The Secret to Effective Copywriting for Online Course Sales

Ever since humans started writing some five millennia ago, words have been the cornerstone of civilization.

And while modern copywriting includes fewer pictographs (and bison), the necessity of strong copy to get your message heard -- and your products purchased -- hasn’t changed much since then.

But if you’re just starting out, navigating the world of copy can feel like trying to solve an impossible riddle.

Where do you even start!?!?!

Well, that's where every successful copywriter's secret weapon -- the swipe file -- comes in.

A swipe file is a collection of a copywriter's favorite writing that they've come across, whether while researching the competition or flipping through the pages of an airline magazine.

It's an incredibly powerful tool, and today, I'm going to help you start your very own swipe file.

In this article, you’ll get a front-row seat to the best examples of copy from around the web and how you can apply their techniques to your online courses, memberships and downloads.

Land Leads From First Contact

If your domain name is your digital address, then your landing page -- where users end up after they follow a link to your site, typically your homepage -- is your lawn, garden, and front door all in one.

It needs to make a striking, but not overwhelming, impression. And it needs to do it fast.

Out of every ten users who end up on your landing page, nine of them will bounce.

What’s the secret to keeping users? In addition to using clear CTAs and optimizing your above-fold design elements, you need copy that’s snappier than concentrated lemonade.

If you can squeeze your copy into 100 words or less, you’re 50% more likely to convert than competitors with word counts over 500.

Plus, by keeping your copy slim, you’re helping eliminate the amount of energy it takes a user to decide where to go next. The less energy they have to devote to a decision, the more likely they are to follow through on it and browse around.

But it’s not just enough to say it quickly: you need to distill your copy into the cleanest, clearest possible form without making it dull and lifeless.

Simply put, if your above-the-fold elements don’t grab visitors at the start and give them a reason to keep scrolling or click on a new link, they won’t. The 100 pixels just above the fold line are viewed 102% more than the same pixels on the other side.

So you better make them count.

Sean Meyer, educator and landing page copywriting expert, highlights some of the elements he uses to pull in conversion rates in excess of 27.00%.

His step-by-step process includes the following elements:

  1. Making the right offer for the right problem
  2. Creating magnetic headlines that draw users in immediately
  3. Keeping your landing page body super readable and making the benefits clear

But just how universal is this list?

Let’s check out some phenomenal examples of landing page copy that arrests attention, makes its case in 100 words or less, and incorporates Sean’s go-to rules to find out.

First up is Ann Handley, whose best-selling books on creating stellar content has helped thousands of marketers, bloggers, and writers find their content groove and sell their products.

Her landing page copy clocks in at 27 words above the fold and comes packed with tons of information without bogging the reader down.

Her minimalist approach isn’t just pleasing to the eye, either.

DesignBoost, a platform dedicated to online courses for designers, deployed a similarly minimalist landing page design. The results were a 13.66% increase in email sign-ups and a whopping 25% improvement in click-through rate to their course page.

And just because Ann’s page is minimalist doesn’t mean her copy is slacking off. Check out her headline: visually striking without being overwhelming, it draws users into the conversation with relatable, exciting language and gets us primed for some ‘ridiculously good marketing.’

To apply this approach to your landing page copy, ask yourself what your website or service offers. What’s your mission and/or end goal for visitors?

Maybe you want to empower other writers to get back on track with their dream novels like David Hickman.

Or maybe you want to help people become more productive in their daily lives like Ryan McRae.

Whatever your mission, make it a bold, proud headline that draws visitors into the conversation from the start.

Then follow up with the right offer to the right problem and communicate your benefits clearly.

You can see this in action on Amy Porterfield’s landing page.

Concise and laser-targeted, Amy’s landing page copy drills down to the benefits of her services and what she can offer new visitors without fuss or frills in the way.

You can see a similar approach on David Krevitt’s page, as well.

A bold (and highly relatable) open followed by an on-the-nose explanation of what you can gain from his courses. David’s landing page is like an elevator pitch without the small talk.

In other words, heaven.

One more example. In addition to being visually stunning, Transistor takes the guesswork out for users by stating their purpose and benefits in two short, sweet sentences.

