Conversion Rate Optimization and Gas Cans

When less than 2 percent of your visitors even know what you sell.

I did an independant content audit and 5-second test of a newer SaaS firm, Cien and that’s the numbers came down to.

However killer of a service you offer, your leads are not archeologists; don’t make them try to translate cryptic iconography to even begin to grasp what it is you sell.

While there are far worse examples of this, the statistics on the 5-second test I performed on Cien’s website are proof enough that using “average” or DIY copy, and not implementing copywriting best practices is actively burning cash.

Borrowing a metaphor from Joel Klekkte, your website is a gas can.

Your Website is A Gas Can

Your website is a gas can and it’s riddled with holes.

You want to carry as much gas as possible back to your stranded car - you’ve got places to be!

But no matter how much gas you pour into the can, by time you get back to your car it’s all leaked out.

You can try filling it to the brim and racing back to your car as fast as you can, but it’s not enough, you’re still wasting gas and you still can’t start your car.

Instead of pour MORE and MORE gas into the can, just plug the holes. That’s what copywriting best practices do for your website.

A website with ambiguous, diluted or conflicting CTAs, a website that doesn’t clearly spell out what you offer and what you want your clients to do is a leaky gas can.

No matter how much money you pour into getting more traffic to your website, your still going to be losing the VAST MAJORITY of leads who would have loved to buy from you if only they knew what you offered.

Most companies spend thousands on unsuccessful websites and landing pages and think pouring more traffic in via advertising will solve the problem - but they never plug the holes in their gas can.

The leads, and their money, pour right out of the bottom.

The Breakdown

This is what we’re working with:

Cien Homepage Test.png

It’s crisp and clean and utterly useless.

Who is Sara?

What is she selling? Do I even want to know? Is that relevant to what Cien can do for me?

“It shows?” What shows? I still don’t know what Cien offers.

“Get started”? What are we getting started with? I don’t even know what the hell you’re selling.

This is the image I used for the 5-second test I conducted. The results? Well…

One person thought Cien sold face cream - it was that bad.

You can see the survey results for yourself clicking this link.

To make it easier to grasp I put the graph to the right together.

Out of 61 professionals from 13 different countries, nearly 20 plainly stated they had no idea what Cien had to offer from looking at their homepage above the fold. That means that their first impression on roughly 30 percent of their traffic is a giant question mark.

You know those people won’t buy, even if they’re in the market. If they followed an ad to get there or Cien came up in an organic search, you know they’re in the market.

A few people guessed close, assuming Cien did something with customer relationship managers (CRMs), but that’s still a far cry from what they have to offer.

Ultimately, NO ONE knew what Cien sold after looking above the fold on their website. Even looking at the content below the fold you have to work to decipher what they sell.

So, what do they offer? They’ve got an AI system that takes the aggregate data from a client’s CRM and uses it to make forecasting predictions on future business.

Pretty damn big deal, huh? Too bad no one knows it looking at their website.

The Difference Good Copy Makes (WHY YOU SHOULD CARE)

Thankfully, no one is stuck in this trap - there’s a way to plug the holes in your gas can and to actually sell to organic traffic visitors and PPC clicks.

How much of a difference does it make?

  • 2.3 percent

    • The cross industry average conversion rate for landing pages / sales pages / lead generation pages.

  • 5.1 percent

    • The conversion rate of the top 25 percent of companies

  • 11.45 percent

    • The conversion rate of the top 10 percent of companies

The difference between being “average” and being decent means more than doubling your conversion rates.

So, how much money are you leaving on the table?

The better question; how much money are you pumping into a leaky can expecting there to be something left when it comes time to cash in?

Bar Graph.png

Common Asshatery Found in Copywriting and How to Avoid it.

Just like boxing and baking, copywriting has plenty of pitfalls that novices can find themselves sinking into. Whether it’s the projected jab of telling and not showing, or seasoning with a bit to many “me’s,” what feels natural to a newcomer will leave you blacked out and ringing your head in the shower room for the grief of terrible conversion numbers.

