How To Write Million Dollar Ad Copy

Last week I sat around a table with 10 other online marketers.

We were talking about design and how most of the time ‘Ugly Design is Better’. We all laughed and a few of us shared stories about how we make more money when using really badly designed ads and landing pages.

My theory: Design is only “good” if it makes money. You can hire the most highly skilled designer on Earth to design the most beautiful advertisement for you. But if it doesn’t make money, it is bad design.

I brought up how I apply the same theory to my copywriting and have used ‘Ugly Copy’ to build some of my biggest and most profitable campaigns.

This seemed like a new concept to most of the people there so I thought it would be a good idea to bring it up here as well and explain what I’m talking about…

If you stress out when you make banner ads or spend a lot of time writing your ad copy, I’m about to make your life a whole lot easier.

Keep reading.

My Biggest Campaign Ever

A few years ago I was building an ad campaign that would become my biggest and most profitable ever. It was a totally original idea, I built a unique landing page, ad and angle from scratch.

No one had ever done it before. It was totally brand new.

My idea worked and it exploded right away. I was making money hand over fist. So I scaled the campaign as widely as I could, and pretty soon everyone had seen it. Within a week or two almost every competitor had copied it and was running their own version.

A close friend told me he was also working on his own version of it, but he was stuck. He’d been writing copy for over two weeks and he couldn’t get it right and his campaign still wasn’t live.

He wanted to know how much time I’d spent writing the copy for my own campaign.

I wrote it in about 15 minutes” I told him.

He couldn’t believe it. (I’m pretty sure I heard the sound of him slamming his head into his desk in the background of our call.)

But it was the truth.

I spent a total of about 30 minutes building the campaign.

  • I spent 10 minutes writing a few short text ads
  • I spent 5 minutes or so downloading a landing page template
  • I spent 15 minutes writing a basic headline and body copy about the product

Then, I launched.

It Worked Right Away

It doesn’t always work right away, but this one did. I started making sales the second it went live. I knew I had a huge winner on my hands, so I spent more time the next day writing out a few new drafts of the ad copy and did some split testing.

  1. I tested some ads and found one that got a lot of clicks
  2. I wrote a few new headlines for the landing page that improved sales a bit
  3. I tweaked the body copy and split test it against the original version

After 3–4 rounds of testing I had the campaign doing backflips.

I sat back and watched the sales come rolling in.

Then I started looking at what my competitors were up to.

Honor Among Thieves

Like I mentioned before, everyone in the industry stole my campaign.

One guy had actually taken the time to rewrite the headline and copy on the landing page. Instead of being pissed about him stealing my design I decided to test his headline and copy on my page to see how it did.

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I dropped his copy on my page, added a few additions and then split test the two against each other.

As it turned out, his version did double the sales that mine did. So him stealing my idea turned out to be a great thing for me.

That’s why I don’t mind people stealing my ideas. I see it as an opportunity. I let them edit, change and optimize it and then I “borrow” it back from them. In a way – the landing page thieves are working for me.

A month or so into the campaign I really dove into the details of the copy, using the marketing tactics you read about in books like ‘Cashvertising’ or ‘Scientific Advertising’.

But I only dove deep like that after I had a working model and knew it would be worth the time.

Most people do the deep dive in the beginning, wasting time without having any idea if the damn thing is even going to work or not.

If it flops, it was a total waste of time.

Speaking of flops and wasting time…

He Paid A Copywriter $10,000

One night I was standing in a parking lot talking to one of the biggest Pickup Artist guys in the world. He has a small online empire full of students who pay him big bucks to learn to get girls.

He told me he had a new product coming out and had been waiting on the copy for a long time. Everything else was ready to go, but he couldn’t launch without the copy.

I asked him why it was taking so long.

He said “I hired one of the top copywriters in the business and it takes him a long time”.

I asked him who the guy was and how much he charged.

His name is “Fancy Copywriting Guy” (obviously not his real name) and I’m paying him $10,000” he said. “He’s normally charges more but I was able to get him to give me a good deal.”

Apparently the guy was really good and had a track record of writing copy that made sh#tloads of money for his clients. But Pick Up Artist guy had never worked with him before.

He was paying the copywriter $10,000 for some squeeze page copy that would be turned into a VSL (video sales letter). It was going to take months to get the copy written and when it did finally come in, there was no guarantee that it would work.

This the craziest thing I’ve ever heard of” I thought. “I would much rather launch a crappy version today and start A/B testing than wait for months for to get some fancy copy that might work really well…”

Months later he told me that when he finally got the copy from “Fancy Copywriter Guy” he added it to the site, launched the product and it was a total flop.

