Sickly Sales Page? Try These 3 Copywriting Remedies

image of woman sneezing

Say you’ve been feeling under the weather for a few days, and you decide to go to the doctor.

The moment you open the door to your doctor’s office, she takes one quick look at you, thrusts a prescription into your hands, and slams the door in your face.

No check-up, no conversation, just a bottle of pills and her bill in the mail.

Are you confident she’s given you the solution — the correct medicine — you need to make you feel better?

Um, no.

How could she possibly know what the right prescription would be without carefully considering and analyzing your symptoms?

Even if you were suffering from something simple, you’d still want your 10 minutes of poking, prodding, “umming,” “ahhing,” and answering all the questions specific to your situation.

That’s what gives you the confidence that the doctor can fix your problem.

Your prospects need the same thing

Assessing and explaining the reasons behind your customer’s “symptoms” is just as essential when writing sales copy.

If you try to jump straight into selling your product before identifying the problem, you make it harder to convince your customer logically, emotionally, and with proof that you have something they desperately need.

So, here’s a simple three-step guide to using your prospects’ symptoms to make your offer more compelling and convincing.

Step 1: Outline your prospect’s symptoms

When you go to the doctor she doesn’t ask if you feel “unwell.” She asks you if your throat is sore, if you have a cough, if you have a headache in the morning, and so on.

She needs to identify your precise symptoms before she can solve the root problem.

In copywriting, your customer’s “symptoms” are specific situations he can relate to that are caused by the problem you solve.

For example, instead of saying:

Do you want to get rid of your work-related stress?

Get very specific and identify the symptoms:

  • Do you wake up Monday morning and wish it was Friday afternoon?
  • Does your stomach tie in knots when you hear your boss’s voice down the corridor?
  • Do you snap at loved ones as you try to concentrate on the work you’re trying to finish at home?

Don’t be afraid to dig deep and describe the prospect’s pain. By illustrating distinct situations, you achieve the following:

  • You make it more interesting to your ideal customer
  • You show them that they are in the right place for what you have to offer
  • You build trust by proving you understand and empathize with their problem.

Step 2: Pinpoint the cause of your prospect’s symptoms

Now that you have your reader agreeing that they suffer those problems, you might be tempted to jump in and show them the solution that can take those symptoms away.

And you might convince some people.

But because you’re a copywriting ninja, you want to convince as many prospects as possible that you are the expert with the solution they not only need but want.

So your next step is to explain what is causing their symptoms.

Just as a doctor can tell you how certain infections affect our cells and cause our noses to run, here you get to prove to your reader the reason they’re feeling so rotten.

So instead of saying:

Our career coaching service can help reduce the stress and frustration you’re feeling.

You’d explain:

Sometimes things change and you become unhappy in your job. It might be new management, or a sudden restructuring process. Even positive changes such as a promotion can bring added responsibilities that you haven’t been trained to deal with. If they’re not addressed, they can snowball … and soon the job you once loved is creating unnecessary pressure at work and stress at home.

By using logic to explain the problem, you increase your credibility. You show you understand your prospect’s problems at a deeper level.

What’s more, you’re making it easy for your reader to agree with you, by again using clearly defined situations they can relate to.

Step 3: Demonstrate how your solution will cure their symptoms

Cold medicine often explains how the product works to cure your symptoms.

For example, eucalyptus acts on nasal membranes to make it easier to breath, and honey will coat your dry throat so you’re not kept awake by a tickly cough.

In the same way, you need to show how your product or service conquers the troublesome symptoms your customer suffers from.

For example:

Our online tools and resources are designed specifically for executives to help you anticipate and deliver reports to your boss’s expectations.

Or …

Our time management coaching helps you get more done in the day, so you can leave work at the office and relax with your family when you get home.

By using these three steps in your copy you build trust and credibility just as a good doctor does by:

  • Showing that you are listening (and that you understand) your customer
  • Educating your customer on what’s causing the problem
  • Proving that your product has been designed to clear the symptoms and make the problem go away

Next time you’re writing copy, ask yourself if you’re spending time on the symptoms and not just shoving a prescription in their face.

About the Author: Amy Harrison is a copywriter for entrepreneurs. In addition to writing for her clients, she also coaches business owners to smash up their sales copy obstacles and get their offers out there. She is also the author of How To Get Your Sales Page DONE!

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Reader Comments (43)

  1. says

    “Don’t be afraid to dig deep and describe the prospect’s pain.”

    Great advice! The more personal you can make your content the more it will resonate with your target audience. People want to know that you understand exactly what they are dealing with and how to fix it! Work in specifics and you’ll connect with more potential customers.