Before you ever hit the scroll button (or swipe down), you know what you’re in store for by the time the page loads: some serious audience growth for your podcast.

Applying this technique is just as easy as the last. Think about specific goals your website or product helps users meet, then tell them about those goals as plainly and quickly as possible.

It’s that simple.

But to make things a little bit easier, here’s a quick template you can use to beef up (or slim down) your landing page.

Landing Page Template

Hi, I’m [Name].

I help people like you learn to [skill], [skill], and [skill] every day. Are you ready to [benefit] and [benefit]? Then let’s get started.

[CTA button]

Here’s the gist:

If you want to keep users from bouncing faster than an industrial jackhammer on your landing page, your copy needs to be concise, include a magnetic headline, and sell the benefits for users as efficiently as possible.

Once you have that taken care of, it’s time to hit up your pricing copy.

Sell Your Strengths When Pricing

Only 69% of pricing pages for digital packages/products sell the benefits of their offerings.

What’s more, only 50% of them highlight their top-value package as the best option, leaving users to do the math themselves.

Crazy, right?

Design elements aside, creating great pricing copy is a lot like writing awesome landing page copy. You need to sell your strengths, do it in as few words as possible, and keep your language clear and relatable.

An easy way to remember this is to give your copy a “KISS.”

The KISS principle takes on a few different forms, but at its politest, it stands for “keep it simple and straightforward.”

And it should be applied to every piece of sales copy you write, from the pricing/sales page itself to the teasers. Check out how Becky Mollenkamp’s teaser copy for her VIP membership delivers on the KISS principle.

It starts immediately with the benefits, offering an inclusive, private space for women entrepreneurs who want the benefits and resources of a supportive community of like-minded individuals.

The language is readable, to the point, and whets the appetite sufficiently to get users to click on that “Learn more” button.

Once you get there, her pricing page sells the benefits of her personal coaching services and breaks down the benefits of each package in plain-jane, no fuss bullet points.

It doesn’t get much more straightforward than this:

Simple and straightforward doesn’t always have to mean short, however.

If you want to highlight multiple benefits, just make sure your language stays readable and break up long paragraphs into bullet points.

(This is another tip echoed by Sean Meyer, our copywriting wiz from the first section.)

Look at how Blog Biz School stacks their membership packages with an itemized list of resources.

In addition to featuring one of marketing’s favorite magic words (‘free’), this by-the-bullet approach provides total transparency for what customers can expect after they sign up. Every one of these bullets is a strength worth selling, and more importantly, worth buying.

Pixel Vision deploys even more drilled down copy for their different membership tiers, combining bullet points with short paragraphs that eliminate any confusion about the difference between their Indie and Pro packages.

Last but never least, check out how Masiel stacks her packages and highlights special options. Her copy is clear and uses formatting to emphasize important points (such as the date or intended demographic).

Deciding between paragraphs, bullet points, or a combination of the two will depend on the type of product you’re offering.

If you’re selling a membership that gives users access to over twenty items (or around there), it may be best to summarize some of them to keep from losing people in the weeds.

Outside of keeping your sales and/or pricing pages super readable, the second most important principle to remember is iteration.

Get comfortable with changing and testing out new selling points on your pages: small changes can add up big. Just putting in a few small copy changes and input fields helped one business increase conversions by 310%.

Here’s a plug-and-play template you can use to get started.

Sales Copy Template

[Product Title]

[Price/Duration]

This [duration] program prepares you for [benefit], enabling you to [goal]. You’ll get instant access to [benefit, such as a downloadable resource], plus [additional benefit or resource].

Includes access to [#] products:

And, remember that you can always spice up your sales pages with extra information in the form of customer testimonials.

Next up, let’s talk social copy.

Turn Social Media Into a Narrative

Unsurprisingly, social media is where concision is an absolute must-have due to character limits.

Because of these limitations, it follows that social media is where your CTA skills get put to the test. It’s also where your storytelling prowess has a chance to shine.

For a really stand out example of social media copy, Nike is one of the most admired brands in the business.

