Copywriting is a rare blend of art and science.
That’s why you probably hired a professional to produce your website copy, your email copy and perhaps other aspects of your marketing.
So what about your user onboarding copy? Your tutorials, your overlays and your in-app messages? Getting the copy right can have a huge impact on your most important SaaS metrics.
Onboarding copy is probably handled by your customer success manager. If you’re doing it properly, it’s also likely you’re constantly A/B testing the words to see what works.
This raises a problem. Because your customer success manager is probably not a professional copywriter.
They’re two completely different professions.
One option might be to hire a top copywriter to work alongside your customer success manager. But, considering most are on six-figure salaries, it’s not always the most practical solution.
So, if this is such a difficult and specialized marketing skillset, is it really worth you studying it in the first place?
The short answer is: yes. Before we look at some copywriting tips, let’s first quickly look at the reason why you should.
Is it really worth you studying copywriting?
Writing is one of those skills that follow a “logarithmic learning curve”.
Simply put, that means that a relatively minimal time investment studying best-practice fundamentals can yield enormous results in relatively little time.
To illustrate the idea, here’s a graph from the blog of author and public speaker, James Clear.
If you want to go further and reach the upper echelons of copywriting fame, you’d need to invest increasingly large amounts of time and you’d only see diminishing returns.
But in the beginning, you can improve a lot quite quickly.
So yes, it’s worth knowing this stuff. It will yield results, even if you’re not a pro.
And with that in mind dear reader, let’s look to this trade for inspiration on how to produce better results in your onboarding patterns.
Preparation & research
Start with the research.
To quote the copywriting legend David Ogilvy:
“You don’t stand a tinker’s chance of producing successful advertising unless you start doing your homework. I have always found this extremely tedious, but there is no way around it.”
Okay, so we’re doing user onboarding here and not advertising. But the same principles apply.
You’ve probably done some research on your users before. But, if you’re reading this article and have the intention of improving your copy, it’s time for a refresh. Firstly, that means asking questions such as:
- Who are your users specifically?
- What kind of tone and language do they use when speaking to each other?
- Why do they buy your product, specifically?
- What do they use it for?
- What really matters to them?
It can be time-consuming and yes, it’s likely you’ve covered at least some of this ground already. But, if you want to improve your onboarding copy, it’s well worth the time investment.
To sum up these five questions and your research in general, consider a point made in this article by Robert Bruce for CopyBlogger. To find success in your copy, you simply must:
“Shut up and listen.”
Do your research, and listen to your users before you write words that will appeal to them.
Demand action with benefit-driven copy
Use benefit-orientated text instead of feature-oriented.
As we mentioned many times here on the blog, delivering your customer’s needs is your top priority. And the benefits your product offers should address those needs.
Here’s an example from media streaming SaaS, Hulu.
The feature here is a comprehensive database of TV series all stored in one location.
But the benefit is described in the subheading. It’s TV shows that people want and they can watch easily and from any device with this service and expect minimal ads.
A good example of where it’s easy to stray here is when you add a cool new feature you’re excited about or proud of and you want to show off.
Let’s say you’re using a guided tip tutorial for an accounting SaaS and you’ve just added a comprehensive list of tax forms. The list offers a proper description of each form so keep users on track.
It’s easy to write tutorial tip copy something to the effect of:
“This section includes over 156 tax forms.”
That probably seems like a pretty legit line of copy. After all, it’s true and it certainly states what’s on offer simply and clearly.
But it’s a feature and not a benefit.
Ask yourself this. What’s the real benefit of having 156 different of tax forms? Well, having them all in one place saves time (always an excellent benefit) and the description of each minimizes potential mistakes. And that can mean avoiding fines. So, the copy might look something like this:
“Easily select the correct tax form & avoid fines”
Now we’re onto some real benefit-driven copy.
The important thing here is that it leaves no ambiguity as to why the person should care about the feature. Okay great, there’s 156 tax forms. So what?