    • says

      Totally Nick. I know it can be scary to get specific for fear of excluding people, but it really makes your copy more punchy and interesting to your customer if you can list even a few examples of something they can relate to.

  2. says

    I think Jon Morrow summed up these three points perfectly a few days ago when he said “do their thinking for them.” Good to read you on Copyblogger again, Amy!

    • says

      Hey Daniel! Always great to see you my moustachioed friend!

      For business owners it can be painful writing having to pin down all the little details. It’s easy to assume customers will join the dots to understand how much they need what we have, and they might do. But spelling it out removes the doubt.

  3. says

    Great job detailing what my group calls “relationshipping”, Amy! I think putting it in terms of visiting the doctor is brilliant. This is something I’ll take and run with!

    • says

      Thanks Kelli! When I’m working out analogies, I’m never quite sure if they’ll fit (I really, really want to do a copywriting one on my favourtie country singers) but this one seemed to work out ok!

  4. says

    When you have a hammer (copywriting skills) everything looks like a nail. I’ve often bought guitar lessons when I watch a video. I want to play like that so I buy the lesson. The reasons are not explicity laid out in words in text or even verbally.

    I’ve written out long ‘why I feel your pain’ sales pages with testimonials, guarantees and bonus products and still haven’t gotten many sales. Probably because they didn’t want the product.

    • says

      That’s exactly true — if the desire or need isn’t there, there’s very little you can do to create it. But for something like music, seeing an awesome performance will spark that desire more than exploring a “symptom.” You’d use a similar technique if you were selling gorgeous shoes or John Unger’s firebowls — you create the desire by putting something beautiful in front of the buyer.

      Symptom selling actually was very famously used by John Caples to sell piano instruction in one of the most-quoted ads in marketing geekdom, “They Laughed When I Sat Down at the Piano … But When I Started to Play!” It would still work in certain situations — for example serious music students who had a specific issue they were struggling with, but most of the time it wouldn’t be the first arrow in your quiver. :)

      The golden rule: the buyer decides what she cares about, not us.

  5. says


    You’re brilliant. You bring such clarity to the subject of copywriting. I have copied almost every word in the hope of applying it for my site work. Athough I am a retired senior and a recent doctor in psychology, you are the true doctor of internet marketing from which I can learn to apply my knowledge to help those in need. Thank you for gosseling my molecules and for opening my eyes to this, to me, complex craft of internet marketing and copywriting. Maybe there is still hope for a young retired gizert like me.

  6. says

    If you want to study a real world example of someone who’s deeply in touch with their market’s pain and outlining their prospects symptoms, look no further than Eben Pagan’s site.

    He’s an absolute master of this as is demonstrated in this copy below . . .

    Dear Friend,

    Have you ever screwed up an important situation with a woman?

    Be honest with me here.

    I want to know…

    … have you ever been talking to a woman you felt attracted to, and gotten so nervous and uptight that you fumbled over your words… and she just got bad vibrations from you and walked away…?

    …have you ever been in a relationship with a wonderful woman, and became emotionally insecure or dependent on her for YOUR own feeling of well-being… to the point where you literally drove her away?

    …have you ever seen a woman that you wanted to start a conversation with… but your emotions started to go CRAZY at even the THOUGHT of approaching her… and you just decided that it would be easier to walk away than try to overcome your fear? (The worst part about this one is that you probably beat yourself up for it mentally later on, and felt even WORSE for the next several hours or days.)

    …have you ever “lost your cool” around a woman that you really liked… maybe it was argument that got you upset, or something she did that made you feel emotional or angry… and you let your emotions take over… which made her lose interest in you?

    …have you ever met a woman you really liked, and started to feel emotionally attached to her BEFORE you even got to know her or went out with her… and you had crazy feelings of jealousy about her being with other men… even though she wasn’t yours?

    …have you ever felt like certain women could actually control your emotions… from outside your body? You’re going along in life, everything is fine. Then you meet this particular woman, and you lose the ability to control your own emotions… and you walk around for days or weeks trying to get control of yourself… all the while knowing that being OUT of control is making her LESS interested in you (but not being able to do a damn thing about it)…?

    Have you ever had one of these things happen to you?


    And Eben is a beast at doing the last two steps pointed out here in this post which you’ll see in his letters which you can see in his program catalog.

    Thank you Amy for breaking this process down and using such an awesome metaphor to do so. I know I’m guilty of prescribing more than I should and I needed this check up to to get my head right!

  7. says

    How ironic that I’ve encountered this post in the midst of a sinus infection. Even as I’m running for Kleenex in between paragraphs, your words have spoken miles to me. You could argue that, especially since health care in this country is for profit, that it makes perfect sense to mirror a business strategy against that of a caring doctor. After all, the culture is simply loaded with corrupt shills for the pharmaceutical industry, but it’s usually the genuine, earnest practitioners who wind up with the most satisfied patients.

