Copywriting Response Rates: The Myth, Mystery, Beauty, and Damnable Frustration (And Why I Rarely Share My Response Rates When Someone Asks)

One of the reasons I was attracted to copywriting in general, and direct response copywriting for real estate investors specifically, was the idea of response rates — the ability to accurate measure results from your work.

Marketing should not be considered an art, it should be considered a science. Every ad is a test and every response rate is the data to help you draw a conclusion.

Often, prospective clients ask me about my response rates. They say, “I’m thinking of doing a direct mail piece to find cash buyers and I’d like to send out a letter. What are the response rates you get?”

I have mixed feelings about this question. On the one hand, I absolutely LOVE that they care as much as the result of the ad as they do about sending it. (That is a surprisingly rare mindset). On the other hand, they’re asking a question that is almost impossible to answer.

I know what my response rates are for nearly every type of copy I write. But I HATE giving out a specific number as “proof” of my ability to write copy. On any type of copy, my response rates vary: Some have been infuriatingly below industry standard, some are at industry standard, some are above industry standard.

I’ve seen my work falter. Yeah, I’ll admit that. I’ve also seen my work sell out a client’s project by 100%. (I’m happier to admit that one!) I love measuring responses and I’m generally proud of my response rates but here’s why I don’t like talking about specific response rate numbers:

Response rates are only part of the picture.

I’ll use an analogy to explain. When you go on a trip, you put gas in your car and you probably have some expectation that the mileage you get from that tank of gas will get you a certain distance.

BUT… It assumes that you have a car (and not just a gas tank). It assumes that you have maintained your car so it’s working at maximum efficiency. It assumes that you won’t just leave your car idling at the grocery store while you run in for beef jerky and energy drinks for the trip. It assumes that you have adequate air pressure in the tires. It assumes that you aren’t driving into a massive headwind while towing a trailer. It assumes that you are driving on a generally flat ground at sea level and not through winding mountain roads. Heck, it assumes that you’re actually traveling on a road.

Think of my copy like gas in the gas tank. My response rates are like the mileage you’re expecting to get. Like a car salesperson, I can tell you what the expected mileage is based on past experiences but there are a lot of assumptions wrapped up in that number. Your experience might be totally different. Here are some interesting observations I’ve made over the years:

  • I put together some postcards for a real estate investor that got an insane response rate. Unfortunately, the client’s sales funnel wasn’t fully set up so they got a great response rate from the mailing but couldn’t deliver on what they had promised in the postcard.
  • I created an client’s ad for a real estate investing magazine that, at first, seemed to have a dismal response rate. But it continued to deliver responses a full year after the magazine was published and turned out to be one of the best marketing investments they made.
  • I wrote a sales letter for a wholesaler that was pretty good and I was hoping for a 25% response rate from it (which I would be happy to get on that particular offer). I don’t know what percentage the sales letter actually delivered (we lost track of the number of letters that went out) but the client sold out and continues to use that sales letter.
  • And here’s another story that happened to a client of mine (although I wasn’t involved in this story, unfortunately): My client was getting dismal response rates on a mailing so he tested a new mailing like crazy and sunk A LOT of money into testing. Now his mailing is incredible but it was a journey to get there.

I have more stories like that. Way more. And I’ve learned something really important: Good copy is about response rates (and we all should pay attention the response rates of our marketing) but those response rates aren’t necessarily a specific, transferable number to other investors. I may get a GREAT response rate from a sales letter for one client but it doesn’t mean I’ll get you the same response rate from a sales letter.

To get a good response rate on your project, here’s what you and I need to do when we work together:

  1. Complete a ton of research. (Seriously. Just when you think you’ve done enough, you’re actually just starting.) Do 80% research and 20% copywriting. Sometimes this ratio doesn’t work out (oftentimes it doesn’t work out) but it’s the ideal that we should all aim for.
  2. Carefully choose the right market. You can’t just flood the market with postcards; you need to find a way to narrow your list and identify only those people who are likely going to want what you have to offer.
  3. Create a good offer. (Preferably, a REALLY good offer.) Here’s a huge problem in real estate investing: Newbie investors hear about all these “no-money-down, no-real-work investing” strategies and they try to adopt those bare minimum strategies to start. But what they really do is offer barely anything to their sellers and buyers. Real estate investing is a service that needs to be sold, just like anything else in the world, and the better your offer, the better your response rate will be.
  4. Build a scalable sales funnel. Oh gosh. If I had a nickel for every time this was a problem… Your marketing will likely create a response and you need to be ready for it. In my opinion, getting people to call your cellphone in response to a postcard mailing is a bad idea. It’s not scalable for you and it’s not attractive for the caller if they have to leave a voicemail.

Good copywriters are “numbers-focused” and the response rate is important to them. As a real estate investor who is investing your hard-earned money into your marketing, response rates should be important to you too. But a response rate in and of itself is just a number, devoid of any context. A one percent response rate might sound bad in one situation and amazing in another situation. A 25% response rate might say “hey, this copywriter is amazing” or it might say “hey, the offer was ridiculously underpriced.”

And asking a copywriter for their response rates is, in my opinion, no different than asking a prospective employee to give you their resume. Everyone makes their resume look shiny and copywriters are going to give you the best response rates they’ve received.

Yeah, I do that because I’m proud of my response rates and people want to know the numbers. But don’t hire me because I’ve had good response rates.

So, how do you decide whether to hire a copywriter for your work? Well response rates can be one piece of the puzzle. Copywriting experience is another. Industry experience is another. Owning the “control” of a letter is good, too. (A control is copywriter-speak for the sales document that a company mails over and over. A copywriter who writes the best performing sales letter, for example, owns it as a “control” until another copywriter comes along and writes a better-performing sales letter. Then that second copywriter owns the control).

But again, these are only part of the story. A really successful copywriter will also need to depend on you, your market, the offer, and the timing of the offer to help them. I think of a company that created a really great offer and unveiled it… on September 11, 2001. Even the best offer will be eclipsed by other events — sometimes outside of your ability to manage them.

I’m not making excuses for why some copy works and some doesn’t. Rather, it’s my desire to point out that good copy works in collaboration with many pieces of your business (and from outside sources like the marketplace and even a little luck). If you are going to hire a copywriter, you need to think about the big picture.

You can hire a great copywriter to deliver copy that has an amazing response rate and you can still lose money in your business.

When people call me up to write “a postcard” or “a webpage”, I never take the project because I know that my work will not be as effective. Rather, I only accept clients who are thinking about the big picture — not necessarily asking me to write it all for them but rather thinking about how the pieces I create will fit in with the pieces that are being created by others… all toward building a bigger, better, scalable, more profitable sales funnel.

Ultimately, it’s your real estate investing sales funnel and the components that make up that sales funnel that will determine the response rate of the copy and (more importantly) the success of your offer.

So hey, ask me about response rates. But don’t stop there. Ask my about my copywriting experience and real estate investing experience. Ask me about the controls I own. And most importantly, ask me about how your real estate investing sales funnel can grow when all the right pieces are put in place.