How to Engage Instagram Followers with Copy So They Love Your Brand and Buy Your Products

I remember when Instagram was yay high. When we were just kids posting filtered photos of street graffiti.

That all changed when I signed on as YOGABODY’S in-house copywriter.

The company’s Facebook game was on point, but we wanted to give it a bigger go at selling our products on Instagram, too.

Whoa, whoa, whoa. You mean to say I can’t just use pictures of fit yoga women and the quote “If you can’t handle me at my worst, you don’t deserve me at my best” and call it a day? 

Not anymore. That’s right… Instagram is straight grown.

Oh, they grow up so fast.

To boot, its users aren’t preteens just handing out those red-hearted likes like candy on Halloween night anymore. They’re also… shopping. 

Instagram users spend $65 on average per purchase (more than on Facebook), and the ‘gram has seen a 115% increase in engagement since 2012.

What does that mean for your eCommerce business?

Instagram captions perform better
when they use conversion copy techniques.

The copy is the difference between a follower (who likes your photos) and a customer (who buys your products). 

Images may grab the reader’s attention as they endlessly scroll, but according to Instagram’s algorithm, posts that get activity (likes, comments, shares and tags) are seen as valuable and therefore are promoted beyond your feed.

Your Instagram caption—AKA copy (we’ll use these terms interchangeably for this article)—engages your new followers with your brand, which leads to conversions and sales.

Take Glossier for example. Vogue staffer, Emily Weiss, took her lifestyle and beauty blog and spun it into a hugely popular Instagram account where she then launched her beauty line, Glossier. The account now has over 2 million followers and an eCommerce company valued at a billion dollars.

In this in-depth look by Sked Social at Glossier’s Instagram marketing strategy, we see that its posts sometimes hit a 10% engagement rate, immensely overshadowing the average rate of 3%. “They’re knocking it out of the park,” writes Kat Boogard. She says:

“They didn’t fall into the common trap of so many companies where social media was an afterthought—they were proactive about it from the get-go. In fact, Glossier’s account had attracted 13,000 Instagram followers before any products were even launched on the brand’s e-commerce site.”

Sked Social’s Kat Boogard

You can still grow your Instagram using great copy even if you don’t have the cult-like following of Emily Weiss.

Let’s look at clever captions that make you likeable.

Instagram gives you 2,200 characters to play with in a caption. 

That’s a lot. That’s like a miniature sales page!

While you may have roughly 300 words, not all of them will display in your follower’s feed. Instagram truncates your caption.

That’s why it’s vital to plan those first 2 (mobile) to 3 (desktop) lines with care to not get cut off at an inopportune moment.

Unlike Kanye, Instagram does this with your best interests in mind. They do it to not clog up the feed. Here’s what the max may look like (outlined in red):

Dermstore, which sells professional-strength beauty products online, uses this bite-sized moment to highlight their subscription box service. This is a perfect example of getting your readers to nod their heads in an enthusiastic “yes” to your question. That’s always good copy… even in an Instagram post. 

The gold standard: write 125 meaningful characters before the “More…” shows up. 

There’s truly so much you can do with that. 

Like use it as a way to update your followers about re-stocks.

Mention a sale.

Or use a pop culture reference.

Hey… if Joann Stores (formerly known as Joann Fabrics)—you know, the ones you associate with your elderly neighbor who knit you a scarf that one time for Christmas—can trendy-up, so can you.

Again, Instagram rewards posts with tons of comments and likes by sending them beyond the wall—ahem, beyond your feed. So not EVERY post has to be sale-slash- product-oriented. 

But how do I do all that without a big budget? 

Glad you asked…

Post user-generated content.

Here’s the thing: 

Instagram users love to crowdsource their content. 

So how do you take advantage of that? 

For starters, you can repost what others have said about you (hello, Voice of Customer data!)—or—this could mean asking influencers and customers to post about YOUR products directly.

For copywriting’s sake, you’ll want to focus on simply reposting user-generated content: show off your customers showing off your products, just like in the GoT example above. 

  1. Someone creates something amazing using your product. 
  2. You see their post. 
  3. You post their post. #repost

It leads to a feel-good trust factor from your fans. And your audience gets to see what your product looks like in a real-life sitch. 

Here’s an example from @yogabody. We shared a native post from a Yoga Trapeze user (a YOGABODY product). 

I always carve out some time to scour through native posts looking for something I could use—essentially gold-mining.

If the original caption includes a positive comment about our product… YOINK!

This is a golden opportunity to post a customer review directly in your feed, so your audience gets a quick bite of a real review that also feels super genuine.

If your product isn’t talked about (yet), you can #regram someone within your realm.

Dermstore uses an original caption that shows their voice, followed by a quick mention of the user’s photo (for proper cred). 

The upside is possibly getting on that special someone’s radar. The downside: it may look as if you can’t create your own content. Use this tactic very sparingly.

Here’s how to #regram:

For photos, you can do this manually.

  1. Take a screenshot of the photo you want to regram.
  2. Use the photo editor on your phone to crop everything but the picture.
  3. Share to Instagram.
  4. Add a unique caption and @tag the original user in the post.

For videos, you’ll need a reposting app. I recommend SkedSocial.

To emoji or not to emoji?

I won’t keep you waiting… 

The answer is…

YES! They’re a quick way to show you’re human. That you’re a clever human. That you’re a trendy, clever human behind the caption. Not at aaaall a copywriter/business person sweating over which emoji to use and where. And what’s this eggplant one and why is it so popular? And oh god how do I emoji?!????

I gotchu. Here’s an app where you can urban dictionary the straight heck out of those little hieroglyphics beforehand just so you don’t make a blunder by accident. Or simply see which emojis are trending so you can have up-to-date lookin’ copy. Because it really matters.

To be honest, emojis are also great for breaking up text, spicing up your copy visually and saying things with fewer words. Here, Glossier uses a down arrow to mean “post your answer in the comments.”

Also, instead of saying “click here,” you could post a pointing finger emoji instead. Here are some ideas of common Instagram copy in emoji form:

☝ Click the link above / check link in bio

? Here’s the link

? Check the link below / Leave your comment down below

? We are grateful / We love it!

? Hot sale

? New sale / Important 

? / ⚠ time-sensitive sale

? The best deal around / We agree!

? This photo was taken by:  / Photo cred to:

? ⬇ This asks the audience to leave a comment

✔ Use this to separate new points

But more than that, they actually stimulate a feel-good response from readers which, say it with me folks, creates engagement

An engaged audience will read a full (300-word) caption.

As people spend less time on desktop reading and an average of 53 minutes per day on Instagram, that means it’s possible to deliver information to them on their favorite social platform.

Here’s how you can do it in a way that makes sense for your business:

Show the benefits of your product. 

The Honest Company, founded and run by none other than the Jessica Alba, specializes in ingredient-safe baby products made from renewable resources. They highlight their Organic Belly Balm in this post via photo and loootsss of text. 

Tell a story through case studies or other narratives.

You can try in the third person as @honest does here:

Or interview customers and post their story in the first person:

Real human stories like these are 22x more memorable than facts.

Post an update on the company (or other really valuable information).

By now you may be thinking… yeah, yeah, yeah, I’ll engage my customers with these excellent tips of yours, Kaleena, (aw shucks) but how do I get more of these Instagrammers-who-shop to follow my account?

Use hashtags so customers can find you easily.

Instagram allows a maximum of 30 hashtags, which is more than enough for the average eCommerce business. These tags are not just some trendy way to play on Instagram but rather a business tool to get people to find your brand. 

Think of it as the SEO of Instagram. 

Without them, customers will never see your content. You neeeeed to incorporate them into your posts. There are three levels of hashtags you’ll want to brainstorm and use. 

ONE: Geotags.

They get 79% more engagement and yet, only 5% of posts have ’em! 

Essentially, geotags mean you are placed in the geotag page of that city/place. And the better your post natively performs, the more likely Instagram will push it toward the top of the said page.

These tags are great if you also have a brick-and-mortar store or a pop-up like the Glossier example above.

At YOGABODY, we saw a 10% spike in user engagement when we went from a simple #yoga to adding #yogainbarcelona and #yogalosangeles geotags.

TWO: Branded hashtags.  

These hashtags should relate to your products, brand name and brand slogan. 

For example, if you’re a zodiac-inspired jewelry company called Gemini Jewelry and you sell necklaces on Instagram, your branded hashtags may be #geminijewelry and #whatsyoursign.

Quest Nutrition, which sells protein-rich treats like this White Chocolate Raspberry Quest bar below, sprinkles its branded hashtags #OnaQuest and #Questify into almost every post.

THREE: Niche hashtags. 

At YOGABODY, we quickly realized that #yoga is too broad a term —there are around 70 MILLION (!!) posts for that word in the Discover section of Instagram at any given moment. Content gets buried in an instant, only leaving the biggest and baddest of companies to be seen.

Michael Aynsley exemplifies this further in his 2019 guide for hashtags

“Let’s say you’re a social media manager for a travel agency. There are a ton of hashtags that are popular with jet-setters: #welltravelled, #justbackfrom, #whatsinmybag, and #passportexpress—to name a few. Tag your posts with any number of these and you will likely get a few extra likes.”

But don’t do any guesswork here.

You’ll want to play with different Instagram keyword tools to find a handful of hashtags to begin with, then check Instagram analytics after some time to see what’s working and what’s not. 

But just like SEO keywords in a blog post, many Instagrammers see too many hashtags as spammy.

To avoid this, intertwine brand-related hashtags into captions because these are the ones that get a good response and add voice to the copy. 

Leave geotags and niche keywords in the first comment of the post. 

They’ve found you, followed you, interacted with you and seen your products… Now what?

Let Instagrammers know what they should do next with simple calls to action (CTAs). You can ask them to buy your product, shop your store, or share with a friend.

To choose your CTAs, you’ll need to think about what’s your company goal. Are you interested in building a community? Brand awareness? Product awareness?

On other platforms, CTAs typically include a link so that the next step is as easy as pie. However, Instagram removes clickability within captions to improve user experience (and let’s be real, keep you on their platform for as long as possible). 

That’s why the most common CTA you’ll find on Instagram is “Click the link in bio!”

Here, Reformation, a sustainable fashion company, uses this tactic nicely. Mind you they’ve gone beyond writing a simple “link in bio” because that’s so 2018.

Like above, CTAs belong at the end of the caption, after you’ve already warmed up the ‘grammer with why they should care and what’s in it for them.

Here’s why:

Humans love to talk about themselves. So, get them talking!

Not only does it start a conversation, but it may also get you some juicy voice of customer data.

(BTW—you can create graphics like that in under 5 minutes using Canva.)

Here are some other CTAs you can use:

  • Head to our stories to shop!
  • Join our affiliate network
  • Download the full guide
  • Tell us your favorite!
  • Tag someone who’d look good in this (emoji)
  • Share your (insert on-brand related term) down below

Take a Gary Vee “jab, jab, jab, right hook” approach by asking followers some easy asks like “enjoy!” “comment!” “check the link!” before bigger asks like “shop”, “share”, or “buy.” 

Your bio: The elevator pitch of Instagram.

You have ~10 words to sell yourself.

What do you have to say? This will make or break you!

Just kidding. It’s actually totally changeable at any moment. 

As Allie Decker writes in this great article about Instagram copy

“Brainstorm a few key terms that people might be looking for in relation to your brand, products, or industry. Add these to your bio where relevant. Using Foundr as an example, you’ll see words like epic instead of awesome and the word startup, knowing that our audience responds positively to terms like these.”

Allie Decker

If and when you do have a branded hashtag you want to encourage followers to use, it’s good practice to list it in your Instagram bio for ease of reference—just like Joann does.

Your bio is still the only place where you can post a live link. But you do not have to keep it static.

In fact, I’d recommend you constantly change yours. Perhaps as often as you change the bedsheets. I know it’s a hassle, but it should be done weekly.

Why? That link is a chance to increase traffic to your promoted content. 

Play around with your entire Instagram bio according to the product or sale you want to highlight or drive traffic to partner accounts such as a blog, podcast, eCommerce shop, or other business. 

Since the majority of Instagram users are on mobile, you’ll either want your link to direct traffic to a landing page or use a bitly link pointing to your shop.

If you have sooo many things you need people to see, and you’re not about that ever-changing bio life, try an app like Link.tree or tap.bio which house all the links you’d need followers to be driven to. This is what that looks like:

How to write Instagram copy that won’t be overshadowed by a badass Insta-photo

  • Be punchy within the first 125 characters (that’s what the audience first sees)
  • Feature customers and how your brand helped them with a struggle through storytelling
  • Use emojis related to the post and your brand; use emojis to break up text and point the readers in the right direction
  • Post user-generated content to get your audience involved and feeling like rockstars
  • Let readers find you through the following hashtag types:
    • Geotags like #yogalosangeles.
    • Brand-related like #geminijewelry #whatsyoursign
    • Niche terms like #yogaeverydamnday
  • Scatter a few on-brand hashtags within the caption if you wish, all others belong in the first comment of the post
  • Use CTAs at the end of your post with action verbs like share, comment, shop, go, tag, check, buy, or tell

A picture is not worth a thousand words—choose yours carefully and #shineon.

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Instagram Captions for Ecommerce: Why Visuals Are Only Half the Picture

With Instagram’s growing user base, high engagement rate and increased Average Order Value (compared to Facebook), you already know that being present on Instagram is non-negotiable.

You post high quality product images, tag your products for maximum shoppability, post daily stories, have all the right hashtags, dabble in influencer marketing and endlessly fuss over your feed’s aesthetic….

Only then you’re left shaking your fists at the sky and cursing the dreaded algorithm because your post didn’t get much traction

But when it comes to your Instagram captions, you slap together two to three words, chuck an emoji on the end and call it a day.

So the thing is… it’s not the algorithm’s fault. 

It’s yours.

Because that caption you barely gave a thought to? It’s the key to increasing your engagement, your reach and, yep, even your sales.

Sure, Instagram might be a visual platform, but your captions will make or break your posts.

As Joanna has pointed out, captions and visuals need to work together:

“…the image may capture attention – but it’s
the copy that closes people.”

– Joanna Wiebe, Copyhackers.com

Let’s take a look at the most liked post on Instagram ever:

With over 53 million likes, it’s an EGG (yes, as in the kind you scramble on a Sunday morning).

It’s not even a particularly interesting picture of an egg.

But the caption gives people a reason to like, comment and share. The caption is the reason it went viral. And without that caption, it wouldn’t be a world-record-breaking egg.

The more people that liked, commented on and shared the egg, the more people it reached because:

The Instagram algorithm has heart-eyes ? for engagement

When Instagram first introduced the algorithm back in 2016, it seemed like all hope was lost.

Cue the angry hashtags and floods of influencer tears.

But at the risk of sounding crazy, the algorithm is a good thing for your account.

Like most algorithms, it exists to create a positive user experience by showing relevant content (so users stay on the platform longer).

And according to Instagram, what users see is directly tied to which accounts they engage with.

(Call me slightly evil, but that’s something you can use to your advantage.)

And even though The Egg has shown us that the caption is crucial to increasing engagement, many brands still consider captions an afterthought.

But not you. 

Not anymore.

You’re different. You’re smarter than that. You know that pretty pictures only get you so far.

And from this day forward, you’re going to use your captions to engage your audience, sell your products and increase customer loyalty.

You in? Then let’s write some scroll-stopping captions

Start by getting their attention, fast

Instagram users are in the habit of scrolling, double tapping and sometimes skimming the first few words of a caption – which means those first few words need to sink a claw into their eyeballs if you have any chance of keeping their attention.

It’s no different than a blog title or email subject line – if you want someone to read more, you need to lead with your most important message upfront.

Pique their curiosity, pick a fight or tease them with what they’re about to learn, and you’ll have them hitting the read more button rather than looking for something more interesting.

You can even throw in an emoji or some all caps to help draw the eye to your first line. However, in the name of all things scrolly, let that first line sit on its own. Give it space to do its thing.

As an added bonus, if you share your post to Stories (which you should, because extra reach ?), you can choose to have the first snippet of your caption show there too – enticing people to click through to your post. 

Here The Beauty Chef sets up the first two lines of its caption to pique curiosity with an intriguing question that leaves readers wanting to find out more:

Give ’em something to stop for

Users are selective with what they’ll pay attention to, so if they’ve deemed you worthy, then you’d better make it worth their time. The unfollow and mute buttons are only a click away – and they won’t hesitate to use them.

Avoid being ignored, muted or unfollowed by creating content that educates or entertains (ideally both, if you can manage it).

People are also more inclined to share something useful with others:

“People don’t just value practical information, they share it. Offering practical value helps make things contagious.” 

― Jonah Berger, Contagious: Why Things Catch On

To pull this off, find out what your target audience struggles with (hot tip: try asking them) and create content that teaches them how to solve that problem – just like Go-to Skincare has done in this how-to post:

Format, format, format

If people don’t read every word of a blog, they’re not going to read every word of a lengthy caption.

The truth is that the majority of people are scanners – which is why you need to format your caption in a way that makes it scannable.

And although Instagram limits formatting options, you can still use:

  • Line breaks to separate paragraphs
  • Emojis to create visual interest (or to create a bullet list)
  • Brackets, all caps or *asterisks* 
  • Strategically placed hashtags (because they show up as a blue link)

So even though your options are limited, there is no excuse for assaulting your audience’s eyes with unreadable walls of text.

Instead, break up your caption by using line breaks, emojis and all caps to create visual interest:

Keep it casual

Instagram isn’t the place for overly formal language, but beware of trying too hard to fit in…

With that in mind, here are a few tips for nailing your voice on Insta:

  • Aim for casual language and a conversational tone, keeping in mind how your audience speaks.
  • Whatever your voice is, keep it consistent. Nothing screams “identity crisis!” more than a voice that changes from post to post.
  • Avoid trust-destroying inconsistency by dialing in your brand voice and (especially if there are multiple people handling your social media) defining it via a brand voice guide.

Above, Il Makiage embraces the same bold, cheeky tone used throughout its copy.

Talk up your product… a bit

With 80% of Instagrammers using the platform to help make purchasing decisions, your caption is the perfect place to talk your product up without having to get too salesy about it.

There are a few ways you can do this:

  • Highlight the problem your product solves
  • Talk about a lesser known use case for it
  • Tell a story around how your product was made or why you picked a certain material or ingredient
  • Talk about a specific feature and its benefit in depth

This can be as simple as listing out features and benefits (bonus points for using checkmark emojis to break it up):

Let your followers see the real you

Connection might sound like a warm and fuzzy word, but it has real-life impact – building trust, increasing the amount customers spend and strengthening customer loyalty.

Think higher purchase frequency, higher average order value and higher customer lifetime value – in other words, the metrics you want to focus on to offset customer acquisition costs.

In practice this means letting customers see behind the scenes, featuring team members and simply being present and responsive.

Plus, when prospective customers know there are real humans (that they can put a name and a face to) behind a brand, they may be less inclined to fire off a nasty customer support request. For example, Koala (an Australian mattress company) could easily come across as a faceless big brand, but by adding a bit of fun behind-the-scenes content, they keep it personable.

Go all-in on engagement

If you’ve spent 0.5 seconds on the Copyhackers site, then you already know that having an appropriate call to action is non-negotiable.

And yet, even after crafting a scroll-stopping caption, the CTA is often nowhere to be found – leaving the user with no other option than to move on.

