Want to find the best way to learn copywriting?
Neville Medhora from Kopywriting Kourse stopped by the podcast to talk about website copy and his framework for writing content. If you’re ready to conquer your fear of writer’s block and face the blank page, this episode is for you.
Listen to this Episode:
In this episode, we covered:
- Why Neville uses drawings to teach people copywriting
- The differences between marketing 100 years ago vs. today
- How to beat writer’s block and face your fear of the blank page
- The convincing framework Neville uses to create all of his blog posts
- Why headlines matter less than you might think
- How to use Amazon to write more compelling headlines
- The one thing every great “About Us” page needs
- What marketers need to learn about technology
- Kopywriting Kourse
- Swipe File
- Absurd Calls to Action
- How to Create an Amazing “About Us” Page
- The Boron Letters
- The Adweek Copywriting Handbook
My guest today is probably one of the worst designers I know but is probably one of the best copywriters I’ve ever come across.
Louis: I’ll explain why I’m saying this in a few moments. My guest today has more than 81,000 people in his email list, I believe. He’s best friends with Noah Kagan from Sumo, whom we interviewed recently on the podcast.
He has a six-figure business teaching people to suck less at copywriting. He worked and did copywriting for companies like Entrepreneur, Business Insider, HubSpot, Buffer, HostGator, medium, Kissmetrics, Reddit and so on. The list is almost endless. I’m super happy to have Neville Medhora with me. Neville, welcome aboard.
Neville: Thank you for having me, Louis.
Louis: Let me explain why I said that you are a shitty designer.
Louis: If people don’t know you and Kopywriting Kourse with a k. Kopywriting Kourse, it’s not a c. It starts with a k, right?
Louis: And even Kourse starts with a k. If you’re listening to this podcast right now and have never heard of this website, please go there and you’ll see what I mean. Neville has this super interesting style of illustrating his posts and his emails with some very simple doodles that you probably do on Paint, almost?
Neville: Yeah. Laughs.
Louis: You do that on Paint, but that’s the beauty of personality. That’s the beauty of the marketer. I feel that you know exactly who you are, what you stand for and you really don’t have any feeling that people might, I don’t know, don’t like it or don’t agree with you. You just roll 100% and follow your …
Neville: I’m sure people don’t like it and people have told me. They’re like, “Uh, it just looks too silly for me to take seriously,” or something like that. The reason I keep doing it is because I’m really bad at drawing but in my mind, I don’t think of copywriting as just words on a page. I think as copywriting as transmitting information from one brain to another.
Just like if you buy a new iPhone and you install the Skype app on it, the Skype app has all the code and it just installs on that phone instantly. Our brains are a little slower than that. We have to learn stuff slower. We have to pick it up. We have to practice. That’s how we learn. I always think of how can I get a thought, an idea, a concept into someone’s brain in the fastest and shortest amount of time. How do I do that?
Reading text is one way of doing it. Showing a still image is one way of doing it. Showing a moving image is one way of doing it. Showing a movie with audio and video is one way of doing it. In the future, some sort of virtual reality-type system or whatever will be another way to do it.
I try to use at my disposal, all the tools I have to install information in other people’s brains. I think a combination of text and images or sometimes moving images seems to be the best way to do it at the moment. That’s why I use my crappy drawings because I like to use drawings to demonstrate stuff. Because they’re so stupid, people think like, “Oh, it’s not very professional but I get the point.” That’s all I’m going for. Do they get the point? It seems those silly images just do the job the best.
Louis: Yeah, because they’re simple, as you said but yet I love what you’re saying about copywriting and why it’s important, like thinking back of why we’re doing this. But surely, the written word, it’s not really an easy way to … How do you say that? To communicate your idea to other people or to at least make them download your information in their brain, right?
Neville: It’s one way and sometimes it’s better. For example, a lot of people always say they read a book and then they see the movie. You hear the same thing over. They’re always, “Oh, the book was way better.” You know, the movie The Martian was only two hours long or so versus the book, it takes you 24 hours to read it. In your mind, you’re creating these whole landscapes and everything. Then, when you see it on the movie, you’re like, “Oh, that’s not as cool as what I was thinking.”
There are certain things that you transmit better through the written word. However, a lot of concepts, I think having a visual component is far better. That’s one of the reasons I think a lot of people like some of my writing is, if you’ll notice, almost none of my posts don’t have images in it. I think maybe none of my posts have zero images.
I’m a big, big proponent of using lots of images but custom images. That’s the difference. A lot of people just use a lot of GIFs and stuff like that that they find elsewhere. To me, that’s not as powerful. It’s just distracting, actually. My images always have a purpose and that’s to implant that thought in your brain even better.
That’s the way I like doing it. I don’t know if everyone likes doing it but I think that’s the … Nowadays, we have so much access to phones and things that can easily download images. Why not use them?
Louis: Yeah. I have to say that the reason why I contacted you and the reason why I’ve been on your list for so long is because of those images and not only the images but it’s true that it just makes it easier to read. It’s like make it easy on the eye. You understand concepts. Sometimes, you just scan through the page and you just look at the illustrations and you get the point without reading every single word.
I like what you said about the written word that basically sparks your imagination, in a sense. It’s not only about the written word on the page. It’s about the reaction that it gets once you read them. It’s like what your brain does as soon as you start reading something that you like and is compelling.
Neville: Yeah. Also, I like things — it’s interesting — like hieroglyphics from the ancient Egyptians. You can kind of almost understand them without having to know how to read hieroglyphics. Someone from 2,000 years ago with a rock on another rock was able to communicate something to me 2,000 years later with just images.
If they had their own form of text back then, like Aramaic or whatever, I would have no idea how to read that and most people in the world would have no idea how to read that but an image somehow just crosses every single person in the world. You can show the picture of a dog to pretty much anyone and they’ll know what it is.
They might have different language to express it but you will have installed that thought in their head with just an image and that’s it. I think images are far more powerful than text. I think combination of images and texts is the best, though. Yes.
Louis: Why do most people suck at copywriting?
Neville: I think they try to blow thing … I think what you’re talking about is, you’re talking about the Warrior Forum and all those kinds of things. A lot of people get sucked into this direct marketing world where they’re trying to sell a product that isn’t all that good sometimes.
