The Copywriter's Handbook

with
Robert W. Bly

You can also watch this interview on my YouTube channel

Table of Contents

  1. What makes a good copy?
  2. Writing Websites
  3. Writing Emails
  4. Writing Online Ads

*PS. Below you will find an auto-generated transcript of this episode.

Intro

Arek Dvornechuck:
What’s up branding experts? β€” Arek here at Ebaqdesign and welcome to On Branding Podcast. And today my guest is Robert W. Bly and Robert is a freelance copywriter who specializes in direct marketing and digital marketing. And for over four plus decades, Bob has been writing copy for clients like IBM AT&T, Intuit, Forbes, and dozens of other famous brands, large and small companies to help them get more leads and more sales, both online and offline. And Robert also has written a lot of books about copywriting and the newest one is The Copywriter's Handbook, which I have right here. And this is the book we are going to talk about on today's podcast. Hello, Robert, thanks for joining us today.

Robert W. Bly:
Hey, thanks for having me. I appreciate it.

Arek Dvornechuck:
Okay, so first of all, I just wanted to say that the book is super comprehensive. There are a lot of concepts that you described in the book. So it basically covered the topic to great extent, right? And it spans, I believe it spans well beyond just copywriting because you also touch on areas like marketing strategy, positioning, advertising, SEO, and more, right?

1. What Makes a Good Copy?

Arek Dvornechuck:
‍
So, and I also liked how you structure the book, because first, you have some general tips on how to write effective copy, right? How storytelling works and things like that. And then you have a section dedicated to different types of assignments. For example, how to write copy for brochures or for catalogs or for printed materials, right? But there you also have a section for TV commercials and radio commercials and YouTube videos and commercials and stuff like that. And of course, writing for website and landing pages, which is super important these days. And for email campaigns and online ads, like on social media, for example, Facebook ads, and so on. And so basically it's a very comprehensive resource. So I would like to start with basics because somewhere in the first chapter you explain what makes a good copy. So I hope you can share it. We've asked some of your definitions of what makes a good versus a bad copy.

Robert W. Bly:
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Here's the most fundamental principle. A lot of people in the advertising industry here in the US. And I'm guessing overseas. The first thing they do is they start to study the product and they focus on the product. The most important principle is don't start with the product, start with the prospect. What is the prospect fear? What do they want? What do they think about? What is their mindset? And the big question we like to ask is what keeps them up at night with worry? You start with the prospect, and then once you know the mindset of the prospect, you connect it, show how your product can address those concerns where he's in need, and answer those questions, not the other way around.

Arek Dvornechuck:
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Right. So you think that's in general that's the biggest mistakes that people make when it comes to writing copy that they start with the product and the features, not with the customer.

Robert W. Bly:
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That's one of the two or three biggest mistakes. Another one is that when they do talk about the product, they haven't formulated it in their own mind or they can't answer what really makes our product or widget or whatever, different and better than the other ones out there. So they know what they're selling. They know the features, they know the benefits. But they have no clear understanding of why that prospect would buy theirs versus the 10 others that are out there. And if you can't answer that question, what's my unique selling proposition. Why is mine? What makes mine different or better? How are you going to convince someone? That is different or better you can't.

Arek Dvornechuck:
‍
Right. And I'm glad you mentioned that. So as you are saying, and some of my key takeaways from your book, right? So it's basically, it's all about the customer. We need to focus on the customer and there are different tools you present us within the book. Like for example, you know, we need to use benefits rather than features. That's one very important thing. So it's not about the features really, it's more about what those features do, like what the product does for the customer, right? What they gain? And, because as you explained, customers don't buy products or services, they buy what these products or services can do for them, right?

Robert W. Bly:
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Right. If you remember, nobody buys drill bits, they buy holes. Nobody buys grass seed, they buy green lawns.