But with the Insta algorithm favoring content that people engage with, your main goal for every post should be this:

to encourage interaction.

This can be as simple as:

  • Asking a question (who, what, where, why, how), or
  • Prompting action (tap, check out, comment, visit, tell, tag, share or save)

‘Tag a friend’ captions (like tentree’s example above) are everywhere – because they work.

Ok, so now you know how to nail those Insta captions, you’re done, right? 

Hahaha, cute. 

But no. 

We’re not done yet, because…

Your captions aren’t the only place to include copy

Sure they’re important (see: literally everything above), but here are a few other spots where copy can improve your Instagram game:

Level up your bio. No, really

Don’t let the 150 character limit fool you. Instagram bios may look simple, but there are lots of opportunities to level up your copy here.

Let’s start with the Name field ← because no, your name does not go here.

You really thought you had that one figured out, didn’t you?

But names are a searchable field on Instagram, which means that rather than wasting it on repeating your business name (a version of which should be your @handle), you need to include a keyword or two here instead (or as well) – the same way Dirt has included “Laundry Detergent” in theirs.

That way, when a user is searching for what you offer, you’re more likely to show up in the results. 

And once they do find you, it’s your bio that helps them decide whether or not to hit that follow button.

That’s why a good bio is similar to your homepage headline: it needs to tell the reader what you’re offering and why they should care.

Think about including your flagship product (or the two to three you’re known for) in your bio, along with your point(s) of difference, shipping info, sales/discount codes or a branded hashtag if you have one.

Make your bio easy to read by including emojis and line breaks. 

(Pro tip: you’ll need to type your bio into the notes app on your phone and then copy and paste it into Instagram to get those sweet line breaks to work.)

And given that your bio is the only Insta space that allows an external link (aka: The One Link to Rule Them All), make sure you give people a compelling reason to click that link.

Here’s an example of a concise but powerful Instagram bio that ticks the boxes:

Put copy right into your images 

Instagram is a visual platform, and users are conditioned to quickly scan post and story images to decide whether or not the caption is worth reading.

Take advantage of this by adding copy to your image – using it to either get your point across in full or to entice them to read more. 

These can be on-brand text graphics, branded gifs, screenshots of reviews or less polished but highly-shareable meme posts.

Get a good convo going

The real power behind Instagram is that it gives consumers the opportunity to communicate directly with brands via comments and DMs.

These casual conversations are essential for building relationships and have a positive impact on trust between a brand and consumers (plus there’s a connection between engagement and consumer loyalty).

So whether they’re asking a question about a product via DM, commenting on your post or responding to your Story… potential customers will interact with your brand. (Instagram still has a 1.2% engagement rate, miles ahead of other platforms.) And that’s kinda the whole point.

Beyond customer acquisition and loyalty, these conversations can also serve as a source of voice of customer data, giving you insight into how they describe your product, what they love about it and the outcome they are looking for. 

Engaged followers are warm prospects, and if someone is asking a question, then their finger is hovering over the Add To Cart button. But they’re not the only ones who can see that comment and your reply. By answering questions publicly (and adding them to your website and product page FAQs), you can help move multiple prospects toward buying.

On the flipside, nothing raises suspicion (and signals that a brand is either unresponsive or doesn’t care) more than unanswered questions on a post…. 

Don’t have time to respond to potential customers? Outsource it to your customer service team or hire an engagement manager – just make sure that they’re equipped with the info they’ll need to get the job done.

Give your product descriptions a fresh eye

The introduction of shoppable posts added a whole new area to optimize: your Instagram product descriptions.

Insta is still trialling the in-app checkout feature (and the jury is out on it, given that you can’t upsell and won’t capture customer emails), but in the meantime users can still tap on a product tag in your post to be taken to a in-app product page with a ‘View on Website’ button.

Tagged posts also show up under the shop section of your feed, like this: 

So a user can browse all of your products easily without clicking over to your website. And with the addition of the Shop section to the Explore page, and an instant Wishlist created when users save a tagged product, it’s obvious that Instagram is going all in on getting users to shop.

You can import your product descriptions into Instagram (along with the product) straight from your store, but make sure that the formatting doesn’t disappear. Nobody is going to read your blob of text if it’s all smooshed together without formatting.

And with the app still pushing users to your product page, if your description doesn’t cover all the essentials (things like fit, materials, ingredients and shipping), now would be a good time to get on that.

Use copy to encourage post-purchase sharing

People love to share their unboxing experiences (which might be why there are over one million posts under #unboxing).

And while this doesn’t technically fall under Instagram copy, having packaging copy that consumers deem share-worthy can increase social proof, get your brand in front of more people and supply you with a healthy stream of user-generated content (which you can repost to your feed).

Take Go-To Skincare’s Transformazing mask for example, with its bold on-package quotes featured in customer posts and stories consistently since its release.

You can also harness the power of surprise and delight by including Easter egg copy. A line of unexpected copy on the inside of a box or bottom of a package can not only positively impact customer satisfaction, but is just the type of thing that could get someone to share.

But don’t just leave it up to chance. Use product tags and/or transactional emails to ask customers to snap a pic and share using your branded hashtag ← *tada* instant social proof and user-generated content.

SHHHOWERCAP uses the shipping notification email to encourage customers to share and tag:

…And it works, with #SHHHELFIE clocking up over 1,200 posts.

Alright, NOW we’re done (for real this time)

You now know that crafting compelling Instagram captions is just as important as finding the perfect visuals, and you know exactly how to use your social media copy to capture attention, build trust and influence purchase decisions. 

Which means it’s time for you to go and sharpen up your Insta captions and copy already and get ready for your post engagement to soar. #whatchuwaitingfor? 

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The User-Centric Delight Audit for SaaS

What makes people love your product so much that they want to spread the word about it?

Is it clever marketing?

No. You can have the best SaaS marketing in the world, but it won’t always turn your customers into evangelists.

Is it price? I mean… we all love a good deal.

Sure, competing on price will make the bargain hunters happy, but it’s never a good idea to race to the bottom.

Is it celebrity/influencer endorsements?

Well, your product may look cooler if Justin Bieber is slinging it, but it’s not the surefire thing that’s going to win the hearts and minds of your customers.

So… what is it?

The answer is… *drum roll, please*…

Delight.

That’s right… it’s delight.

On a recent episode of the Foundr podcast, Andy Rachleff, the co-founder of Wealthfront, said delight is the secret to everything.

Including product-market fit.

“If customers are absolutely delighted by your product and the experience you give them, they’ll want to talk about it and help you achieve organic exponential growth,” he said.

Delight is a word we hear thrown around quite a bit… especially in the world of SaaS. 

But, um, what does ‘delight’ really mean? And how does one do delight?

Those are big questions, so let’s start at the beginning.

Nielsen Norman Group says (fairly scientifically) that delight qualifies as any positive emotional effect that a user may have when interacting with a device or interface.

Positive emotional effects, eh? Those definitely matter. 

Here’s why: 

Human beings are driven by emotions (and often make decisions based on them).

Establishing an emotional connection with users through delight is an easy way to add value to customer interactions. What’s more: it can help meet even deeper needs, too. 

This phenomenon can be traced back to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Maslow proposed that once basic necessities are met (e.g. food and shelter), people seek deeper needs like love, creativity and self-worth. 

Image source

The same can be said for customer experience in the SaaS world. 

After you’ve provided customers with a solution, rolling out tactics that meet deeper needs can result in that magical feeling of delight. In fact, author Aarron Walter says in Designing for Emotion that there’s a very similar pyramid in the realm of user needs with delight situated right at the peak:

Image source

And this illustrates an important truth: If you can deliver delight, you’ve got all the basics covered (and then some).

Creating something that’s as delightful as it is functional makes your product or brand irresistible

And with countless software, apps and tools just a click away, delighting customers helps forge a psychological connection that’s both unique and significant to your long-term relationship. 

Plus, when a customer is charmed by a company, and I mean I-need-to-share-this-on-Twitter-right-now charmed, it not only resonates with that particular customer, it’s also an opportunity for other potential customers to see your brand in action. 

Delight also matters because…

Attention is hijacked. 

Modern users have high expectations and are short on patience for the software they use. If they aren’t satisfied, they’re likely to switch to something new. Kolsky research shows 66% of consumers list bad customer experience as one of their primary reasons for churning. 

There are so many options out there. 

Improving customer experience can be the differentiator. Personalization is becoming the norm rather than the exception, so you HAVE to go above and beyond. Walker data indicates that customer experience is predicted to overtake price and product as the primary brand differentiator for B2B sales by 2020. 

It helps in reducing customer churn and creates happy, loyal customers. 

A NewVoice survey found that 50% of consumers would use a company more frequently after a positive customer experience.

Customers aren’t just making a purchase once. 

In many cases (especially when a monthly subscription fee is involved), customers need to be resold and re-assured of their purchase decision every month. That outreach pays off: 11% of customer churn could be avoided if the business simply reached out to the customer, according to Kolsky findings.

If the product is optional for users, delight will help keep them engaged. 

If the reality is you’ve created a vitamin instead of a cure, a delightful experience can bridge the gap between want and need. Zendesk found that 24% of buyers continue to seek out vendors for two-plus years after a positive experience. 

Okay, tell me more. How do other people define delight? 

It depends who you ask…

Delight is an idea that pivots on positive emotions. We can agree on that much, yes?

But for different people, it means different things. Think of this as our Billy on the Street segment where we stop people on the street and scream, “HOW DO YOU DEFINE DELIGHT?” into their faces.

Some of the answers we get to that question are:

  • “Surprising a customer by exceeding his/her expectations and thus creating a positive emotional reaction.” – Hrishi P
  • “Providing a customer with a ‘wow’ moment – something positive they didn’t expect – going that extra mile, being proactive.” – Nigel Greenwood
  • “It’s that extra mile you go to satisfy your customer even further beyond what’s required.” – Prathamesh Angle

Interesting, right? A lot of touchy-feely stuff about positive emotions.

But what does delight look like in SaaS, specifically? 

That’s where things start to become a bit more grey. 

  • Is it stellar customer service that goes above and beyond?
  • Is it in-product design that makes for an easy, enjoyable experience?
  • Is it sending customers unexpected freebies in their orders?

I started asking around to see how people working in SaaS would define delight.

Rand Fishkin, Sparktoro: SaaS delight is a holistic sense of product satisfaction combined with unexpected, perhaps whimsical enjoyment from the product’s features, UX, value, communication or relationships.

Ryan Smith, Bench: We deliver delight through amazing service, and to echo this, we’re always looking to add a personal touch through our content that’s, well, delightful.

Praval Singh, Zoho: For us, delight is offering a seamless customer experience from purchase to support. That’s what keeps our customers happy, and that’s where we focus our energy and efforts. 

SaaS companies would say a delightful experience is one that combines personal, accessible service with unexpected joy and enthusiasm from the brand. 

Ok, that’s a little more clear. 

But we’re not stopping there. No, no.

As for a viewpoint on SaaS delight from those not tied to a single company, there were a few interesting takes on delight as well:

Alaura Weaver, SaaS writer: I define delight as immersing your user in an environment that speaks to the emotional outcomes you want to create for them. My research is inspired by The Dream Society by futurist Rolf Jensen, who in the 1990s predicted that technology will drive the experience economy: that is, it’s not enough to build a product that works. To stand out you need to build an emotional world for your user, and your product is simply the gateway to that world. I’m also a former theatre artist, and the element of delight is essential for winning and keeping the attention of an audience. Delight is a positive form of surprise. When you deliver an out-of-the-ordinary experience that leaves your audience happy, you’ve created delight.

Sid Bharath, SaaS Consultant: I define and measure delight by how customers react to it. For example, if you send a customer a box of donuts when they hit a milestone, are they tweeting about it? If you send them a branded T-shirt, are they wearing it and taking selfies? If there’s an extremely positive reaction to an initiative, then that’s delight – and you can measure that by the number of times it happens.

While the definitions of delight in the SaaS world vary, the big-picture translation I took away was this: 

Delight encompasses those beautiful moments that make the customer go, “Oh, coooooool.” 

They make the internal light bulb flip on and get the dopamine a-flowin’.

And it’s about much more than good UX.

Good UX does help improve the overall customer experience, but it’s not the only thing that can produce moments of delight.

This naturally begs the question then: “Where… or when, exactly, does delight happen?”

Glad you asked.

In SaaS, delight isn’t limited to one particular experience. Or moment. Or even realm (like product or marketing). 

Instead, it’s an omni-channel experience that can happen at any and every touchpoint between brand and customer. 

Think of it like this: If there’s a place where your users can interact with you in any way, there’s an opportunity to create delight.

That means there are many, many SaaS opportunities for moments of delight, including within customer interactions via:

  • Customer success 
  • Website experiences
  • Social media
  • Content/blogs
  • SaaS onboarding experiences
  • Emails
  • In-app experiences
  • In-person events

Common theme I noticed here? Customers

They’re right in the middle of everything, all across the board.

I wanted to see if this theory held up with a bit more context, though. So I started asking around for SaaS product examples that show delight in action. I found a few home runs that came in various forms and formats:

1. Wistia: The Soapbox video campaign

Wistia enlisted the help of the video experts at Sandwich to create three different video ad campaigns for their Soapbox video tool. The goal: Do an experiment around different advertising budgets for video. One video cost $1,000 to produce, one $10,000 and another $100,000.

The end result was not only a wildly amusing piece of educational content featuring their SaaS product, but it garnered tons of delight-filled customer responses. Take a look at some of the comments left on their blog post recapping the experiment:

2. Typeform: Delightful microcopy

Another slam dunk example came in a much smaller package: The microcopy within Typeform’s contact form. A dash of personality in those form fields adds an unexpected element of delight. I mean, who can resist a Batman reference?

3. Flywheel: Unexpected swag

Another great example came in the medium of snail mail. One day author and online educator Paul Jarvis went out to his smailbox to discover a package from Flywheel, the SaaS product he uses for WordPress hosting. Inside the box was a boatload of free swag: branded T-shirts, a coffee mug, stickers, a journal, a water bottle and more. 

This unexpected instance of going above and beyond for a customer (for no reason other than to say thank you) created a major delight-filled experience.

And who are all of these efforts pointed at? 

You guessed it: Customers. Happy ones.

Customers that are amused, pleasantly surprised and feeling all the good feels about the SaaS brand they just interacted with.

Okay, so how do we create delight for our customers?

Delight creation comes in many forms. Let’s get into the nuts and bolts of how.

Creating a “sticky” SaaS product as Unbounce calls it (in other words, something your customers can’t live without each day) is the name of the game. 

You want your customers to love what your product does to help them reach their business goals, and to love to use it because the experience is so bloody awesome. Take a look at Slack’s “Wall of Love” on Twitter, for example:

Trello also has raving fans on Twitter who tweet – unprompted – about how much they *love* using it:

#WINNING.

This tells us that if you don’t provide the unique and lovable experience your SaaS customers are looking for, your product just won’t make the cut. 

We see this in the failure of SaaS products of the past, such as:

  • LucidEra, an on-demand business intelligence solution provider (replaced by more agile, cloud-based SaaS analytics software)
  • ChaCha, the human-guided search engine (used an advertising model for revenue generation that eventually fizzled)
  • Rdio, an online music streaming service (margins were too thin and users weren’t willing to pay)

Remember them? They had the right tools to help people, but they failed to delight their customers.

The “stickiness” of your SaaS product often correlates with customer churn. John Warrillow, author of The Automatic Customer: Creating a Subscription Business in Any Industry, says: “Your biggest competitor for your subscription business is not the rival service; it’s your customer’s inertia in not using your service.”

If your company is experiencing high levels of churn, Unbounce suggests looking at your product from under a customer experience microscope and asking questions like:

  • How does your product solve your customer’s issues? 
  • What makes your product unique? 
  • Why should customers choose you over your competitors?

If you have the answers to those questions already, ask your team to brainstorm around these next-level questions: 

  • How can we add more delight into the mix? 
  • Where does it make sense to do so? 
  • What value would this add to the product?

By answering these questions, you can work toward reducing your time to value, which is the rate at which your customers recognize the value of your product. 

Cutting down on the time it takes for new users to realize the value of your SaaS means you’re more likely to retain customers. 

Why? Because so often, customers churn when they don’t have that activation moment that makes them realize they can’t live without your offering.

Keeping the customer top of mind when designing or improving a product can mean the difference between it becoming a heavy-hitter in their software arsenal (or just another product they tried). 

The good news is: There are some easy ways to check and make sure that you’re integrating customer delight into everything you do.

Metrics to help measure & monitor delight efforts

Delight metrics help piece together the story of whether or not you’re actively delivering delight – and if not – why. Think of them as a finger on the pulse of your delight efforts. 

But there’s no single SaaS KPI metric that measures delight. SaaS specialists like Val Geisler say measuring efforts should be holistic:

“Net promoter scores (NPS) feel like an obvious answer, but there’s more to delight than a high NPS. You also have to evaluate: Are your customers submitting tickets often? What’s the tone or category of those tickets? Are your customers referring others onto your platform? Lifetime value (LTV) is another big indicator. Take a look at your customer cohorts and LTV as well to see how long you’re retaining customers,” she said.

When evaluated collectively, all of these SaaS customer success metrics help paint the picture around how your users and customers feel about your product, your service and their experience with your brand as a whole.

  • Net Promoter Scores (NPS): The NPS allows companies to measure customer experience and predict business growth. This score is instrumental in determining the success of a product and helps calculate customer churn rate.
  • Customer satisfaction ratings: This straightforward scale rating asks customers directly, “How satisfied are you with X on a scale of Y to Z?” From product to service to experience, this question can help gauge customer satisfaction of brand performance from top to bottom and get a big picture view of different departmental efforts.
  • Volume of support tickets: This metric gives you an overview of your customer support demands, as well as helping to identify trends around customer inquiries and problems. If your support ticket volume is on the rise, there’s likely an underlying issue that’s getting in the way of delight.
  • Referrals: It’s safe to say that if a customer is referring friends, family or colleagues to you, they had a positive experience. If you notice a sudden drop off in referral traffic, this is a sign that something has gone awry.
  • Long-term retention/customer churn: This metric allows you to measure the lifespan of your customers. You can learn a lot from customer churn, including possible weak points with your product, issues with customer service or whether you need to reevaluate your audience targeting. If churn is high and retention rates start to drop, you need to get to the bottom of the issue.
  • Lifetime value of a customer (LTV): LTV allows businesses to estimate how much a customer is likely to spend on a product or service based on behavior and financial habits. This metric can help businesses calculate which customers they should invest in and which ones are expected to drop off.

Analyzing these numbers regularly can help inform how effective your company is at delighting customers. Trial and error is often required (especially in the early stages), but these metrics can help guide you when working to determine what’s working and what needs another look. 

So, how often should we be looking at these SaaS metrics? 

How often metrics are reviewed likely differs from company to company.

But according to Smile.io, taking a look at these metrics regularly can help you keep a finger on the pulse of your delight efforts. That might mean daily, weekly or monthly (at the very least.)

If you’re launching a new product or service, checking on these more frequently during the initial stages will help identify any red flags or issues that need to be addressed immediately. Just keep in mind that it might take a few months of customer engagement to see trends form.

And metrics aren’t the only way you can measure and monitor delight. 