The way that you make it good is through scarcity or through telling them that it’s going to be great and change their life. Then, when they get the product, it’s like, “Eh! Whatever.” It just doesn’t live up to the expectation. That’s why people think it’s crappy. It’s just hype-y. It’s overselling the product and then under-delivering. I think that’s a dangerous spot to be in.
I think the other reason that direct mail was so hype-y back in the day was, one, you can get away with it. There was no recourse. Now, if your product sucks, someone can write a tweet. Someone can write a blog post and expose you, basically.
Back in the 1920s, if you saw some ad for some liquid that’s going to cure cancer, you couldn’t really tell if it works or not. You have to just trust them. Nowadays, that’s gone away a little bit. I think the other reason is you only had one shot.
Back in the 1920s, if you bought an advertisement in the newspaper, you only had one shot and very limited space to sell them. You had to convince them of the problem. You had to sell them the product that you’re offering. And then, you had to accept their order, all in a little-bitty square that might be 2″ x 2″. You had to be far more aggressive and provide far less information about the product back then.
Now, you have social media. You have endless amount of pages. You can put a long video up. You can do so many more things to promote a product that you don’t have to be as shady anymore.
I think a lot of that old information of just like you have to be super aggressive in your headline. I don’t think a lot of that is as applicable today now that you can contact the customer unlimited times through social media, email, phone calls, et cetera. I think that’s why a lot of marketing is still really crappy. They’re taking those old pieces of marketing advice and holding them up as if that’s the only way to do it. I think it’s morphed into that, especially the direct response world.
Louis: I really believe the same thing when it comes to marketing stuff and with a good product. I think that’s what we keep repeating in this podcast. If you have to sell a shitty product, you almost don’t because you have to use shady tactics. You have to lie in your copy. You have to over-promise. Yeah, so when you select clients to work with, do you actively select people who sell a good product or a good service?
Neville: Sometimes they slip through the cracks. I do offer consulting. It’s something like 600 an hour. The good part about that price range is that it eliminates all the people that have really, really bad products. Unless they’re making a decent amount of money, they can’t afford the consulting in the first place. That helps weed it out.
But I don’t do weight loss stuff, really, because a lot of that stuff, like these pills and stuff, they flat out don’t work. I hate writing for that. I like software. I like writing for software clients.
The reason, Louis, is that you can’t lie with software. It either works or it doesn’t and you can show the software working. It either, you input something and it outputs whatever you say it does or it doesn’t. It’s binary. You can’t lie about it, whereas a pill or some of those things or a product like some sort of information product, you can often lie about what it’s going to do and then blame the results on the person, whereas the software, you can’t do that. It just has to work.
Whenever I select clients, I do make sure they have good products first and usually only those people have good products can afford it. At that point, yeah, I tell people, “I won’t do pills. I won’t do weight loss-type things.” I do prefer software because it does what it says. You almost don’t even need copy sometimes for software. You can just do images and GIFs. If you look at Airtable.com or something like that, that will be a really good demonstration of a product without a lot of copy, just a lot of images.
Louis: That’s an interesting way to put it and I think in the software world, more and more, you can try a product for free. The barrier from the promise to the delivery of its promise is almost instant, as well. It’s like there’s almost nothing stopping you from trying every single software you want before making a decision.
Neville: Exactly. Think of any Google product. They didn’t sell you on it. Somebody just told you about it like Google Docs. Then you went to docs.google.com and started playing with it. You’re using the software. It either does what you want it to do or it doesn’t. It’s just that simple. It helps you or it doesn’t. That’s why I like software. I think those are the best clients because they have something you can demonstrate. I think that’s really neat.
Louis: Right. Neville, I have to admit something to you right now.
Louis: I am scared shitless of writing copy. I found some coping mechanism to be better at it and I know that you’ve talked about it. You’ve talked about writer’s block on your blog. This is something I want to go through straight away because I know I’m not the only one suffering from this. I know that plenty of people are staring at this blank page sometimes and like, “Fuck! Today, I’m going to write this blog post that I meant to write like two months ago,” and nothing happens.
I do have a few techniques that I’m using to ease up this fucking fear that I have inside me but I have no fear to interview anyone and publish it as a podcaster, which is quite weird. Anyway, how would you convince me or like how would you help me to overcome this writer’s block? What type of techniques do you think are working the best?
Neville: I think it’s a little bit of a cop-out when people say, “Writer’s block,” because what that means is they haven’t worked very hard at it, I think. I think they stare at a blank page and like, “Where do I go?”
There’s a couple solutions that can get you over writer’s block. One is have a swipe file. I have Swipefile.com is a thing. We just moved over the domain so if it looks a little funky, sorry, but Swipefile.com. A swipe file is basically a collection of other people’s writing.
If you’re like, “Okay, I need to write a sales page. What do I do,” or, “I need to write a pricing structure. What do I do?” The number one way is to look at what other people are doing. A swipe file is an old marketing term where you would literally collect pieces of magazine cutouts or newspaper ads and look at them for inspiration. You can do that.
The other thing to do is start with some sort of template. I talk about AIDA extensively in my course, attention, interest, desire, action. I work it backwards. The action part, what do I want people to have learned by the end of that blog post?
For example, in this podcast, you told me that there’s a couple things that you want to hit upon. In the blog post, are there a couple things that you want to hit upon. If you work it backwards, I find it to be much simpler. What I usually do in my blog posts, I don’t just sit down and say, “What should I write?” That’s not how I write. I used to and that’s very difficult. I have a large file that I keep of things I want to write about. Then, I research what I want to write about.
For example, my latest blog post was absurd CTAs, call to action. I wanted to do a call to action post but I realize that’s been done a million times and I’m never going to rank in the search engines by just doing call to action and talking about a call to action. I said, “Well, what’s an interesting spin I could put, I, as Neville, I as Kopywriting Kourse can put on a call to action?” I was like, “Everyone’s done the same stuff so what if I do really shitty calls to action? That would be kind of funny.”
