Conversion copywriting: The science of using words to compel action

Kelsey Marks June 14, 2024 8 min read Brand
Nebulus with copy in the center

What is conversion copywriting?

Contrary to popular belief, not all copywriters are conversion copywriters:

  • Copywriting: “Writing words on a website, blog post, menu item or form, etc., to build a brand and foster engagement.”
  • Conversion copywriting: “Writing copy to persuade a reader to take a desired action.”

In other words, conversion copywriters aren’t just wordsmiths or pens-for-hire; they are trained, investigative “copy scientists” who write from real-world evidence instead of their own (or their clients’) biases and emotions. They research the target audience’s motivations, pain points, and anxieties to learn what makes their prospects tick and formulate copy that triggers them to take action. The work of a good conversion copywriter can directly translate into downloads, signups, and demos that effectively guide your prospects down the funnel.

So, what makes copy convert? Which components of your landing page have the greatest influence over your visitors? Where should you focus your research?

Let’s start at the source, AKA your customers.

How to identify and understand your target audience

Voice of the Customer (VoC)

No matter how gifted they are, copywriters can only sell a product/service/solution to an audience they know. Most companies think they know their audience inside and out, but without regular customer research, they’re (almost always) operating on assumptions.

That’s where Voice of the Customer (VoC) research comes in.

VoC lays crucial groundwork for writing by capturing and analyzing customer feedback. By validating customer needs, expectations, and pain points, VoC helps move copywriting from a subjective to a slightly more objective process. It also surfaces the motivations that drive your customers to act so you can mirror their feelings back to them – in their words.

If your customers consistently speak in the same acronyms, make sure to include some in your writing. If they want to spend less time doing busy work, say that in your copy.

By speaking their language, your copy is more likely to convince prospects to book a demo or buy your product.

For a B2B SaaS company, VoC data can come from:

  • Customer interviews
  • Remote user tests
  • Online review sites like Capterra or G2
  • Customer surveys
  • Support interactions

Once VoC data is gathered, it can be turned into more relevant headlines, authentic lead paragraphs, market-specific terminology, and more. Sometimes insights are so good they can be inserted verbatim into the copy.

How your audience’s problem awareness influences your copy

Is your audience window-shopping? Looking for advice? Or are they sold on your solution and looking to seal the deal?

Conversion copywriters use VoC research to understand the audience’s level of problem awareness. This helps them tailor their content to how extensive the messaging flow needs to be. 

  • Low awareness audience
    • The prospect is either unaware that they have a problem or does not fully understand the nature or severity of the problem
    • Conversion copywriters focus on education instead of solution differentiation to get the prospect to feel the pain, understand your offering, and take the desired action
  • High awareness audience 
    • The potential customer clearly understands the problem they are facing and is actively seeking a solution
    • Conversion copywriters focus less on educating and more on the specific details of why a customer should switch from their existing product to yours

But why is problem awareness so important to get right? Modern B2B buying happens almost exclusively online, meaning most of it happens outside of your view. Prospects are researching, comparing, and forming opinions long before they ever engage with your sales team.

If your audience isn’t aware of the problem your solution addresses, they won’t be able to understand or appreciate its true value. If they are problem-aware and you dwell on the problem too long, they’ll lose interest and stop scrolling before they see what sets your offering apart.

Generating ongoing revenue from your website isn’t just about adding more benefits and value; it’s about being intentional. Every page of your website should meet your target audience where they’re at in the problem-solving puzzle.

How to apply the science of persuasion to your copy

Our brains are wired to take shortcuts.

Our memories are not as reliable as we think.

Emotions color the majority of our decisions (yes, even B2B buying decisions).

Knowing the basics of the human brain helps copywriters know what to write about and how.

Conversion copywriters use persuasion science to ensure that every piece of copy 1) has a research-backed purpose and 2) helps to propel users toward a specific action.

Here are just a few examples related to B2B SaaS:

  • Law of Reciprocity: People often feel compelled to return favors
    • E.g. Offering a user something valuable upfront, such as a free eBook on your landing page, can create a sense of obligation to engage with the brand
  • Law of Authority: People are more likely to take action from a person of authority
    • E.g. Adding a headline above your client logo band about how many clients you have/what kind of clients you work with can instantly build user trust in the credibility of your offering
  • Law of Social Proof: People tend to “follow the herd”
    • Including a variety of compelling client testimonials to back up specific claims you make in your copy can incentivize users to sign up, book a call, or talk to sales because it’s clear others have done it before

While these are examples of the most basic principles, this approach compliments your VoC and problem-awareness research to ensure that your copy is not just informative or entertaining but intentionally leverages psychological principles of persuasion.

Putting it all together: The MECLab Conversion Heuristic Formula

Like all good scientists, you’ve done your research. Now it’s time to put it all together.

But how?

