Why Copywriters MUST Do Market Research Before Writing Content and Web Copy
Copywriting and content marketing starts with market research, period. Before you write any website copy, press release, blog post, or social media post, you need to know what your or your client’s customers will respond to.
Good copywriters will commonly refer to market research as a way to understand customer pain points, but I like to think of market research as a way to find out what message will engage your target customer, keep them interested, and send them down a path toward making a sale.
And not all engagements have to be painful.
Finding out what triggers engagement is vital when writing great copy. That’s why if you don’t research your customers, every minute you spend writing copy, or working on content strategy, is a complete waste of time.
Here’s an example:
Our client came to us and said: “Why is my website not generating more leads?”
We audited the website and quickly realized two common mistakes:
- Their design neglected user experience. (I’ll leave the user experience rant for another blog.)
- Their copy wasn’t written to address pain points or evoke engagement — it was entirely feature driven. It didn’t address customer concerns, it simply showed off the product’s bells and whistles.
It doesn’t matter how good a product is, or how many features it has. Feature-driven web copy is a big no-no.
Following a user’s progression through our client’s website showed that visitors were either abandoning early or getting lost in a cornucopia of feature pages.
Pay attention to the duration of time users spend on your website. Longer durations are a good indicator of how engaging your website copy is.
Taking the reins
The results of your market research are going to tell you exactly what pain points you need to address and what messaging will engage your target customer. This is how you can sell your product or service.
For those of us working with clients, it’s gets a little more complicated. Before you even get into how to complete market research, you need to get approval from your client — and it’s never easy to tell someone why their feature-driven website copy isn’t working.
I have a simple script you can follow to delicately bridge the subject:
“Look, I know that hours and hours of work went into building your site and it makes sense that you want to show off the bells and whistles of your product on the homepage. But, unfortunately, you’re limiting your ability to sell your hard work by not addressing your customer’s pain points up front.
Let’s find out what questions your customers want answered the second they land on your website. Then we can create the answers together.”
Here’s where market research starts to play a role.
Where to start
Interview the business owner or product/service creator, one-on-one. Why is this important? The wealth of knowledge you’ll get from the main product/service expert is essential to every other phase of market research, especially when you start writing questions that you’ll ask your target audiences.
This is your opportunity to get educated, one-on-one, by the best source of information on the product or service that you’re trying to help sell.
Don’t leave this interview until you’ve checked off every box:
Don’t have the handwriting speed to record everything? Download a free voice recording app on your cell phone and record the interview so that you can reference it later.
You’ve had your one-on-one… now what?
It’s time to cast your net. Primary research means getting a Google Surveys account activated and setting up a multiple choice online survey (or a few) that target each demographic and each persona you discovered in your one-on-one interview. Online customer surveys are never perfect but at a minimum they’ll give you some quantitative direction for the qualitative information you’ll discover later.
Keep in mind that most people who see this survey are probably trying to view other content so they aren’t likely to read long confusing questions and answers. Simple, straightforward wording is crucial.
If a client that sells golf clubs wants to learn the best place to post advertisements:
Google Survey Results (and how much budget to set aside)
Whenever you run a public survey on Google, SurveyMonkey, or any of the other platforms, the quality of results you’ll see will be directly tied to your budget. The more you spend, the more people see the survey, the higher quality data you’ll get.
That’s not to say a low budget can’t get reasonable results.
One of our clients is a heavy equipment rental company. Below is a screenshot of Google Survey Results from a form we embedded on their website:
Note that the drop-off rate is significant from question #1 to question #3, which is why it’s crucial to ask the most important question first.
We had a small budget for this survey but as you can see, there is a clear indication for each of our questions. How much budget you dedicate towards a Google Survey depends entirely on how many responses you’ve decided you need to write your website copy.
