Write for Conversions, Build a Bigger SaaS: Copywriting Advice From Joanna Wiebe

We discussed the role of AI and copywriting, what you need to be doing to convert more leads into clients with your writing, and the most ridiculous tactics within conversion copywriting that work, but really shouldn't.

Write for Conversions, Build a Bigger SaaS: Copywriting Advice From Joanna Wiebe

Powerful copywriting is essential for conversions and growth in your SaaS business. But figuring out how to craft persuasive conversion copywriting can feel like trying to crack the Da Vinci Code.

That’s why we sat down for a Q&A on Subscription Heroes with Joanna Wiebe, the “OG conversion copywriter" and creator of Copyhackers. Joanna has worked with companies like Canva, Intuit, and MetaLab to up their conversion game and teaches copywriting through her many courses.

We discussed the role of AI and copywriting, what you need to be doing to convert more leads into clients with your writing, and the most ridiculous tactics within conversion copywriting that work, but really shouldn't.

Let’s dig into some of the key takeaways and biggest revelations from our conversation with Joanna.

Q: To start out, can you define conversion copywriting for us?

A: So conversion copywriting is very simply copy or words that get the “yes” — the “yes” being whatever you're trying to get people to do. Do you want them to buy something? Are you trying to get a lead? Then that’s the “yes” you’re looking for, and your copy should help make that possible. Conversion copywriting exists to have a more direct line to that thing, whatever it is.

Q: Oftentimes, there’s a negative association with writing copy that’s meant to close the deal or get the “yes”. Why do you think that is? 

A: I believe that people who think that haven’t actually seen copy work except for that one time they bought that crappy thing that they didn't mean to buy, but for some reason they felt compelled to buy it. And now they think, “That’s what copy does, it makes me buy things I don’t actually want.” And there's this fear, this prevailing notion that good salespeople are meant to separate fools from their money.

There's ugliness around the idea of sales, in some cases for good reasons. Some people have abused things and it's awful. But I think it all goes back to a fear of looking like you're a salesperson and a lack of experience actually seeing people convert when you write copy that converts and isn't skeezy.

Q: In older ads you used to see a lot of longer copy, writers taking the chance to tell a story, always with a target in mind. Do you think there’s a reason why the industry has moved away from that? Or do you think there are still places where it’s alive and well?

A: This might sound bad, but I think it is alive and well with companies who really believe in their story. I think they're willing to talk all day long. I've met a lot of people who are writing for brands that they don't believe in, and you can tell when you read the copy. There’s a brand I like that does denim, and they send these long emails telling the story of the particular denim in question — the history of it, where it was made, why it's so interesting.

And they don’t go on ad nauseum. They actually just put a single short sentence, then a line break, and then another single short sentence. But it keeps you reading down the page in an old school, long-copy sort of way. And, as a consumer, I feel more educated, more thoughtful, and then when I buy them, I feel proud. 

It feels like those people are excited about their product. And they believe they've got an audience out there, people that care about this stuff. So the companies that don't really care or don't really get excited about their own work, that ends up being the stuff that gets really chopped down.

Now, that’s not the only reason people don’t use long copy. I think it also often comes down to a crisis of confidence. This is where it goes back to the question of whether or not you really believe in your product. That’s why you’ve got to have leadership in place at the top that truly believe that your brand is amazing, that your customers are amazing, that they're gonna be the real hero in the stories that you tell.

Q: For all of the B2B SaaS operators out there, tell us where you’ve found the most abundance or ROI when you’re looking to improve conversion rates with copy? 

A: So there are two kind of foundational principles in old school copywriting, which is what conversion copywriting is based on. They're complimentary. They're basically the same thing, just said differently. The first one is List, Offer, Copy. And the other is The rule of One, which means one reader, one offer, one big idea and one promise. List, Offer, Copy is basically saying the same thing because “list” is your reader, “offer” is your one offer, and then “copy” is your big idea and your promise. So how do you express your offer to your reader in a way that makes them convert. 

The important thing is that “copy” is the third note in List, Offer, Copy. That’s the order of operations for a good reason. Because copy can only do so much. Now, it can do a lot when you get list and offer. But a lot of people don't work on list and offer. The thing is that the best copywriting techniques to actually get more lift have very little to do with copy. The focus is your list first. And by list we mean readers, users, whoever you’re talking to. So it’s important to ask, who are you actually talking to? And there are rules or at least guidance around that idea. For instance, the person you're talking to should be someone who's actually enthusiastic about your product.

