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Ecommerce Copywriting: How To Write Words That Sell (2022)

Illustration of a woman's hands at a keyboard, choosing the right words for her copy.

Selling products online is tricky. Potential customers can’t touch, smell, or see the item in the flesh. Instead, they rely on copy—the text marketers write to describe product features, the problems it solves, and how it makes buyers feel—all to earn more sales. 

Copywriting is a skill that most business owners haven’t spent time refining. You have other hats to wear, right?

However, strong copywriting skills have the power to convince more readers to click, sign-up, or buy. Stellar copy helps potential customers envision how it feels to own a product. They can visualize it in their hands, solving a problem or making their life easier. 

So, what does good copywriting look like? And how do you write with your potential customer in mind? This guide shares the copywriting process you’ll need when writing any text for your ecommerce store. The goal: To write words that pay you back. 

Become a copywriting pro ✍️

  • What is copywriting?
  • Where is copywriting applied?
  • Copywriting research: How to find what your buyers need to hear
  • How to write great copy

What is copywriting?

Copywriting is the process of crafting text that convinces your target audience to do something—be that visit your ecommerce website, join your email list, or purchase a product. It’s often referred to as direct response copywriting or sales copy because of this reason. 

Persuasive copy is the key to boosting sales without investing more in acquisition, hence why stellar copywriting across every touchpoint is one of the most effective ways to move prospects or buyers through the sales funnel.

“I helped Archer and Olive, a bullet planner-style ecommerce shop, grow its profits from $72,000 to $1.9 million in the first year of our website copywriting being live. We tweaked the headline to highlight the eco-friendliness of her products. We reminded visitors of the brand’s differentiators on product pages. While this growth can't only be attributed to copywriting, it played a large role in their growth.”
Kayla Hollatz, freelance copywriter

 

Homepage copywriting featured on Archer and Olive, a bullet planner-style ecommerce store.
Homepage copywriting featured on Archer and Olive, a bullet planner-style ecommerce store.

 

Where is copywriting applied?

Regardless of where you’re placing this text, copy is a critical ingredient on all of your most-visited pages. That includes: 

  • Homepage. You never get a second chance to make a first impression. Strong copy will communicate what you sell and why it's different quickly and clearly, so that users don't bounce. 
  • Product descriptions. Why should people buy the product you’re selling? Help the potential customer visualize owning, touching, or using it through your product description copy. 
  • Category pages. Sometimes website visitors hop on your site hoping to solve a problem, but are unsure which product will help them do so. Explain the grouping of products on the page and offer guiding snippets about individual products.
  • About page. Some 52% of website visitors want to see information about the company behind the site they’re viewing. Make people fall in love with the brand behind the website with a copy on your About page.
  • Meta titles and descriptions. Search engines pull these snippets of copy and show them on the search page. Copy is the only medium here—there are no images or videos to influence a decision. Intriguing SEO copywriting could be the difference between a potential customer clicking your website or a competitor’s.
  • Emails. Every type of email marketing campaign, including promotions, abandoned cart campaigns, and purchase confirmations need to be written with the customer in mind. Reflecting their language in your email copywriting takes them out of their inbox and onto your site through a call to action
  • Social media posts. The average person spends almost 2.5 hours browsing social media every day. By focusing on the copy in your social media posts, you can drive them away from social media and towards your ecommerce store. 
  • Direct mail. Write leaflets and postcards that get customers in your local area to visit your brick-and-mortar store. 
  • Advertising. Be it a Google Ads, a Facebook campaign or billboard, advertising is really about the intersection of copy and creative. Pair eye-catching visuals with ad copy that makes your target audience stick around long enough to influence a sale.

 

Copywriting featured on a product page for Bison Coolers.
Copywriting featured on a product page for Bison Coolers.

 

Bison Coolers’ product description uses persuasive copywriting to make a boring product (a cooling box) seem more exciting. 

Really great brands make every word matter, even on something like their shipping policy page. Freelance copywriter Samar Owais explains: “Any time I want to evaluate how seriously a brand takes their customer experience, I check the pages in their footer. FAQ, contact us, shipping and returns, COVID-19 response—these are the pages customers who’re super interested in your brand will check out.”