He was over $10,000 in the hole and had wasted months waiting for copy that sucked.

Calling Don Draper

Maybe this would make more sense if we were living in the 1950s… back then you paid an ad agency or a copywriter big bucks to come up with an angle and some copy for your campaign.

But these days, with the internet at your fingertips, it’s much smarter to just bang out a dirty version for yourself, throw it out to The Audience and let them tell you if what you’ve written is good or not.

don-draperAs much as I love Don Draper (from Mad Men) there is no way in hell I would hire him and his creative team to write the angle and copy for my next campaign.

I was an ‘Ad Man’ at an agency for many years myself. So I know how it works.

You charge a client $100s of thousands of dollars to have your oversized creative team spend weeks coming up with ideas, angles and story boards.

Several months later you bring the client in and present your ideas in a fancy conference room. If they client accepts your work, they leave the building with a shiny-new idea that sounds great…. but might not work at all.

If it fails, the client fires your agency and finds another one to do the exact same thing for them again.

It’s madness.

Those days are over. The internet has solved that problem completely. People like me and you can come up with idea, write a quick-and-dirty draft of it and set it live in a matter of hours.

The Buzzards (annoying drones who speak only in buzzwords) call it ‘Lean Marketing’ but I hate buzzwords. Let’s just call it what it is:

Magic.

The Internet

Advertising on the internet is magic. You can take an idea from your mind and have it in front of millions of eyeballs in a single day.

It’s simple:

  • You come up with idea.
  • You write out a quick draft.
  • You put it out there.
  • You see what happens.
  • You adjust.

That’s it.

Copy and paste those steps into your note-taking app right now. Because if you know those five things, you really don’t need to read any more of this. But you should anyway because I’m going to go much deeper into it now.

When To Hire A Copywriter

Before I get into how I write my stuff I want to address what’s going on in your head. Right now you might be thinking to yourself: “But I’M NOT a creative person, I can’t write my own copy”.

Sound familiar? Well then, I have two pieces of advice for you.

  • Stop judging yourself because you’re full of crap. People less-educated and dumber than you have made millions of dollars online with really badly written copy. There is no reason why you can’t do it too.
  • If all else fails you can hire someone else. If you can’t get past your self-imposed writer’s block you can go with an outside hire. But you have to follow a few rules.

Hiring A Copywriter: The Three Commandments:

  1. Thou Shalt Not Hire A “Professional” Writer. Some professional copywriters are damn magicians and can write words that put people into a buying frenzy. But they charge anywhere from $2000 – $20,000 for one idea. There’s no reason for a newbie like you to invest a big chunk of cash on copy. If you’re Wal-Mart? Sure spend the cash. If you’re just getting started and have a small budget? Go for a cheap writer than can bust out your idea fast. You can go to Fiverr and get something in a day for $5. It won’t be great – but it might be good enough to work.
  2. Thou Shall Not Associate Cost With Results. Don’t think that just because “Fancy Copywriting Guy” charges $10,000 per idea that his ideas will outperform “Larry the Jackass” who charges $9/hr on Fiverr.com. “Larry the Jackass” might come up with something that blows “Fancy Copywriting Guy” away. In the beginning it’s all a roll of the dice, so I recommend rolling on the cheap.
  3. Thou Shall Not Wait More Than 5 Days. If the writer you hire says “I can have that ready for you in just two months!” fire them immediately. They’re only delaying the timeline so they can make it look like it’s more time consuming to justify the ridiculous price they’re going to charge you. Anyone who considers themselves a writer should be able to provide you a rough draft that is good enough for testing in a few days max. Be sure to tell them you don’t want a masterpiece. You just need a ROUGH DRAFT to see if your concept works or not. That may help reduce their timeline because they won’t be worried about perfection.

Or if you want to grow a pair and write some copy for yourself, here are a few of my best ideas.

How To Write Your Own Million Dollar Copy

ATTENTION: if you scanned though this page and happened to stop here. Then do a FULL STOP. Because this is the most important part of the post. The ‘Meat’ as the Buzzards would call it.

My concept is pretty simple. When I start building a new ad campaign I understand that I while I have some experience to draw from – I have no idea what is going to work for the new campaign.

There are studies from “Experts” who claim that “X Headline” and “Y Copy” work well for “Z audience”. But who knows if their ideas will work either.

The only trusted source for information is going to come directly from The Audience I am speaking to. They will tell me what works and what sucks.

The Audience votes with their clicks, sales, dollars and credit cards.

My goal is to spend as little time as possible coming up with guesses and give The Audience something to vote on as fast as possible.

