Gary Halbert Interview #1

First Call With Gary Halbert

This was an interview with the late Gary Halbert. A few weeks later, we did a follow-up call. So be sure to go listen to that one, too.

In the early 2000s, technology wasn't as advanced as it is today. This interview was so overwhelmingly popular, it reached our 1,000-line capacity before the call started. So apologies for the quality, which was less than desirable.

The recording is about two hours long and split into 30-minute segments. (As broadband wasn't fully adopted yet, the split was to help with downloads.) You can listen to each part, download the MP3s, or read the transcripts below.

Other calls and links:


Gary Halbert Interview #2

Second Call with Gary Halbert

This is the 2nd call with Gary Halbert, a few weeks after the first one. It's about two hours long and the recording is split into 30-minute segments. You can listen to each part, download the MP3s, or read the transcripts below.

As with the other calls, keep in mind that, in the early 2000s, broadband wasn't fully adopted yet. The call was also maxed out at capacity. So quality is less than desirable and the split was to help with downloads.

Links to other calls and resources mentioned on the calls:


Want Better Copy? Go On A Quest!

Writing copy usually involves two major things: figuring out what to say and then how to say it. The second part is usually the easiest, because figuring out what to say is often a whole lot harder than how to say it.

It requires a lot of research, creativity, time, and, of course, “sales detective work.,” as my friend and top copywriter John Carlton calls it.

But when I know what to write, when I figured out what I'm going to say, the question I'm often asked is, “Do you start with the headline, or do you work the headline last?”

Let me share with you a formula I use.

First, when I write a new piece of copy, I tend to start with the body copy, then create the headline and add headers/subheads throughout. With existing copy, it's the other way around: I start with a better headline — after reading the copy, and it's good — and then rewrite the rest.

Sometimes (in fact, a lot of times), my client's copy is already pretty good. The culprit behind a poor response, and this is true almost nine times out of 10 in my estimation, is a poor headline. And it's often the one element I test the most, too.

Reason is, the headline is the pivotal element in copy upon which the success of your copy will hinge. If people are not interested enough in reading the copy further after reading the headline, they will leave without reading any more — regardless of how good the copy, the product, and the offer are.

So I tend to try to find a good hook for the headline.

After a little bit of detective work, usually by going through some of the answers my client gives me after filling out my intake questionnaire, this usually comes to me after tinkering with the headline a bit, sometimes after writing several of them until I come up with the one I think will pull best.

Headers are usually parts of the copy — spread throughout where they make sense, create curiosity, and force the reader to stop scanning and start reading.

With new copy, I usually start with an outline, but I really don't write the actual headers. I often start with the concept or idea I want to introduce in specific sections of the letter, but then write copy and use headers at that point, all based on the flow of ideas.

Most of my salesletters focus on five core components.

What I usually do when I write copy is follow a “5-step guide,” if you will. It's sort of my take on (or a complement to) the AIDA formula: you grab their Attention, arouse their Interest, build their Desire, and then ask for some kind of Action.

My formula is this: I call it going on a “QUEST.”

  1. Qualify
  2. Understand
  3. Educate
  4. Stimulate
  5. Transition

It's like traversing a mountain, so to speak, when you start climbing the mountain on one side, reach the summit, and start climbing back down on the other side. And just like climbing a mountain, the incline is where much of the hard work is done. Almost all my salesletters take on this quality.

Here's what “QUEST” means:

Q = Qualify

You qualify the reader and weed out the non-buyers and tire-kickers. It's good to ask questions at the beginning or set the stage by giving a scenario they can immediately relate to, such as by talking about how terrible things are with “X” problem, or how nice it would be to solve “Y” problem.

You also try to denominate who usually has this problem, who this solution is for, and/or who it is not for. You can do this outright, but I often incorporate this into a story. The aim is to create awareness, qualify the reader, and more importantly, reinforce how qualified the reader truly is, in their mind, for the offer.

This is especially true where there's a bit of an education involved — where the prospect doesn't really know or is not fully aware there is a problem in the first place. Or they know about the problem and it may be in the back of their minds, but my job is to bring it to the top.

In fact, this is why the next part is crucial and flows from the first.

Because, the next step is to…

U = Understand

After qualifying the reader, you express how much you understand her. You connect and empathize with them. You expand on the problem and agitate their pain. You “add salt on the wounds,” so to speak or, at the very least, bring the problem to the top of their minds.

You not only get the reader to identify themselves with you, but also magnify the problem in their minds. You share their pain or in their pain, and you tell them how much more painful it is either because there is no solution out there, or because other solutions are insufficient for whatever reason.

You can also use this section to tickle their curiosity about a potential solution and insert specific benefits other solutions don't have but without fully disclosing “your” solution yet. Mention a unique selling point, a nice-to-have benefit, that will be linked with your solution.

I would include a story behind the product based on that fact because it's not only a great place to build credibility and give the reader reasons why they should keep reading, but a great way for readers to identify themselves with the author and build a certain affinity with her.

When you introduce the solution later on, you can tie it to all of these. It's like telling the reader: “Wouldn't it be great, if…” And later, your solution comes along and answers that very question.

And that leads to the next step, which is to…

E = Educate

You educate the reader on the fact that a solution exists. This is where you introduce your product or service — but not the price. This will come later. At this point, you expand on the fact that a solution exists, is perfect for their situation, and is unlike and better than all the others.

This is usually it's in the middle of the copy. It's where the reader has reached “the summit of the sales mountain,” if you will, on their quest to traverse it. It's also a great place to build on and emphasize credibility introduced in the previous “U” portion of the formula.

This includes credentializing the author and why should one listen to her. It's also a great location to talk about the features of your product or service, dispel any myths, and respond to any objections regarding the product or service.

It's also the location where I add proof elements, case studies, testimonials, etc. In fact, I tend not to add any testimonials until this point or further because they tend to be off-putting. (If they are vigorously aware of their problem and they're hurting already, testimonials a little early won't hurt.)

Once they're educated, the next step is to…

S = Stimulate

You stimulate the reader on the offer. I guess you can also say that “S” stands for “sell,” too, as this is the location where the bulk of the selling really takes place. This where the offer is made and the value buildup really starts.

You list and expand on the benefits. (In “E,” I start to talk about features and describe the product. But here, I talk benefits and link them to the features described in “E.” Also, it's a great location to add value to the offer, such as offering premiums, guarantees, value boosters, a sense of urgency, etc.

It's a great place to add comparisons, too, such as with competitive alternatives, as well as with the risks and costs of not buying — including missing out on the potential benefits, pecuniary losses, ultimate costs of not using the product, etc.

Use this section to link the offer to the rest of the formula. That is, you restate some of the problems mentioned in “Q,” how the solution answers the greater problems talked about in “U,” and how it links to all to the features and benefits described in “E.”

After that, you then…

T = Transition

You transition the reader from prospect to buyer. It's the “call to action” section or the close, in other words. This includes the order area or order form, and it's where you talk about the offer, the price, and the options if any. Above all, it's where you make the reader feel as if they already own the product.

It's a great place to summarize the offer, talk about the guarantee, and perhaps introduce new points not discussed to this point to spur action, such as adding an as-of-yet undisclosed benefit or bonus — also called “pot sweeteners.”

Now, I don't follow this formula precisely as I just explained.

QUEST is a guide, not a goal or a rule.

I usually start with QUEST as an outline first and use it to create a skeleton salesletter. I then refer back to it to guide me as I write. Once the outline is made, I expand on each point and “go with the flow” of what I think is best for the offer throughout the salesletter.

I also write header or subhead ideas in that outline, too. But when I expand the copy, if needed, I'll move ideas around for better flow or rewrite the headers as I see how they fit in the QUEST formula, all keeping the following in mind:

  1. The header introduces a new piece of information. It's specific and descriptive. It has an element of intrigue or curiosity. Best of all, it has an inherent benefit — whether it's of the offer or one in reading what follows. (Usually, it's the latter.)
  2. It helps to introduce the following section. It should make sense and read as if the person never read the preceding copy. It somewhat explains it as to not confuse and push people away. (But it doesn't explain it entirely, as the next point reveals.)
  3. Above all, it also piques their curiosity in order to force them to stop scanning and go back to the beginning of the copy — as people usually scan and read the headers when they hit a salesletter for the first time.

