In my critique consulting services, I've found the most common mistake clients make is the ignorance of, or indifference to, split-testing. Little do they know this underutilized marketing practice can be one of the most profitable.
Split-testing is the simple process of splitting your audience into reading two or more versions of your copy — whether it's your website, salesletter, email, etc — to determine which version pulls the best.
I'm a big fan of testing. And I teach it as much as I can, and if my critiques are any indication, I also believe 99% of marketers out there do not test at all. It's a shame, because they're leaving so much money on the table.
I applaud those people who do test. The problem, however, is that some of them reveal their test results, share their insights, and make claims, which can be a bad thing.
Sure, test results are cool. Perhaps even insightful. But some may be misinterpreted, and doing so also feeds into this lackadaisical mindset of those non-testers, thinking that such test results are universally applicable and therefore testing is unnecessary.
Taking any test result as gospel, without validation, can be an expensive proposition…
I always recommend you test everything first. Never take any test result as applicable to your specific situation. Even mine, as I do share my test results from time to time.
Why? Because only a handful of these test results, if any (and believe me, they are rare), are statistically significant enough to be truly portable to other offers or markets.
So, you're probably scratching your head, wondering:
“What good are test results, then?”
Now, I agree that some results, tested thoroughly under various conditions, can be widely accepted. They have slim margins of error, and they're statistically valid enough that the likelihood of achieving the same kinds of results in another area is higher.
(Then again, those “surefire” test results are equally limited in their application, as they were generated at specific points in time. They may change over time as markets evolve. So even the best test results are never constant.)
It's true, however, that having access to someone else's test results — like the ones I reveal in my Copy Doctor membership website — puts you several steps ahead of trying to blindly test anything without any help or direction, let alone of testing nothing at all.
Knowing what to test is an awesome benefit.
Never discount other people's test results. Look at them as pointers, which are great ideas for testing. But they are not, and should never be taken as, absolutes.
Each “pointer” any marketer gives has been achieved under very specific and sometimes very unique conditions. Duplicating those results is highly contingent on duplicating the same conditions under which those tests were conducted.
For example, if you're testing colors, then the target market, the type of product, the price point, and the offer have all played immense roles in the weight of those test results. And even if there's a small chance that they are the same as yours, the time during which the tests were conducted is definitely different.
Let me give you some examples.
Last year, another copywriter posted his test results on a popular Internet marketing forum. I agree with most of them, largely because they seem to parallel mine, but there were a few exceptions. So I've added some of my comments, reprinted here…
1. Your headline should always be in Tahoma, dark red, size 20. It must also have quotation marks before and after. Also, headlines that start with “Who Else” always gets a higher response.
Yes, that's what I've tested, too. But the results do vary. On average, the increase is less than 100%. Even less than 50%. (Meaning, they don't double or more, as some marketers suggest.) And in some cases, the response went down rather than up.
In the majority of tests, we found the greatest bump in results has less to do with colors than it has with the headline's distinctive appeal. In other words, when the headline is distinctly different than the rest of the body copy, it draws more attention.
For instance, sans-serif fonts for headlines and headers (i.e., subheads within the copy), when the body copy uses serif fonts — and vice versa — have the best results. Dark red headlines, and then dark blue, seem to outpull other colors.
Sans-serif are proportional width fonts with no curlicues, such as Tahoma, Trebuchet, Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, Geneva, etc — this blog uses Arial, for example. Serif fonts have curlicues, such as Times New Roman, Schoolbook, Georgia, Garamond, etc.
Serif fonts are best with a primarily technophobic audience.
(Technophobes are people who are not technically inclined, such as newbies or people who are averse to technology. Granted, as more and more people use technology on a regular basis, technophobes are a shrinking bunch.)
With technophiles, on the other hand (i.e., people who love and use technology a lot), I've had better results with sans-serif fonts used within the body copy, and even sans-serif fonts for the main headline and headers throughout the copy.
My guess as to why all of this is so? For technophobes, serif fonts mimic direct mail and offline communications, which non-techies are used to. Objectively, delivering copy in the format your audience is used to as much as possible is the key.
The middle ground seems to be fixed-width fonts, such as Courier or Courier New. If your audience is comprised of both ends of the spectrum of what Jupiter Research calls “technographics” — similar to demographics — Courier is your safest bet.
