Categories
Audits

Quick SEO Audit of DrThors.com

Time for another quick SEO audit of a plastic surgery website. After my last SEO mini-audit on OttawaPlasticSurgery.com, some of you have commented saying how helpful it was. So I've decided to do another one.

But this time, I picked one at random.

Quick SEO Audit Selection Process

Here's how did it: I turned on my VPN and chose “United States” as my country of choice. The VPN will randomly route me to anywhere in the country. In a private browser, I Googled “plastic surgeon,” jumped straight to page three of the SERPs (search engine results pages), and picked the first one on the list.

This SEO mini-audit will be on Dr. Gunnar Thors from Midwest Plastic Surgery Specialists. Remember, this audit will be brief. My 360° SEO Audits go far beyond this. But it might give you some insights you can apply these to your website.

Quick SEO Audit of DrThors.com 1 | quick seo audit
Mini SEO audit on DrThors.com.

Initial Crawl and Overview

Using Screaming Frog SEO spider crawler, I crawled the site and found a few things. Here are some of my first-glance observations.

  • The site took a very long time to crawl. Usually, that's an indication that pages are taking a long time to load or there are many redirects.
  • The site contains 154 total internal pages.
    • 51 pages are redirects. Most are 302 (i.e., temporary redirects) and not 301 (i.e., permanent redirects). 302 redirects are fine when a site is in transition or it's for a limited time. But in this case, they are leading to permanent pages in what seems to be a new patient photo gallery.
    • There are eight 301 redirects. I would fix these and change the internal links to the proper URLs. There's one 404 page, which needs to be fixed.
    • Aside from the home page, there are remaining 103 pages:
      • There's a single author page, which is a typical WordPress “author” page. I would set this to “noindex,” although it's not essential. Also, the site's author is not Dr. Thors but a staff member, which reduces E-A-T signals (expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness).
      • There are an “about us” page and various subpages. The parent page is a 301 redirect, which is likely from the navigation menu. (I'll come back to this.)
      • There's a blog section that contains only one blog post, “Welcome to our newly designed website,” dated 2017, and three empty category pages. Obviously, this is suboptimal.
      • There are various procedure pages divided into five sections or body parts, including breast, body, face, skin, and men.
      • There's a contact page set to “noindex” (i.e., it's blocking Google). Preventing a contact page from being indexed is not optimal. It might give a poor user experience signal or restricting important location-based information (such as for local SEO schema code).
      • And finally, there's a patient before-and-after photo gallery, which seems to have two major sections: the gallery page with links, and the photo section containing a number of individual pages.
  • The photo selector on the main gallery page (which is also linked from the navigation menu) appears to load dynamically. But it's poorly designed and the culprit behind the 302 redirects. It doesn't even work.
    • When I click on the left menu to choose a procedure I wish to see, nothing happens. Even in different browsers. This is not good.
    • Also, the problem with 302 temporary redirects is, if access to any of the gallery pages is from this page only, any “SEO juice” will not carry over to the new pages since Google may think they are temporary.
    • Plus, the gallery pages, which are dynamic, are canonicalized to the main page. So it's telling Google to only index the canonical URL, stopping Google from accessing the actual photo pages. It might be confusing or blocking Google from further access.
    • To make sure, I went to Google, typed in site:drthors.com, and it gave me 70 pages. Since the site has 103 crawlable pages, this means that 30 pages are not indexed by Google.
    • Before-and-after photos usually drive a tremendous amount of traffic for plastic surgeons, but the new gallery may not be getting the full SEO benefit. Some gallery pages are indexed. But Google may have failed to crawl all the remaining pages.
    • Finally, the site appears to be responsive but the patient photo gallery doesn't work on my mobile, either. This can lead to user frustration.

Very Thin Content

Overall, the site is simple. But it contains very thin content. The procedures have some content, but there are no blog posts or articles, and the photo gallery pages have no content at all, other than a title and short description.

As I normally suggest with case studies and before-and-after photos, I would add details about that case’s recovery time, some anonymous info about the patient (i.e., lifestyle, career, pregnancies, etc), or details to make the reader understand and identify themselves more with the case.

You can also tell that the site has been optimized by someone who used older SEO tactics, creating a few hard-to-read pages with keyword-stuffed headings and content. This outdated SEO technique is not a best practice.

