Eilish Rafferty turned her passion (writing, you got it) into a remarkable content-writing, editing and proofreading business. She writes in Ireland, but serves the world, thanks to the wonders of modern technology.
Rodolfo Melogli: Eilish, easy question for you! What is the #1 copy mistake business owners make?
Eilish Rafferty: They speak cake, not worm. What I mean by that is they talk about what is interesting to them; when and how they started out in business; what they do and how they do it; how many products, options, add-ons, value-added features they have and what all the buttons do. Using a fishing analogy, they try to catch fish using bait that they like to eat (cake) rather than using bait that will attract fish (worm). The customer wants to know how well, cheaply or soon his or her problem can be solved and how your products or services will make him or her feel, be that relieved, happy, stylish, cutting-edge, cool, safe, manly, feminine, authoritative, and knowledgeable and so on. That’s worm. If you want to convert visitors to customers you have to quickly show them with your content that they’ll get what they want.
Rodolfo Melogli: That’s a great analogy. Now that we know we need to speak “worm”, can you tell us if you agree with the following: headlines account for 80% of the copy success?
Eilish Rafferty: Yes and no! It depends on how the reader stumbles upon the content. If it is a headline in a newspaper or indeed any kind of printed material, headlines are king – what else does the reader have to go on after all? If, however, we’re talking about the title or subtitle in a blog or on a webpage, how the content is optimized from a search point of view is probably more important.
Think about how we come upon the majority of content. It’s through the prism of Google. So thinking like your customer and understanding what search terms they might use to find your content is how you get them to your article, blog or webpage. The title is less relevant.
The importance of headlines and first paragraph
Rodolfo Melogli: So, what’s the top #1 requirement for writing enticing headlines?
Eilish Rafferty: Relevance. As a copywriter, I found this a tough lesson to learn. Copywriters love playing with words; there’s nothing we love more than writing witty, ridiculous, controversial or provocative copy, and as for headlines – oh, we can have so much fun with headlines! But we’re not writing for our own enjoyment. We write for our clients, which means we write for their clients. When it comes to writing headlines, good content writing is 90% helpfulness, 10% style. Help your customers by using your headlines to briefly describe what the next section or paragraph is about. If you can achieve this whilst also being witty, ridiculous, controversial or provocative, great (as long as it’s in keeping with your brand identity)! Remember how you read. Especially on screen, you scan. So do your usually pressed-for-time clients. Think of headlines as signposts.
Rodolfo Melogli: How important is the very first paragraph of a website page or blog?
Eilish Rafferty: Really important. When writing press releases, PR professionals are taught to use the inverted pyramid approach. Picture an inverted pyramid – it’s wider at the top, tapering at the bottom. Put the main message that the release is getting across first (in the widest part of the pyramid), with each subsequent paragraph containing information that you deem to be less and less important, the idea being that the busy journalist or editor will grasp the essential message at a glance. If they don’t have much space for the piece of news, it won’t matter too much if they discount the last paragraph or two. Content writers are kind of PR professionals. It’s all about getting across key messages. So start with the thing you want people to know above all else.
The great thing about this approach is, of course, that you are forced to identify what you want to get across which leads to more effective, and helpful (to your reader) copy.
Returning website visitors
Rodolfo Melogli: And I’m sure you can answer to this question: How can copywriting get website visitors to come back?
Eilish Rafferty: Three words: newness, freshness, relevance.
You wouldn’t buy a newspaper or tune into your favourite TV program if it never changed. You’ve probably heard that search engines love newness, well, people love it too. This suggests that you need to provide fresh content regularly. While it is important to make sure that the basic (static) content on your website is effective, it is also important to develop a strategy so that you are adding new content regularly, be that in the form of a blog, an offer of the moment, company news or whatever.
Freshness can be achieved by using a different voice with which to communicate. Has your corporate voice become staid and boring? Is it time to shake things up? Perhaps there’s a side to your corporate identity that you can explore and give voice to. Even a tiny change in voice can bring freshness to content. How about a new contributor to appeal to a different tranche of your market? Getting into video or using more video could provide the freshness you need. Swapping all the text-based testimonials with video ones, for example, is one way by which to bring freshness to your website. Revisiting all your images is another; investing in a photographer to produce your own shots could show a whole new side to your brand than they stock images your website developer used when creating the site.
Relevance refers to your website’s ability to solve your customers’ problem or to convince them that you can provide a solution. Keep answering their questions with your content. This is where you can make great use of your social media platforms – use them to listen to your customers’ issues and then address them on your website.
With your content writer, you can devise a content strategy to ensure that your visitors always have something new to come back to.
Rodolfo Melogli: Why does “emotion” sell?