They tailor their approach for each network, working within the constraints of the different platforms and using them to their advantage while keeping their branding authentic and consistent.

Check out how they combine simple -- but powerful -- copy with a .gif to promote their new BETRUE shoe collection.

Their headline is more than just attention-grabby. It tells a story and sells a benefit that transcends comfort and style.

By doing so, it makes their customers part of the Nike narrative. Buying a new set of runners from the BETRUE collection isn’t just about getting a new shoe, it’s about breaking down social boundaries.

Just like how signing up for a new online course isn’t just about learning how to run a business or create a website. It’s about changing the student’s life for the better and empowering change.

It doesn’t always have to be serious, however. Look at how Hello Fearless, an online school for women entrepreneurs, sells their benefits in a similar, but more playful tone, while cross- promoting their founder and school.

And not every story has to aim for the moon.

If you (or your audience) prefers a narrative with more concrete, actionable results, you can still use storytelling as a powerful tool to sell your products and benefits.

As an example, look at how Compass of Design, a design community and digital download provider, works the users into the narrative while providing a clearcut selling point.

Lastly, don’t discount the value of an interactive story. Empowering your followers to tell their own narratives of success can be just as impactful.

And it’s as straightforward as asking a question.

Check out how Amy Mitchell, an online marketing and business mentor who helps other entrepreneurs plan and take charge of their business, turns her brand’s story into a two-way street with a question.

Notice how all of these social media examples so far are short, bite-sized stories. Why is that? Because you don’t need to write novels to get people involved in the conversation.

Often, concise and descriptive language is enough to get users’ creative juices flowing.

Consider the case of Barn Pros who created a viral Facebook phenomenon with a clear value proposition and concise product descriptions.

It only took two short paragraphs of description to get users sharing and talking about their product. What made it so compelling?

If you guessed storytelling again, you’re on fire. Although this example is less blatant than the others, Barn Pros is still telling a story with masterful concision.

Consider, for instance, everything you now know about their Denali Apartment Barn:

Here’s the good news: applying storytelling to copy is easier than you think. You’re already a natural at it. But here are some quick tips for copying these masters of the narrative.

If you’re having trouble finding a way to make it interactive, accessible, or emotional, consider subbing in the word “you” instead of “I.”

Second-person language might have been a no-no in eighth grade English, but it’s well-loved in marketing for creating engaging copy.

Otherwise, focus on bringing your customers and followers into the story and make your copy about them, not your brand. The more you do that, the more human your story becomes.

To get your storyteller primed, check out this template.

Social Media Copy Template

Taking an online course for [subject or skill] isn't about patting yourself on the back. It's about making a change, [benefit of your course], and [customer goal].

And today is the day you do that. Here's where you get started. [Link to your sales or pricing page.]

Now, for our final category of copy, let’s look at a realm of no character limits.

Email.

Resonate With Your Leads in Email

72% of U.S. adults consider email their go-to channel for communicating with customers.

Which means your copy can really pull its weight in email…

...Or drag your sales down faster than a two-tonne anchor.

Like all forms of copy, you need to go over every line with a comb fine-toothed enough to straighten a caterpillar’s hair.

And, you should be prepared to iterate and change your approach. What works with one audience may not work with others.

More importantly, what resonates with one audience may not resonate with others. Striking a familiar chord should be your primary goal in email marketing. The stronger your prospects connect to your emails, the better your sales.

Focusing on resonating with her audience helped one copywriter grow her business by 1400% in a year with cold emails.

With that in mind, email copy follows the same rules you’ve heard in other sections:

Email subject lines are a little trickier than headlines, though they follow the same approach as blog headlines. Keep it short, snappy, and clear.

Outside of that, don’t neglect some mega-useful tools for tweaking your subject lines. One of our favorites is the aptly-named Subject Line.

To use it, just pop over to the Subject Line homepage and plug in your email headline directly.

After putting in your starting subject line, click the “Evaluate” button and wait for the results to load up. You may have to scroll down to see the button, depending on resolution.

Your results should boot up within a few seconds.

88 isn’t bad, but we can do better. Keep plugging in headlines and using the tooltips to create the best subject line you can.