Poor User Experience

The navigation menu is poorly designed. Most of the main links are dead and used for the purpose of opening up submenus. But the submenus don't open unless the main links are clicked on (rather than hovering over them).

The main logo at the top, which is clickable, is self-referring. So it only refreshes the page instead of going back the home page.

The site has no legal page, no terms-and-conditions page, and above all, no privacy policy. For a medical website dealing with possible HIPPA-compliant communications such as the use of online forms, these missing pages are vital and may also be why Google has not ranked this site well.

In other words, the site may appear to be a scam or at least not provide a good and safe enough user experience, which may explain why the search engines would rather avoid sending users to it.

Search Intent Mismatch

Finally, and this may be more of a personal preference, the various “body parts” pages have mixed content. For example, they have a combination of surgical and non-surgical procedures (e.g., facelift and Botox® on the face page, for example). This seems confusing to me.

I would separate those out to make it clear to the user, or perhaps organize and label the content, which would also help rankings. If someone searches for non-surgical injections and lands on a page with surgical procedures instead, the search intent is mismatched and the user will leave, confused.

Let’s take a look at what some SEO tools say.

SEO Analysis Tools

According to Ahrefs, the site is getting about 77 average monthly visits, which is considerably low. A decent plastic surgery site, even if not properly optimized, should be getting at least 300-500 visitors a month.

Traffic has been rather steady, and judging from when the site was redesigned (spring of 2017), it didn't do anything remarkable as traffic has in fact stayed the same, mildly increased, or even decreased.

Lack of “Good” Keywords

The keywords for which the site is ranking is very telling. First, there are 2-3 branded keywords (Dr. Thors and Midwest Plastic Surgery). But the rest (about 20 or so) are keywords related to a single page on the site that shows “thank you notes” (testimonials) from patients.

The majority of the rankings for “good” keywords (i.e., terms that have volume and are targeted) are only found on page five and higher (position 51+), such as “best plastic surgeon illinois,” “breast augmentation illinois,” “tummy tuck results near Chicago,” “botox injections for men,” etc.

This explains why these “good keywords” have brought zero traffic. They include 45 search terms for a variety of facial procedures (a mix of surgeries and non-surgical injections), 39 for breast-related procedures, 24 for skin (mostly non-surgical skincare), 9 for liposuction, and 14 for tummy tucks.

E-A-T Signals

E-A-T, which stands for expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness, is the strongest ranking factor for medical websites. In this case, the doctor's “about” page has a strong bio with good credentials. But there's no indication that he wrote or approved the content on the site.

Also, his many credentials and certifications should have some external links to the licensing bodies, schools, or associations mentioned.

In my initial crawl at the beginning, there are only five external links, most of which are skincare lines. The lack of external links can often be a poor signal. It's always a good practice to link to external resources, citations, or websites that complement the site's content. It's also a good user experience signal, too.

To paraphrase John Donne, “No website is an island.”

Technical SEO

Since the site only has 154 total pages (150 according to SEM Rush, which I assume are 100 main pages and the photo gallery, and the rest are redirects), this means that almost every page on the entire site has issues. In fact, the software found three healthy pages only. Errors include:

  • 53 broken internal links
  • 36 duplicate title tags
  • 19 pages with duplicate content
  • 18 errors found in the sitemap
  • 7 pages blocked/inaccessible
  • 1 page not found (404 error)

Page Experience

Surprisingly, the site is not bad from a Google Lighthouse scan. The biggest snag being the page load speed. According to Google, it takes almost nine seconds to load on a mobile device. Simple caching and image optimization could cut page load time by about half.

Local SEO

According to BrightLocal, there are 13% correct local listings, 40% are found but incorrect, and 47% are missing altogether. This means that the NAP Profile (i.e., name, address, and phone) are all inconsistent. For example, “MidWest” or “Specs” (rather than “Midwest” or “Specialists”), and so on.

When it comes to local SEO, the most important thing is to be consistent. Your NAP profile must be the same across all local listings, citations, and business directories. Otherwise, it will diminish the strength of the signals by confusing search engines, let alone users.

Birdseye Competitive Scan

According to Ahrefs, the three biggest competitors are:

As you can see, traffic is 3-10 times higher than that of DrThors.com. Just a cursory look at each website, it's easy to why. For example, ChadTattiniMD.com has 600 crawlable pages, 100 of which are blog posts with good content. Similarly, the others have just as much content, too.

