This post gives you high-level, strategic advice that will make you a better SaaS copywriter.
Whether you’re a generalist copywriter transitioning into a SaaS specialism, or you’re a founder tackling your startup’s key pieces of copy yourself…
You’ll find this list invaluable.
It’s a mixed bag of technical copywriting tips, growth marketing tactics and SaaS business strategy.
(PS This is not a post about growing a freelance SaaS copywriting business – just in case that’s why you’re here!).
To be an effective SaaS copywriter, you must understand the business model.
This applies to copywriters who may be used to writing copy for businesses operating in other industries.
The next point – on ‘AARRR’ Pirate Metrics – will also tap into this principle, but for now, it’s best to understand this:
SaaS businesses run differently, and think differently, to other types of businesses.
They’re online productized services, charged on a subscription model.
One of the core challenges facing this business model is “activation”.
For clarity’s sake, let’s take the darling of subscription-based products, Dollar Shave Club, as a done-to-death example.
Their razor blades don’t require “activation” from the user after purchase.
Or, rather, they do…
But the activation is ridiculously simple.
Remove the razor blade from the packaging, attach to the razor handle, and shave!
To lock in recurring revenue from their subscriptions, SaaS products need to make sure that users are using their product.
- Their users need to understand how to use it, from a technical standpoint (a problem most DTC subscription businesses don’t have – if we use Dollar Shave Club as an example again, the chances are, if you’re ordering razor blades on a repeat subscription, you already know how to shave).
- Once they’ve mastered its technical use, they need to understand how they can extract value from it and use the tool to relieve their pain points.
Accepting the fundamental differences between the SaaS business model vs other typical business models is a foundational exercise for copywriters new to the niche.
Acquaint yourself with the AARRR framework.
AARRR, me ‘earties!
When you’re not quaffing rum and menacing ne’er-do-wells with your cutlass (two other essential SaaS copywriter lessons that didn’t quite make it onto this list), you should spend time getting familiar with AARRR:
[Image courtesy of productframeworks.com]
This acronym was devised by Practical Venture Capital founder Dave McClure and it’s his “Pirate Metrics” model. So-called because, well, y’know…
Let’s go through each letter of the acronym in turn:
- A- Acquisition
How does the SaaS acquire its customers? How effective are the ads, landing pages, lead magnets, website copy etc?
- A - Activation
Once a lead signs up for a trial or demo, how does the company “activate” that customer and get them using the product on a consistent basis?
An email onboarding campaign can play a critical role here, but assets such as tutorials and help guides, customer success support and of course the in-app copy itself, all help get the ball rolling and get the subscriber using the product.
- R - Retention
No one wants fly-by-night customers.
And the month-to-month, year-to-year nature of the SaaS subscription model means customer retention is of critical importance.
New product features help, but trying to win on features in the long-term is a mug’s game.
From a copywriting perspective, emails and in-app copy go a long way toward keeping users engaged and satisfied with the product.
It’s a great way of gathering continuous feedback, so the Product team can keep iterating and deliver the best possible value for money to the user.
- R - Revenue
No business can survive without money, right?
How does a SaaS unlock its revenue?
As part of the activation process, most SaaS tools offer free trials to leads.
Taking a lead through free-to-paid conversion is a big deal.
How do they do it?
Each SaaS has a different process, but it could be an email nurture campaign or a sales rep talking a lead through the conversion process.
It generally depends on whether the company is B2C or B2B, and the price point of the subscription, etc.
But finding a way to convert the free trial user to a paid user, is of course, the key to unlocking revenue and growth.
Copy plays a massive role in that.
Founders pay close attention to their metrics here to make sure the business is profitable.
But from an out-and-out copywriting perspective, it’s important to understand the difference between free trials, freemium products, and paid products…
And how the product’s funnel is built to monetize the free users.
- R - Referral
There are many ways a customer can refer a SaaS product to their network.
The key is persuading them to do it in a way that aligns with their behavior.
Growth-hacking encompasses many aspects of a business’ growth model, but figuring out ways to spread the word and grow the product’s popularity is one of the key growth-hacking skills.
Writing killer emails and social media content is intrinsic to the product’s referral engine.
Trace your copywriting back to the 5 stages of AARRR and understand its role in the wider growth ecosystem.
Writing ads plus a landing page? That’s acquisition.
