How to Write Ecommerce Copy That Sells – With Ry Schwartz

In this exclusive video interview with world-renowned copywriter, Ry Schwartz (who wrote for people like Amy Porterfield, Todd Herman, Johanna Weibe, and Josh Shipp, and is responsible for millions of dollars in product launches), discover why copywriting matters in ecommerce, how to know exactly what your customers are saying so you can write better product descriptions, and his two secret “sweeps” that you can use to make any piece of copy better in under an hour.

Discussed: The Polarizing Power of an Unconventional Sales Email (on CopyHackers)

Ryan’s website:

I’m super excited because we have on this video one of my favorite persons ever, and this is Ryan Schwartz.Ryan is in my opinion, one of the world’s best copywriters – and when I say copywriters, don’t confuse that with someone who writes blog posts. I’m talking about a sales copywriter, someone who can write words that will make your customers buy your products – literally.

I did an interview with Ryan last year about drip email marketing, and it was so well received that I had to do another one, so this is Part II, a year later, and today we’ll focus on copywriting and how it fits into your e-commerce strategy, e.g. product descriptions, landing pages, etc. So without further ado, Ryan – how are you?

Ryan: I am so happy to be here with you again, and I just found out that the last interview I had with you is my #1 ranked video on Google, so it’s just awesome to be here again.

Host: Let’s just establish some context. When it comes to e-commerce websites, you’ve got copy everywhere. Product descriptions, landing pages, headlines, Facebook ads – that’s all copy you have out there.

Yet, here’s what happens and here’s what I’ve been noticing – copy seems to be an afterthought. The people writing that copy are people just somehow related to marketing. Sometimes a company hires a copywriter, maybe to do a product description, but then how do you know that’s good copy? Is it just a fact sheet or actual copy – and all of that is super important, so, Ryan, I want to ask you – why do you think copy is still overlooked? People are paying tons of money to graphic designers, because they know they can’t do the design themselves, so they hire someone – at least companies that know what they’re doing. But why is copy something that people just don’t take seriously?

Ryan: That’s a great question. And I think the reason it’s such an overlooked and neglected thing is because it’s the hardest thing to grasp. It has a perceived esoteric quality and people just don’t know if it’s really good or not. It’s harder to track than design elements, and it’s hard to know just what’s effective and what’s not, and of course it’s one of the hardest things to do, especially if you’re not a natural writer, and you’re still trying to ‘write copy’.

That’s the biggest thing I teach my students – forget everything you think copywriting is or isn’t. Copywriting isn’t ‘talking’ to your customer; copywriting isn’t even engaging in a conversation with your customer, as a lot of people think. Copy is catalyzing a conversation that happens in your prospect’s head. That’s what its function is, and I think if you just drill it down to that and make that your definition of what copy is, people start to warm up to it. It’s not this stringent thing that has to fit within tight formulas, and if you don’t hit all those formulas and those 18 points, then what you’re doing is ineffective.

The best conversion specialists in the world are sales enrolment specialists who will close 50% in one-on-one conversations, like jewelry salespeople who, if they have the right prospect with them at the counter, chances are that person is going to leave with that watch or that ring or whatever. What these people are doing is they’re holding that space to have that conversation with a customer in their heads, and they’re giving them those prompts that really catalyze it.


Why your design team should hire a writer:

View image on Twitter
Joanna Wiebe @copyhackers,

Host: That’s really interesting. Now, let’s say we have tons of product descriptions. That’s probably the most obvious place where we’ve got a lot of copy, and for many e-commerce stores, their teams of copywriters are spending a lot of their time writing product descriptions. So if I’m a marketer or someone working for an e-commerce store – how do I know if our copy is any good? Are there signs? Because I know it’s hard to track, and it’s not something you can just track, like a button click. How do I know if the copy on my e-commerce store is any good?

Ryan: Good question. I guess the first test would be to compare new copy to the old copy, in a controlled situation, and you just swap out those descriptions. At the second level, your sales team or anybody who is front-facing, show that to your top-performing sales people, involve them in that conversation, but they are performing that same function live with customers. Even hiring someone like myself, to come in and tell you what’s going on would be worthwhile. Mainly though, just listen to the people who are actually selling your products.

The other thing I’d just like to note about product descriptions, and I know this may sound totally ridiculous, but I ask myself – is this a product description, or is this an outcome description? That’s one frame I would use to test something, especially for something that’s getting a lot of traffic. For instance, if I were selling this watch, and I described it as having a 2 mm dial with sleek hands – that’s strictly a product description. But I’m not buying the watch because it has sleek hands, I’m buying it because it has a luxurious feel, and it makes me feel luxurious too.

Be hyper-specific about the outcome that will be achieved by the owner of this product.