So it goes to reason that, to compete in his pace, Dr. Thors would benefit from a lot more content around relevant topics.

Conclusion

This is only a brief audit. It doesn’t include any competitive analysis, keyword research, backlink profiles, and so on. I typically include these in my 360° SEO Audit and 360° SEO Strategy programs for plastic surgery and cosmetic medicine. But this quick, high-level audit offers a good deal of information.

I believe this site has four major issues that need to be addressed if it has any chance at driving an acceptable level of traffic.

  1. The site definitely needs more content. Proper keyword research, a competitive gap analysis, and a SERP analysis will give many clues as to what kinds of content people are looking for.
  2. EAT signals are lackluster at best. The lack of privacy and security, and poor authoritative signals, indicate that the site is not as trustworthy as Google (and users) would like.
  3. The user experience needs to be addressed. Short of a complete redesign, the various UX elements such as the navigation menu, the photo gallery, and the various poorly accessible parts of the site should be fixed.
  4. Finally, conducting a proper sweep and correction of all local listings, and claiming all the citations possible in this local area, would vastly improve this site's presence. Otherwise, it's competing against some fairly large clinics in Chicago and clinics with far more visibility.

Hopefully, this was helpful. Please let me know if you would like to see more.

Categories
Copywriting

It’s Not What You Say, It’s How You Say It

Copywriting is often labelled as “wordsmithing.” A wordsmith is someone who uses words to sell a product, a service, or an idea.

But, is copy only about words?

Copywriting comes down to two fundamental tasks: knowing what to say and then how to say it. The first part is the most crucial. After all, the success of your copy hinges greatly on coming up with the right message — i.e., the right angle or story — that moves your readers and makes them move.

To do this, you need to choose the right words to communicate your message, express your story, and connect with your audience.

The second part is just as important. Choosing the best words to not only say what you mean but also add meaning to what you're saying is a wordsmith's most prized weapon in making copy significantly more potent.

Sometimes, the right message isn't enough. It needs to jump out at the reader, grab them by the eyeballs, and shake them into action if not reading further.

So knowing how to say it is communicating the right message in the right way.

But what about formatting, visual aids, graphics, and cosmetics of the text? What about the “design of the copy”? Are words alone enough, especially in today's visually driven world? Some copywriters claim they distract and take the reader's focus away from the message. But I disagree.

Words are extremely important. The words you choose can make or break the sale. But don't discount the cosmetics.

Copy cosmetics give your copy eye gravity. They help to direct the reader's eyes into the story and throughout the page. They also help to drive important points home and may even influence how people perceive you.

But above all, they help to replace the cues, nuances, and nonverbal subtleties that occur in traditional, face-to-face sales encounters.

In my early career as a teacher of professional selling in college, I taught about the nonverbal aspect of communication that can dramatically affect sales.

There are four: Paralinguistics, Kinesics, Haptics, Proxemics, and Chronemics.

Chronemics

Chronemics is the science of timing, which is an important aspect of nonverbal communication. Things like speed of speech, pausing (in sales or professional speaking, it's often called the “pregnant pause”), pacing, and punctuality.

All of these convey deeper meaning and may alter the meaning of the message. Think of comedians: timing is the single, most important aspect of their standup routine. As they say, “It's all in the delivery.”

Poor timing can make any good joke fall flat. Even with theatrics, from tragedies to comedies, actors use timing skillfully to captivate their audiences.

Proxemics

Proxemics is the science of personal space. It's the implied message communicated by the distance between individuals during, for example, a conversation, a meeting, or a shared activity.

This isn't some “Feng Shui-ish” thing. I'm talking about our psychological (and often subconscious) reaction to the distance we maintain with other people.

When someone speaks so closely to you that their nose is almost touching yours, you feel uneasy, as if they're invading your personal space. It's also our tendency to avoid people by standing in the opposite corner of an elevator.

In sales, for instance, sitting across from someone at a desk may unconsciously convey that the other person is being confrontational. That's why some sales training programs tell you to sit side by side with your prospect.

Haptics

Haptics is the science of touching. Psychologists have studied the effects of touching during conversations and how it can influence others.

