Online Sales Copy Worth Betting Real Money On

Forgive me for being blunt – but 99.99% of all the acquisition, e-mail and sales page copy I see on the web is absolutely deplorable. Couldn’t persuade a starving man to accept a free Quarter-Pounder with Cheese.

I’m pretty darned sure that a dearth of copy testing is the reason why. And I’m also quite sure I know why so many companies don’t invest the time, resources or money to test their sales copy.

FIRST, nobody ever loses a penny on printing or postage online. If you don’t test your copy offline, you’re dead. Online, not so much …

Print ads, TV and radio promotions cost a king’s ransom. On many occasions, my clients have invested up to $3 million to mail a sales piece I wrote to their prospects. And they’ve done it not just once or twice a year, but every six weeks or so.

When the stakes are that high, every sale counts. If your copy is less than the best, you’ll likely pay for your blunder with millions of dollars in very real, very tangible, very painful out-of-pocket losses.

But online, where it costs next to nothing to send an e-mail to prospects or customers, many marketing execs just figure, “Why bother to test if there’s zero risk of loss?”

SECOND, there’s no time. Because many marketers send daily e-mails to prospects and customers, there’s little enthusiasm for testing copy that’s only going to be used once.

THIRD, test results could be meaningless. Take lead-producing campaigns, for instance: It can take months to determine which copy is most effective – and by then, the copy will probably be worn out anyway.

Sure – the company will probably have suffered in terms of lost growth opportunities while it continued to use the less-effective copy, but what other choice is there?

And so, without the constant stream of sensory input that scientific copy testing provides – without the results that tell them when they’re on the right road and alert them when they’re about to cruise off a cliff …

Most Internet companies are driving blind online

Makes you wonder: How many failed online companies would still be around if their PPC, e-mail and sales copy had just been 10% … or 20% … or 30% more effective?

How many successful online companies could be making $10 million more … $50 million more … $100 million more … if their copy was just slightly more persuasive?

Tragically, nobody knows. Worse: Finding the answer isn’t even on the agenda at most companies.

Meanwhile, this dearth of scientific copy testing is crippling online marketers with invisible – but still very real – losses:

  • The leads they could have generated but didn’t.
  • The prospects they could have converted into paying customers – but never did.
  • The sales they could have made and the profits that could have plumped their bottom lines – but didn’t.

Better copy without testing

David Ogilvy is famous for saying, “Never stop testing, and your advertising will never stop improving.” But what if you’re working for a company that can’t or won’t test copy?

The good news for you as a copywriter/marketing consultant – and for every client who ever hires you – is that offline direct marketers have been scientifically testing sales copy for more than a century now.

The better news is that the results of all that testing have been accumulated and progressively shaped into a set of criteria that empowers you to create far more persuasive copy than just about anything your competitors are creating.

And if you’re a company owner or marketing exec, the great news is that simply by observing these criteria, you can ensure that your copywriters consistently deliver “copy worth betting real money on.”

The best news of all:

Because these criteria are rooted in human nature – how our prospects are most likely to react to the things we do and say in our promotions, these criteria have not changed one iota in more than 138 years.

Aaron Montgomery Ward set down the first of these guidelines in 1872 as he used the printing press to establish the world’s first mail-order business.

Since then, many working copywriters and advertising geniuses have shared guidelines derived from their own real-world testing – including John Powers … John E. Kennedy … Albert Lasker … Claude Hopkins … John Caples … Robert Collier … Rosser Reeves … David Ogilvy … our own Drayton Bird … Gene Schwartz … Joe Sugarman and many, many more.

It’s important to note that in the 138 years since this direct response industry was founded, every new book of guidelines written by these legendary copywriters confirmed the work that had gone before; then expanded upon it. You’d be hard pressed to find a single substantive disagreement among them.

It’s also crucial to note that these criteria for effective sales copy have not changed one iota despite the fact that new technologies – radio, television, the Internet – have revolutionized the manner in which sales copy is delivered to consumers.

Because these criteria are NOT about the medium. They’re NOT about superficial social changes. They’re not about fads of any kind.

They’re about fulfilling basic human needs. About addressing intrinsic human fears, frustrations and desires. About how certain stimuli affect what we think, what we feel and what we do. In short, these criteria relate to things that about us that are timeless; that are hard-wired into us almost at the cellular level … that have never changed … and that never will change.

How to know great sales copy when you see it

When someone tries to tell you that an expert evaluating a piece of direct response is purely giving a personal opinion, they are missing the point.

To a professional, the ONLY question that is EVER open for debate is how effectively a piece of copy has fulfilled fourteen critical criteria that have been established over more than a century of scientific testing in millions of direct response promotions.

The process of writing copy, then, is simply the practice of creating a conversation with the prospect in which these criteria are met.

The process of critiquing copy can be thought of as the practice of determining a) whether these criteria are met and b) how well they are met.