Host: Such a great point! And I love that you brought it up, because this is probably the biggest marketing mistake that I, running a conversion optimization agency, see people make across all industries…

Instead of talking about the outcome, people talk about the features. It’s well known that it’s better to appeal to emotions than logic, but still people talk about what great features a product has, its dimensions, the whole fact sheet. Things that are maybe good to know for the audience, and maybe that they even need to know, but you don’t want to overlook the benefit – how do you want to make them feel, what is the outcome – exactly what you said.

I’ve worked quite a bit with software companies as well, and it’s the same thing. People focus on features and not the benefits. But people don’t necessarily care about the shirt they buy, but they care about how it will make them look and feel, and the status they will acquire because of it.

Thank you for sharing that point. Now, I want our listeners to know that Ryan has worked with some of the biggest names out there, in terms of advertising, in terms of everything. His clients are incredible. Ryan, I’d love to have you give us an example of someone who has maybe OK copy, and then you optimize that copy, and what the end result is. Do you have a great case study you could share with us that shows how copy does make an impact?

Ryan: Yes, for sure. This isn’t a full case study, but it’s something that people can definitely take a look at, and see what the power of copy really is. On CopyHackers, Lance Jones wrote a post about a little campaign that I worked with him on, for their landing pages. There was one email in the sequence, where there was something like 24 or 48 hours left til it closed, and I had that feeling where I was a little uncertain about having pushed some buttons for people – but that’s not a bad thing. It’s very often that anger or that backlash from someone that triggers motion and elicits a response, so anyway I had that feeling about what I wrote, and I thought it was a good sign that I was on to something. They sent out that email, and they got about quadruple the normal response rate.

Lance was watching the responses come in, and many of them were like, “Oh my God, this is amazing! This is exactly what I had to hear!” Half of them were totally repulsed and angry and furious, but when you think about it, anger is just a kind of resolve where people are getting more intimately involved.

There was a whole write-up about this email on CopyHackers, and what a high-performing email it was, it got a ton of replies, and people still talk about it in that space. That’s one small case study of what can happen when you take that leap and you aren’t afraid to speak to people’s emotions in a hyper-specific way. The lesson is just to never be benign, and don’t be afraid to invoke people’s emotions, one way or the other.

In copywriting, don’t be afraid to invoke people’s emotions, one way or the other. CLICK TO TWEET

Host: That’s amazing. So, take a leap and don’t be afraid to target your customer’s emotions. And this comes back to your customer – it’s really about creating a relationship between your copy and the customer. Imagine if product descriptions could convert 4X better, just because of a difference in the copy! I’ve seen that kind of thing myself as a conversion optimizer – doing things like you just described, Ryan, we had a case last year where we increased conversions 240% for a client just by targeting emotions.

If this isn’t part of what you’re doing right now in your marketing efforts, it really should be. Every single objection a customer might have can be countered by a good copywriter with strong copy, for instance price objections. I like to counter that by saying it’s not that the price is too high, it’s just that the customer only sees features and hasn’t seen the value yet. For instance, if you’re selling a body wash for $40 when it can be bought for $6 at a drug store, your features list won’t justify it, but an explanation of all its benefits just might. That’s why any kind of sales optimization needs to involve copywriters who can bring that to the forefront.

Now, you were talking about the voice of the customer – to me, that’s really about getting into the customer’s mind, and that might seem a bit mystical to people, so – how do you really go about doing that? How do you take that information and write copy that really resonates with them?

Ryan: I was asked to give a workshop on that question in Sonoma last year, and it is a bit of a mystical process, until you break it down and really see how simple it really is.

The first thing necessary is to just forget yourself and kind of become absent in the process – just take yourself out of the equation. One good example I have of this is when I was working with the Director of Marketing for a hair loss company, and he was trying to connect with his audience through writing better email copy, so I led him through this exercise I call the ‘Moment of Highest Tension’, which I think everyone should apply to their own situation. What is that moment in time when your prospect will begin to suffer for not having your product?

In the hair loss example, it started out with looking at the demographic – who is the person you’re talking to? Because that moment of highest tension will be much different for a 22-yr old single male than it would be for a 50-yr old dad who doesn’t care if he’s balding.

Based on the demographic data, you then figure out when that moment of pain becomes greatest, and I had the Director of Marketing walk me through a day in the life of his prospect.

This happened to be on a Friday, so he walked me through his prospect’s after-work activity. He goes to a bar with friends, has a few drinks, mingles, and tries to connect with some of the ladies there. He meets an interesting woman who’s very attractive and starts up a promising conversation – and he begins dreading the moment when he might have to take off his baseball hat and show her how he looks without the hat on, and with receding hairline. THAT was the moment of highest tension.