“Most brands treat these pages as an afterthought. Yes, very few website visitors will visit them but the ones that do will have a much higher chance of becoming a long term customer or a brand evangelist,” Owais adds. 

The bottom line? If you’re losing potential customers at a pre-product page touchpoint, you could have the most amazing copy on them and it wouldn’t matter.

 

Clever copywriting that appears on Magic Spoon's FAQ page.
Clever copywriting that appears on Magic Spoon's FAQ page.

 

Magic Spoon’s fun and friendly copywriting style is reflected on its FAQ page.

Copywriting research: How to uncover what customers need to hear

Copywriting is like a crossword puzzle where the answer key consists of the words your customers use to describe their problem. In order to write performant copy, you need research—you need to know your customers' motivations and hurdles.

That's a far cry from how many people view copywriting, which is often built on the belief that the most creative copy wins. There's a time and a place to break expectations and always room to be creative, even when speaking to customers' problems. But by and large, good copywriting is less about dreaming up the right words and more about uncovering them.

“If you're trying to persuade people to do something, or buy something, it seems to me you should use their language, the language they use every day, the language in which they think."
David Ogilvy, founder of Ogilvy & Mather

There’s a four-step process that professional copywriters use to craft persuasive copy and improve conversions—one that you can steal and use for yourself. For the sake of simplicity, we’re going to imagine you’re trying to understand how you can increase initial purchases on your site for the remainder of this article. 

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Step 1: Define your audience and segments

High-converting copy meets the right person, with the right message, in the right place, at the right time. There's a vast difference between converting a new user on your homepage vs. re-engaging someone who added a product and abandoned their cart.

Here are some common segments you might want to explore and survey or interview: 

  • Abandoned carts. Identify pre-conversion friction (anxieties, fears, frustrations, etc.) that prevent visitors from buying. Remember, cart abandonment isn’t normal, just normalized. People don’t leave full carts for no reason.
  • New customers. You’ll identify more of that pre-conversion friction. What almost prevented them from buying? Why did they choose you over competitors? What was frustrating during checkout? Plus, you’ll learn about product quality and understand how well you deliver on your value proposition.
  • Repeat customers. Get to the heart of what products pair well together, how long the buying cycle is, and what the customer lifecycle looks like.
  • Inactive customers. Get to the bottom of lifetime value (which can help with paid ad spend planning) and retention. How many purchases did they make total? Why did they stop purchasing from you? What could you have done better?

These are general segments that could apply to any store. However, you might want to get more specific. For example, isolate customers based on product categories or new customers who purchased from you twice in six months.

Play around with the RFM framework to dive deeper into different customer segments: 

  • Recency (R) is the number of days since a subscriber or customer’s last purchase. An R0 purchased today. An R365 purchased a year ago.
  • Frequency (F) is the total number of times a subscriber or customer has purchased. An F0 has never ordered. An F10 has ordered 10 times.
  • Monetary value (M) is a customer’s total spend—the sum of all his or her orders ever.

Just be sure to start with a goal or a list of questions you’d like to answer. (We’ll list some throughout the remainder of this post.) Then, work backwards.

💡 Learn more: Organize your copywriting research with this free template.

 

A free template to help you improve your copywriting.
A free template to help you improve your copywriting.

 

If you’re looking to get the perspective of customers depending on their lifetime value (LTV), you don’t want to be talking to new customers. Likewise, if you’re looking to better understand that initial purchase process, you don’t want to be talking to people who have been buying from you for years.

Make sure the segment(s) you’re targeting are in a position to help you answer the questions you have. They have to be at the right stage of the buying cycle, for example, they need the proper pain or product awareness.

Step 2: Conduct qualitative research

When you know what you want to know and the segments that can help you find out, you’re ready to start diving into qualitative research. 

Joel Klettke of Business Casual Copywriting and Case Study Buddy explains why: “If there's one thing most companies miss, overlook, or ignore, it's that every single conversion is the result of a conversation your lead is having with your copy.”

“With qualitative research, you have a chance to look at the answers before you take the test by asking the questions you know your leads are coming into your site asking. You can take their answers, and then turn around and bake them right into your copy, in your customers' own words.”

“I know of no other factor that makes a bigger difference to the results of your copy than the quality and depth of research you conduct,” Klettke adds.

