Why Incubation Time Makes You A Better Writer: Tips from Henneke Duistermaat
Have you wondered why your blog post titles are falling flat, and folks aren’t taking action?
Are you looking for a way to simplify your writing process?
If you don’t know Henneke Duistermaat, you’re in for a treat. Henneke is the owner of Enchanting Marketing and has been featured in Forbes, Entrepreneur Magazine and Copyblogger.
In fact, Copyblogger’s Brian Clark has said, “You should listen to Henneke’s every word!”
Learn what Henneke has to say about her streamlined writing process, what sales writing mistakes make her cringe and ways to open the curiosity gap. Enjoy!
You write books, develop courses, blog and (sometimes) take on copywriting clients. That’s a lot of writing! What kind of productivity processes do you have in place to help you accomplish so much?
Firstly, I write over a series of days – even for smaller projects. My first stage is gathering the information required. For copywriting projects, I focus on (1) who is the customer, (2) what is the expected action on this page, (3) why would the customer care about taking this action, (4) why might the customer hesitate, and (5) why would he trust me. I leave the research for a day before I plan the content, which means arranging what content goes where. On the next day, I write a first draft. Then on the next day again, I edit. Sometimes I edit over a couple of days.
When you spread writing over several days, you take advantage of incubation time. You become more creative. Also, your editing goes faster when you look at your draft with fresh eyes. I also suffer less from procrastination when a writing task is relatively small!
For blog posts, I often use a standard structure which helps speed up writing, too. Most of my posts have an opening in which I empathize with the reader and promise how I’ll help them. Then I have a series of tips. And lastly, I have an upbeat paragraph in which I encourage readers to implement my tips.
What also helps is that I write in short bursts of time (25 to 30 minutes) and take a lot of breaks. This keeps my energy levels up. And I spend relatively little time on social media. I don’t even have a Facebook account. I focus on what I do best – which is content creation.
You are an incredible marketer and your posts can get thousands of shares! Well done! Do you have a favorite marketing technique that helped you go from “a good writer” to “a well-known influencer?”
What has helped me most is being focused. So rather than write about a variety of topics, I tried to establish my credentials as an expert in web writing and business blogging. I rarely write about other topics. I tend to write in-depth content, sometimes focused on ultra-specific topics like how to use adverbs, how to create smooth transitions, or how to eliminate weak words from your writing. Such in-depth posts about the nitty-gritty of writing help me stand out as an expert. I didn’t think people would be interested in such detailed posts, but my readers have encouraged me to write them.
Another often underrated skill is listening. We think of ourselves as writers, but getting to know our audience and listening to their needs helps connect with them. I often get emails from people saying that my blog post came exactly at the right time. “Was I reading their mind?” I love those emails because they show me I’m in tune with my audience’s needs.
You must see sales pages that make you cringe. What are the most common sales page errors you see? How can a writer conquer common sales writing mistakes and write some serious sales copy?
One of the biggest mistakes I see people make is using generic statements like “We’re passionate about creating awesome websites” or “We’re committed to customer service excellence.”
Such generic statements don’t help persuade readers to buy because everyone says the same. Even more importantly, such statements don’t help readers visualize what you’re talking about—they don’t really tell us something. What is so special about their customer service?
As soon as you add a specific detail, the credibility of the copy is boosted. For instance, a headline like “Our world class widgets help you increase email sign-ups” is a generic statement, and while the benefit (increasing email sign-ups) is good, it lacks persuasiveness. Try for instance: “549,333 websites use our widgets to increase email sign-ups” or even: “So-and-so used our widget to increase sign ups by 79%.”
Some writers swear by sales writing formulas like PAS and AIDA. Other writers think that sales formulas are outdated and won’t work online. What’s your opinion? If you do use sales writing formulas, what’s your favorite one and why?
I find PAS and FAB the two most useful copywriting formulas.
FAB stands for Features – Advantages – Benefits.
FAB reminds us that our customers aren’t interested in features, and they aren’t interested in specifications, they don’t even care about advantages. All they want to know is what you offer to them. How do you make them happier or richer?
In my book How to Write Seductive Web Copy, I use the following example to describe the difference between features, advantages, and benefits:
Imagine you’re selling an oven. One of its special features is a fast preheat system. The advantage of this system is that the oven heats up to 400º F (200º C) in just five minutes. The benefit is that a cook doesn’t have to hang around until the oven is finally warm enough. It makes cooking less stressful and you have a much better chance to get dinner ready in time even if you’re extremely busy.