What I did was absurd calls to action, just … I didn’t want to use the word shitty. I did absurd calls to action. That was a much more fun way to do the post. I just have to shove it out the door but once I realized I’m going to just make a joke post. It’s going to be a joke. I’m not serious.
I’m going to say that your call to action is the only thing that’s important on your whole site and that the crazier it is, the more money you’ll make. Once I had that angle down, it was very easy to make the rest of the post. Once you have the angle and what you’re trying to transmit in the post, then it becomes very easy.
Most people stare at a blank page with no idea of what they’re going to do. I don’t pull up a blank page ever. I pull up a whole file of blog posts that I need to write. That’s why it’s so much easier for me, whereas some people just stare at a page and say, like, “I need to make a blog post. What should I write?” That’s difficult because there’s no work they did ahead of time. Does that make sense?
Louis: Right. Yeah, it does, absolutely, Keep a swipe file of not only, I would say, ideas that you have, which I have. I have the Notes. You know, the Notes app on my Mac and iPhone. Whenever I have an idea, I drop it there but also things that you see others doing that you like, right?
Louis: Your screenshots using Dropbox and boom, you put it in a folder. You revisit them when you feel you’re stuck or when you need ideas, right?
Neville: Yeah. Or, I publish my own on swipefile.com and you can see all my stuff.
Louis: Right. I went actually there. It used to be swipefile.io. Now, it’s swipefile.com.
Neville: It’s funny because literally right before this podcast, we updated the HT access file to redirect swipefile.com.
Neville: You are seeing a 12-minute-old site that we switched everything to.
Louis: Well done. Talking about AIDA again, so remind us what it stands for.
Neville: AIDA is attention, interest, desire, and action. This is the most important and, I think, powerful copywriting formula I’ve ever heard. Honestly, it’s the only one I use. I’ve seen all these other formulas but this is just one that, it transcends every single thing. You can use a blog post for it. You can make a sales page out of it. You can convince your children to do something with it.
Would you like me to walk you through it real quick?
Neville: It’s really powerful. Yeah. Let’s say that you’re trying to get someone to drink more water. You want them to drink more water. The way that most people would say is like, “Hey, Louis, you should just drink more water.” That’s not a very convincing argument.
Louis: Not really, no.
Neville: Let’s say I say, “How can we do this with attention, interest, desire, action?” That’s the logical progression of making a good point and getting it through to someone’s brain. What I would say is, “Let me get your attention with something you care about.” Louis, do you ever work out? Is fitness part of your day?
Louis: Yeah. I try to run.
Neville: You try to run? Okay. Let’s say you want to work out and get a little bit bigger. Did you know that drinking water actually improves your fitness greatly? Okay?
Neville: That’s one thing.
The interest part, I need to give you interesting facts and resources about why that works. Let’s say you’re lifting weight and you go to the gym 3x a week, for example. If you lift weights for 30 minutes and then, immediately after your weights, you drink one liter of water. You just chug it out of a bottle. Just drink one liter of water, you’ll have 30% more gains in your workouts. The reason that happens is because water is a universal solvent in your body. You need water to make any chain reaction happen in your body.
If you have a ton of water, these reactions happen more efficiently, so a lot of people will work out, work out, work out and not drink a lot of water. That means they’re losing 30% of the work they just did. They’ve only done 70% of the work. If, after your workout, you just drink one liter of water, you will get 30% more results from it. That’s all.
Now, do you want to drink a little bit of water after your workout? That’s pretty convincing, right?
Louis: It is, indeed.
Neville: Yeah. We already went through attention, interest. Now, desire is all you have to do to get 30% more workout for all the workouts you do is drink a liter of water after you work out. Immediately after, just chug a liter of water. That’s kind of the desire and the action part. The action, I’m telling what to do. That’s AIDA in a formula. I gave you a way to get better.
The crazy part is, I just lied about all that. I don’t know if any of that’s true – if drinking water will help you get more muscles. The point is, it was such a convincing argument. I’ve done that in big groups of people before. They’ll all be like, “Oh, my god. I definitely need to start drinking more water after I work out,” something like, “Wait a second. This is a lie. I just made it up.” The reason I didn’t use a real thing is because I want to show how convincing that is just by using that formula.
Louis: I was actually taking my bottle of water right there.
Neville: Exactly. You’re just like, “I need to drink more water.” But I just told you a lie but it sounded so convincing because I used that AIDA formula.
I grab something that’s of your interest. Maybe podcasting, like for you, I’d be like, “Do you know how my good friend gets 100,000 podcast downloads every day with one little trick?” That sounds like clickbait but at the same time, you definitely want to know what that one little trick is, right?
Louis: Absolutely. Tell me now.
Neville: Yeah. Instead of having writer’s block, I used to, when I started writing, now I instinctively do this, I write AIDA, attention, interest, action on the page. Then, I just fill in those sections and then I have a full blog post right there.
Louis: Give me a bit more detail about the desire part. Attention makes total sense. Interest makes sense. I do struggle to understand the difference between the interest and the desire.
Neville: Yeah. It’s funny. That is the most commonly asked question and the desire part. Interest is the interesting facts, so water is a universal solvent, amino acids. All that kind of stuff. The desire part, I can make a desire section like this.
Let’s say you, Louis, and your friend Bill are working out together every week. After three months, you have been drinking a lot of water and Bill is not drinking a lot of water after his workout. He’s not drinking the liter of water that I told you. After three months, you will be 30% stronger than him. You’ll be so much stronger, you can’t even work out together. You’ll have to work out with a different partner because you’re so much stronger than Bill, just because you drink water. That is the desire section because in your head, you’re like, “Yeah, I want to be stronger than Bill.”
Louis: In this, it’s like you’re talking about Jobs-to-be-Done type of thinking. What are people trying to achieve?
Neville: In the desire section, you are trying to showcase what their life will be like with that product or action.
Louis: Right. That makes sense. Attention, you catch the attention with questions and you make them wonder, you make them want to know more. Interest, you can have state facts and things that are in the present, should I say it?
Louis: Like something that is currently happening, right?
Louis: In a sense. Desire, you talk about the future and the future state. Where do they want to be? Then, action is the call to action, what they need to do, right?