Listen in on social

To get a more well-rounded, all-encompassing view of how you’re doing with delight, you should also look at social media chatter. It’s important to know what are people saying about your brand on social channels like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram (to name a few.) In fact, SproutSocial has a whole list of perks that come with social listening:

Image source

What’s more? You’ll also find out:

  • If people are sharing amazing customer experiences you’ve created for them
  • What, in particular, customers are finding “delightful” about your SaaS product
  • If there’s a specific activity, experience or person at your company that’s getting a lot of praise and buzz

For example: Happy customers shared their thoughts about positive experiences using Basecamp over on Twitter.

Not only is this type of social feedback great social proof for the company, but it’s also organic user-generated content that can be easily shared.

And monitoring social chatter isn’t as daunting a task as you might think as there are lots of social listening tools that can help make monitoring easy. Mention, IFTTT and Hootsuite can all help you keep tabs on not just brand mentions, but important keywords and product names as well.

Ask customers yourself

The last piece of the puzzle around measuring delight involves some hands-on work with customers: one-to-one interviews and surveys. 

While looking at metrics and observing social chatter are activities you can manage from a distance, customer interviews and surveys let you get up close and personal with the people who matter most. 

Through these efforts you can find answers to delight-centric questions like:

  • What do customers like/don’t like about your company?
  • What elements of the customer experience are working/not working?
  • Are there common points of friction or frustration that can be improved upon?

If you’re not sure where or how to start with these efforts, turn to tools like SurveyMonkey, Getfeedback or Typeform to start sending out surveys. You should also encourage your CX and/or customer support teams to conduct interviews specifically for this purpose.

Image source

Interviewing customers can also open up the conversation and help them feel at home with any suggestions they might have that aren’t options in a check yes-or-no standard survey. If they’re more comfortable with you after a conversation, their feedback could be more genuine and therefore, much more valuable to you.

By giving customers a voice and keeping tabs on how they feel about all aspects of the customer experience, you can make sure you’re always delivering delight.

SaaS companies doing delight right: The examples

A tricky thing about delight is that it’s different for each and every individual (as you’ve probably noticed.)

What if the changes you make hoping to improve CX end up really annoying your existing customers?

For example: You might switch up your user interface based on interviews and survey data and still lose customers who don’t like the new version.

These are the frustrations of delight and working to make your brand appealing to all different kinds of people. But there are brands out there that are, in the words of Tim Gunn, “Making it work.”

Let’s take a look at how some SaaS companies navigate the art of delight.

HubSpot

One way HubSpot delivers delight to users is by creating a community for them to share and network with other professionals like them (HubSpot Blog, HubSpot Academy, INBOUND, HubSpot User Groups, etc.) By creating these communities and partnerships, we’re able to delight customers by providing them with forums to continually offer their feedback, but also to partner up with like-minded individuals they can continue learning from.” – Sophia Bernazzani, HubSpot

Trello

Delivering delight at Trello is one of the highlights of my career here. We’ve been able to explore numerous avenues where we can create memorable moments along the entire user journey. Here’s an example: When you go to trello.com to sign up, you’ll notice placeholder email addresses in the email field. Those email addresses are fun references to Harry Potter, Futurama, X-Files and more.” – Brian Cervino, Trello

Profitwell

Our Profitwell product manager is always in the support chat, getting to know users and finding out what their pain points are with the product right from the source. Shortening the feedback loop that way really helps to increase customer delight.” – Mary Matton, Profitwell

Emma

“We surprise some of our new Emma customers with a package that includes cupcakes or cupcake mix, branded wooden spoons and welcome items like a note from our team to help create a delightful experience right off the bat. It’s a nice way to reinforce our value proposition and helps show that we’re willing to go above and beyond for our customers.” – Lane Harbin, Emma

SaaS delight audit: 5 steps to create delight

By following the SaaS audit steps outlined here, you can be sure that you’re doing everything you should be to create churn-reducing, evangelist-creating delight – time after time.

Step 1: Define what delight means for your brand. 

Literally… create a delight definition. Write down one to three sentences that explain what delight means at your company and then share it with your whole team. Use this definition to cement the idea of your unique version of delight and what it means for your customers. Be specific, and make sure it ties in with your brand’s mission and values.

Step 2: Define metrics and benchmark.

Select metrics that will help you measure delight, then set SMART goals around those numbers to gauge performance. Use the tools you’ve implemented to help you grab the analytics and take a hard look at what’s working (and what’s not). Then adjust accordingly.

Step 3: Start monitoring.

In order to delight customers consistently over time, you need to make sure you’re doing a good job with your efforts by monitoring them closely. Make sure that your delight activities are regular and ongoing, as this isn’t a one-and-done. Set up tools and processes that keep your finger on your company’s delight pulse and track your performance throughout the week, month and year.

Step 4: Report and share.

SaaS customer experience touches every department, so everyone needs to be in on the numbers and reporting around delight. Make it part of your company culture to talk about your customer delight findings regularly. Bonus: This helps break down silos and opens the door for cross-department collaboration and conversation.

Step 5: Innovate and improve. 

Keep coming up with fresh, new ways you can delight customers over time. Brainstorm collectively and welcome interesting new approaches, rather than sticking with the ‘this is how we’ve always done things’ view. Take notes on what your competitors are doing and any instances of particularly unique or interesting approaches you notice in the wild. Delight efforts need to evolve over time, so be sure that innovation is part of the brainstorming process.

Final thoughts on delight

Customer experience specialist Alli Blum summed up SaaS delight nicely.

She explained that in the realm of SaaS software, delight feels like it’s something that customers experience as a secondary result of using a product or interacting with a company. Getting the help you need when you need it is a delight. Finding a way to do something in a tenth of the time is a delight. Feeling like you’re the company’s only customer is a delight. 

That said, she also explained that delivering delight to customers is only possible if you understand who they are and what they want on a deep level. 

For example: Offering customers a discount or stickers will make some people happy. But your customer might feel much more delighted if you answered their support tickets almost immediately, if you made the updates they want or if you gave them ways to promote their work and connect with others who use your product. 

So what does that tell us?

The bottom line: Delight is personal. Customers are the center of delight. 

It isn’t limited to in-app experiences.

It’s not just about ‘cool’ features.

It’s about putting the customer front and center at every possible interaction and giving them what they want and need – often well before they even know they want or need it.


Delight audit checklist

Initial delight brainstorming session

Bring your team together and answer these questions to assess your current delight efforts and to kick off a discussion around future plans.

  • How does your product solve your customers’ issues? 
  • What makes your product unique? 
  • Why should customers choose you over your competitors?
  • How can you add more delight into the mix? 
  • Where does it make sense to do so? 
  • What value would it add to the product?

To-do list

Next, walk through these to-do list items to make sure you have a documented strategy for delight moving forward.

  1. Define what delight means for your brand: Write down one to three sentences that explain what delight means at your company.
  2. Define metrics and benchmark: Select metrics that will help you measure delight, then set SMART goals around those numbers to gauge performance.
  3. Start monitoring: Make sure you’re doing a good job with your efforts by monitoring them closely.
  4. Report and share: Make it part of your company culture to talk about your customer delight findings regularly. 
  5. Innovate and improve: Keep coming up with fresh, new ways you can delight customers over time. 

Customer touchpoints to review

Audit the following touchpoints to see where you can add delight to the experience. 

  • Customer success 
  • Website experiences
  • Social media
  • Content/blogs
  • Onboarding experiences
  • Emails
  • In-app experiences
  • In-person events

Metrics to study

Put together a plan for reporting on key delight metrics and a plan of action to resolve any issues that may arise.

  • Net Promoter Scores (NPS)
  • Customer satisfaction ratings
  • Volume of support tickets
  • Referrals
  • Long-term retention/customer churn
  • Lifetime value of a customer (LTV)
  • Social chatter
  • Customer interviews/surveys

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How I Turned Dozens of Bad Reviews into Hundreds of New Customers

Unhappy customers appear out of nowhere.

Usually online. Usually passionate. Usually vocal.

Nobody likes getting negative reviews. And I’m not advocating that you go out and try to stir some up. But here’s what a lot of people miss about getting bad reviews:

You can write some really great copy – and optimize your offers – using what unhappy customers tell you.

I did exactly that.

What I’m about to share works great for small businesses, freelancers, even established companies. If any of these scenarios rings a bill, you’ll want to read on:

  • Your business gets negative customer reviews that are public
  • Your business gets bad feedback from clients and customers, via support, phone or in-person conversations
  • You find yourself anxious or afraid of your work not being good enough to pass the test of all those strangers out there who might not like what they see… and might then say negative things about you.

Let’s turn bad feedback – which everyone gets – into a blessing.

Here’s how I just did exactly that for a client of mine.

My client’s last-ditch attempt at salvation

It all started when I received an email from a lead:

Long story short, this guy wanted me to work on his email campaign. He seemed to be in a rush. Nothing out of the ordinary. Leads almost always want things done yesterday.

Me + good money = good work.

Good work = happy client!

That’s what I thought… until I started researching his business and found a bunch of very negative one-star reviews:

I had a problem…

A HUGE problem. This client had so many negative reviews! It wasn’t catastrophic. But for a business getting most of it leads online, it certainly wasn’t going to make my job easier.

My client had so much bad feedback he could give Comcast a run for its money

Would people buy anything from him?

I relayed my thoughts to him and got an apt response:

“Just do whatever it takes to get me some business.”

Ah… if only it were that simple.

The nature of my client’s industry meant customer opinions and reviews were really important in influencing sales. It didn’t matter if I was John Caples’s reincarnate; prospects would always stop and reconsider their purchase the moment they checked the reviews.

I was very close to refunding my client’s deposit…

Then, it hit me.

What if I could somehow leverage negative customer feedback to improve conversion rates?

What if I could adapt the age-old sales technique of handling the objection before the customer brings it up?

Any other business owner would have raised concerns over the suggestion. But I knew my client was so desperate he’d accept whatever I offered to help keep the business afloat.

After a few hours of research, I realized most of the negative feedback revolved mainly around two things:

  1. poor customer service and
  2. the offer itself. 

When we talk about copywriting, we’re really talking about three things, in this order of importance:

  1. The list / visitors.
  2. The offer.
  3. The copy.

Optimizing your offer is even more important than optimizing your copy. What the negative reviews showed us was that customers felt the offer, which was a 28-day fitness challenge, under-delivered on its promise. It was mediocre at best, and it was over-priced at $197.

Bad review. Good insights.

So I incorporated my findings into an email campaign for a new and improved bootcamp. Customers were invited to try a 14-day challenge, after which my client could then upgrade them to the 28-day program.

But I didn’t stop at optimizing the offer. Instead of shying away from the flaws in the previous offer, I used my client’s mistakes as leverage in getting attention for (and clicks to) our emails.

Check out this email subject line, for example:

That subject line represented the overall tone and approach of the emails: no excuses, and 100% transparency about the previous offer (and past mediocre customer service).

Within a month, we brought in over 300 new customers with this email campaign. And we would not have arrived at this place of growth had we not read through and used those negative reviews.

The fact that I managed to get 300 paying customers despite working with such a massive disadvantage was unbelievable, even to the client.

Wondering if the reviews improved? They sure did. Remember: we upsold the 14-day folks to 28-day customers, hence the “28 day” mentions:

I know what you’re thinking.

What if that was just a fluke?

That crossed my mind a couple of times.

So I decided to repeat the exercise, but this time for a digital marketing coach and good friend of mine. The business was doing OK-ish in terms of customer feedback – not too bad yet nothing to write home about either.

My friend wanted to generate leads for his new course and enlisted my help to craft his autoresponder. I could have gone with a tried-and-tested technique, but my success with the previous client had me itching for experimentation. We had collaborated for a long time so I knew for a fact that this guy had one fault:

He was terrible at client calls.

You’d be more likely to win the lottery jackpot than to have a productive conversation with him on the phone. I say that with love. Great dude. Terrible salesperson. And although he didn’t have actual negative online reviews for me to reference, I knew from our experiences together that he was getting negative feedback in client calls.

So I did an A/B test for the autoresponder:

Variation A acknowledged negative feedback, while Variation B was your industry-standard email series. 

Like I did with the previous client, I tackled the problem head-on by inserting language and insights from the business’s negative reviews into the copy. Here’s how one of the subject lines turned out:

I turned my friend’s problem into an advantage by explaining why the guy sucks at client calls.

This is an excerpt from the email body copy:

Notice how I turned the negative feedback into a good thing for the client by justifying why it’s alright for him to suck at calls. Sure, it is a questionable approach, but this client is gung-ho in his teaching style (think Tim Ferriss). So it was not out of place for his business.

Guess what! I got great results again.

We got 42 paid signups (for a course worth $197) within the first 12 hours of launch day, which was way above what the client expected.

I tried the same technique with another fitness client.

This client was eager to promote his latest weightlifting program. Unlike the first fitness client, this gym had just surpassed the 4.5-star mark on Google.

The problem at this gym was this:

A lack of coaches.

People were coming in only to get turned down or were receiving minimal assistance. And their reviews showed it:

My client wasn’t too keen about my idea of acknowledging the gym’s weaknesses. Given it had been building momentum from a number of glowing reviews, why would he bother bringing up negative feedback that only happened once in a while?

With the results of the previous two clients, I convinced him to run a similar campaign and to hire a handful of part-time coaches to keep up with demand. One of the headlines I came up with for the email funnel alluded to this change:

Surprise, surprise: We sold out slots for every location within two weeks of the launch.

It turns out this negative-review-mining technique can be replicated… and it can be used in various niches to produce fantastic results. 

In the following sections, I’m going to discuss everything I did in leveraging negative reviews so you can use them to your advantage.

Bad reviews are more useful than you think

Reviews are crazy important.

Spiegel Research Center showed over 95% of online shoppers check reviews before buying online while a similar study by the Content Marketing Institute placed reviews as one of the most impactful factors in purchase decisions.

The relevance of online reviews for US buyers (image source)

The power of reviews is why many business owners tremble at the thought of getting bad comments – including yours truly.

It hurts to have someone say something negative about your work.

Imagine hustling your butt off only to have someone say it sucks.

“I’m not gonna pay for this!”

Awful, right?

Well, shit happens even to the best.

Apple got a ton of flak for throttling the performance of iPhones with older batteries.

Netflix lost half of its share value after a price hike in 2011. 

JetBlue made international news a decade ago after leaving over a thousand passengers stranded.

Guess what?

They’re still in business today. Big business.

To overcome bad reviews and leverage them in your favor, you need to know why and how they happen.

I split negative customer feedback into two parts: your fault, and the customer’s fault

You get bad reviews when your work sucks (duh).

The same also happens even if you do nothing wrong. No matter how hard you try, some people cannot be pleased.

What you CAN do is recognize your blunders and be honest about them.

I’m sure you’ve been through sticky situations in your career. Missed deadlines, shambolic client communications, poor work quality – you name it.

The best comeback?

A sincere apology. Let your customers know you made a mistake, that you’re sorry and you will make up for it.

Wait a minute…

Can I trust a company so open about its weaknesses?!

What if they make a mistake with MY order?

Unless you’re building spaceships, you WILL be making mistakes from time to time. Hiding your faults is going to take a lot more effort than accepting them.

You need to embrace your weaknesses and vulnerabilities.

Why does being vulnerable work, anyway?

It boils down to how we treat and trust people who display signs of vulnerability. People who are vulnerable with each other are more likely to have longer lasting relationships than those who aren’t. 

Don’t get me wrong.

To be vulnerable is not to be weak; it is the willingness to let go of your ego and share your deepest, darkest fears as well as expressing your feelings truthfully.

You’re more likely to build stronger bonds with friends or family with whom you discuss personal issues than you are with colleagues or acquaintances who aren’t privy to your innermost thoughts and feelings. 

Umm… but what does this have to do with copywriting?

The exact same logic applies to businesses.

Your customers want to feel that closeness too!

Your customers want to know you understand them and that YOU have the best solution for their problems.

They don’t want to be another cog in the profit machine. They want to feel important – especially if your products are relatively expensive.

Last year, I finished an article way past the submission date.

My client commented on my lateness. And rather than making excuses, I owned my mistake and expressed my remorse. 

Obviously, he wasn’t happy about the late article but check out his response.

The point is…

I made a mistake, told my client about it and got back to work rather than finding excuses. 

When done correctly, apologizing builds trust and customer satisfaction – like in my situation. This guy has since become my most profitable (and happiest) client. And we’re still working together today.

Another perk?

Apologizing can help you win back customers and clients you’ve lost and turn them into loyal, profitable supporters of your business.

There’s nothing special about what I did.

Companies have been doing this for years.

Most successful companies have procedures to address their customers’ concerns, which also act as safety nets when shit hits the fan.

Companies fail from time to time,
but notice how they respond to negative reviews

Apple’s infamous Batterygate scandal is a textbook case of how effective this technique can be.

In response to the criticism, Apple released a letter addressing the problems with its phone batteries and apologized to customers for the inconvenience.

The complaints could’ve been brushed aside, but acknowledging the problems with the iPhone’s battery life was 100% the right move for Apple’s reputation. To top it off, Apple offered massive discounts on its batteries with no strings attached.

Netflix’s CEO Reed Hastings made up for huge mistakes in his handling of pricing changes by apologizing publicly in an honest email, while former JetBlue president David Neeleman filmed an extremely personal video message after passengers were left stranded for over eight hours due to an ice storm.

And they worked.

Netflix continues to grow leaps and bounds every year despite the incident. And while Neeleman is no longer at the helm of JetBlue, his apology remains a top example of companies owning up to their failures and pleasing their stakeholders in the process.

Turn the frowns around: leveraging your negative customer feedback

Now you get why negative feedback is a good thing for your business. What can you do to make use of it in your marketing?

Step 1: Compile the negative reviews

Start by seeking out all the negative reviews you can find. A simple Google search on the name of your business will likely turn up a bunch. Review-sites like Yelp, Trustpilot and Facebook are also useful, or any other platform you may have set up for your company.

Don’t forget feedback via email, text messages, Slack channels and even phone calls. It all counts. Be thorough.

Pull out all the negative comments and compile them. (Try the Airstory Researcher.) For my clients, I copied every one- and two-star review and recorded them in Google Docs – like a swipe file for negative feedback.

Feeling down from all the not-so-nice words you’ve tallied up?

Take your time to bask in any positive reviews, too. Or go do something else for awhile.

Mistakes happen to everyone, and there’s always a way to bounce back from the bottom.

Ok, done?

Step 2: Identify the pain points within the negative feedback

Get out your highlighter (virtual or otherwise) and go through all the feedback you’ve collected. Highlight all the pain points mentioned.

A pain point is something your business must solve to function successfully. Ever pulled your hair out waiting for your license to be renewed? That is a pain point.

You have discovered a pain point if the person complains about something that:

  • They assumed you would do but you did not
  • You did but that was unsatisfactory to them
  • You shouldn’t have done, according to them 
  • Your competitors are doing better than you

Some examples of common pain points include:

  • Paying too much for a mediocre product or service
  • Bad customer support
  • Slow delivery
  • Broken promises

If there’s a rationale for the negatives, include it. Highlight the text that appears to reveal the source – or the why – behind the customer’s unhappiness, like I did here: 

If you’re having problems identifying the pain point and the reason for it, the review may be too vague or too short. In that case, move on to the next one.

Now you should have a document full of your customers’ and clients’ pain points.