So, what types of qualitative data should you collect? This type of copywriting research can be done using these four methods:

  1. Internal interviews
  2. Customer interviews
  3. Surveys
  4. Testimonial/review mining

Internal interviews

Before you talk to your visitors and customers, it helps to figure out which channels they’re already using. Talk to sales and support staff (if you have them) and gather existing data from internal sources, like your CRM.

Amongst some of the most popular include:

  • Live chat
  • Social media
  • SMS
  • Email

 

Improve your copywriting by talking through customers via their preferred channels.
Improve your copywriting by talking through customers via their preferred channels.

 

Image source: Commbox

Getting direct contact with people through their preferred channels—be that email, chat, phone—means you’re starting things off on the right foot.

Your customer relationship management (CRM) platform or sales/support teams can show this data. But there’s a good chance you are your own sales and support team. If that’s the case, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What questions are most commonly asked by visitors?
  • What frustrations are vocalized most often by visitors?
  • What pains do visitors arrive at my site looking to solve?
  • What benefits do visitors arrive at my site looking to gain?
  • What objections to buying do visitors have?
  • How do I address those questions and objections successfully when I encounter them?

Throughout these internal interviews, James E. Turner, founder of SNAP Copy, advises to "get customers talking for a while, to get past the ‘best business answer’ period and into the ‘but really, this is how it is’ phase.”

It helps to check support logs during this process to prevent biased answers. Go over the logs from the last 3-6 months. Highlight recurring questions, pains, benefits, objections, and frustrations. Add this information to the Customer Survey Results tab in the copywriting research template.

 

Use our copywriting template to organize customer feedback.
Use our copywriting template to organize customer feedback.

 

If you’re not your own sales and support team (perhaps you outsource support or have a freelance pay per click pro), take the time to talk to those front-line people in person. Ask them the same questions and, again, look for recurring themes.

Surveys

There are two types of surveys you can use to uncover which copywriting styles your target audience best responds to:

  1. On-site surveys. Exit or intent questions that popup automatically at high-value moments.
  2. Customer surveys. Questions that go out via email to the segments you’re looking to better understand.

Both can help you better understand that initial purchase decision. A great survey truly depends on your unique objective or questions. However, there are some best practices to keep in mind when designing your copywriting surveys. 

1. Less is more

The more questions you ask, the fewer responses you’ll get. People have short attention spans and are unlikely to give up hours of their time in order to help with your copywriting research.

Aim for 3-5 questions for customer surveys and 1-2 questions for on-site surveys. As an internal filter, ask yourself what you’ll do with the answer to the question. How will it help with your objective? If it won’t, don’t ask.

2. Yes/no and multiple choice questions are lower value

Yes/no and multiple choice questions are not useless for writing copy. Quantitative data can help you identify problem areas. However, you’re looking for the voice of the customer to guide your copy, so open-ended questions will be of higher value.

Jennifer Havice, founder of Make Mention Media and author of Finding the Right Message, offers a word of caution, though: “Getting answers to why your customers are seeking your products out and the information they need to see on your website to take action is critical to writing more effective copy.”

“The key is to ask questions that relate to their actual behavior versus stated preference. This means asking the questions about what they actually did, not what they want to do.”

“Why is this important? Because stated preferences are notoriously unreliable,” Havice continues. “People will say they want one thing but then do the opposite when going to buy.”

It's best to swap the yes/no questions in favor of open-ended questions like: 

  • What was happening in your life that caused you to start using our product? 
  • What alternatives did you consider before using our product? 
  • How has your life changed since using the product? 
  • Did you have any hesitations before buying our product? 

“That way you'll have a much better idea what's driving your customers to or away from you, making your messaging a whole lot stronger,” Havice adds.

As an exception to the rule, it can be useful to ask a yes/no or multiple choice question initially on on-site surveys, followed quickly by an open-ended explanation. This is the foot-in-the-door method. Asking a short, direct question builds goodwill with visitors and reduces friction for the first “yes.” You can then build on that initial compliance with a related, larger ask (like an open-ended follow-up question).

The same concept applies to surveys. People have a completion bias which makes them compelled to complete a task they’ve already started. Show a progress bar at the top of the survey, like “1 of 3 questions answered”, to motivate them to finish. 