Like proxemics, too much can seem like an invasion of personal space, and certain parts of the body are obviously off-limits. But a little, done respectfully and appropriately, can add a whole new level of understanding to a message.

For example, they tested how people would react when they were told a certain statement. Here's what research discovered.

A speaker would simply tell the listener a story. Then, they were told another story, but this time the speaker would touch the listener on the forearm lightly and for only a few seconds, particularly when saying something important.

According to the study, subjects in the second test felt the speaker was more believable. They had higher recall scores. Physiologically, they felt more relaxed and comfortable with the speaker. They felt a certain “connection.”

Kinesics

Kinesics is the science of body language. Nonverbal gestures, postures, and facial expressions that communicate nonverbally with others various physical, mental, or emotional states.

Uncrossing of the arms or legs. Raising of the brows. Rubbing of the chin. Leaning forward. All of these can indicate that you're interested in your client — or if the client does it, it can tell you she's interested in your offer.

Kinesics (all forms of nonverbal communication, for that matter) can support, emphasize, or contradict what is being conveyed.

Paralinguistics

Paralinguistics is the most important one. It's how we convey urgency, subtext, intent, and emotion in and of a message. Things like intonation, volume, inflection, resonance, and pitch can affect and even alter the meaning of the message, sometimes quite dramatically.

In a face-to-face sales presentation, these verbal cues are often used to drive important points and emphasize key benefits, which go beyond words.

Here's an example I use in my class.

Inflection is the musical quality of the voice — the verbal ups or downs a word, a syllable, or a series of words. In selling, vocal inflection is probably the most used form of nonverbal communication. Why? Because it can virtually change the entire meaning of a message, even when inflecting a single word.

Take, for example, the following sentence: “I didn't say I love you.” It's pretty straightforward, right? But if I stress one word each time I said it, like this:

Then it could change the meaning completely:

  • Inflecting the word “you” could imply I love someone else.
  • Emphasizing the word “love” might imply I simply like you.
  • Stressing the word “say” could mean I said something else.
  • Accenting the word “didn't” might imply I never said it at all.
  • Or focusing on the first word “I” could mean someone else said it.

It's not what you say, but how you say it.

It's Not What You Say, It's How You Say It 7 | nonverbal communication

In copy, we're limited, not by what we want to say but how we want to say it. That's where cosmetics, formatting, and certain visual triggers can become enormously helpful.

Don't add graphics willy-nilly to your copy. Be judicious and strategic.

If you can add a photograph of your product (or if you sell a service, a picture of you in action delivering that service or a client enjoying the benefits of your service), you will likely achieve greater results.

But graphics and pictures aside, the look of the copy is just as important as the words themselves. That's why, when I write copy, I usually pay close attention to the cosmetics. I even call it “copy designing.”

Incorporate visual triggers, cosmetic “commands,” and response devices into your copy, usually with formatting, in order to boost readership and response.

Use it to emphasize certain keywords or keyphrases. I'm not talking about going crazy with different fonts and colors. Otherwise, it will do the opposite of what you intended. Emphasize everything and you emphasize nothing.

I'm talking about strategically placed bolds, italics, typestyles, font sizes, boxes, bullets, colors, white spaces, borders, and so on. (Take, for instance, the way I emphasized certain words in the inflection example earlier.)

As copywriter Martin Hayman noted: “Michael Fortin is right. The way the copy is set out on the page makes a massive difference to the way the reader responds. Typographic practitioners have known this for, oh, centuries.”

Here's just one example.

Over 60 years ago, Frank H. Johnson, a direct mail copywriter, started a new technique to boost the readership and impact of his salesletters.

He would highlight the offer in a centered, rectangular box placed at the very top of the letter above the salutation. Why? Because he wanted to summarize his offer upfront in a way that saved his readers' time and hassle.

Instead of forcing readers to wade through a mass of copy before making the offer, he gave them the essentials, right upfront. The results were astonishing.

Direct mail copywriter Ivan Levinson reports he has seen claims that adding a “Johnson Box” to a plain letter can shoot response rates up by 40%.

You can apply this technique to boxes placed within the heart of the copy in strategic locations, such as right before any call-to-action or when highlighting some of the most important points of your copy.

If your readers skim and scan your copy, J-boxes can often stop them in their tracks and force them to read their contents. They help to inculcate key points you want to drive home.