An onboarding email sequence? That’s activation.
A weekly newsletter? That’s retention.
Understanding the copy’s goal beyond “lead-gen” or “sale” will put you in the best place to help grow the product.
Know that education is intrinsic to buying.
The SaaS sales cycle can be longer than those of other product types.
Content is king for every business, but for SaaS startups in particular, content marketing really is the gateway to everything: the whole shebang in the AARRR Pirate Metrics model we looked at in Lesson #3.
SaaS buyers look at multiple sources:
- Peer opinion (both in-person and on social media)
- Industry benchmarking reports
- White papers
- Blog posts
- Review sites such as G2 and Capterra
- YouTube tutorials...
Understanding these complexities, mapping out the customer’s journey with these stages, then marrying up your customer’s awareness and market sophistication levels to these stages is key.
Develop a deep understanding of the product.
I’ll tell you a quick story…
I wrote a sales page once for a pop-up pull-up bar, like this one:
[image courtesy of www.pullupmate.co.uk]
I ordered the product, used it for a couple of workouts, and evaluated it the way a customer would. It was easy.
7 pieces, steel pins and butterfly clips, able to bear 250lbs, can be flipped on its side and used for chest dips, too.
Learning to use the product took me 10 minutes.
When you know the product inside-out, as well as the manufacturer, you’re able to perform your copywriter’s magic with panache very quickly.
You can start linking the product features to benefits and outcomes that customers care about.
But SaaS products tend to be significantly more complex than a pop-up pull-up bar.
As a copywriter, it’s your job to be a sales detective and learn the features (and the benefits and desired outcomes users derive from those) inside-out.
Interview several members of the sales team, ask for a product demo, and consume every piece of sales literature you can get your hands on, such as:
- Sales enablement one-pagers
- YouTube walkthroughs
- Website and landing page copy
- Email and in-app onboarding instructions
Develop terrific listening skills.
To write effective SaaS copy, you need a good ear.
The technology is new.
How your users will interact with it and gain value from it is a fresh concept to them.
So it’s important to use thorough qualitative research techniques to gain customer feedback:
- Usability tests
- Chat transcripts
- Support tickets
Once you’ve conducted the research, it’s just as important to analyze it carefully and really listen to what your customers are trying to tell you.
Use your data to answer critical questions, such as:
- What promises have they heard before?
- What are their biggest pain points?
- What are their biggest desires?
- What would be the biggest obstacle for them, if they switch to you as their solution?
Develop terrific hard analytic skills.
Because SaaS tools are online products, sold online, to online users…
There’s a heavy reliance on analytics to make critical growth decisions.
All good marketing should be measured…
It’s just that SaaS usage makes measuring so much more easy.
From a copywriting perspective, tools such as clickmaps and heatmaps are your besties.
A lot of SaaS marketing teams install clickmap software on their key pages, such as their homepage and Pricing page.
SaaS copywriters look at this quantitative data to make decisions about messaging layout and structure.
If we can see where prospects are losing interest, we can amend the messaging accordingly – or even get rid of certain sections.
These analytics don’t diagnose problems, but they help you zero in on some pain points that could involve the messaging, the UX, or both.
You’re finding the location of the bottleneck.
A solid understanding of Google Analytics (beyond merely linking it to your pages!) is also highly beneficial.
This amazing tutorial by WebFx walks you through some of Google Analytics’ more advanced features in an easy-to-understand manner.
With Google Analytics, it’s important to set conversion goals.
Only knowing how much traffic you’re getting is nowhere near enough data to work from.
Gain intimate knowledge of the stages of awareness & market sophistication.
In his 1963 book Breakthrough Advertising, veteran copywriter Eugene Schwartz laid down the “awareness” and “market sophistication” marketing principles that hold as true today as they did almost 60 years ago.
They’re crucial to know in all industries and markets…
But for SaaS businesses, with their long, multi-touchpoint buying cycles and disruptive product creations, possessing knowledge of customer awareness and market sophistication levels is essential.
Schwartz wrote about 5 stages of customer awareness as being these:
Understanding your readers’ awareness level is a foundational exercise.
Research whereabouts they are on their customer journey, and your message starts where the majority of them are on the map.
