Your website and emails will be the two most important ways of communicating with your customers. Websites and emails, among other marketing assets, are key to every marketing strategy, channel, tactic, launch, and just about everything. So to say that getting them right is important, is an understatement.
These are the keys to every great website, landing page, emails, and other marketing assets.
Let’s start with Copywriting.
Essentially, everything is going to come down to:
3. Benefit statements
4. Social proof
5. Calls to action
The main two to focus on are headlines and benefit statements. If you can master these two, everything will be easy and you’ll look like a genius compared to everyone else.
Now, if you’re like me and you think “I got an A in English, I’m probably pretty good at copywriting,” I hate to break it to you, but this means you’re probably terrible at copywriting.
Academic writing and marketing writing are completely opposite. What school teaches is a rigid, bland, and robotic version of what makes great copywriting today.
Why is this? Because academic copywriting relies on grammatically correct logical statements to persuade you, marketing copywriting uses emotion, every day language, and punchy statements.
Copywriting is one of, if not the most, critical elements of any and all forms of marketing and advertising. Copywriting consists of the words, either written or spoken, marketers use to try to get people to take an action after reading or hearing them.
One of the key traits in great copywriting is a change in perspective. Sometimes, all a message needs to break through is a slight shift in angle. We've grown so accustomed to blocking out marketing messages, we don't even see them anymore. One of the most powerful things a copywriter can do is break down a reader's guard with an unexpected approach. Every story has a myriad of angles -- your job as a copywriter is to find the one that resonates.
Another trait of great copywriting is connecting things together. Using examples, metaphors, stories, or descriptive language, make a connection in someone’s head. Making connections becomes especially powerful when you can connect your readers to a certain experience or emotion. Feeling confident, peaceful, warm. Or maybe an adrenaline rush, a sigh of relief, or when you a win a competition.
All great modern copywriting is written using the words, language, tone, and phrases of its target audience. This is where academic training can really hurt someone because it may be hard to unlearn the way that you’ve written everything before in a very corporate, traditional, and generally boring way. I’m not advocating that you use text-talk, bad grammar, or to ignore everything you’ve ever learned in school. What I’m saying is write how you would talk, intelligently.
The use of lead lines is one of the secrets of the trade that’s not often talked about. A lead line isn’t necessary a headline, it’s usually the first line of a paragraph or even a standalone line in and of itself. A lead line’s single responsibility is to get you to read on to the next line. They’re often short, controversial, intriguing, or abrupt. Lead lines are especially important when talking about a subject that could lose interest over time or get too technical to be interesting over time.
Avoid jargon, hype words, and clickbait. “Groundbreaking. Revolutionary. Disruptive. Artificial Intelligence. Big Data.” Sound familiar? Some words are just not meant to be used by people trying to describe themselves. Someone else calling you groundbreaking is 1000x more effective than you calling yourself groundbreaking. Avoid words that are overused, vague, and unhelpful to your audience. The truth is, good copywriting doesn't need dressing up. Good copywriting should speak to the reader in human terms.
Great copywriting cuts out the excess. Get to the point — and fast. On average, someone can only read 8 words at a glance. Which means that if you’re trying to get someone’s attention, you need to do it with around 6-10 words. Reduce verb phrases: For example, turn "The results are telling us that" to "The results suggest." Reduce wordy phrases to single words: For example, changing "in order to" into "to" or "Due to the fact that" into "because." Avoid vague nouns like "in the area of" or "on the topic of" that clutter sentences. Use an active voice: For example, changing “The meeting was seen by” to “We saw.” Replace complex or long words that you may be using to try to sound smarter with simpler, shorter ones. Don’t start sentences with expletives like “there is,” “it is,” or “we were.” Your goal is to be specific without being long-winded. Focus on clear, concise sentences.
I’m convinced that the best way we understand something is through stories. Storytelling is the art of explaining something through an experience. And we are experiential creatures.
See, everyone wants to get from point A to point B. And storytelling is like drawing a little map between the two points to show exactly how you get there.
Stories are powerful because they:
1. Tap into emotion better than any other form of copywriting.
2. Put a face to an issue.
3. Humanize a business and its products.
4. Raise the stakes of an issue.
5. Trump claims every day.
This all goes back to a previous framework we explored using the current state, future state model.
You need to pitch your product as so: Current state —> Future state —> Your product. Your product is the catalyst your customer needs to take them from their current state to their future state, but you cannot present it to them until they have told you what their desired future state is.
