The Ultimate Copy Checklist: 51 Questions to Optimize Every Element of Your Online Copy
So, you’ve written a piece of sales copy. Congratulations — that’s no small feat.
But, before you celebrate, there’s just one issue: Now what?
After all, as I’m sure you’ve heard before: “There is no such thing as great writing. Only great rewriting.”
And why is “great rewriting” important? One reason: the bottom line.
- Will it compel?
- Will it convert?
- Will it close?
You need to learn how to optimize first draft copy to support your bottom line.
A step-by-step optimization guide
Optimizing your own copy is a bit like scaling Mount Everest without a Sherpa. It doesn’t matter if you’re in shape; if you go it alone, there’s a pretty good chance you’ll end up a crumpled human popsicle.
Well, help is here.
To save you (and your copy!) from a shallow, frosty grave, I’ve put together 51 bottom-line questions that will help optimize every element of your online copy.
This step-by-step guide breaks down the entire optimization process into the 10 most valuable elements of any page.
- Value proposition
- Call to action
- Weapons of persuasion
The list is big, so we’ve turned it into a poster you can download. Print it out, tape it to your wall, and, above all, be ruthless with your optimization.
Let’s get started.
The headline is the most important element of any page. It isn’t just your audience’s first impression; sometimes it is their only impression.
For help creating headlines, check out Copyblogger’s How to Write Magnetic Headlines ebook or Jon Morrow’s 52 Headline Hacks.
Once you write your headline, ask:
- Audience: Does your headline directly identify and address your audience?
- Emotion: Is one dominant emotion (i.e., “mass desire”) powerfully verbalized?
- Interest: Does the headline startle your audience or “enter a conversation already taking place in their minds?”
- Clarity: Does your headline contain any technical or unnecessary words?
- Intention: Does your headline show the audience exactly what they should do or expect on your page?
- Momentum: Does your headline propel the reader into the introduction and first subheadline for an answer, solution, or explanation?
After the headline, your subheadline — also called a “subhead” or “mini-headline” — is the second most read element of any page.
Not every site uses an initial subheadline. Copyblogger, for example, does not. On my site, I do.
So, if you choose to use a subheadline, what questions do you need to ask to optimize it?
- Connection: Does your subheadline retain and support the same thought, concept, or dominant emotion in your headline?
- Qualify: Does your subheadline narrow your audience by adding qualifications?
- Intensify: Does your subheadline amplify the one dominant emotion from your headline?
- Push: Does your subheadline push the reader into the first sentence to find an answer, solution, or explanation?
A value proposition is a one-line answer to the question: “Why should your ideal prospect buy from you instead of your competition?”
Your “value proposition” is not your motto or tagline. It’s not clever, and it’s definitely not vague.
For help crafting a compelling value proposition, check out Joanne Wiebe’s “The Great Value Proposition Test” or MarketingExperiments “Value Proposition Worksheet.”
Once you write the value proposition for your copy, ask:
- Unmistakable: Is your value proposition visually prominent and unmistakable?
- Desirable: Does one key benefit, or “mass desire,” powerfully verbalize your value proposition?
- Unique: Does your value proposition clearly differentiate you from the competition in at least one specific way?
- Target market: Does your value proposition directly address one target market?
- Simple: Is your value proposition clear, concise, and memorable?
- Quantified: Is your value proposition supported by at least one piece of concrete data?
How do you write a killer introduction?
To start, check out Brian Clark’s “5 Simple Ways to Open Your Blog Post with a Bang,” or listen to the “How to Nail Your Opening” episode of The Lede podcast.
After you think you have indeed nailed your opening, double-check:
- Build: Does your first sentence continue the momentum — the same emotional or mental energy — from your headline and subheadline?
- Flow: Is your first sentence smooth, simple, and incredibly easy to read?
- Body: Do your first, second, and third paragraphs intensify and expand the same dominant emotion contained in the headline and subheadline?