3. Be aware of bias that can creep in

We all have biases that make us prejudiced against something. The more you doubt the things you take at face value, the more accurately you can quiz your audience, and the less prone you are to cognitive bias blind spots.

Those biases can easily creep into your survey questions, throwing up the wrong answers and causing you to misinterpret responses—totally derailing your copywriting research. For example:

  • Experimenter bias. When your personal experiences make objectivity very difficult. For example, you might unknowingly communicate what you expect the results to be to those you survey, perhaps through a leading question like “Why do you love our amazing product?”
  • Loaded questions. When your question implies someone already feels a certain way. For example, "Where do you like drinking beer?" which assumes the audience does, in fact, like drinking beer. 
  • Confirmation bias. You interpret data in a way that confirms your pre-existing beliefs or your hypothesis while disregarding or downgrading data that does not. For example, when you’re analyzing the results of your survey, you might unknowingly overlook the data that disproves your hypothesis, only highlighting the data that supports it.
  • Curse of knowledge. Once you know something well, you find it very difficult to think about a related problem or situation from a lesser-informed person’s point of view. For example, you interact with your store every day, so it can be difficult for you to notice the user experience (UX) problems first-time visitors face.
  • Selection bias. If you don’t choose a representative sample, true randomization can’t be achieved, which leads to biased results. For example, you only survey 15 people. (More on this later.)

Switch them out for The more aware you are of the potential biases that could be affecting your surveys, the better. While you can’t eliminate all of your biases, you can mitigate them through awareness and preventative measures.

4. Relevancy is king

This is made easier by the fact that you’ve already defined your audience and segments, but it is particularly important for on-site surveys. Your goal is to ask the right question to the right person at the right time. For example: 

  • Show an on-site survey to people showing an intent to exit the page that asks, “What would make you stick around?”
  • In your cart abandonment emails, ask “What prevented you from purchasing?”
  • Once a customer buys the same item multiple times, ask “What’s your favorite thing about this product?”
5. Simplicity is queen

Phrase your questions as simply as possible. The less your respondents have to think about your questions, the better. All they should have to think about is their answers. That means short sentences and eliminating jargon. Be clear, be brief, be simple.

Here are some great examples:

  • What made you choose this product over a competitor? 
  • Would you recommend us to your friends and family? Why or why not? 
  • Can you give us an example of how this product solved a problem for you?
6. Sample size and representativeness matter

As we discussed earlier, selection bias can be harmful. If your sample is too small or inaccurately represents the entire audience or segment, you have inaccurate results.

For example, only collecting 10-15 survey responses is not enough to accurately generalize the results. Similarly, if you survey people who only purchase from one product category, you can’t generalize the results to those who purchase in other product categories.

Typically, you’ll want to collect about 250 survey responses. Consider buying or creating your own panel if your customer base is smaller (or non-existent). If you collect less, you won’t be able to accurately notice trends and patterns. If you collect more, you’ll likely just end up unnecessarily investing more time into analysis.

For representativeness, be sure the sample selection is truly randomized and representative of the entire audience or segment.

7. Design your surveys 

You’ve got the questions and target audience nailed. Next is the job of asking people to answer them. Email is a great vehicle to deliver those questions since it opens a private, direct line of communication with people using the information you’ve already collected on them.

Design these emails with open rates and response rates in mind. As Lianna Patch of Punchline Conversion Copywriting explains, “no one gets a survey email and reacts like ‘Oh boy, let me get right on this’ (unless they have an axe to grind). So you have to entice users not only to open the email—that’s your subject line’s one job—but to click through to the survey and complete it. These are all individual wins, but none really matter unless you get that survey response.”

Instead, Patch advises that “your survey email(s) should be energetic and emphasize the end benefit for the reader.”

“It’s not ‘We’re trying to improve our services,’ it’s ‘Tell us what YOU really want so we can give it to you.’ If you can, be explicit about how you’ll use the data: ‘Your response will help create a better version of [Our Product/Service] in [This Particular Way].’”

​​Customer interviews

Customer interviews are valuable to the copywriting process at any stage of growth, but they’re especially useful when you’re small. If you’re a brand new store owner, it’ll take quite a while to collect those 250 customer survey responses, right?