Eilish Rafferty: If you’re not emotionally involved in a decision, you don’t care about the outcome and are unlikely to make a decision. The trick is to make your customer care, to make them invest some emotion in the decision with which they are faced (and it goes without saying that you want to avoid making them feel the emotions of anger or hate, at least not towards your company or organization!). Some purchasing decisions are inherently emotional; buying a new home, for example, or a gift for a new baby, or your sons’ first pair of soccer boots. But we are not all in the business of selling homes, cute baby clothes or football boots. The challenge is to generate emotional involvement in purchases of stationery, insurance, tires, anti-virus ware and so on.
Rodolfo Melogli: How important is to define your audience before starting to write?
Eilish Rafferty: So important! I hear business owner after business owner say, in response to the question, “Who is your bulls eye customer?”, “Everyone”. Writing to please everyone results in inoffensive, wishy-washy, bland copy which is unlikely to make anybody give a flying whatever for what you have to say, or sell, and if they don’t care, well, we know what that means for your sales figures. It’s foolish and lazy. The thing is, if you are selling bread or water, everyone could indeed be your customer, but to be efficient, you need to define your bulls eye, or best prospect, and talk directly to him or her.
I do an exercise with my clients to establish to whom we are talking and, I am afraid to say, it is often the first such customer-defining exercise they have done.
Calls to action
Rodolfo Melogli: On a scale from 1 to 10, how important are Calls to Action?
Eilish Rafferty: 9 or 10. Calls to action are essential. Imagine an online shopping website with no ‘Buy now’ button or a hotel booking aggregator with no ‘Book now’ buttons. Even if you don’t have an e-commerce site, calls to action (CTAs) are really important. For the sorts of sites I mentioned, customers know the drill; they browse the products, read the descriptions and click to be brought to the checkout. If your site is not an e-commerce site, you need to be even more prescriptive about what you want people want to do next. You need to take them by the hand and lead them by way of CTAs to wherever you want them to end up and once there. You really need your CTA to get them to do what you want – sign up for a newsletter, request a call-back, download a brochure, sign the petition, like them on Facebook, whatever it is. You may have different CTAs depending on the page they’re on. Think again about being helpful. Try to mimic their intuitive process.
Hiring a Copywriter vs DIY
Rodolfo Melogli: That’s great. I would also add that business owners sometimes forget about their customers and talk about what is interesting to them. In your experience, what’s the main advantage of using a copywriter versus DIY?
Eilish Rafferty: My biggest advantage is that I am not you. I see your business or organization as a customer might. You’ll talk about things to your customers that you assume they know in a language you assume they understand. They often don’t. You have to put yourself in the shoes of your customer to write effective copy and most business owners just don’t.
A copywriter, particularly a freelancer, is often able to see something in what you do that you don’t. That something could transform your positioning and send your marketing in a whole new direction.
There are other advantages, such as the fact that copywriters write correctly, using good grammar and syntax, which, going back to an answer to a previous question, is all about being helpful to the customer. It isn’t helpful to your time-pressed customer if he or she has to re-read your content because the meaning is ambiguous, or the syntax is so poor that the opposite meaning can be construed – it happens!
Using a copywriter should make you look better. Spelling and grammar mistakes don’t look professional, so, at the very least, have your writing proofread by someone else, if not an editor, then at least have a fresh set of eyes check through it before you publish.
Rodolfo Melogli: Fantastic. So, business owners approach copywriters because…
Eilish Rafferty: I find that it is because they recognize that it is important for their business to produce compelling copy but they just can’t. Not everyone can. Or at least not in a timeframe that makes it viable for them. Usually, they only come to this conclusion after they’ve spent several frustrating weeks (or months!) trying to write their own content. You’d think they’d be the best person to write it, right? The company owner, the marketing director; the person who knows the place inside out and is bursting with passion for what they do. Some of them even know and understand their customer pretty well, yet when they come to write it down, nothing, or at least nothing they’d feel happy about publishing. To avoid frustration and stress, not to mention the wasted time, they turn to somebody like me.
Rodolfo Melogli: Time and frustration are probably the two main pain points for business owners. Anyway, should people decide to go the DIY route, what is the biggest suggestion you can give?
Eilish Rafferty: Ask yourself two questions: who is my bulls eye customer and what is unique about my product or service. Then read your website as if you were your customer and ask yourself if your messages are conveyed in a way that would make you want to do whatever action it is you want your website to provoke. Does it speak cake or worm? Does it convince you, the customer, that they can help end their pain? Is it helpful to them in terms of giving them the information they need in a clear and unambiguous way? Is there newness, freshness, relevance?
Many business owners built their websites years ago and the content may have been relevant then. Businesses evolve, however, but their websites are often years behind. One of my favourite clients is on the third version of his website in as many years because he wants it to be in step with the service he is offering. That’s a no-brainer, but why do so many of us look on our websites as a relic, something that can’t be changed. Like the old printed catalogue.
But that’s why we are still talking about websites – because they are not like the old printed catalogue. Ladies and gentlemen, website content can, and should, be changed. And having read this, if you’re not happy by the end of your little audit, you have the keys to writing compelling and effective website copy, or if you’re too busy, ask Rodolfo for my details!