Neville: Yeah. Okay. I don’t want to make this like a hard and fast rule that you have to use the attention, interest, desire, action each time but it is a nice framework that sets it up very easily. People have additions to this framework. It becomes AIDAFGFL. It’s so complicated. I’m like, “Okay. Let’s just stick with AIDA and then go from there.” Just keep it simple. You don’t have to make it too difficult. You don’t have to follow a formula every time. It’s just a general rule of thumb.
Louis: What I’ve noticed is I think last year, I really set a kind of a challenge in myself, saying, “I want to write every day,” and it doesn’t have to make sense. What I used to do is write every morning using morning pages, which is 750 words every morning. I was just literally dumping my thoughts on paper. Nobody was reading them, thank fuck for that.
When I started to get into this habit and routine of doing that every day, after a few days, after a few weeks, I got much more comfortable with the idea of writing on its own. I believe that I produce my best blog post ever in this period. I think that’s also one advice I would give. I’m not a copywriter and I’m not trying to be but I definitely something that worked for me was to just get to the writing stage. Just fucking write anything.
Neville: I mean, it’s just practice, like anything else is, right?
Neville: If you play something. If you play tennis all the time and you step on a tennis court, you know what to do because you’ve done it so many times. Similarly with copywriting people, “Oh, I’m afraid to write.” It’s like, “How many things have you written? Zero? Okay, yeah, so it’s your first time doing something.”
There are a lot of tricks to help but yes, the boring advice is just keep writing. Yeah but I would also say that that’s one way to just brute force it but it’s also, maybe think about what you’re … I like working everything backward in life.
I try to think like, “What’s the end result of this? What am I aiming towards and then maybe I can course correct.” Am I just looking to write a blog post about my day and how it was like or am I looking to teach people a specific piece of advice, right?
Neville: If I’m writing a blog post and I know I’m trying to teach people how to become a copywriter, that makes the entire post much easier to write. I’m not just writing to something random and it becomes this meandering article. I always have a point to the article.
Louis: Of course.
Neville: I think that’s also helpful.
Louis: Finally, one thing that I spotted when we talked about writer’s block on your blog is recording or dictating to your own iPhone or something like this. That’s something I started to do. It’s actually quite powerful. I would just have a sort of an outline in front of me of what I want to write. Then, I would just speak about it in my iPhone and get it transcribed or have a Google Doc transcribe it automatically. Then, I don’t feel like, “Oh, fuck. I have to write a blog post.” I feel like, “Okay. I have a blog post in front of me. I just need to polish it.”
Neville: Yeah. Do you know the reason why? It’s because you practice talking all the time. You probably talk every day, right?
Louis: I do.
Neville: You probably been talking since you were one and a half. You practice talking all the time. That’s why talking’s so easy, right?
Louis: Good point.
Neville: Whereas writing, a lot of people don’t practice it. It’s just that simple.
Louis: I’ve never thought about it this way. It makes a lot of sense.
Neville: Yeah. Yeah, it makes a lot of sense. Right. It’s pretty simple. Yeah.
Louis: Right. Okay. I think this first part is pretty much gone now. The writer’s block and how to get over it.
The second thing I really wanted to talk about and I maybe won’t have time to talk about the About page and how to write one. We’ll see but the second thing I really wanted to talk to you about, because you’re a fucking master at that and I’m so jealous, is the headlines and why it’s so important.
Just before we go into the how to write good headlines, from your perspective, why do you think it’s such an important thing in copywriting?
Neville: Here’s the funny thing. Okay. Here’s the funny thing.
Louis: Tell me.
Neville: I have some theories about this before we dive in. Everyone talks about it being a very important thing. I will admit, I rank for a lot of these keywords of how to write a headline or tagline or something like that but here’s the thing. I only do that because it’s such a commonly-searched term.
I actually don’t think that your headline is as important as people say. The reason that it’s got that connotation is, once again, from history. If it’s 1920 and you spent $10,000, which is the equivalent of a lot of dollars today to get a magazine ad to promote your transistor radio or something like that, you only have one shot at getting people’s attention but that was back then.
Now, you can re-target people. You can send them multiple emails. You can send them text messages. You can send them multiple blog posts. You have a lot of different changes to get their attention. I don’t think the headline is as important. With that said, if you think of that’s how I think of headlines as not as important, I don’t put that much pressure on myself for headlines. It’s funny that you say I’m good at headlines because I actually kind of don’t give a shit as much. I just write something that’s relevant.
Louis: It’s not the point. You’re good at it because you don’t give a shit. It’s very much like your images are. On their own, you would look at them and say, “They are shit,” but they are not. They’re super fucking effective.
Neville: For example, I sent out a title generator recently to my blog list. I made a little generator that generates a bunch of titles for you or subject lines, whatever you want to call them.
The email was, “Title generator.” Then, I sent another email out about it recently and it was, “Title generator. Generate 120 headlines with one word,” or something like that. There was no effort gone into it. I just described what they’re going to get. I only did it one shot. I didn’t write a million headlines or a million subject lines.
Now, whenever I’m writing with a client and we want to write a headline, they think it’s really important because it’s in their head. What I do is I’ll generally write out 10 headlines. That’s it. I personally only write out four for my own stuff. I don’t know why four came about but that’s just what I use but I write 10 for other people. The reason is, let’s say we’re trying to come up with the name of this podcast. It’s “Learn from Neville Medhora.”
What I would do is write, I always think about 10 headlines so one is, “Neville Medhora, the king of copywriting,” or, “How to learn how to write headlines with Neville Medhora,” or, “Louis interviews Neville Medhora about crappy drawings.” I’ll write out a ton of headlines.
Then, what I’ll do is I’ll go away for five minutes or 24 hours and come back and look at all those headlines again with fresh eyes. I’ll bold the ones that I like the most, that just jump out at me for some reason. That’s what I do and usually, there’s one or two that jump out way more than the others. It happens every time.
Louis: There you have it.
Neville: It’s that simple.
Louis: It’s a good recipe. I like it. I appreciate you being super honest and super contrarian because I like to be contrarian. I’m glad that you’re making the point there.
Neville: But do you know why, as a person who runs a copywriting business? I’m in the business of teaching copy, right?