The third one is the one I use the most.

My favorite is when the header introduces a portion of an idea, sometimes followed by an ellipse. Or when it hints at a bigger payoff in the copy, like some kind of newsworthy topic — think of a newspaper's front-page headlines that force the reader to buy the paper.

Incidentally, some people may call this “clickbait.” Clickbait doesn't deserve the bad rap it has been given. The reason for the stigma is when it's used as a “bait and switch,” where the header promises but the rest fails the deliver. You don't need to lie or exaggerate. Just be intriguing.)

To continue my mountain-climbing analogy, headers are like “knots” or “hooks” in the rope, so to speak. They force people to stop and pull readers back into the copy (or keeps them reading and clinging throughout the copy).

Finally, don't follow the QUEST formula “to the letter.” Use it as a guide.

Just like there are different mountains of different shapes and sizes, there are different markets with different levels of awareness. Each climb should also be different. And the view is different at every vantage point along the way.


Copywriting Tips From Joe Valente

Freud on the Rebound

So I'm clearing out some space on my shelves to make a little room for hiding presents (or as my wife, Heather, likes to call it, “Thinning out the collection of crap”) when my mind starts to wander.

Now, this is not an unusual thing, because I'm a sentimentalist (a.k.a. “packrat”). So, as I sort through the boxes and bags, I drift, I remember the good times, I think about stuff, and I generally get a bit of a rosy haze going.

Ah, the good times we had…

I'm shaken from my bliss by the crash. It seems the box I had been balancing precariously on my knee while reaching for some sort of mounted singing rubber fish (where the heck did that come from? And can I regift it?) has forsaken its resistance to the gravitational pull of my floor, and has instead decided to meet the challenge head-on.

It was a noble idea, but the box loses.

Startled from my daydream, I look down to discover that finally, and bit disturbingly, some of my university text books have hit the top of the delete pile. Meaning, of course, that I need to find a reason to save them from this almost Stalinist purge. And fast.

I bend down and start picking them up, flipping through them as I do…

Here, a well-worn copy of Psychology Today (well, maybe not today, exactly, but it was au courant a scant 25 years ago)…

There a less-used copy of Today's Isms (a political diatribe no less weighty — not to mention out of date — than its psychology contemporary)…

And finally an exceptionally well-preserved 3rd Edition Abnormal Psychology.

Ah, at last, a book that is completely relevant today. I mean, have you been to the malls? Man, if that's not aberrant behavior, I just don't know what is. I'd love to tell you about the nightmares I've been having lately in which the overhead speakers just keep droning “An associate to Aisle 3 please, associate to Aisle 3…”

Okay, Joe, shake it off…

Anyway, thumbing through these tomes, I come across a section on Freud's Id, Ego, and Superego. And it occurs to me that a few issues back, I gave you the Pop Psychology 101 version of Freud's theory.

Did you miss it? I'll recap…

Freud said that the human being has but one steering wheel. Unfortunately, there are 3 crazed maniacs all clutching at each other to wrestle control of it for their very own. They are (in order of appearance):

  • The Id, who simply says “I want it,” when he sees something that gets him excited.
  • The Ego, who, being more practical, says “But you can't get to it,” when the exciting thing is out of reach.
  • And then the Superego, who says “And besides, it wouldn't be nice to just take it.”

Now, I realize I used a genderalization there, and that wasn't intentional. But thinking about it, I always kind of thought the Id was the classic impulsive male, the Ego, his more level-headed girlfriend, and the Superego — well, the jury is still out on that one.

Although I can't help but picture Sister Mary Louise from my kindergarten year. Don't ask why. You know, my knuckles hurt even typing that name.

Again, don't ask why.

And anyway, none of that is all that important. What is important is this: The Id, the Ego, and the Superego, they all have very specific motivations and hot buttons. And they all pretty much hate each other.

So it should come as no surprise that they also tend to be shocked or offended at what each of the others find attractive.

An interesting love triangle, no? Now there's a made-for-TV movie!

Look, I'm not a Freudian by any stretch, and his vision of 3 separate heads fighting over the steering wheel just makes me think of the final scene in Stephen King's The Tommyknockers (if you've read it, you know exactly what I mean; If you haven't, go borrow it from the library, and never look at D-cell batteries the same way again!) But it's interesting to me all the same.

I mean, think about it.

What gets the Id going? Shiny things! Get his heart pumping, and he reaches for his wallet. Get the adrenaline flowing and he's reaching for the bonuses. Get the sweat pouring, and he's buying the deluxe, 22-part, members-only, super-duper-never-to-be-repeated Diamond Package!

In other words, dear friends and faithful readers, for the Id, the hard sale sells!

What do the others think of that? Let's ask, shall we?

  • Ego: “Well, that's all well and good, but do we really need it? And what'll it do for me? Will it even fit in my garage?”
  • Superego: “How crude and morally repugnant that you should speak to me that way. Now don't ever call here again.”


Well, I did mention that they weren't each other's best friends, didn't I?

So what makes the Ego reach for the Visa (or the Master Card when the Visa's maxed out)? Just the facts, ma'am. Ego doesn't want to hear hype and hyperbole. Ego wants to know the practical truth. Show ego a fundamentally important piece to her future plans and she gets interested. An excellent potential return with minimal risk, and she'll buy you dinner. A good cost-benefit analysis, and you'll be staying for breakfast.

And the others?

  • Id: “Screw that, where are the shiny things?”
  • Superego: “Getting warmer, but will it help me sleep at night?”

As an aside, is anyone else out there wondering just where the heck these ideas come from? If you figure it out, let me know…

And finally, how do you get after the Superego?

Dust off the halo, sprout some wings and sing like an angel. Helping the environment? Okay, here's a quarter. Helping the poor and underprivileged? There's an extra dollar. Saving mankind from himself (and that ghastly Id character) and… Well, will you take a check?

The others, of course, have a different take:

  • Id: “No! NO! NO! SHINY THINGS!!!”
  • Ego: “Yeah, yeah. But will it slice, dice, and julienne in just a fraction of the time?”

Yes, it's a weird little world that I live in.

But I'm kind of heading into a point here, and that point is this:

You gotta know who you're talking to if you want your copy to sell.

Seems simple, but we all too often completely miss it, because we are distracted by this other interesting fact: If you hit your target audience square in the chin, scoring a first-round knockout, at least one group who is not your target audience will despise you for it.

Or, more precisely, they will hate the way you've done your job.

Because no one really hates writers. We're the good guys, right?

Anyway, in this article, Mike talks quite a bit about the target audience dynamic, and shows you why it's not only good, but may actually be something to shoot for, to get hate mail about your copy.

Because chances are, if someone hates it enough to write a letter, there are a thousand others who love it enough to write a check.

Hey! Looks like maybe those books are going to survive another purge after all! Now I guess I'd better go through Heather's stuff if I'm gonna find more room for presents…

The Importance of Doing It With “Val”

There's an old saying: “Depending on the circumstances, any tool that comes to hand becomes a hammer.”

Now, let's start with a basic premise: When you write copy, you build knowledge, trust, and sales, and language is your hammer. Some might take that a step further and say that the point of your writing is to “nail” your prospects, but I don't think I want to go down that road today.

Instead, I want to talk a bit about your main tool of the trade, your proverbial hammer…

… Language.

As some of you know, I come from a corporate background, largely technical documentation and B2B marketing copy. In that world, writing is a very formal affair.

In my years as a corporate denizen, I've worked with several very talented people, professional writers who understood that they had to write differently for technical white papers than for tutorials, and that the way they spoke was vastly different from the way they wrote under almost all circumstances.

That's why it always amazes me when I get phone calls like this…

I got a call the other day from someone I used to work with. Seems someone I know knows someone she knows, and as a result of that small-world phenomenon, she discovered what I was doing these days.

So, in response to either morbid curiosity or pure boredom, she came to read some of the copy I've written over the last little while.