When you're a team of one scaling to 50+ sales per month, you always need to use the minimum viable product (MVP) version of every research/experimentation approach. Simple, fast, 'good enough' results is the priority. 

The important thing to remember here's to never run out and start interviewing anyone who says “yes”. You want to spend your time wisely, only interviewing those who can offer you the most insight. Stay within the segments you’ve selected and screen for specifics (e.g. purchases, purchase frequency, demographic.)

Reach out to these people with a simple email that politely asks for their time in exchange for something. This could be anything from a $20 voucher or free product through to behind-the-scenes HQ visits for die-hard fans.

The questions you ask during an interview are important, so spend time choosing them wisely. Try to strike a balance between:

  • Demonstration (“Show me how you would…”)
  • Tasks (“Find a pair of skinny jeans for $90 or less.”) 
  • Behavioral (“What was happening in your life that caused you to start using this product?”). 

Treat customer interviews as a cross between user testing and surveys. It’s cliche, but using the good ol’ who, what, when, where, why and how still works.

Kira Hug, co-founder of The Copywriter Club, shares her interview process: “The most powerful research tool I use to write conversion copy (AKA sales emails and landing pages) is as basic as a 20-minute phone interview.”

“While I find a lot of value in surveys—because you can collect a ton of data from hundreds (or even thousands) of people—I find nothing beats two people chatting.”

Kira continues: “Typically, I follow every survey with at least 8-10 customer interviews. This gives me a chance to go deeper into an individual's story, challenges, desires, goals, objections and more. It's amazing what a stranger will share with you in only 20 minutes when you ask the right questions.”

Whenever possible, conduct these interviews via Zoom or Google Hangouts. Phone interviews are useful, but they eliminate some context because you can’t read body language, which is helpful in tests like a contextual inquiry. 

Research shows that body language has a dramatic effect on communication. Put yourself in your customer’s shoes. If you were answering questions from a business owner who is fidgeting, biting their nails, or avoiding eye contact, it might put you on edge. You feel less confident in your responses, maybe rushing through them to get out of an awkward situation. 

While you might not notice these cues in your own body language, a customer will pick up on it if you do. The quality of their answers—and the conversation, as a whole—reduces as a result of your body language.

Record the session so you don’t have to worry about taking notes, which can take away from your interview flow. Then organize and cluster responses into your spreadsheet:

 

Our copywriting template can help you group responses from your interviews and research.
Our copywriting template can help you group responses from your interviews and research.

 

You’ll get better at customer interviews over time, so don’t worry if you don’t knock it out of the park the first time. As you continue, you’ll learn how best to communicate with different types of people and how to ask smarter questions.

Testimonial and review mining

Third-party sites are full of testimonials, reviews, complaints, etc. that you can tap into. They’re usually less biased than if they were solicited. 

But even on sites where only happy customers post reviews, it’s useful to see which things people continually mentioned as the reason they loved a product so much. That’s a lot of voice of customer goodness to make your copy stronger and more persuasive. 

A quick Google search can tell you how you’re perceived and specifically what people are saying about your site/products.

If your site is new, this is perhaps less true. However, you can still turn to competing products or brands. While it’s not your product front and center of the review, if a competitor’s product is directionally similar, you may be able to preempt certain hurdles or concerns.

Similarly, if you’re doing dropshipping, you can get copy cues from reviews of the products you’re selling. If you’re not, consider where people might be reviewing your products locally (e.g. Facebook, Twitter, online creative/craft groups, etc.)

James offers a word of advice on testimonial/review mining, encouraging you to lean into the negative feedback: "Make sure you take a look at both positive and negative reviews—and if you only have a chance to look at one type, go for the negative. This is where you'll find the angst/pain that drives people to frustration.”

James continues: “Particularly if you're in a crowded, recurring-purchase type of market, if you can point out that, unlike your competitors' faulty versions of your product, yours doesn't wear out after one use, or leave sticky marks on your baby's hair, or explode in your pocket, then you're away to the races, and can lead with that.”

 

You can also track sentiment data from third-party reviews and feedback in our copywriting template.
You can also track sentiment data from third-party reviews and feedback in our copywriting template.

