What’s Under the Hood of Your Web Copy?

We’re used to seeing articles telling us the top ten action words to use if you want to convert readers into customers. You’ll find lots of content out there telling you to use bullet points, short sentences, storytelling.

You’ll find those articles right here on Men with Pens, actually. It’s good advice. We use it in our work all the time.

That’s just the basics, though. There’s a lot more to writing web copy than that – and you’ll learn it from cars.

Inside and Out

When you buy a new car, you want the car manufacturer to know about everything that goes under the hood. You want that engine put together properly.

But the car isn’t just its engine. It’s also the exterior. This is why soccer moms drive mini-vans. It’s why people who live in the mountains drive sport utility vehicles, and it’s why single-car parenting households get station wagons. It’s why the successful executive contacts a dealer in England for the Aston Martin that Bond drove.

All these cars have the same basic components under the hood. They all have a battery, an alternator, spark plugs and pistons. Of varying quality, true, but an engine is more or less an engine.

These cars all say something different about their drivers, though. They tell the world who’s behind the wheel. And that’s what your web copy needs to do for your client.

Don’t neglect the basics of what goes under the hood of your web copy, of course. Not by any means. Copywriting basics are extremely necessary, and how well you execute them dictates how well your copy sells – how well the engine runs, if you will.

But the voice of the web copy you’re writing dictates whether you’ve accurately portrayed the person behind the wheel – the business and its brand.

What Car Does Your Client Drive?

If you write web copy that speaks of being good in sales but sounds like it comes from a casual, laid-back stay-at-home mom, your client won’t be pleased if she’s actually a businesswoman who wears upscale clothes to impress clients at high-profile meetings every day at her downtown office.

You haven’t accurately represented the person behind the wheel.

That means the people reading your web copy have an inaccurate impression of the business they’re dealing with or buying from. You might still make the sale for your client, but the buyer will be deeply disappointed when he actually interacts with your client and finds out she’s not at all what he expected.

You may have just lost that new customer for your client, even though your web copy ran just fine under the hood.

Your clients want new customers who are going to be loyal, who are going to come back again to buy, who are going to refer their friends. This only happens if their customers feel they know who they’re dealing with and love their business for what it is.

Portray it as something else, and those customers won’t stick around.

It’s kind of like matching up a Mercedes engine with a Toyota Corolla’s exterior. You could find people who would be thrilled to own either of those cars, but you won’t find people who are looking for both of them.

And even if your Toyota owner is kind of psyched about finding out he has a super-charged engine, it’s still going to confuse the hell out of him.

Confused clients don’t come back. Because they won’t know what they’ll get next time. That means they don’t trust your web copy, and they won’t trust your client twice.

So when you write for clients, write to tell their buyers what they’re getting – inside and out.

Want to learn how to write better copy? We recommend Web Copy that Sells by Maria Veloso. Plenty of nuts and bolts in there – all you have to do is supply the shiny exterior.

Post by James Chartrand

James Chartrand is an expert copywriter and the owner of Men with Pens and Damn Fine Words, the game-changing writing course for business owners. She loves the color blue, her kids, Nike sneakers and ice skating.

Join the Discussion. Click Here to Leave a Comment.

  1. Totally agree, because it always comes down to one thing, doesn’t it?

    … the copy you write, ultimately, needs to be about the reader.
    .-= Matt Burgess´s last blog ..Things that were delicious this week… =-.

  2. Remarkably good timing :) That car analogy is super smart too.

    Thanks a million!

  3. Mary E. Ulrich says:

    “Gentlemen, (and ladies) start your engines!”

    Great ideas to start the work week.

  4. So, I shouldn’t say “dude” and “gnarly” if I’m writing copy for lawyers? Darn. ;-)

    Great analogy.

    Psst… typo in the last line (plent instead of plenty).
    .-= Jodi Kaplan´s last blog ..Remarkable Can Be Small (Part 3) =-.

  5. James, I want royalties for that shot of my legs.
    .-= Josh Hanagarne´s last blog ..I Am The Movement =-.

  6. @Josh – You sexy thing, you.

    @Jodi – Oh, thanks for catching that! And yes, you can say “dude” if you’re writing for a lawyer who also says “dude”, because that’s just good representation. Buuuut… I haven’t seen one loose enough for that yet ;)

    @Mary – You betcha!

    @Justin – Oh, now you have to tell me WHY that was good timing. Curiousity killed the cat!

    @Matt – It does – in a way that fits the seller, too!

  7. “Confused clients don’t come back.”

    Everyone should tattoo that on their foreheads….great article!
    .-= Barbara Ling, Virtual Coach´s last blog ..A Shockingly Easy Way To Appear Smarter Than Your Network =-.

  8. Although I can agree with what you’re saying in many cases online copy is trying to sell a product that is accessible online, which means they will most likely never meet the client, which means they can lie as much as they want in their copy.

