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When a sales page is not performing to your expectations, what's the worst thing you can possibly do? Nothing.

By making changes, any changes, you can strengthen your copy and improve your sales — provided you track those changes. In most cases, there are relatively simple steps you can take to improve your results immediately.

The key is always be closing testing.

Sadly, the vast majority of marketers don't even test at all. They put up their sales copy or website, and then they do nothing hoping for the best.

But for those who do, the first thing they think of is to test by adding or changing something in their copy. Or they're confused as to what to test first.

Is it the headline? The image? The close? The price? The color? Actually, none of these. The first thing to test is actually not adding or changing anything at all. It's to first remove something instead…

… Bottlenecks.

In my experience, I've found that the best and most efficient element to test is to actually first remove the things that are stopping people from ordering.

Sales copy is a greased slide that should take the reader seamlessly and painlessly through your copy, from the moment they read the first few words to the completion of their order.

The easier it is to read and take action, the more sales you will make. Anything that blocks or slows down this greased-slide process should be eliminated.

Therefore, removing anything that causes friction should be your first objective. And do you know what the biggest bottleneck is?

Before I tell you, first let's cover a few things.

First, you want to ensure you're accurate as possible by tracking conversions coming from specific traffic sources. Reason is, changes in your sales may not be caused by changes in your copy but rather in the quality of your audience.

Next, test only one element at a time. If you make too many changes to your copy, you won't know which change created the change in result. Granted, this can be a slow process. So if you want to test multiple variables at the same time, you need to take advantage of multivariate testing tools and services.

Multivariate testing allows you to test multiple aspects of your copy, simultaneously, while determining which variables as well as the best combinations get the highest response.

Now, your first step in improving conversion may be to review the sales page and eliminate any visual embellishments, flourishes, or distractions, including any impeding graphics, that can distract the reader.

Design elements should aid the sale, not hinder it.

Eliminating any distractions from the reading and decision-making processes will increase conversions. Once you've trimmed the excess bloat that may be hurting your results, then and only then can you begin to focus on the copy.

There are three major bottlenecks common in sales letters that you will want to experiment with and focus your efforts on. They are, in order:

  1. The headline
  2. The process
  3. The offer

How Can a Headline Be a Bottleneck?

As one of the vital factors in your copy, much has been written about the creation of a strong headline. It must be powerful enough to be compelling to the reader.

Some of my marketing clients have improved their sales from 20% to as much as 700% by simply testing headlines. (In some cases, it was as simple as adding or removing a few words, too.) This brings me to an important discussion.

The logic is simple: the headline is the “on-ramp” to your salesletter. If people don't read past it, they won't be on your “slide,” if you will, and take action — no matter how good your copy is.

That's why the headline is often the biggest bottleneck in copy.

Here's an interesting case in point. A coaching client once asked me for my opinion on an article that made what seemed to be a shocking revelation: that the lack of a headline actually increased his sales.

In other words, “no headline” won in split-tests against other headlines.

At first glance, it would be easy to misinterpret this and conclude that all headlines are unimportant. That would be a serious mistake.

First, to understand the premise let's put it in its proper context:

  1. The author in question was testing a number of different headlines at the same time — not just headline “A” versus “B”, but multiple headlines in a single test.
  2. One of the headline variables was “no headline at all” (i.e., it was left completely blank), which was the winner as it had the highest increase in response.

(The author admitted that this was a fluke as he simply forgot to add another headline and left it blank by accident. The result surprised him.)

Fundamental marketing teaches us that, based on the famous AIDA formula (an acronym which means “Attention,” “Interest,” “Desire,” and “Action”), the first part of the formula is the most critical element.

You first need to grab people's attention. If you don't, then the rest of the formula fails. That's why a headline has but one purpose: to help capture people's attention and get them to start reading. That's it.

Its objective is to get people to start read the next paragraph. (And the next paragraph's job is to get people to read the second one. And so on and so forth.)

Simply because removing the headline wins in some cases doesn't mean that all headlines don't work at all, or that it's safe to conclude headlines are unimportant. Coming to that conclusion is premature, misleading, even costly.

It's a correlation but not necessarily the cause.

Without knowing the specifics of this test, there are many other variables here that are not taken into account that may have played an important role:

  • For one, the first paragraph — in a headlineless salesletter — can act as a headline. Or graphics (with copy on them), pop-ups, even the title (like the text that appears in the browser tab) can work as headlines. Who knows?
  • Remember, I said you need to track the traffic source and its quality. The reader's mindset may be “presold” before hitting the copy — such as coming from an affiliate promotion or another site with existing copy on it, even if it's as little as the anchor text (i.e., words linked from the other site). They've probably captured the readers' attention already and don't need a headline.
  • If the traffic came from a pay-per-click campaign, the ad (i.e., keywords and ad copy) acts like the headline. People read it and want more information. So if they hit a salesletter without a headline, they're tempted to read it anyway.
  • Headlines often scream “salesletter”, and may push readers to scan the copy or leave the moment they arrive. This is true particularly when the headline has the tell-tale signs: blatant pitch, hype, unbelievable claim, or unnecessary wording.
  • Finally but most importantly, they may not be targeted at all. Untargeted traffic is often the biggest reason for copy to fail. But if they are targeted, a headline may push them away. (Better said, a poor headline will.)