Arek Dvornechuck:
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Right. And so this is especially important for copywriters to keep that in mind when writing copy, right? Trying to focus on the benefits rather than features, and think from the customer's perspective. And another exercise or concept is AIDA, so this is pretty much well known in the community. So first you get attention, interest, desire, and action, right? You also mentioned USP, Unique Selling Proposition where we can develop a unique promise to the customer. So I think that is differentiated from the competition and there are some auto tools, right? That you present us with within the book. But I think for our listeners, you know, every business needs a good website, right? So I want you to talk a bit about that because you know, you teach us how to write copy for different purposes, right? Online, offline, and so on. But of course, we won't have time for this. There are different interests when it comes to writing for different e-Media. Right. But of course, we won't cover everything, but I just want it to at least cover the basics or the most common uses.

2. Writing Websites

Arek Dvornechuck:
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So for example, website,Β writing for websites, probably would be the primary one right? So every business needs a website. Β Do you have any tips for writing for websites, maybe some of the good practices versus common mistakes that people make?

Robert W. Bly:
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Here are the two, again, fundamental core principles, not tips or not sophisticated two principles. There's a guy who's still around named Roger Parker who wrote a famous book, Looking Good in Print, and he then translated his expertise to websites. And he said something to me I'll never forget. He says on the website, you tell people what they would want to know about you. What do they need to know about you, your product or service combined with what you want to tell them that you think will convince them that they should choose yours versus another. And the way I put that as the web, the homepage of your website has to tell them three immediate things who you are, what you do, and why they should be interested at all. If that doesn't come across right. You know it, on the first screen of the first homepage they're gone.

Arek Dvornechuck:
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Right. So in the header before the fold, whatever is in the headline or in the small little paragraph underneath, it needs to basically answer those three questions, right?

Robert W. Bly:
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Yeah. Who are you?

Arek Dvornechuck:
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What do you do? And what do I have to do in order to buy from you?

Robert W. Bly:
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Not so much buy from you? That's another issue, but why should I be interested? I'm on your webpage. Why should I be interested? But what you say also is very important about how they buy from you. And that's another core principle of all copyright, not just websites, but we call it you know, the offer. What's the motivation for them to respond and fill in your form and click or call now, instead of later, what's the offer? What do you offering them? What are you going to give them? And what do they have to do to get it?

Arek Dvornechuck:
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Right? So you go into real detail describing, giving us tips for writing headlines, writing paragraphs, creating calls to action, improve conversions and so on. So there's a lot of things, but some of my key takeaways from this section would be you strongly advise to develop a compelling benefit and use it in the headline, right? To get their attention, to engage with customers. Then the page layout must be very uncluttered, you know, you talk about it a lot. Must be easy to follow, easy to understand you should break things down into smaller pieces and be very, very selective with words. And I like actually what you say, you know, a lot of I've read some books, but you kind of like combine all of this knowledge in one comprehensive book and a lot of things that, you know. Actually, when reading your book, I kind of like, okay, check I check, check, check kind of confirms a lot of things that I was doing right. And I learned somewhere along the way or by making mistakes and figuring out on your own. So if you don't want to figure it out on your own, you can just read this book. You know, I really like what you say, for example, about breaking things down when it comes to for example writing a blog post right? Breaking this down into smaller pieces, one paragraph, sentences so it's easy to read. You often need to rewrite the content. It's almost impossible to get things right at first right? So you write something and then you have to rewrite it and rewrite it and rewrite it until it's the best it can be. Right? So you also talk about using testimonials. A lot to build credibility. Of course, you need to include calls to action and they need to be clear and repeated on the website, you need to repeat them. And you need to capture leads. So you need to somehow collect either email. That's the essence of direct response marketing, right?

Robert W. Bly:
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Yes. I agree with all of those and you have to when you do ask for the action, the call to action. One thing that people omit, which they should have is they say, here's the call to action. You get this, you do that, but they don't tell you why you have to do it now instead of later. And the problem with that is a decision that people defer is a decision they don't make. So you have to give me a reason to do it now, instead of later, and you see a lot of websites that do that. Well, for example, they have those clock counters at the top. You know, this expires at this time. That's a reason to do it now. That's one of the techniques.