And then my old colleague, a militant, self-styled keeper of the sacred trust of the English language, called me up out of the blue to — well, the phrase that comes to mind immediately is “rip me a new one.”

“How can you write like that? You've butchered and bastardized the language at every turn! You've dangled participles! You've used contractions! You've sliced and diced sentences! And the Harvard commas — WHERE ARE THE HARVARD COMMAS?!?!”

Now, don't get me wrong, this is a very educated lady — she has an MA in English — and she generally knows what she's talking about. But that didn't stop me, because such things seldom do. I had been challenged, a gauntlet thrown down, my credibility called into question, and my reputation sullied.

My testosterone demanded — and formulated — a swift response. And for once, much to my surprise, it actually had the right answer:

“Maybe. And that copy sold 240-odd products at $60 a piece in less than 24 hours. How much did your last writing assignment sell?”

“It's not the same thing!”

“My point.”

In fact, my point exactly.

You all know that there are dozens of ways to speak English — “dialects,” if you will — and each one serves a pretty specific purpose. This is what I like to call Venue Appropriate Language, “VAL” for short.

Val is your very best friend, not to mention one of the most important tools of our trade.

And if you don't do it with Val, you're just not doing it right.

Think about it.

When you write letters to people you don't know, you are a lot stiffer, a lot more formal than when you write to friends. When you promote yourself for marketing jobs, you're a lot more playful than when you promote yourself as a technical editor. And sales letters selling financial products are more language-conscious than letters written to sell information products.

Why? Because whether you're trying to win the hearts or minds of your audience, you need the right language to drive your message home. Because what you say is about informing and persuading, but how you say it is about painting a picture that the client's buying motivator can recognize.

We sometimes use formal language to paint a picture of button- down logic. Sometimes we use warmer, less direct language to help the heart feel joy or need. And sometimes we write in a familiar, friendly way to help the reader feel comfort or hope.

Michel Fortin's latest article deals with the concept of using effective (as opposed to correct) language, and represents another little refresher that ties into last month's back-to-basics theme. Reacquaint yourself with Val, who is your supreme ruler.

If you don't make it with Val, you just might not make it at all.

So I guess the two things I'd like you to take away from this are these:

  1. Be very conscious of who you're writing to — the heart or the mind, the family or the individual, and so on — and make sure you use the right dialect, and …
  2. Before you follow in the steps of some of my old colleagues and jump all over the way someone has written, put yourself in their prospect's shoes and ask yourself: What do I feel when I read this? And what do I see?

Remember that it's more important to have the right language in your copy than it is to have the correct English. Because, while anything that comes to hand can be a hammer, there still is nothing like the right tool for the job.

Tool belts, everyone.

The Benefits Of A Good Chair

Spring is in the air again. I can tell by the way my grass is turning yellow with dandelions, and my hayfever is acting up.

Coincidence? You decide …

As the air warms in my backyard and the birds begin to once squabble at my wife's bird feeder over the remnants of last year's seeds, I'm at once overcome with the excitement of a brand new year — because spring always feels more like the beginning of a new year than New Years day, doesn't it — and at the same time struck by an odd sense of deja-vu.

Spring is the great conundrum, ladies and gentlemen. It's the time when we try new things, while still relying on the things we know work. It's when we hedge our bets by incorporating what we do successfully with what we're willing to try.

And it's a time when our comfort in the things we know gives us the courage to try the things we don't.

And it's perfectly natural. Take my dog for instance. Amber will be 15 years old this fall, and she has relied on an old tattered Bombay chair for daytime rest for as far back as I can remember. It's in that chair that she's acquired the nickname, “Roadkill,” but that's another story.

Anyway, that old tattered Bombay is her anchor, the center to her universe, and the home base she needs to have the confidence to explore the rest of her world.

No matter where she goes or what she gets into, that old Bombay is always there for her when she returns. It's her safety net, it's what she knows, and it's what works for her.

I once removed that old chair, and the poor old girl wandered restlessly through the house for a full 48 hours without sleep before I relented, and decided that the ratty old thing — the chair, not the dog — was really not all that ugly after all.

So the Bombay returned to the family room, and the dog returned to normal. But here's the thing: with spring has come a whole new sense of discovery in the old mutt.

Just yesterday, I saw her venture for the first time onto the ledge of our bay window to catch a snooze in the sun. She's never done that before. And after an hour or so of snoring blissfully in a position best described as “awkward,” she woke up, got back into her familiar chair, and promptly returned to doing her impression of a well-oiled chainsaw.

The point here is that everyone feels a little more daring in the spring. Everyone feels more willing — if not flat-out compelled — to try new things.

But you're most comfortable responding to this newfound curiosity and courage when you have the unshakeable knowledge that you can always fall back on what has always worked.

And that knowledge is your safety net.

Your own personal Bombay chair.

This month, in honor of this odd dichotomy of spring, my suggestion to you is to get a refresher on what makes great copy — and maybe just as importantly, what doesn't.

Scroll through some of Michel's articles lingering in the archive. We're sure you've probably heard a lot of the ideas in them before.

But if you're planning any new campaigns — and you should be, shouldn't you? — then now is the ideal time to review your websites, your marketing, your sales copy, and your general strategies to make sure you've got the basics covered.

It's also a perfect time to review some of the tenets of good copy, so that you apply those tried and true ideas to your new explorations. Think of it as a spring cleaning for your own personal Bombay chair.

You may now join Amber in the sun on window sill.

Stephen King and The Long Copy Debate

Life's too hectic. Go on, tell me I'm wrong. Well, maybe that's not so for you, but for me, there's just so much going on, such as:

Writing and editing web sites, technical manuals, tutorials… Car repairs, some done in my driveway, and some done by others, but always under my watchful eye (remind me one day to tell you about my Talon and the plans I have to get back into Autocross with it)… Household maintenance (thankfully the lawnmower died, buying me an extra hour!)… Hockey season (I coach and referee)… And of course, the band in which I'm the bass player and lead singer.

So it was quite a surprise when…

… For the first time in quite a while, I found the time not only to read a book for pleasure, but to actually finish it.

The book was Wizard and Glass, by Stephen King, the fourth novel in the Dark Tower Trilogy (yeah, yeah, I know…) and perhaps the weakest of the bunch in my humble opinion.

For those of you who aren't following this particular series of books, I'll give you the short version: A gunslinger sets out to find the Dark Tower, a sort of hub that binds several parallel universes together. It seems the Tower is in major need of repair — plumbing, I suspect, although that's not entirely clear — and the parallel worlds are beginning to feel the effects.

Anyway, the gunslinger meets and adventures with several characters along the way. By the second book, his posse (which you knew he would eventually have to have) is formed, and together, they carry on, following The Beam, a hidden structure that ties the worlds together through the Dark Tower.

So with that background in mind, I bring you into my living room just last night. The lamp above my favorite reading chair is lit, and my dog Amber is curled up between my knees on the ottoman.

The ottoman, as an aside, is the only piece of furniture on which she is allowed other than her own chair, and then, only by my own graces — Heather, my wife, scowls at me when she sees her curled up in my knees like that, but I'm an old softie and Amber keeps my knees warm.

I had just finished the fourth book, and felt oddly unsettled. I couldn't quite figure out what was wrong, but I had the distinct feeling I'd somehow been robbed. But my wallet and watch were still intact, so…

And then it hit me.

It was the book. I had waited years for this installment of the Dark Tower (there were five years between Book 3 and Book 4, and I hadn't seen Book 4 until this summer) and I had read it with a voracious appetite for the trail of The Beam first started way back in Book 1. But when all was said and done, I felt like I got nothing to feed my cravings.

Here's the deal: The book is largely a retrospective. It starts out in the gunslinger's “Today,” and then reaches back — way back — into his past, before returning to his “Today.” About 100 pages of current events on either end of the book sandwiching close to 500 pages of the gunslinger in his youth playing with characters that, so far, don't figure into his travels on The Beam.

I hate it when authors do that, I really do.

But the issue wasn't so much the 500 pages — it was a very well-told story with an interesting plot — but the fact that those 500 pages contributed very little to the gunslinger's current situation. It was a great story, but had little bearing on the adventure.

Those 500 pages were, in a word, irrelevant.

What the King of Horror had done, basically, was the old bait and switch. I wanted more of the adventure that I had been following, and instead, I got another adventure sandwiched between snippets of what I considered important to that book.

And I felt a little cheated.

“So what,” you may ask, “has that got to do with writing copy?”

Well, judging by that ageless debate going on in the world of copywriting, just about everything.

There's a thread in my forum in which the battle rages over long copy versus short copy. It's a fascinating glimpse into the different approaches taken by different people to copywriting:

On one side the argument is that only bad products require long copy, so long copy is a scam (badly oversimplified, that synopsis, but it serves well-enough).

On the other side of the argument is the idea that well-written long copy sells better than well-written short copy (again, oversimplified, but you get the idea).

In Michel's article, found here, Mike explores the two sides to the debate, and weighs in with his thoughts on the matter. We think you'll find the article more than just informative: We hope it'll prompt you to really consider the value of the words you're putting on that screen before you decide: Is more really more or is less actually more?

Or something like that.

Because long copy is often appropriate, and does sell better — when done right. But short copy is also sometimes the right tool for the job.

As for me, as your intrepid editor, it's not for me to cast my runes into the ring and tell you what I think, because you're the writers, and no one knows better than you what the current project really requires.

But I will tell you this: While reading that middle 500 pages of the latest Dark Tower novel, I seriously considered not finishing the book. Several times. Because the information felt irrelevant to the story. If that were a long copy ad and I had no reason to trust the author, that would have been a sale lost.

Just something to think about.

And now, Mr. King, let us return to The Beam, shall we?


How to Write Carrot Wielding Copy!

A significant reason behind most floundering websites is the lack of a response-driven message — an effective one that gets people to do something, even if it's to keep reading.

A direct response message is not just about response. It's comprised of three elements: it must be 1) captivating (it captures the reader's attention), 2) riveting (it pulls her into reading further) and 3) engaging (it calls her to act).

(These are the “three steps” I talk about in my course.)

How can you incorporate those three vital elements?

If I were to answer that question adequately it would likely take me an entire book the size of an encyclopedia! But for now, let me give you a succinct explanation…

First, write to be scanned.

On the Internet, people are fast-paced, click-happy (with an attention span the size of a DNA molecule) and easily bored. The burden of getting visitors to stop what they're doing and start reading rests entirely upon the headline, the headers and any grabbers — things that help grab people's attention (e.g., boxes, borders, graphics, etc).

But once you captured their attention, next is to keep them — and keep them reading.

If you know the AIDA formula, this is where you need to generate interest. But I go a step further by saying that your job is even more important here, since you must not only generate interest but also maintain it. And that is a much harder task, especially online.

It's also the crux of a long copy salesletter's success.

The debate about long copy versus short copy can be wearisome for most copywriters, since they must constantly explain the benefits of using long copy.

Even though long copy is statistically proven to outperform short copy, many clients still offer the typical litany — that longer copy will never be read, and that on the Internet things are short and fast. And then they ask me to trim my drafts down.

(I often fervently protest when this happens, and you'll soon find out why.)

Sure, I completely agree that things are short and fast online. But there is a difference between grabbing people's attention and holding on to it.

Keeping readers riveted, hanging on to each and every word with an intense desire to know what's next, is the goal of any direct response copy. Remember this…

There's a difference between long copy and long-winded copy.

(It sounds the same as reading a story, right? Well, it is. Like a book that's called a “page turner,” copy that keeps people glued to each and every paragraph is one that is intensely interesting, curiously inviting, and uncomfortably compelling.)

As an aside, why do you think we now include “stickiness” and “bounce rates” as a measuring stick in web analytics? Granted, some of it is based on a site's entertainment value, like multimedia and interactivity. But nine times out of 10, it's based on the copy.

Here's a known fact: prospects who are qualified for and genuinely interested in the product or service being offered will always want more information about it, not less.

If they are not qualified or interested, from the outset, then no matter how long or short the copy is, they will simply not buy. They won't read 15 words, much less 1,500 words.

If the copy is too short, it can lead to three potential outcomes:

1) A lower response due to the lack of information;

2) An incessant need for more data, leading to a barrage of information requests or questions (that is, provided that the prospect is sufficiently interested to dig further);

3) Or, if they do buy, a higher number of cancellations and refund requests, since the product or service turned out to be different than what was initially expected.

Bottom line, if long copy leads to poor results, then it has less to do with the length itself and more to do with the copy. Specifically, with the quality of the copy, not the quantity.

It's simply too boring.

It didn't elevate the reader's level of interest and failed to keep her reading. Admittedly, it's a challenge and the reason why most online businesses usually opt for short copy, since writing long copy that engages, entices, and entertains is very difficult.

Yes, I did say “entertain.” It really is about storytelling. Or what I call storyselling.

You see, long copy is like telling a good story — and copywriters are indeed storytellers. If your copy tells a compelling story, people will read it. All of it. When it is written well, long copy can lead to a much greater level of response.

So forget “long.” Think “good.” Good copy is where the reader hangs onto every word, and becomes more and more excited the further she reads it. Look at it this way…

You visit a bookstore and notice a book that seems to entice you. The cover, the title, and the cover copy, such as the synopsis, editorial raves, or the author's bio, pull you into the book. Even the opening chapter is delectable. So, you buy the book.

The book is inviting, exciting, and entertaining. The story is deliciously compelling. It pulls you in and compels you to read every single page, no matter how big the book is.

Take Stephen King, for example. If you're a Stephen King fanatic, that means: 1) you're in his target market, and 2) you're interested in everything King writes.

Now, let's say King publishes a massive, 800-page tome. A massive book, no doubt. Let me ask you, are you not going to read it simply because “it's too long?” Of course not.

In fact, the book is so good that you either wish it was longer or, once done, are prepared to read it over once more. You just can't put the book down, even if time is limited, and you're busy or preoccupied with other things.

Here's a flipside.

Let's say the opposite happens. As you read it further, the story makes no more sense. You become confused, perhaps a little frustrated, and you slowly begin to lose interest.

The plot no longer invites you to keep reading. You drift away and find it harder to continue. Ultimately, the storyline fails to keep you excited about the book. So, you stop, close the book, and then shelve it. Now, it gathers dust in your library.

The excuse? It's TOO long!

Let me ask you, how many books are lingering in your library because you failed to finish reading (or even start reading, for that matter)? Perhaps some. Perhaps many. But nevertheless, the same thing holds true with direct response copy.

Long copy works better than short copy. But it only works if it's interesting, captivating, and riveting. Call it “edutainment.” Copy must be educational and entertaining.

However, in a handful of cases shorter copy is warranted. (There is such a thing as “overselling” in copy.) But the only real way to know for sure is to test, test and test. Claude Hopkins, author of “Scientific Advertising,” wrote an important axiom:

“Almost any question can be answered cheaply, quickly and finally, by a test campaign. This is the only way to answer them, not by arguments around a table. Go to the court of last resort, the buyers of your product.”

As my mentor, copywriting genius Dan Kennedy, once said in a recent interview:

“Now, the person who says ‘But I would never read all that copy' makes the mistake of thinking they are their customer … And they are not. We are never our own customers. (…) There is a thing in copywriting I teach called ‘message-to-market match'. It is this: when your message is matched to a target market that has a high level of interest in it, not only does the level of responsiveness go up but readership goes up, too…

“… The whole issue of interest goes up.”

The next step is to engage the reader.

Again, you're like an author telling a good story, and your copy must read like one. But like all good stories, the reader must become intimately involved in the plot. They see themselves in the shoes of the characters living out the story.

And to do this, you need what I often call “UPWORDS.” It's an acronym that means: “Universal picture words or relatable, descriptive sentences.”

First, “universal picture words” means mental imagery that help to paint vivid pictures in the mind. Lace your copy with words that engage as many of the senses as possible, and cause your prospects to easily visualize already enjoying the benefits of your offer.

As for “universal,” it means to use words that appeal to, and can be easily interpreted by, the vast majority of readers. In other words, use words to “encode” your message so that, when they are read, can be decoded in the same way by most of your readers.

Your job is to get the reader to not only to read your copy but also understand it, internalize it, and appreciate it. To help you, remember this simple yet important rule:

“Different words mean different things to different people.”

Some words can be interpreted in one way by one reader and in a different way by another. Your job, therefore, is to choose words that cater and universally appeal to the bulk of your readers in order for them to fully appreciate what you're conveying.

For example, in my early career I specialized in copywriting for cosmetic surgeons. A challenge among doctors is the fact that prospective patients will call for an estimate over the phone when obviously the doctor needs to see her beforehand.

(An initial, in-person assessment is always required, even by law in some locations, to see if that patient is a surgical candidate. Giving out an estimate on the phone implies that the patient is indeed a good candidate for the surgery when it may not be the case.)

Here's the crux of the problem: most patients don't understand the significance of seeing the doctor in person. Some may feel intimidated by doctors or by surgery, while others may simply be in a rush and just want to “shop around.”

While they may know the reason, they may not necessarily appreciate the importance of seeing a doctor, because cosmetic surgery is an uncommon process.

So, doctors will refer to a more common approach, such as cosmetic dentistry. Because, unlike surgery, most people have had their teeth done at some point in their lives. They already know it. They already have a “reference point” in their minds they can relate to.

Therefore, doctors will use analogy, such as:

“Like a dentist, I can not give you an estimate over the phone without any x-rays of your teeth let alone the knowledge of how many cavities you actually have.”

Using this scenario, people now understand not only the reason but also the importance of seeing the doctor in person in order to obtain an accurate estimate.

This applies to every business.

Business owners often become so intimately involved with their product or business, they tend to forget to look at them from their prospect's perspective. They tend to use a language that only they or the people in their industry can fully appreciate.

But that approach can backfire… And often does.

Therefore, your job is to use analogies, metaphors and comparisons, and most importantly stories, all in a language to which the prospect can relate.

That's what “relatable, descriptive sentences” mean. Words are not messages in themselves. They are merely symbols. Your choice of words can actually alter the understanding, and particularly the emotional impact, of your message.

Finally, use action words that not only compel your readers but also “propel” them into action. Tell them what they must do and take them “by the hand,” in other words.

Don't stick with mere verbs. Use action words that paint vivid pictures in the mind, too. And the more vivid the picture is, the more compelling the request will be.

For example, you're a financial consultant. Rather than saying something like, “Poor fiscal management may lead to financial problems,” say, “Stop mediocre money management from sucking your hard-earned cash straight out of your wallet!”

People can visualize the action of “sucking” better than they can “leading.”

If you think that sounds a little over the top, you can still use picture words in more subdued ways. For instance, instead of, “Let me help you maintain your balance sheet,” say, “Borrow my eyes to help you keep a steady finger on your financial pulse.”

Ultimately, if you think long copy is a deterrent, you won't know it until you actually test it yourself. But don't test long versus short just for the sake of testing length. Because, in many cases, size really does matter when you know how to use it well.

Some people have asked me quite a few questions about the above article, and some of these questions were immensely valuable.

I could have answered them within the comments section. But because I believe my answers might be helpful to a lot of people, and that the comments may be overlooked by many, instead I decided to do in a separate post.

Here it is:

1) Sherrill asked:

I couldn't finish the article… it was way too long. We sell comfort food online… coffee… our message is short & straight to the point… here's your coffee choices… pick some coffee to have fresh roasted & delivered to your doorstep… pay for your coffee… get on with what you're doing…


It works for us.

I think you need to read the entire article, because I make the case about long copy versus long-winded copy. Long copy that needs to say as much as is needed to say to make the sale and not one word more — or less.

By the way, Sherill, your coffee website's front page contains 1,605 words. And that doesn't take into account the 9 other pages, which seem to contain anywhere from 200 to 1,000 more words each. And you say you use short copy?

Bottom line …

If it only takes 2 paragraphs to make the sale, use 2 paragraphs. If it takes 20 pages, use 20 pages. And the more commoditized the product is, and the more targeted and aware the market is, the less copy you will need. Let me quote myself from my article:

However, in a handful of cases shorter copy is warranted. (There is such a thing as “overselling” in copy.) But the only real way to know for sure is to test, test and test. Claude Hopkins, author of “Scientific Advertising,” wrote an important axiom:

“Almost any question can be answered cheaply, quickly and finally, by a test campaign. This is the only way to answer them, not by arguments around a table. Go to the court of last resort… The buyers of your product.”

2) Michael Hardishake:

I've been reading Joe Sugarman lately and he talks a lot about matching your market too. One of the things I find so tough is learning (getting to know) your targeted market. I mean, how many things can you be intimately involved with?!?!?

The best copywriters in the world who have written multi-million dollar salesletters and ads are usually those who have spent a great many hours interviewing clients, spending time learning about them (maybe even to be with them), putting on their “sales detective hats” (as copywriter John Carlton would say) and asking a lot of questions, and spending a lot of time learning about:

  • geographics (location, country, city, etc)
  • demographics (income, career, sex, age, etc)
  • psychographics (hobbies, buyer history, culture, etc)
  • technographics (owns a PC, surfs the web, buys online, etc)

Brian Keith Voiles, in an interview I gave him regarding the power of empathy in copy, said it best:

“The first thing I do is try to live a ‘day in the life' of my prospect. What keeps him up at night? What are his biggest concerns or his biggest joys? What's the first thing he does in the morning as he wakes up? Does he read the paper? What kind of paper? What sections? Does he hurt? Is he frustrated? About what? In all, I try to put myself in my prospect's shoes as much as possible and really try to see what he sees, thinks what he thinks, feels what he feels. The more I do, the more empathetic I am in my copy … and the more I sell.”

3) Michael Vaughn:

Michael, I sell PC's (desktop and laptops) online. My target market is people with bad or no credit and with an income of $28,000 or less. I use direct mail (postcards) as my main source of contact. Information on a postcard is limited because of size. I am going to try a test of one thousand flyers with more info and let you know how it goes. Thanks for all of your help.

Try an oversized postcard. Usually 5 x 11 or 8.5 x 11 (or something like that). Or better yet, write a salesletter and use plain, #10 envelopes.

4) James Marks:

You have a LOT of articles and the content is great. I'd venture to call it dangerously revealing.

#1 – Does all this come from your head?

#2 – How often do you find yourself repeating the subject in an article? (meaning the “point” of the content)

#3 – Do you have an article “swipe file” to write these? I mean, you write a lot of stuff day-by-day… Is it your experience that helps you write so much in a day, some kind of raw talent that not everyone has? or do you have some kind of article-generating tool that we don't know about?

In other words: What's your secret?

#1 – Yes and no. (I'll come back to this later.)

#2 – Yes, I do repeat myself, unfortunately. It's one of my flaws. I write like I speak. And sometimes, in my attempt to drive an important point home, I repeat myself a few times too many. That's where editing is needed to tighten up the copy — something I need to do more often but fail to do.

As John Carlton coined, I need to “pithisize.”

Now, aside from my flaw, there's a positive lesson, here. As the adage goes, “Repetition is the parent of learning.” Repetition aids comprehension especially of complex, critical, or important ideas. However, the key here is not to repeat the same words over and over but to use different examples to illustrate your point.

To that end, substitute certain words with synonyms and add new pieces of information each time the idea is repeated. For instance, in order to drive the message “privacy policies promote purchases” home, it can be repeated with the following:

  • “Privacy statements increase sales,”
  • “Confidentiality is a key to online success,”
  • And “respecting visitors' privacy is profitable”

#3- To answer that question, and partly your question #1, I refer you to an article I wrote on how I write articles.


Use Scarcity To Sell, Not Scare

Takeaway selling, for the uninitiated, is a way to limit the supply of a product or service in some way to increase scarcity of an offer. Because it's a proven fact that scarcity sells.

It's that ageless law of supply and demand. The less the supply is, the greater the demand will be.

People don't know how much they want something until it's about to be taken away from them. As Jim Rohn once said, “Without a sense of urgency, desire loses its value.”

Why? Because procrastination is the biggest killer of sales — particularly online where the chances of a prospect staying on or returning to a website (in order to think about buying), in today's click-happy world, are just as scarce.

It's like walking into a department store and you see a shirt you're interested in. Since there's none in your size, you ask the sales clerrk if one is available. The clerk goes into the backroom and emerges a few moments later, saying, “I found one in your size…

“… But it's the only one we have left in stock.”

Now, how much more do you want that shirt?

That's the power of takeaway selling. In fact, I'm about to make a shocking statement. One that will force you to look at things in a dramatically different way. It even might shock a few copywriters and “online conversion” pundits.

It is simply this: I've grown even more convinced over time that great copy is not meant to induce action, especially online. Yes, your copy's job is not to get people to act.

It's really meant to prevent procrastination.

Why? Because copy should not sell people and pressure them per se. It should help them buy what you sell and prevent them from making a wrong decision.

Procrastination is a decision in itself, albeit a bad one.

People go online for one reason above all: information. They are searching for specific information. So they find your site through research, or they are land on it through some affiliate promotion, ad, or offer made elsewhere. They are initially interested.

Therefore, to a large degree and unlike the offline world, they're pre-qualified. Just like a shopper who's browsing in a retail store, the moment they hit your site they're “in” your store. They're browsing around. Literally. So it's safe to say they're in the market.

(Granted, that's not true all the time. But again, they are qualified to a great degree — at least to a greater degree online than a bunch of people on a direct mail list you have no knowledge of, other than some basic demographic data.)

Nevertheless, as the saying goes, “People don't like to be sold. But people love to buy.” So scarcity, used properly, helps them buy — and not pressure them to act.

Some people will still buy from bad copy. So poor copy isn't the greatest killer of sales, procrastination is. Because it's the natural fallback position whenever we feel confused, insufficiently informed, or coerced — whether the copy is to blame or not.

Even if the offer is outstanding, the product is perfect for them, and it's exactly what they want, people will always — always! — procrastinate if given the chance.

(How many times have you bought from someone who used scarcity but whose copy was less than desirable? You probably did it more times than you care to count.)

Look at it this way: give a chance for your prospects to procrastinate, and they will.


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

Even preventative scarcity works really well, such as one tied to lessening the potential aggravation of a current, undesirable condition, or to eliminate the fear of some imminent problem, danger, or ill-favored circumstance.

Either way, the important thing to remember is to always give a reasonable, believable, and logical explanation to justify your sense of urgency, or else your sales tactic will be appear disingenuous and be instantly discredited.

So how do you apply scarcity? I've used one of three ways. You can:

  1. Limit the time
  2. Limit the quantity
  3. Or limit the offer

The first is done by adding a deadline on the offer.

Add a real deadline, and not some script that changes the date everyday. How many times have you come across a salesletter where the offer had a deadline that seemed to “magically” bump ahead each time you visited it? People are not stupid!

On the other hand, scarcity done very well is when the product or the price is changing after the deadline, or simply no longer available or temporarily inaccessible.

(By the way, there's an interesting take on the use of takeaway selling. I remember one site that held a rabbit hostage on its way to a slaughterhouse by a certain date — unless you donated money or bought merchandise. Personally, I'm not too keen on the approach. It's crude. But as an example of takeaway selling, it's quite creative.)

The second is limiting the quantity of sales you can make.

Whether it's a finite number of units in stock, or a limited number of openings, always back it up with a realistic reason. Something logical. Something real.

Perhaps it's a “fire sale” (i.e., products discounted because of minimal cosmetic damage, for example), or perhaps it's a way to deplete old stock to make way for the new.

Another way to apply scarcity is to raise the barrier of entry, such as through an application and selection process, longer waiting times, or higher prices and price increases. A great example of this is Australian dentist Paddi Lund.

Whatever the reason, as long as it's credible and logical, and of course as long as it's real, scarcity can become a powerful tool to drastically boost sales.

People buy on emotion first, then justify it with logic. In fact, give them logical explanations in your copy further down, and many will actually use your suggestions — be it consciously or unconsciously — as a way to back up their buying decisions.

You make the excuses for them, in other words. And when you do, they will “own” your reasons for buying now. (Even though those reasons came from you first.)

If you sell services, you can apply scarcity by limiting the number of people you can take on as clients — either because there are only so many hours in the day (the most logical reason), or because overextending your client base will dilute the value of the service.

(Again, you don't have to stop taking on new clients. You can simply increase the barrier of entry, because if you have to work harder to serve more clients, then you certainly deserve to get paid more. After all, if you're busy, you're in demand!)

Also, making the offer something that's secretive, exclusive, or otherwise unavailable to the general public, can arouse stronger motives in the psyche of your readers.

People are intrinsically curious. And people always love to get some kind of “insider's edge” over the rest of the world. (If you want to learn more about this principle, I recommend Dr. Robert Cialdini's book, “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion.”)

For example, there's one private membership site, which currently has an extensive waiting list. Once in a while, they “open their doors” to allow only a specific number of new members to join. Once they reach capacity, the sales page goes down.

The third is limiting the offer as it stands.

The way to do this is to limit other elements that are part of the offer, such as:

  • The guarantee — in other words, you offer a longer or more favorable guarantee, but only to a certain number of units or people or by a certain date,
  • The bonuses or premiums — this one is my favorite, especially when the premiums come from a third party, and I'll come back to this in a moment,
  • The price — aside from typical discounts, perhaps it's an imminent price increase, perhaps to cover the extra costs in dealing with more customers,
  • The packaging — perhaps since the product is bundled with other products or components that won't be available after “X” amount sold,
  • The extras — as in free support, free installation, or free shipping, etc),
  • And so on.

Nevertheless, I like all three tactics, especially when the product is truly limited.

But for convenience, flexibility, and credibility, I prefer limiting the offer with bonuses and extras — especially when they come from third parties. Because often, bonuses can be limited and changed, without limiting the sales of the core product or service.

If they come from another source, they can be limited at that third party's discretion. This projects more believability, because it reduces the perception of the owner's control over the limitation, which may appear as self-serving or manipulative.

Plus, and more importantly, it reduces skepticism as the bonus may actually be sold elsewhere, and therefore it is scarce by being added as a bonus in the first place — let alone the fact that the third party may put a limit on the quantity to give away.

For example, I did this with Stephen Pierce's copy I wrote, where Stephen was giving away a software program that complemented his infoproduct he was selling — one that was truly being sold by someone else on another website at a real price.

Stephen managed to secure permission to distribute only a certain number of copies as a free bonus to his infoproduct, making the offer truly scarce and valuable.

In negotiation skills training, they call this approach the “higher authority” or “third party” gambit, where the limitation appears to be outside of the owner's control — making the takeaway truly a takeaway, and not some conspicuous, manipulative ploy.

This is crucial, because too many people use takeaway these days as an unfounded tactic to induce action, and not as a real reason to prevent procrastination.

So add a deadline — a real, honest-to-goodness end-date — to your offer, limit the number of products you sell (or the number of new members you allow to join), or shape your entire offer so that one or more elements are limited.

To make sure that people believe your need to limit the offer, give a real, reasonable, and logical reason why, or else your tactic will work against you. Always back up every claim you make. (Because, like it or not, applying scarcity is making a claim.)

Here are some examples.

If you add a deadline, limit the number of sales you can make, or limit the number of clients you can accept, then you must explain why you're doing so. You can also be vague, sure. But a real, hard, tangible deadline is always best.

Here's an example of what I put on some sales letters I've written — they sell memberships to private sites and offer personal consulting to their members:

Example #1:

“Let me be candid with you. I don't know how long I'm going to keep the doors open to new members since this information is extremely sensitive. I don't want to dilute the value of this information for my paying members. If you were a paying member, wouldn't you want the same, too? So, I must restrict the number of users for quality control purposes.”

In the above case, the reason is very true and the limitation necessary. Specifically, the author sells access to an insider's directory of “hot” real estate opportunities he finds through his unique scouting system, which he also teaches his members.