We’re gonna root through the undergrowth to pull out the dirt, shine some light on it, and identify some of the most common practices of copy asshatery around. From there, it’s on to how to fix it.

Me, me, me, me - stop it.

Whether you’re writing content, conversion copy, or how-to guides, no one wants to listen to you talk about how great you are.

What does your copy make the reader do? If you’re not inspiring and empowering in some way you’re missing the mark. The difference between talking about how you’re God’s gift to the industry and empowering your reader is the difference between the sleazy frat-bro turned salesman and a good friend who looks to motivate you to push forward towards your goals. Keep that comparison in mind when writing, and pay attention to which you sound more like.

Your templates will change based on who you are writing to, but this fact holds true whether you are selling a new service to a long time customer who already trusts you or telling a story to win over a complete stranger. Hone in on your readers’ needs and tell them how they will be able to overcome obstacles and solve problems using your tools.

If they want to build a bridge and you sell rebar, don’t focus on how your company helps build bridges, tell them how THEY CAN DO IT using your resources. It’s their effort, their dreams, and you’re providing the fuel to help them make it.

Unnecessarily Verbose Verbiage

Don’t do it.

It’s not just bad copywriting, it’s bad writing in general.

Every word serves a purpose. Subject headers in emails work to get the email opened, and every word in an email works to get readers to click on your link. If there are words in your copy that don’t contribute to a specific goal, cut them.

Using Industry Jargon

It’s easy to get caught up using a company’s internal language. When facing the customer, however, don’t. You must use language that they will understand. That means jargon is off the table.

Jargon alienates readers who are not experts on your subject matter. Considering that your services and/or products are sold based on your being the expert and the audience being ignorant, and driving forward using jargon runs the risk of alienating the majority of your audience..

Strip down the technical details and explain what you offer in language that your drinking buddies would understand.

Treat People Like People - Not Targets

No one wants to be treated like a resource, and nothing is more off putting than immediately selling your products or services right on the heels of “Hi, my name’s _____.”

Good sales, including copy, is about building relationships. While brand voices can vary, a conversational tone in your writing inspires far more trust than coming on like a business-starved car salesman.

The Barstool Test is perfect for checking your tone. When writing your pitch imagine you’re offering it to a stranger sitting next to you at the bar. It’s a casual conversation and the two of you are simply talking about your lives. That includes obstacles you’re dealing with. In this situation you would be taking a sincere listen to who they are and what their problems are - it’s far more natural, trustworthy, and sincere to offer your solution as a friend in this situation than it would be as the shark in the car lot looking for the biggest commision check. Barriers are down, you are treating one another as people, and the focus is on helping lift up and empower who you are speaking to, which just happens to coincide with your goal of making a sale.

How to Improve

Keep a list of these weaknesses on hand when you write. As you go back through your drafts:

  • Check for jargon

  • Make sure you put the clients/readers first

  • Cut out unnecessary words and phrases

  • Talk about yourself (the brand you are writing for) as little as possible

One practice to rule them all, and in the dar… - I’m gonna stop myself there.

You need to practice, and one of the best methods of practice out there is to hand write the best copy you can find. This will make you comfortable with the natural flow of good copy (and writing in general), you’ll become accustomed to the organic progression of arguments, and you’ll get a feel for how to leverage selling points by letting yourself marinate in expert work that does all of the above.

Finding copy to copy is simple, write a list of copywriters who are successful and look for work they’ve produced. I recommend:

  • Gary Harbert

  • David Ogilvy

  • Victor Schwab

  • John Caples

  • Clayton Makepeace

Now, quit twiddling your thumbs and get to it!

Types of Copywriting

Of all the types of copywriting out there, NONE of them that I make money from involve the Library of Congress (or any similar institute outside the USA).

