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The “Google Slap.” You’ve heard of it. You were probably affected by it. Essentially, Google, the world’s largest search engine, recently penalized a whole bunch of sites because they, too, judged them to be of poor quality.

Either they diminished their pageranks into oblivion, or they increased their AdWords costs by jacking up the prices if the campaigns led to poor content. (And as you probably know, this has driven a lot of marketers out of business.)

But keep in mind, Google didn’t make this change by pulling it out of thin air or to dictatorially decide what’s good for the Internet. They’re simply following what people want and giving it to them.

(In fact, when Google makes such major changes, let it be a good indicator of what’s going on in the marketplace.)

People want information. But more importantly, they want good information, just as much as they want more proof and credibility. Whether you have a junk site using black-hat techniques, or a long-scrolling salesletter or opt-in page that doesn’t offer anything of value in itself, it doesn’t matter.

Google is not slapping you, people are. And if Google doesn’t, people will.

Similarly, people prefer to buy than to be sold. This is nothing new. It’s always been that way, and most people know this at least to a certain degree.

So why are we still trying to sell people using hard-hitting, salesy, long-scrolling, poorly written and clunky-looking copy? There are a few reasons. One of them is because they worked. (And they still do to a degree.)

One of Dan Kennedy’s mottos is that clunky salesletters outpull clean ones. In my estimation the reason is, in a world stuffed with fancy design and shiny packaging from big advertising agencies, people have become somewhat jaded. So clunkiness is new and refreshing for a lot of people.

But I don’t think they buy from a clunky salesletter because it’s clunky. I think they buy because: a) they know the author, b) the clunkiness catches their attention, c) it’s different, and d) it communicates, to an extent, the UPA that the author invested more time and money in the product than on the packaging.

Dan Kennedy taught us well. Too well, perhaps. Being a mentor to many copywriters including yours truly, Dan influenced a lot of people with his advice.

The results speak for themselves, too. Clunky salesletters did sell more, but sales are declining. And what people fail to recognize is that when Dan made that statement, he was essentially talking about direct mail, not the Internet — and certainly not Web 2.0. (Remember, the Internet is different.)

Another reason is pure laziness. We slap up an opt-in page or salesletter, and we don’t care about what it says, what it looks like or how it’s read. As long as it converts, we’re happy. Right? But at how much? And at what cost?

Complacency often starts at conversion rates as little as 1%, as we tend to forget that 99% never bought. And no matter how you spin it, 99% is still a significant number. So rather than trying to give what people want to make their experience more comfortable, we often resort to surreptitious tactics to boost response.

The problem is, we’re only looking at increasing the conversion rate rather than lowering the non-conversion one. This is an important distinction, because we tend to focus on how we can get more people to buy, rather than trying to find out what’s causing them not to buy.

Did you know that the highest increases in response rates, aside from the sales copy, have nothing to do with covert subtleties? (By those I’m talking about tiny changes, such as different colored-headlines.)

Granted, these things do increase response. But why? Is it because they’re hypnotically inducing more sales? Maybe. But my thinking is, they’re communicating greater credibility or proof, at least to some degree, for whatever reason.

Nevertheless, the highest increases in response I’ve seen are those that resulted from changing the sales experience — that is, from testing different ways of making the buying process as easy, as comfortable and as safe as possible.

If people want more content, then give it to them. If people want more proof, then give that to them. If people want less copy, then give them less. And if they don’t want to be sold, then listen to them.

Let me give you an example.

The Google Slap notwithstanding, opt-in pages are no longer as effective as they used to be. My friend John Reese, on that same “online predictions” call I mentioned earlier, said to look at the evolution of the opt-in page, which is a great illustration of how the web is growing up.

In the early days, the web was so new for so many people that offering a free email list was as easy as pie. All you had to do is ask for people’s email addresses, and that’s it. People would literally clamor to be on your list.

(In fact, when I first started on the Internet, I remember being subscribed to more email lists than you would care to count. We’re talking thousands, here.)

After a while, opt-in rates, which were initially quite high, were starting to decline. So what did people do? They created opt-in forms with a bit of copy that asked people to join. Nothing fancy, but opt-in rates did start going back up again.

Then, as soon as they began going down, people created opt-in pages offering a “free email newsletter.” They added more copy that persuaded people into joining the newsletter. Signups went back up again, but only temporarily.

So next, they started bribing people. They offered multipart courses and email series instead of just newsletters. They offered free reports and bonuses as gifts for signing up. They used long copy to tease them about what they’re getting.