Neville: Why everyone wants you to think that writing a headline is so important. It’s because it’s this one little sentence that people think their whole blog post is going to hinge on. It’s this one little sentence that they think the outcome of their product is going to lay upon. People start building it up but this is so important but I’m here to tell you, that is not true.
I’ve never seen a product succeed because of the headline. I’ve never seen a product completely fail because of the headline. It’s usually other reasons or multiple reasons but just saying that it’s only the headline. Come on! Give me a fucking break. It’s like the iPhone X isn’t going to flop because they don’t have a good headline, right?
Neville: That’s an easy example to pick on Apple but good, good products don’t rest on one headline. That is a stupid and cop-out thing to say, so I would say, “Don’t worry about your headline as much.” Write 10 of them. Just bang them out. Who cares? You’re not going to use most of them so who gives a shit? Write 10 of them and then come back 24 hours later and pick which one you think is the best and go with that. That’s how you do it. There’s no magic to it.
Louis: Neville, do you know what I’ve noticed?
Louis: I’ve noticed you’ve used the AIDA formula in the way you talk as well. You know that, right?
Neville: I consciously did that a long time ago. Now, I unconsciously do it. Yeah. Laughs.
Louis: Like you’re fucking up my brain. You ask me question I want to know to the answer to, and then you … Anyway, it’s pretty amazing, actually. It’s true, isn’t it?
Neville: Laughs. I know. I have assimilated it into my conversation which is very true. Yeah. I have.
Louis: Another way that you advise people to come up with headlines is something that Joanna Wiebe from Copy Hackers mentioned as well, is to basically steal ideas from Amazon, Reddit, and online reviews and literally just using the way people using the product describe it.
Neville: Mm-hmm. Yes.
Louis: I feel that’s super fucking powerful, as well.
Neville: That’s actually really cool because the reason that you would do that is let’s say if you’re writing for, let’s say, 35-year-old mothers who have two kids. I’m not a 35-year-old mother that has two kids so it’s hard for me to relate to the types of problems that a 35-year-old mother would have. What I would do is type in, “Mom, two kids,” or something like that and let Amazon do the work and figure out what book is best for me.
Then, I’ll look at the reviews. One of the weird things is you’ll find these really powerful statements that you would have never thought. For example, I’ll look at review of … It’ll be a book called How to Parent Two Children. The number one of ranked review of the book will be titled something like, “I felt so lonely until I found this book.” I was like, “Lonely? Why would she feel lonely.”
Then, I realized, it’s a mom at home. Her husband’s at work all the time. She’s at home by herself with kids all day. Day in, day out, she’s just attending to her kids and she feels lonely. There’s no other adults to talk to. I was just like, “Oh! Oh, my god.” Like, I never in a million years would have thought that loneliness would be how you could describe a mother of two kids that takes care of her kids all day. But would you have thought of that? I wouldn’t have.
Neville: If I was going to send out a subject line to that audience, it would be something along those lines and almost steal those words verbatim of, “I never felt so lonely until six months into having two kids.” That would be like a punch in the gut for people in that situation. Yeah, that is a really great way to do it, too, although if I’m writing about something I know, I often don’t have to do that.
Louis: You talked about an example where you had to write about … I think you did a test with someone you knew and writing about a subject that you didn’t have a clue about. American football, I think it was.
Neville: Uh-huh. Yeah. Oh, yeah. Yes. The best way to write about American football is I either have to research it or whenever I have consults, I require the person to be on the call with me and we write together. I don’t write alone. When someone knows a lot about American football, I can just ask them, “What’s the biggest problems here,” or something like that. I think in that example, I was writing to coaches of football. I think I know the example you’re talking about.
The biggest topic I asked my friend about who knew all about coaches and American football, he says, “Everyone is scared of RBIs.” I was like, “What is an RBI?” It means running back … I didn’t even know what the hell it means, actually. That’s how little I know.
Louis: Me neither.
Neville: But he was saying, “There’s this new type of play that within the last six months has just been decimating teams and if you don’t know how to defend against an RBI, then your team is going to lose like with precision certainty.” I was like, “Well, that’s a pretty big damn deal.”
The subject line was, “How to defend against RBIs.” I don’t even know what an RBI means but I know that everyone else in that community know what it means and that they’re afraid of them. That was a really good subject line. The way I figured it out was just asking the person that knew all about football.
Louis: That’s a very good argument to say it’s really never about what it is, what’s the product is. It’s not about the problem itself. It’s the benefit it brings. Even if you don’t have a clue about a product on its own, if you have a deep understanding of your customers and the problem they suffer from, then it’s going to be much, much, much easier to write copy.
Neville: One of those things you said I think it is, which is the problem that it solves. RBIs is what everyone in the whole coaching community is freaking out about and they don’t know how to defend against it. I’m offering a solution here, how to defend against RBIs, right?
Neville: Then, the sales pitch is that they were selling a $20 informational course by the guy who invented it or something like that. He knows how to defend against it. I think for $20 for
them to learn how to defend against those would be a very good deal for them. Sure enough, it killed it. Yeah. It did great.
Louis: Right. The third thing I wanted to talk to you about today and thanks for going through this exercise is the About page. I think that’s something that I haven’t really talked about before in this podcast. The fact that usually about pages suck. Mine sucks. I can go on most websites, founder’s websites and software websites and whatever. The About page is usually quite shitty, right?
Louis: In your own perspective, how do you like to see and talk about and create a compelling about page? What should we have in mind when we write our own About page?
Neville: I’m going to offer you two answers. One, if you type in kopywritingkourse.com/aboutpage. Just Google it. There’s a woman named Marian Schembari who wrote a guest post with me, who kind of co-wrote it but she has her own way of writing an About page that a lot of people really liked. I’ll credit her with that.
However, my personal view on About pages is a little bit more simplistic and that it’s not that important as people think also. It is the second most visited site on your page. However, here’s what I will say about an About page. Once again, I look backwards at it. I don’t think of what it should an About page be, what are people going to feel when they come to my page? I don’t care. I don’t care. The thing, no one thinks about an About page afterwards. Try to remember anyone’s About page. Can you even think about it? I don’t know.