Running the pipe from super broad into talking specifics, we’re coming off of understanding the difference between content and copy to talking about specific types of copywriting. We’re not down to strategies employed or specific issues yet, but rather the different sub disciplines found in copywriting. Just like with piloting, because someone “has their wings” doesn’t mean you want a helicopter pilot landing your flight to Toronto next week. So, when hiring a copywriter make sure you grab the right type. An SEO specialist will get you seen, but won’t necessarily be the best at improving your conversion metrics.

There’s no way to write an article like this that is 100 percent inclusive. New techs are popping up every day and what’s comprehensive today will be outdated tomorrow - we’re just waiting for the day copywriters are developing ads that appear directly in your brain or are flashed across your augmented reality contact lenses when you spot the right barcode. Barring those Black Mirror-esque futures, we’re sticking to the standards of today.

Different Flavors. Different Goals.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Copywriting

When you hire an SEO focused marketing agency to help you with your marketing, this is the bread and butter they thrive on to bring you more customers.

SEO Copywriting isn’t copywriting in the typical sense. Rather, it’s content writing that focuses on hitting keywords and phrases that are often searched for in Google. Coupled with a strong backlinking strategy this is a single cog in a larger content marketing strategy that will boost your online visibility.

Technical Copywriting

Technical copywriters are a bit of a misfit in the copywriting world. While copywriters are expert writers first, this comes secondary to technical copywriters in that they are subject experts first, and persuasive writers second.

Technical copywriters write persuasive copy promoting technical services and products. As with standard copywriting, the benefits need to be laid out for the reader. Because of the technical nature of what the writer is promoting they are diving into technical writing territory simply in breaking down the jargon of what they are promoting.

This said, the goal is still to sell the product. That makes explanations a secondary goal that is addressed only as it needs to be. I.e. you don’t need to understand all the difference between engine piston types to sell a minivan, but if it’s relevant to your buyer, you’d damn sure better know your stuff and be ready to answer questions in depth.

Content Copywriting

Content copywriters focus on blogs and newsletters. Typically they are either employed directly by a company that needs regular content, or they do this through an agency that is hired to produce regular content.

Content copywriting focuses on one topic and explores it a bit more with each post, just like this blog. It establishes the brand as an expert in any given subject, providing readers a reason to go back to the site when they need answers on whatever the site specializes in. It can take the form of DIY articles, step-by-step guides, educational write ups, and much much more.

Often, these articles are later used as the basis for newsletters that are sent directly to readers on a company’s mailing list. All of this works to increase the value of a brand to the customers being reached out to.

Conversion Copywriting

Conversion copywriters are literary hypnotists.

Here the game is all about the call to action (CTA). Whether it’s prompting someone to sign up for your email list, to reserve a seat at your next convert, or to purchase your product or service.

Simply put, you have something you want your customers to do - a conversion copywriter will convince them to do it. Above all else, these writers are masters of persuasion.

This is not an exhaustive list, but you’ll find conversion copywriters often niche down further into specific mediums they communicate over. This includes

  • Emails

  • Landing pages

  • Case studies

  • Social media ads

  • Radio ads

  • TV ads

  • Speeches

  • Anything, anywhere, and anytime that someone is trying to sell you something

These are broken down into so many subgroups because different techniques work for each. For email copywriters it’s a hard science figuring out which subject lines will get readers to open, and these are refined over long A/B testing cycles using monitoring software to track which emails are opened most. Once an email is opened, the entire email body must be masterfully crafted to convince the reader to click on the links you provide, whether they sell a product, service, or membership.

Which Do You Need?

Whichever one of these is useful to you depends on where your business is. If you’re just looking to build more brand awareness you should go with content and/or SEO copywriters. If you’re at the stage where you’re ready to start selling, a conversion copywriter should be your top priority.

Content or Copy; What's the Difference?

The first entry for my podcast/blog, The Copy Corner

Content or Copy?

It's all just words, right? WRONG! 

Both serve unique purposes and need to be approached with those purposes in mind. 

Content educates and entertains. 
Copy sells. 

That's it. But let's dive deeper.

