How to write copy that converts

Writing copy that convinces your reader to perform an action isn’t easy, especially when you’re using a platform like Poplink and have limited space. But luckily, if you’ve used Twitter or Facebook you’re a lot better at it then you think!

Cutting to the heart of convincing copy all starts with your reader, or customer. Because even if you’re not selling something directly, you are still asking something of your reader — their attention. And nothing is more valuable on this Earth.

Your customers are the judge, jury, and executioner of your product / service. They will be merciless if you don’t speak directly to them.

Much of this post is directly influenced by Value Proposition Design, which I’ve been teaching in my University classes for the many years, and which I highly recommend. And for the purposes of this post — your reader, link clicker or page visitor will be referred to as your customer.

So, how do you grab your customer’s attention — the first step in getting them to perform your requested action? You must first understand them, you must first step into your customer’s shoes.

Customer first, product or service later

More often than not, people try to solve a problem without first identifying the right question. Which sounds super counter-intuitive, but we so often get so excited about our new idea that we’re sure there must be a need for it. This applies both in product development and in copywriting.

Segment X of the population must need my product, you say, because I once had a need for it!

But right there, we put the product before the need. Extolling the virtues of the product before taking a good hard look at the question of why you needed it in the first place. Was it a one-off? Could you have just as easily done without it? Are you fulfilling an actual need or a nice to have?

Fulfill an actual need, solve an actual problem… and the world is yours.

So, take a single moment now and imagine your customer. Use your imagination (or better yet go to a public place and watch people!). See your customer in your mind’s eye — are they tall? Short? Male? Female? Old? Young? Visualising your customers will help you identify with them fully, so your copy comes more fluidly, (and more succinctly) when you begin to write.

Customer jobs

Let’s take a look at your customer’s jobs. Not their occupation — like teacher, or astrophysicist. But what they are trying to get done in their work and in their lives. Are they trying to save time? To learn something at their job and improve their salary? Or are they just trying to get fed more cheaply but without losing any nutrients?

There are many types of customer jobs. They could be the tasks they are trying to perform and complete, the problems they are trying to solve, or the needs they are trying to satisfy. Make sure you take the customer’s perspective when investigating their jobs, imagine them in your mind’s eye like we did before. Remember, what you think of as important from your perspective might not be a job your customers are actually trying to get done.

Write down a list of jobs now. Here’s some examples to get you started:

  • Mow the lawn
  • Eat healthy
  • Write a report
  • Help clients as a professional
  • Look trendy
  • Be perceived as competent as a professional
  • Seeking peace of mind regarding one’s investments as a consumer
  • Achieving the feeling of job security at the workplace

Customer pains

We all have pains in our lives. Bugbears that we’re rather do without. Whether we know what they are or not, when we see something that relieves our pains, we jump at them. Pains describe anything that annoys your customers before, during, and after trying to get a job done. Pains also describes risks, that is, potential bad outcomes, related to getting a job done badly or not at all.

Pains are functional, social, emotional or ancillary. They can also be obstacles. Let’s write down some examples:

This solution doesn’t work very well

I look bad doing this

I feel bad every time time I do this

It’s annoying to have to go to the store for this

Running at the gym is boring

This design is ugly

Customer gains

Finally, let’s identify what your customers want, or what outcome they desire. Some gains are required, expected, or desired by customers, and some would surprise them. Gains include functional utility, social gains, positive emotions, and cost savings. Let’s take a new iPhone for instance.

You would require the iPhone to make calls and access the internet. You would expect the iPhone to be well-design and look sexy. You would desire it to be seamlessly integrated with a tonne of apps. You would be surprised if the iPhone was water proof.

The key in each of these exercises is to actually contemplate what would genuinely make your customers happy with your product or service and write them down. Sticky notes work excellently!

One you’ve got about 12 sticky notes for each category — jobs, pains and gains, then rank them from most important to least. This is how you’ll write your first highly converting promotion!

Here are two articles that can help you with finding a “theme” or an angle for your value proposition:

Anatomy of a Poplink promotion

A Poplink promotion is comprised of key 3 elements;

#1 Headline.

The attention grabber. What is the end-benefit you’re offering, in 5 words or less.

#2 Sub-headline or a 2–3 sentence paragraph.

A specific explanation of what you do/offer, for whom and why is it useful.

#3 Call-to-action.

Communicate what will happen when the customer clicks or enters their email.

Example #1 Stripe


It’s clear who the customer is.

Sub-headline or a 2–3 sentence paragraph.

A specific explanation of what Stripe does / offers, for whom and why is it useful.


Obviously will take you to a page where you can get started with Stripe.

Example # 2 MeetingBurner


The headline is very clear.

Sub-headline or a 2–3 sentence paragraph.

Comparison with the competition (5x faster, free, mention of unique features).


Shows how quick and easy it is to get started.

Example # 3 Buffer


Speaks to Instagram users (of whom there are A LOT).

Sub-headline or a 2–3 sentence paragraph.

Highlights 3 unique features quickly. Bish, bash, bosh.


Mentions influential brand names and intimates free trial.


Creating a Poplink promotion is an exercise in defining your product’s value proposition. You’ll realise quickly enough if you have a good grasp of it or not. But when you do — when you communicate your product’s value to the customer clearly, you can take this information and apply it everywhere you product lives, from your home page to your print and multi-media advertising.

What are some of the better copywriting promotions you’ve seen?