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What Selling Green Oranges Can Teach You about Good Copywriting

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Green Orange + Copywriting

Does good copywriting really matter?

You may have asked yourself that question before.

A lot of people say that it does, but will it really?

Today, I’m going to tell a story that proves it does.

The Story about Selling Green Oranges

Sometime last year, a manager at a small non-profit placed a bowl of green oranges onto a table in the breakroom. He’d picked them himself from the tree in his backyard and was sharing them with everyone in the office.

But something interesting happened.

The oranges sat on the table over  half a day with no one touching them. By 2:00 p.m., not a single orange had been eaten.

Wanting them to be gone by the day’s end, the manager decided to do something. He took out a piece of paper and a sharpie and wrote the following:

Delicious oranges, free for the taking.

Taste better than they look.

When he came back two hours later, the oranges were all gone. His “sales” went from 0 over six hours to 8 in two hours.

That’s the power of effective copy.

Why Good Copy Is So Valuable

Good copy matters more than most people realize. A lot of folks, most designers included, think that other factors matter more. Like the perfect design. But words have a big impact when it comes to sales.

37 Signals, for example, experienced a 200% increase in conversions by changing their call-to-action copy on the homepage button to “See Plans and Pricing.” That’s a big difference from just changing a few words.

37 Signals CTA copy

Here at iSpionage we also experienced a large conversion lift by updating the copy on our SumoMe List Builder pop-up email subscription form. The previous form had general copy that said something like “Become a Smarter Marketer: Sign up and join 17,000+ other email subscribers.” Here’s the new version with more focus placed on PPC marketing:

PPC Marketing

The difference? The first form converted at a rate of 2.3% (which isn’t too bad) but the new form converts at a rate of 5.5%. That’s an improvement of 139% and will ad an extra 3,200 subscribers over the course of 100,000 visitors, all from swapping out a few words.

So why does copy have such a big impact?

Consider the green orange example for a moment. Without the clarifying copy, the oranges didn’t look very appealing. Most of the oranges we see in the store are a beautiful, shiny orange which trains us to expect delicious oranges to be that color. Without a simple line of copy explaining the oranges were delicious, it was unclear to the manager’s “customers,” a.k.a. co-workers.

Thus, this single line, “Taste better than they look,” clarified that the oranges were tasted good (along with the previous copy that described them as “delicious oranges”) and made the oranges more appealing.

On top of that, how were employees to know for sure the oranges were free. They looked free, but maybe some people didn’t want to partake of someone else’s fruit if they were just leaving the oranges on the table and weren’t intending for the office employees to eat them.

So a simple sign communicated in 10 words everything the office staff needed to know. It clarified the offer stating the oranges were free, and it made the oranges more appealing simply by saying they were delicious and tasted better than they looked.

This is all something design alone couldn’t do. And even though the design itself was faulty (the oranges were green instead of orange), persuasive copy effectively got people over the hurdle and convinced them to “buy,” making the copy more important than design.

How This Applies to You

You may be thinking, “That’s great, but my product is a lot more complicated than a bowl of oranges.” Ok, maybe so, but the words you choose still matter.

The way you describe your product, the headlines you dream up, the call-to-action copy you decide on, and the rest of the copy you write will have an impact on sales.

Let’s consider PPC marketing as an example. When you’re writing an ad for an AdWords account, if you don’t realize how valuable your copy is, you may haphazardly type out a new ad, save it, and then go on with your day.

But the copy you choose will have a big impact. The right ad copy can get double the click-through-rate of another ad, just based on the different words that are used. Yet if you don’t care about your copy, you’ll never experience this benefit.

What to Do about It

Now that you know copy matters and can have an impact on sales, what should you do?

Here are some steps you can take:

  1. Learn how to write copy yourself: There are a lot of great books written about copywriting that will help you write better copy even if you’re not a professional copywriter. If you do business online, learning how to write persuasive copy is almost a must. Here are two books we recommend for doing so (neither are affiliate links): The Adweek Copywriting Handbook by Joseph Sugarman and Ogilvy on Advertising by David Ogilvy. We also recommend these three online resources: the Copyblogger blog about content marketing and copywriting, Gary Bencivenga’s Marketing Bullets, and Dean Rieck’s Pro Copy Tips.
  2. Hire a good copywriter: If you don’t have time to learn how to write persuasive copy (and sometimes even if you do), it makes sense to hire a copywriter who knows how to write copy that sells. Good copywriters aren’t cheap but even a small increase in sales will make it worth it.
  3. Test your copy: Last but not least, you should always test your copy. Just because something looks good on paper doesn’t mean it will perform well online or in print. Test different variations of your headline and CTA copy to see what works the best. President Obama raised an extra $60 million doing this for his 2008 presidential campaign. Examples like this one show that small changes can have a big impact, especially when it comes to the words you choose. Go ahead and learn more about copywriting or hire an expert to write yours for you, but remember to also test your variations to make sure each new version improves your results. This goes for PPC campaigns as well. Every new AdWords ad you write should be tested against the previous one to see if it gets a better CTR, conversion rate, and/or CPA, depending on what metric matters most for that particular ad.

If you follow these three steps, you’re sure to get better results with your marketing, whether that be conversions on landing pages or the click-through-rate for PPC ads. A little learning and a few lines of persuasive copy can go a long way in helping you to get better results.

Image credit: Oranges by Steve Parker, creative commons

Author

Joe Putnam Headshot
Joe Putnam is the blog editor at iSpionage. You can get in touch with him on Twitter at @josephputnam and through Google+.

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  • Thanks Joe, nice article, copywriting is always difficult and SEO copywriting is even more so.

  • Also, may I excerpt your article, linking back to your site, giving you credit and repost in my site? My site is a modest blog on internet marketing. Thanks, Paul A.

  • Thanks, Paul. You’re welcome to include excerpts in your post, but it’d be better not to copy and paste the entire post over for duplicate content / SEO reasons.

  • The tips were awesome. Keep Posting.

  • This is so great. What a fun analogy. Loved reading this.