The benefit is what counts.
Fewer words, simple language
There’s a school of thought in copywriting that goes something to the effect of:
“You should edit, edit and edit some more. And then, just when you think you’ve edited enough, it’s time for the final edit.”
There’s almost always a way to say the same thing with fewer words. Naturally, with onboarding copy headlines and tooltip text, this is potentially less true than for a marketing email, for example.
But the principle still holds true. You must ruthlessly minimize word count because it:
- Clarifies your message by removing fluff
- Is less of the time investment for the reader so it’s more likely to get read
- Cuts to the chase and shows you respect your user’s time
Ultimately, these three points boil down into one thing: minimized word counts produce better results.
People often look to Apple for copywriting inspiration, and for good reason Apple is particularly good at practicing this principle.
While it’s important to use fewer words, it’s important to use simpler words, too. Again, you can see this in the Apple example.
If you’re feeling a little uncertain about what to say, it’s easy to fall back on overly complicated language in an attempt to “appear credible”. But really, the opposite is true.
Always look for the simple words. Let’s see some examples:
- show instead of indicate
- help instead of facilitate or assist
- get instead of obtain
- best instead of superior
Even in instances where formal language suits your type of business (for example, if you had a particularly corporate SaaS product) simpler things tend to work better. Is a classic example.
The “clear versus clever” debate
There’s an ongoing debate in copywriting known as the “clear versus clever” debate.
It’s worth mentioning because it’s easy to find one article that says one way is correct while another article says the opposite.
For example, this experiment from CopyHackers clearly shows that clever copy about an iPhone “having a rough night out” written to advertise a phone repairing service performed better than the simple headline stating what it was.
Image credit: CopyHackers
It’s an interesting experiment and you should check out the full article.
However, as this article from The Middle Finger Project points out, the debate is fundamentally flawed.
Someone (who isn’t an experienced and talented copywriter and conversion optimization consultant like Lance Jones is) could write a “clever” headline that’s not particularly well-executed that will perform much worse than a simple headlined that’s awesome.
The important thing is that you’re aware of this debate and understand that these are two different approaches.
Try out different types of copy for your onboarding patterns. Ask yourself: is your overlay copy clear or clever? Are you A/B testing a version of that copy versus its opposite? If so, is it a fair comparison to find out what works for your customers?
By keeping these in mind, you’re more likely to stay on the right track and produce better results.
Other best practices to follow
Finally, let’s round up with a few general rules for your copy.
1. Use the word “you”
Always address your users directly. We’re all human beings and to a greater or lesser extent we all have an ego running in the background asking the age-old question “what’s in it for me?” The word you just seems to work.
2. Other magic copywriting words
On that note, there are other words that tend to work very well, too. Whenever appropriate and relevant, keep in mind these proven copywriting gems that just seem to grab our attention:
3. Use “active voice” instead of “passive voice”
Active voice makes people more likely to take action, a crucial aspect for your onboarding flows. Here’s an example of passive versus active voice for a music streaming SaaS.
Passive: Adding songs to a playlist lets you save them for later
Active: Add songs to a playlist & listen to them any time
The active example literally requests users to take an action, whereas the passive example doesn’t.
4. Make it conversational
It’s no secret that people are mighty sick of the hard-sell. The more conversational you can make your copy, the more you can increase your results.
A/B for yourself, but remember this general rule.
5.Use unambiguous calls to action
When you design a user interface, a landing page, or indeed an onboarding flow, it’s obvious to you where the calls to action are. Maybe you’ll incorporate some kind of a button, maybe you’ll have an arrow pointing to it. But without telling users explicitly what they need to do, you won’t ever get the best results.
Hiring a full-time professional copywriter on a six-figure salary may not be an ideal option for you.
But, by understanding some of the fundamental aspects of this skillset, you can get some leverage on your words and create better copy for your onboarding flows
Got any tips or questions about onboarding copy? Let us know in the comments section below.