My theory is, Courier mimics plain text email for technophiles and typewriter type for technophobes, thus appealing to both. So if you're not sure of your target market's technographics, use Courier or Courier New as your main font to play it safe.
Bottom line, it depends on the audience.
And without a doubt, doing proper market research before you do any split-testing — or worse, guessing from the get-go — will tell you a lot about your audience as to what will appeal to them best. (I'll come back to the whole “who else” argument a little later.)
2. Your headline should be simple and focus only on the SINGLE biggest benefit of your product (don't try to get fancy and do heaps of benefits at once). Make it clear and compelling.
True. But again, that's a suggestion. In fact, I've found that using less and less benefits in your headline increases response, likely because a benefit-driven headline alerts the reader that what follows is a salesletter. (And people hate being sold.)
I've had good results with headlines that didn't have any benefits at all. Such as…
- Newsy, editorial-like headlines,
- Headlines that introduce a story,
- Headlines that ask a question,
- Headlines that give an incomplete idea,
- Headlines that start a conversation,
And so on.
These headlines pull the reader into the copy, especially because they start an idea, imply a benefit (rather than state one outright), pique the reader's curiosity, create doubt or intrigue, or continue the conversation going on in the mind of the reader.
Here are some examples of classic headlines that are not benefit-driven but have historically proven to be for some of the most profitable ads in history:
- “Do You Make These Mistakes In English?”
- “The Tale Of Two Young Men”
- “The Insult That Made A Man Out Of Mac”
- “When Doctors Feel Rotten, This Is What They Do”
- “Often A Bridesmaid, Never A Bride”
- “Using A Lawyer May Be Dangerous To Your Wealth”
- “Have You Ever Seen a Grown Man Cry?”
Again, there are no real or direct benefits in these headlines. But there's either an implied benefit, or a statement that tickles people's curiosity and forces them to start reading, which is the whole purpose of a headline in the first place.
Now, some people have ranted and raved about the “who else” headline. I tested this headline like crazy. Personally, I hate it. But like it or not, it seems to pull more than any other headline I've tried — granted, it is slowly declining in recent times.
In fact, while I'm at it let me share with you five headline types I've tested, which have produced some of the highest responses — and the reasons I believe they work…
1. “Who Else”
The “who else” headline is based on the original classic, “Who Else Wants a Screen Star Figure?” This type of headline is the winner is most of my tests, and now used by countless marketers. I'm sure you've come across at least one of them.
Mind you, the second winner in line is not too far down. So “Who else” may be the winner but the margin is slim. Plus, recent tests show that the response for a “who else” headline is declining, likely due to is overuse.
In other words, just like the benefit-driven headline, too many marketers use “who else” nowadays, and therefore people are becoming more aware of it. It screams “salesletter!” and thus scares readers off when they see it being used.
This headline is very close to “who else” in terms of concept.
It was used in one of the most successful ad campaigns for self-made multi-millionaire Charles Givens, written by one of my favorite copywriters, Gary Bencivenga.
Since then, it has been used in many other industries with great success. For example, it also worked in an ad for exercise guru Richard Simmons, which basically said something like, “If you give me 20 minutes a month, then I guarantee you will lose weight.”
I've also used this type of headline with John Reese's Traffic Secrets, the salesletter that sold over a million dollars worth of product in under one day. It started as, “If you can copy and paste, then you have what it takes to…”
Simply, it promises a benefit but only if the reader can meet a very simple, very obvious condition. In other words, “If you meet this condition, then I will make this promise.”
The key is that the condition must be easy to meet. If the condition is too hard, it defeats the purpose of using such a headline. Also, if your target customer can easily meet the condition, this type of headline can also act as an effective qualifier.
3. “Give Me/And I'll”
This is close to the “if/then” headline. Essentially, rather than asking if the reader meets a condition, it makes a promise or offers a benefit when the reader meets it.
In other words, it doesn't put any condition on the reader but rather asks a small favor from her, which is a simple request that's obviously easy to do, and disproportionate to the value of the benefit they receive in return for complying.
It goes something like this: “Give me something (i.e., do something or meet this condition), and in return I'll make you this promise (i.e., you will enjoy this benefit).”
This highlights a classic Cialdini principle, the Principle of Reciprocity. Dr. Robert Cialdini, in his famous book “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion,” states that when you do someone a favor, people will feel obligated to return it.
In this case, the headline is asking for a favor and promises to return it.