    Or at least that’s how I feel when I read salescopy trying to sell me online guides/ebook about all kinds of stuff. About how they were about to DIE! From being overweight and then suddenly they discovered an amazing diet. How he was a 40 year old virgin and then BAM secret method discovered, now he’s drowning in… you get the picture.

    I just get angry with copy that seems to ridicule my intelligence. Is it common to take “creative liberties” among copywriters and just make up a complete bogus story to sell the product better? That’s something I’ve been curious about for years.
    .-= Ragnar´s last blog ..Praise in order – Writing takes skill, time and practice too! =-.

  9. This advice can be transferred to guest posting. If you submit a guest post to a blog, write for their audience. Don’t write for yours. Write in a way that their audience will appreciate most. Then, you have the greatest chances of having that post accepted.
    .-= Bamboo Forest – PunIntended´s last blog ..8 Moviegoers to Avoid =-.

  10. Merryl Rosenthal says:

    Great analogy.

    What’s amazing to me is how many writers use one voice, and it’s often their own. Some writers feel so comfortable in their own skin that they don’t see a need to flex the voice in which they write, or they’re not even aware of the importance of the client’s voice. Sometimes, writers simply don’t hear the client’s voice at all.

    I learned the lesson of writing in the appropriate voice many years ago, when I wrote my first newsletter for a client. Bursting with pride, I showed it to a friend. She said, “I hear you all over the newsletter. You write just like you speak!” She thought she was paying me a compliment, but I was mortified. Her comment was one heck of a wake-up call that taught me a valuable lesson.

  11. Great article. It’s really extremely important to affect the client with your own ‘original’ copy. I’m definitely gonna check the book out :) I believe i got a lot to learn about writing…

  12. I think it’s always important to write for your target market. I sometimes receive copy that is written well but is sometimes self indulgent and doesn’t represent our brand image.

  13. It’s very much true that your web copy represents you and who you are. As a home-based businessperson, you’d better introduce yourself as who you really are. Otherwise, it’ll be revealed through your copy and you cannot play the role of an entrepreneur running a company with 35 staff. Besides, I see no problem with being a professional working from the web (I don’t like the phrase “from the comfort of home”)!

    On the other hand, if you outsource your blog writing, you’ll have to make sure to explain to your service providers that you want to represent yourself as who you are. Of course they are supposed to be able to do this for you as well, or you’re taking a big risk by not checking this.
    .-= Rahman Mehraby´s last blog ..How to Explain Twitter to Your Boss =-.

  14. Nice post! That car reference also clears it up :) And you’re right, the clients must trust your web copy. It must be effective…

  15. Great tips. As someone who struggles with copy writing I’ll be coming back to your web site for more insightful tips!!
    .-= Paul´s last blog ..Correcting Banding in Gradients =-.

  16. Great tips! Each word is a moving part. When even one word isn’t quite right, it can throw the whole passage off.
    .-= Jay´s last blog ..Inspiring Writing Quotes =-.

  17. It’s all about consistency. It starts with the USP and ends the day you die. It’s the businesses that market with the same message to their customers from every angle, instead of taking the shotgun approach, will be the ones that find themselves at the top when all is said and done.

    It’s just like a writer taking English class for the first time. You can build on something if you don’t ahve the foundation, but once you get it, you will develop your own voice that becomes your own marketing method.

    -Joshua Black
    The Underdog Millionaire
    .-= Joshua Black | The Underdog Millionaire´s last blog ..Make Your Sales Letters Memorable Like a Pop Song? =-.

  18. I must disagree with the author as online business owners do not always want to appear the way they look in real life. Neither they want to display the way they do business.

  19. Good article that includes great tips. In addition, I agree with you clients have to trust your web copy.
    .-= shrek 4 trailer´s last blog ..SHREK 4 TRAILER =-.

  20. Nothing more to say… :) Excellent article. Comparing the car is good choice – clients have to trust your web copy if you want to be successful.

  21. John, I think this post is telling more then just writing article that steps towards your market. Though market is the most important thing in this process, writer should effectively combine it with the client style to make more sales conversions after reader decides to go with writer’s client.

  22. I end up here as I was looking for car related site .

    You see something new everyday , who would have thought searching “car” in google would bring me to a blog about how to write … But I take your advise to the heart as I see it true in my daily life and business , and I’d say it’s true for the way you speak and look , my clients usually think I am a middle age pro sale man behind the phone , but then when they see me in person , lol , they start ignoring me … like I am their son or something …

    I am reading the other article “What To Do When You’ve Been Insulted” hope it’s as good as this one.

  23. Good post James, it’s definitely important to convey the right tone in your copy, otherwise the message will be lost. I always find that it’s good to have a chat with your clients first to really understand what they are about, their values and brand, and what they want to portray within each piece of copy.

    This will make it easier to deliver a writing style and tone that can really help to make a difference. As you say it’s important to represent the person behind the wheel. Thanks for writing this :)

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