FAB tells us to always focus on customers. Specific features and specifications add credibility to your copy, but benefits sell because they connect to human emotions. You always need the combination of facts (features and specifications) and emotion (benefits).
PAS is in a way quite similar to FAB. Instead of focusing on the positive benefits of your copy, you focus on what problems you help avoid. PAS is powerful because problems can attract even more attention than benefits. People want to avoid pain, hassle, risks, glitches, and problems.
PAS stands for: Problem – Agitate – Solve. First you describe a problem, then you agitate by highlighting the emotions that go with the problem, and then you offer your solution. Once people believe you understand their problems and how they feel about it, they’re more likely to believe you have a good solution for them, too.
PAS and FAB are simple and persuasive. You can write persuasive web copy for any product or service using these two formulas.
What’s your favorite site for sales copy inspiration (and no, Apple doesn’t count!) :)
Haha! Apple doesn’t count? Why not?
Other copywriting examples? It depends on what you’re looking for. For simplicity, I think the UK government’s website is interesting to study. It covers a huge number of topics in a pretty clear manner. What I also like is that it reinforces the point that FAQ pages are pretty useless. You need to answer questions when they come up in people’s mind. That’s usually when they’re reading about a product or service.
For writing with personality, I like Man Crates. They write great copy for a clearly defined avatar (or ideal reader profile). If you’re interested in stories, then J Peterman is a great website to study.
One of your blog posts discusses the “curiosity gap” and its importance. Can you talk a little bit about what the curiosity gap is, and why “minding the gap” is so important during the age of content shock.
Curiosity has a bad name. We associate it with either nosiness and clickbait titles. But curiosity is a healthy human trait. Without curiosity, we wouldn’t learn and innovate.
To use curiosity in an ethical way, we appeal to people’s desire for learning about a specific topic, and then we open up a gap by pointing out there might be something they don’t know yet. This way we can write subject lines and headlines that entice people to click through.
For instance, here’s a subject line that did really well for me recently:
A Pain-Free Copywriting Process: 5 Key Questions You Must Answer
The first part (A pain-free copywriting process) refers to something a lot of my audience desire. Copywriting is hard—who wouldn’t like to make the process pain-free? The second part (5 key questions you must answer), then opens up the curiosity gap because we get curious to know which these 5 key questions are.
You don’t have to do this in two parts. Here’s another example:
Do You Know This #1 Fiction Writing Trick For Compelling Business Content?
This subject line appeals to people’s desire for creating compelling business content; and it arouses curiosity by referring to the #1 fiction writing trick. (What’s the trick? This post is about the principle of Show. Don’t tell.)
Speaking of content shock…I don’t know how many super-long emails I receive every day. Do I read them? Usually not. What are some things writers can do to write more “snackable” emails that actually get read?
Emails tend to get wordy because people are trying to communicate too much information. You see this with companies a lot. They want you to fill in a satisfaction survey AND like them on Facebook. They want you to reply to an email AND click to read the latest post. They share three or four tips in one email when one tip is enough. Everyone is overwhelmed already, so let’s keep life a little simpler for our email recipients.
So, the key to being “snackable” is to focus on just one action per email. This action can be to click through to read your blog post, to reply to your email with a concrete answer, to click to buy a product or to fill in a questionnaire. Whatever it is, limit it to one action.
Once you decide which one action you want from the email, it becomes easier to cut out all the irrelevant parts. Often you can reduce the number of words by 50%.
If writers only remember ONE thing from this interview, what’s the big takeaway?
Let me mention again this point about generic statements because as copywriters it can be difficult to write persuasive copy because often we don’t know enough.
To write good copy, it’s important to get as much input as possible from your clients or their customers or to do your own online research. Ask as many questions as you can and when a client gives you a generic statement, ask for an example. For instance, I remember a client telling me they had state-of-the-art facilities; and I had to probe him for quite a long time before I finally got some specific statements about his facilities. These specific statements included explanations about his machinery plus I asked him to explain why his customers would care about this machinery. So, again, each fact about the machinery was connected to a benefit for buyers.
Bonus question: What do you listen do while you’re writing? Music? Nothing? White noise?
I like silence. Music distracts me.
Great tips … I’m looking to sharpen up my technique, so taking one of her courses might be warranted!
This is a great interview! I’d never thought of checking a government site for inspiration, such a great tip :D
HEATHER you are very talented in writing:) i am following your blog in around a year and i never stopped reading!
You rock! Thanks so much for your comment! :)
Love the tips and the clarity. THX!
You are very welcome! :)
Great tips! You found a new reader here!!