#121: How to Write Web Copy That Sells [Podcast]

One of the most important skills you can develop is the skill of writing persuasive copy. Copy that sells products and services.

Notepad on a wooden table

There is a formula for writing such copy, and in today’s episode, I will share it. You can start using it today..

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Tip Of The Week 

Split-test your life. In direct response marketing, we  test different elements of our marketing, honing on on the most effective variation. This process allows you to be constantly improve the outcomes you are achieving. It occurred to me that I could do the same in my personal life. Here are some routines and habits I am split testing in my own life:

  • Doing my quiet time/”hour of power” each morning first vs. doing my most important work task first each morning.
  • Exercising in the early morning hours vs. exercising in the afternoons.
  • Recording my podcasts weekly vs. recording them 6 weeks in advance
  • Caffeine intake vs. no caffeine intake.
  • Naps each day vs. no  naps each day.

The possibilities are endless. What can you split test in your personal life?

Spiritual Foundations

If you are feeling overwhelmed, stressed, overworked, and anxious – there is rest and peace for you. The Lord wants you to enter into His rest. Now, in the Kingom, everything is upside down. He who wants to be lifted up must bow down, those who want to rule must serve. and those would wish to be first must be last.

To achieve God’s rest does not mean that we are inactive. It means we understand that while we may labor with God, the outcome is up to Him, not to us.

It is in vain that you rise up early
    and go late to rest,
eating the bread of anxious toil;
    for he gives to his beloved sleep.

Psalm 127:2

So go ahead, and do what needs to be done – but rest. And when you have done all you can do, then stand. Leave the outcome to God.

Feature Segment: How to Write Web Copy That Sells

Here is the formula for writing web copy that sells your products and services.

  • First: why it’s necessary.
  • People don’t take any action initially.
  • They don’t know you, like you, or trust you.

Copy fills in the gap.

Why it’s so long.

We need to answer all the objections ahead of time.

Better for us to raise and answer all the questions first.

It’s time for a new paradigm.

To Sell More, P.A.S.T.O.R. Your Customers

A Five-Part Framework For Better Sales Copy

If you want to sell more of your products and services, or even simply sell more people on your ideas, you must learn the basics of the art of copywriting. But what is copywriting, really? One of my favorite definitions was given by a man named John E. Kennedy, back in 1904. Kennedy defined advertising (and copywriting) as: “salesmanship in print.”

If you can write effective sales copy, you can literally write your own paycheck. There really should be no such thing as a “broke copywriter”. By definition, good copywriters can create money out of thin air. So why does copy so often fail?

Copywriting Fails When You Ignore Universal Principles

There are universal psychological triggers that help you sell more effectively. The problem is, the field of copywriting is strewn with misleading, manipulative, and even in some cases malicious techniques.

You can hardly “swing a cat” without hitting a copywriter who has a “formula” for writing copy. Most of these formulas are actually quite good.  Many however, are based on tricks of manipulation and psychology that are more than a bit morally wonky.

The framework I’m going to share with you today, though, is intentionally based on universal principles that are focused on doing good, and helping people make decisions that are in their own best interest.

To Sell More, P.A.S.T.O.R. Your Customers

Most people associate the term “pastor” with the preacher at church. While this is certainly true in most cases, the original meaning of the word “pastor” was actually “to shepherd”. And what does the shepherd do? He or she cares for, feeds, and protects the flock.

Now, before we go any further, I should address the habit that some marketers have of referring to their customers as their “herd”. It seems to paint an unflattering picture. This kind of imagery is not what I am invoking here. The actual role of a shepherd is a loving, caring, and protective one. In fact, Jesus, who called himself the “good Shepherd”, actually laid down his life for his flock.

I am not suggesting any religious overtones for your copy: what I am suggesting is that you adopt the same loving, caring, and protective role as you write copy for your prospects and customers.

And, as you might’ve guessed, P.A.S.T.O.R. is also an acronym for the major sections of your copy. Here is the explanation:

“P” is for PROBLEM

You must begin by identifying  the problem that you are solving. The simplest, most effective way to do this is to describe the problem in great detail. It’s a psychological principle: the more accurately you can describe your reader’s problem in terms they relate to, the more they instinctively feel that you must have an answer to that problem. Use the reader’s own language, the very words and phrases they use to describe the problem they want to solve.

For instance, if you are writing about fitness and weight loss, you might begin by describing their current situation this way: “You’ve tried every fad diet that’s come along. You’ve started and stopped a dozen different exercise programs, perhaps joined several different gyms, but the truth is you just can’t seem to take the weight off (or keep it off.) Perhaps you’re even feeling a little disgusted with yourself and your inability to control your eating and your weight. You feel like no matter what you try, it’s not going to work.”