Take a look at Alex Mandossian's Traffic Conversion Secrets course, which was a teleseminar series delivered over eight months. The headline goes: “Give Me 8 Months, And I'll Spoonfeed You My Tested Methods For Converting More Visitors Into Cash.”
4. “How To”
The “how-to” headline is self-explanatory. Any headline that says “how to [achieve a result]” has been a surefire winner in many cases. I use it all the time. And the reason is, the headline makes the salesletter look more like an article or editorial.
Regardless of whichever headline method you choose, your salesletter should always provide some informative or educational content. But the goal is to deliver the “what” and to sell them on the “how,” which is only achieved by buying your product.
- “How to Transform Your Unproductive Website Into a Raging Cash Machine.”
- “How to Grow Bigger, Plumper, Juicier Tomatoes in Only Two-Thirds of The Time.”
- “How to Get a Near-New Car For 60% Less at Government Seizure Auctions.”
5. Third-Person Verbs
Headlines that start with a verb have always produced really good results.
Verbs that direct the audience to do something, often to receive a benefit or to achieve a certain result, have always given great test results. Verbs like “Discover,” “Master,” “Access,” “Get,” “Learn,” “Conquer,” “Build,” and so on work well.
But here's the kicker. In recent tests, I've learned that, in some instances, putting your verbs in the third person increases response. It's an idea I got from copywriter Bob Bly.
He tells the story of an ad that had a typo. The ad was for a course on how to play the piano. The intended headline was, “Put Music Back Into Your Life.” The typo was an extra “s” accidentally placed after the verb “put,” as in “Puts Music Back Into Your Life.”
At first, the error was disconcerting to the ad owner.
But to their surprise, they realized that error multiplied the ad's response. My theory? The third person makes the headline appear as if the product or service does the work for you rather than you doing it yourself. It seems effortless.
In Bly's example, rather than asking the reader to “put music back into her life,” which requires effort, the ad implied that the course somehow does it for them.
Again, it goes to the natural human propensity of getting things done. It's all about convenience and laziness. And after I heard about it, I've tested it with great results.
My friend Armand Morin tested this, too, with his directory generator software. The headline says, (this software) “Instantly Creates a New Breed of Website…” rather than “Instantly Create a New Breed of Website” (with this software).
3. Add audio directly underneath your headline. But not just any audio. You want audio that excites your reader and keeps them reading. Don't waffle on. Keep it short and sweet.
I agree. This is a test I made based on a suggestion from my friend John Reese. John used it with his AuctionSecrets.com website, and told me his sales increased significantly. So I tried it. And after testing it got a 44% increase in response.
It is particularly effective when combined with a “who else” headline. The question in the headline, using “who else” (or any other question, for that matter), immediately engages the reader — at least to listen to the audio, since the audio answers the question.
Used in concert with the “If/Then” and “Give Me/And I'll” headlines, the audio finishes the statement, answers the question, or offers a benefit when they meet the condition.
After it asks you, “do you meet this condition?” the headline directs the reader to listen to the audio for a very special message if they do meet it. In other words, the audio says, “I can make this promise (or you can enjoy this benefit),” or “you should read this copy which is meant specifically for you (because you meet this condition),” etc.
4. Pepper your order links throughout your copy (not just at the end like most people). Repeat them again and again before the end.
Now, this is a bit contentious.
I found that it depends on the product. What I discovered was that removing all links and leaving only the one single order link increased response dramatically, especially for long copy, one-time purchases — especially with information products.
Why? Because more often than not, adding too many links gives people an opportunity to procrastinate and bail out. If you have long copy, and since people never read long copy at first, they will then scan your copy to justify the need to read it in the first place.
Often, they will want to know the price, not to discover if there's any value in the offer — besides, how can they know when they haven't read it yet? — but to discover if the price is appealing enough to justify the time it will take to read the long copy.
Increasing the number of links adds “eye gravity,” and gives people a chance to skip the long copy, check out the price before they start reading, and then… leave.
On the other hand, if you sell an inexpensive product, a commodity product, or a digital product, if your audience is on a list to which you can follow-up, and if the copy is highly targeted to an audience that's already pre-sold (i.e., it's generated through affiliate promotions that endorse the product), then many links do increase sales.
Because most of the time, people are already sold. They just want to buy.
Armand Morin has tested this extensively — in fact, some of his salesletters have over 100 order links! At first, when I heard he saw a jump in sales because of adding more order links, my assumption was that this was true for all products.