The same goes with storytelling, you cannot tell your audience how the story ends until you’ve told them the context, conflict, the rising action, climax of the story first.
Every great story includes four key ingredients:
I really wish there was a synonym for resolution that started with a “c” but it just wasn’t meant to be.
Context is the backstory, setting, and beginning to every story. Conflict is the arrival of a problem, predicament, frustration, or decision. Climax is the culmination of the struggle resolve the conflict. And resolution is the aftermath of successfully or unsuccessfully resolving that conflict.
For founders, the most important story they can tell is the story of how and why they started the business. For marketers, the most important story they can tell is what their customers can do with their products. And for anyone else, the most important story they can tell is how their business is making people’s lives better.
The fact is that stories are what resonates with people. Stories are memorable.
Rob Biesenbach once said, “If you can be a good storyteller there’s no limit to what you can do. Stories break down walls, build trust and influence people to act.”
Stories are powerful because they tap into emotion better than any other form of copywriting. Stories put a face to an issue. Stories humanize a business and its products. Stories raise the stakes of an issue. Stories trump claims every day.
We already covered benefit statements but social proof is also another great tactic for copywriting. Using the words, logos, or faces of your customers, thought-leaders, or influencers are a powerful way to inject authority into your copywriting.
The final note on copywriting is on calls to action.
The good news is that there’s nothing really new here. A lot of studies and tests have been committed to calls to action so there’s no need to try to reinvent the wheel.
Simply put, the call to action is the desired action you want your audience to take. The trick is phrasing it in a way that aligns with their desired action as well.
For example, your desired action might be “Buy now at a slightly discounted price on an annual subscription” but that’s probably not going to convert very well so you’d probably want to phrase it more like “Upgrade to our annual plan to save $50 a year and get your first month free!” In either case, the outcome would be the same, but the copywriting couldn’t be any more different.
Calls to action come in two different forms: a call to action statement and a call to action button. A call to action statement is the last sentence before a call to action button that essentially asks people to click the button. The call to action button is the button that performs whatever the call to action statement was.
Using the same example above, if I were to trying to get a customer to go from monthly billing to annual billing, I would use “Upgrade to our annual plan to save $50 a year and get your first month free!” as my call to action statement and “Upgrade Now” as my call to action button.
Some easy tips for great calls to action:
1. Use a strong command verb to start your CTA like “start,” “download,” “upgrade,” or “get your.”
2. Be direct and specific by asking a question, clearly defining what you want your audience to do, and not beating afraid to ask what you want them to do.
3. Avoid using weak or vague words like “available,” “submit,” or “fill out.”
4. Use urgency by limiting availability or time.
5. Fight against cliche or clickbait phrases. I don’t think I need to explain here — just talk like a normal human being.
Specifically in call to action buttons, phrases like “<Action verb> Now,” “Learn More,” and “Send Me <pdf/blog post/guide>” are usually the most effective.
I’m not going to harp on this too extensively but there are some key things I want to point out.
It doesn’t matter if your branding sucks or is amazing, just be consistent. In all reality, your audience will come to love you because of the quality of your content and the value you provide, not the design of your website, landing page, or emails.
But it’s important to establish a branding identity and then to stick to it. You want your website to match your landing pages, your landing pages to match your emails, your emails to match your content, and your ads to match everything — everything from fonts used, colors, line weight, opacity to images, illustrations, overlays, and icons.
If there’s anything that distinguishes a good brand from a bad brand, it’s consistency. This is an easy win if you can be consistent, but a hard fix if you can’t stick to one design.
With the rise of popular websites like Unsplash and Pexels, stock imagery has really upped its game. The problem? Everyone’s doing it. It’s saturated.
I think I can speak for myself and your audience that they’re tired of seeing the same laptops on tables and people gathered in coffee shops. Investing in some professional illustration, authentic photography, and high-quality product screenshots will go a LONG way.
Consistent branding with an attention to detail and great illustration will give your brand a polish your customers can’t resist. Remember, customer experience is king, and a consistent experience across your website, landing pages, and emails are a key part of that.
Your main website and landing pages are going to follow the same basic template that's been proven to be the best performing structure.
- Navigation Bar
- Hero Image
- Social Proof
- Call to action
- Benefit statements
- (Repeat) Call to action
These seven components are the only components you’ll need in order to create an amazing website and landing page. Here’s the specific order to follow and the definitions for each component.