This is what mine looked like:

Step 3: Now check out what people are saying about your competitors

Next, you want to repeat the process but for your competitors’ feedback. Use whatever channels are publicly accessible, and compile a document much like you did for your business.

Criticism of your competitors’ services is a gap in the market you can fill. 

Since their customers are not satisfied, those very customers will be looking for another business or solution WITHOUT the negative aspects mentioned in the feedback. That’s where you come in.

For example: Picture yourself running a logo design agency. You discover your competitors don’t deliver their work on time. With this information, you know clients want deliverables to be sent quickly.

What do you do?

You craft your emails and proposals to include your agency’s speed in completing design projects, since you know that matters to prospects.

Make sense?

You can merge your competitors’ reviews together with your own, but I prefer to have separate files.

Ideally, you should have two documents: 

1) a document for your negative reviews and 

2) another document for your competitors’ negative reviews.

Highlight the pain points like you did in the previous step.

Step 4: Extract the biggest offenders

Organizing, extracting and analyzing your pain points – and those of your competitors – will help you unearth the most common offenders you’ll want to refer back to in your copy. 

I recommend building a table to record these pain points and sorting them based on the number of times they occur. You can do without it but it’s going to be messy if you have multiple reviews, so I suggest creating a simple table like this table I used for my clients (it’s yours for the copying).

I call it the Table of Mistakes. It’s extremely basic but it gets the job done. 

Sort these pain points into ‘bigpain points as shown below. Think of them as categories for your pain points.

The ‘big’ pain points vary for everyone. 

If you’re running a SaaS startup, for example, the availability and responsiveness of your website would be good additions to the table.

How the table works is simple 

The more entries under a big pain point, the more important it is for you to address and the more impact it will have when used in your copy. 

The same logic applies to your competitors’ table, except that more entries means a bigger market gap for you to fill.

Once you’re finished filling in the Table of Mistakes, focus on your biggest pain point and identify the key problems within it. These problems are the root cause of the pain point; they’re the reason(s) your customers or clients complained in the first place.

In my case, clients were confused about the cancellation and refund policy.

So I wrote that in the key problem column of my table.

The key problem column is a summary of the pain points for a category. In the example below, most of the complaints were about the product’s payment structure and cancellation policy. I summarized this and filled it in the key problem column.

Doing this allows you to see the big problem easily when you’re working on the copy later.

Fill in the key problems for your competitors’ pain points, too.

Nice!

You’re finally done with your Table of Mistakes.

Now you have a knowledge base documenting why prospects are unhappy with your business or industry.

Take a break or bookmark this post for later if you’re feeling overwhelmed.

The next section is going to talk about implementing what you’ve gathered into your sales materials.

Crafting an effective email campaign with your pain points

I’ll be talking solely about writing email copy, assuming you already have a list of subscribers to market to.

But if that’s not the case, and you’re interested in learning about how to generate leads or convert them to subscribers, HubSpot has an evergreen lead generation guide you can check out, and the incredible Jon Lamphier has a great piece on creating high-converting lead gen pages right here on Copyhackers.

Let’s turn your negative reviews into amazing, sales-generating emails.

For my clients, I used a five-part email series:

  • 1 introductory/welcome email
  • 3 value-based emails
  • 1 sales email (directing them to a landing page)

You can use any number of emails you want, but I suggest between three to seven emails for optimal results.

The key here is to acknowledge your vulnerabilities in your emails and, at the same time, convey your business’ strengths to your leads.

Cool. How the hell do I do that?

Refer to your completed Table of Mistakes. 

That table has everything you need to come up with incredible headlines and engaging copy.

Your only concern now is working your copywriting chops with the data you have and writing emails so good it’d be criminal for your leads to ignore.

Start by creating strong, personal subject lines

Everyone has their own beliefs, but I swear by starting with the subject line first.

I don’t have to tell you that the subject line IS the most important part of your email series if you care about open rates.  

No matter how great your copy or offer is, NOTHING will happen if the email is not opened in the first place.

In my client’s case, I used a brutally truthful headline for the first email:

This headline would’ve never seen the light of the day for 99% of businesses, but I had free reign and my client was comfortable with the tone.

I used the same style for the other subject lines in the series.

They were a hit. We achieved a 52% open rate average across every headline.

To make things sweeter, the autoresponder brought in 150 paid customers but the client only paid about $20 to acquire each one.

That’s the power of a strong subject line.

Higher open rates, lower lead costs and if your copy is equally top-notch, expect no less than a fruitful success from your campaign.

Choose a pain point as a base for you to craft your subject line.

Put yourself in your customers’ shoes.

What would be the biggest concern for you?

I’ll take cost as an example.

The big problem was that customers were unclear about how the business’s payment structure worked. 

This led to serious misunderstandings as they believed they were being charged without permission.

I came up with a subject line addressing the problem and, at the same time, relaying the benefits of my client’s offer.

The offer for the campaign had a 100% refund policy so I wanted to leverage it in my subject line.

Leading to…

I used personal words like “me” and “you” instead of words like “we” or “our business.”

Why?

You want your subject lines to be as intimate as they can be.

Going back to my opening email, which of these subject lines would you click on?

“We messed up. We’re sorry.”

“I fucked up. I’m sorry.”

The second one would win almost always because it’s personal. You feel like the CEO is talking to you, not “we”.

In a nutshell, use your pain points in your subject lines and write them in a way that makes your readers feel you’re talking to them one-on-one.

Read this comprehensive post on writing effective headlines if you need more guidance.

Write copy to generate trust

I made a huge blunder in the first few days I was working on the campaign in question.

I worked hard on coming up with honest subject lines, but the actual body of the emails did not represent at all what was mentioned in the subject line.

I realized…

You shape expectations based on your subject line.

Before I knew it, I was already in a pickle.

My client was losing his mind over the emails. Open rates were brilliant but conversions remained as awful as ever.

Thankfully, I had a fallback.

Whenever my copy fails, I always return to the Toyota of copywriting techniques – the ever-reliant PAS formula.

It was perfect for the campaign, although I needed to tweak it a little.

The pain points were the problems, the comments left by disgruntled customers settled the agitation part and the steps we took to nullify the problem were the solution!

Here’s how one of the email intros looked like:

I wrote the body in response to my client’s team not giving enough guidance and motivation to customers – one of the major pain points.

I agitated leads further by mentioning how it must suck to not have enough help in completing the program. 

VERY IMPORTANT.

Empathize with your customers and understand why pain points exist to make it work.

You won’t be able to agitate your readers until you fully understand how the problems affect your customer.

When done right, your customers feel connected to you – like you’re living inside their head.

They are more likely to trust and like you more. 

Guess what that leads to?

More sales!

In my client’s case, I knew customers would struggle to progress in his course if the team did not provide enough support – so I used it as my agitation point.

The question is:

How do you come up with effective agitation copy?

You already have all your (and your competitors’) pain points. So put yourself in the shoes of your prospect and think of how it would affect you if the highlighted problem did happen to you.

I would be mad.

Waste of time.

My progress would stall.

Tune your mind to your prospects’ feelings and you’ll quickly get the inspiration you need to agitate your readers.

Belinda Weaver has a great resource for writing effective PAS-based copy to give you some inspiration. And here’s another super in-depth and useful guide for writing agitation copy from Joanna herself.

Now on to writing the solution.

Tell your leads what you’ve done to solve the problem.

Explain why the pain points are no longer a concern and more importantly, how they can benefit from your solution.

Here’s what I did.

I addressed the customer support concerns by mentioning that every customer will have a dedicated support staff member assisting them throughout the course, along with the gym’s updated 24-hour response policy.

Notice how I transitioned from weakness to benefits in the solution. 

What started off as an email to acknowledge a vulnerability has now turned into a pitch for the lead to try out a better solution for his or her pain point.

The key is to explicitly convey what you’ve done to address the deficiencies.

Saying, “Hey, we did something for you” is not going to work.

Customers want to hear, “Hey, I did X, Y and Z for you and here’s what you’ll gain.”

Relay how these changes impact your customers positively. 

For my client, improving the team’s attention to customers would mean that they would be able to complete the offer faster and eventually increase their bottom line.

You’ve heard about it a million times, but remember to emphasize the benefits your CUSTOMER will gain, NOT the benefits to your business.

Instead of:

“We have improved our team communication times.”

Use:

“Send a request and we’ll respond in an hour. Guaranteed.”

Another great conversion booster is specificity. This means including figures or statistics in the benefits of your solution as it’s a fact that specificity improves conversion rates

In my case, the client gave a $37 discount to leads who joined early. Instead of using dollars to convey the discount, I used a specific percentage to illustrate the savings. This drove home sales considerably as it was easier for buyers to see how much they would save if they signed up early.

This works in other industries, too. If you’re an accounting freelancer, for instance, telling your leads how many hours and the potential headache they can save with your services is a good way to apply specificity.

You can learn more on specificity in this really good post by Kelton Reid.

Why these tactics work

To help me understand what was working, I asked customers targeted in these campaigns why they made the purchase.

It turns out people were surprised by this:

How honest the emails were. 

In a barrage of generic “Last chance!” and “How this person used X and earned Y” nonsense, our emails stood out and made them feel like their attention mattered.

A huge contributing factor to the success was the subject lines.

I made sure they were:

  • Personalized to each prospect using their name or location
  • Relevant to the pain points I collected

Neville Medhora talked about how powerful personalized headlines can be in his blog post (totally worth reading) on writing great subject lines. 

The low-down?

Personal-sounding subject lines had significantly higher open rates compared to other types of subject lines.

I also received a brief but enlightening email from a customer…

When you use the tone or language your prospects are familiar with, they are more likely to trust what you say. The (slightly) vulgar headlines and copy I used may have been disastrous for larger companies where professionalism is a must – but they worked great for this particular client, where the audience talks like the client does.

Too many marketers become so engrossed in crafting awesome copy to the point where they forget who they’re writing for.

Can’t find the right tone to use for your audience? Don’t be afraid of emulating bodies of work that you like. Look at what other companies are doing successfully to gauge the effectiveness of your copy and gather inspiration – copywriters have been doing it for decades with swipe files.

When all else fails, go the old-fashioned route: get in touch with your customers personally.

Gather up those one-star reviews and start emailing

Hopefully, I’ve opened up your mind to the possibilities of leveraging negative feedback to your advantage.

So the next time you see a one-star review notification pop in your inbox, don’t fret. That review may just be the catalyst you need to kickstart a new offer and a successful email marketing campaign.

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In Favor of Long, Image-light Ecommerce Emails

We’ve written about email on Copyhackers… a lot.

And for good reason.

In 2019, email still has the highest ROI of any marketing channel ($42 return on every $1 spent, according to Litmus). And McKinsey found that email is 40x more effective at acquiring customers than Facebook and Twitter – combined.

Email just plain works.

And here at Copyhackers, we take optimizing email… seriously. Very seriously.

We wrote about optimizing SaaS free trial emails, upgrading launch emails and sending B2B cold emails that actually work.

Yet… we’ve never tackled this beast: ecommerce emails.

But we’re not going to stay silent any longer.

There’s too much at stake…

In ecommerce, the average order value from email is 20% higher with 3x the conversion rate compared to other channels. Email is your best fuel for customer retention, and Harvard Business School found that just a 5% increase in retention can increase profits by 95%.

Ecommerce emails done right can be the lifeblood of an ecommerce business.

Yet, many ecommerce stores are deeply underinvested in email.

Even though 59% of marketers say email gives the greatest ROI of any marketing channel… 64% of ecommerce marketers expected their company’s email marketing budget to increase or significantly increase in the following year.

They’re realizing they need to be spending more on email marketing.

Not surprising, given that Pure360 found in a survey of 205 marketers that 9 out of 10 brands are behind the email marketing maturity standards they expected.

Beyond the numbers, it’s something that email consultants like myself see every day.

Austin Brawner, my friend and the CEO of Brand Growth Experts, has had a similar experience to mine.

I once heard him say, “I’ve been in hundreds of email marketing accounts and I have yet to see someone who’s sending too many emails.”

He’s right. Though many of us are worried about over-emailing, that’s rarely the problem. And big wins can come from small, strategic optimizations.

That’s why I almost always encourage clients to invest more in their email marketing. I know the impact it can have.

Like when I optimized the welcome sequence and abandoned cart sequence for my client, EcoVibe Style, I was able to increase their revenue from email to 38%… from a mere 8.7%.

That’s a 236% increase in revenue from email… from just two sequences.

But the difficulty isn’t in convincing store owners to care about email marketing. They know they should optimize their email marketing.

The struggle store owners are having… is in knowing how to go about optimizing their email marketing.

The (email marketing) struggle is real

The DMA’s email marketing survey asked marketers about their most significant challenges to investing more in their email marketing.

Their top answers were: “limited internal resources,” “lack of strategy” and “lack of content.”

So they want to send more emails… but they struggle to get the strategy and content expertise they need to do so.

Bottom line…

Ecommerce email marketing requires a great deal of expertise.

There’s a lot of know-how that goes into emails that convert.

There are sequences and newsletters, send times and from names, dozens of ESPs and email clients, subject lines and calls to action, exit intent pop-ups and floating bars…

When I started out as an email marketer, I was overwhelmed, too.

And when you finally decide on your strategy and get your technical pieces all set up, and it’s time to write an actual email… then you have to know what to put in that email. 

You need to figure out what will get the attention of your recipients, so all that time and money you’ve invested actually pays off.

When you finally sit down to write an email…

That’s the moment of truth.

Everything you’ve invested into your software and your content comes down to how well that email performs.

And… it’s only getting harder to win the inbox. 

The typical professional receives an average of 121 emails per day. Getting YOUR email to stand out is… tough.

Marketers know how hard it’s getting.

Which is why some resort to a strategy I don’t recommend:

Sending sale email… after sale email… after sale email… after sale email…

Every day, like clockwork, I get an email from Crate & Barrel.

Here, in my inbox, to announce a very exciting, ultra-exclusive, can-you-believe-it, hold-on-to-your-hat…. SALE SALE SALE!

And every day, their email goes… unopened.

But, I do understand why they send me these emails.

It’s an easy pattern to fall into: you send an email blast and it doesn’t get the conversions you’re after. So you send another email with a steep 40% discount and – BAM! – lots of people buy.

You try to go back to sending an email without a discount but it’s still not working. So now you send…

“FLASH SALE 70% OFF”

…and you get lots of conversions again.

Before you know it, every email you send out is a sale email.

Even if you’re not quite at Crate & Barrel’s level… it’s always tempting to send that sale email.

You want your email to pay off, after all. But… you also don’t want to get stuck sending emails that no one pays attention to.

And if you abuse the Sale Email, its magic starts to wear off.

The response from your subscribers changes from buckets of revenue to… deafening silence.

Unlike SaaS email marketing – where the bias tends to be toward nurturing subscribers, rather than selling to them – it seems that ecommerce has the opposite trend: selling without nurturing.

And Seth Godin would not approve.

The father of permission marketing, he revolutionized the way people think about marketing in the digital age:

“Permission marketing is the privilege (not the right) of delivering anticipated, personal and relevant messages to people who actually want to get them. It recognizes the new power of the best consumers to ignore marketing.“ – Seth Godin

Marketing is easy to ignore. Especially in a crowded inbox.

So if you can send those relevant, anticipated messages your subscribers crave, you’ll be that unexpected gem people look forward to getting emails from.

And thinking of email as permission-based marketing sets us up well to answer the question…

Well, what do customers want
in their email marketing?

They want variety.

The problem with Crate & Barrel’s emails isn’t that they’re sales emails.

It’s that they’re ALL sales emails.

If you’re having a sale tomorrow (and every day until the end of time), why should I be excited about today’s sale?

If, however, every time you send me an email, I can’t be 100% sure what’s going to be in it (cool content? a funny story? new products? or maybe even a… SALE?!?), then I’m anticipating and wondering what’s in your email.

Novelty is the best tool email marketers have to keep subscribers engaged.

Neuroscience research supports the idea that novelty is almost as effective at grabbing our attention as physical need.

…Meaning something new is almost as exciting to my brain as something that will satisfy my hunger.

(And I get really excited when I see a box of donuts.)

You can also see proof of the power of novelty by looking at the counter-example…

What happens when you don’t switch it up?

I see this often with my clients: they’ll find a subject line that works well, so they reuse the same formula. But, pretty quickly… it stops working.

It happened with one client recently…

My client found great success with a subject line that followed the formula…

“[Product] is back!”

His email got an open rate 30% above their average open rate.

Not too shabby.

They used that same formula with a different product again, and this time they got another open rate 39.9% above average.

Great! This formula works like a charm.

But when they used it for a third time… their open rate unexpectedly dropped to 8.7% below their average open rate.

What happened?

The subject line wasn’t novel anymore, so people stopped paying attention.

Very quickly… after just three uses… this subject line formula was dead.

An attention-grabbing air horn can turn into snooze-inducing white noise pretty quickly in the world of email.

That’s why a combination of sales emails peppered in with other kinds of emails is your best chance to keep people interested.

Let’s see how top brands use novelty
in their email marketing

Top brands that do this well use three different kinds of emails:

  1. Sales emails
  2. Nurture emails
  3. Engagement emails

A sales email is going for the close – like a promotion or a product announcement.

A nurture email is nurturing subscribers and building their affinity for the brand and product line.

And an engagement email is going for a click, rather than a sale – linking to content like blog posts, surveys and social media.

Kettle & Fire, a brand selling bone broth to health-conscious customers, uses all three kinds of emails well.

Sales emails that provide discounts and make the case for their product:

Ecommerce sales email example
Sales email: welcome.
Sales email: abandoned cart.

Both emails are driving toward the use of a coupon. The welcome email is selling people on the brand, and the abandoned cart email is selling them on the product.

Kettle & Fire is anticipating where the customer is at and, in turn, matching their message to what the customer needs to hear (i.e.: “You’re likely here because you heard bone broth promotes skin, nail, joint and digestive health.”)

They also use nurture emails that educate people on bone broth and its importance for gut health:

Nurture email.

This builds a loyal subscriber base that can point to reasons why Kettle & Fire’s products are desirable.

And they send engagement emails that get people clicking through to their website and their content and building their relationship with Kettle & Fire.

Engagement email.

This email does a great job of showing why their content is worthy of a click – and sends readers clicking through to an email course.

Kettle & Fire rotates between these three kinds of emails, always trying to anticipate where the customer is in their journey and giving them the message they need to hear at that moment.

Another brand that does this well is Moo, a company that sells business cards and stationery.

They rely on design to drive curiosity in some engagement emails:

Moo engagement email.
Moo engagement email.

And then go full plain-text in other engagement emails:

ecommerce welcome campaign
Moo engagement email.

And also send a mix of sale and nurture emails:

Moo sale email.
Moo nurture email.

A short sale email driving you to an exciting, unusual sale. And a welcome email nurturing you on the brand.

These brands do it all. They use a variety of email types and use short emails alongside longer emails to engage their subscribers.

Now, I want to stop here, just in case the thought in the back of your head is…

“Wait, but people don’t read long emails. They want images, not text.”

If at this point, this is all making sense to you…

But you’re worried about sending longer emails that people have time to read…

There’s a study you might want to see.

In 2014, Hubspot surveyed thousands of people asking them what kind of email they preferred to receive: HTML or plain-text.

And their answers support the idea that you should send design-focused emails.

HubSpot email survey

They said they preferred HTML over plain-text.

