Writing Sales Copy That Converts :: Part 1 of 4

Priming the online sales pumpI come from a sales and advertising background, where we lived by slogans like, “Always be closing” and “Close early, close often.” Magazine ads were created to build a fear of loss, with an incredible urgency to to take action immediately, before the ‘opportunity of a lifetime’ vanished forever. [That's right... miss this offer, and the whole rest of your life will turn to shit, as you sadly wring your hands and murmur, "If only..." ;-) ] Use that approach in social media and visitors will frantically hunt for the unfollow button. I am not reversing my position on actively “selling” in blog posts, email updates and social media.

If you are invited to a Chamber of Commerce luncheon and meet a new business owner, it would be very bad form to launch into your sales pitch there. The right approach would be to ask some sincere questions about their business and perhaps make a few helpful suggestions. In some cases, even handing them a business card can be too forward for the first meeting. Social media, email updates and your blog are an introduction, like the business luncheon. On Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, etc., you should focus on being “helpful” and increasing your credibility as a top expert in your field. Social media is a conversation, not a sales soapbox. Subscribers to your blog and email should receive the up-to-the-minute, useful information they expected, not a series of offers that drive them to unsubscribe.

Having said that, you’re probably asking, “So when and where do I actually get to sell?

Your site’s home page should help visitors confirm that they are at the right place and then get them to the information they’re looking for in the lowest number of clicks. Your home page is working well when the content perfectly aligns with the information promised in the search engine results, the visitor is satisfied that they have found the information they were looking for, and your bounce rate goes down. It’s usually not a good place to “sell” or include a call to action, unless the company sells one primary product or service. An example would be a hotel, where it would be very appropriate to provide accommodation highlights and include a “Make a Reservation” form right on the home page. If the visitor must choose between multiple products and services, it’s generally best to put calls to action on the product and service pages the home page routes visitors to.

This article is not written for squeeze page sites, but primarily for small business websites that are interested in building long term credibility and relationships, providing stellar support to their customers and cultivating repeat and referral business. Snake oil salesmen used to ride into town, make outrageous claims about their product, accompanied by questionable testimonials and ‘squeeze’ people at their point of pain to make a quick decision before they rode off into the sunset. The modern ‘quick road to riches’ ebook or course offer follows the same format, embellished with plenty of testimonials (usually from their other ‘information marketing’ cronies), often including a countdown to the day the website will be taken offline forever or the offer will be withdrawn. I believe reputable businesses do not operate that way. Google feels the same way and they do their best not to deliver squeeze pages in their search results. Does this mean that all of the tactics employed in squeeze pages are wrong?  Absolutely not; only the short term “it’s today or never” squeeze strategy.  So there is no misunderstanding, many information products are excellent, the authors are there for the long term, and they hope that your purchase will be the first of many.

Let’s assume you’ve covered all the bases in effective online marketing for your business, with SEO, content marketing, social media and an email list. Your prospective customer or client may have entered the sales funnel, perhaps by way of LinkedIn or Google+, they followed you and your posts, checked out your blog and become a subscriber, either to your email list or blog’s RSS feed, and you gained influence and their trust. Today they are on your product or service page. Or they may have Googled you with an immediate need. Either way, here they are, on the page you hoped they’d land on. Yahoo! You dug the well, you installed the pump, you’ve primed it… but will it now fill your bucket?

Does Your Sales Copy Fall Short?

1) Know Your Customers

You may only have one product or service and sell to a very small niche market. Perhaps all of your buyers are men or women. In that case, write a one-page bio that describes exactly who your ideal customer is.

Think along these lines. Who are they? Where do they currently buy? What do they like or dislike about the product or services they’ve purchased before? What’s keeping them up at night? What can you offer to relieve their point of pain? What would they love to have? How can you make their life better? What are they afraid of losing?

If you have multiple products and/or services, you will probably have several customer types. Creating a persona for each can be a very useful exercise, even associating a stock photo that represents the sex, age, attire and setting that represents every persona.. Memorize the unique traits for each persona. It may sound silly, but it can be very helpful to put a photo of your persona in front of you as you write for that ‘person’.

What keywords do you believe each persona would use in looking for your product or service? I always recommend using the Columbo close with your existing customers. You may remember the show’s homicide detective walking away from a meeting, then suddenly turning to ask, “Oh, by the way, was the…” When you end a conversation with a customer ask them what they would enter into Google if they were looking for a company that offered your product or service. The answers may surprise you. Good copy always begins with research.