Based on data from hundreds of the highest-converting landing pages, The MECLab Conversion Heuristic Formula “C = 4M + 3V+ 2(I-F),” calculates the probability that your user will convert by outlining the key conversion drivers and key conversion inhibitors, and the weight of each factor.

Let’s break it down.

C = 4M + 3V + 2(I-F0 - 2A C: Probability of conversion M: Motivation V: Value I: Incentive F: Friction A: Anxiety
The Conversion Sequence Heuristic (developed by Flint McGlaughlin, CEO and Managing Director, MECLABS Institute).

M = Motivation (Conversion Driver)

As the number 4 beside the M indicates, a user’s motivation to buy is the most influential factor in driving web conversions. It’s why your reader came to your page in the first place. The goal is to keep them engaged down the page by reflecting their motivation back to them and demonstrating how your offering caters to their specific desires, needs, and purchase triggers. Show the prospect you care about what matters to them.

Graphic with the following text: For every time you wanted to customize something but couldn’t… Other queue management vendors don’t want you tinkering with their product. We let you turn features and workflows on and off with a single click. Once you’re up and running, you probably won’t need us. But if you do – we’re just a call or email away. White glove set up in days We’ll help you tailor workflows for every service and location. Total admin control Easily change your platform features and settings. Dedicated account manager Your account manager will work closely with you to maximize the value of WaitWell for your operations. No charge support When you need us, just call us. We won’t charge you extra, because, well… that’s not good service.
Client example applying customer research to increase motivation for a queue management platform.
  • Highlight desired outcome(s)
    • Research indicated customers wanted a queue management platform that was easily customizable
  • Include the most common purchase prompts/triggers
    • Customers were searching for a new queue management platform
  • Speak to specific pain points
    • Customer interviews revealed that other vendors offered very limited customization, and any customizations had to be completed by the vendor

V = Value (Conversion Driver)

Clarifying your value is also very important, thus it’s multiplied by 3. The value of your product/service/solution relates to why it’s specifically better than any competitor. And no, that doesn’t mean listing out your most impressive features and calling it a day. To truly convince your customers of your value, let the benefits of the features do the heavy lifting.

Instead of feature-focused copy: “Our AP automation software includes real-time analytics and automated reporting.”

Tie in the benefits: “Instantly align your team on the metrics that drive success.”

Features appeal to our logical side, while benefits connect with our deepest desires.

You need both to convey value.

Screenshot of website copy that reads: Why geoscientists around the world prefer SeisWare By geoscientists for geoscientists Everyone on our support team is a geoscientist, ready to provide immediate technical support and workflow-focused solutions by phone, email, or online chat. Transparent pricing & no sneaky fees We don’t think you should pay extra for maintenance, support, and upgrades, so we include it all inside a low-cost annual subscription. It’s actually easy to use Trade in siloed databases and complex coding languages for an intuitive platform everyone on your geoscience team can use and customize to their role.
Client example applying customer research to clarify the value of a geoscience software.
  • Describe unique attributes that your offering has that many competitors don’t
    • E.g. “By geoscientists for geoscientists” highlights a rarity: A customer support team with a geoscience background
  • Show off the most desirable features/attributes
    • E.g. “Low-cost annual subscription” because customers expressed value in an affordable and predictable pay structure
  • Callout dealbreaker features/attributes
    • E.g. “No sneaky fees” because customers found additional fees to be a dealbreaker on other similar platforms
Website screenshot with the following text: From oil and gas companies to private consultancies, our customers love us “If you need dependable software to get the job done then use SeisWare and their Support Staff will be better than any other product you’ve used before.” Terry Zwicker Consulting Geophysicist, Vesta Energy “SeisWare enables us to handle large data sets efficiently and maintain our focus on the core analysis without the complexities found in other software packages.” Adam Flynn Senior Geophysicist , Frontera Energy “SeisWare is my go-to interpreter for my clients. When I drill a good well, I can build PowerPoints using that data to digitally present to my clients as if they were sitting next to me.” Chris Barton CEO, Shadow Energy.
Client example applying customer research to establish the credibility of a geoscience software.
  • Establish credibility with proof
    • E.g. Credible customer testimonials back up claims about exceptional support, an all-in-one database, and general ease of use

I = Incentive  (Conversion Driver)

2(I-F): The incentive to take action and user friction balance each other out. Both factors hold equal weight in the equation but have opposite effects on the probability of conversion.

Incentives are offers that lower the barrier to entry and encourage prospects to convert. As the formula shows, incentives are only effective if they equal or outweigh sources of perceived friction (which we’ll explore next).

When used sparingly, incentives like a limited number of spots, promotions, or early access to features tap into our innate desire to be special by giving us something that not everyone can have.