And when HubSpot asked if they wanted mostly text or images in their emails, they said images.

HubSpot email survey

So… all of this would indicate that we should send short emails, right? More images. Less text.

Well, here’s where things get interesting…

What people say they want in email vs. what emails they actually preferred to engage with… tell two completely different stories.

HubSpot email survey

Increasing the design of HTML in the email – with more design and more images – actually decreased open rates. If you’re like “email content doesn’t affect open rates” (which it does), the study continues…

HubSpot also found that emails with more images had lower click-through rates. Zero images in an email generated the highest click-through rates.

So it makes sense why many marketers believe that more images and more design is better for email marketing.

After all, that’s what people say they want. But what creates actual conversions is text (ahem, copy!) and simple design.

But, there’s a place for both kinds of emails. Design-rich and text-rich emails nurture and engage subscribers in different ways. And you can use text-rich emails when you want to increase conversion rates. (I prefer the nice sound of a ka-ching to praise, personally.)

So there’s a place for emails with more design than copy, and emails with more copy than design.

Now, we just need to figure out when a text-rich email makes sense and when you should be more to the point.

“How do I know how long to make my email? Then figure out… what to write in it??”

Well, dear copyhacker…

Let’s get copyhacking.

And let me show you the formula and template that will…

Let you determine exactly how long to make every ecommerce email you send. And solve the problem of what copy to include.

We will do this by answering four questions:

  1. What’s my One Reader’s beginning stage of awareness?
  2. Where’s my One Reader in their customer lifecycle?
  3. How many emails are in this sequence?
  4. What’s the one goal of my email?

(If you’re not sure about all this “One Reader” and “stage of awareness” talk, check out 10x Landing Pages by Copyhackers. Yup, the foundational copywriting training in that course works for emails, too.)

Cool! There’s your answer. End of article.

I kid, I kid.

Let’s break down those four questions. And work through an example so it’s crystal clear.

We can use the email sequence from the sustainable apparel client I referenced earlier. I’ll show you how I built their welcome sequence to get them their 236% increase in revenue from email.We’re going to answer the four questions, then use them to fill in this template (which you can download for your own use):

And once that’s filled in, we’ll know exactly what content to include.

(Don’t worry about that template for now. We’ll come back to it later.)

Step 1. Find your One Reader’s beginning stage of awareness

If you’re not a seasoned copywriter yet, then stages of awareness may sound strange. Here’s a quick refresher:

Picture a slippery slope.

(Yes, I stole that from the great Joe Sugarman.)

Here’s how Joanna illustrates the stages of awareness and how they impact what you’ll write:

And here’s a modified view of that for ecommerce specifically:

If your prospects (your not-yet customers) are sliding down a slippery slope, on their way to becoming your customers, then they need to move from pain aware all the way through most aware to get there.

At each new stage, they come closer to buying your product, and importantly you cannot skip a stage.

If you want your prospect to turn into a customer, they cannot go from pain aware straight to most aware. They need solution awareness and product awareness to continue sliding down the slope.

So, in our example – the welcome sequence for the sustainable apparel brand – our one reader is new to our brand and probably knows little about what we offer.

So, in this case, I assumed they were in the earliest stage of awareness: pain aware. We use that information to answer the first question:

  1. What’s my One Reader’s beginning stage of awareness?
    Pain aware.
  2. Where’s my One Reader in their customer lifecycle?
  3. How many emails are in this sequence?
  4. What’s the one goal of my email?

Great. One down, three to go.

Step 2. Figure out where your One Reader is in their customer lifecycle

Lifecycle marketing is the idea that customers go through a… well, lifecycle.

In the early stages, a prospect becomes aware of you. Then they buy from you. (Hooray!) Then, they might buy from you again. (Whoopee!)

…But eventually they lose interest in your products or stop needing them (how many {something funny} does one woman need anyway?) and they move on. 

A sad day, but an inevitable one.

To visualize, the customer lifecycle looks like:

Here are the main stages to remember, as they relate to email marketing:

  • New: New to our brand, never purchased
  • Abandoned cart: Close to purchasing
  • Post-purchase: Just after purchasing from the brand
  • Lifecycle: The natural lifecycle of a product when it would make sense to purchase again (e.g. for a 30-day supply of vitamins, the lifecycle would be 30 days)
  • Winback: When a customer has lapsed and is not purchasing at the normal lifecycle interval.

For our example…

Since it’s a welcome sequence, then we’re sending these to prospects who are new. They have yet to make a purchase from us.

  1. What’s my One Reader’s beginning stage of awareness?
    Pain aware.
  2. Where’s my One Reader in their customer lifecycle?
    New
  3. How many emails are in this sequence?
  4. What’s the one goal of my email?

Moving right along…

Step 3. How many emails are in your sequence?

Now, this is something you can decide before you start creating content for your email sequence. It depends on the timing of your emails and how long you want your sequence to run.

If you’re sending a newsletter, then that would be a one-off and you can just fill in ‘one’. (The formula works the same way for newsletters.)

To help you decide how many emails to include in your sequence, here’s benchmark data from Klaviyo on how emails perform based on how many there are in the sequence:

For my sequence, I wanted to send four emails (so I could send a mix of sales and nurture emails). So let’s answer question #3.

  1. What’s my One Reader’s beginning stage of awareness?
    Pain aware.
  2. Where’s my One Reader in their customer lifecycle?
    New
  3. How many emails are in this sequence?
    4
  4. What’s the one goal of my email?

Step 4. Figure out the goal of your email

And finally, we move from questions about the entire sequence to questions about each individual email.

To do this, we need to refer back to our template from earlier:

Now, let’s fill in the pieces that we already answered from the first three questions: lifecycle, stage of awareness and number of emails.

Now, for each of the four emails in this sequence, we need to decide on what kind of email we’re going to send: nurture, sales or engage.

Determine the kind of email you’ll send based on your goal:

  • Sales emails sell, so their KPI is revenue (if you’re generating more orders) or average order value (if you’re generating larger orders).
  • Nurture emails nurture, so the KPI… depends.
  • Engagement emails engage, so their KPIs are click-through rate followed by active time on site.

Now, let’s look at my welcome sequence for my sustainable apparel client.

In my four-email welcome sequence, I’m going to send:

  1. A welcome email with a discount coupon (which is the incentive to opt-in).
  2. A nurture email that tells a story about the brand.
  3. A second nurture email that tells another story about the brand.
  4. A reminder email – that their discount coupon (from email #1) is expiring today.

That means emails #1, #2 and #3 are nurture emails because we’re nurturing new subscribers. And email #4 is a sales email because it’s the final email in the sequence and it’s closing on the expiring discount. So now our template looks like this:

(Note: email #1 has Sales listed as a secondary goal. We won’t use that in our formula, but I included it because we may want to use revenue as a KPI for that email – since it has a discount coupon included.)

Now, let’s use our formula to fill in all the grey cells for us.

Here’s the formula that will eliminate the guesswork from how long to make our emails:

For nurture emails, the ending stage of awareness of that email is one stage past the beginning stage of awareness of that email (e.g. Problem → Solution, Solution → Product).

For sales emails, it doesn’t matter what the beginning stage of awareness is. The ending stage of awareness is always most aware. (Since we’re trying to make the sale).

For engagement emails, the beginning and ending stages of awareness are the same. Since we’re trying to engage, not sell.

To make it easy, here’s your handy-dandy formula:

Nurture email: Add +1 to Stage of Awareness

Sales email: Ending SoA = Most Aware

Engagement email: Beginning SoA = Ending SoA

So for our example welcome sequence, this fills in the rest of our template to look like this:

Of course, this formula didn’t give me the description of our One Reader at the top.

I got that from all my voice of customer research. (You can check out content from master researchers – like the tutorial of Copyhackers’s own Hannah Shamji on getting quality VoC from customer interviews – to learn how to get inside the head of your One Reader.)

Armed with your VoC research, and now with this template, you can see how to work your VoC data into the email sequence you’re building.

Now, I made two promises to you…

That you’d know how long to make your emails AND that it would become clear what to write in your emails.

So let’s see how this template helps us with both of these problems.

Problem #1: Knowing how long to make your email

Just as the original conversion copywriter, Joanna Wiebe, teaches: copy is as long as it needs to be.

And you can figure out how long a piece of copy needs to be… by looking at the beginning and ending stages of awareness.

(Where your prospect is now vs. where they need to be for your goal.)

This template shows our beginning and ending stages of awareness for each email.

Let’s look at emails #1 and #4 from our sequence to see how this template influenced their length.

If you remember, both emails are giving a discount to the subscriber. So it would seem like they’d be identical in length. Right?

But what the template shows us, is:

  • Email #1 moves from problem aware to solution aware
  • Email #4 is already at most aware – and stays there

So email #1 is slightly longer than email #4 because it has more work to do. And email #4 is just going for the close.

Email #1
Email #4

They’re both discount, promotional emails, but that’s not what determines length. It’s the stages of awareness from our template that we need to adhere to. Here’s how to figure out how long your email should be:

The greater the distance between our beginning and ending stage of awareness of the email (with problem to most aware being the greatest), the longer our email needs to be.

So, length: solved.

Problem #2: Knowing what to write in your email

Now, this is the real magic of filling out the entire template.

To find what content is best, you need only to isolate the email that you’re currently writing and find the copy that solves your problem. 

Let’s look at email #2 for this one.

For this email, we’re moving the One Reader from solution to product aware for sustainable apparel.

So she knows about other sustainable apparel options, but she wants to know why our line of clothing in particular is better than our competitors’. And she’s frustrated that most sustainable clothes don’t look great and are expensive.

Bingo.

Now, all I have to do is weave the VoC I have from my research into an email about how problems with sustainable clothing shopping (the solution) are solved by a particular brand: EcoVibe (the product).

And the resulting email…

Armed with this template, and your voice-of-customer data, writing your email is largely done before you even open up your blank Google Doc. You know where to start, which is a great way to end Blank Page Syndrome. And you know your destination, which means you’re less likely to ramble. Now just plug that VoC into a compelling framework! Well, there’s a little more to it…

“I still don’t want to send long emails.”

If you’re still against writing a longer email with more than just a sentence or two of copy…

Darling, let’s not fight.

Let’s compromise.

Try writing an email with just a bit more length, but feel confident by putting a call-to-action above the fold.

Like I did in the first email of this sequence:

So no one has to read, if they don’t want to. They can click-through right away.

(And you and I can pick up this discussion later.)

“Okay, but what about campaign emails? Those go to a variety of people.”

You are absolutely right. I’ve got a suggestion for how to handle the varied audience of a typical email newsletter, but first I want to say…

THIS is exactly why segmentation is so powerful.

Segmentation helps you know which portion of your audience you’re speaking to, where they are in their customer lifecycle and what their stage of awareness is. The better your segmentation, the more you can dial-in your messaging and use this formula to your advantage. (Jo talks more about segmentation inside 10x Emails.)

But if you (like many ecommerce stores) are sending newsletters to your whole list…

You should switch it up between longer and shorter emails. Just like the examples I showed you above from Kettle & Fire. By getting different messages to your email list, you’ll get more of the right message to more of the right people.

Use nurture, sales and engagement emails to engage your whole email list. Use variety to target the natural segments within your email list.

A quick note on the engagement email –
the bread-and-butter of email newsletters.

Many times your campaign emails will be engagement emails. That’s the classic newsletter email that people think of when they think of marketing emails, where you link to content and try to get people to click through.

So let’s talk about what an engagement email should look like. Since, from our formula, you remember that the beginning and ending stages of awareness are the same.

Engagement emails, as you expect, should be very short.

Our stage of awareness doesn’t change with an engagement email. The content that people click through to might change their stage of awareness, but that’s not our email’s job. Our email’s job is to get them to that content.

So, here, the copy should be very short. Just enough to entice them to want to know what’s after that button.

That’s why the very short Moo engagement email works.

It’s doing just enough to get you curious, and not distracting you with anything else.

Copyhackers also sends engagement emails that follow this principle:

Just enough to make your curious about the content. Nothing else to distract.

It’s your sales emails and nurture emails that will be longer. Since those need to bring your subscribers further along in their journey. So make sure you’re still including engagement emails in your email newsletter strategy.

Your ecommerce emails…
mapped, wrapped and ready

By answering the following four questions:

  1. What’s my One Reader’s beginning stage of awareness?
  2. Where’s my One Reader in their customer lifecycle?
  3. How many emails are in this sequence?
  4. What’s the one goal of my email?

And armed with our voice of customer data and the answers to those four questions, we are able to fill in the white cells of this chart:

Then, use the following formula to automatically fill in the remaining grey cells:

Nurture email: Add +1 to Stage of Awareness

Sales email: Ending SoA = Most Aware

Engagement email: Beginning SoA = Ending SoA

We’ve mapped out the entire content strategy of any ecommerce email sequence.

Whether the emails you’re sending are automated, a single newsletter, a 10-email long sequence… or any other hypothetical you can imagine, with these tools in your arsenal, your email content strategy is solved.

So you never have to stare at the blank page again.

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You Don’t Need Ads on Your Site to Monetize Your Blog. Here’s How Bloggers Make Six Figures.

They say hard work is a reward unto itself.

But for most freelancers – you know, the kind with bills and a constant eye on their bank balance – it’s a lot more rewarding when work turns into hard cash.

Let’s face it: There’re only so many pats on the back you can survive on when you’re trying to make money from your blog.

Like, five. Maybe seven, tops.

Eventually, probably sooner rather than later, you need to take those pats on the back and turn them into bank account deposits.

In other words, you need to monetize your blog.

You don’t have to go far to find the supposed secret to making money from a blog, either: shake a stick at Google, and you’ll find plenty of people promising that paid ads are your golden ticket to blogging for money.

Take Ryan Robinson, for example, who’s taught over 400,000 monthly readers how to start a blog. In his words: 

“Displaying advertisement space is arguably the easiest, most basic (and quickest) form of starting to make money blogging.”

And if you check out the number of ad buyers who partake in Google AdSense (one of the largest display ad networks), you’ll notice an upward trend for usage. 

Google AdSense users are on the rise

HOWEVER, also in blog guru Ryan Robinson’s words:

“Of all the different ways to make money blogging that I’m engaged in, [running ads] is one of the lowest returns in terms of total dollars earned (especially for my amount of traffic).”

With over 2.4 million readers last year, Ryan has the numbers to optimize ad payouts. 

Ryan Robinson's Blog Traffic
Ryan Robinson’s Blog Traffic

You need a minimum of 100,000 monthly pageviews to join AdThrive’s network and 25,000 monthly sessions (around 30,000 pageviews) for Mediavine (there’s no minimum for AdSense and Sovrn).

And that’s still not enough. These days, to earn $100,000 a year through Google AdSense, you need approximately 20,000 visitors a day.

Sheesh.

So, if you see someone bragging about the revenue power of ads like this recommendation from ProBlogger

AdSense is how I earn around 35% of my income as a full-time blogger and I would thoroughly recommend it as a way of monetizing a blog – especially for those just starting out.” 

…dig a little deeper and check the fine print (a.k.a., the date) like in the comments of ProBlogger founder Darren Rowse’s AdSense Tips article, which were published in – wait for it – 2009. 

BRIEF INTERRUPTION: We lurve Problogger around here. This is nothing against Problogger! Just a reminder to always check the dates when grabbing tips from the interwebs. Now, back to our regularly scheduled programming…

Needless to say, decade-old enthusiasm isn’t very reliable.

But okay. Let’s ignore the outdated advice for a minute. Say someone – someone with a pretty website and tons of widgets – says ad revenue brings in 35% of their blog earnings.

(Or, just say they’re someone who took the below survey…)

2018 Blog Income Report Research Study by The Blog Millionaire
Distribution of blogging income – 2018 Blog Income Report Research Study by The Blog Millionaire

Well, there’s fine print there, too. 

If they make that much money with their blog, they’re hardly a beginner blogger. More likely, they’re an uber large publisher with over 100,000 unique monthly views. This report entirely omits bloggers who make less than $2,000 per month (which, in reality, is the majority of bloggers).

What’s more is that when you get into the really high income levels (over $25,000 per month), blogger income from ad revenue dramatically drops to 3%.

2018 Blog Income Report Research Study by The Blog Millionaire
Blogging income from ads – 2018 Blog Income Report Research Study by The Blog Millionaire

Oh, and there’s one other teensy-weensy thing:

People don’t like ads.

I mean, look at the masses of online users who actively block ads. A chunky 25% of U.S. Internet users actively avoid giving ads the time of day.

From: eMarketer Report - Demanding a Better Ad Experience
From: eMarketer Report – Demanding a Better Ad Experience

And – just in case that simple truth isn’t enough – there is an onslaught of cons to putting ads on your blog:

  • Ads dilute your brand
  • Ads take up too much real estate on your page
  • Ads distract your reader and kill your conversions 
  • Ads increase your load time
  • Ads ruin your trust factor

So, the jury is in: Unless you have a blog that pulls in over 100,000 monthly views, paid ads aren’t the best way to make money online. They aren’t even a good way to do it. 

Where does that leave the hopeful blogger who wants to translate their adoring fans into adorable revenue streams?

In a much better place than you’d think, actually.

How much money can you make by monetizing your blog without using ads?

In short, you can earn more than six times the average annual income in the U.S. (which was logged at $31,786 per capita in 2017). 

If we’re talking freelance copywriter salaries, that’s triple the average amount that 50% of freelance copywriters expect to earn (which is less than $50,000 annually).

That’s right – pro bloggers can rake in an average annual revenue of $185,975.

From: ConvertKit's 2017 State of the Blogging Industry Report
From: ConvertKit’s 2017 State of the Blogging Industry Report

And if you’re really good, you can hit the six-figure mark on a MONTHLY basis.

Need proof?

In less than six years, Michelle Gardner, who runs the Making Sense Of Cents blog, one of the most successful monetized blogs out there, earns over $126,000 in monthly revenue.

From: 22 Wildly-Successful Bloggers Who Make Thousands of Dollars Every Month
From: 22 Wildly-Successful Bloggers Who Make Thousands of Dollars Every Month

Impressive, right? But far from the top-of-class results.

John Lee Dumas, founder of Entrepreneurs on Fire, has grossed over $1.5 million for the year so far.

And totaled $16,204,901 in blog revenue since he launched in 2012 – wowsa.  

From: Entrepreneurs on Fire Monthly Income Report
From: Entrepreneurs on Fire Monthly Income Report

Did you notice any of his blog revenue flowing in from ads? 

Didn’t think so.

Okay, so maybe you’re thinking, I don’t have six-plus years to dedicate solely to growing my blog.

Totally normal. These are superstar-status bloggers. 

(Plus, you need to run your freelance business, right?)

But that’s not to say you can’t make money blogging as a normal human-status blogger.

You can. You totally can. 

But not without some serious commitment.

Skip the commitment, and you’re likely to end up as one of the 69.4% of bloggers who make zilch. 

That’s right – the majority of bloggers don’t make any money at all.

From: Blog Tyrant's BIG Blogging Survey
From: Blog Tyrant’s BIG Blogging Survey

Why? Among other things, because they didn’t put in the commitment – 59.3% of bloggers start a blog and then abandon it. 

From: Blog Tyrant's BIG Blogging Survey
From: Blog Tyrant’s BIG Blogging Survey

To make money blogging, it’s likely to take a year to reach part-time income levels. For full-time income levels, double that timeframe.