2) Most People Won’t Get Past the Title

If your headline fails to grab their attention, you’ve lost them at hello. Does your headline address the problem that’s keeping them up at night? Can you provide relief at their point of pain? Can you remove their fears? Can you enhance their lifesyle, give them more purpose and enable them to feel better about themselves?

Does your title include a keyword search term your prospective customers are likely to enter into Google?

3) Stand Out From the Competition

Today’s consumer or B2B buyer is well informed. You can safely assume that yours is not the first website they have visited. They have almost certainly been numbed by all the ‘me too’ content out there. Have you looked at the ads and pages of your competition, the ones your visitors have most likely already seen? Your readers will be indifferent to copy that looks pretty much the same from site to site. DO NOT burden them with more of the same.

The majority of content is not unique, informative or actionable. It’s the same tired crap, recycled over and over again. What can you do to shake them up, so they take notice? How about opening with a video? Is anyone doing that? Can you include an infographic that visually illustrates the boring old data in tables on your competitors’ sites, and the benefits your visitor can expect? Can a point be illustrated with a little tongue in cheek humor? Can you have better photos taken? For example, with one client in the concrete industry, we substituted a stock photo of a close-up of a sidewalk with an image in which their branded truck was pouring concrete into the sidewalk forms. A mother with her son stood a few feet back, watching. The mother beamed with pride as she watched her new sidewalk becoming a reality. Her son clutched a toy concrete truck, excited to be a part of the concrete ‘adventure’.

Continued in Part 2 »

 

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Cole Wiebe

SEO / Content Marketing Consultant at Cole Wiebe & Assoc.
Cole helps small businesses and brands grow their influence and value online. The Cole Wiebe agency, founded 1997, is a boutique Vancouver SEO / content marketing firm specializing in online strategy, SEO copywriting and social media evangelism. Cole Wiebe on Google

Comments

  1. says

    Cole,

    Great topic! I’ve been looking for this exact thing for a while now and haven’t really found anything worthwhile. Most people just throw out the regurgitated “add value”. I don’t mean to downplay that, but there’s a lot more to it and I think you covered most of it.

    Like you said, it’s important not to be too pushy. I’m trying to figure out my balance with my blog on how much of a call to action I should have. Would you recommend having a link to buy a product in each post if it’s not necessarily a push to do it?

    Being in the fitness world my posts are created to add value and teach people about nutrition. Typically at the end of the post I offer my help and or a product I recommend without making it overly salesy.

    I love your recommendation about starting with a video! I’ve been thinking about that for a while now and will have to make that happen. I think it’s an excellent way to show personality and let people get to know you. When they know and like us they will want to buy from us.

    Al Green
    Al Green recently posted…Yes, Fruit Can Make You Fat!My Profile

    • says

      Hi Al,

      Thanks for taking the time to comment. I’m glad you liked the Sales Copy post and I’m currently working on writing part two.

      Working with quite a few client blogs over the years, our experience with recommending products in the posts, by clients, has not resulted in improved conversions. If anything, it increased the bounce rate. Mentioning products and services appears acceptable, providing it’s in a support capacity, and there’s no “selling”. The product mentions can have links. What we have also found successful is a very subtle link to other related pages and articles (Example: http://www.colewiebe.com/content-marketing-vs-social-media.html).

      Video is a clever way to repurpose content. I’ve seen old blog posts recreated as a video post, with a “Read the Transcript” link to the former post. The blogger simply printed out the former post and read it.

      - Cole
      Cole Wiebe recently posted…Has CommentLuv Lost the Luv?My Profile

  2. says

    Hey Cole

    I feel like a broken record but I definitely need to get into video.

    I’ve not done one before apart from a very quick Vine one. That would bring a new dimension to my blog.

    I’m not from a sales background – customer service was really my thing – so I’m not so great at the selling part either.

    I always try to add value in my blog, in my emails to subscribers and of course in social media.

    One day when I have something to sell then maybe I’ll have some loyal followers to buy it from me!
    Tim Bonner recently posted…Blog Niche: Why Bigger Isn’t Always BetterMy Profile

    • says

      Hi Tim,

      Video is a clever way to repurpose content. I’ve seen old blog posts recreated as a video post, with a “Read the Transcript” link to the former post. The blogger simply printed out the former post and read it.

      Another video option, for those who are camera shy, has been to create image slides or screencast a PowerPoint presentation. You don’t have to even appear in the video. Add a music clip and you have a blog post, and something to post on YouTube and Vimeo.

      I’ve been looking into ways of creating more quality content with less effort, and welcome any suggestions.