If too many people get their hands on these opportunities or the system, it will invariably lower the value of the information to the member-base, and contradict the whole purpose of the site, which is to gain access to little-known, available real estate.

Otherwise, why would one join?

Example #2:

“We're only human, and there are only so many hours in a day and so many people we can physically attend to! So, in order to limit the number of hours of coaching we do provide, we must put a cap on the number of new members for obvious reasons. We can only guarantee that people who sign up through [date] will qualify for membership in this program, which comes with personalized coaching, custom-tailored support, and this incredible set of free bonuses worth over $[amount]! So, don't wait and join today. I'd hate to put you on a milelong waiting list…”

This example demonstrates the importance of the support they offer private members and, at the same time, drives home the idea that such a service is limited.

I'm sure the owners can hire part-time help, if the need ever arose. But nothing can replace expertise that comes straight from the experts — the more people join, the more individualized coaching they must provide, and the less time they have.

Example #3:

“If you act by midnight, Friday on [date], you will get the three bonuses included with your special offer. But keep in mind, these bonuses come from various third parties, including [3rd party name], over which we have no control, and can be removed at any time without notice. I've only secured permission to give away [amount] copies of this bonus bundle. So the time to act is now!”

The above is an example of making the offer limited through a bonus. You can also accomplish this quite effectively by tailoring your offer as a special backend or alternative offer to a list of non-buyers, after they've seen the original offer.

Ultimately, add some kind of constraint. Even if it's just injecting a sense of urgency. Because such limitations implore at some unconscious level that they must take action now, even though you're not directly pushing them to act.

Above all, always make sure to back up your limitation with a logical, genuine, and believable reason in order to avoid appearring misleading or disingenuous.

For the more you make them feel that procrastination is a bad decision, the more people will feel compelled to buy of their volition… and not pressured into buying.


What Performs Better: Long Copy Or Short Copy?

Here's a reprint of an answer I gave a student in another forum who asked:

“Long copy? Or short copy?”

1. Long copy versus short copy has been the single greatest debate since the beginning of the printing press. But long copy always outperforms short copy. Don't be long for the sake of being long. Be long for the sake of providing as much information as is needed to make the sale — and not one word more.

2. People object to reading copy because: a) they are not targeted and b) the copy is boring. “Length” is the excuse because it's a common currency. “Boring” is subjective. “Long” is objective. When copy starts to bore you, you naturally are inclined to say it's “too long.” It's too long because of the fact that it started to drag, causing the reader to lose interest.

3. Speaking of targeting, this is crucial. The previous poster said, “I would read it if it's something I'm interested in, like John's” And that's exactly the key. As Dan Kennedy said:

The person who says ‘I would never read all that copy' makes the mistake of thinking they are the customer. And they're not. We are never our own customers.

There's a thing in copywriting I teach called ‘message-to-market match'. It is this: when your message is matched to a target market that has a high level of interest in it, not only does responsiveness go up but readership goes up, too. The whole issue of interest goes up.

The truth about long copy is that, first of all, there's abundant, legitimate, statistical research, that's split-testing research, to indicate that virtually without exception, long copy outperforms short copy.

There's some significant research has been done that indicate that readership falls off dramatically at 300 words but does not again drop off until 3,000 words.

— Dan Kennedy

As Dan says, what you can pull from that is this: people who dropped off at 300 words weren't qualified for your offer in the first place. They wouldn't have bought from you after 300 words much less after 50 or 5,000 words.

4. Recent web usability studies show that people respond more favorably to more copy on less pages. Here's an interesting study on long scrolling web pages by the folks at User Interface Engineering. They found that people prefer longer scrolling copy over short, multiple pages.

I particularly like these 3 passages:

1. “Our research shows that fewer, longer pages may be the best approach for users. In the trade-off between hiding content below the fold or spreading it across several pages, users have greater success when the content is on a single page.”

2. “Increasing the levels of information, similar to adding sections to an outline, also seemed to help users.”

3. “Users may tell us they hate scrolling, but their actions show something else. Most users readily scrolled through pages, usually without comment.”

Read the results of the study here.

5. Plus, here's my reasoning behind long copy sales pages over multiple, smaller pages. For a single product-focused “mini-site,” this process is proven to have the best results in split-tests. Clicking to another page causes what psychologists call “cognitive dissonance.” (Also known as “buyer's remorse” or having “2nd thoughts.”)

The idea is that, by clicking to another page while one is engaged in the reading process of sales copy forces readers to think twice, as it causes a brief, mental dissassociation or distraction, which interrupts the flow, momentum and intensity of the sales pitch.

6. And best of all, recent tests conducted by prove, without a doubt, that long copy outperforms short copy. Reprinted:

In the first test, we sent traffic to two landing pages using Google AdWords. The first page was the home page, which contained short copy describing the product. The second page was similar, but featured a much longer article about the product. Both pages prompted visitors to click through to the order page, from which point they would be taken to the shopping cart.

Our initial results were gathered after a five-day period:

Test 1 – Short Copy
Clicks = 810
Cost = $94.29
CPC = $0.10
Revenue = $271.75
ROI = -14%
Conversion = 0.37%
Test 1 – Long Copy
Clicks = 1,163
Cost = $135.61
CPC = $0.10
Revenue = $547.50
ROI = +21%
Conversion = 0.52%

In our initial micro-test, long copy outperformed short copy by 40.54%. Click-through traffic sent to the short copy page was unprofitable (-14% ROI), while traffic sent to the long copy page produced an ROI of 21%.

In this first micro-test, it appears that the long copy page performed much better than the short copy page. However, a five-day period is not enough to account for statistical fluctuations that may skew our real results. So we continued to test.

We maintained the same test, expanded our keyword bidding slightly, and gathered additional results over the subsequent five days:

Test 2 – Short Copy
Clicks = 1,700
Cost = $258.62
CPC = $0.15
Revenue = $295.75
ROI = -66%
Conversion = 0.18%
Test 2 – Long Copy
Clicks = 1,440
Cost = $218.83
CPC = $0.15
Revenue = $1,094.15
ROI = +50%
Conversion = 0.69%

Again, long copy outperformed short copy, this time by an even greater factor of nearly four to one. Our ROI was a dismal -66% for the short copy page and a very respectable 50% for the long copy page.


In general, long copy offers the following advantages:

1. Your visitors will have most of their questions answered and will have less anxiety about ordering from you.

2. Long copy can reduce customer service by qualifying your customers to a greater degree.

3. Long copy with bolded or emphasized points can allow some of your visitors to skim, while others more interested in specifics can find all the information they want. In this sense, long copy gives visitors more options.

4. Long (and interesting) keyword-rich copy often performs well in natural search engines.

Even more…

The long vs. short debate often overlooks the most important factor when it comes to website copy: quality. High-quality short copy will outperform poorly written long copy every time.

The best possible copy should be developed and tested before you even begin to worry about the long vs. short debate. Utilize an A-B split test. This will ensure that other factors (such as time, traffic source, and so on) do not skew your results.

And finally…

Copy should be long enough to do its job effectively, and not a word longer. Long copy for the sake of long copy is not to your benefit. Always keep in mind the primary goal of your website's copy (to sell your product or service, to solicit subscriptions, etc.).

Utilize bullets and/or numbered lists where appropriate. These make it easier for visitors to digest your information and prevent your pages from becoming one long block of gray. Utilize testimonials. Praise from your satisfied customers is much more effective than self-praise.

While our initial Long Copy vs. Short Copy micro-tests returned results clearly in favor of long copy, true optimization of your own website's copy will only come through your own testing. However, the guidelines above should give you a good place to start. We will continue to revise our own testing and share our results.

Read the issue here, with specific results:

An interesting discussion is going on in one of my favorite online forums, The Warriors Forum, about short copy winning over long copy. And the author of the thread cited a study he conducted, where he proved that shorter copy won over long copy.

Some people are screaming “heresy!” Others agreed.

Personally, I believe the study conducted is indeed valid because it makes sense. In this particular case, short copy was warranted for this particular market with this particular offer.