Okay, so blog monetization is great, but not so easy-peasy. 

Let’s make sure you’re in the minority here and tackle when to monetize.

When should you monetize your blog?

The short answer: monetize your audience when you’ve established your blog and have a growing fanbase.

Like most everything, the long answer comes with more deets.

Does size matter? Of course it does.

Naturally, the bigger your following, the higher your chances of earning a significant income. Critical mass is a real thing. Check it out:

75% of the traffic and 90% of the leads HubSpot pulls in on its blog each month actually come from posts that weren’t published that month. 

From: Want More Blog traffic? Focus on Growing Subscribers - HubSpot
From: Want More Blog traffic? Focus on Growing Subscribers – HubSpot

When you hit critical mass levels, your older content starts working for you, spurring exponential growth like HubSpot’s 2011 and 2012 jumps in blog subscribership and blog traffic. 

But is it a requirement to have a large following? Not at all. 

You can start monetizing your blog as soon as you have your foundation laid out and a growing (even if slowly) subscriber list.

Seems straightforward enough.

Here’s the catch: You need to be willing to commit designated time to create content. And not just dropping an article or two from time to time. You need to publish consistently.

Why? Because that’s how you grow and sustain that growth. There’s no way around it.

So…how often should you blog?

Brands that publish over 16 posts each month get nearly 3.5 times more traffic than companies that publish zero to four monthly blog posts. (Is it good traffic? Is it returning traffic? That’s the topic of another post! One thing at a time.)

From: How Often Should Companies Blog - HubSpot
From: How Often Should Companies Blog – HubSpot

Beyond traffic, your blog frequency also affects the number of leads you pull in. If you’re a company with one to 10 employees (and as a freelancer, you probably are), sources say you’ll benefit the most by blogging more than 10 times per month.

From: How Often Should Companies Blog - HubSpot
From: How Often Should Companies Blog – HubSpot

And…how long should your blog posts be?

As far as blog post length goes, the optimal word count has been getting longer and longer. The average blog post ranges from 1,140 to 1,285 words, so the rule has become to shoot for at least that.

To hit the top 10 positions in search rankings though, you’ll want to write even longer.

Longer content = better search rankings
Longer content = better search rankings

If writing upwards of 2,450 words per post sounds overwhelming to you, you don’t have to leave your freelance blog monetizing dreams behind just yet. Shorter posts work well for different purposes. 

Case in point:

The moral here is: Aim to write at least 10 blog posts each month at 1,000+ words per post. If you’ve got the people-power to pump out more content, do it. And if you can write epic blog posts, (obviously) do that, too.

Sound doable? Then so will what’s next.

Best Blog Monetization Tactics
That Are Actually Doable 

Once you’re churning out content on the regular and building a solid audience, you’re ready to take it to the next level. So let’s get monetizing…

Write Sponsored Blog Posts and Product Reviews

One way to leverage your blog audience is to connect with companies that will pay you to either: 

  • Write a post about a relevant topic that includes a nestled link to their site (a sponsored post) or 
  • Review one of their products and services in your article (a product review).  

For a real life example, check out Lou Martin, a pro blogger, in action on her Product Review Mom blog. 

Lou Martin's Product Review Mom blog makes money by reviewing products

Lou gets paid anywhere from $200 to $500 per post review.

If that sounds like pennies to you, think again. She does this full-time while raising two teen girls. It adds up quick. Three to four quick reviews a week could give her full-time income.

Why does this blog monetization tip work so well? 

With your growing audience comes a niche market that other relevant brands and organizations want to tap into. They’ll pay you to access your like-minded audience.

Lou has drummed up a healthy niche audience that attracts large brand partners such as Disney, Nickelodeon, Neutrogena and more. She’s even got her audience demo info sorted out for partners to scan for a match.

Lou Martin's blog audience demographics

Influencers really take the cake for sponsored posts, though – 54% of them leverage their audiences and partake in publishing sponsored posts.

From: 85 Influencer Marketing Statistics that Will Surprise you in 2018 - Shane Barker Blog
From: 85 Influencer Marketing Statistics that Will Surprise you in 2018 – Shane Barker Blog

The better you are at promoting sponsored posts and the more consistent you are at churning them out, the better your paycheck will be.

If you take a closer look at John Lee Dumas’s Entrepreneurs on Fire blog, the largest portion of his revenue currently comes from his sponsorship arrangements

From: Entrepreneurs on Fire Income Report
From: Entrepreneurs on Fire Income Report

As for what you can charge for sponsored posts, it runs the gamut. 

Annabel Candy, a seasoned 17-year blogger and original founder of SuccessfulBlogging, charges over $700 for a sponsored blog post

Ryan Robinson is another pro blogger who charges $1,500 per sponsored post

AuthorityHacker earns three to five figures in revenue for publishing reviews, as you can see in this 12-month earnings snapshot.

From: Authority Hacker 12-month Earnings Report
From: Authority Hacker 12-month Earnings Report

Naturally, the more your audience grows, the more you have to leverage per sponsored post and review. 

If you’re looking for ways to review products and secure sponsored posts, scope out some of these sites: 

And if you want to copywrite for your clients and help them promote affiliate products, there’s a near-endless supply of affiliate marketing programs to peruse:

But if that doesn’t suit your (or your client’s) brand, our next monetizing method might be more your speed.

Partner Up with Affiliates to Monetize Your Blog

Another monetizing option is to connect with affiliates. Just like sponsored posts, affiliate blogging also involves hooking up with like-minded peeps. 

The difference here is you’re paid a commission fee every time one of your readers purchases their products from one of your blog links.  

If you want to keep your integrity high and your reputation unscathed, make sure your affiliate partner sells products and services that your audience actually cares about

Ask yourself honestly: Will your audience benefit from your affiliate’s offer? 

Follow in the footsteps of others who do affiliate blogging well. Looping back to Michelle Gardner’s Making Sense of Cents blog, she exclusively promotes money-saving sites she believes in.

Money Saving Websites Michelle Gardner Promotes on Her Blog
Money Saving Websites Michelle Gardner Promotes on Her Blog

Which keeps her on topic and serving her audience’s interest with good quality products or services the single top reason why consumers trust brands.

From: Why Customer Trust Brands - Marketing Charts
From: Why Customer Trust Brands – Marketing Charts

There’s no need to inundate your following with useless products that won’t serve them. Beyond being an exercise in futility, doing so runs the risk of losing their trust, hands-down the most lethal biz move you can make.

After all, 63% of customers would only buy from you if they believed you to be authentic and trustworthy. 

On top of that, 81% of consumers “must be able to trust the brand to do what is right.” So don’t blow it. You’ve worked hard at building trust among your blog audience.

Speaking of doing what’s right, it’s a legal U.S. requirement to disclose any affiliate links included in your blog. Michelle also nails this nicely at the top of her affiliates page.

From: Michelle Gardner's Affiliate Page
From: Michelle Gardner’s Affiliate Page

Okay, now that we’re clear on whom to partner up with (those who warrant trust, of course), on to the payouts for affiliate blogging.

An average affiliate commission runs between 5% and 30%

Just like commission rates vary, so do annual affiliate income levels. In one poll of 117 bloggers, the annual affiliate revenue ranged from less than $20,000 to over $2 million.

Why is the range so wide? It depends on several factors. The three biggest are:

  • Industry – Health companies like The Vitamin Shoppe pay out a max of 9% commission, while marketing SaaS companies like SEMrush pay as much as 40% in recurring commission.
  • Product priceGenerally speaking, lower-priced products tend to have higher commission rates and luxury goods often pay out at lower rates, which is why you’ll see a huge range from 1% to 75% on sites like ClickBank. 
  • Vendor’s valuation – Ultimately, payouts are decided on and set by the vendor

The gist of it is: Payouts vary, so while affiliate blogging can make bank for one creator, it can be more like a piggy bank for another.

Even within a single vertical, the numbers can run WILD. For instance, WordPress products offer an average commission payout of 35% for their affiliate programs, but that’s an average with a lot of standard deviation.

From: What's the Most Effective Commission Level for a WordPress Affiliate Program - codeinwp
From: What’s the Most Effective Commission Level for a WordPress Affiliate Program – codeinwp

Let’s zoom out, though, and look at the people behind the numbers.

Can affiliate blogging be a bust? Yes. 

Can you still earn a significant income? Double yes.

As a blogger who partakes heavily in WordPress’s affiliate marketing, Tom Dupuis went from making $20,000 to $150,000 within two years. Here’s a snapshot of a month’s worth of affiliate income at the end of 2018.

From: How to Make Money with Affiliate Marketing (2019 Guide) - Online Media Masters
From: How to Make Money with Affiliate Marketing (2019 Guide) – Online Media Masters

Michelle Gardner attributes 63% of her blog income to affiliates (for the month of August 2019) and she earns over $100,000 per month blogging. 

From: How I Made Money Blogging in August 2019 - Making Sense of Cents
From: How I Made Money Blogging in August 2019 – Making Sense of Cents

For a star-studded example of how much money you can make from affiliate blogging, look no further than Smart Passive Income’s founder, Pat Flynn. 

He earned $200,000 in commission payments for including a link to an exam software product on his first website almost a decade ago

Since then, he’s made hundreds of thousands of dollars from affiliate marketing including $300,000 from a single affiliate agreement with ConvertKit.

From: How I Earned $300K+ Passive Income from One Product - Smart Passive Income
From: How I Earned $300K+ Passive Income from One Product – Smart Passive Income

And yeah, if you’re wondering, the goods are solid on both sides of the affiliate blogging game – 65% of publishers claim the top benefit to affiliate marketing is generating additional revenue.

In the U.S. alone, retailers spend nearly $5.5 billion annually on affiliate marketing and a staggering 84% of online publishers use affiliate marketing. 

Oh, and unlike paid ads, blog publishers like affiliate marketing – 76% of publishers say affiliate programs make monetizing a cinch and 45% claim it doesn’t disrupt the user experience.

From: State of Affiliate Marketing Survey 2017 - Sovrn//Commerce
From: State of Affiliate Marketing Survey 2017 – Sovrn//Commerce

With warm and fuzzy sentiments like these, take a gander at some of today’s most popular affiliate programs:

As you can see, affiliate blogging is a lot like ice cream. There’s an option for every palette and diet.

In sum: Affiliate blogging is a non-intrusive way to serve your readers while making money from said service. Just be sure you can vouch for your affiliate’s offerings.

Our next blog monetizing tactic is also a way to serve your audience with tons of options. 

Productize Your Expertise and Sell a Digital Download to Earn Money Online

Selling digital downloads is a great way to scale your business without sinking in a ton of time.

Why? Because the majority of your work is done on the front-end. Once you’ve created your digital file and uploaded it to your site, you’ve conquered the uphill portion of the hustle. 

From there, you just need to maintain your marketing.

You don’t have to worry about hitting limits on customers or sales. Inventory mistakes that can cost you $10,000 aren’t a problem, either.

That flexibility carries over to the format, too.

You can go the guide route and create a downloadable how-to guide that walks people through your process, just like Robert Joyner does.

He sells his Painters Guide to Design & Composition for $49 a pop. 

Robert Joyner's Complete Guide to Design & Composition
Robert Joyner’s Complete Guide to Design & Composition

Entrepreneur Marc Eglon takes it a step further and sells The Tiny Product Manual for $39, to help creators turn their lightbulb ideas into tiny products. 

Marc Eglon's Tiny Product Manual
Marc Eglon’s Tiny Product Manual

Another option is to make processes super simple and streamlined for people by offering plug-and-play templates. Designer entrepreneur Vanessa Ryan’s Boho Chic Toolbox sells a bundle of templates for designers for $225.

Vanessa Ryan's Boho Chic Toolbox
Vanessa Ryan’s Boho Chic Toolbox

OR you can go a little wild and create an off-the-beaten-path digital download like Chris Albon’s Machine Learning Flashcards, which go for $12 for a package of 300.

Chris Albon's Machine Learning Flashcards
Chris Albon’s Machine Learning Flashcards

Okay, you get the point. 

Keep it relevant to your freelance copywriting business, of course, but there’s room to get creative with your format.

But as varied as digital download formats come, there’s one trait they all have in common (which you need to include): 

They make your target audience’s life easier. 

Put another way, jump on the ol’ “offer value” bus and solve your audience’s problems. 

After all, you’ve written your blog to help people solve their problems in the first place, right?

Selling your digital download shouldn’t be any different. 

Getting to the kind of income you can expect depends on your price. There are a few options for navigating pricing: 

Regardless of your pricing strategy, a good rule to follow is to price above your expenses, taxes and profits. 

And not to be afraid of testing that price out.

Some businesses massively increase their revenue by testing their pricing. Take Server Density, for example, which tested two price points and converted fewer customers but increased their total revenue by a giant 114%.

From: How Server Density Used VWO to Increase Its Revenue by 114%
From: How Server Density Used VWO to Increase Its Revenue by 114%

Okay, that’s all gravy for a SaaS company like Server Density, but it’s not for everyone. 

Be warned that testing your pricing strategy can also come with a couple of caveats:

  • It’s unlikely that your results will reach statistical significance (i.e., can’t be attributed to random chance)
  • You may price anchor and need to explain yourself (e.g., your no-longer-available lower price) to prospective customers

All in all: There’s no hard-fast rule to the type or price of digital download you sell. Get creative and offer something of value to your audience. See what they will – and won’t – pay for it.

If you do this well, you’ll scale your blog income. Our next monetizing tip also offers great scalability.

Sell an Online Course to Make Money Blogging

Another lucrative way to monetize your blog is to package up your knowledge and sell it in the form of an online course. It’s a timely tactic, too. 

Why? The market for elearning is on fire. 

Its latest valuation was $190 billion just last year and is anticipated to grow beyond the $300 billion mark by 2025. And 40% of that market share is anticipated to come from North America, totaling $120 billion by 2025. 

If you want to talk CAGR (compound annual growth rate), the elearning market is projected to grow at a 7% CAGR through the same time span.

From: Global Market Insights - Industry Trends
From: Global Market Insights – Industry Trends

As far as what to focus your course on, choose a topic that combines your passion with your copywriting expertise and has profit potential. 

More specifically, list out a bunch of ideas and start plotting them on this Passion/Profit Matrix.

(Want a printer-friendly version of this matrix? Then check out this 12,000-word guide on how to create, sell and profit from online courses.)

After you’re done plotting, choose the one from the upper-right quadrant that lights you up the most.

This process is how Amanda Boleyn came up with The Basics of Building a Business online course.

Amanda Boleyn's The Basics of Building a Business Course
Amanda Boleyn’s The Basics of Building a Business Course

Although that’s not to say choosing your course topic should end there. There’s a pretty big next step you can’t ignore. 

Validate and then validate again. (Makes it a two-part step, doesn’t it?)

In other words, check in with your audience and find out if your course topic is something they want to learn about and are willing to pay for.

To get useful feedback from your audience, reach out to them and ask questions. There are several ways to do this, so no excuses here:

  • Post about it on your social channels
  • DM people
  • Email your subscriber list
  • Run a poll or survey
  • Make phone calls
  • Chat with people face-to-face
  • Scour forums and groups and engage in conversations
  • Check out Amazon’s book inventory on the topic and read reviews

HOWEVER, it’s not enough just to ask. You need to listen to what your customers want.

That’s the key ingredient for complete market research validation. Once you do that, and only once you do that, you’ll find the effort worthwhile.

How worthwhile? Exceedingly.

That’s what entrepreneur Ryan Kulp’s experience was, anyway. Ryan tweeted to his audience to validate his online course idea and sold over $20,000 in online courses straight out of the gate.

Ryan Kulp validated his course idea with a tweet
Ryan Kulp validated his course idea with a tweet

Vincent Retg, a French entrepreneur who founded Le Musicien Formations, earned nearly 2,000 euros in online course sales in his first month offering his Melody Maker course.

Do you think he got there without validating his idea? (Spoiler: No, he definitely didn’t.)

Vincent Retg's Melody Maker course
Vincent Retg’s Melody Maker course

Finally, our beloved Michelle Gardner earned upwards of $434,698 selling a single online course. 

Michelle Gardner earned $434,698+ from a single course
Michelle Gardner earned $434,698+ from a single course

Success with online courses is like a wheel. The more speed you pick up in one rotation, the faster the next one is…

Every successful course launch puts you closer to launching six-figure courses.

How?

Going from blogger to online course seller is especially profitable as you gain traction and move further along in your blogging career. For pro bloggers who make over $25,000 in monthly income, a ginormous 80% of their income is generated from online courses.

From: 2018 Blog Income Report Research Study - The Blog Millionaire
From: 2018 Blog Income Report Research Study – The Blog Millionaire

However, while online courses are a burgeoning option for writers to monetize their blog, they’re far from the only solution.

If you don’t have the time and energy (or desire, for that matter) to create and market an online course – or if you’re not in a position to teach an entire course because, say, you’re not yet an expert on something – an ebook is another great info product to turn your fans into your patrons. 

Make Money by Selling Ebooks

Copyhackers started with four little ebooks, which brought in about $20K in 5 days and gave Jo the signal she needed to keep going with this biz. Today Copyhackers is a multi seven-figure business that gives ebooks away instead of selling ’em – but it all started with those four ebooks.

Just like the elearning market, ebookers also enjoys a healthy CAGR. The global ebook market is expected to grow at a 3.3% CAGR through 2023. Its current valuation is nearly $13.7 billion in revenue.

From: Statista
From: Statista

The global breakdown is where things get really interesting for the ebook market. The countries with high Internet penetration are the zones with the greatest market share. Check it out by region.

From: Statista
From: Statista

What does that mean for the near future? Look out for the quickly expanding Asia-Pacific region that’s welcoming digitalization and smart device penetration with open arms.

If you’re looking for topic ideas, go with a topic in your expertise wheelhouse that aligns with your passions and your business goals. Creating it will be more fun that way.

(And trust me, you’re going to need a little fun in there. All hard work and no play makes Jack a frustrated freelancer.)

A few fun ebook examples…

Spin up something like the creators of Pasta-based, Matt and Steph, did with their Complete Vegan Italian Thanksgiving ebook.

Creators of Pasta-based Matt and Steph's Complete Vegan Italian Thanksgiving ebook
Creators of Pasta-based Matt and Steph’s Complete Vegan Italian Thanksgiving Ebook

Or something similar to what entrepreneur, David Delahunty, created with his 5 Ideas a Day ebook.

David Delahunty's 5 Ideas a Day Ebook
David Delahunty’s 5 Ideas a Day Ebook

As for anticipated earnings, selling an ebook can potentially put you over the edge and earn enough money to quit your full-time gig. 

That’s what it did for creator Justin Jackson. In 2016, he was able to take the plunge from blogging side-hustler to full-time entrepreneur thanks to his ebook Marketing for Developers

In fact, selling his ebook was the final ingredient needed to bring in $146,000 in revenue that year.   

And Justin did so well with his ebook that he created an online course version of it. (Can you say gravy on top of gravy? His ebook practically became income poutine.)

Justin Jackson's Marketing for Developers Ebook and Course
Justin Jackson’s Marketing for Developers Ebook and Course

If you decide to go the ebook route, though, it comes with a caveat. 

Sure, the global market size projections look great, BUT there’s contending evidence that points to both ebook sales dropping and ebook sales growing. 

Whaa? 

