Let me share how to write persuasive website copy that sells like David Ogilvy.
Who’s David Ogilvy ?
He wrote the best selling book Confessions of an Advertising Man and ran one of America’s most successful advertising agencies.
So I’m repurposing his timeless copy advice for the 21st century to help you write persuasive copy that can sell people on your services and blog posts.
But first …
Table of Contents
- Difference between website copy and web content
- Website copy I wrote generates organic traffic worth £25,000
- Website copy is an investment not a cost
- Headline is the most important element
- User research
- Service page or blog post ?
- 3 ways to research users
- Write 16 headlines
- A/B Test Your Headlines
- Headline Power Words
- David Ogilvy would turn on his grave at these titles
- Write body copy for one person
- First sentence
- H2 and sub sections
- Use Facts and Data
- Short words, sentences and paragraphs
- Images and Videos
- Scan and skim content and copy
- Length of copy
- Call To Action
Difference between website copy and web content
Website copy is the words and phrases you write on your web pages to inform, educate, convince and encourage readers to take action.
Where website content is the parent, website copy is the child.
Website content includes :
- Website copy
- Audio, sound, podcasts
- Documents such as PDFs
Website copy I wrote generates organic traffic worth £25,000
For just one web page.
Client’s page generates organic traffic worth $218,400 a year.
For just one web page.
Competitor’s top 10 pages generate organic traffic worth $1.44 million a year
Having just found this out about a competitor; one I’m jealous and two I’m inspired to replicate the success of their copywriting skills.
The numbers I’ve quoted are the estimated organic traffic value of their pages found using Ahrefs.
These figures are the equivalent advertising costs the website owners would pay Google to generate this traffic.
Website traffic has a monetary value; you pay Google for clicks to your website or you pay in time and resources to earn the traffic organically.
What I don’t know is the actual revenue these websites generate from the traffic.
We could always ask them !
Website copy is an investment not a cost
When some clients read a proposal that I charge £1980 for one web page many dismiss me.
That’s too much money for one page they say.
But when I tell them that this page would cost them £42,000 a year to earn traffic and that 12 months later that page earned them £8300 in sales the conversation changes.
Unless you see great website copy as an investment the rest of this guide will probably be of little use.
Headline is the most important element
Before you can write a headline first you need to know who you’re targeting and you can’t do that without research.
That’s the part David Ogilvy omitted from the copywriting chapter of his book.
Using the paid keyword research tool Ahrefs I found 131,421 keywords containing “web design”.
However, only 160 of those keywords included commercial intent queries such as “order, service, hire, buy”.
0.5% of people are looking for services.
Let’s take the search query “copywriter”.
There are 21,147 search queries that include the keyword “copywriter”.
Only 280, or 1% of them include the word “order, service, hire, buy, get” in the query.
Whilst this is only a tiny sample, we can compute the majority of people are not using Google to find your services or products.
They are looking for answers to their questions.
On top of that we have social networks embedded into our daily lives.
People on there are definitely not looking for your services and products.
Service page or blog post ?
When Ogilvy founded his advertising agency back in 1949 he didn’t have the internet.
Advertisers and copywriters did not write for a home page, blog posts or have social networks.
Instead writers placed advertorial articles and advertisements within lifestyle and interest magazines and newspapers.
Interrupt and grab attention
Whether you are targeting a golfer on Facebook in 2019 or a reader of Golf World in 1950, you have to interrupt them to get their attention.
How do you interrupt people ?
With a great offer in your headline.
3 ways to research users
Google any search query and Google will tell you want they and the user wants.
Look at the title of each advert and each organic listing.
The number one result typically performs the best in clicks; otherwise Google wouldn’t display it.
Ahrefs Content Explorer
Use Ahrefs Content Explorer to identify the heading of the pages that get shared the most socially.
I’m running ads for a company who buy properties.
Their advert headline is “Sell your property fast in 3 simple steps”.
In Content Explorer I entered “sell property” and selected title.
Then I filtered by social shares.
Now I see articles and headlines that get shared.
This one gets shared on Facebook and Twitter.
Six simple top tips to help sell or let a property
So perhaps I could run a Facebook boost post of an article like this.
With Big Spy, I can research Facebook Ads to get headline ideas that have previously worked.
- Enter the main keywords : sell property
- Select Country : United Kingdom
- Sort by : Comments or Shares
These 3 research tactics will help you understand what people are looking for and click on in organic search results and PPC advertising and give you an edge writing persuasive titles.
Write 16 headlines
Most page titles that I read when I do keyword research have been slapped on the page in 30 seconds.
Yet back in the good old days Ogilvy’s advice was to write 16 different headlines.
Back then research informed Ogilvy that
- 5 times as many people read the headline as the body copy.