If leads are arriving on your landing page via the following funnel flow:
- Paid ad, driving to
- Landing page offering lead magnet opt-in, leading to
- Email nurture campaign driving a clickthrough to a webinar landing page…
You don’t need to spend a huge amount of time “warming up” your leads on the page.
They’ve seen enough messages to be solution-aware…
And by the end of the webinar, the chances are good they’ll be product-aware.
Now, customer awareness isn’t the only factor to consider when you’re crafting your messages.
Market sophistication levels need to be taken into account, too:
These 5 stages demarcate your customers’ level of cynicism toward your marketing messages.
Their cynicism hinges upon the number of promises and claims they’ve already been exposed to in your industry.
A project management tool is at the higher end. It’s number #5...a saturated level of market sophistication.
There are hundreds of these tools on the market, so you’ll really need to offer something NEW to cut through the noise.
Whereas disaster management software, on the other hand, is a relatively new thing, as of this writing.
Readers haven’t seen much marketing and advertising around these products.
Their sophistication level is right around #1...low-solution.
It means your target market isn’t aware of many of your competitors and your target market hasn’t been exposed to a lot of marketing messages within your category.
So, founders of these products can really drive the strategic narrative around this industry.
This has the potential to be great for sales…
But to gain traction, you’ll need patience.
The product/category is so new, it may take some time for trust and credibility to build around your messaging.
Many typical SaaS products fall into Bucket #3…
Customers are reasonably familiar with solutions like yours, but they need more information on your specific product to make an informed decision.
As you can see, it’s a relatively easy spectrum to assess.
Combine your knowledge of customer awareness with market sophistication and you have a rock-solid starting point for your SaaS marketing messages.
The Jobs-To-Be-Done framework is your best pal.
The jobs-to-be-done (JTBD) framework is becoming prevalent in most industries now, but it really rose to prominence in SaaS marketing.
JTBD is the concept that when customers buy a product or a service, they are hiring it to carry out a job (or multiple jobs) that needs to be done in their lives.
The best explanation of the JTBD framework I’ve seen is in the book Value Proposition Design.
In this book, JTBD are broken down into 3 separate buckets:
- Functional – where customers are trying to complete a specific task or solve a specific problem, eg mowing the lawn
- Social – where customers want to look good or gain power/status eg perceived by others as a competent professional
- Emotional – where customers seek a specific emotional state eg achieve the feeling of job security in the workplace.
You must also consider:
- Supporting jobs (such as comparing offers).
- The jobs’ contexts (are they doing this at home, at work or on the train?).
- Their importance (how frequently does the job need to be done and how much impact does it drive for the customer?).
Evaluating your customers’ jobs-to-be-done and weighing them alongside the severity and relevance of their pains and gains will really help you organize your SaaS copy structures.
Many SaaS tools satisfy multiple JTBD: some are “all-in-one” tools offering a full suite of options.
This is why learning how to apply the JTBD framework to your product’s value propositions is a major helping hand toward writing the copy.
Sharpen your Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO) knowledge.
If you have access to all the data, then strongly familiarizing yourself with conversion rate optimization (CRO) is the next step.
CRO, at its core, revolves around the classic direct response copywriting adage, “Beat the control.”
In CRO, there’s no such thing as “best practice,” because everything is there to be beaten.
A lot of businesses these days consider CRO, to squeeze every last drop out of what they’ve got.
It’s progressed a very long way from just changing button colors!
A full dive into CRO goes beyond the scope of this article, but here’s a short list of resources for copywriters and marketers looking to dive deeper into the subject:
- 100 Conversion Optimization Case Studies
- A Beginner’s Guide to Conversion Rate Optimization
- Persuasion and Psychology in Boosting Conversion
Figure out how to formulate killer value props.
SaaS homepages and landing pages are heavily reliant on killer value props.
Almost every SaaS tool is battling against two heavyweight competitors, and chances are, you know them well:
Figuring out why your prospects should choose you ahead of these big boys is a key part of writing a B2B SaaS value prop.
Here are some great examples:
There are many theories on how to write great value props.
This article on value propositions, by Peep Laja on CXL, is one of the best I’ve seen on the subject.
And this post on 5 Irresistible SaaS Ads gives you examples of great value propositions/offers specific to the SaaS industry.
Write FBO copy for features and benefits.
You may have heard of the FAB copywriting formula for writing your features and benefits.
It’s been popularized by HubSpot and Buffer amongst others, and it stands for “Features, Advantages, Benefits.”