A quick explanation:

In 2017, there was a contentious announcement that ebook sales fell 10%, which meant that 450 represented publishers witnessed a drop in ebook sales from 180 million to 162 million units within a year.

While that may appear to be a bleak outlook, there’s actually growth in the nitty-gritty detail. Reporting on that same year, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos announced that “over 1,000 independent authors surpassed $100,000 in royalties in 2017 through Kindle Direct Publishing.”

Amazon News tweet

Which means: Traditional publisher ebook sales declined while indie-published ebooks soared. 

And to further confuse the market stats, popular Data Guy’s proclamation that ebook sales doubled in 2018 in the U.S. was refuted by The New Publish Standard’s article that stated, “the industry data we’ve seen so far… paints a highly misleading picture of the market.”

From: The New Publish Standard
From: The New Publish Standard

How’s that for a dichotomy?

The main takeaway (and our recommended solution to selling your ebook) is to self-publish your ebook and either:

  • Sell it through your own site if you want all the profits or 
  • Sell it through Amazon with one hand in your pocket poised to hand back some of your revenue. 

10 steps to self-publish an ebook

Jo’s going to create a program on writing and self-publishing an ebook as part of Copyhackers’s upcoming Content School. But for now, to self-publish your ebook, we recommend these 10 simple steps:

  1. Decide on your ebook topic
  2. Record yourself talking about your topic
  3. Get your recording transcribed
  4. Sit down (or stand!) and turn your transcript into a great draft
  5. Title it
  6. Proofread it, format it and add your images
  7. Design your ebook cover
  8. Convert it to a digital download file
  9. Price your ebook
  10. Publish your ebook to your storefront and sell

Pretty straightforward, right?

Phew – that’s five of the best routes to monetize a blog. Let’s recap.

Do you need to carve out an ad budget to make money blogging?

One word: Nope.

Do you need to hit all five of these best blog monetization methods to restock your bank account?

Three words: Most certainly, no. 

Even if you only carry out one, you’ll be miles ahead of zero blog income. It doesn’t even really matter which one it is, either. 

A whopping 61% of consumers make a purchase based on a blog post they’ve read, which means at least 61% of your readers are primed for monetization.

From: Tech Client - Blogging Statistics
From: Tech Client – Blogging Statistics

In other words, if you have anything useful at all to sell to your audience, chances are your blog-reading audience will buy it. (After all, you’re their trusted source who authors the content they’ve been eating up). 

HOWEVER, the more blog monetization channels you tap into, the better off you’ll be. 

Translation: Diversify your blog income (i.e., try as many of these five blog monetization tactics as you can) to earn more money. The more you diversify, the more you’ll earn.

For the cherry on top, let’s go back to our iconic blog monetization king, John Lee Dumas, one more time. 

In September, 2019, his revenue from sponsorships and affiliate revenue are basically even stevens.

From: Entrepreneurs on Fire
From: Entrepreneurs on Fire

But that wasn’t the case just six months ago. Affiliate revenue accounted for almost half of his blog income then.

From: Entrepreneurs on Fire
From: Entrepreneurs on Fire

Imagine how much more that change would’ve hurt if he had less streams to rely on. Or, at the very least, imagine how much more stagnant his income would be if he didn’t keep it varied.

Now, be like John, ditch the ads and start loading up your plate with the buffet spread of blog monetization tactics: 

  • Secure sponsors for your blog posts and review products and services of like-minded businesses
  • Include affiliate links in your blog and receive a commission each time someone purchases
  • Create a digital download and sell it on your blog
  • Productize your knowledge with an online course and sell it to your blog readers
  • Self-publish an ebook and sell it to your blog audience

It’s a choose-your-own-adventure kind of party, so long as you do actually choose. Good luck!

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What Is UX Copywriting?

UX copywriting, or user-experience copywriting, is the act of writing and structuring copy that moves digital users, like visitors and customers, toward accomplishing a goal in an intuitive way. 

Let’s start by viciously ripping that term – UX copywriting – apart.

What is user experience (UX)?

UX describes how, when and why people interact with a product or service – and how they feel about their experience. If you wear clothes, eat food and have a roof over your head, you’re having multiple user experiences every single second. 

Let’s use an article of clothing as an example. Socks! 

If you wear socks, you’re a user of that product, and your experience starts long before your toes get warm ‘n’ cozy. 

First, you realize you need socks. Maybe, like me, you’ve got somewhat of a holey sock epidemic and almost every time you put on a pair, a circle of skin stares right back at ya. So you start shopping for new socks. You compare your options. You find some you want. You buy them. You unpackage them. And finally, you put them on. 

Almost anything can contribute to a good or bad user experience. Like, if I ordered ankle socks online and received thigh highs instead.

Bad experience. 

All user experiences are affected by things like:

  • The reason you decide to use or purchase something in the first place
  • The time of year and time of day you use the product
  • Any friction or pleasant surprises you encounter
  • How you feel throughout the whole journey

UX applies to both physical and digital products but for the rest of this post, I’ll be talking about digital. In digital marketing, we can optimize UX by understanding our audience and creating brand and product interactions that are:

  1. Intuitive
  2. Relevant to people’s needs

And we can use copy to guide them toward a user experience that satisfies both their goals – and ours.

Copywriting is all about purpose and persuasion

When copywriting, we write with a goal in mind.

Always. 

And to achieve that goal, we take the desires people already have and show them how to fulfill them with a product or service. (I’m paraphrasing the legendary Eugene Schwartz and his concept of mass desire here.) 

Ultimately, copy should compel people to take an action. Without a word wasted.

How to make your copy more UX-friendly

UX copywriting is the act of writing and structuring copy that moves people toward accomplishing a goal in an intuitive way. 

You’ve seen this in lots of headlines, microcopy and button copy. I’ll show you an example of each.

UX-friendly headlines

I’m new to conversion copywriting, so I’m eager to learn everything I can. This means I’m on an endless hunt for books, courses and training to better my skills. 

And even though I’m actively looking for guidance, I probably won’t buy a conversion copywriting kit from some guy in an alley.

Or blindly follow advice I find online.

I want to make sure I’m getting copywriting resources from someone I trust. 

Like Copyhackers.

Example of UX copywriting in a heading

When I’m greeted with the Copyhackers headline above, I’m snagged.

The headline acknowledges where I’m at in my journey as a fresh-to-the-biz conversion copywriter and offers something I need – the essentials. 

This headline contributes to a positive user experience by:

  • Keeping the copy succinct
  • Using bold formatting to emphasize the benefit of this page
  • Directly relating to me and what I do by using the term conversion copywriting – so I’m keen to continue reading and eventually sign up to receive the Conversion Copywriting 101 course.

UX-friendly microcopy

I write Facebook ads, so I have a vested interest in how social media advertising engages people. 

Example of UX copywriting in microcopy

When I see this post, I’m instantly intrigued by the title. Below that, I notice the name of the author – Sarah Sal – as well as the microcopy: “19 Min Read.” 

The estimated reading time answers an important question: 

  • How much time will I need to set aside to read this?

Once I know how long it will take, I can decide if there’s enough cushion in my schedule at this exact moment or if I should save it for later. 

So even though I may not read the post right away, the microcopy gives me the details I need to plan to read it another day, which still brings me one step closer to accomplishing the main goal of reading the article. 

UX-friendly button copy

The copy on any button should persuade people to click it because they believe it will make their life better. 

Example of UX copywriting in button copy

The button text above makes that click extra enticing by offering me front-of-the-line-access to Copyhackers’ guest blogging course. 

In addition to that, the button copy creates a good user experience by:

  • Centring the text so my eyes are focused right where the button should be clicked
  • Using a different colour from the rest of the text, so I understand it has a different purpose
  • Formatting the word ‘all’ in upper case which disrupts the sentence case pattern and stops me from skimming

Steve Krug said it best…

Don’t make me think.

Whether clicking a button or scrolling down a page, people want clarity. And they want to make decisions they feel good about. 

How to make reader journeys easier with UX copywriting (so we can all accomplish our goals)

Our job as copywriters and digital marketers is first to listen to what people want and need, then illustrate the easiest ways to accomplish their goals – without any distractions or wasted words. 

We couldn’t do this without:

  1. Listening to our audience. Understanding their hopes. Fears. Desires. Frustrations. These insights are essential for good copy and good user experience. 
  2. Adopting web conventions. On landing pages, sales pages and emails, people expect buttons to look like buttons. They expect hyperlinks to be underlined. Headlines to be bolded. Messages to be matched. If we don’t follow best practices, we risk confusing (and losing) our audience. 

Both clients and customers have important goals. Copywriters find where those align so they can show people how to achieve their desires. Good UX copy makes the journey effortless. 

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What Is a Swipe File? And Why Does Every Copywriter Need One?

A swipe file is a collection of memorable content you can use for copywriting ideas. Save emails, pages, ads, etc. in your “swipe file.” And refer to your swipes for inspiration (and in place of templates) when you start writing.

Do you look at the blank screen and feel unprepared to write copy?

Then you should add an organized swipe file to your copywriting toolbox.

I depend on my swipe file for the many copywriting projects I work on as a conversion copywriter at Copyhackers Agency.

This is how I set up my swipe file

  • I save screenshots of pages and ads in swipe folders within Google Drive, which I share with our team
  • I star emails in Gmail, which sends them to Airstory as cards I can reference later, when I’m writing in Airstory
  • I also have a bunch of swipe-file folders set up in Gmail, and I move different emails to those folders

If you’re starting out with an email swipe file, consider using these folder names in Gmail, to organize the emails you’ll be saving:

  • Email Swipes: Welcome emails
  • Email Swipes: Nurturing emails
  • Email Swipes: Sales emails
  • Email Swipes: Cart abandonment emails
  • Email Swipes: Upsells and cross-sells
  • Email Swipes: SDR / 1-to-1
  • Email Swipes: Other
  • Email Swipes: DIFFERENT
  • Email Swipes: BEST

What goes under “Different” and “Best”?

That’s where you’ll save emails that are, respectively, different from the norm or expectations – which may or may not be good – and extremely, extremely awesome.

Keep in mind: A swipe file is a collection of ads and content you like. You probably have no idea if it’s performing well. So use your swipe file as inspiration – not as a Bible.

Here is an example of a swipe file

Let’s say you need to write a homepage for a client in the fitness industry. Even with research in hand, you could use a little inspiration to get started.

A collection of fitness-specific landing pages, like this, would help you:

Example of a swipe file of fitness home pages

This is not the time to start looking for pages to swipe because I guarantee you will not find what you’re looking for.

You will, in fact, end up spending the next few hours sliding deeper and deeper into your search only to find yourself holding a serious opinion about the merits of a didgeridoo performance on Australia’s Got Talent.

How to start swiping 

Get yourself in the habit of collecting swipes regularly.

For example, start with websites and swipe the following pages (by taking screenshots of them):

  • Home 
  • Pricing 
  • Features 
  • Demo 
  • About
  • Blog
  • Resources
  • Customer success

Then you can further categorize your swipe files by industry.

You don’t have to start with websites, of course. You can start with landing pages, or thank you pages or opt-in pop-ups. It doesn’t matter. What matters is getting in the habit of taking screenshots and adding them to your swipe file.

Let me repeat that it’s the habit part that’s important here. Make it a part of your routine. Set reminders for yourself. The more you remember to do it, the easier it will become.

Swipe files are filled with work that may outperform the control or may not (you have no idea, usually)

When you consult your swipes, you likely won’t know whether or not it converted well – unless you’re adding swipes like this home page copy that beat the control or thiS SaaS onboarding sequence that beat the control.

The point is not to copy the swipe word for word, obviously. The purpose is guidance and learning:

  • How an argument is presented
  • How pricing levels are compared
  • How offers are positioned
  • What the tone and voice were
  • Etc.

It’s meant to help you find a starting point or give you ideas about what else you may want to include that bolsters the case you’re making with your copy.

Even if you know an email performed well – and you use it for inspiration – it doesn’t guarantee the email you write will perform well. 

Using swipes should be just one part of your overall copywriting process. A process that should also include research into the product or service, the audience and competitors. 

What details should you record in your swipe file?

So what should you be looking for in your swipes? – beyond types of pages, industries and categories?

If you want to dig a little deeper into what’s going on behind the copy (and I hope you do), then you could look for any of the following:

  • A big idea: Is there one? How is it threaded through the page or email campaign?
  • Messaging hierarchy: Can you follow a conversation? Or is it muddled?
  • Formula or frameworks: Is there one? Is it used well?
  • Voice of customer: Does it sound like something a customer would say? Or the way a marketer would talk?
  • Emotion: What emotion or outcome is being sold? Where is the emotion used?
  • Elements of persuasion: Is there social proof provided? Are testimonials supporting the conversion?

This is not a comprehensive list. If you’re a veteran copywriter, then you know there’s a long list of copywriting formulas and techniques you can look for and categorize. 

And if you’re new to copywriting, I’d suggest you supplement your swipe file by reading books about copywriting, or blogs about copywriting like Copyhackers (here’s a good place for newbies to start). Many resources will include samples of well-performing ads and sales pages you can learn from.

By collecting swipes, you’re filling your copywriting toolbox with inspiration and ideas that help you get started on a project. Because there’s not much that’s worse than staring at a blank screen and not knowing what to do first.

With a swipe file you can try out a few ideas and see what works best – it may take a few tries, but it’s still better than paralysis and anxiety.

Once you see how much a swipe file can help with your writing process, you’ll never want to write without one.

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3 Customer Interview Techniques to Get Rich Customer Data

When customer interviews go badly, with one-word answers or poor engagement, try these three things: vocalize pauses, repeat back responses and “name their claim.”

One question into your interview, the worst is clear:

Your customer is not a talker. 

Managing the customer interview and drawing out valuable customer data is, of course, your job. But landing a one-word answer when you’re anticipating a meaty response is an unpleasant surprise – no matter how good an interviewer you are. 

And if you’re not braced to handle such unpleasantries, you’ll be thrown off-kilter and off-script.

Don't let an awkward customer interview throw you off-kilter!

So before you hop on your next customer interview call, prep yourself with these three psychology-backed strategies to move beyond the awkward silence and glean rich nuggets of insight, even when your customer dishes out the tiniest of sentence fragments.

Technique 1: Bring the customer interview to a momentary halt with a vocal pause 

Yes, it’s your job to keep the conversation going. But more important than continuity is keeping the conversation on track. 

The right track. 

The track where you end that Zoom recording with a deep and intimate understanding of who your customer truly is – and with voice-of-customer data you can actually swipe

Here’s how: 

When your customer answers short, you go long – and take what I call a “vocal pause” 

A vocal pause is when you intentionally hesitate a second to regroup after being caught off guard, but you say something over the silence to mask it.

Examples of a vocal pause include:

“Hmm, that’s interesting, okay.”

“I see, I see.”

“Okay, okay, that makes sense.”

“Ah, okay. Hmm, so let me see….”

These are filler words. They mean little, but they accomplish a lot: they help you take pause without actually pausing. 

This? is?key ?, folks.

If you don’t pause and instead panic and hop over to the next question, you’re wasting a golden opportunity to dig deeper. 

It’s okay to be caught off guard. It happens.

And with the vocal pause, you can still save face and stay in the driver’s seat of your customer interview – before you reroute to a sharper question.

Technique 2: Double-check your customer’s response 

This step’s a tad cheeky, but it works.

When you’ve had a sec to recalibrate (a la Technique 1), the easiest and smartest way to dive back into the interview is to double-check where your customer is at.

How?

Say what you heard them say right back at ’em. In their words. Then, cheekily check you’ve got it right. 

I’ll show you what that sounds like in a minute, but here’s why it works. It’s called active listening, and done right, it achieves two monumental goals:

  1. It tells your customer you’re actually listening! Which is huge. And ridiculously uncommon. When people feel that heard, they can’t help but feel THIIIIIIIIIIS AMOUNT of safe. And feeling safe is directly tied to how willing they are to open up to you… a stranger.  
  2. When you reflect back what you heard your customer say, you’re kickstarting a sentence – their sentence – for them to finish. Which they will. And nine times out of 10, they’ll add a little extra. 

This is how you start to dig deep – by turning your customer interview into a conversation. 

Here’s an example of a customer interview, which I like to use when I lead customer research workshops: 

The interviewer below was trying to unpack why the customer chose a particular brand of cat food, but the customer kept coming back with an unhelpful response: “Well, I just go to the shop and buy it.” 

In a role play, I used the double-check technique to dig deeper. Take a look at what happened.

?Customer: “I just go into the store and get it. It’s what’s on the shelf.”

?‍♀️Interviewer: “I see. Okay. So you buy that cat food because it’s just what’s in the store, what’s on the shelf. Did I get that right, or… ?”

?Customer: “Yeah, it’s just there. It’s convenient and it’s the one I know.”

Bingo! Now we’re onto something. 

Thanks to a super simple double-check, we now know that the customer is deeply loyal to his brand. So loyal he doesn’t think twice about it. To know it’s not just a matter of convenience and apathy like we thought at first, is actually a pretty big deal (see why). 

Let’s break down how we got to that insight using this customer interviewing technique:

  1. First, the customer offered up a two-dimensional answer. Nothing rich or emotional. 
  2. I paused, repeated it back to him IN HIS WORDS, and…
  3. Checked if I’d gotten it right. How did I double-check? Here’s the clincher. By adding a two-letter word at the end of my question: “or?”. This mighty word flipped my double-check from a closed to an open-ended question.
  4. And that’s exactly what helped the customer, all on his own, to take a step further and share more detail.

See, most people don’t have well-thought out reasons for why they buy the things they do. They need your help to tease it out.

When you repeat back what they are telling you, they get a chance to a) hear it and b) correct it. 

This helps you both unpack their true, unconscious rationale – together. 

Technique 3: “Name their claim

What if you do a vocal pause, double-check what you heard and your customer still dishes out a plain old “Yes, that’s right” when you reflect back? 

Are you doomed? Is my three-step technique a farce?

No and no.

Here’s the game plan.

If your customer still isn’t giving you much and you want to go even deeper, here’s how: 

Give what your customer just shared a name.

Call it something.

Is it convenience? Is it ease? Is it a no-brainer? Is it being cost effective? 

See, even though people have lived their own experience and know it by heart, most haven’t had to talk about it. Which means they don’t know how to describe or articulate it. To do that, your customer needs your help. 

And this is really good news for you. 

When you strap words to your customer’s personal experience, it’s like adding color to a black and white image. It’s a welcome attention to detail. 

That, and naming their claim also gives them something to react to. 

They can yay or nay the label you’ve offered, and help you finetune and flesh it out. 

Let’s see it in action. We’ll use the same interview as above so you get a fuller picture. 

?Customer: “I just go into the store and get it. It’s what’s on the shelf.”

?‍♀️Interviewer: “I see. Okay. [VOCAL PAUSE] So you buy that cat food because it’s just what’s in the store, what’s on the shelf. Did I get that right, or… ?” [DOUBLE-CHECK] 

?Customer: “Yeah, it’s just there. It’s convenient and it’s the one I know.”

?‍♀️Interviewer: “Ah, okay. So you pick it because you know… that it’s good? [NAMING] That it’s worked before so it’ll work again?” [NAMING] 

?Customer: “Yeah, yeah.”

?‍♀️Interviewer: “Okay, makes sense. [VOCAL PAUSE] Is that a convenience thing?” [NAMING]

?Customer: “Yeah, yeah.”