Arek Dvornechuck:
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Right? Yeah. We can see it a lot. So, you know, people like to organize some kind of discount or promos that expire within a certain timeframe. And basically, the goal of that is to kind of put pressure on customers who are hesitating. So they would buy from you. They just need some push a little push. And so that's used that several times and it works well for me. So another thing that I think is very important for our listeners is to know how to write emails, right? And again, for, you know, either creatives who are listening for this podcast and want to go beyond just design and start writing messaging for the clients and maybe email campaigns for their clients and stuff like that. And entrepreneurs who are going to build a website, of course you need to then talk to emails and then you need to build a sequence. into follow up, right?

3. Writing Emails

Arek Dvornechuck:
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So basically the goal is to use some kind of email marketing system or CRM and build a sequence of emails. Right. And I really like that you actually break it down and give us specific examples of what we can talk about. Like for example, on day one, we can thank them for requesting our free content, whatever it is. So, for example, we captured email by having a popup or giving them something for free of value. Like for example, we have some special videos and special PDF with money formation. And there is a popup, you know, access this input, your email to, or subscribe to my blog to access this information. So how does the way we capture emails and then we follow up with them? We send them whatever we promise some free content that lead generator. And then on the second day, we can encourage them to read, show it, to get familiar with that. Then we can talk about special offers we have for them or special guarantees like money-back guarantees and stuff like that to like ease their concerns on another. Then you actually recommend to skip a few days. So for example, that sequence would be day one, day two, day four day seven, on day seven, we can remind them about their problem and why they even engaged with us in the first place and what this product can do for them. And, you know, on day fourteen, for example, We can give them a last call last chance to use our coupon, because it's going to expire.

Robert W. Bly:
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Yeah, that's 100% right.

Arek Dvornechuck:
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Yeah, you ever know all the other tips here for writing emails, some of like crucial concepts that people should know about.

Robert W. Bly:
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Here's the number one. And I have a number two also. The number one thing is the most important part of that email that you sent is the front line. Do they know who it's from and the way to make sure they know it's from you is to build your own opt-in email list? If you build the, there's an old saying in internet marketing, the money is in the list. The most powerful tool you can have as a digital marketer is to have an opt-in e-list of people who know you, who welcome your emails and who you have a relationship with that you've established online through your content and your emails. Like I could dive more into that. And so the front line people don't realize that's the number one part of it, but that's the number one most important part. The second one is what in the email can influence the conversion rate, the open rate, the most, it's the subject line. And you should, if you test nothing else, you should test AB split or ABC split two or three subject lines on every email that you do because you don't know which one is going to work best until you test it. We assume we say, oh, that one, I like that one, but just because I like it, it doesn't mean it's going to work the best and often the test results are what you think, but often they surprise you. So testing subject lines is the most important, and from like building your own e-list. People who always respond on your list will give you the best response.

Arek Dvornechuck:
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Right. So that's super important. So the subject is important. The prompt is important. And of course the content, right?

4. Writing Online Ads

Arek Dvornechuck:
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How you structured the content, but in general, the short is better and we should focus on the benefits. We should show the truth and the information should be helpful, right? Instead of sales, your pushy, but then we can use some kind of limited offer trial money-back guarantee, make some special offer to get them to buy. So another thing I wanted to talk about is writing for online ads because this is something that a lot of people wanna do or have problems with. So do you have some tips for writing ads for, you know, that you have actually broken this down and going into details and give us specific tips, but maybe you have some general tips for Google ads, Facebook, or LinkedIn ads?

