Updated: Apr 28
The simple reason most website copy fails before the first word
Picture this: You’re sitting down to write for your website. Your meta tags are in order. You’ve got your list of SEO keywords and long-tail search phrases. You know your product inside and out. You’ve got testimonials and professional photography and a streamlined payment system ready for action.
And then … ?
Far too many DIY marketeers just throw down some fancy words to dress up their product’s features — overlooking the most vital element of copywriting: the benefits.
So here’s the citizens’ rundown of features and benefits in copywriting.
Features vs. benefits is more than just semantics
Though related, features and benefits aren’t synonymous. One usually informs the other, but they have entirely different functions in content and copywriting.
Here’s the nutshell definition:
Features are the components of a product or service — what you get.
Benefits are the story — what you experience.
It’s easy to list the features. They’re factual. They don’t change based on audience. They might even appeal to someone who’s specifically looking for that set of features. But what about the people who don’t know what they’re looking for? Can’t you help them too?
Assuming you’ve hooked them in from a search engine through a steady offering of relevant quality content, the next step is forming a connection between their pain points and your solutions.
And it comes down to storytelling.
Features are the stones; benefits are the bridge
Why does the story matter? Because that’s how we’re wired. We’re creatures of the story. Stories are how we sort and make sense of our experience here. It’s how we decide who to trust and what to avoid. It’s how we connect or reject through space and time.
And it’s how we decide what to buy.
Features are good for comparing two options. But benefits are how you cast what you’re selling into a customer’s story stream: Imagine yourself with this experience. Now go back to living without it.
Which is better?
And how much is better worth?
The answer depends on how powerful the benefits are. Benefits are the lifeblood of marketing. Without benefits, copywriting is just an empty heart pumping stale air.
Finding the benefits
Benefits vary from group to group and person to person. So a little research is required.
Who’s the target audience? What are their pain points? What gives them feelings of victory? Of failure? Who are their villains? What have they tried already? The more precise the questions, the more impactful material you have to work with.
Here’s what I do:
Write out each pain point in Sharpie on a note card.
Above it in pen, write five ways that pain point is being pressed.
And below, write five ways those problems can be addressed.
Rinse and repeat until I have the benefits I need to build anecdotes and CTA material.
Write down everything, even the silly stuff. Writing it down gets it out of your head to make room for more ideas. Picture your creative mind like an invisible stock ticker. Make the tape visible. Don’t let it jam.
Some of the note cards you’ll even keep in your swipe file. Here’s a handy swipe of mine on the subject from Leo McGinneva:
People don’t want quarter-inch bits; they want quarter-inch holes.
With that in mind, you can use a resource like Ubersuggest or MarketResearch.com to sharpen your SEO research. What’s your audience searching for? How are they using Google? What does that tell you about their lives?
The better you know your audience, the closer you can get to the benefits with the deepest impact — thereby selling more.
How copywriters use benefits to sell
The best copywriters are able to find esoteric and essential benefits in any product or service. Believe it or not, we do that through empathy — by putting ourselves in the customer’s shoes.
We arm ourselves with knowledge about our target audience and use that to conjure an ideal customer avatar through whose eyes we envision successes and failures, problems and solutions. In short: the benefits.
Once you have the benefits, copywriting is just a matter of brushstrokes — filling in the blanks with relevant anecdotes and craft.
Successful copywriters have a deep curiosity about the human condition. We read and observe, and we listen. We collect and trade and tell stories. We’re seeking genuine connections, authentic experiences, and true encounters. Because that’s what sells.
Telling human stories is the way into a website visitor’s heart … and wallet. The rest is just technique. As the song says:
People don’t buy products, they buy better versions of themselves.
Let's play a game called "Feature the Benefits"
You get out what you put in. Here’s what you do:
Think about a car …
It has this feature: Seat belts
It offers this benefit: Getting home safely from tee-ball
Feature: 46 mpg
Benefit: Discover more between gas stations
Feature: Cornering headlights
Benefit: See the deer before it has time to freeze
Think about a vacuum …
It has this feature: 18 attachments
Offering this benefit: Even cooties can’t hide on cleaning day
Benefit: Your vases are safe
Benefit: Simplify your life, and eliminate one more item from your forgot-to-buy list
Think about a copywriter …
Who has this feature: 10 years of SEO expertise
Offering this benefit: Seen enough algorithm updates to know that the key—as always—is engaging storytelling
Feature: MFA in writing
Benefit: Doesn’t your expertise deserve master’s-level treatment?
Feature: Diverse portfolio
Benefit: Broad range and limitless curiosity — which killed the cat but enriched the writer
Feature: Glowing testimonials
Benefit: Others have taken the plunge and emerged better off than before
See what I did there?
Now think about a solar array …
And fill the comments with benefits.
Ready to start writing? Here's a free guide: