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October 5, 2007 Issue


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The Seven Deadly Sins of Website Copy
By Michel Fortin 


Throughout my research, I'm always surprised when I stumble onto websites that are professionally designed and seem to offer great products and services, but lack or fail in certain important elements.

Elements that, with just a few short changes, can help multiply the results almost instantaneously.

Generally, I have found that there are seven common mistakes. I call them the "Seven Deadly Sins." Is your website committing any one of these? 

1) They Fail to Connect
Traffic has been long touted to be the key to online success, but that's not true. If your site is not pulling sales, inquiries or results, then why would it need more traffic?

The key is to turn curious browsers into serious buyers. Aside from the quality of the copy, the number one reason why a website doesn't convert is that the copy is targeting the wrong audience or fails to connect with them.

First, create a "perfect prospect profile." List all the attributes, characteristics and qualities of your most profitable and accessible market.

Don't just stick with things like demographics and psychographics. Try to get to know them.

Who are they, really? What are their most pressing problems? What keeps them up at night? How do they talk about their problems? Where do they hang out?

Then, target your market by centering on a major theme, benefit or outcome so that, when you generate pre-qualified traffic, your hit ratio and your sales will increase dramatically.

Finally, ensure that your copy connects with them. Intimately. It speaks their language, talks about their problems, and tells stories they can easily appreciate and relate to.

Since this is the most common error that marketers and copywriters commit, and to help you, follow the following formulas.

The OATH formula helps you to understand the stage of awareness your market is at. (How aware of the problem are they, really?)

The QUEST formula guides you in qualifying and empathizing with them. And the UPWORDS formula teaches you how to choose the appropriate language your market can easily understand, appreciate and respond to.

2) They Lack a Compelling Offer
"Making an offer you can't refuse" seems like an old cliché, but don't discount its relevance and power. Especially in this day and age where most offers are so anemic, lifeless, and like every other offer out there.

Too many business believe that simply offering a product or service, and mentioning the price, are good enough. But what they fail to realize is that people need to intimately understand the full value (the real value and, more importantly, the perceived value) behind the offer.

Sometimes, all you need is to offer some premiums, incentives and bonuses to make the offer more palatable and hard to ignore. (Very often, people buy products and services for the premiums alone.)

Other times, you need to create what is called a "value buildup."

(In fact, premiums are not mandatory in all cases, particularly when the offer itself is solid enough. But building value almost always is.)

Essentially, you compare the price of your offer not with the price of some other competing offer or alternative, but with the ultimate cost of not buying — and enjoying — your product or service.

This may include the price of an alternative. But "ultimate cost" goes far beyond price. Dan Kennedy calls this "apples to oranges" comparisons.

For example, let's say you sell an ebook on how to grow better tomatoes. That might sound simple, and your initial inclination might be to compare it to other "tomatoe-growing" ebooks or viable alternatives.

But also look at the the time it took for you to learn the best ways to grow tomatoes. Look at the amount of money you invested in trying all the different fertilizers, seeds and techniques to finally determine which ones are the best.

Don't forget the time, money and energy (including emotional energy) people save from not having to learn these by themselves. Add the cost of doing it wrong and buying solutions that are either more expensive or inappropriate.

That's what makes an offer valuable. One people can't refuse.

3) They Lack "Reasons Why"
While some websites are well-designed and provide great content, and they might even have great copy, they fail because they don't offer enough reasons for people to buy — or at least read the copy in the first place.

Visitors are often left clueless. In other words, why should they buy? Why should they buy that particular product? Why should they buy that product from that particular site? And more important, why should they buy now?

What makes your product so unique, different and special? What's in it for your customers that they can't get anywhere else? Not answering those questions will deter clients and impede sales.

John E. Kennedy, a Canadian fireman and copywriter at the turn of the last century, talked a lot about the power of adding "reasons why." His wisdom still rings true to this day, and we know this from experience.

Once, my wife had a client whose website offered natural supplements.

It offered a free bottle (i.e., 30-day supply). But response was abysmal. Aside from being in a highly competitive industry, the copy failed to allay the prospect's fears. They thought it might be a scam or that there's a catch.

So all she did was tell her client to add the following paragraph:

"Why are we offering this free bottle? Because we want you to try it. We're so confident that you will see visible results within 30 days that you will come back and order more."

Response more than tripled.

Similarly, add "reasons why" to your copy. To help you, make sure that it covers all the bases by answering the following "5 why's:"

Why me? (Why should they listen to you?) 
Why you? (Who is perfect for this offer?) 
Why this? (Why is this product perfect for them?) 
Why this price? (Why is this offer so valuable?) 
Why now? (Why must they not wait?) 
4) They Lack Scarcity
Speaking of "why now," this is probably the most important reason of all.

A quote from Jim Rohn says it all, and I force myself to think about it each time I craft an offer. He said, "Without a sense of urgency, desire loses its value."

People fear making bad decisions. With spams, scams and snake oils being rampant on the Internet, people tend to procrastinate, and they do so even when the copy is good, the offer is perfect and they're qualified for it.

Most websites I review fail to effectively communicate a sense of urgency. If people are given the chance to wait or think it over, they will. Look at it this way: if you don't add a sense of urgency, you're inviting them to procrastinate.

Use takeaway selling in order to stop people from procrastinating and get them to take action now. In other words, shape your offer — and not just your product or service — so that it is time-sensitive or quantity-bound.

More important, give a reasonable, logical explanation to justify your urgency or else your sales tactic will be instantly discredited. Back it up with reasons as to why the need to take advantage of the offer is pressing.

Plus, a sense of urgency doesn't need to be an actual limit or a deadline. It can be just a good, plausible and compelling explanation that emphasizes the importance of acting now — as well as the consequences of not doing so.

For example, what would they lose out on if they wait? Don't limit yourself to the offer. Think of all the negative side-effects of not going ahead right now.

5) They Lack Proof
Speaking of the fear of making bad decisions, today's consumers are increasingly leery when contemplating offers on the Internet.

While many websites look professional, have an ethical sales approach, and offer proven products or services, the lack of any kind of tangible proof will still cause most visitors to at least question your offer.

The usual suspects, of course, are testimonials and guarantees. Guarantees and testimonials help to reduce the skepticism around the purchase of your product or service, and give it almost instant credibility.

(I often refuse to critique any copy that doesn't have any testimonials. It's not just to save myself time and energy. I would be wasting my client's money if the only recommendation they got from me was to add testimonials.)

Elements of proof is not just limited to guarantees and testimonials, either.

They can include the story behind your product, your credentials, actual case studies, results of tests and trials, samples and tours, statistics and factoids, photos and multimedia, "seals of approval," and, of course, reasons why.

Even the words you choose can make a difference. Because, in addition to a sense of urgency, your copy also needs a sense of credibility.

Today, people are understandably cynical and suspicious. If your offer is suspect and your copy, at any point, gives any hint that it can be fake, misleading, untrue, too good to be true, or too exaggerated to be true…

… Then like it or not your response rate will take a nose dive.

So, help remove the risk from the buyer's mind and you will thus increase sales — and, paradoxically, reduce returns as well. Plus, don't just stick with the truth. You also need to give your copy the ring of truth.

6) They Lack a Clear Call to Action
Answer this million-dollar, skill-testing question: "What exactly do you want your visitors to do?" Simple, isn't it? But it doesn't seem that way with the many sites I've visited.

The KISS principle (to me, it means "keep it simple and straightforward") is immensely important on the Internet. An effective website starts with a clear objective that will lead to a specific action or outcome.

If your site is not meant to, say, sell a product, gain a customer or obtain an inquiry for more information, then what exactly must it do? Work around the answer as specifically as possible.

Focus on the "power of one." That is:

One message 
One audience 
One outcome 
If your copy tells too many irrelevant stories (irrelevant to the audience and to the advancement of the sale), you will lose your prospects' attention and interest.

If it tries to be everything to everyone (and is therefore either too generic or too complex), you will lose your prospects completely.

And if you ask your prospects to do too many things (other than "buy now" or whatever action you want them to take), you will lose sales.

Use one major theme. Make just one offer. (Sure, you can offer options, such as ordering options or different packages to choose from. But nonetheless, it's still just one offer.)

Most important, provide clear instructions on where and how to order.

Aside from the lack of a clear call to action, asking them to do too many things can be just as counterproductive. The mind hates confusion. If you try to get your visitors to do too many things, they will do nothing.

Stated differently, if you give people too many choices, they won't make one. So keep your message focused or else you will overwhelm the reader.

7) They Lack Good Copy
It may seem like this should be the number one mistake.

While it's still one of the top seven mistakes, it's last because the ones above take precedence. If you're guilty of making any of the previous six mistakes, in the end your sales will falter no matter how good your copy is.

Nevertheless, lackluster copy that fails to invoke emotions, tell compelling stories, create vivid mental imagery, and excite your prospects about your product or service is indeed one of the most common reasons websites fail.

Top sales trainer Zig Ziglar once said, "Selling is the transference of enthusiasm you have for your product into the minds of your prospects."

Copy is selling in print. Therefore, its job is no different. In fact, since there's no human interaction that you normally get in a face-to-face sales encounter, your copy's job, therefore, has an even greater responsibility.

It must communicate that same enthusiasm that energizes your prospects, excites them about your offering and empowers them to buy.

Aside from infusing emotion into your copy, give your prospects something they can understand, believe in and act upon. Like a trial lawyer, it must tell a persuasive story, make an airtight case and remove any reasonable doubt.

Above all, it must serve your prospect.

Many sites fail to answer a person's most important question: "What's in it for me?" They get so engrossed in describing companies, products, features or advantages over competitors that they fail to appeal to the visitor specifically.

Tell the visitor what they are getting out of responding to your offer. To help you, first write down a series of bullets. Bullets are captivating, pleasing to the eye, clustered for greater impact and deliver important benefits.

(They usually follow the words "you get," such as "With this product, you get.")

But don't just resort to apparent or obvious benefits. Dig deeper. Think of the end-results your readers get from enjoying your product or service.

Do what my friend and copywriter Peter Stone calls the "so that" technique. Each time you state a benefit, add "so that" (or "which means") at the end, and then complete the sentence to expand further.

Let's say your copy sells Ginko Biloba, a natural supplement that increases memory function. (I'm not a Ginko expert, so I'm guessing, here. Also, I'm being repetious for the sake of illustration.) Here's what you might get:

Ginko supports healthy brain and memory functions… so that you can be clear, sharp and focused… so that you can stay on top of everything and not miss a beat… so that you can be a lot more productive at work… so that you can advance in your career a lot faster… so that you can make more money, enjoy more freedom, and have more job security… so that (and so on).

That could have turned another way depending on the answer you give it, which is why it's good to repeat this exercise. Here's another example:

Ginko supports healthy brain and memory functions… so that you can decrease the risks of senility, Alzheimer's disease, and other degenerative diseases of the brain… so that you won't be placed in a nursing home… so that you won't place the burden of your care on your loved ones… so that you can grow old with peace of mind… so that you can enjoy a higher quality of life, especially during those later years… so that (and so on).

Remember, these are just examples pulled off the top of my head. But if you want more help with your own copy, my FAB formula is a useful guide.

Bottom line, check your copy to see if you're committing any of these seven deadly sins. If you are, your prospects won't forgive you. By not buying, that is.

--- About the Author ---

Michel Fortin is a direct response copywriter, marketing strategy 
consultant, and instrumental in some of the most lucrative online 
businesses and wildly successful marketing campaigns to ever hit 
the web. For more articles like this one, please visit his blog 
at http://www.michelfortin.com/ and subscribe to his RSS feed.



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