The very top of the page — where your company logo and site links reside. In some cases, this could also be on the left side descending vertically. The navigation bar should have your MOST important links and ideally a call to action at the top right. The fewer links you have, the more your CTA stands out. This is a good thing. You want few distractions between your users and the CTA.
The big section at the top of the page that includes your header text, subheader text, and most enticing imagery. The hero image actually doesn’t even need to be an image, it could just be large text over a well-designed background as well. In SaaS, the best hero images are either a product screenshot or a picture of someone, usually yourself or a customer.
Logos of your press coverage or best-known customers, quotes or testimonials of customers, or statistics of value you’ve provided to customers. Another less-popular but still effective tactic is to include live updating count of something related to your product. For example, if you were an email marketing company, you might say something like “1,063,527 emails sent through <email marketing company>”
Your signup button and a concise incentive to click it. This could alternatively be designed into your Hero section, possibly with one email form field. Ideally, you want your CTA to be “above the fold,” in other words, readily seen immediately when someone lands on your site.
Your key value propositions. Why people would use you. List three to six benefit statements paired with illustrations.
Repeating your call-to-action is a proven tactic to increasing conversions. Repetition reinforces importance, and gives your users multiple places to convert.
Miscellaneous company links.
“But what about an explainer video? I heard those work super well!”
In most cases, a cheaply made explainer video will not do anything for you. My recommendation is to skip it entirely. In most cases, your product will not be so complicated that you have to dumb it down to something that resembles what your kids watch.
I highly recommend checking out Landingfolio for website and landing page inspiration.
Designing emails, if you look online and follow most advice in the google searches, will seem like it’s super complicated and a near impossible task.
Similar to your website and landing pages, emails will follow the same basic template:
The three basic components will vary widely on what you’re going to send, whether its a newsletter, a drip email, webinar, etc. Here’s the specific order and definitions for each component:
The two most important parts of the header are your logo and your headline text. Your logo could be aligned left or center, but it’s important to always include it. Your audience probably gets hundreds of emails a day, and being able to immediately distinguish who it’s from is a key to keeping engagement. The headline text should immediately tell your audience what the email is about and why they should care. No need for any “Hey there, <first name>!” In huge font. Make it something meaningful.
Immediately following the header is the body of the email. This is where the real meat of the email is. It’s also the component that’s going to vary the most depending on what you’re sending. The most common blocks of the body are going to be blog posts or other content pieces, event signup, webinar signup, and product signups.
The footer is generally always going to stay the same. Social links, CTA to product signup, unsubscribe button, and anything else you think is necessary.
Now, contrary to popular belief, emails don’t HAVE to be heavily designed. Now, amazingly designed emails are never a bad thing but if you’re not comfortable with or have the resources to design emails frequently, don’t design them all.
Emails aren’t about the design at all, they’re entirely about the content.
Want proof? When was the last time you clicked through to an article because the button was pretty? No one clicks through because it looks nice. They click through because you’ve built a reputation for delivering relevant, valuable content.
One of my favorite movements in the email marketing space is from Drift, who released their Drift for Email Marketing product.
Unlike traditional email marketing platforms, Drift Email for Marketing focuses on plain text, conversational emails that put the buyer experience first and help marketers send better email.
“This is the third email marketing platform that I have built from scratch -- but it’s the only one that is truly built for the modern buying experience,” said Drift CEO, David Cancel, aka Uncle DC. “The best companies today are the ones that are willing to invest in one-to-one, personal conversations with customers. So we have completely re-engineered email to focus on conversations -- not clicks -- in order to deliver performance far beyond what anyone thought was possible with traditional email marketing.”
Text-based emails are much more spam-friendly, look more personal, and can convert well. Text-based emails can still include images, gifs, or videos. The key is to keep the ratio between text and imagery at a healthy number. At the most, you want 40% of your email to be imagery and 60% text. If your email content is more than 40% imagery, you become much more likely to land in SPAM.
But, if you DO want to stylize your emails and have the bandwidth to do so, I highly recommend checking out Really Good Emails for inspiration. Many email marketing tools like Drip, ConvertKit, ActiveCampaign, and Mailchimp have great editors but if you want an out-of-the-box solution, I also highly recommend Postcards by Designmodo.
Making great marketing assets doesn’t have to be a dark form of magic. There’s both a science and art to it. Following some simple principles can help you take your website and emails from good to great.
In the next chapter, we’ll dig more into measuring success with some analytics, KPIs, and other fun jargon.