Educational content can help sales, but that's not their immediate purpose. Likewise, sales copy can educate, but if you focus on the education portion you're going to have lower conversion rates.

A Purpose for Everything

The "What"


"The act of writing text for the purpose of advertising or other forms of marketing. The product, called copy, is written content that aims to increase brand awareness and ultimately persuade a person or group to take a particular action. 

Copywriters help create billboards, brochures, catalogs, jingle lyrics, magazine and newspaper advertisements, sales letters and other direct mail, scripts for television or radio commercials, taglines, white papers, social media posts, and other marketing communications."

Content Writing

"In publishing, art, and communications, content is the information and experiences that are directed towards an end-user of an audience. Content is "something that is to be expressed through some medium, as speech, writing or any other various arts." Content can be delivered via many different media including the internet, cinema, television, smartphones, audio CDs, books, e-books, magazines, and live events such as speeches, conferences and stage performances."

Copywriting is always a type of content, but content is not always copywriting - just like your old iPod isn't the only type of MP3 player. 

The "Why"


Your sales will plummet without good copywriting, and with it, they'll soar. Good copy can do a number of things, but all of them are contributing towards generating leads and/or closing sales. This is accomplished through leveraging any one of six types of persuasion. Those include:

  1. Reciprocity
    1. "If you do what I'm asking I'll repay you with something of value."
  2. Consistency
    1. "What I'm asking you to do is consistent with your beliefs."
  3. Authority
    1. "Experts and figures of power agree that you should do what I'm asking."
  4. Consensus
    1. "Almost everyone in the same situation you are in does as I am asking."
  5. Scarcity
    1. "You should do what I'm asking because this opportunity will go away."
  6. Liking
    1. "You like me, right? Well, then please do what I am asking."

Any combination of these can be used to form an effective call-to-action that sells, but it takes more than a reciprocal tit-for-tat or authoritative statistic to make a sale. If what you want your audience to do is not clear, they won't do it. If it's not simple, they may miss the message. If it's not brief, they'll get bored and leave. Last, if logic sold then no one would smoke - stick to emotional appeal. 

Once all of these factors are put into play they do three things for you.

  1. Provide Understanding
    1. Good copy creates the perfect balance between relatability and information. It hits the mark where your services meet a reader's needs, highlighting a problem they have and offering a solution you can provide.
  2. Creates Brand Familiarity
    1. Do the slogans to the right sound familiar? What brands do they represent? The marketing team at Nike has made certain that "Just Do It." reminds you of their product. This affects perception of your brand, which further influences their buying habits. Good copywriting empowers your brand the same as bad copy belittles it.
  3. Building Value
    1. Every. Single. Word. Matters. There shouldn't be a single wasted word in your copy. Any weak points in your copy leave room for your reader to get distracted and go elsewhere - instead of following through to give you an email address buying your product/service. Whether this value is established in getting them closer to closing a sale or providing useful information, it must be essential. 

Every move is a calculated step. Every step moves customers towards buying.

That's copywriting.

Content Writing

Researching and writing; content writing is all about pooling useful information together for your audience. This builds your authority as a subject expert, makes your website a hub for valuable information to your target audience, and helps improve your SEO rankings making you appear higher in web browser searches like Google and Yahoo (Yahoo's still alive, right? Right.).

This takes the form of social media posts, videos, audio recordings, articles, and blogs like this. Similar to copywriting, it speaks to a specific audience such as potential customers. This is just one rung along the ladder of sales, guiding your audience to trust you as a valuable source of information that they will later trust buying from.

Good content:

  1. Creatively explains ideas making them memorable and easy to comprehend.
  2. Is loaded with reliable information on the subject being discussed.
  3. Speaks with an appropriate tone as to match established branding.
  4. Is well researched.
  5. Has top grade grammar.

Wrapping Up

Copy sells, and content funnels people to copy. Both are essential to a successful marketing strategy. 

If you're sitting on the fence about either of these, you're losing money.