- Firstly, you state what the feature is.
- Then, you explain an advantage that feature gives you.
- You then zoom out and explain the bigger-picture benefit of that advantage.
The thing is, I don’t like the FAB acronym, so I call it FBO copy instead (Features, Benefits, Outcomes) because it’s more accurate.
Either way, we’re talking semantics here.
The FAB/FBO framework is a highly efficient way of writing features & benefits copy in SaaS websites, landing pages and emails.
Here’s an example of FBO copy in action, written by yours truly for B2B workforce management SaaS, Okappy:
- You can see the feature is described in the subhead and the first sentence of the body copy.
- Then the benefit of the feature is explained – data you need is found in seconds.
- Finally, the desired outcome of that benefit is made clear – save yourself the headache of cross-checking multiple apps.
The FBO framework is an effective way of taking your customer on a brief journey that satisfies both their functional and their emotional jobs-to-be-done.
Choose the right CTA for your goals.
A mention of CRO would be remiss without mentioning calls-to-action (or should it be call-to-actions? No one seems to know…).
B2B tools being sold to enterprise require a talk to the sales team and/or a product demo, so CTAs to that effect are best used.
This one from Sendbird is an example:
B2B tools being sold to SMEs, like Hello Bonsai, usually just require a CTA for a free trial:
Or a paid trial for a small fee, like Better Agency:
But you’ll notice it’s becoming increasingly common now for dual CTAs to be used, offering a “hard conversion” and a “soft conversion”...
Reviewtrackers do this, with Create a free account the secondary CTA, underneath the primary CTA, Request a demo:
All of the above are lead-gen offers.
On a SaaS Pricing page, the conversion goal is the sale, so that’s what the CTA will go for sometimes. Like the CTAs on DocuSign’s Pricing page, here:
But not all the time…
Bugsnag still go after free trial starts and sales calls on their Pricing page:
Either way, it’s always wise to mention your pricing on your Pricing page! You can see how the “Enterprise” option above may frustrate customers.
Read about this mistake that’s lowering conversions on your Pricing page here for further info.
SaaS copywriters need to decide what serves the offer best.
The sales cycle in SaaS works differently due to the business model, so the CTAs aren’t often the “Buy Now” conversion.
It’s largely because of the multiple touchpoints customers need before they feel comfortable with buying a subscription.
Put the brakes on creativity and focus on clarity.
Clarity is the MVP in all styles of copywriting...
But particularly so in SaaS.
And because we’re writing about new ways to do old things, in a lot of cases…
We sometimes need to sacrifice smartness, wit and yes, even creativity itself, at the altar of clarity.
In SaaS copywriting, there’s precious little wiggle-room for cuteness.
Most SaaS website copy is short and carries its reader to the point quicker than Usain Bolt in an egg-and-spoon race.
There are a few reasons for this:
- A misguided, design-first approach that’s prevalent in SaaS
- An equally misguided “copy-what-everyone-else-is-doing” mentality
- A copy-by-committee editing process that sees messages being continuously cut.
(I got these reasons from this in-depth Copyhackers article that explains it beautifully).
But there are some better, more valid reasons as to why SaaS copy can be so ultra-concise.
SaaS sales cycles are long and prospects make their decisions gradually, at multiple touchpoints – see Lesson #3, Educating Buyers.
This means the copy needs to be crisp and quite short, in most cases.
But it’s entirely dependent on what messages your prospects need to hear in order to take the next desired action.
Only your research will reveal that…
Learn the importance of the switch!
I already mentioned Microsoft Excel and Google Sheets…
In SaaS, more often than not, people come to use the product because they’re dissatisfied with an existing product and they’re making a switch.
This happens in other industries, of course.
But because of the subscription model and the product’s ongoing use, customers are looking for a long-term partner. They actually want to find a product they can be loyal to for a very long time.
For them, it’s not unlike choosing a bank, or an insurance company, or a utilities provider…
When you write SaaS copy, it’s wise to appreciate that your target market is already using a different product to solve their problem, in most cases. There’s going to be some inertia there.
Focus on making it easy for them to switch.
Reduce the risk throughout your copy – in your headlines, your CTAs, your body copy.
Make it clear that the path to you is friction-free (or pretty damn close to it!).