The process of improving copy is the practice of increasing its effectiveness in satisfying these criteria.

Good Copy …

  1. Makes four sales:
  • The attention sale – which stops the prospect and compels him to look at the copy (usually through the use of a subject line or a headline and deck) …
  • The readership sale – which converts attention to readership, then sells the prospect on continuing to read with each sentence and subhead that follows …
  • The product sale – in which every benefit the product or service delivers is made credible, three-dimensional, palpable and desire is created, and …
  • The call to action sale – in which the prospect is persuaded to take the steps prescribed by the writer; most often to make a purchase or provide lead information.
  1. Is written in the APPROPRIATE TONE for the subject matter.
    If an alarming message is delivered with a passive tone or a reassuring message is delivered in a strident tone, the credibility and therefore the effectiveness of the message will suffer. If you whisper “Your house is on fire,” nobody will believe you. If you scream “I LOVE YOU!” you’ll sound like a lunatic.
  2. Activates a relevant and actionable DOMINANT EMOTION in the prospect. Because human beings almost never make purchases for logical reasons, but as their emotions dictate, the copy should activate a fear, frustration and/or desire that the prospect already has, then offer him a way to fulfill or assuage that emotion.
  3. REWARDS prospect for reading. To maximize readership, the early copy should send the message that the simple act of reading the copy will result in the reader receiving a benefit – improve some aspect of his life, deliver useful information, give him emotional validation or at the very least, entertain him; possibly by solving a mystery or through the use of irony or humor. To retain readership, the copy itself must, of course, deliver on that message.
  4. Has CLARITY OF VISION. The copy should begin with a mutually agreed-upon proposition and then lead the prospect from the point at which he is found to the point where he needs to be to take the desired action. No meandering; no side trips. Sentences and paragraphs should contain one or at most, two thoughts that move the conversation forward.
  5. Has SPECIFICITY. Peppering copy with specifics makes it feel more tangible, more believable and also makes it easier to read and understand. Ethereal, nebulous, hazy, imprecise copy demands that the prospect work to figure it out – or worse, confuses the reader – thus killing readership.
  6. Is INTERESTING. It must hold the prospect’s attention and also send the explicit or implicit message that the writer is passionately interested both in the reader and in the subject at hand. Failing to do so will absolutely kill readership and by extension, response.
  7. Has MOMENTUM. The reader should feel that he is moving through the work quickly and effortlessly. The organization should be linear; the copy should never meander or return to points already covered. And each succeeding section should be shorter than the one before it.
  8. Is EFFICIENT. Points should be made using the shortest, clearest, most precisely chosen words possible, then organized into tight, lean, punchy sentences and paragraphs.
  9. Is PERSUASIVE. Great copy presents all the reasons why the prospect should act in the way the writer desires. These “reasons why” are the practical and emotional benefits that the promotion, the desired action and the product or service being sold will bring to his life.
  10. Is CREDIBLE. Not only must the copy be believable on its face, various types of proof should be used to establish every critical point as fact. The effective types of proof most often used in direct response copy include:
  • Empirical proof – proven by the prospect’s own life experiences
  • Social proof – testimonials and case histories involving ordinary people much like the prospect
  • Authoritative proof – citations from respected authorities
  • Logical proof – the use of reason and absurdisms to prove a point
  • Abduction proof – creating an explanatory hypothesis; a reason why a certain proposition is true
  • Conditional reasoning – “If x, then y”
  • Visual proof – photos, charts, tables, etc.
  • Demonstrable proof – as in a promotion for a book or newsletter in which delivering information or advice in the copy demonstrates and proves the author’s expertise
  1. Effectively addresses most common OBJECTIONS. Eliminates the prospect’s objections – most typically cost, inconvenience, dissatisfying past experiences, monetary risk and social pressure. Ideally, these objections should be addressed without naming them.
  2. Tells the prospect precisely what to do. Describes the desired action in specific detail – as in “complete the enclosed order form, then return it in the postage-paid envelope provided to Acme Widgets, 00000 Coyote Street, Grand Canyon City, AZ 00000.”
  3. Is LONG ENOUGH to do all of this, but not one word longer.

‘Nuff for today. Hope it helps …

Editor’s Note: This article was republished with permission from Clayton Makepeace

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Published: September 14, 2015

2 Responses to “Online Sales Copy Worth Betting Real Money On”

  1. Thank you, Clayton. These are excellent tips! I'm in the process of writing a Bootcamp spec challenge. This article came right on time!

    Cheryl WilliamsSeptember 15, 2015 at 11:26 pm

  2. Just to reinforce item 14 an ad is too long when the reader closes the window instead of clicking the orange button.

    I am much too busy to be strung along by a 15 minute "informercial" when I could have been given the essential information in a hard-hitting 15 second study of a "fact sheet"

    Guest (Sid)September 19, 2015 at 1:07 pm


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