Everything You’ve Been Told About Copywriting is Complete Nonsense

You’ve been lied to all this time. Image source.

Editor’s note: To celebrate the launch of The Conversion Marketer’s Guide to Landing Page Copywriting, it’s Copywriting Week on the blog! Stay tuned for more copywriting-themed posts that will help make you a better writer and a smarter marketer.

I hate to tell you this, but… you’ve been lied to all this time. Most of everything you’ve been told about copywriting is complete BS. Crap. Nonsense. Hogwash.

It sucks, but don’t fret. At this year’s Call To Action Conference, conversion copywriter Joanna Wiebe set things straight.

It’s not easy calling out the great copywriting legends like Ogilvy and Caples, but someone’s gotta do it. And quite frankly, we’re glad it’s Joanna – with over 10 years of copywriting and A/B testing experience, she literally wrote the book on landing page copywriting.

In her CTAConf talk, Joanna challenged so-called “golden copywriting principles” which come from a time where print ads and billboards were dominant across marketing departments and ad agencies. Because we live in a different world now, Joanna explained, old-school copywriting principles have to be tested.

In this post, we’ll deep-dive and dissect one of the copywriting misconceptions, but be sure to check out Joanna’s CTAConf presentation video in full. In it, you’ll find plenty of gold nuggets that will shake what you “know” about copywriting – to make you a smarter marketer who runs more successful campaigns.

Sorry Ogilvy, but the headline is not god

If you’re a marketer, I’m willing to bet you’ve read this quote before:

“On the average, five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy. When you have written your headline, you have spent eighty cents out of your dollar.” – David Ogilvy

All hail the almighty headline! It can grab visitors’ attention. It can express your unique value proposition. It can convince people to buy your product. It can help you rank for a keyword. It can do everything you want and more!

In other words, your headline carries a lot of weight and importance. And it has many jobs, right?

Wrong. Sorry Ogilvy, but times have changed.

As Joanna explained, if you put too much pressure on your headline and give it too many jobs, everything else will fall apart.

Star athletes don’t play every position and movie stars don’t play every part. They specialize. It’s tempting to fall for the Renaissance Man, but the truth is that he doesn’t exist when it comes to copywriting for conversion.

If your headline does too many things at once, it will be mediocre at everything. As Joanna explained, your headline copy should do one thing, and it should do it really well:

It should keep your visitors’ attention on your landing page.

That’s it, that’s all.

The power of one: Every element on your landing page has one job

The same (shockingly simple) logic extends to every element on your landing page.

Your headline, like Joanna said, is to entice visitors to keep reading. Your body copy should break down the benefits of your offer. Your opt-in form copy should get people to complete it. Your CTA copy should entice people to click.

In her recent ebook, Joanna explains that you should think of your landing page elements as workers on an assembly line:

Every job must be done well to keep the conveyor belt going. If even one person along the line screws up, it makes it very difficult for the other workers down the line to do their job.

In other words, your landing page elements aren’t acting independently. Even though each individual element has its own job, they’re all working together toward the same goal – like players on a sports team.

To that end, every page needs to have one goal for elements to work toward – and one goal alone.

Do you really need to include a social share button when you just want them to sign up for a new trial? The answer is no.

This mindset plays into your landing page’s attention ratio. In a truly optimized campaign, your attention ratio should be 1:1. Because every campaign has one goal, every corresponding landing page should also only have one call to action.

Every piece of your marketing campaign has one job

Guess what?

The “one job” philosophy also extends to every element of your marketing campaign.

Download Joanna’s full slide deck here.

Your PPC ad copy should get your visitors to click. Your email subject line should get people to open your email. Your email body should heighten curiosity. Your email CTA button copy should get people to click through.

Don’t overextend your marketing and expect all of your campaign elements to be everything to everyone. Instead, allow each of the pieces of your marketing campaign to do their unique, pre-assigned job.

If they do it well, you’ll have a high-converting landing page and a successful marketing campaign.

Bonus: The “one job” approach makes your A/B testing more effective

When you have a clear idea of what each of your copywriting campaign elements should be doing, then optimizing for that “one job” is simple.

Whether the goal is increasing conversion rates, open rates or click-through rates, understanding what you’re aiming for makes getting there that much easier.

For example, if you’re A/B testing your email subject lines, it can be confusing to know whether you should be minding your open or click-through rates.

But the “one job” approach takes away some of the guesswork. Just like every other piece of a marketing campaign, an email subject line has one job: to get subscribers to open.

By breaking down all the elements of your marketing and optimizing them for their one job, your campaigns will achieve greatness.

You had one job…

For more hilarious “you had one job” memes, click here.

Before you launch your next marketing campaign, be sure that every element of your campaign is actually performing its one job.