Consequently, these are perfect locations to put your bonuses, premiums, guarantees, testimonials, factoids, key points, stories, and sidenotes.

There's little your prospects will remember from your copy. But if you use Johnson Boxes, the likelihood they will remember their contents more — and over any other point stated in the rest of the copy — will be stronger.

Nevertheless, the moral is this:

Copy is not just about what you say. It's also about what you mean to say.

Categories
Copywriting

When And How To Use An Alias In Business

A member of my coaching program asked a question about the legality of using a pseudonym or alias when writing marketing communications.

In other words, can he use a pen name?

Stated differently, is it legal to write the copy in the voice of a fictitious character? Or telling the story of, say, a fictitious character enjoying the benefits of whatever you're selling? The short answer is, it depends.

Using an alias or fictitious characters in business is a common practice. However, if you're considering using one, there are a few things you need to know to avoid getting in hot water.

I'm not a lawyer so this is not legal advice. But with my years of research and experience in writing copy, I know enough to say this…

Using an alias or pseudonym is generally fine, as long as within the intrinsic nature of the alias there's no false or misleading information, mentioned or implied, meant to induce the consumer to buy based on that information.

If the alias is used to misrepresent the facts, or indirectly does so by its mere existence, you're breaking the law.

It's like the difference between making a promise versus making a claim.

If your story implies what your clients will get, then you're making a promise. And a promise made by a fictitious character is fine since the character represents the business making it. As long as you deliver on your promises.

(And keeping promises is a different legal ball of wax.)

But if it states what your past clients have done (results they have achieved by using your product or service), then it's a claim. Because the fictitious character represents an implied testimonial, or presents information as fact.

Therein lies the difference.

So ask yourself, does your alias make a promise? Or a claim? If the latter, is the alias a part of that claim? In other words, is the claim fake, too?

Here are two examples to clarify.

1. Alias as Narrator

Your marketing material tells a fictitious or dramatized story of a person who benefits from your product or service.

The story shows your prospects what they should do, and what kind of results they should expect, by watching the story play out. The teller of the story, or the person in the story, is completely fictitious.

This is fine as long as what is promised is true, and you deliver on your promises.

For example, remember this commercial? John Doe gets into a car accident. He picks up the phone and says, “Uh oh, better get Maaco!” The screen fades to a scene in the future with John and his repaired car in the background, shaking hands with a Maaco mechanic and a huge smile across his face.

How many times have you seen commercials like that?

Now, here's the exception…

The fine line is when the story doesn't imply what one should do to benefit from your product or service, but what one has actually achieved, which represents or implies what the person will get based on what was represented as fact.

In other words, it's no longer a promise.

It's a claim.

Stated differently, when the advertisement states or even just implies that John is an actual client, a real person who got that exact service, in that exact way, with those exact results, you are misleading the public.

The story implies people will get the same. Specifically, it is no longer a story but a testimonial. And testimonials, by law, must be true.

The subsequent sale, should any occur, is therefore acquired fraudulently, because people believe that John is a true client and offering a real testimonial for Maaco. The story is presented as fact when it is not true.

And that's illegal.

Remember the story of the Wal-Mart couple who drove their trailer across the United-States, going from Wal-Mart to Wal-Mart, camping out in Wal-Mart parking lots, and blogging about their (seemingly only) positive experiences?

The backlash was massive. And merciless.

Legality aside, it became a PR nightmare. Some argue that the stunt would have been safe — and even that's arguable, too — if the blog had a proper disclosure informing readers that the characters were fake.

(In fact, the massive backlash inspired the popularity of the terms “flog” and “flogging,” which means “fake blogging.”)

2. Alias as Provider

If you call yourself a pen name to tell or narrate the story in your copy, and this pen name doesn't mislead, you're OK — as long as it is clear that people are not buying from your fictitious character but from the business it represents.

They are buying from a real business with a real business name. For example, you don't buy burgers from Ronald McDonald himself, right? You buy it from McDonald's restaurants, the business Ronald represents.

Here's a scenario.

When a sales letter is signed by “Mr. X,” and if Mr. X is telling the story in the role of a narrator (not a business entity), then you're fine. In this case, Mr. X is telling the story, and the promise is made on behalf of the commercial entity you're doing business with.

