Startup copywriting is a serious challenge. You’re trying to resonate with your ideal customer without really knowing who they are and what they’re most interested in. I get it. We’ve been there.
So, in anticipation of our new splash page going live, I’m stripping version 1.0 of our web copy down to its skivvies and highlighting some of the challenges we had writing pre-beta startup web copy.
If your experience is anything like ours, you might make the following mistakes:
- Yelling at the crowd instead of speaking to your ideal prospect
- Focusing on features rather than benefits
- Not paying attention to the different layers in your web copy
- Creating empty web copy with cute phrases, jargon, and filler copy
My hope is that by serving as an example, you’ll have the foresight to side-step some of these challenges.
Yelling at the crowd
Startup copywriting often screams a message through a megaphone for all to hear. You know your ideal customer is out there somewhere, you’re just not sure who they are and what they need to hear most.
Megaphone copy may resonate with some people, some of the time. It’ll get some people lukewarm on a good day. Hardly a home run.
The best copywriting feels like an intimate one-on-one conversation with a hole-in-the-wall fortune teller—you know, the real kind. It’s like they’re reading your mind, finishing your sentences, and thinking your thoughts. It’s kind of creepy but in a good way.
So how did we do on this one? Below is directly from our website.
“Built for companies big and small.”
We’re basically saying that if you’re a company of some size, we have what you need. A more accurate and perhaps charming quote would have been, “Built for companies big or small… not 100% sure which yet.”
When we wrote version 1.0 of the copy, we knew that businesses big and small could benefit from Blitzen–so we weren’t lying.
We didn’t know that the ones hurting for Blitzen most were small to medium-sized companies experiencing growth. We hadn’t had those important conversations quite yet.
So, use your inside voice if possible. Just make sure you’re speaking quietly to the right people.
Stressing features and not benefits
When you’re not in tune with your customer’s needs, it’s impossible to talk benefits. So, if you’re like us, you revert to talking features.
Your customers don’t care about features nearly as much as you do though. They want to know what benefits they will quickly and easily realize by plunking down cold hard cash for your product. Any feature talk on your landing page is to help the visitor believe that your product is capable of delivering the benefits they want.
NOTE: There does exist a smaller sub-group that cares about the features. Think IT pros. If you’re selling to these folks, by all means stress the features. This group will extract the benefits from your feature descriptions.
Above is a clip from our website. Not only do we fail to emphasize the benefits but also include “Features” in the heading. Oh dear. The list of features attempt to touch on the most important ones but doesn’t quite get there because we were mostly guessing and looking at the competition at the time. Plus, the features only talk about the first half of, “Forms + Workflow”.
Why’d we miss our target?
Because our vision for the product existed more in our company’s collective conscious and less in code and whiteboard scribbles. Our target was always moving. When you’ve had so few customer discovery conversations, every conversation shifts the target significantly. This copy clearly communicates our lack of clarity at the time.
Fortunately, the tables have started to turn.
This post talks about how we gathered the customer insights that will lead to a much better version 2.0 of the website.
No layers in our web copy
When we edit our own copy, we tend to read the page in its entirety and then marvel at the wonderful story we’ve told.
Problem is, very few visitors are going to read the whole story. People scan. Your page needs to make sense for different levels of user engagement.
Here are some layers that we now think of when writing landing page copy. We neglected this in our mad dash to get some resemblance of a web presence with version 1.0.
8 second rule
The first test we run is to ensure that people can understand whether Blitzen is for them within 8 seconds of hitting our landing page. This is enough time to take in the headline, tagline, and maybe a few high-level bullet-points.
There can be no wasted words above the fold. Forget pithy taglines like, “I’m lovin’ it” unless you have millions of dollars at your disposal to make that stand for something. It needs to communicate the benefit, give insight into the features that make your claim believable, and then ask the visitor to do something.
I think Intercom.io has some of the best above the fold copywriting. I can quickly see that what Intercom does, who they do it for, and how they are different. Beautiful.
Headings & buttons
Next, we like to make sure that my headings play nice with my button copy. I can’t take credit for this one. Joanne Wiebe of Copyhackers mentioned this during a recent AMA at inbound.org.
Some people, when they land on your page, are going to scan the headings and then read your button copy since your buttons also stand out (at least they should stand out).
Think of it this way. Your headline should communicate a key benefit and the button copy should act as a most inviting door. The visitor should think, “If I walk through that door (click the button), I’ll get that awesome benefit (headline)”. Copyhackers does a great job of explaining this relationship here.
For our site, this is the message this type of skimmer would get:
- Online forms that connect your cloud (Request an invite)
- Forms + workflow
- Awesome features
- Power meets design
- One form to rule them all (Whoops, accidental Lord of the Rings reference)
- Business development, Sales & Marketing, Human Resources, Product Management
- Help us help you, take our quick survey.
If all I did was read the headings and button copy, I wouldn’t really know what benefits I’d get access to by signing up. I’d be left with the vague notion that Blitzen does something with forms and workflows, for a lot of different kinds of customers, and not know why they are the best for me.
Again, looking at Intercom.io, a company that’s been at it a while and knows their market inside and out, would give you the following message:
- Customer communication made simple (Get started)
- The old way (workflow confusion) v.s. The new way (simple image of customer + intercom + you)
- Helping thousands of web and mobile businesses connect with millions of customers
- We have four packages, each designed for a specific job
- Observe (Free), Learn, Engage, Support (learn more)
- The single platform for every customer interaction
- See your customers
- Message them
- Get feedback from them
- Support them
- Intercom works across all of your apps–web, iOS, Android
- Featured customer (read story)
- Try Intercom free for 14 days
They reiterate their key value proposition over and over again in different but useful ways and you know exactly what they do and who they do it for.