Robert W. Bly:
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Well, today on Facebook. I mean, they all work, but Facebook seems to be the dominant ones right now as you and I are talking. That could switch in four months from now, the key to Facebook is that you have to understand really well, Facebook, that company's restrictions on ads, what they allow you to say, and what you can and cannot say. And when you understand that, then you can write ads that get through that get delivered but also get your results. Even though Facebook has restricted you in some way. For example, you can't say if you're selling a weight loss program, but what is this today? And you will lose 10 pounds in two weeks, guaranteed. You can say that on your landing page, but you can't say that on your Facebook. So have you ever seen it on Facebook? You will ,I got one today. I opened it. I got a Facebook ad served to me that said, don't eat this common vegetable you'd find in your refrigerator. It can make you sick. Now it was for a weight loss program, but you're not allowed to say you're going to lose weight, but they know you'll get curious about that. And click on it and then they'll tie that in with a message. You know, whatever it is, don't eat carbs, don't eat sugars, whatever, and that's how you do it. So to master Facebook advertising, the two things you need to know are, what are they, and what are you allowed to say? And don't say, and then you should become conversant in the different types. So you're going to do a static ad or are you going to do a video ad? And those are the very basic options.

Arek Dvornechuck:
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Right. About a lot of people will want to know. I mean the most popular probably are Google ads pay per click, right in Google, in Google search results. When you are targeting some keywords and you have, so you can have a headline. So of course they have their own, like limitations for the headline and the description underneath and so on right? But here you suggest that the most important thing is to actually estimate your investment. And your cost per click. For example, if $1, it costs you a dollar per click and it takes 20 clicks to sell, to make a sale, you know, does it really make sense that you have, then you have those margins. So you need to figure that out or some other tips you need to be very specific, of course, do some keyword research and you should use those keywords in the headline and so on. So that's for Google ads, some of my key takeaways for Facebook ads. You suggest to make it using bright colors, eye-catching images, and compelling copy. And as you already mentioned, you know, 'cause there are different ways you can do it on Facebook. You can do a video ad or you can do a static ad, right? So there are different limitations and you know, there are specific tips for different types of ads, right?

Robert W. Bly:
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Yeah. Everything you said was accurate. With Google though, what's the other interesting thing is, again, just like we said, with email, do your Google ads test two or three versions. And here's the amazing thing about pay-per-click ads. Even what you think is insignificant. Little changes can make a big difference. Perry Marshall has a great book on Facebook advertising and he showed an example where he tested two ads. It was there. And the only thing that was different is in the first ad. This was the headline, this was the subhead, and then he switched them and it made it the same copy. And it made an enormous difference. So you don't know these things until you test.

Arek Dvornechuck:
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Yeah. So test everything that I think is super important. And these days we can test everything, right. We can test emails, we can do AB testing. We can send a hundred emails or a thousand emails to this group, a thousand emails to that group, and we can test what's the higher open rate or click-through rate and things like that. And the same we can do on the website right? And the same, we can do with Google ads or social media ads on Facebook.

Outro

Arek Dvornechuck:
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So testing, testing, testing, and following the rules. And so there are a lot of specific tips. You give us actually like examples, which is really like, and templates that we can actually use. So I’m going to link to the book, of course, but I just wanted to know, like for our listeners, How to find more about you, may be on your website, of course, right? Maybe are you active on social media?

Robert W. Bly:
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I am active on my website. I am on social media, but not, I'm on LinkedIn. I am on Facebook so you can get me either of those places, but my website is the easiest. My last name is short, B as in boy, L Y y.com. And I have, that's my domain name, www.bly.com. And today, there are no more three-letter domain names with dot com.

Arek Dvornechuck:
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That's expensive.

Robert W. Bly:
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People say, how did you get that? I was late to the internet, but I reserved my domain name early. So it's easy to remember. So just remember who I am, bly.com.

Arek Dvornechuck:
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The website is bly.com.

Arek Dvornechuck:
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Thank you Robert. Thank you so much for taking the time to share some tips with us today.

Robert W. Bly:
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My pleasure. Thanks for having me.

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