What you want the about page to do is direct them to some other site. If someone lands on kopywritingkourse.com and they click the About page, I don’t want them to leave right after the about page. I want them to see maybe a picture of me, understand who it’s by, all that stuff but the main thing I want them to do is go somewhere else on the page or subscribe or call a phone number.
You have to make them take an action at the end of an About page. Moreso than what should an About page be, I want to know. I scroll right to the bottom and I go, “What is the next step?” If there’s no next step, you just describing, “I’m Louis Grenier and I run a podcast,” and then it ends, you have failed.
Neville: Instead, what if you said, “I’m Louis Grenier,” blah, blah, blah. You can talk about your whole life story. I don’t care what it is. I just want to know at the end, it says, “If you want to follow along my journey, sign up your email here,” or, “If you want to hear my best episode of my podcast, click here.” There has to be an action at the bottom of that about page. That is 100% the only thing I’m totally concerned about. Other than that, it’s up in the air of what you should do.
Then, it depends on what kind of sight you have. I have an informational site where I’m trying to be the guru, essentially that, in the terms of copywriting, I want them to think of me as this really high-up guy. I’m going to obviously create my whole About page and showing that I’m involved in multiple companies that are pretty big and I set the tone for all the copywriting for them. I’m invested in these companies. I’ve written for like a trillion different publications that you know. I’ve written thousands of articles on my own. I want to show in my About page that I am this guy. I’m the real deal.
If I was selling yo-yos or something like that, the About page doesn’t have to be about a specific person. It could be about the sport of yo-yoing or something like that but at the very end of that, it has to push them over to either subscribe or check out some yo-yos to buy.
That’s my theory of how an About page should be. I don’t know if that’s as good of a theory as Marian laid it out. She laid it out very step by step but that’s my theory. I just want to know what the action is at the end of the about page.
Louis: Yeah, and I would concur. You should definitely check out this article, which is quite interesting. We’re not going to go through the structure and details because I have a few questions I want to ask. I really want to know the answer. In particular, what has been your biggest fuck up in your copywriting career so far?
Neville: I think just writing about random things is a bad thing to do. I used to do that because I started writing on the web in 1998 or something like that. They’re honestly just wasn’t that much good content on the web back then. Now there’s a lot of good content, like a lot.
If you just write about random things, it’s not as good. Instead, I properly research the things first before I write about them. There’s so many articles I want to write that I scrap. There’s just not enough people searching for it. There’s not enough interest in it. I never really wanted to write a how to become a copywriter article because I actually don’t like telling people to become professional copywriters. I think it’s difficult and not that many people are going to succeed big time at it.
But then I kept looking at the search volume for how to become a copywriter and the amount of people asking me how to become a copywriter. I was like, “You know what? This is a very commonly asked question. I should answer it and even if my answer is don’t become a copywriter, well, I need to tell people that.”
Now, I make sure to research my articles a little bit better before writing them. I gauge the demand. I use a multitude of tools. I search for them in Google to see if there’s demand. That, I think, is a big differentiation of what I do now versus before. Before I just write any articles, spend a bunch of time, and it’s like a question people didn’t even want.
Louis: Come on. You have to give me a precise answer on this one. What is the biggest mistake copywriting-wise with a client, the thing that you didn’t do well, that, you know, led to a loss in sales. Something that you learned the hard way.
That’s a good one but I think it’s not specific enough. I love to hear your perspective on a specific mistake you’ve made and what you learn out of it.
Neville: Specific mistake. I learned this a while ago. I wish I could give you a more juicy answer on some of this. I think trying to sell something like a shirt, like a visual product with a lot of copy.
In the beginning, I thought like, “Oh, man! This copywriting stuff works so well. Forget using images.” For visual stuff like selling T-shirts, we did this whole experiment that I totally thought would work. I tell these crazy stories about how cool this shirt was and what it’s made out of. It just flopped versus just showing a picture of the goddamn shirt. I think that was a big mistake that I learned from. It’s like a visual product needs to be visual. You just need to show the product.
You’re looking for something really juicy. I don’t know. What’s a juicy thing you want to know? You can ask more questions and I’ll tell you but I don’t know how …
Louis: That’s better. That’s already better. I think that goes back to the why you’re adding so many images and goes back to what you said at the very start, which is it’s never about copywriting. It’s about the end game. You have this way of thinking that always goes back to the goal, to the objective, the end result and so …
Neville: I will say this about the crazy images. If you take everyone’s feedback like I feel like everyone hates me all the time. Not everyone but a lot of people. There’s always, every day in my inbox, there’s a bunch of really good emails and there’s always one or two that stick out to you because they’re negative.
You’re like, “Why do you curse so much,” or I’m like, “I don’t even curse that much in my stuff.” They’re like, “You tell dirty jokes.” I’m like, “The jokes aren’t even that dirty.” Someone’s just always going to hate you and so you always try to flatten out your content for the mass audience.
Some people would tell me they’re just like, “You know what? I work at a big company and I would never take you seriously because you have these dumb drawings. It just doesn’t look professional and the way you talk is unprofessional.”
Then, I have tried in the past to flatten out my talk or make the images look more professional and more normal. You know what? No one links those posts. Those posts don’t get any love because they’re just boring because I’m talking about boring concepts like emails and stuff. Inherently, it’s not very interesting but if I make it really interesting with my stupid drawings, then people actually learn and like them and link them.
That’s when I learned a long time ago. It’s just like, “Look. This is just my personal style and I enjoy doing them like that so I’m going to keep doing it even if I lose a portion of the audience that thinks it’s not professional enough.”
Louis: But because I think it’s a good sign and that’s something I want to carry, I want to make sure if you are listening to this podcast right now to understand is that this is a good sign. Neville is someone with quite a lot of people. He has a mailing list receives those emails every day but usually, if some people either love what you do or hate it, I personally believe this is a good sign.
I do receive a lot of shitty emails. I mean, not as much as you probably do because you have a huge following. I also receive a lot of emails people saying that they absolutely love the podcast and I know then that this is the right thing. You can’t please everyone and you need to stick to what you believe, who you are, and shouldn’t really give a fuck about what other people think to a certain extent.