Don’t expect too much from a single element. Don’t give a piece of copy too many jobs, expecting it to work miracles. Don’t put too much pressure on any one piece of your marketing campaign.

If you give one element more responsibility, it will hurt everything else.

Over to you – have you been expecting your landing page elements to do more than one job?

— Stefanie Grieser


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About Stefanie Grieser
As the 9th employee at Unbounce, Stefanie Grieser has gone from scrappy startup marketer to passionate, scale-up leader, heading up international markets, partnerships and events. She was named top 100 female marketers to follow and loves turning a good idea into an impactful, memorable experience. Find her on Twitter @smgrieser.
» More blog posts by Stefanie Grieser


  1. Bill

    Wow, what a failed article! The title is about everything about copywriting is wrong then give absolutely no evidence to back it up?

    Additionally, Oligvly didn’t say to have multiple meanings in the headline, you did. He just emphasized importance. You can’t argue with that!

    Well your headline did work but unfortunately the content failed. Try again!

    • Amanda Durepos

      Hey Bill, thanks for stopping by! In reference to the Ogilvy quote, I think what Stefanie is saying is that the headline is only as important as the other elements on your landing page.

      I’ve definitely read my fair share of articles suggesting that headlines should do everything from express the UVP to seal the deal. What Stef (and Joanna) are saying is that the headline has one job – to get people to keep reading. I don’t think anyone is questioning the importance of headlines!

      • Gail Gardner

        It is important to distinguish between the headline’s use in organically attracting traffic and a landing page where traffic is being funneled by ads. The headline’s purpose is different in these contexts.

        Understanding the basics of landing pages in the context of buying traffic makes this easier for anyone new to landing page conversion to grasp.

        I often said:
        Your ads title is to get their attention
        The descriptive copy is to get their click

        The ads job is to get them to your landing page.
        The title must grab their attention and keep them there – the copy must keep that attention all the way down the page.
        The call to action must be clear.

        When conversions are the goal, any other elements (like sharing buttons) distract the masses.

        I must say, though, that your offer may not interest me – but there could be someone I know who would care. No sharing button = less likely to get shared. No social button = harder for me to evaluate the business or writer making the offer.

        That said, I’m not “normal”. To sell you must know your audience and they are often very different from the person writing the copy or who owns the business making the offer.

    • John

      Caples states that headlines grab attention and get you to keep reading. Stephanie is trying to claim she came up with this? She wasn’t even born when Caples made this discovery. Oh and Ogilvy predicted the extreme measuring we’re now experiencing in advertising. He made his prediction back in the early 70’s.

      Silly to claim Ogilvy or Caples were “old school”. They definitely knew there stuff.

  2. David

    @Bill: She had one job? ;)

    And which CTA are we supposed to follow? Watch the video? ‘Get … tips’? Download the report?

    • Amanda Durepos

      Hey David, good catch, you’re totally right – though that isn’t Stef’s bad! The content team at Unbounce are having discussions about how we can apply the “one job” philosophy to our posts as well. :)

  3. Scott

    What an epic fail of an article.

    I am going to be nice since I like unbounce LOL

  4. Bret Williams

    I concur with Bill. While the headline should not try to convey everything, by having a headline that “should keep your visitors’ attention on your landing page” it has achieved what any good headline does: attract attention to the ad.

    This is a useless article that, as David infers, has its own confusing CTA’s.

    It’s sad that this writer is getting social push from a failed attempt to dismantle great advice from one of the masters of great copywriting. I have no doubt that if Ogilvey were alive today and crafting copy for the Internet age, it would mimic much of the same attributes he espoused some 50 or so years ago, and with much the same results: tremendous consumer attraction.

  5. Andy Black

    In my experience, the headline is the most important element on the page. It gets people to stay and read your next sentence, all with the purpose of leading people to the goal of your page.

    Is anyone saying different?

    • Stefanie Grieser

      Hi Andy,

      Like Amanda stated a bit earlier, no one is questioning the importance of the headline. And it’s purpose is to do exactly what you described – get your visitors to stay on the page; however, if you task your headline with more than that job, it won’t be as effective. Like Joanna said below, if you’re spending 80 cents of every dollar optimizing your headline, you’re misusing your CRO budget.


  6. Rob Rhode


  7. Fernando Lamounier

    Agree with the comments above. And have a few more. I wasnt at CTA so I will watch Joana’s video later as see what exactly she is saying as this article WAS NOT written by her.

    2nd this whole article just TRIES to put a different wrap on absolute all basic rules of copy-writing. The headline still needs to grab attention so the reader will stay engaged. Obviously the message needs to take the reader into one direction: The CTA which needs to be clear and precise, etc etc. What is new here?! This article is a lot of hype. And I also like Unbounce so I won’t be naughty (besides Xmas is around the corner and I want Santa to bring me a gift ;-) I am sorry I wasted my time reading it.