- Change of a headline can make a difference of ten to one in sales
Don’t have the time to write 16 headlines ?
I used this tool to generate a list of headline ideas.
Then I used Headline Analyser to finalise my heading.
This tool will help your headlines capture attention, increase engagement and deliver a stronger impression.
OK I didn’t manage 16 variations but I did manage 6 attempts before settling on the title that attracted you to read.
Old Page Title was
How to write website copy for SEO, the search engines and user intent
New Page Title is
How to write persuasive website copy that sells like David Ogilvy
Better written headlines can improve click through rates
Both Facebook and Google Adwords have a relevancy score.
They’re in business to make money from your adverts.
If your adverts, and thus headings, aren’t getting clicked they don’t make money.
So better, relevant headlines get the clicks, the other ones fade and die.
A/B Test Your Headlines
When running ads, again you can split test the headlines and drop the underperforming one.
Headline Power Words
Headline should display the product.
Headline should appeal to the readers self interest ie: a benefit.
Headline should contain powerful words such as
- How to
Headline should contain emotional words such as fear, proud, love.
Headlines containing longer headlines tend to sell more than shorter headlines.
People are more likely to read your intro copy and body copy if you end your heading copy with a lure to read on.
This headline hooked me and lured me in.
This article headline by Brent Weaver lured me in to read his article.
Learn more about solving $100,000 problems to win deals here.
The article is aimed at web designers who want to sign $10,000 website deals.
The main selling point of the article is that to sell $10k deals you need to find and solve $100k business problems.
This headline has stuck in my head for days now.
Brent clearly knows his audience and how to grab their attention.
David Ogilvy would turn on his grave at these titles
So I’m working on a little project with a digital agency on their client’s service.
Look at all the titles of the top 10 results.
David Ogilvy would be turning in his grave seeing these page titles.
Let’s follow his advice and rewrite their headline.
Write body copy for one person
When you come to write your body copy imagine you are talking to a woman next to you.
When she asks you that she’s thinking of buy a new car write your copy if you’re answering that question.
In modern times, copywriters talk about a customer avatar.
Personally speaking this terminology is a load of bollocks.
You just need to think about one customer who has had one problem that your product or article could solve and write an answer for them.
Finding questions to answers
To find the main problems or questions around a product use keyword research.
Enter a product name into Ahrefs and click the questions filters.
This will tell you the key questions; your job is to answer those questions in your body copy.
I have Chris from a digital agency for financial clients sitting in front of me as I write this guide.
Get straight to the point straight away.
I tend to repeat the title in the first sentence of a page and most other SEO’s do too.
Once you’ve written your compelling headline or page title, now you need an introduction to your page.
The first sentence of your web copy should include your main keyword or search query.
Jump to the top of this page to read my page title and first sentence again.
This copy helps to reinforce to users what they will get from your reading my page.
You can utilise the first sentence as your meta description; but please ensure you include your seed keyword and secondary keywords in your sentence and meta description.
H2 and sub sections
Start the draft outline of your page in Google Docs or Word.
Write your title or headline with an H1 header.
Underneath the heading, write down your subsections.
Write out your subheading using an H2 header.
Think of your subheadings as chapters in a book or steps in a guide.
If you’re creating a how to guide; write the sub heading of the first step, then the second step and so on.
Ideally your subheadings should be benefit driven sentences.
I started this post with a subheading “Website copy I wrote generates organic traffic worth £25,000”.
Once you have a list of subheadings using the h2 header, then flesh out the sentences and copy underneath each point.
If needs be, use the H3 header to break down each of that section if it becomes too lengthy and monotonous to read and skim through..
I recommend using Google Docs to draft the copy of my page outline because it is fairly easy to copy and paste the finished page into my content management system.
Another copy approach is to give the reader helpful advice or service.
This hooks about 75% more readers than copy which deals with the product.
The article you are reading is a sequential ‘how to’ post.
Write a story
Writing technical, marketing and instructional copy can be really boring for end users.
So, in my head, I like to think that I am writing a story to tell and sell to readers.
I have a beginning, middle and end.
I have a character; that’s either myself or a client or a case study example that I feature in each article.
Research from Moz has shown that a list post content form is the most successful format in earning shares, links and traffic.
When you combine that research with Ahrefs data that over 91% of web pages see no traffic maybe writing great website content in a list format is the path to organic success.
Write copy in customers’ language
Write your copy in the language your customers use in everyday conversation.
Avoid using complicated words when simple ones will suffice.
Always include testimonials in your copy.
People find it easier to believe the endorsement of a fellow consumer than the puffery of a copywriter.
Sometimes your entire copy can be a testimonial.
On my own service page I’ve dropped a few testimonials.
Use Facts and Data
Tell the truth and make it fascinating.
