Imagine you are stranded on a desert island, and your only chance of escape is to pinpoint the one element in your website’s copy that is most vital to the success of your business. Careful, now! If you guess wrong, marauding pirates will appear and take you captive. The right answer, however, will summon a friendly fishing vessel to carry you back to the loving arms of civilization.

How did you do? Are you on the pirate ship being tortured and starved? Or are you resting safely on the fishing vessel headed for home?

As wildly unrealistic as this scenario may be, it is entirely possible that the quality of your copy does indeed have life or death consequences for your sales. Writing good copy is vital. It catches your audience and pulls them in. It makes them want to buy (or at the very least consider) your product or service.

So why is there so much bad copy floating around? Why does so much of it make us want to click away as fast as we can rather than investigate further?

Well, mostly because the people writing the copy don’t really understand the one most important element in copy that sells.

But before I reveal the secret of brilliant copy, let me tell you a little story.

Once upon a time, I directed plays. Part of my role as director was to help actors understand and portray the ideas written in the script in an entertaining, enlightening, and honest way on stage.

I finally discovered, after many hours of frustrating and fruitless rehearsals, that the most important thing for each actor to understand was the motivation of his or her character at any given moment.

Perhaps you have seen a portrayal of the clichéd, pompous actor walking around asking, “What’s my motivation here?” While comical in this context, it is actually a legitimate approach that works miraculously to produce high quality, engaging scenes.

Why does it work? Because it provides context regarding what the character wants to have happen as the result of his or her words or actions.

For example, if a character in a play says to another character, “You came in well after midnight last night,” there are a number of reasons she might have chosen to say those particular words. Perhaps she is accusing her husband of philandering. Perhaps she is trying to get her roommate to reveal the juicy details of last night’s date. Or perhaps she is a mother chiding her wayward son for being out past curfew.

These different motivations will illicit different approaches from the actor – the tone of voice she uses, her body language, her facial expressions, etc.

So what in the world does this have to do with copy, or pirates, or the price of tea in China, you ask? Well, here’s the secret. When writing good copy, the most important element to consider is the motivation(s) of your audience.

Just like good actors, good copywriters are well aware of who their audience is and what it is they truly want.

Your customers (and potential customers) are coming to your website because they have a challenge, a need, or a problem to solve. This is what motivates them. And guess what? If you can provide the solution to their problem, they will buy your product or service.

Sounds easy, right? Not so fast, land-lubber. There are only three main things that customers want. Do you know what they are?  Here’s the answer:

  1. To save time.
  2. To save money.
  3. To make their life better or easier in some way.

These three principles apply to just about everyone, whether you are engaging in B2C or B2B marketing. Think about the product you are offering. How does it satisfy one or more of the above requirements? If it satisfies none of them, you might want to find a new product offering.

However, chances are it takes care of at least one. So focus on that.

The first few lines of your copy should always address the challenge(s) your customers are facing. The next lines should tell them how you are going to solve it. Only after that can you lay out how the features of your product will help solve the problem.

Because the truth is, they don’t care about the amazing features of your new and improved widget. They don’t care about the fancy packaging. Believe it or not, unless it addresses one of the needs above (most likely saving them money), they don’t even care about the price.

The only thing they really care about is how it will save them time, save them money, or make their life better in some way.

So there it is. The secret to your copywriting success.  Now, next time you sit down in front of your computer to craft copy, remember to focus on customer motivation. If you do, you will touch a chord in your audience each and every time. And avoid pirates to boot.