The Product Copy Playbook
Copy Sense is as important as Design Sense
The little brother of Product Sense and Design Sense is Copy Sense. It’s a little discussed Sense, but it’s wildly important.
In fact, 20% of purchases fail due to incomplete and unclear product information.
And I’d guess a much higher percentage of SaaS products lose customers because users just don’t get what value the product will bring them.
Aside from the obvious benefits of great product copy for the product, great Copy Sense is also something of a superpower for product managers.
We’ve been getting inspired by Scott Belsky (CPO at Adobe) recently, so let’s throw it back to this classic tweet from 2018:
A lot of the magic I’ve observed in teams over the years happens when the talent stack is collapsed - when a designer also codes, when an engineer has a growth hack skill set, when a product leader is great at copy.
Copy Sense represents a collapsing of the talent stack. If you can establish yourself as great at product copy, you can push your products to higher success.
The problem? There’s just no content on Copy Sense. Certainly, no one has written about the term “Copy Sense” before. The Google results come up empty.
But even searches for broader things like ‘product copy playbook’ and ‘product copywriting for PMs’ are miserable. The Google results for ‘how to work with a content team as a product manager’ are about completely different topics:
So, as is tradition, the content gap and the importance of the skill inspired me to write today’s deep dive.
I actually noticed this content gap about three months ago.
I thought about writing about it. With 15 years of PM and 100M+ impressions/month on Twitter, I know a thing or two about copy. But I lacked confidence in the principles I had identified.
Then, a month ago I became friends with just the perfect person: Kuba Czubajewski.
We hopped on some calls and had some great jams on product copy. He helped add phenomenal texture to improve my product copywriting principles.
So, I had to ask if he was interested in teaming up on a deep dive. And - he graciously agreed. So, we spent the past few weeks finding the absolute best examples of product copy as of May 2023, and then extracted the key principles and tactics to emulate them yourself.
Today, we’re excited to finally present you the culmination of our work: ‘The Product Copy Playbook.’
The 6 principles of great product copy
Product copywriting tactics that get results
How to write product copy yourself as a PM
How to continuously develop your Copy Sense
How to work with a UX copywriting team for impact
The top failure patterns when working with UX copywriters as a PM
This should give you all the ammunition you need to improve your Copy Sense and do better in your relationship with your user experience (UX) copywriters.
Let’s get into it.
8 Great examples of product copywriting
Product copy comes in many forms: guides, landing pages, buttons, support articles… and much more.
In this section, we’ll go through illustrative examples of all of the key elements of product copy from 8 of the most innovative users of it:
The Big Guys: Apple, Airbnb, Spotify, Uber
The Upstarts: Evernote, Semrush, HEY, and Clickup
This should get the inspirational parts of your brain churning to then extract the principles of great product copy, walk through key tactics and more.
Example 1: Evernote
Evernote may not be the “hot thing” in notes anymore - with Roam, Notion and Obsidian taking the crown as the trendy products.
But Evernote is not giving up. It’s fighting back quietly with great product copy.
This has always been a strong suit of the company’s, and it extends to this day. The copy work goes from the website to the in-product guides and UX.
Let’s start with the marketing site, evernote.com. In their headline, Evernote highlights the outcome the customer will achieve if they choose their app:
Instead of telling the customer what they are, they highlight what the customer can do. This customer-centric approach to copywriting can help you take a lot of “salesy” pressure from the landing page.
Sure, it’s important that Evernote has notes, tasks, and scheduling functionality. But that’s not what it leads with on a landing page. Evernote goes in favor of the customer with, “tame your work, organize your life.”
What about the product itself? An important cross-promotional feature for Evernote for core notes users is tasks. So, how do they sell tasks in-product?
Evernote uses every copywriting trick in the book:
A list of three
With text slanting
And checkmark bullet points
Great product copywriting in important growth areas gets all these little details right. Evernote is a great example to show us how typical copywriting concepts apply to product copywriting.
But Evernote’s a little player in the larger scheme of things. What about the tech giants?
Example 2: Apple
Let’s hop over to the copywriting brand everyone loves to analyze, Apple, with some recent examples.
This recent app store merchandising collection is just delightful.
The headline, “Express yourself with these tools” is all about the user, and it says enough to convey that these are creative tools.
The story then begins with a tried and true, “When it comes to…” This is just great writing.