 

Step 3: Identify and document patterns

By this point, you’ve collected your copywriting research in a spreadsheet with lots of data from lots of different sources. It can feel overwhelming, but rest assured your job is half done. Next, you’ll need to dive into the data and begin identifying patterns. At this stage you’re looking for:

  • Words and phrases that stand out to you, that were particularly memorable or often repeated.
  • Objections, products, benefits, questions, pain points, points of friction on the site, etc. that were often repeated.

Of course, you’re also looking to understand the way the segment speaks and the words/phrases they use. This will help you write the way the audience speaks, in words and phrases they identify with.

Be careful not to accidentally insert your biased assumptions into the research. Simply look at what you learned from your research, what your audience told you, and spin that into persuasive copy. (More on that later.)

It can be helpful to take data from the spreadsheet and organize it based on the exact page you’re writing copy for. Here’s what that might look like for a product page:

 

Organize customer feedback by page to improve your copywriting.
Organize customer feedback by page to improve your copywriting.

 

💡 Note: If you uncovered any on-site points of friction during your research, you can go ahead and implement UX fixes at this stage.

Step 4: Define the messaging hierarchy and wireframe

Whether you’re crafting copy for a product page or a Facebook ad, you’re now better equipped to write data-informed, customer-driven copy that converts. Next we need to turn the data into solutions.

Rely on a messaging hierarchy for this—a graph which helps visualize the importance of each message. The more frequently a pain point or benefit or question comes up during your research, the higher it should be on your messaging hierarchy.

Assuming that you’re writing copy for an ecommerce website, once you have that high-level concept, you can start building a wireframe using tools like Figma or Sketch. This is another graph that shows the design of the page, including spaces available for copy. 

“I audit any of my client's current messaging and determine what's working and what's not. From there, I create simple wireframes (with formatting and layout in mind but without the design) so I am able to craft a strategy that's easy for visual thinkers to process.”
Kayla Hollatz, freelance copywriter

Wireframing isn’t just for websites that are being redesigned. Do this even if you already have your design nailed. Chances are, you might see certain elements that could be moved around on your website depending on the benefits and features you’re communicating. 

Deciding whether copy or design comes first is like the chicken and the egg scenario. Designers argue that they need text to mockup a website design; copywriters argue that they need to know how much space they’re working with. 

We’re in the latter camp—copy should come first—because words sell. Customers need to be reassured that the product is the right one for them, that it solves their problems or makes their life easier. Photography, design, and layout is the icing on the cake. 

How to write great copy

Copywriting is relatively easy to learn but hard to master. As we've covered, finding the right words is a research-driven process and arguably just the beginning. Great copywriters test and measure their copy to ensure it's driving real results. It takes time to be great.

You can, however, speed up your education by learning from others' scar tissue. Learn from the mistakes of others to prevent making obvious mistakes. In the book Poor Charlie's Almanac, investor Charlie Munger says that avoiding obvious mistakes is much easier than being brilliant. Start there and make your own bold moves once you build up confidence and experience.

The first copywriting mistake is writing without research, but we've already covered that in depth. The second is making obvious mistakes. Here are eight more steps to write great ecommerce copy.

1. Replicate your customer’s tone of voice

What good is your copywriting research if you don’t use it to write your copy? 

Head back to your research spreadsheet and pull terminology your customers have used in reviews, interviews, or surveys. You’ll likely find each demographic or persona has a specific vocabulary. Including that same vocabulary on your ecommerce website builds rapport. They land there thinking, “This brand gets me.”

Harper Wilde is a great example of this. All over its ecommerce website, you’ll find sentences its target audience likely use (or are at least familiar with)—like the idea its bra is so comfortable “you can’t believe it’s not butter”.

 

Harper Wilde uses familiar references to create eye-catching copy.
Harper Wilde uses familiar references to create eye-catching copy.

 

2. Sell the benefits, not the features

It’s hard not to fall into the trap of shouting about how incredible your product's features are. While you may think it showcases your products in their best light, the truth is that most purchases are emotionally driven

The fact your duvet linen has a 400 thread count doesn’t spark those “I need to purchase this!” emotions. A luxurious, comfortable duvet cover that makes you fall asleep instantly? That does.

Copy and user experience should work together. There are so many ways to distill quick facts that customers care about—using icons, badges, or bullet points—without borin