That’s the number one way to make your copy perform better is to first start with a really good clear understanding of who your reader is. And that means having strong empathy for them, knowing that you’re there to help them, to solve something. After “list” is “offer”, and that doesn’t mean sales. People will hear “offer” and think that it needs to involve a promotion or a discount. But what we’re really talking about is all the things that go into your offer, the things that you think people understand that they don't understand at all. They don't know what's in your product. So we want to help them.

When it comes to SaaS, the product is a big part of “offer”. Do people really get your product? Not just the value proposition that you spent 90% of your marketing time working on. Every time you write, sit down and ask yourself, “What am I actually offering my prospect here?”. Ask yourself whether or not you have an irresistible offer. You have to figure out how to make it sound good, how to make it the thing that your users want right now.

Q: What’s the most ridiculous tactic or principle within conversion copywriting that you’ve seen that works but seems like it shouldn’t?

A: The number one thing that always shocks me and that I hate to promote with my clients (but I can’t help it because it works) is images. A photo of a woman will outperform a photo of a guy. During every single test I've ever done of it with it, ever. And we've done a lot. If you want people to pay attention in your hero section, put an image of a woman in there. It shouldn’t work, but it does. That’s design stuff, obviously, not copy, but it all works together.

When it comes to actual copy, one that might be surprising to people is that you should put your headline in the first person and in quotation marks and also put your button in first person. I think it has a lot to do with people being curious about other people. Another one is tapping into the idea of a secret. And you don't even have to call it a secret, but if you can suggest that there's something secret and you're about to get insider access, people lose their minds over it. Another one is that extremely short copy works if you're just trying to get a click. The reality is that if you put your logo and a button on your homepage, your clicks are going to go through the roof.

Q: Let’s get into AI. There’s an opportunity here for copywriters to hand off all the stuff that’s really annoying. What do you think becomes more essential for the copywriter and what do you think is just gonna start being handed off to AI and not even thought about anymore?

A: Here’s the thing that I like about AI. When it comes to junior writers, you can find a lot of resistance to learning things. They’ll come to the table with the idea that they’re a great writer, a creative writer, that they know how to do things. And AI doesn’t bring that in my experience so far with it. I like that there's no ego. I can just work with this tool. I can give it a prompt and then it will learn and keep learning and keep going. I think if you can use it as a sidekick, not to replace your brain, you’ll be really happy with it. 

On the other hand, if you hate writing and choose to outsource it all to ChatGPT, you’re going to get what you put in. We all know that. It's only as good as what you enter into it and the directions that you give it. Currently, I’m not scared about AI — I’m excited about it and I hope other people are too. 

Q: As you’ve run Copyhackers over the years, building a subscription business of your own, what’s the most surprising thing you’ve learned?

A: I've learned you don't need as many tactics as you think you do. Don't do the sexy thing, just do the work thing. The thing that works is good. You can have more vacations, you can save more money, you can pay your team better. So I've learned not to worry about complicated funnels. This is a $3 million a year business, and I’ve learned that I don’t need seven to ten team members. I'm down to three full-time team members outside of myself and then contractors and freelancers because they need the work too. Go support them, those freelancers who will then turn that work into something else. 

Q: Are you reading any books right now or long-form articles that have had an effect on you?

A: Oh, the long form article that had an effect on me most recently is https://www.clickminded.com/complicated. I know it well enough that I know the exact URL. I’ve forwarded it to everybody. 

Q: Do you have a high octane tip that you would recommend about design, leadership, anything? 

I know it’s so dull, but just keep showing up. It’s not sexy, but the people who keep showing up are still here 12 years later and are now like born authorities on it. There have been times when I've wanted to stop showing up. Copyhackers is 12 years old this year. That’s the longest I’ve spent doing anything other than living. And it changed everything for me. But it could have stopped. I could have decided that I’d made some good cash and gone to get a job. But I didn't. It's the easiest thing, to stop showing up. It's the easiest thing, to turn away just as you're about to have a breakthrough. So let’s just keep showing up.