At this point, I have enough of the story to start unpacking it, which is exactly what I proceed to do…

?‍♀️Interviewer: “Okay, so, let me ask you this. Are there other cat food options at the store?”

?Customer: “Don’t know, I just picked that one.” 

?‍♀️Interviewer: “So you don’t really pay attention to what other ones there are?”

?Customer: “No, I just get the same one every time.”

?‍♀️Interviewer: “It sounds like getting the same one is maybe easier. Like you don’t have to think about it. You just trust that brand? Is that right?”

?Customer: “Yeah, yeah. I like that brand, it works for me, why change what’s working.” 

Do you see the pattern here?

The job of the interviewer isn’t just to administer a reel of pre-determined customer interview questions. It’s to dive right in with the customer and unpack their story with them. 

When you’re with a tight-lipped customer, they’re not skirting you out of spite or because they’re consciously holding out. 

They genuinely don’t have more to say, and often, it’s because they haven’t thought it through. They haven’t looked into why they bought this brand at that store. 

Understanding that mastering your job as customer interviewer means helping your customer realize what you want to know – that’s the difference between a dud of an interview packed with one-word dead ends and an interview so insightful, you can’t take notes fast enough.

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The ‘Complete-Nobody’ Guide to Guest Posting Fame and Fortune (By the Guy Who Built a Career Out of It)

Once upon a time, I was a nobody…

A little over five years ago, I found myself unemployed and unemployable.

That’s not hyperbole.

Before launching into guest posting and content marketing, my first dream – if you can believe it – was to be a pastor. I earned my undergraduate degree in English and went on to graduate school for a Masters in Divinity.

Then, my life imploded. 

It started with a wrecking-ball event out of my control and culminated in a bomb I assembled with my own two hands – made of resentment, anger and entitlement. 

I won’t belabor the details. Suffice to say, there I was: 31 years young, standing amidst the burnt rubble of a life torn down.

The one thing I had going for me was that my previous life had taught me all communication is sales: getting what’s inside my heart and mind into someone else’s in a way that makes them say, “Yes.”

The only other thing I had going? Desperation.

“Aaron,” I thought, “you’ve got to do something to eat. You can communicate pretty well. Maybe there are people out there selling things to other people who can’t communicate well. Maybe they would pay you to help.”

And thus, a marketer was born.

I hit the ground running with the speed and tenacity only one part desperation and two parts ignorance can provide. (Thank God for the latter!)

As I began devouring the likes of Copyblogger, Neil Patel, MarketingProfs and – yes, not to suck up – Copyhackers, I noticed a unifying ingredient on their sites: logos.

Logos depicting where they’d published and clients they’d worked for. Logos that screamed social proof: “These companies and people trust me. They gave me money. You should too.”

Logo envy, the desire to look like somebody even though I was nobody, took over my heart.

After grinding out the first few months as a newbie online writer, I began researching a select handful of sites. It started with niche marketing publications – like MarketingProfs, Copyblogger, Content Marketing Institute and Unbounce. 

When the approach I’ll detail below worked, I then sent off a completed article to multiple mainstream sites. Low and behold, Entrepreneur picked it up.

Entrepreneur even told me I could continue to submit to them. 

The lights came on. That was the a-ha, holy shit moment!

If all I did was study what publications already loved, layer on something trending (either from search or social) and craft an entire article just for them… the doors would open.

And open they did – even for a nobody like me:

Just a few of the over 40 publishers I’ve guest blogged for over the last five years

Guest blogging was the primary sales funnel that grew my freelance writing business from nothing to six figures in a year and a half. 

It gave me authority and social proof (when – to put it bluntly – I didn’t deserve either).

Eventually, guest blogging landed me a job as editor in chief of Shopify Plus – the enterprise arm of the world’s fastest-growing and most-valuable non-Amazon ecommerce brand.

The key to my success was guest posting – an all-out blitz across mainstream and niche publications despite starting out with zero credibility and zero connections.

Over the last four months, I’ve damn near killed myself putting together Master of Guest Blogging – the inaugural course in Copyhackers Content School. It contains everything I learned on both sides of the divide: as a guest blogger and as an editor in chief.

The more time I spent working on the course, the more thankful I became for my original two parts ignorance.

Why?

Because had I known and adhered to what gets passed off as guest-blogging guidance, I never would have made it.

If you’re a would-be guest blogger, three myths stand in your way. Three lies that will condemn you before you even begin.

So, let’s name the demons and demolish them!


Pst… in the third myth I’m going to introduce you to a few people who aren’t writers but have used guest blogging to grow their businesses by leaps and bounds.

Within the course, there are actually 35 original contributions from leaders across a host of professions: SaaS developers, founders, growth strategists, ad buyers, ecommerce owners and (yes) content creators as well as lowly writers.

I asked Joanna real nice and she said we could give away that entire BONUS PDF. Discover how guest blogging helped fuel their businesses along with the one thing they wish they knew before they started…

Download the BONUS: Authority & the Benefits of Guest Blogging (PDF)


Guest posting myth 1: You have to be special, creative and talented

Confession: I’m probably the least original dude you’ll ever meet. The fact that I wear the title “creator” is nonsense.

However, in the world of guest blogging, my lack of originality is far from a detriment. It’s probably the leading characteristic of my success.

What do I mean?

No matter how journalistic a site or publication may appear, editors care about one thing: popular content

Popular content equals traffic. And traffic equals ad revenue, subscribers or (in some cases) customers.

Editors want articles that align with what’s currently working for their site, without overlapping or cannibalizing existing content.

While popular content looks different publication to publication, within a publication – and even within a publication niche – it changes very little. 

The secret is…

Popular content isn’t invented. It’s discovered.

Unfortunately, most writers don’t put in the work upfront to figure out exactly what already works. 

Good news: if you do put in that work, you’ll be lightyears ahead of the competition. Not to mention, more than halfway toward the goal of seeing your words come to life.

I do tons of research before I ever write a word. (What’s more, when I was editor in chief at Shopify Plus, I salivated over submissions that showed that same level of preparation.)

For example, in addition to that first post on Entrepreneur when Mindy Kaling was trending, my research process landed me on Success Magazine when Jimmy Fallon was hot and again when Stephen Colbert took over the Late Show.

Aaron Orendorff's guest posts in Success Magazine

It served me at Unbounce when Straight Outta Compton dropped and made me an official top-performing blogger at Content Marketing Institute multiple times over.

Aaron Orendorff's guest posts for Unbounce and the Content Marketing Institute

It even got me into places like Mashable and The Next Web, which – because I don’t have any technical expertise – I have no real business writing for.

Aaron Orendorff's guest posts for Mashable and The Next Web

Maybe you’ve already noticed a pattern. But ‘celebrities-plus-pop-culture-equal-editorial-hallelujahs’ is just the tip of the iceberg.

What began as (1) collecting 10 of a publisher’s most-popular articles via Buzzsumo, (2) noting their topics and headline patterns and merging that with (3) whatever celebrity was currently ranking on Google Trends

…eventually became a 10-step template; a (dare I say it) scientific process for the pitch-perfect guest post.

Let me break it down for you…

Start by creating a Google Sheet. 

First, enter 1-20 in Column A and then use the 10 steps above to label the rest of the columns:

Preview of the Reverse Engineering “Yes” Template within Master of Guest Blogging

1. Popular

Collect 10 to 20 of your target publisher’s most popular existing articles using (1) onsite lists – normally on their homepages or within specific sections – (2) “best of” round-up articles or (3) social media counters (e.g. Buzzsumo).

Drop those URLs into column B.

2. Headlines

Copy and paste all the headlines from those articles (one by one or by exporting them from Buzzsumo) into column C.

3. Headline characters

Enter the formula =len(C2) into the next column – where C is the column and 2 is the row. That will automatically calculate the number of characters in the selected cell. Drag that cell down to the end of your list and run the AVERAGE formula at the bottom.

Behold, the power of math – the perfect length for your headline.

4. Headline patterns

Examine each headline like a popularity bloodhound.

Do they use numbers, names, scientific words, questions, trends, “how-to” phrases, contrarian perspectives, the promise of intrigue and surprise or any other dominant patterns?

A sampling of additional headline questions from inside Master of Guest Blogging - plus, there’s WAY more!
A sampling of additional headline questions from inside Master of Guest Blogging – plus, there’s WAY more!

5. Word count

Use Bulk Web Page Word Count Checker to drop in batches of 10 URLs at a time, download the Excel file, paste the corrected word count into your Google Doc and then… AVERAGE.

6. Formality Score

Skim each article – paying special attention to the introduction (lede) and conclusion. Then, give each one a formality score of 1 to 3:

  1. Weekend Cookout (Hella informal)
  2. Casual Friday (Formal)
  3. Gala (Most formal)

7. Subheadings

Roll through the articles again, this time noting their subheadings:

  • How many?
  • Use of numbers?
  • Title case or sentence case?
  • One or multiple lines?
  • Punctuation?

8. Links

Hover over each of the links in the articles and note whether they’re onsite or offsite. Also, count the total number of links. (Links are SEO currency. Editors know this and treat them accordingly.)

9. Data Points

Tabulate the total number of data points contained within each article. Data is how a pub shows proof. This will immediately tell you how much evidence you’ll need for your guest post.

10. Media

Media is a catchall term that identifies five elements… 

  • Images: Number and kinds
  • Gifs: Number and yes or no
  • Videos: Number and sources
  • Custom visualizations: Yes or no
  • Copyrighted media: Yes or no

In the end, what you’ll come away with is a comprehensive checklist to guide you into the perfect article.

Your comprehensive checklist to guide you into the perfect guest post
Your comprehensive checklist to guide you into the perfect guest post
Even better, by following this process you’ll be in the trenches over and over with your target publication’s most-popular pieces!

Time spent marinating inside those articles is invaluable.

Of course, the question is: Why spend all that time researching a single pitch?

Guest posting myth 2: Pitch first, ask questions send articles later

Pitch is a terrible word. Why? Because pitch implies sending an idea or a listicle of ideas.

The problem with that is…

Online publications feed the beast; they’re hungry for content. Ravenous.

As a result, editors are busy AF.

Editors don’t have time to look at a portfolio of previous articles or to cook up a topic and angle. Nor do they want to wade through a 10- or 20-point list of “article ideas and headlines.”

That’s homework. Never give an editor homework. Instead, make it as easy as possible for an editor to say, “Yes.”

A pitch doesn’t do that (except for top-tier print magazines). Most only add effort to an editor’s already crowded plate.

Having lived on both sides of the divide – as a guest blogger and as Shopify Plus’ editor in chief – I know this all too well.

What I longed for at Shopify was a guest post I could hit “Publish” on as quickly as possible with as little back-and-forth as possible.

As a guest blogger, instead of sending pitches, I sent completed articles customized for each publication. All but one of my breakthrough guest posts came from sending a fully researched, custom-tailored, completed article with a short email that basically said:

“Here’s a finished article. I wrote it just for you.” 

Followed by a link to a Google Doc or an attached Word document.

Inside the full Master of Guest Blogging course, I walk through a host of real emails I have sent to editors – some successful, some not.

Those hard-won lessons culminated in three short email templates and two journalistic templates. Here’s one of the three short versions:

Short email template for guest posting pitch to editors

Seriously. That’s it!

I used that template as a cold email to kick down the doors at pretty much all the mainstream sites shown below:

Huffington Post was the outlet that truly taught me the value of less is more when it comes to pitching…

I literally tried to crack Huffington Post for years. Here’s a mere sampling of the emails I sent to various editors:

Various guest posting pitch emails sent to the editors at the Huffington Post

Each time I would load the emails with more and more places I’d written for or stats on my articles’ performances – all evidence designed to make someone say, “Ah, Aaron Orendorff is somebody. We should publish his article on our site.”

Guest posting pitch email sent to an editor at the Huffington Post

Alas, each and every one of those pitches were either rejected or (by and large) ignored.

Ironically, the email that finally worked was one line sent straight to Arianna Huffington herself…
Successful guest posting pitch email sent to Arianna Huffington

Finally, success:

Response from Arianna Huffington to Aaron Orendorff's guest posting pitch email

Not only is that the most successful template I’ve ever used, but the illustrious Andy Crestodina also immortalized its ethos in his book, Content Chemistry, as well as blowing up my social accounts every few months by including it in a number of his conference presentations:

Image via Kelvin Claveria (Twitter)

But, what if you’re not a writer?

Guest posting myth 3: Guest posts only work for ‘content creators’

There are plenty of objections to adopting guest posting as a growth strategy for your business. Most of them – to be honest – are excuses to shield us from the risk of rejection.

The most-plausible sounding protest goes like this:

“Sure, guest blogging worked for you, Aaron. But you’re a writer. I’m not. It won’t work for me.”

Lies! But don’t take my word for it.

Rather than try to convince you that guest posting can add fuel to any career path or service… instead, I asked 35 influencer-status leaders in a variety of industries three questions:

  1. Has guest blogging helped you grow your business?
  2. How has guest blogging helped grow your business?
  3. What’s the one thing you wish you knew when you started?

Here’s the best part…

20 of the 35 were not writers or content creators!

Using an incredibly scientific scale, here’s how their answers to the first question about “has” guest blogging helped shook out…

  • Hell yeah! 63%
  • Yes: 26%
  • Sorta: 11%
  • No: 0%

You can grab all 35 answers to the second two questions, so – for now – I simply want to highlight three of my favorite responses from two non-writers and one content creator.

First up: Savannah Sanchez, a paid media manager at the Facebook agency Common Thread Collective. Earlier this year, Savannah published her first guest post. The result?

Savannah Sanchez on guest blogging
Savannah Sanchez, Common Thread Collective

“After guest blogging on Sumo, I was able to generate a significant increase in leads and traffic to my website, social following and Common Thread Collective.

“It was a huge win all around – and it never hurts to have your boss see business come in from your offsite efforts.

“From there, I’ve often referenced my guest blogging when submitting to speaking opportunities. Plus, it’s been a great bonus to include the article on my personal website to add more validation of my expertise.

“Last, my guest blog is also ranking highly for the “Facebook Metrics” keyword, which is an awesome spot to be in (especially heading into the holiday’s peak campaign season).”

Her advice to would-be (and soon-to-be!) guest bloggers is equally illuminating:

“Keep engaged with the comments! It’s easy to forget to comment moderate when the blog doesn’t live on your own website.

“However, there could be valuable potential clients that are asking questions in the comments of your guest blog.”

Second, Ross Simmonds – CEO of Foundation Marketing. You may know Ross from his top-rated conference appearances, his prolific Twitter output or his writing.

But, Ross is not a writer by trade. Instead, he’s essentially a CMO (chief marketing officer) for hire who majors on strategy, ecommerce operations and video marketing:

Ross Simmonds, Foundation Marketing, on guest posting
Ross Simmonds, Foundation Marketing

“Guest blogging was the fastest way for me early on in my career to build relationships with some of the best in the industry, build an audience, establish authority and drive more traffic to my site.

“As I began writing for bigger publications, more opportunities unlocked and with every opportunity came the chance to connect with a new audience. It’s one of the most effective ways to reach an already engaged and targeted audience.”

His tip on how to “drive additional eyeballs to existing content that you have developed” stopped me in my tracks:

“One of the key drivers of our agency’s early success on Slideshare was the act of embedding our decks into guest posts.

“This resulted in generating more than 1M views on Slideshare and generating thousands of emails.”

Third, Josh Steimle – our token writer. ?

Josh is the author of The 7 Systems of Influence and Founder of MWI International Digital Agency. Pay special attention to his careful selection of sites to publish on and how that correlates with results:

Josh Steimle, MWI International Digital Agency, on guest posting
Josh Steimle, MWI International Digital Agency

“I’ve written 300+ articles for more than two dozen top-tier publications like Forbes, Entrepreneur and Mashable. But – when it comes to building a personal brand – guest blogging for smaller, niche sites has been a necessary ingredient to give me ‘street cred.’

“That enhanced credibility has led to more revenue for my companies, speaking gigs and a book deal.

“For example, when I went to launch my masterclass on how to become a contributor, guest blogging on ProBlogger allowed me to get in front of my ideal audience where they were hanging out and in a more credible way than if the same post had been in Time or Inc.”

What did he wish he knew before he got started?

“Don’t use impersonal templates for your pitches with a cluttered list of ideas! Any website worth guest blogging on gets hundreds if not thousands of pitches per month and they can spot a template pitch a mile away.

“The worst offender I see starts with: ‘I see you post about [topic]. I really liked your post [post title]. I would like to contribute a guest post on this topic at no cost to you, just include a link to our website.’

“Instead of doing what everyone else is doing, playing the guest blog lottery and hoping you win by sending out a lot of emails, send fewer emails but increase the quality.”

“First, verify that they accept guest blog posts… Second, if they do accept guest posts, write a paragraph or two that don’t merely prove you know what they’ve already published but show you know where they’re going and what they want to publish in the future.

“Think of a blog owner as a collector of rare animals and find what’s missing from their collection. 

“If someone came to me and said, ‘I see you’re focusing a lot these days on your 7 Systems, but you haven’t published a lot about System #3 and I have some ideas for guest posts that could give you more content focused on that,’ then that would be pretty compelling.

“It would prove to me they’ve gone further than a temple and they really know the content on my site. Who knows, perhaps someone could even convince me to start accepting guest posts with a pitch like that.”


Want even more guidance and inspiration? Then grab all 35 of the original contributions here…

PDF download from Aaron Orendorrf 'Authority & the Benefits of Guest Blogging'.

Authority & the Benefits of Guest Blogging (PDF)


One last (BONUS!) guest posting myth: The truth is #LetsGetRejected

Finally, the last and perhaps most dangerous myth about guest posting is: “No means it’s over.”

Let me assure you of two things.

Number one: rejection is coming. Number two: rejection is just the beginning.

I’d wager 75% of all my published articles were rejected by at least one outlet (often more than one).

The keyword in that last sentence? Published.

Within the course, I pull back the curtain on the reality of rejection and share how those same articles – with slight tweaks – got almost immediately approved by a different site.

In fact, to show I’m serious, this is what the true behind-the-scenes history of my first mainstream article – the one about Mindy Kaling – looked like:

Email history of guest post pitches by Aaron Orendorff

I’d sent that exact same email not only to seven different addresses at Entrepreneur… but a week prior I’d also sent it to multiple addresses at:

  • Huffington Post
  • Mashable
  • Forbes
  • Inc.
Each of those pubs either rejected it or didn’t respond to the same f****** article. Seventeen nos. But, it only takes one yes.

With every article I wrote, every pitch I sent, every pitch I resent… and resent – as my finger hovered over the trackpad… my cursor atop the scariest button you’ll ever see in your life – “Send” – every time, I told myself:

“Let’s get rejected.”

Why?

Because I knew that fear was going to be the thing that stopped me. Fear of hearing no. Fear of hearing nothing. Fear of being told, “This isn’t good enough. You’re not good enough.”

And so, I embraced the fear. I rigged my heart and mind – I steeled myself against the terror – in the only way I knew how.

I made rejection the goal.

I wanted to be the kind of person who does shit. Fear was and is the only thing that stops me – that stops any of us – from doing really, really, really great shit.

Embracing the oncoming failure inverts it. It turns fear on itself.

If you’d like to join me on the journey, you can sign up for the course here. Just remember: #LetsGetRejected.

Please, tell me when you do.

And… when you don’t.

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