Here is what I do:

  1. Write 1–2 very quick drafts of ideas.
  2. Launch the campaign.
  3. See what the audience says.
  4. Optimize based on their response

1. Write 1–2 Quick Drafts

Writing the first draft for a campaign should take you 30 minutes or less. Don’t overthink things yet or you risk getting stuck for days.

30 Minutes or Less:

  • Do some quick research on the topic
  • Choose the angle you want to come from
  • Start writing.

Use a known headline formula if you have to and keep the copy minimal. Or use my concept of combining the writing styles of two Copywriting Gods to make your own killer headline.

You don’t need 10,000 words for your first round. You can test an idea on as little as 500–700 words.

Don’t get hung up on trying to write “sales copy”. Just say what the product does in your own words. The fancier you try to get, the worse it will perform.

All you want to do on this first draft is get your point (or angle) across to see if it makes people react. And I find it easiest to do that when I write as simply as possible.

Imagine: you’re writing a letter to your grandmother telling her about a new product you think she might like. Make it so easy to read and simple to understand that she wouldn’t get confused.

Don’t use big words.
Don’t use long sentences.

I write copy that a 12 year old or very-close-to-illiterate adult could read. If you catch yourself writing out a fancy word, stop immediately and replace it with something easier to understand.

If you don’t know how to spell it – half your audience probably can’t read it.

Example:

  • Bad: “The effervescent scent of Febreze soars through your abode eliminating troublesome scents”.
  • Good: “Febreze makes your house smell better.”

Remember, you’re just trying to get the point across to see if The Audience responds. Don’t waste time on fancy words yet, just blast it out there and see what happens.

  • If it works, start fine tuning it.
  • If it fails, you didn’t waste much time and you can try another idea.

Need a framework to use as a guideline?

If you don’t know where to start you can do what I did in the beginning.

Look around the web and find something that has been running for a long time. It doesn’t necessarily even have to be in the same market, it just needs to have been up for a while.

If it’s been running for a long time, that is a good indicator that it works well. So what you’re going to do is use it as your guideline.

  • See what they talk about in the opening paragraph and mimic that.
  • What headings are in the body copy? Twist them to fit your idea.
  • How do they close?
  • What is their CTA (call to action)?

You can write a damn fine piece of copy by simply taking a working example and twisting the copy to fit your needs.

It’s not pretty, but it’s not plagiarism. I like to call it “inspiration”.

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2. Launch The Campaign

As soon as you have a working draft put together, launch the campaign.

Don’t worry about the details at this point. Just make sure your website is up and running and the links to the product are functional, then start spending money and see what happens.

Don’t expect profits. In the beginning you’re simply buying data. And buying data is probably the best investment on earth. This data will point into the direction that will potentially bring you huge profits in the future.

3. Let The Audience Decide What is Good

Pretty soon you’ll start getting “votes” from The Audience. They will vote with their clicks and conversions. If you get a lot of votes, you’re onto something. If no one votes for you, try a different approach.

Are they clicking the ad?
– Yes: Your ad is good
– No: Your ad sucks, try again

Are they clicking the landing page links after they click they ad?
– Yes: Your landing page is good
– No: Your landing page sucks, try again

Are they buying the product?
– Yes: The product and your angle are good
– No: Either the product or your angle sucks, try again

4. Optimize Based on Their Response

As soon as data starts coming in you can start making decisions. NOW it will be very clear which direction you should be going in.

If this:

  • Ad “A”: 12% CTR
  • Ad “B”: 1% CTR

Then this:

  • Pause Ad “B”.
  • Leave Ad “A” on.
  • Make 2–3 variations and see if you can beat the original.

Then try to beat it again.

Doing it this way lets you to hit the streets with an idea 10x faster than the average online advertiser. While the competition is stressing over their opening paragraph, you are launching version after version, improving a little bit every time.

By the time your competitor realizes his copy sucks, you have already found an idea that makes money. It will take them weeks or even months to catch up to me. And by then…

It’s too late.

Conclusion

You don’t need to spend a lot of time and money on copywriting. Some of the biggest campaigns I’ve ever run were started with copy that I wrote myself in 15–20 minutes.

I use these four steps:

  1. Write 1–2 very quick drafts of ideas.
  2. Launch the campaign.
  3. See what the audience says.
  4. Optimize based on their response

The key is to get your campaign up and running quickly and see what happens. The Audience will vote to tell you if your copywriting skills are good or not. They will vote with their clicks and dollars.

Which you can then shove into your pockets.

//

[Want a free copy of this Copywriting System delivered to your inbox? Click here to get it.]

  • Matt

    Awesome post Malan. Really loving the simple design of your blog. What font type and size are you using? Thanks!

    • http://malandarras.com/ Malan Darras

      View Source

  • Sheldon

    Beast article thanks for sharing your time with us.