The fine line, in this case, is when you state that Mr. X is a real person, and that person makes claims or presents information as fact on behalf of the commercial entity, such as past experiences, clients, or results.

Generally, this is OK too, as long as the facts are true, and the alias is not the provider with whom you're doing business.

But if you do this, you not only need to include real facts in your story (as always), but also be fully prepared to prove them when asked by either the public or government.

If the FTC ever comes knocking at your door, you better have proper documentation and real proof to back up your claims and save your anatomy!

What about a business name?

Having a business with a fictitious name is definitely legal, provided that you have filed the proper documentation (such as registering your business, incorporating, or filing a “doing business as” statement), and carried out the proper trademark searches.

This is a normal part of doing business, even vital for branding purposes.

The issue is not with the name but when the existence of the business, its actual clients, or any results achieved are works of fiction.

Ultimately, the question to ask is, does it tell a story to make a point? Or does it tell a story to mislead in an attempt to make a sale? Whether intentionally or not, the latter is fraud.

Using an alias is fine as long as you are not making claims as that alias and the alias is responsible for those claims.

You, using your real name or your real business name, can make claims until the sun goes down. You own them and you're on the hook for them. And people know who to turn to if the claims are false.

For example, an alias can state a guarantee if it's doing it on behalf of a company. But the alias is not the one making the guarantee directly, and the company is not trying to hide behind it.

Also, if you use an alias to tell a story, whether dramatized or written in a sales letter, you're generally safe. However, if you make claims under an assumed name, then it is illegal when the assumed name is presented as fact.

Of course, before you ultimately decide to use an alias, particularly if you're concerned about whether or not you're crossing a line, consult with an attorney.

I'm not a lawyer and the above should not be construed as legal advice. Plus, this article should be viewed only as a partial or general opinion and commentary, as every individual case is unique.

It is based on my years of experience, especially working with doctors and lawyers in my early career when I first established my company, originally called The Success Doctor, Inc., which used to focus strictly on doctors and service professionals.

Finally, props go out to my friend Mike Young, Esquire, an Internet marketing lawyer who reviewed my response. (Thanks, Mike!)

Categories
Copywriting

Forget Benefits, And You Will Sell More

What's the single, most important element in copywriting?

Let me say it another way.

You've done your research. You found a starving market. Your product fills a need. And your sales copy shines with benefits. If everything is so perfect, then why is your product still not selling? Is it the price? The offer? The competition?

Maybe. But not necessarily.

The fact is, these things are not always to blame for being unable to sell an in-demand product, even with great copy. Too often, it has more to do with one thing:

Focus. (Or should I say, the lack thereof.)

In fact, the greatest word in copywriting is not “free.” It's “focus.” And what you focus on in your copy is often the single, greatest determinant of your copy's success.

In my experience, copy that brings me the greatest response is copy that focuses on:

  1. One messsage
  2. One market
  3. One outcome

Here's what I mean…

1. One Message

The copy doesn't tell multiple, irrelevant stories. It doesn't make multiple offers. It doesn't go on tangential topics or provide extra information that doesn't advance the sale.

Copy should make one offer and one offer only.

Too many messages confuse the reader. And as copywriter Randy Gage once noted, “The confused mind never buys.” It confuses them because they don't know which offer provides them with the best value for the amount of money they are ready to spend.

Prospects want to spend their money wisely. Lose focus, and it is harder to think clearheadedly as to make a wise decision in the first place. Remember this axiom:

“Give people too many choices and they won't make one.”

You don't want to do what my teenage daughter does to me. When we go shopping for a dress, after hours of flipping through hangers and racks, she finally pinpoints one she likes, goes to the changing room to try it on, looks at me and asks, “How's this one?”

“Perfect!” I say. “You sure, dad?” She asks. “Yes,” I add. “I'm positive.” So we head to the cash register when, suddenly, she stops along the way, picks up another dress off the rack, and says, “How about this one? Or maybe this one? Oooh, look at this other one!”

We came really close to walking out of that store without buying any of the dresses.

2. One Market

I don't want to spend the little space I have for this article to extoll the virtues of niche marketing. But when it comes to writing high-converting sales messages, it goes without saying: trying to be all things to all people is next to impossible.

When it is possible, then your sales message must be generic enough to appeal to everyone, causing the majority in your market to feel you're not focused on them.

