Now that everyone realizes what a good marketing medium the Internet can be, companies are popping up left and right to tell you the best ways to sell online. The big debate among them is whether long web page copy or short works best. But is there really a difference?
With the Internet beginning to stand up and be counted as an online business medium, many are beginning to realize that selling online is not only possible, but very profitable. People are seeking ways to improve their sales technique online and close on more of their website visitors. It was bound to happen. The problem now is that there are thousands of different companies telling you that their way is the best way and that you should follow their advice. I don’t subscribe to all the thousands of new and fangled ideas to sell anything. This article describes two methods described by many as ‘new’ online sales techniques, which many people call the long copy versus the short copy debate. It’s actually simply a mix of the ways we’ve all been selling stuff since print was invented.
The long copy versus short copy debate
There is the camp on the hill that say “long content is better”. They really don’t understand what they’re talking about in my opinion. What they’re doing is looking at other people’s (often good) results and making assumptions about the technique. It’s never about length of copy, it’s always about whether you have communicated your offer to your audience effectively and answered their wants and needs. That’s all. If you can do that in one line then why write a saga about it?
There are some equally ridiculous theories about short copy and using embedded links within page content to get people to move through your website and be subjected to more short pages. People mistakenly assume that if I have to scroll down a page that it’s bad from a usability perspective. Let me ask those people, when was the last time you went to a website page you were really interested in and stopped reading because you had to use the scroll bar? It simply doesn’t happen. I know we’ve measured it.
So who’s right?
To quote a line from Winston Churchill, “However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results”. The following six tactics are used by successful marketers whom advocate writing long copy, embedded linking or a mixture of both. The main objective of these tactics is to get you to point 5 with a plan of action to begin writing your content so you can then do what Winston suggests, measure the results.
1) No-one sells your product or service better than you do.
The fact is you do. The first lesson of selling online is to always listen to why the guy selling the product or service is in business in the first place. I have worked for people who sell embedded hardware the size of a matchbox that works with a GPRS router (of course you know what that is don’t you?), to people who sell nebulizers (an easier one) and I knew nothing about either of those products when I started. By the time I had finished it was a different matter, because they taught me everything I needed to know. As a direct marketer it’s what you need to do with each product or service, learn about the target market, the product or services features and benefits. Then you need to learn how best to communicate those benefits to the target market.
2) Target your market.
By doing this you find out how best to write for your audience. The best way I can describe this is with an example. One recent client of mine sold niche clothing for women in New York. She knew her target market was women, young fashionable women in fact. Is that going deep enough? I told her it might not be. I said that a girl in her late teens might be affected by the description of a fashionable dress in a different way to a woman in her later 20’s. So who really is the target of that dress? Who buys it? Is it the young lady persuaded by “suave chic and sophisticated for a night out on Madison Avenue” or is it the young lady persuaded by “Cool, hip and sexy, a fashion statement that screams NYC”. Work out who the people are within your target group and write your copy and content for them. Rarely does a product or service have only one specific reason to be bought by one specific type of person.
3) Define your product or service features and benefits.
A feature is tangible. It’s evidence, it’s true and not disputed by anyone. It’s the steel case on the embedded hardware, it’s the weight and size of the nebulizer, it’s the acrylic material in the dress. Features of products or services are not what you sell to the customer, you might list them, but you don’t sell them. It’s hard to sell acrylic to a young lady but you might list it so she knows she won’t be allergic to the material (or knows that she is allergic). Benefits on the other hand are what you do sell. The weight of the nebulizer (12 oz) means the product fits into your brief case, purse, diaper bag or back pack. Notice how you’d communicate with 4 audiences there, the brief case for the business man, the purse for the housewife, a diaper bag for the mother and the back pack for the outdoor traveler. Again this targets people within a target group. Asthma affects all kinds of people, so while asthma sufferers are the target market, you’re communicating the benefits to as many different people within that market as you can.
4) Define potential psychological barriers and tactics.
Your people profiles at this point will require that you overcome different objections. Some will want to know how the service or product works and you need to answer their questions. Some will want to know why they should buy from you and not your competition so you need to show your differentiation. Some will need to know whom else you’ve worked with because they don’t want to be the “guinea pig”. Others will want to see more of what you do and see some 3rd part evidence maybe. You’ll need to offer guarantees, re-assure people about what happens when things go wrong. There are all sorts of psychological barriers to a sale that need to be thought about and catered for within the content. You can also use psychological tactics to help you, like instilling urgency in the buyer, or offering bonuses and incentives to persuade your visitor to take action.
5) Only now do you begin to write.
Once you have completed steps 1, 2, 3 and 4 you have the base material you need to write compelling content. How you break it down depends on what method you think will work best and like all good direct marketers you should measure to see which has the best outcome. If it’s a simple book sale then you might test a single sales page with a single call to action. If it’s a difficult to describe service with lots of reasons to back out or there is a whole plethora of products then embedded linking is not only necessary it’s very useful because you know what variables you can test.
6) Measure the results.
When you’re talking about websites you can measure everything. Copy and content changes can be measured on a page very accurately. You shouldn’t just look at improvements in conversion (for a sales page for instance) but also improvements in the bounce rate, the click through to the page (if embedded links from other pages are used), as well as time spent on the page. The reason is that these (in this very simple example) three key performance indicators (KPI’s) will affect that conversion rate. The lower the bounce rate, the better the initial reaction to the page and audience relevance. The better the click through to the page means more exposure to the offer. More time spent on the page means more chance that the offer will be accepted. Improving those KPI’s will increase conversion overall, it’s why they are called ‘Key’ because they affect your bottom line.
The point of this article is to illustrate that these so called “two techniques” when done correctly are simply the same thing presented in a different way. The direct marketer who writes a single (often long) page usually addresses all these points and a lot more that is out of the scope of this article. Similarly the guys that swear by embedded linking and doing it well also address all of the above in their content. They are both doing the old as print marketing technique known as direct marketing, except that they’re using it in different ways.
Steve Jackson is CEO of Aboavista, editor of The Conversion Chronicles and a published