    • http://malandarras.com/ Malan Darras

      thanks Sheldon

  • R

    I enjoy these reads, keep them coming – hardly anything in my email from other marketers is worth my time – but this is giving a fuck emailing and article writing

    • http://malandarras.com/ Malan Darras

      “giving a fuck emailing and article writing” – that’s awesome

  • Yussef Gilkey

    Lol I know who this “copywriter” guy is..LOL. If I am correct he and his SEO partner jv’d with (I will just call him “the hat”) to make a lifestyle product. But that copywriter uses that product as a successful case study to this day. Possibly because of the success of the original fictional book by Strauss. A reminder of why I want to succeed at Affiliate Marketing, as opposed to SEO, so bad. Such a different world man.

    • http://malandarras.com/ Malan Darras

      nah you’re wrong on both parts.

  • Khoren

    thank you Malan for this post,I like your approach you like making things simple & practical.

    • http://malandarras.com/ Malan Darras

      you bet Khoren – it’s not as hard as people think it is

  • ChrisHayes1

    Thanks for the fun read Malan! I’m definitely guilty of over-analysis before launching a campaign. Sometimes I spend 2 days just tweaking design elements and copy on a landing page 😀

    • http://malandarras.com/ Malan Darras

      tweak all you want, just know that you’re more than likely entertaining yourself 😉

  • Ken L

    This is great. Perfect timing for me.

    I’m guilty of what you’re friend did. I’ve been stuck on something for almost 10 days now. I realise what happened. This: “Don’t overthink things yet or you risk getting stuck for days”.

    I’ve now scrapped what I was doing. Started over. I’m now half-way through it. I should be done with the rest shortly (perhaps not in under 30min though…).

    Thanks Malan. Your guidance is appreciated.

    PS. I think it’s the fear of failure thing which keeps creeping back into the picture.

    • http://malandarras.com/ Malan Darras

      awesome Ken. an hour is fast, but there is no reason you shouldn’t be able to write your first draft and be live in less than a day. good luck man

  • http://listprofitcircle.com/ Johan Sidharta

    Hi malan, thank you for writing this

    I’am so glad that someday told Me about this,

    because I’m a perfectionist so as you say

    I always think and think and think and think

    now I understand, just go and see the data

    • http://malandarras.com/ Malan Darras

      quit thinking, start testing 🙂

  • http://servandosilva.com Servando Silva

    Nice post Malan.
    A campaign launched to be improved is a lot better than a perfect campaign that never launches.

    • http://malandarras.com/ Malan Darras

      100%

  • Rony

    Hi Malan,

    As a super newbie, I have no problem with quick launch.

    Mostly I launch my campaign so quick.

    What can I say, I“m super newbie, I don`t have the skill to think too much 😀

    However, analyzing is my biggest problem.Often I feel bored and jump to a new offer and leave my old negative ROI campaign forgotten.

    It has been eight months I did AM, burning my monthly paycheck for nothing.

    My friends call me an idiot and crazy because I kept doing it non-stop. It`s like smoking, I know it is bad for my health but I still smoking.

    About an hour ago I have launched 3 new campaigns. It feels like I smoke 3 more cigarettes. So stupid right???

    How you can be so patient and not get bored so easily on your campaign which is still not profitable??? Do you have any tricks for this???

    Thank you Sir

  • http://www.yourfavoriteweapon.com/ Eddie3000

    Holy shit. Thank you, Malan. This is gold.

    • http://malandarras.com/ Malan Darras

      you bet Eddie, enjoy

  • Hieu Nguyen

    Awesome post, Malan! I should do everything quicker!

    • http://malandarras.com/ Malan Darras

      yeah man, in this case – speed wins

  • Daniel

    Great post Malan! As I have read directly and indirectly in almost all your posts, you refer to focus on ACTION as the key to all thing in life.

    Time for a quote:

    The most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity. –Amelia Earhart

    • http://malandarras.com/ Malan Darras

      thanks Daniel

  • Domen Campa

    OMG! This is my second time to read this post. This is just amazing! I can’t believe you posted this! This is the best present ever this year… Wisdom is all around us…if we only learn how to read it.

    • http://malandarras.com/ Malan Darras

      thanks man and thanks for reading… twice

  • http://joecinocca.com/ Zingali

    Fiverr is definitely a hit/miss proposition. There are some decent ones, but you gotta sift through them to find that needle in the haystack. “Febreze makes your house not smell like ass” might split test ass with barnyard ass. Really great post. 😀

    • http://malandarras.com/ Malan Darras

      yeah mon — Fiverr is def hit/miss. But then again, so are the $10k per piece guys…