You can run through that same process for literally anything you’re selling, and when you’ve identified that moment of highest tension, you are inside the customer’s head and you know what motivates him the most. When you drill down and use that information in your copy, you’re going to have that intimate connection with the customer, and it will allow you to write from that perspective.

Host: I love how you focused in on the emotions, because especially when you’re trying to sell higher-end products, it’s the emotions that really rule and not the practical aspects. For instance, people don’t buy an expensive dress because they need a dress, it’s more about the experience itself and the status that comes from it.

You can convey emotions and feelings effectively in a store setting – playing with scents, products, and music. But when it comes to creating emotions online, for most companies it’s kind of a weak point in their marketing. They might wonder why they’re not having the kind of success they expect, and it’s because they haven’t made the customer feel the emotions that will trigger a purchase.

Ryan: Yes – and the flip side of that is what I call ‘exclusive empowerment’. In the luxury markets particularly, we hear a lot about exclusivity, and what that boils down to is this: what things have customers done or what points of pride do they have which can be used to leverage them into buying a product?

These customers don’t want to buy what other people have – they want to buy because they feel they’ve earned the right to something because of what they’ve achieved or because they have a sense of pride about something.

If you can position your product to cater to that kind of experience, you’ll have a customer who wants to cash in those ‘privilege points’ and reap the rewards of that investment. That’s another thing you want to keep in mind – what points of pride do your customers have which uniquely motivates them to want to buy your product? And you have to go beyond just money, although that is one of the privileges involved.

Go deeper. Who are they? What have they done and experienced in their lifetimes that entitle them to your product?

Host: Everyone who’s watching this video, I’d like to make it clear that everything Ryan is saying about customer motivation is real stuff – when it comes to customer personals, you can’t be making anything up, you have to go out and talk to your customers. Call them, conduct surveys, hear what they have to say. Review those surveys and follow up with phone calls or emails, and work up some kind of profile on who you’re trying to sell to.

Ryan: This alone will be game-changing. That’s exactly why I give out my phone number at the end of every podcast – I love to talk with people who feel compelled to call and talk about what I had to say. All the other methods that you have for collecting information about customers are great, but you need to complement that with spontaneous, live feedback.

Host: So for everyone out there who works with a team, make sure this is one of the things that they all get involved with – get on the phone with customers, ask a few questions, ask them about their day. Setting up a regular time for your team to do this will help you gain insights into your customer’s life. That feedback is invaluable, because no matter how certain we might be about how good a product description might be or how good a landing page is, you never really know until you hear from a real customer, and getting real answers.

Ryan, let’s say I’m doing all those things we’ve talked about today, and I’m really involved with customers, are there still other ways to optimize your copy beyond all that? Do you have some kind of method for optimizing without trying to do the whole thing now, and cramming it into a short period of time? What’s the 80/20 of copy optimization?

Ryan: Yes, this is the one non-negotiable idea that everyone should be able to do to optimize copy, and it’s something that doesn’t have to be a long-term thing, and it will work no matter what kind of copy you’re writing:

The first thing is something I call the ‘so what sweep’, which refers to testing each sentence or paragraph you’ve written and subjecting it to the ‘so what’ test.

Read each block of copy and ask yourself ‘so what’? Does the sentence or paragraph speak to something which has value to a prospect, or doesn’t it? And that ‘so what’ test leads nicely into my second little point, which is the ‘specificity sweep’.

This means raising the stakes by being more detailed about everything you’re talking about, because that’s what really involves a prospect. In the hair loss case, the moment of highest tension wasn’t the fact that the guy was going bald, it was the fact that an attractive girl was going to take his hat off, and his chances with her would be blown. Be specific about pains, be specific about outcomes, be specific about what your prospects have already done to achieve entitlement for your product.

Specificity is the quickest way to improve anything, copywriting included. That’s what helps you connect with a prospect.

Specificity is the quickest way to improve anything, copywriting included.CLICK TO TWEET

Host: That is amazing stuff, Ryan, and I hope everyone listening will take all this to heart and start using it themselves. As we end our interview, Ryan, do you have some takeaways that you’d like our listeners to remember from this session?

Ryan: Yes.

1. The first one would be those two sweeps I just talked about.

2. The second one is what you do when you can’t find something really specific that relates to your customer’s experience. The thing to remember is – it doesn’t really have to be an exact match, it just has to be realistic enough that it could relate to their own experience. Don’t be afraid to be specific because you may not know their exact circumstances – it just needs to land emotionally with them.

3. And the third thing is about what copywriting is and isn’t. It isn’t talking at your customer, and it isn’t engaging them in a conversation. Copywriting is catalyzing a conversation your customer has in his own head, and kind of anchoring into that.