    • Amanda Durepos

      Hey Fernando, really appreciate the feedback.

      Please be sure to check out Joanna’s video – as Stef mentioned, this post only covers part of what Joanna spoke about!

  8. katherine

    Hi, I’m both a copywriter and content writer. Good headlines have always been single focused and compelling. In fact, if you look through some of Ogilvie’s famous headlines, they don’t do many jobs. What’s really interesting is that many of his campaigns have a storytelling quality to them. Additionally, to Bret’s point, if you compare some of his famous advertising quotes to those of Seth Godin’s there are several that say the same thing but in different ways.

  9. Joanna Wiebe

    Ah, we copywriters are an opinionated bunch, aren’t we?

    The question is one of headlines vs buttons. The point is not that headlines are “dead” – which Stef isn’t saying – but that headlines may not be the be-all-and-end-all that a lot of people treat them as. If you’re spending 80 cents of every dollar optimizing your headline, you’re misusing your CRO budget. (For data to support that, go here: http://copyhackers.com/2014/09/buttons-vs-headlines/)

    People take Ogilvy’s quote and run with it the way they take a quote from the Bible and run with it. But if you study all of Ogilvy’s work *and* study contemporary copywriting – especially the tested stuff – you’ll have to start questioning whether the headline is “god” or not.

    The web is a totally different beast from the [largely print and long-copy] ad world. So to write for it, we should *allow ourselves and others* to question the advice of decades-old books.

  10. Melodie Richard

    This article is pointless, You may get lots of traffic from your headline doing its “job” sure, but perhaps the real lesson here is to deliver on what you ‘promise’ from your headline or risk damaging the perception of your brand.

  11. Matt

    I don’t think Ogilvy meant you should literally spend 80% of your advertising budget on headline optimization; he was using a turn of phrase to emphasize his point about not ignoring the importance of headlines.

    Ogilvy was advising advertisers of the same thing as you: make sure your headline is good enough to get your target audience to read your copy.

    If your headline is crap, nothing else can do its job. Wouldn’t that naturally place the headline at the top of importance?

    I get that the point of that section was to “shock” audiences into reacting – and I guess that succeeded, since I’m commenting like a schmuck – but I’ve never come across anyone who has misinterpreted Ogilvy’s quote (until now).

    Frankly surprised Unbounce ran this. Slow content submissions?

  12. Quinn Eurich

    “Most of everything you’ve been told about copywriting is complete BS. Crap. Nonsense. Hogwash.”

    Strong statement. Conclusion unsupported in the blog.

    “It’s not easy calling out the great copywriting legends like Ogilvy and Caples, but someone’s gotta do it.”

    Didn’t happen.

    “Because we live in a different world now, Joanna explained, old-school copywriting principles have to be tested.”

    Interesting statement. Any “old-school” copywriter will tell you via their books: TEST EVERYTHING!

    In his book, “Tested Advertising Methods” 4th edition, John Caples devotes an entire chapter to testing methods, with pages of split-test examples.

    Smart “new-school” copywriters, who read the masters, will tell you: TEST EVERYTHING

  13. Brian Aldridge

    Stef: Thanks for the videos at the end…lots to digest here. All the best!

  14. Keith Patterson

    Oh, the irony! Unbounce employs misleading click-bait headline on a post about the importance of headlines.

  15. Jackiejones

    According to me headline plays a vital role in bringing traffic to our page and then rest is based on the content to make that traffic stay on that page.

  16. Jason P. Chambers

    I appreciate the original presenter’s desire to be differerent, but in reality all she did was reveal a shockingly shallow understanding of direct respinse copywriting (and Ogilvy). The greats of copywriting would remind her that (in contrast to her interpretation) that every SENTENCE has but one job, to get you to read the next one.

    Sorry, but in my opinion the rules of copywriting have evolved for the web, but they are very much alive and should continue to be taught to those who aspire to learn their craft.

  17. Kabeer


    This was totally disappointing article. Caples, Claude Hopkins and Ogilvy measured everything by coupons when using direct marketing. So they knew what was working. If they are wrong then please explain what is right on net?

    Taking just one sentence and bashing them does not work anymore.

  18. Jagdish

    That is disappointing – I’m a start-up looking for some tips on marketing and copy for my website and social media. The article raised expectations and falls short on delivery. Lesson learnt I guess.

  19. Robin Hutton

    The only thing that is hogwash is this article. Ogilvy has never claimed anything other than the fact that most people will read the headline. And the concept of each part having the job of making you read the next part is nothing more than is explained far more eloquently by Caples in his works. Not sure what the purpose of this post is because challenging the greats and presenting an alternative view which is in fact not an alternative view is surely a big waste of time?