculous.
Joanna: Well, it depends, it starts with like how sophisticated is the markets. If they’re coming there and it’s like, you’re introducing something, the category is being developed as the product is being developed., then you more, you typically have a lot more that you have to say, you have to bring them up to a level of being able to confidently decide typically on your site. And so you have to, in that case, oftentimes use either more words or do a lot of really great research to get to a place where it’s not just about using more words, but using the exact right words that your prospects needs to hear in those moments, which usually of course then comes from listening to what customers are saying, going through surveys, interviews, online, review mining, all of that kind of stuff. To figure out where they’re at, what’s that conversation that’s going on in their heads, when they arrive on whatever page they arrive on, how you can match that. And then how you can build from that to the point of getting them to appreciate by the end of the page, by the close of the page or the close of their experience, their customer journey, why they should say yes to you now.
And if the market is very sophisticated, you don’t have to say that much at all. You can move really swiftly to the point of getting them to convert by comparing, by showing your features above others, by showing typically the benefit, the real strong, unique to you benefits of using your solution better or highlighting your USP and things like that. But it always starts with your audience. Who’s your one reader? Who’s that one person that you were trying to convert? That person you’re having a one on one conversation with, what are they looking for? Where are they starting? Not where do you wish they were starting when they join that conversation with you; where are they actually at? And then what are the patterns in their decision making that you need to follow in the messages that you place in front of them. And then, from there reviewing everything that you’ve laid out and putting it all in their terms, all leading with the word you, for example.
Jonathon: Yeah, because I think people just totally underestimate, the power of all this. But when you’ve seen it– I’ve seen sites that it’s been a great product, but they’re just not getting the conversions. And then they brought in some people that really knew what they’re doing and did the research and they did the copywriter and then it’s just flowing. You know, the sales just poured in. And when you see that a couple of times, you realize how important this is, but what amazes me is the amount of people that’s not prepared to spend the time and money on it. Well, I suppose you need to see that success though, where you’ve seen it in your own eyes, the power of getting this correct. What do you think about that statement?
Joanna: Yeah, I agree. I mean, the challenge is that a lot of people have been sold somehow on the myth that you know, that if you build it, they will come. And even as you know, you kind of like, Oh, I don’t believe that you still secretly hope that that’s true, and then it’s not true. We all know it’s not true unless you have massive amounts of resources behind you. And then that means that you already had a platform in place. You’ve already put the time and the money in already. But at some point you have to invest the time and the money, and you can’t have neither. You have to have one or the others. So, you don’t have the money to hire a great conversion consultant or conversion copywriter to optimize what you’re saying, if you don’t have the money to work on promoting your product on Facebook or Instagram or whatever, it makes sense, if you don’t have the money, you have to have the time. Which means, you have got to, and if you’re like, I don’t have the time either, then you don’t have a business, I’m sorry. You’re going to have to figure out how to get a partner in place with you or something like that. You got to have one or the other; you can’t have neither.
So if you don’t have the money to do this and a lot of businesses; a lot of small businesses do not have the money to hire a copywriter. And in most cases I would recommend that unless you have 10K to put toward a copywriting project, when you’re like, “Well, what copywriting project?” If you can even ask that question, then you’re okay. But in most cases, people have like $2,000 to hire a copywriter to write their website. No, no, you don’t have the money, sorry, you don’t have the money; no copywriter is going to do a good job for $2000. You need to do this job yourself. You need to hire yourself to write your own website, which means go out, learn how to do it, get these skills. Copywriting is one skill that for every business owner on upon it, it will come in handy at very single turn. You want to pitch an investor at some point you can’t do that without persuasive copywriting. It just won’t work unless you’re a natural born, unless you’re Mark Zuckerberg and you walk in and you look the part exactly of what they’re looking to invest and you put this incredible product at this incredible moment in time. But if that’s not the case, you’re going to need to know how to persuade people. And that’s why small businesses and anybody who’s like on here; we serve startups, so I am a hundred percent in it with you.
I get it, but you need to. You will never regret learning to write copy, learning to persuade people using words, learning to listen to what people are saying and to mirror that back to them in a persuasive way; that’s time well spent, that’s money well spent. And you will regret it if you spend $2,000 on a shitty website writer who comes in, does a terrible job, rushes through because they don’t know what they’re doing; they don’t know your market. Nobody can spend the time they need to research your market, research your product, research what you’re saying, understand everything about it for $2,000, then write the copy. Their time would have to be worth like 40 cents a minute or 40 cents an hour. It was like, there’s too much work to be done to do this right. Whereas you, as a business owner, you already know your audience. Just learn a little bit more about them. You know your product inside out, you know what you want, you know your goals, you know who you’re trying to drive to your website; you know so many things. Now, if you can just layer on writing persuasively, then you don’t have to worry anymore about hiring copywriters until you’re at a place where a $10,000 ask is not a problem for you anymore. And that’s when it’s good to bring somebody else and write your copy, but until then write your own copy.
Jonathon: I’m going to wrap up the podcast part of the show. Hopefully, Joanna can stay on for a little while because I want to ask you about your courses, and also what you’ve learned on building courses online for yourself and some of the struggles you’ve had over the years with that. How does that sound Joanna?
Joanna: Yeah. I’m actually late for a meeting but yeah.
Jonathon: You can actually go if you want to Joanna.
Joanna: No, I mean, I think it’s really good, and people should learn how to do this stuff. But when it comes to courses; that’s a whole other ball of wax, yeah.
Jonathon: Right, so Joanna, how can people find out more about you and what you’re up to?
Joanna: Totally, so everything we do is over at copyhackers.com. So go check that out; lots of resources. Join our weekly tutorials. When you’re just learning to do this stuff, you don’t have to start by like purchasing, of course, when you’re ready to really be good at it, then you should upgrade for that like actual up-skill, but there’s a lot. We have a full team of copywriters, always producing content, working with great copywriters too, so when you go to copyhackers.com, read the blog, go through the video tutorials that alone can be the education you need to get your business out there. Promote what you’ve got, get the right people using it, and referring people to you, et cetera, et cetera, so copyhackers.com. Come on over.
Jonathon: Come over, thank you so much Joanna. It’s been a pleasure discussing this whole subject with you; a true expert. I could tell that there’s no area of this that you haven’t got extensive experience. It’s been a pleasure having you on the show. We will be back next week folks, we have another great guess like Joanna, and we’ll be delving in this crazy world of the internet, WordPress and development and entrepreneurship, we will be back next week folks, bye
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