Neville: Yeah. I’m stealing this directly from Tim Ferriss’ podcast but I heard a really good thing he wrote. I wrote it down in my notes because I thought it was really good. He writes these books and, of course, everyone has an opinion on everything. He’s just like, “If a bunch of people don’t like a certain chapter, I don’t pay attention to that feedback but if a few people really, really, really love that chapter, I leave it in.”
He knows that polarizing content is sometimes, it’s okay. That’s the same way. Also, every time I’ve tried to write with everyone’s feedback in mind, I get bored of the content. I just think it doesn’t come out very well. It’s just like …
Neville: … you just have to accept that some people are really going to hate your stuff and it’s like, that’s just … It’s okay. It’s okay.
Louis: Yeah. In my company, I work for Hotjar, and one of the things we do is we only allow one round of feedback on articles, for example, because we know then …
Louis: … people jump in. Then, they basically find anything that can comment on to show that they actually contributing to the article. What I feel is that the personality, the style, gets diluted by all this feedback. If you just try to incorporate all this feedback, it turns into yet another shitty article that everyone has produced at least once in their marketer’s career, right?
Neville: Actually, I think it was like … I don’t know. Someone on some podcast I heard, some celebrity like Jamie Foxx or someone like that was talking about the feedback that you get. He was just like, “You can’t read YouTube comments on any clip of a movie because someone’s going to be like, ‘Oh, he sucks.’ It’s going to get to you.”
The other thing is, don’t listen to the feedback that they do for movies. What happens is they workshop them. They show people the movie and at the end, they go, “Okay. What did you like about the movie?” Because they’re saying like, “What did you like about it,” people say certain things.
Then they go, “What did you not like about the movie?” all those people getting paid to be there aren’t going to say nothing so they say, “Well, I didn’t like that character and how he,” blah, blah, blah, blah. If you listen to that feedback, you’ll be like, “Oh, my god. Maybe I shouldn’t have done that,” blah, blah, blah. But that’s not how most people consume content. Most people consume content and then they don’t answer a questionnaire about it, you know?
Neville: They just consume it and then it’s done. There’s no feedback afterwards. Similarly, yeah, if you keep getting rounds of feedback, it becomes this groupthink thing and it becomes a piece of shit. That’s usually why really big companies don’t put out a lot of good content.
Louis: Yeah. It’s funny because I think most of the best ideas out there, the things that are really original that you feel an emotional connection with, usually comes from one person idea and something that is just like, it’s not group thinking. It’s just one person came up with it. They tried it out.
It worked nice. It happens in my company. It happens in the podcast. It happened many times over. As soon as you have to dilute your own vision, mission, and personality because someone else gave you feedback, then I think this is where things are not right.
Yeah, that’s a nice discussion. I think I can talk about it for hours as well but I’m conscious of your schedule as well. What do you think marketers should learn today that will help them in the next 10 years, 20 years, 50 years?
Neville: I will say and this is my opinion but I think learning how to manipulate computers is the most important skill of the future. I think everything is getting a little bit more automated and so learning how to at least make a WordPress website is going to take you a long way. I always tell writers, “If all you know how to do is write on a Google Doc, you’re fucked because that skill is not as important anymore.”
I am so much more dangerous than all these other copywriters because I know how to use Photoshop. I know how to use a couple different video editing software. I know how to do some basic HTML stuff on my website that they cannot do. That’s why I kill them. I’ll kill a lot of them because I’m just more dangerous than them.
I think, honestly, learning how to make a web page look pretty, change the font size, change the way the text is laid out. Make a little table. Make a little box. Learn how to do some basic image drawings on an iPad Pro or Photoshop, like learning Photoshop I think is one of the greatest skills that a copywriter can do. I think those kinds of things take you so much further in the copywriting world and you are so much more valuable.
For example, a copywriter will often come in. They’re making some landing page for a new product. A copywriter will come in and write text but he can’t actually implement it so then you have to get a designer to go and design it.
Then, you have to hire a programmer to go implement the design whereas someone like me can come in and be like, “You know what? I’m going to make the whole goddamn page. I can go in and write it. I can make all the images, and I can actually make it start working on your website.” That’s why people will pay me a lot more money because instead of three people, I have the skills that I can just replace all of them.
I am more dangerous than the person that’s just like, “Oh, I will just write your copy,” because I know some tech. Learning tech nowadays I think is just going to be so much more important, unfathomably more important in the future. Learning tools like even like Google Docs, I know tricks in Google Docs that other people just don’t know and therefore, I’m more dangerous with it.
I know stuff in Google spreadsheets or Excel that other people can’t do. I know how to use WordPress really well. I can slightly manipulate my themes and do certain things on it that other people can’t do. That just makes me better than them.
I think learning tech is going to be a good place to start like basic HTML, learning to write your post in HTML would be helpful. You don’t always have to do it and I don’t always do it but it is good to know because you can do so much more than another copywriter that can’t do it.
Louis: I think my whole world is shattered right now because you talked about Photoshop and you didn’t mention Paint.
Neville: No. I don’t actually use Paint. A lot of people see my drawings.
Neville: I use an iPad Pro and I use a program called Sketches. There’s a million of them so that’s just the one I started using a few years ago. It’s called Tayasui Sketches or something on iPad Pro. Then, I import the drawings into Photoshop. I just airdrop them between my computers. Then, I edit it on Photoshop, add a watermark, and then put it up.
Neville: Yeah. But I’m so good at that process now that it takes me almost no time to make these images sometimes.
Louis: Yeah. I can see. What are the top three …
Neville: Because sometimes there’s a lot.
Louis: Exactly. No, no, but it’s like I encourage …
Neville: Nowadays, I do have some help. I have some help on some of the images now because I make so many of them but up until about a year ago, I made every single one of them myself. Yeah.
Louis: Nice. If you’re listening to this podcast right now and if you haven’t seen those drawings yet, go to kopywritingkourse.com with a K at the start of each word and you’ll see what we’re talking about.
What are the top three best resources you would recommend our listeners?