You’ve heard the expression, the best place to bury a body is on page 2 of Google.
This is a search engine optimisation urban myth.
However, in some research I’ve done of 100 random websites, they earn, on average, 10% of their traffic from page 2 positions.
That’s an interesting fact no one, to date, has communicated.
Short words, sentences and paragraphs
All copywriters should read Dr Rudolph Flesch’s Art of Plain Talk.
- Use short words
- Short sentences
- Short paragraphs
- Highly personal copy
Fast forward 70 years and the Yoast plugin incorporates the Flesch scoring method for web pages and posts.
Log into WordPress, look at the summary list of your posts and see how many red or amber readability scores you have.
Increase the body copy font size
When I redeveloped this website the font size of my paragraph or body font size increased from 13 points to 18 points.
I wanted to made is easier for users to read my copy on mobile devices.
My website stylesheet and WordPress theme has the ability to define different font sizes for the body, H1 to H6 headings.
Here’s a comparison between a 14 point and 18 point body font size.
Check your line and paragraph space
I have a 1rem or 16 point space between each line and a 1rem, 16 point space between each paragraph.
The paragraph space is almost the same space as a new line.
Use headers to format your page layout
Instead of cramming 3 sentences into a paragraph, have 3 sentences and 3 paragraphs.
To communicate a new paragraph use a header such as an h3, h4 or h5.
Reduce words per sentence
When your sentences extend beyond 14 words it becomes much harder to read on mobile devices.
Sentences that take up 3 lines become difficult to read as you scroll through a page.
Your sentences should not be any longer than 20 words.
One sentence per paragraph
A sentence of 14 to 20 words should be contained in one paragraph.
After you finish one sentence start a new paragraph.
Remember, we are writing copy to be read on mobile devices, tablets and computers by people who skim pages to find answers.
We’re not writing an essay for a college professor or to please a journalist or newspaper editor.
Use bullet points and numbered lists
I am using bullet points and lists in three different ways on my website.
- As chapter or section links to direct users to each section on the page.
- When I get lazy and don’t want to write long sentences.
- To keep the reader’s attention and prevent skimming the content.
Ask your web developer to adjust your style sheet and include the above formatting.
I’ve started to incorporate accordion functionality into pages thanks to the new Gutenberg editor in WordPress.
This encourages readers to click and read sections of your copy that would otherwise make a page long and boring.
See how this service page, which I wrote the website copy for, uses accordions.
Images and Videos
David Ogilvy recommends using one person photography rather than illustrations to accompany copy.
That’s me buggered then !
I try to utilise screenshots to outline the instructions I recommend in my articles.
Scan and skim content and copy
When you analyse user studies of people visiting web pages you will see that they quickly scan up and down the page.
Once they find an element of interest, a phrase, heading, image or other element they will stop then read the page in full.
Table of content and jump to links
Using tables of content and jump to hyperlinks help the user navigate sections of the page and your copy.
These links, similar to chapters in a Kindle book, allow users to quickly jump to a particular page section very quickly.
Adding Jump To SEO links may also help you rank better in Google for related search terms you add to your updated page.
I have written a full length guide about the benefits of Jump To SEO links.
Back To Top link
In addition to jump to links I have added back to the top of the page links throughout each blog post.
The idea behind such links is to keep the user engaged on the page and use the page like a manual or reference guide.
For WordPress websites there’s a plugin called Table of Content Plus that will automatically populate your page with headers.
Length of copy
It depends on the product, service or article but the rule of thumb is the more you tell the more you sell.
Research shows readership falls off rapidly up to 50 words of copy.
But little drops off between 50 and 500 words.
In split tests, long copy outsells short copy.
Some web pages are very simple and do not require many words.
Sometimes a few visuals and bullet points are the search results and users require.
However, research by Brian Dean has shown that pages that rank in the top 10 search results have 1890 words on average.
My average page copy is around 3400 words.
I have an 18,000 word blog post that ranks for over 1,000 search queries and delivers over 1,000 organic visits per month.
The original version of this page was 1700 words; the second version was 3900 words and this version, so far, is around 2600 words.
Page length is an indicator of quality but don’t obsess over it.
Check your copy count in Google Docs with Tools – Word Count or use SEO Minion to check the word count of an existing web page.
Call To Action
I have a purple and green box sprinkled between my page copy with a call to action, a first name, email form and download button.
The copy in each call to action box closely matches the page title.
I typically make an offer to users to download a PDF version of my page; since my pages are typically useful guides.
I avoid generic call to action copy such as register for more tips or join my newsletter.
My best blog post converts around 11% of page readers per month.
For a service page, include a call to action box at the foot or right side of the page.
Here’s an example from a London ad agency’s PPC service page.
For seo copy related training visit my training membership here.