But is this true in all cases? When you look at his study closer, you realize that it lacks information about the variables involved, which makes the study, and its findings, a bit misleading.

Here's what I mean.

I truly believe that long copy sells better than short copy. But I base my opinion on the average, not the universal. Because, in some cases, shorter copy does sell better. But there are very specific reasons for this, and I want to go over a few of the important ones that I see all the time.

However, before I give you some of those reasons (and there are many, which I cannot go through in the scope of this one article), I'd like to make a distinction, if I could, so you understand the factors that come into play.

When people often look at short copy, even test it and then realize that it works better than long copy, there are many variables that one fails to look at. The price, the industry and particularly the target market play a significant role.

But there are also two others that I'd like to go over today: a) the product category or type, and b) the pre-selling process (i.e., the mindset of the market).

First, the product type.

When I used to teach marketing principles in college (part of the Business Administration curriculum at Algonquin College in Ottawa, Canada), my students learned that there are four textbook categories of products:

  1. Convenience products
  2. Shopping products
  3. Specialty products
  4. Unsought products

Each product category has a different sales process and marketing requirement. Why? Because the level of commoditization of the product delineates how much marketing, promotion and relationship-building is required to sell the product.

(And when I say “marketing,” I mean all types of marketing, from branding to pricing to availability to distribution.)

To give you some examples, a “convenience product” is one often purchased to fulfill immediate needs. The purchase is done at an almost unconscious level, too. Pricing is often moderate to low, and brand equity, reputation and relationships do not make a big difference if any.

The product has penetrated the market en masse. It is widely available. And more often than not, convenience products are impulse purchases. They are also staples, in most cases.

Take, for example, bread, milk, batteries, etc. These are often the types of products you find in convenience stores or in the supermarket checkout lines, where people just grab them and add them to their orders just because “they're there.”

No real thought has been given into making the buying decision. Price may either be low or a non-issue, in most cases. And copy, if any is used, will be relatively short and brief. A small POP display (point of purchase stand, cardboard ad, logo with product name and description, etc) is all that's required.

As for “shopping products,” those are less commoditized products. They are a little higher in price. A little more thought is required into making the purchase. And people tend to “shop around” when deciding on buying such products.

They either weigh the pros and cons before buying it, or they make the decision to buy relatively quickly — albeit less quickly than a convenience product.

Other times, they take a bit of time to decide, depending on the price, the availability and the market. They will analyze first, and they often require a bit more copy to gather enough information to justify their decision.

Products like cars, appliances, computers, etc are shopping products. (They can be more or less in price too, such as videos, movies, homes, vacations, even software and online services.)

As such, a little longer copy is required, often to differentiate the product from its competitors, and sell the uniqueness and the specific benefits of the product.

Third is the “specialty product.” This is a product that definitely needs more copy and a lot of selling is required. Specialty products are higher priced, highly targeted and more valuable — especially for very specific target markets.

(That is, they might not be of any value for others but of high value for a select group of individuals.)

Exotic goods, luxury cars, expensive jewelry, art and so on are specialty items. Take Mont-Blanc pens, Porsche cars and Pearson yachts, for example.

(A popular magazine is the Robb Report, which is a magazine for the affluent. Take a look at some of the ads in it, and you'll see exactly what I mean.)

In my marketing classes, the example given was a particular brand of gourmet bread that was gluten-free, created with an exotic herd of mountain sheep's milk grazing on the alpine slopes, flavored with rare spices and condiments grown in the Amazon jungle, fire-oven baked to very specific temperatures, and gift-wrapped inside a special, ornamentally carved wooden box shipped directly to people's doors.

(And yes, a loaf can cost you up to $500 each.)

Therefore, longer copy is definitely needed in this case. The goal would be not to differentiate it from its competition (since there's very little of it) but to create value, justify the purchase and add reasons why.

In other words, why would someone pay $500 for a loaf of bread? There are very specific individuals who would and very specific reasons they would, too.

Finally, “unsought products” are exactly that: unsought. Products that no one would have ever known about or looked for. Now, this doesn't mean exotic and fancy products, either. This means products people don't necessarily look for or believe they don't need. At first.

Preventative type products fall in that category (i.e., life insurance, pre-arranged funeral services, financial investment services, etc). Almost all information products fall in that category too, by the way. (If not, they probably fall in the “specialty” category.)

Consequently, long copy is a must in these cases. And the copy is not only meant to differentiate, add value and justify the purchase, but also to create a need and a desire for the product.

What I mean is, you need a lot of copy to educate the market on why they need (and subsequently want) this type of product. You need a lot of copy to really build a compelling case for buying it.

Granted, these categories are not universal. Because another element comes in, which is the second one in my list mentioned earlier.

And that is, the process.

The process can help identify, isolate or even create certain markets (and therefore certain mindsets) that will buy a product with more or less copy. And that process is not limited to words — or to selling itself, for that matter.

Long copy is often attributed to a long copy salesletter. But that is not often the case. Copy is not limited to a salesletter or website. It can often take many forms, take place over time, and communicated and delivered in many different ways.

When all added, they take the form of, and replace, a long copy salesletter that would otherwise be required if none of these other steps were taken.

For example, if you have an affiliate program, then your affiliates can and should “pre-sell” the product for you. Their “copy,” in other words, is part of the entire sales engine. When they hit your site, and if they're highly targeted and qualified from moment they hit it, then you need less copy to sell them.

In fact, if your affiliates did their jobs right, they've already sold your prospects even before they read your copy.

Even if your affiliate (or even yourself, when you sell to an established list of paying clients) doesn't use a lot of copy to pre-sell, the “uncommunicated” copy was delivered in the form of building the brand (and that brand can also be you and your expertise), trust, credibility and relationships.

For example, when you promote a new product to an established audience (or if your affiliates promote your product to their established lists), a relationship already exists. The process didn't start with that promotion but a long time ago.

How many times have you already sold this audience in the past? If you have done so, particularly several times, the likelihood that little copy will be required for the next promotion.

You don't need copy to build credibility or educate your market, in this case, because that job has already been done.

In other words, copy was already used, albeit indirectly.

How much copy in other promotions have you used? How many times did they read your articles, websites and blog posts before they bought from you? How great is the relationship you created with them before you sold them anything? How much did they read about, learned from and educated themselves on: you, your expertise, your business or even your affiliates' businesses?

That's copy. All of it.

It's all part of the sales process. And “copy,” in the case of selling to an established, qualified market, didn't start with that salesletter. It started a long time ago through other means.

Try to sell to a brand new market for the first time, one who has never heard of you, and you'll need copy. Lots of it.

Hire a sales representative to sell for you, and that's copy too, albeit delivered incrementally, in different ways, over time. For example, include all the prospecting steps, qualification questions, needs analyses, phone calls, sales presentations, written proposals, objections handled, and closing attempts the salesperson did.

But it's still all one big piece of copy. Remove all of those steps and start fresh with just a salesletter, and you will definitely need a long copy salesletter. Without question.

In other words, if you had to replace all those steps with just one, the process would have taken the form of one long-copy salesletter.

Finally, there's also a correlation between my two points, i.e., between product categories and processes.

Because a product, which may at first be an unsought product — with a bit of copy, awareness, brand equity and credibility built over time — can change and be promoted to another category.

They can go from unsought, to specialty, to shopping, and even to convenience, after a specific point in the sales/life cycle.

Take bottled water, for instance.

Bottled water was once unsought when it was first introduced. Over time, it became a specialty product. After a while, it then became a shopping product.

(And in some cases, I'd even venture to say that bottled water is now a convenience product, especially in certain markets such as gyms, schools, offices or certain locales where water quality is known to be poor.)

So when you really look at it and think about it, long copy always wins. Always. It's just not a long copy salesletter every time. Granted, after a period of time, it's not always needed when the audience is pre-sold, or when the product is a low-priced convenience product.

Bottom line, copy doesn't need to do a job that's already been done. So the question is not “how long should your salesletter be?” But rather, “how qualified, targeted and sold is my target market before they even read my salesletter?”

And therein lies the key: the market, not the copy.