…And other emphasized elements
The next most engaged user probably won’t read any of your plain old paragraph text on your page. If they do, they’re reading the first sentence to see if it speaks to them. They’d rather just skim headings, buttons, bullet points, and emphasized text.
I won’t go through a detailed example of this like I did above as it starts to get a little lengthy. But you get the point. If a visitor to your site ignores your juicy paragraph text but skims through everything else, they should get a cohesive, and more detailed and persuasive version when compared to the headlines + button copy visitor.
Your ideal prospect
The ideal prospect hangs onto your every word. Each word will dance off your fingertips and onto the screen, then leap off the screen into your ideal prospects brain, where it will find a cozy place within their soul. Or something like that. They came to your website with questions and pain points that need solving, and your product addresses each of them perfectly.
Few visitors to your website will be your ideal prospect. But, it is essential that your website acts as a converting machine when this person shows up. I’m not talking about using any trickery or lies to get the click. I’m saying that this visitor wants exactly what you have to offer, so it should be crystal clear to your ideal prospect that a match made in heaven is possible here, if only they’d click that button.
So, that’s layered messaging. Writing web copy is more complicated than putting some words together that sound nice.
Filler web copy
I find when you’re lacking the insight to speak directly to your ideal prospect, you gravitate towards using cute phrases, jargon, and sentences that don’t actually say much.
Cute phrases that don’t pack a punch
From out site:
- “Power meets design.”
- “One form to rule them all.”
Power meets design can mean too many different things and it sounds more suitable for a car advertisement than a workflow automation solution.
Besides being a reference to Lord of the Rings, “One form to rule them all” is also unclear. Does this mean our forms are better than the competition? Or, does our forms control other forms in some strange online form hierarchy? Or maybe it’s referring back to our tagline and how our forms connect your web apps?
If you look back at the Intercom.io web copy, you’ll notice that there is zero in the way of cute phrases that don’t communicate a benefit in the words that their customer would use. That’s the result of talking to enough people, listening to the words they use, and then using their language. Try not to write things you wouldn’t say in a conversation with a potential customer.
Jargon that alienates your prospects
Oh, jargon. I thought I left you behind in university, but I was wrong.
Jargon sneaks onto the page when you’re not sure what you want to talk about but want to look like you are. When you read your own web copy and encounter jargon, you think to yourself, “Gosh I sound smart. Look at how much meaning I’ve packed into just a few words.” When your customer encounters jargon on your site, they’re probably thinking, “What a pretentious…”
We’re guilty of this one too. Here are a few examples:
- Event-based automation
- Abandonment audits
- Email address validation
- Optimized for all devices
These jargony phrases could be communicated using plain English:
- Choose where you want your data to go and when. Then, watch it go there automatically
- Get more people to complete your surveys by learning who leaves your survey and when
- Only collect real email addresses
- Blitzen works on any device and operating system
It’s true that jargon cuts down on word length. But it’s also scary to the prospect that has the problem you solve, but doesn’t yet know the lingo. So on your landing page, where you’re primarily speaking to top of funnel prospects, speak plainly. You probably aren’t speaking to your peers at this stage.
Avoid empty sentences
The other thing we copywriters do when we’re unsure of what to say is we ramble on. By combining cute phrases, jargon, and filler words, we can create a paragraph that says almost nothing to the prospect.
From our site:
“Built for companies big and small. Collect the data that matters the most with our powerful form builder. Create approval and review workflows that enable collaboration and involve decision-makers at the right time.”
So built for companies of all sizes. You use it collect your most important data–I don’t know what data that is yet. When you get this data, you can create a review process around it and involve decision makers at the right time–but I don’t know when the right time is yet.
A better attempt would include some of the following info:
- Blitzen is for small to medium-sized businesses experiencing growth
- Our forms and surveys are meant to collect customer data such as leads
- You can share these forms anywhere your customers are
- You can enrich this data with reviews/scoring
- The above helps you reach out to your most engaged customers when they need you most.
Of course, hindsight is 20/20.
- Whenever possible, step away from the megaphone and have an intimate exchange instead.
- Make benefits the star of the show and use features as your supporting cast.
- Make sure your copy makes sense and is persuasive for different levels of engagement.
- Speak plainly when writing for someone that is in the top of your sales funnel. This prospect may not know the jargon. Your jargon could make them feel unintelligent and scare them away.
- Make every word and phrase punch above its weight class. No fluff. No filler.
What challenges have you run into writing early stage startup web copy? What lessons have you learned? Please, share below.
Are you a small to medium-sized company experiencing growth? If so, your workflows are probably getting a little scary. We’re talking more people, web apps, and workarounds than ever before. If this sounds familiar, we’re building Blitzen for companies like yours.
Sign up for our free 14-day trial here.
Awesome post! You nailed the exact trends that I’ve been noticing while reviewing startup landing pages (I even wrote a “Top 4 mistakes” post myself :))
I’d like to add that the only way to come up with great copy is by doing your research first. You literally want to copy/paste the exact expressions your target audience uses. And here’s what research in the wild looks like: http://sansmagi.cc/startup-landing-page-convert-more-how-to/
If you want to talk copywriting, you can drop me a message at sansmagi.cc [at] gmail.com Looking at your landing page, I’ve got a few ideas how it could be improved. 😉