Remember, you’re not judging their behavior, rather you are describing their experience as it currently is. This means you have to understand their experience as it currently is. You have to know your audience and what they are thinking. As the great copywriting legend Robert Collier said, you have to “join the conversation that is already taking place in the reader’s mind.”

“A” is for AMPLIFY

The next step is to amplify the consequences of not solving the problem. This is really the key to making sales, and it is probably the most neglected step in the process. What will motivate people to buy your product, invest in your service, or accept your idea is usually not the beautiful outcome framed in a positive light. It is rather, realizing the cost of not attaining that outcome. In other words: what is it costing them to not solve this problem?

When I’m writing copy about a business improvement program, for instance, I may have the reader walk through a simple exercise like this: 

“Write down your average monthly income over the last 12 months. Then write down what you want your average monthly income to be. Let’s say that your average income is $5000 per month, and your goal is actually to make $15,000 per month in your business. That means the “gap” between where you are and where you want to be is $10,000 per month. You’re paying a cost of $10,000 every month you don’t solve this problem.”

“S” is for STORY and SOLUTION

 Once you have described the problem, and amplified the consequences of not solving it, it’s time to share the story of how the problem can be solved. This will be different depending on your situation. It might be the story of how you yourself finally solved this persistent problem.

It might be the story of how you helped a client or customer discover the solution on their own.

It does need to be more than simply a description of what the solution is: telling the story of Bob, the frustrated business owner who was on the edge of bankruptcy, whose family had lost faith in him, and who, out of desperation tried one last idea that saved his business… is infinitely more powerful than simply saying, “One day, Bob figured out the answer.”

It should go without saying, but I will say it just in case: the story must absolutely be true. Don’t make these things up. And if you’re thinking, “But what if there is no story?” I would suggest you just haven’t looked closely enough. There is always a story to tell.

“T” is for TRANSFORMATION and TESTIMONY

The next key step in writing your copy is to remember that whatever you’re selling, whether it’s a home study program, a book, a seminar, your consulting services… anything at all… what people are buying is not the “stuff”, it’s the transformation.

When people buy the P90X workout program, they did not wake up one morning and say to themselves, “I sure hope today somebody tries to sell me a bunch of DVDs and a wall chart.” 

Those things (the DVD’s, charts, etc) are the “stuff”.

What buyers of P90X are actually purchasing is that lean, healthy, youthful physique they want for themselves. The transformation.

It’s also important that you offer testimony, real-life stories of people who have made the transformation that you are teaching, and who have done so successfully. Study the most successful infomercials, and you’ll discover that they consist of about 70% testimonials.

And while most of us will not be writing infomercials, it’s important to remember there are three questions people are asking when you sell them coaching, consulting, or instruction about anything. The questions are:

Has this person been able to do what they are describing for themselves?

Has this person been able to teach other people to achieve the results they are describing?

Will this person be able to teach me how to achieve these results?

“O” is for OFFER

So far, you have defined the problem, clarified the cost of not solving it, told the story of the solution, and helped your reader visualize the transformation through testimonials from others just like themselves. Now is the time to describe exactly what you are offering for sale.

This is the section of your copy where you lay out your offer. You can even create a subheading for the section called something clever like, “Here’s Exactly What You Get”.

Make certain that you focus 80% of your copy on the transformation itself. You do have to talk about the deliverables (the class schedule, the DVDs, etc.), but that should only occupy about 20% of your copy in this section. Just remember that as you describe the deliverables in the offer section, you must keep tying them back to the transformation and benefits your buyers will receive. 

So instead of simply writing that the buyer will receive “8 DVDs, each containing a 45 minute workout session”, you might instead write that they will receive “8 DVDs that each contain a body-sculpting, fat-burning transformational work out that will help you craft the lean muscle you really want.”

“R” is for RESPONSE

This is one of the areas where copy tends to often be the weakest: the response request. We are asking the customer to buy. At this point, you should not be shy about making this request. You should tell the customer exactly what to do in order to get your program, your consulting, your book, etc. You should remind them why it’s important o do so.

I often write copy similar to this: “You’re at the point of decision. You can either continue down the path of least resistance, the path you have already been traveling, or you can choose the road less traveled. The path of least resistance will probably result in you getting the same outcomes you’ve always received. But if you want something different to happen, if you want to change the direction of your health (or your relationships, or your finances, etc.) you’re going to have to do something different. Make a new choice, and pursue your new outcome.”

And then I will write very specific, directive copy telling them exactly what to do next: “Click the button below, fill out the order form, and we will immediately ship your entire package to you. It will contain everything you need to get started.”