      - Cole
      Cole Wiebe recently posted…Has CommentLuv Lost the Luv?My Profile

  3. says

    Cole- I have been in sales all my life and I don’t realize but I have been told that I close people all the time in normal conversation. With that said it is hard to convert that to a website. We have put up rotating banners with call to action. I like the idea of a video but my target audience is corporations buying products to put their logos on so I think it will be hard to grab attention long enough to get my point across but I will think about it as it is differenct
    Arleen recently posted…6 Healthy Habits During the HolidaysMy Profile

  4. says

    Hi Cole,
    I guess the very first and the most important part of a sales copy is the headline or the heading. At the end, its the heading which entices a visitor to actually visit the sales page. If you are unable to bring the customers to your sales page, your sales letter would be of no worth. That is just my point of view. Please correct me if I am wrong.
    Thanks for sharing this with us.
    Regards,
    Vineet
    Vineet Saxena recently posted…Top 5 Articles on How to Write a Great Blog Post?My Profile

  5. says

    Hi Cole,

    Very useful post. I got a lot out of it.
    I do have two videos out – one is a book trailer and one is a video I recorded of myself (call it a vlog I suppose).
    Not sure I’ll be recording too many of those – but I do love your idea about using some tongue and cheek humor.

    I love wit – and if I find someone who is funny, I’ll invest the time in reading their content even if I’m not normally interested in whatever they’re selling.

    An example would be -
    “That’s right… miss this offer, and the whole rest of your life will turn to shit, as you sadly wring your hands and murmur…’If only…’ ;-)

    Priceless.
    Dana recently posted…Is the Ego Our Enemy?My Profile

  6. says

    Hey Cole,

    I know that writing sales copy is not my gift. I can write decent blog posts but writing sales copy is a whole other ballgame to me.

    A great copywriter will make you feel like time is running out or you’ve got to have this today. You really feel like there is a sense of urgency and I admit, I fall for that a lot still. I never know if it’s something they’re just saying that about or if they’ll really take it off when the time runs out. That’s just not something I’m very good with.

    Although my product isn’t moving along at the pace I had hoped, because I’ve made some fabulous connections online I already have someone to write my sales copy so I’m not even going to stress myself over that because I would.

    Thanks for giving us these tips though and now I can move on to part 2.

    Have a great week.

    ~Adrienne
    Adrienne recently posted…How To Get Noticed In A Sea Of BloggersMy Profile

    • says

      Hi Adrienne,

      I quite agree that it’s best to play to our strengths. A brilliant blog writer capable of developing a loyal audience is not necessarily a great sales copywriter. I prefer hiring social media networkers because I’ve recognized that my heart’s not really there.

      There is a very positive sense of urgency, where we will receive a better price or some bonus if we take action today, and the kind of offer you describe, where it really is, “Buy it today before it’s gone forever.”

      Most of us have been connected with the the sales process long enough, either as marketer or consumer, to realize that if we don’t jump on board pretty quick, we’re going to be distracted by life around us, and forget all about coming back, or spend the money somewhere else. If it’s a product or service we would genuinely benefit from, a good sales copywriter is actually doing us a favor by nudging us to make a decision that is in our best interest. Urgency is our friend. If it’s a time-sensitive offer, I believe an honest business will stick to their guns on price once the initial opportunity has been passed over. They can email the interested buyer at a later date with a new and different offer, but I feel that integrity dictates the “one-time offer” be exactly that. I have purchased many information products over the years, that have helped shape my career, and the copywriters are to be commended for sweetening the offer and making me click “Buy Now”.

      In my opinion, legitimate businesses are around for years to come. They stand behind their product or service and hope customers return to upgrade, purchase more or send referral business. They do not take their squeeze page websites offline in 72 hours, to vanish from the face of the earth. I’ve been burned with junk information products, only to discover that the site indeed went “poof”. I then sheepishly understood why. I see that as snake oil salesmanship. One mention of an offer like that these days and I’m feverishly clicking through all the pop-ups preventing me from leaving, to make my exit. I’m hoping more people come to recognize the unscrupulous marketing tactics over time and we then see less of them.

      I have recently observed one creative and very legitimate way to apply urgency, where the video course or ebook includes dedicated online support from the author, by email or over Skype. Due to the included time investment, the ‘class’ has limited admission and people that don’t register in time lose their spot, but not forever. They can enroll for the the next series, but there is delayed gratification, potential loss of revenue or benefits, and the risk of perhaps not getting a discount the next time around.

      Fascinating stuff, marketing.

      - Cole
      Cole Wiebe recently posted…Writing Sales Copy That Converts :: Part 2 of 4My Profile

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