Image of client logo with the headline: "Why stay in the dark? Let's bring your energy facts to light." With subhead that reads, Request early access to Jotson to learn your total household energy cost, consumption, and carbon emissions. Below the text a CTA button reads, "Request Early Access."
Client example of an energy management app incentivizing action.
  • Follow every offer with a clear and believable urgency to act
    • E.g. “Why stay in the dark? Let’s bring your energy facts to light,” creates urgency by highlighting what the user is missing
  • Create a sense of exclusivity
    • E.g. “Request Early Access” plays to exclusivity by making customers feel special and valued, which are strong motivators to act

F = Friction (Conversion Inhibitor)

2(I-F): From convoluted signup processes to hard-to-navigate menus, friction is anything that makes it time-consuming or difficult for the prospect to take a desired action. As outlined in the formula, friction kills conversion. The goal is to offset friction as much as possible throughout the user journey. 

Website menu navigation
Client example applying UX best practices to reduce difficulty-oriented friction for a virtual talent platform.
  • Reduce difficulty-oriented friction
    • E.g. Clear menu labels make it easy for top-of-the-funnel prospects to explore and find relevant content and bottom-of-the-funnel prospects to take action (become a Guru, or book a consult)
Book a consultation form with a calendar to book and a book a consult button.
Client example applying UX best practices to reduce length-oriented friction for a virtual talent platform.
  • Reduce length-oriented friction:
    • E.g. An embedded calendar makes it easy for prospects to book a consultation right away without adding form length with additional qualifying fields

A = Anxiety (Conversion Inhibitor)

No matter how compelling your proof points or differentiators are, any sense of hesitation or anxiety wreaks havoc on conversion rates. This is why anxiety is subtracted and multiplied by 2 to emphasize its importance.

On a sales call, you can listen to the prospect’s concerns, provide immediate reassurance, and answer their questions on-the-fly. But when you’re writing sales copy, you don’t have the luxury of real-time interaction, so you must do your research to identify and address potential objections ahead of time.

Will I need to type in my credit card? Does this software meet my CIO’s security requirements?

Proactively addressing a prospect’s uncertainties, objections, and perceived risks helps you reduce their anxiety before you speak with them. It also reassures your customers that you meet their table-stake requirements and that it’s worth their time to engage with you further.

Website screenshot with the headline: Keep your client data safe and sound in the cloud. With a subhead that reads: As a cloud-native solution, Keysnap provides enterprise-level data protection and ensures ongoing compliance with the latest financial industry regulations worldwide. Below the subhead there are security badges.
Client example applying user research to reduce security-based user anxiety for financial spreading and reporting platform.
  • Speak to security considerations identified as important to the target audience
    • E.g. “GDPR.” “Dodd-Frank CCPA,” “ISO 27001”
    • E.g. “Enterprise-level data protection”
    • E.g. “Ongoing compliance with the latest financial industry regulations worldwide”
Website PFA with the headline: Extract, analyze, and report borrower data in a snap. Subhead reads: Keysnap is the only financial spreading and reporting platform for lenders, bankers, analysts, and underwriters that transforms financial data into actionable financial reports.
Client example applying user research to reduce financial-based user anxiety for financial spreading and reporting platform.
  • Reduce financial commitment and risk
    • E.g. “No Credit Card Required”


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Why conversion copywriting versus traditional copywriting?

Conversion copywriting is a special discipline that demands expertise and a scientific approach.

Conversion copywriters don’t just write well; they conduct in-depth customer research to position your value proposition in a way that will persuade prospects to act. Unlike traditional copywriters, conversion copywriters lean on real-world data, formulas, frameworks, and persuasion techniques to back up and rationalize every copy decision. And, just like scientists, conversion copywriters continuously test their theories and refine their approach until they achieve the best possible results.

Apart from words on a page, conversion copywriting provides you with data-rich insights that:

  • Give you the real scoop on what makes your customers tick
  • Challenge and validate your assumptions about your customer
  • Fast-track executive buy-in for bigger budgets and more initiatives
  • Ensure your content is not only engaging but also converting (and why)
  • Give you an evidence-based path to success without back-and-forths and guesswork

So, is it time to hire a conversion copywriter?

It’s been said that the closest to the customer wins. And we agree. With so many brands in B2B SaaS competing for market share, it’s no longer enough to throw catchy headlines and your best-guess benefits at your audience until something sticks. Copywriting is a big undertaking and many SaaS companies lack the time and/or resources to get it right.

Our conversion copywriters can help you optimize every element of the conversion formula by doing customer research, asking the right questions, and synthesizing the data to write copy that converts.

If you aren’t sure why your leads are down or why your CTA button is losing traction, let us know. We’ll audit your website and provide our evidence-based recommendations.

At the end of the day, conversion copywriting isn’t just about getting inside your customer’s head; it’s about getting outside of yours to challenge your assumptions and find the right message that drives action.

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