Some people shy away from strong language like this, but the fact is, if you truly believe that you have a solution that will solve a problem for people, why on earth would you not be as direct as possible in telling them how to get that solution? In fact, aren’t you doing them a disservice by not making the strongest case possible?

My suggestion is that you use this framework to write or rewrite your sales copy. The key to making this approach to writing sales copy successful is the having the mindset of being a “pastor”.

If you apply the principles of being a shepherd to your readers, and you follow the sequence of the P.A.S.T.O.R formula, my prediction is you will experience more sales, more profits, and more happy customers… more often. 

What To Do Now

Steps you can take to put this week’s episode content to work for you:

  1. Split-test elements of your daily life and habits.
  2. Sign up for the free webinar training on how to write a book in 30 days or less.
  3. Run your sales copy through the P.A.S.T.O.R. framework.

Get The Transcript

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Question: What one action will you take from today’s podcast that will move you toward the success you seek? Click here to leave your comments.

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24 thoughts on “#121: How to Write Web Copy That Sells [Podcast]

  1. Wow Ray… boy does God answer help request. I’ve been struggling with my messaging not resonating and connecting. I have a “God Help Me” box where I write a note to God on something I really really need help and write Him a note and put it in the box.

    I asked God for help with clarity and the words I need to write.

    Your podcast and this article is so inspiring. I’ll be using the PASTOR formula and run my copy through it. Now I need to write a thank you note and put it my Thank You God box.

  2. Ray – I love this metaphor of “pastoring” our customers. And I love the image of being a shepherd to those who trust us. Thanks for the clear outline.

  3. Ray, thanks for sharing. You definitely hit the Wow factor with this post. I started reading and listening because copywriting is my weak area. This post was extremely helpful. I am going to share it with other members of my mastermind group. Take care.

  4. I love the PASTOR concept. It works not just for copy. I walked a hospital CEO through the process on a phone call today and now they’re on board for a the corporate culture transformation process. Looking forward to the time where our paths can cross!

      • In my conversation I used questions around each of the components:
        P = What really is the problem?
        A = What’s the outcome for not solving?
        S = Why is that so important? (he told me stories)
        T = I gave him a couple of ways our process fixed this problem. Also walked him through my test of accepting clients (TESTimony)
        O = Gave him the solution
        R = “How do we want to make this work?

        It’s a great roadmap for helping people make a decision. “Changing culture is an intangible and this guide makes it easy to walk people through the decision making process. Thanks so much!

  5. Just listened on my jog today. Excellent as always. As soon as I finished, I had to come read all the PASTOR components. I am particularly excited to use this in “selling” my lessons. In fact, I wanted to comment on what a good teacher I think you are. From the anticipatory set to the distributed summaries, I give your shows an A+!

  6. I’m curious with the life split-testing – how
    do you isolate the results? Given the nature of some of your examples, the
    holistic and cumulative impact is important to consider as well.

    If you are running multiple tests, how do you
    best isolate outcomes, especially when there are potential compounding effects?

    • All good questions. You’re right, of course. and in a pure scientifically controlled experiment I would be that exacting. At this point, I’m in the beginning stages of implementing these tests – so I haven’t achieved that level of granularity.

  7. Awesome content, Ray. I love this model!

    Fellow readers, I’d recommend you get his book “Writing Riches” … it’s helped me immensely in taking my copywriting to the next level. I always recommend to all my friends.

  8. Ray, I just ordered your book Writing Riches. I’m hoping the ‘pastor’ formula is discussed in there, with some examples. That pastor formula is the most brilliant explanation of copy writing I’ve ever heard. Of course, the ‘technique’ is just the tip of the iceberg. The rest of the iceberg (that’s under the water) is represented by the Godly intention of serving the people with whom we are trying to persuade. Combine the ‘pastor’ technique with the Godly intentions and we should have a winner. Thanks Ray!

  9. Thanks, Ray. I loved the PASTOR model for copywriting. I found it so compelling that I had to listen twice.

    I’m not a copywriter, and I’m not a marketer, but I’m sure curious about both, and I’m astounded at their potential power and leverage, especially in this connected world that we live in. So, to get practical experience and learn more, I’ve been working on the marketing for a small for-profit theater company. So I listened to the PASTOR model with that in mind.

    I’ve been thinking on this for a day now, and I just can’t see what kind of problem is solved for the patrons by having them attend a theater performance. Does it solve the problem of boredom? Loneliness? Ignorance?

    I can’t decide if there is a truly deep answer to this that totally escapes me, or if the PASTOR model is not meant for this situation and a different model is called for.

    Your thoughts?