Neville: I always like the Halbert Boron letters. Here’s the thing. I like free stuff. I don’t like to recommend stuff that costs a lot of money. If you type in “The Boron Letters by Gary Halbert.” This is a really polarizing piece of thing because a lot of people hate it. It was written in the 1980s by a guy named Gary Halbert who was in jail. He was in jail for mail fraud for something he wrote copy for. It’s a weird story already but what he did was he wrote these sequence of letters to his son, training his son how to write direct mail.
I think it’s one of the best trainings for direct response copy I’ve ever seen. Keep in mind, Gary Halbert’s a controversial figure. He lived in the 80s when it was more aggressive, a little bit scammy but I still think it’s one of the best trainings I’ve ever seen on how to influence people to buy something.
He’s very funny. He’s very raunchy so some people don’t like it but you can download those letters. I would highly, highly, highly suggest you buy an ink cartridge and print them out because if you just read them online, I’m telling you, there’s something different about it. It was meant to be turned on a page.
If you print them, it’ll say, “So, to learn this trick, my friend, make sure you take your fingers and turn the page.” You’re just like, “Oh, I’ll do that,” and you go and do it. There’s something very powerful about that.
I remember the first time I read those, I was super pissed off – at the same time I was very happy. The reason was I was happy I had just learned how to totally sell everything in my life I try to sell better but I was pissed off that all these times I’ve tried to sell something, I had basically done it wrong.
I used to go power wash homes in high school for money. I would just be like, “Duh, you want me to power wash your driveway?” Like that. That was my sales pitch. I didn’t know how to sell anything. I didn’t know that there was a different way to do it. Then, when I was reading the Boron Letters, I was like, “Holy shit! I should have taken before and after pictures and given them a whole pitch using the AIDA formula.” All this stuff I was thinking of, I was like, “God damn it! Why didn’t I do this? I would have been a millionaire by now.” That’s what I was thinking when I first read them. That had one of the single largest impacts on me in terms of copywriting by far over anything else.
The next one is Joseph Sugarman. A lot of these old-school marketers were hella shady. They’re very aggressive. It’s like what you see at clickbait and gross marketing now. The stuff you hate but Joe Sugarman was one of those guys back in the day that wasn’t like that. He was one of the few guys that wasn’t like that.
I’ve actually met this guy. He’s quite old now but still a great guy. He had a book called … It’s now called the Adweek Guide to Copywriting, I believe. They changed the name of it for some reason but if you type in “Joseph Sugarman Adweek”, you will find this book. He goes through these 26 or 29 triggers, as he calls them, of what makes people buy.
It is a brilliant, brilliant series of triggers. If you want to hear it and let me look it up for you right now. Sugarman triggers podcast or something like that. There’s a series of interviews he did about all these triggers. If you search it, “Joe Sugarman Triggers podcast,” something like that, you should be able to find it. It’s this old interview he did.
He goes through every single one. I’ve probably listened to that series of podcasts on my phone over the years, each one probably 50 plus times.
Louis: Wow! Okay.
Neville: It was just in my music library. I would listen to them all the time. He would talk about scarcity or greed or collection. These are all different triggers to make people buy. I’ve just never heard anyone explain them as eloquently as this man. He also made his living honestly and he killed all these other guys. He was way more richer. This guy’s actually rich. A lot of these direct response copywriters talk about being rich but you know how you could tell if someone’s really rich? He’s really rich.
I always admired him in that he was an honest man and he managed to just beat out all these shady motherfuckers. I really, really resonated with that. Anything by Joe Sugarman, any sort of interview you listen to, I think it is really super worth it.
Louis: Right. So that was number two.
Neville: And then, the other thing …
Louis: And number three?
Neville: I was up to … Number three resource, I would honestly … I don’t know why no one’s ever done this but made a swipe file publicly available. That’s why I did swipefile.com. I’m not trying to promote it. I make no money off of it. I promote everyone else’s stuff on it, actually. Kopywriting Kourse is mine. That’s my business but I thought Swipe File, it’s like …
For example, let’s say you’re making a pricing page or you’re making a sales page and you want to make pricing for your next podcast product or whatever. You’re like, “How do you do pricing?” If you go to swipefile.com/pricing, it just shows all these different examples of how people price their products, successful products. You can look at it and see these similarities visually and how people do it. Instantly you’re like, “Oh, I shouldn’t just make one price. I should make three different packages because that’s what everyone’s doing and that seems to be what works.”
I think having a good swipe file is very helpful and I have a physical swipe file that I keep in my closet and add to it all the time but it’s this big old stack of papers and binders. I don’t go through it all the time is the problem, whereas with my normal swipe file, I think I have nearly 600 pieces in there, my digital one. I actually look through my digital swipe file all the time. I think that has really, really helped me show people what I’m thinking. It helps me come up with ideas. I reference it all the time and just for a few minutes.
I’m making this sales page. I’m like, “How do people structure sales pages?” I go to swipefile.com/salespages and I look at it. I’m like, “Oh! That’s a good idea. Oh! This one has a good part,” or, “Oh! The header on this one is really nice.” I kind of make a franken-site out of whatever I see, take good ideas from different people’s ideas. I think having a swipe file is a highly recommended thing. If you don’t have one, you can just reference mine, if you’d like to.
Louis: It’s definitely a really nice way to end this podcast. Neville, thank you so much for spending the time to speak about all of this today.
Neville: No worries. Thanks for having me.
Louis: I love how passionate you are about all of this stuff. It’s been an absolute pleasure to talk to you.
Neville: No worries. Thank you so much for having me, Louie. I appreciate it. I hope you learn something.
How to stand out: 9 bullshit-free lessons from world-class tech marketers
Insights from Seth Godin, Rand Fishkin, David Darmanin and 6 other world-class tech marketers.
I’m a no-fluff marketer living in Dublin, Ireland (but yeah, I’m French).
I believe you can treat people the way you’d like to be treated and still generate results without using sleazy, aggressive, hack-y marketing. This is why I’ve started Everyone Hates Marketers – a no-fluff, actionable marketing podcast – as a side project in April 2017.
I’m also the Content Lead at Hotjar – a powerful way to analyse people’s behaviour on your website or app and understand how you can improve their experience.