Remember, Armand uses affiliate marketing, a “namesqueeze” process (i.e., an opt-in page before hitting the salespage, so they join a list whether they buy or not), and a carefully crafted follow-up autoresponder series that keeps pre-selling the recipient.
So when they've decided to order, they're simply led to the sales copy — which is a webpage with many order links. And in this case, doing so boosted sales.
Otherwise, if you sell an expensive product and you really want people to read your copy first, then don't put too many links. You want to give the least amount of distractions as possible as well as the least amount of opportunities to bail out as possible.
John Reese said it this way:
“Use only one link, mainly in your call-to-action section. And if you want to add more, simply add some after that section, which are not order links but simply anchored bookmarks that jump people back to the call-to-action section.”
(The latter part of John's tip is presumably because, when people scan, they usually pay attention to the top and the bottom. Which is why headlines and P.S.'s at the end are crucial. But in this case, adding “live” order links after the order section is just another opportunity for people to bail out. That's my theory, anyway.)
5. Pepper testimonials throughout your copy. Don't limit your testimonials to blocks somewhere in the middle. Use the first one early on and pepper the others throughout your copy.
My answer to this one is both “yes” and “no.” Yes, you should pepper testimonials throughout. But adding a few together, particularly if they're similar and serve a specific purpose, also helps to cluster them for greater impact.
However, the real key here is to make them congruent with the thoughts and flow of the copy. Because too many people nowadays plunk their testimonials in huge clusters in the middle of the copy with no purpose or relevance to that particular point in the pitch.
I've seen better test results when testimonials are meaningful, not only in themselves but also in terms of how they relate to the rest of the copy at that point. So pick and use testimonials that are relevant to specific sections of your pitch.
For example, say a section in your copy is meant to handle objections pre-emptively. This is a good place to add testimonials from people who were also skeptics, had the same objections, and became convinced after buying the product.
In this case, the testimonial is answering the objection (more specifically, a seemingly objective third party is answering the objection), and not you.
Say you sell a software that promises to increase your search engine rankings. So your copy at some point starts to talk to the skeptic who's been burnt by other search engine software, and discusses how it really is different than the others.
You tell your reader how superior your software is to others on the market — likely software that failed to deliver — and that it really does deliver on its promises.
But instead of stating it outright, use testimonials to drive that same point home. The copy might say, after the objection was stated in the copy:
“As you can see, [software] truly is better than most alternatives on the market that only offer [lesser result or benefit]. Take the case of John Smith, who nearly didn't buy my software because he's not only a diehard skeptic, but also bought other alternatives that produced less than favorable results. Like you, he was extremely doubtful. But after he reluctantly agreed to give the software a try, here's what he had to say…”
… Followed, of course, by his testimonial.
In my tests, I've found that adding testimonials too early in the letter decreases response. Perhaps for the same reasons mentioned earlier: they scream “salesletter!”
Unless you're selling to an established client base, to a highly targeted audience, or to traffic created by affiliates who pre-sell your product for you (which, in this case, testimonials early in the copy do work well), try to put your testimonials a little later.
I prefer putting them near the introduction of the product, the objections, the offer, the benefits (near a bulleted list of benefits, for example), and of course, the price.
A final note. Actually, a caveat.
Keep in mind that anything I say here may or may not work in your copy.
Just like I said about other people's test results, mine should be used as guidance, not gospel. I know the chances that they will work are high since I've tested them thoroughly.
But never, ever take my word for it. Sure, try them. Test them out. Validate them for yourself and your particular market, industry, and offer. See if my test results match yours. If they do, great. If not, test them again but with other variations, or move on.
And if you have several websites or salesletters, don't stop there. Test it some more. You'll be glad you did. Or like some of my students, you'll be mad — mad because you'll soon realize how much money you left sitting on the table all this time by not testing.
Michel Fortin is a certified digital marketing expert and renowned copywriter who specializes in a unique combination of SEO, CRO, and UX to improve traffic, leads, and revenue for his clients. For the better part of 30 years, he's produced countless wins, generating in excess of $300 million in sales and results that have broken many industry records. He has worked with thousands of businesses ranging from individual entrepreneurs to enterprise-level multinational companies. He's the author of two top-selling books and often speaks at industry events. To connect with him, visit his LinkedIn profile where he is most active.