This CTA from Better Agency demonstrates this really well:
See how it reassures customers how easy and stress-free it will be to switch?
Understand design is important. There is no bricks-and-mortar store!
Legendary marketer Brian Kurtz often talks about the 40/40/20 rule in marketing…
That is: 40% of your success depends upon your “list”, ie the segment you’re marketing your product to needs to be suitable for your offer.
The other 40% is your offer itself – its content, its price point, its overall value. Just how irresistible is the offer?
The remaining 20% is copy/creative – the communication of your offer’s message to the list.
More recently, there’s been a new school of thought:
The 25/25/25/25 school.
The above 3 elements comprise 25% each importance.
And the remaining 25% is DESIGN.
Now, I’m not saying I’m a subscriber to the 25/25/25/25 theory (still very much a 40/40/20 man, myself) but design is important in SaaS.
Again, we’re talking about an online product, being sold online to online users.
It’s as digital as it gets.
So we’re fooling ourselves if we don’t think the design of a page, as well as the copy, isn’t a critical part of conveying the message.
When you’re writing SaaS copy, it’s highly important to consider how it will look to the end user.
Of course, you may think designing the website and landing pages is the designer’s job…
But the copywriter produces the messages first and lays them out in a hierarchical structure – appropriate to the customer’s level of awareness and market sophistication.
Embrace new ways of thinking.
Practitioners in the SaaS copywriting space tip their caps to the past, but keep their sights fixed firmly on the future.
In a lot of other industries, the old direct marketing methods are seen as the only methods.
Now, I’m as sentimental and passionate about old direct marketing principles as anybody…
And, if anything, I would still like to see more of them utilized in the SaaS industry, on the whole.
However, the biggest change to customer behavior in the 21st century has been buyers’ reactions toward hyperbole:
And – as much as it seems like heresy to say this – some of the techniques spoken about in the classic copywriting books won’t fare too well, in SaaS.
Write about a SaaS product like Dan Kennedy writing about a weight-loss product and your conversions will tank.
Stay away from sensationalist 80’s/90’s era headlines and promises.
I’ve tested these.
They look great and they sound fun.
But they don’t work.
The “new” isn’t all that different…
It’s the same psychological principles, just dialed down.
The education process has already been well under way, in most cases.
Customers don’t need your copy to pitch to them like a 1980’s vacuum-cleaner salesman.
Know yer acronyms!
Do you know your CAC from your ACV, and your ARPU from your TAM?
Marketing has always prided itself on its nomenclature, but SaaS marketing has taken this secret, jargonistic language to a new level in the past decade.
(And you thought AARRR was enough to remember for one day?)
As stated, those terms could come up in marketing circles in any business model, but you’ll hear them most commonly in SaaS.
These are the key ones:
- CAC – Customer Acquisition Cost
- CPL – Cost-Per-Lead
- ACV – Annual Contract Value
- TAM – Total Addressable Market
- ARPU – Average Revenue Per User
- CLTV – Customer Lifetime Value
- CR – Conversion Rate
This HubSpot blog post is a comprehensive list of marketing/business acronyms, if you’re looking for something more hardcore!
It’s also valuable to get familiar with other metrics such as:
- Churn rate – what percentage of customers are cancelling their subscriptions
- Retention rate – the reverse of churn...how many customers are staying?
- Annual run rate (ARR) – how much revenue are you making annually from your subscriptions
- Monthly run rate (MRR) – how much revenue are you making monthly from your subscriptions
Be prepared to test your copy more than ever before!
The heavy focus on analytics in SaaS means you’ll find out about your copy’s performance quickly and accurately.
From here, it’s a good idea to take the data and optimize your copy accordingly.
If your KPI for success on your homepage was to increase demo conversions from 2% to 3%...
But after 30 days or so, the conversions have risen to 2.2% (which is still a 10% increase in conversions, but it’s significantly less than the 50% lift you were targeting)...
Take a closer look at your copy and see how you can improve it.
There’s a hierarchy, of course:
Your headlines, subheadlines and CTAs will have greater overall impact than your body copy, for example.
But always be iterating.
The SaaS industry doesn’t stand still, and neither should your copy performance.
Keep looking for ways to get an edge!
So there you have it!
Those are 19 lessons I’ve learned as a SaaS copywriter that will serve you very well when it’s time to write some of your own copy in the industry.