Subheads are small headlines scattered throughout your page that introduce new sections:
- Scannable: Are subheads evenly spaced (roughly every three to six paragraphs) to break up the copy and reinforce the page’s one dominant emotion?
- Benefits: Do your subheads highlight the “major” and “minor” benefits of your article, product, or service?
Just like the ending of a story, the ending of your page will make or break your copy.
Check out Brian Clark’s “How to Go Out In Style With Your Ending” or the “How to Close With Style” episode of The Lede podcast for inspiration.
Optimize your conclusion by asking the following questions:
- Climax: Does the last sentence end on a climax consistent with the page’s one dominant emotion?
- Action: Does the conclusion drive the reader to action (see “Call to action” below)?
- Realistic: Does the conclusion “shrink the change” by offering a path to action that is “concrete and doable” today?
Call to action (CTA, the “offer”)
Now we’re getting into the most “bottom” of bottom lines: What action do you want your reader to take?
- Singular: Does the page have one (and only one) clear and direct CTA?
- Visible: Is the CTA easy to locate and visible at multiple points on the page (i.e., always just a “scroll” away)?
- Promise: Does the CTA promise value “in advance?”
- Button: Is the button copy seductive and actionable?
- Next: Does the CTA tell the visitor exactly what’s next (i.e., what he can expect after he clicks)?
- Forms: Are the form fields brief, limited in number, and foolproof (i.e., have you tested them to make sure they actually work)?
- Trust: Does the CTA have a trust certificate to relieve the fear of converting?
- Trial: Does the CTA have a trial period to relieve the fear of committing?
- Guarantee: Does the CTA have a guarantee to relieve the fear of buying?
Voice creates the emotional atmosphere of your page — its “feel.”
As Logan Zanelli points out, the best way to develop an authentic voice is to simply “write the way you talk.”
To give that truism a bit more bite, ask:
- Conversational: Does your copy sound like one real human communicating with another real human?
- You: Does your copy speak directly to your audience by using the word “you?”
- Smooth: Does any phrase “sound weird” when you read it out loud?
- Straightforward words: Is the page free of jargon, insider language, and clichés?
There are two basic types of arguments every page should contain — logical arguments aimed at the mind and emotional arguments aimed at the heart:
- Data: Does your copy provide concrete and credible data — i.e., numbers — to back up its claims?
- Application: Is data explained, interpreted, and applied in terms related directly to the page’s key benefits?
- Actors: Is your copy composed of “actors” — real flesh-and-blood characters?
- Vivid verbs: Do your “actors” act with vivid verbs rather than bland versions of “to be?”
- Story: Does the page tell a story — a single, overarching narrative?
- Hero: Is your audience the hero of the story?
- Hell: Does your story paint a vivid portrait of the “hell” (i.e., the pain or fear) your message, product, or service diminishes?
- Heaven: Does your story paint a vivid portrait of the “heaven” (i.e., the pleasure) your message, product, or service delivers?
- Senses: Does your copy use sensory language — seeing, hearing, tasting, touching, and smelling?
The “weapons of persuasion”
This last section comes directly from the master of persuasion himself, Robert Cialdini. In Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, Cialdini identifies five “weapons” copywriters should have in their arsenals.
These questions aren’t necessarily about any one element. They relate to the overall impression of your page.
- Reciprocity: What free value does your page provide for its audience?
- Consistency: Does your page invite small, initial commitments that align with the big, ultimate “ask?”
- Social proof: Does your page present testimonials from a variety of sources its audience naturally trusts — namely, industry experts and other people just like them?
- Likability: Does your page establish “similarity” with its audience by using relatable language and humor?
- Scarcity: If appropriate, does your page “play hard to get” by making the reader want what he can’t have?
The one thing your copy must do
Answering each question above helps ensure that your copy holds your audience’s attention.
Why does your copy need to compel your audience to keep reading?
Because if it ain’t read, it’s dead. Period.
How do you optimize your copy?
Once you’ve written a solid first draft, what techniques do you use to improve your copy?
Written by Aaron Orendorff