One of the most common freelance writing projects I take on is writing marketing copy for business websites. I also network with a lot of newer writers, and see them bombarded with copywriting “tips” like “always use long-form sales copy,” or “no, long-form copy doesn’t work.” People giving them that kind of “always do this or that” advice should be muzzled.

The truth is that most types of marketing copy work. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t still be around. What you need to figure out, as either a copywriter or a business owner / webmaster, is what kind of copy will be most effective for what you’re selling to the specific audience you’re targeting.

So please, stop simply copying what everyone else seems to be doing in the moment, and start taking time to understand your audience and what motivates them to act or buy. Test different types of Web copy, or even test different language choices. Watch what happens to your conversions.

And remember, the best copy isn’t necessarily the type of copy you think you want going into a project. You may want something touchy-feely, and find out that it’s not what actually sells to your audience (what they tell you they want and what makes them buy aren’t always the same thing; that would be like asking any of us if we want commercials playing during our favorite TV shows — we don’t, but that doesn’t mean they never work). Or perhaps you want something flashy, but your audience would respond better to a serious case study. The audience comes first. Then comes testing. Then, and only then, comes your amazing, high-converting copy.

Here’s something else to keep in mind: Just because something “works” doesn’t mean something else wouldn’t work better. Don’t stop testing and tweaking just because you’re satisfied for now. Would you really be happy with a 20% increase in conversions if a different style of copy could net you an 50% increase? Probably not.

This post was originally featured on July 27, 2008.

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