The next step is scrutinizing every aspect of your client’s top competitors:
- Check out their websites
- Review their content
- Check out who their partnered with
- Send inquiry emails to see how long it takes for the sales team to get back to you and how they respond
Finding out everything you can about the style they write in will help you make hypotheses about market trends, business decisions, and what kind of questions others are answering on their webpages.
There’s a lot of other competitive analysis you should be doing (backlinks, keywords, etc.) but there’s no time for that in this post.
Now it’s time for the lengthiest and most challenging, but also the most useful part — interviewing client customers
Get a deeper understanding of why these questions are so important in the DRIP podcast.
First you need to write questions. There’s no specific formula for this but all of the information you’ve gathered so far MUST be weaved into the questions you create. If your client told you that their biggest roadblock to success is a lack of LinkedIn presence, verify their hypothesis by asking customers how often they turn to LinkedIn to learn about new products in the industry.
In most cases, interview questions will be roughly one-to-two pages in length. It feels like a lot, but trust me, you’ll need this information before writing web copy that converts.
Use your current email database or get one from the product/service owner. You’ll need to be persistent in order to schedule enough interviews. Aim to get 20–30 interviews done, and don’t settle until you get at least 10.
It’s most polite to reach out via a personal email with a simple request. Here’s a standard template you can turn into something more specific.
Keep it simple and always ask for an updated contact number. You don’t want to start a confusing email chain.
If they don’t respond. Reply to the message in 1 week:
If that doesn’t work, call them the following week as a last-ditch effort — otherwise they aren’t going to help. Yes, it feels a bit annoying, but eventually you’ll end up with enough interviews to get the information you need.
Where to do the interviews
- If they agree to meet you in person, go to a neutral location (such as a coffee shop) and buy them a drink.
- Google Hangouts, Skype, or a simple phone call are a close second.
Remember to record the interview for future reference. Qualitative research like this can be done via written/typed notes or with that same audio recording app you downloaded earlier.
During the interviews
Keep things casual and don’t stick too hard to your script. The more natural things feel, the more honest information you’ll get. Always start interviews with small talk or two or three simple questions that will warm up the interview subject.
Here are some simple questions to get them talking:
- How long have you lived in the city?
- What brought you here?
- How did you first hear about [client’s product/service]?
Now you can launch into more specific questions. These people have already agreed to help you so they’ll want to share their stories.
This is your absolute best opportunity to learn all of their pain points, why they bought from your client, who else they considered going with, and what improvements would help them continue to build brand loyalty. Seek the information that will help you find out what makes them engage with product/service offering.
What if my client doesn’t have any customers?
This presents a new challenge that, unfortunately, often requires money to solve. In the past, we’ve put up ads in Vancouver that offer $25 dollars to participate in a market research interviews. If you interview 10 people, it’s a relatively cheap cost for getting quantitative information.
Free sites that you can use to post these ads:
Just make sure you qualify anyone who responds to see if their insights are relevant. You don’t want to end up interviewing some random person off the street who just wanted an easy $25.
Now it’s time to organize your notes
- You’ve got your one-on-one info
- You’ve done your competitive research
- You’ve got your quantitative Google Survey data
- You’ve got your qualitative interview insights
You’re ready to start drafting copy.
It seems like a hell of a lot of preliminary work… and it is. But now you’ve got all the information you need, including all the pain points you’ve heard, and all the verbiage you’ll use to write engaging, conversion-optimized web copy.
You’ve gone from feature writing:
This golf club has a titanium shaft that we
designed for maximum performance and durability
To solving problems:
Lower your score with a more consistent
swing path and never replace this club again
And the best part? You really haven’t had to spend much money on this. Market Research firms across the world are making boatloads of money doing this work for their clients but if you roll up your sleeves and follow the plan I’ve laid out, you can get everything required to turn feature-driven copy into intelligent problem-solving prose.
Remember to subscribe to the DRIP blog feed for more articles and guides on marketing best practices including optimizing copy for search engines and how to write website copy that highlights value proposition.