Same thing happened: opt-in rates went up, then down.

Today, what we’re seeing is a flip-flop. We’re seeing better results by offering people the content upfront (which is what they want in the first place), whether it’s an article, newsletter issue or free report, or even an audio or video, and then asking them to join our mailing list.

This is called the “Reverse Opt-In Process.”

You sway them to join your email list with the quality of your content rather than the effectiveness of your copy — let alone the value of your bribes. Hopefully, your content is good enough and enticing enough that it makes them want more, which they can get by joining your mailing list.

A great example of the reverse opt-in process is Brad Fallon and Andy Jenkins’ StomperNet launch in 2006. StomperNet, if you don’t know, is a coaching program that teaches specific strategies for creating top search engine rankings, resulting in massive traffic, and of course, more sales.

Now, SEO (or “search engine optimization”) is a highly competitive industry. So trying to get people interested in an SEO salesletter let alone subscribing to a mailing list about it is a rather daunting task.

But at the onset of their campaign before the launch, Fallon and Jenkins offered a video. It not only offered a deeper understanding of the power of “natural search engine traffic,” but it also gave a few inside tips along with actual search engine results, which they did by showing a live demonstration using Google.

The video was only the first one in a series of three, but the other two were yet to be recorded. So they gave people an opportunity to join their list to be notified not only when the other two videos were ready but also when the actual product behind it would launch.

While the videos did offer some actionable tips and ideas (which added more valuable content to the videos), they focused primarily on the proof of their SEO strategies than anything else. (There we go with that “proof,” again!)

In other words, they gave people the “what” and not the “how.” And the more powerful and valuable the “what” was, meaning the more proof they provided, the more enticing and compelling the “how” became.

(Needless to say, history shows that their attempts were tremendously successful, resulting in millions of dollars in sales on launch day.)

Nevertheless, this is just one example of samplification and where we’re heading. You need to focus on content. You need to show your prospects more proof and credibility. And one way is to give them the goods upfront.

After you establish a certain level of trust, you have their permission to sell them. Some people say this is no different than Seth Godin’s “Permission Marketing,” or Dan Kennedy’s “Gathering of the Herd.” That’s true to an extent.

The implication is not so much to bring attention to the process but to put it in perspective in light of Web 2.0, and the need for copywriters to hone their chops more effectively than ever before because of it.

In fact, let me share with you a few tips to give you some ideas on how all of this applies to salesletters and copywriting in general:

  • Turn your salesletter into a non-salesletter (or at the very least reduce the appearance of a salesletter as much as possible);
  • Be more newsy rather than benefit- or sales-oriented, or make your salesletter more article-, editorial- or press-release-like;
  • Give more great content first (even if it’s a salesletter), and sell them on the power of that content, not on the value of your tease or bribe;
  • Tell more stories, and learn how to tell better, more captivating stories that, in themselves, offer powerful content beforehand;
  • In fact, use copy to connect with your reader and empathize with them more, on different levels, rather than thinking linearly or unilaterally;
  • Be discreet in your selling effort, and try to focus more on the newsworthiness and value of your information, rather than on the hype or hormone-pumping claims that seem too good to be true;
  • Focus on building credibility, believability and, above all, relationships with your readers, rather than selling them too hard, too fast;
  • Turn your sales process into a sales experience by adding interactivity through the use of programs, controls, forms and dynamic content;
  • Use brevity, cut down on your copy’s length, and edit your copy to be stronger, pithier, and more to the point;
  • Incorporate multimedia and audiovisuals in your copy, even if it’s as simple as giving the same copy but in different formats;
  • Offer more proof, whether it’s in the form of copy, audio, video, demos, samples, reviews, or whatever (remember, you want to give them the “what” but sell them on the “how”);

This is far from being an exhaustive list by any stretch. It’s just what came to my mind right now as I write this. I hope it stirs some new ideas for you or at least gives you some new things to test in your salesletter.

Bottom line, never stop learning how to write great copy, never stop using salesletters, and certainly never stop testing. But while you should stick with the tried-and-true, don’t be afraid to try new things and go against the grain, too.

If you see a lot of salesletters using red headlines, surely this tells you that they’re working. But if too many people are using them, their effectiveness will eventually wane. So try something else. Test a new color. Test a new headline. Or even better, test a new way to experience your salesletter.

You might be pleasantly surprised.

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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