Another free tool we love is offered by Send Check It.

Hop over to the tester page to give this one a spin. Like Subject Line, it’s another simple plug-and-play tool.

After entering your subject line and clicking “Test Subject Now,” you’ll be prompted to enter your email and first name.

The additional step is worth it. After you submit your information, you’ll get an exceedingly detailed report of your results.

This is just an excerpt of what you’ll see:

Other metrics include length, sentiment evaluation, whether or not you have RE: or FWD in the subject line, tab-friendly words, spammy words, capitalization, and so much more.

Now, with subject lines out of the way, let’s check out some gush-worthy examples of email copy and how you can apply their techniques to your online course, digital download, or membership sales.

First up is this webinar email from Narvar. Since I’m signed up for their service, they know the best language to reach me through is marketing.

But they don’t turn into a fountain of buzzwords. Notice how the information is data-backed (marketers love data), written in second person, to the point, and emphasizes the benefits you can expect from attending their live webinar class.

Earning and keeping customer loyalty is definitely high on any marketer’s priority list. They make the right offer for the right problem and sell their benefits concretely with phrases like “future-proof your customer communications.”

Complimenting a marketer on acquisition strategy is never a bad move, either.

To follow Narvar’s lead, use formatting to bold the benefits you’re offering with your product. Just don’t go overboard. Formatting is a bonus, but your copy should still be the showstopper.

Here’s an example of a similar approach where formatting draws the eye, but the copy claims the stage from Marketo.

The bold font draws the eye, but it’s the copy that makes the sell for their product: their ebook helps marketers and business owners find, interact with, and maintain leads.

Likewise to Narvar, they use second-person language to keep the user in pocket and offer to solve a problem that’s perpetual for their audience -- lead management.

It’s as good as evergreen. Leads will always need to be managed, and with pure benefit offered by their ebook, they’re going a long way to manage me as a lead and keep me on their email list.

If in doubt, ask yourself about what challenges face your audience, then create a product -- and copy -- that solves them. The more timeless the challenge, the better.

Now, let’s look at a more sales-specific example from MarketingProfs. MarketingProfs offers training, events, and tons of resources with their premium membership.

They lead with another marketing-loved word: “sale.”

Humorous and human, this may not be the most concise way to tell a customer about a sale, but it’s an engaging way nonetheless.

Why? Because it’s still written with the customer in mind and talking about what MarketingProfs can do for you.

Copying the technique is as easy as reminding your subscribers of all the concrete benefits they can get from signing up for a membership. If you’ve already shaped up your pricing page copy from the second section, you’ve done most of the work.

For our final example, let’s look at one more marketing giant dabbling in the education field: Hootsuite Academy.

We love this copy for a few reasons: it’s super readable, every line is about what it can do for the reader, the benefits are clear, and they’re solving another timeless problem.

But what really sets this email apart is how it opens: with the problem.

Instead of starting with information or flattery like Marketo and Narvar, Hootsuite opens the gates with an issue plaguing their demographic. It’s powerful.

To steal this technique, take the problem you’re solving and make it the opening act in your email copy. That’s all there is to it.

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Here’s a template with this problem-first approach to help you get started.

Sales Email Template

You’re tired of [problem point for your customers]. You need help. But asking for it is hard, and I get that.

But, it doesn’t have to be that way. You can make a change today, and you can take charge of your life. You can finally [customer goal] and [benefit of your product].

Here’s how. [Link to your sales or landing page.]

This is the short and skinny of email copy:

It doesn’t have to be short and skinny.

It should sell strengths like every other piece of copy, but you can give your key points a boost with clever formatting.

Make sure you’re offering a solution to a real problem for your audience. If your product can solve their problems, they’ll help solve yours in turn.

Conclusion

Writing copy for the first time can be daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. If you’re trying to sell products online, there are four main areas of copy to consider:

Like every aspect of life, copy is something that will come more naturally to you as you grow your business and offerings. The more you get to know your audience and expand your products, the easier it becomes to sell their strengths.

So if at first you don’t succeed, edit, edit, and edit again. You’ll get there.

Written by

Len Markidan