    Same goes for the content generation industry. If you want the best in clientele, you have to be willing to offer exquisite customer service, above all things. You may be convinced that your product is unrivaled and unparalleled in an open market, but that doesn’t mean your customers will share this opinion without first being convinced for your care and attention to their needs.

    • says

      Hey Emma! Thanks for joining in the conversation.

      I really believe that it’s the effort of care which is so persuasive. the best sales people are the ones who listen to us and navigate us through the choices towards a product best suited for us. They’re the ones who don’t make us feel “sold.”

  8. says

    Ah, yes – specificitiy. Something every blogger KNOWS is a good idea but something most of us are too lazy to actually do. Haha. Thanks for the reminder!!

  9. says

    Amy, thanks for this article on consultative sales using a medical model. Well done.

    As a dentist, I can tell you that pain is a great motivator. Symptom selling is quick and easy when someone’s in acute pain. They’re begging for relief. Just make the diagnosis and deliver the cure.

    Vague unease is much trickier than outright pain. Your prospect has to buy into the problem first, and without the stimulus of pain, they’re more likely to say, “It doesn’t hurt right now, so why bother?”

    That’s where signs and tests come in. Symptoms are what a person feels, but that’s rarely enough to make an accurate diagnosis. Signs are indications that a trained eye can recognize. Tests offer further investigation. The combination of all these lead to an appropriate diagnosis.

    One thing I’ve discovered is not to rush to a solution. Even when the diagnosis seems obvious, the exploration process is essential to developing a deeper understanding and a deeper relationship.

    Problems come in bunches, and that obvious problem might not even be the critical one. If you just put on your Mr. Fixit cap, patched them up and sent them merrily on their way, that would be a terrible disservice.

    • says

      Hey Joe!

      That’s a great point about signs and tests. It shows real proof of your expertise, and that there is a problem that needs solving. I know Copyblogger has written about using logic to convince readers that a product is needed (and can solve the problem) and this sounds very similar to what you’re describing.

      Very thorough care goes a long way! 😉

  10. says

    Great analogy with the doctor. I’m not a copywriter, per say, but your posts always help me out with my seo work in one way or another. I definitely believe that the three steps you outlined here can be used in almost any situation. Being able to have an objective/analytical view of a problem while positively explaining the features/advantages/benefits of your service is a recipe for success.

  11. Allan (Dr Geek) says

    Interesting post, without a doubt. Thanks for sharing your insights…and for the impromptu lesson in Headline writing skills!

  12. says

    A great three step program, this model should be expanded to cover all professional business types not only copywriting – I could recommend this to every professional I know. Thanks for the advice Amy!

  13. says

    Hi Amy,

    I like it….you put yourself into your prospect’s shoes with this method, step by step.

    Understanding precedes an emotional connection. Offering a cure before you can diagnose the problem is not understanding. Offering a cure before you go into a detailed analysis of the diagnosis is not understand. We would not go to a doctor who offered out prescriptions the moment you walked in the door, or 1 minute after you took a seat on the table.

    Nope, we believe in doctors whom we trust. We trust MDs who offer a detailed diagnosis based on objective observation of our situation. No doctor wants to administer a prescription before they have enough information to make a diagnosis…well at least no reputable doctors wants to. Online entrepreneurs are no different. No reputable online entrepreneur makes a snap diagnosis and offers a solution before listening and learning out the prospect’s plight. Then, after working through the cause of it all, a successful marketer can match up their solution with the problem….or if the marketer has no solution, it’s better to match the prospect up with a more fitting solution. Karma points.

    Thanks Amy!


    • says

      Thanks Ryan!

      Funnily enough, I’ve been reading Luke Sullivan (of Hey Whipple Squeeze This) recently who was talking about the best way to defend your advertising ideas to a client. Instead of asking how you can get people to see your way, it’s much more effective to see it from their point of view first, appreciate their hesitancies etc, and then see how you might build a bridge to your side. Thats’ a good way of looking at it as well.

  14. says

    This is actually why I really advocate for providing prospective clients with case studies — especially ones that are fixing dilemmas they currently face.

    They come to you with a problem, you listen, analyze and present them with A) a game plan, and B) proof that it works.

    Great post Amy!

  15. says

    This was an excellent article. I love the analogy comparing the procedure a doctor goes through to the thinking process a copywriter should go through. I’m going to use this to change some of my titles and flesh out the article more. Thanks.

  16. says

    “Next time you’re writing copy, ask yourself if you’re spending time on the symptoms and not just shoving a prescription in their face.”

    I love the analogy of this post.

    Thanks for sharing!

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