On top of the writing, the bolding then helps you get a sense of what the paragraph is about before you dive in. Bolding is very effective in product copy.
Finally, it always helps to pair copy with pretty pictures. Apple manages to puzzle piece in 6 pretty pictures here: the background, the woman, and the 4 app logos.
It’s a beautifully designed screen.
Beyond the app merchandising example, let’s turn to Apple TV. Here in this ad, Apple does a great job giving product copy space.
The copy is not very big! The temptation generally with copy is larger call to action (CTA), larger copy, bolder…
And that works well (like in our next example). But it doesn’t have to be the only way. Apple is a great example of subtlety. It has so much ‘black space’ in the image.
Example 3: Airbnb
Airbnb needs hosts to provide the beating heart of its rental marketplace: rental properties. How does it woo them on its hosts landing page? (You can imagine the team has probably ran 10s of tests on this page over Airbnb’s life.)
The above-the-fold message is very short and commanding, “Airbnb it. You could earn $917” It’s big, juicy text.
And then Airbnb places a fun interactive product, which will keep you coming back: a cool map to explore rates near you. This is one of the greatest ways to convince users. Go straight to the number one value; in Airbnb’s case, the money, with big text. Then, add in some fun with a product.
You could imagine someone who just continuously goes back to this page like Zillow, on the hunt for that property that’s cheap but gets great rental rates.
What about a place where Airbnb uses a bit more copy? Let’s take a look at that.
This almost reads like a Twitter thread. They start with a nice hook: “X 101: The basics”. That’s a tried and true template.
Then, they hit you with some lengthy explanation. The lengthy explanation is actually pretty easy to read. “As long as you…” is a great start. Then they end with a short punchy, “They may even send you …”
Finally, Airbnb knows it’s going long on the text - so it sections up the content after. It’s a great text-heavy page.
The good copy at Airbnb doesn’t end in the host context. Let’s jump to a crucial surface on the buyer side - the listing - and take a look:
One of the subtle areas of product copy that Airbnb has likely tested many times and gotten right here is the search box ghost text: “Start your search.” It’s a nice three-word complete sentence that’s also a clear command.
It also uses a great job of using text as buttons: 101 reviews, Palm Beach, Share, and Save are all buttons while lifting weight as product copy. The only real ‘button’ here is Show all photos.
Overall, the bookings page is just one of many copy works of art in Airbnb’s product.
Example 4: Spotify
Let’s shift back over to a product that has to get all the copy details right: Spotify. Unlike Apple or Airbnb, Spotify plays an intensely competitive market atop a commodity product: streaming deals that are also available to Apple Music, YouTube and everyone else. So it has to get every word pixel perfect. And it does.
One of Spotify’s most impressive product copy factories within the company is the playlist creation team. Check out this playlist:
“Intense studying” is a great, short name. Other playlist names like “Your Time Capsule” and “Fresh Finds” are also great at incorporating slightly less used words - intense, capsule, and finds - to create intrigue.
In the intense studying example, Spotify also nails the sub-copy for the playlist. The staccato is a work of art: “Get. It. Done.” These types of intentional breaks with the rules of grammar land very well when used sparingly.
In other areas of Spotify’s product, keeping copy to an absolute minimum is generally the theme.
Where are all the words? They’re actually hard to spot. There are just 5:
“Great first audiobooks”
There’s literally no other copy in the main product. We include the Spotify example to show that you can be very subtle and focused in your product copy to fine-tuning the very few places you do have copy.
Example 5: Uber
Another app that takes copy minimalism seriously is Uber.
It does at least use a few words! For its CTA, it asks a beautiful question, “Where can we pick you up?” And that’s by far the visual center of the page.
This is a really effective technique to direct users to a few actions if you have a “form fill.” (Not all our product’s forms are quite as simple as Uber’s…)
And then in other parts of the product, where Uber does use copy, it’s on point. Take this mobile banner.
At first glance, do you even know that this is about personalized advertising? Not really. They don’t even use the word. But it’s not quite a “dark pattern” either. They’re honest that this will help, “personalize… promos about Uber.”
It’s one of the best examples of a notification for personalized ads we’ve seen in a long time.
Enough with the big dogs. Let’s head back to the upstarts. They do all the bold stuff anyways.
Example 6: Semrush
You can’t go through a product copy post with talking about buttons.
Keep reading with a 7-day free trial
Subscribe to Product Growth to keep reading this post and get 7 days of free access to the full post archives.