The Causation-Correlation Conundrum

While the headline is the most important part of the salescopy, it may also be its biggest stumbling block.

If people are targeted and the headline is right for them, they will read the rest. But if it's wrong, then the headline will actually push people away. The headline thus becomes redundant or even a deterrent.

So if the headline is poor (and all other headlines tested are poor, too), then “nothingness” can certainly win in this case because you are in essence removing the bottleneck — but you're not necessarily removing the cause.

Chances are, if the author of the article kept on testing and a really good headline was eventually found, it might have won over “nothingness.” And I admit that, in some cases, finding the perfect headline might be a challenge.

Therefore, “nothing” may have been an immediate solution.

(My friend, Brian Keith Voiles, often talks about brainstorming up to a large number of headlines — sometimes as many as 100 — before settling on the one he likes. You should write down as many as you can to figure out not only the best headline to use but also which headlines to test, too.)

There's a difference between “causality” and “correlation.” It's the difference between an action directly causing a result, and when a result is wrongfully attributed to a previous action because of coincidence.

In copy, it means that the winner in a split-test may be relative. The winning variable may not have directly caused the boost in response. It may have won because other variables tested weren't good enough to produce a better result.

If “nothing” won, it may have been be because the element tested was redundant and unnecessary. But it is also possible, and more than likely, that all other variables tested were bottlenecks.

In this particular case, I believe that removing the headline was not what caused a salesletter to outperform. It was simply the lack of a bottleneck.

All the other headlines it was pitted against in that split-test were either not the right ones for that market or they were poor headlines to begin with.

But coming to the conclusion that removing the headline — any headline, for that matter — is the cause of your sales copy's boost in response is an assumptive leap. There may be a correlation there, but it's likely not the cause.

You need to conduct more tests, dig deeper, and add more variables into the mix to pinpoint and validate the cause.

What About Other Bottlenecks?

Other than headlines, the process of reading the sales copy and ordering from it is usually the next biggest bottleneck. This is called “friction” in split-tests. You want to reduce as much friction as possible.

Usability is definitely a key area. But copy and copy elements may also create friction. They may appear contradictory, cause confusion, lower buyer confidence, and invite resistance and procrastination.

Sadly, the most common bottleneck is making it difficult to order — from hiding or downplaying the call to action, to making the order form too confusing, difficult to understand, or cumbersome to fill out.

A more obvious and forward call to action, and a simpler and faster ordering process, may be just what your copy needs to overcome buyer hesitation and push your audience along the buying process.

The easier you make it for your prospects to order from you, the greater the response will be. Often, the bump in response is significantly greater, too.

Once you've removed any friction, next up is the offer.

There are three components you will want to experiment with. They are:

  • Prices
  • Premiums
  • Proof Elements

Testing different prices may seem to be the easiest, but don't forget that the bottleneck may not be that it's too high but that it's too low.

People often equate greater quality and value with a higher price. If it's too low, it may create an unconscious stumbling block. Oftentimes, raising prices also raise conversion rates. You might be pleasantly surprised.

When most people test premiums with their offers, they tend to do so by adding more. While testing alternative premiums may be more appealing, offering too many may be a deterrent. Try less and see.

Last but certainly not the least, the greatest bottleneck when it comes to your offer is its lack of credibility. Better said, people's inherent fear, insecurity, and distrust in you is a major bottleneck.

So increase the strength of your claims.

It all boils down to establishing trust. Anything you can add to establish credibility, boost believability, and reduce their fear in buying from you will both strengthen your claims and increase your conversions.

You can increase trust with the help of internal and external elements of proof. Testimonials, case studies, screenshots, tours, guarantees, samples, trials, and photos (including sample covers, product shots, and even packaging) are examples of internal elements you can test.

External ones may include statistics, clinical trials, consumer ratings, authoritative endorsements, seals of approval, credit card logos, third-party indicia, and so on.

Also, you'll want to experiment with adding more reasons to buy, which increase the perceived value of the product — from the reasons the product is perfect for them, to the reasons they should buy and buy now.

Because lacking good, solid “reasons why” is another huge bottleneck.

Telling the story behind the product or the offer can give your copy more legs. If your product seems at first undervalued or overpriced, then a compelling reason why can help make your offer more believable and trustworthy.

Let's sum up.

By addressing these three areas — i.e., the headline, the reading and ordering process, and the offer — you will eliminate many bottlenecks in your copy that needlessly impede your sales.

By first removing them before testing anything else, you can then ensure that each change you make has a positive effect on sales, producing immediate, measurable responses that can result in a stronger campaign.

Michel Fortin

Chief Experience Officer at Supportibles, Inc.
A copywriter and consultant for close to 30 years, Michel was instrumental in selling millions worth of products and services. His most notable success is a salesletter that sold over a million dollars online on launch day. Today, Michel is a best-selling author, in-demand public speaker, and highly sought-after marketing consultant. Get his free report, "The 10 Commandments of Power Positioning," at Supportibles.com.

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