(There's that word “focus,” again!)

In order to appeal to everyone, your sales message will be heavily diluted. It will lose clarity. People will feel left out because you're too vague. You will appear indifferent to their situation, and to their specific needs and goals, too.

If you cater to a large, diversified market, I highly encourage that you segment your market and target each segment separately, and write copy that caters to each one.

That is, write copy for each individual and targeted group of people within your market. If your market is made up of two or three (or more) identifiable market groups, write copy for each one — even if the product is the same for everyone.

3. One Outcome

“Click here,” “read my about page,” “here's a link to some testimonials,” “call this number,” “fill out this form,” “don't buy know, just think about it,” “here are my other websites,” “here are 41 other products to choose from,” and on and on… Ack!

When people read your sales copy, and if your copy is meant to induce sales, then you want one thing and one thing only: get the sale! In other words, there's only one thing your readers should do, and that's buy. Or at least your copy should lead them to buy.

In other words, the ultimate outcome should be to buy — every call to action, every piece of copy, every page, every graphic should revolve around this one outcome.

Remember K.I.S.S. (i.e., “keep it straightforwardly simple”).

You would be surprised at how many salesletters I critique where the author asks the reader to do too many things, to choose from too many things, or to jump through so many hoops to get the very thing they want in the first place.

Your copy should focus on one call to action only, or one ultimate outcome. Forget links to other websites or pages that are irrelevant to the sale. Forget irrelevant forms and distractions. Why invite procrastination with too many calls-to-action?

In fact, I believe that the goal is not to elicit action but to prevent procrastination.

Because when people hit your website, whether they found you on a search engine after searching for information, were referred to you by someone else, or read about you somewhere online, then they are, in large part, interested from the get-go.

So your job is not to get them to buy, really. They're already interested. They're ready to buy. Your job (i.e., your copy's job), therefore, is to get them not to go away.

Ultimately, focus on the reader. One, single reader.

This is probably the thing you need to focus on the most. The most common blunders I see being committed in copy is the lack of focus in a sales message, particularly on the individual reading the copy and the value you specifically bring to them.

In my experience as a copywriter, I find that some people put too much emphasis on the product, the provider, and even the market (as a whole), and not enough on the most important element in a sales situation: the customer.

That is, the individual reading the copy at that very moment.

Don't focus your copy on your product and the features of your product — and on how good, superior, or innovative they are. And don't even focus on the benefits.

Instead, focus on increasing perceived value with them. Why? Because perception is personal. It's intimate. It's ego-centric. Let me explain.

When you talk about your product, you're making a broad claim. Everyone makes claims, especially online. “We're number one,” “we offer the highest quality,” “it's our best version yet,” etc. (Often, my reaction is, “So what?”)

And describing benefits is just as bad.

Benefits are too broad, in my opinion. You were probably taught that a feature is what a product has and a benefit is what that feature does. Right? But even describing benefits is, in my estimation, making a broad claim, too.

The adage goes, “Don't sell quarter-inch drills, sell quarter-inch holes.”

But holes alone don't mean a thing to someone who might have different uses, reasons or needs for that hole. So you need to translate benefits into more meaningful benefits.

You see, a claim always looks self-serving. It also puts you in a precarious position, as it lessens your perceived value and makes your offer suspect — the opposite of what you're trying to accomplish by making claims in the first place.

Therefore, don't focus on the benefits of a certain feature. Rather, focus on how those features specifically benefit the individual. Directly. Personally. Intimately.

There is a difference. A big difference.

The more you explain what those claims specifically mean to the prospect, the more you will sell. It's not the features that counts and it's not even benefits. It's the perceived value. So how do you build perceived value?

The most common problem I see when people attempt to describe benefits is when what they are really describing are advantages — or glorified features, so to speak. Real benefits are far more personal and intimate.

That's why I prefer to use this continuum:

Features ► Advantages ► Benefits

Of course, a feature is what a product has. And an advantage (or what most people think is a benefit) is what that feature does. But…

… A benefit is what that feature means.

A benefit is what a person intimately gains from a specific feature. When you describe a feature, say this: “What this means to you, Mr. Prospect, is this (…),” followed by a more personal gain your reader gets from using the feature.

Let me give you a real-word example.

A client once came to me for a critique of her copy. She sold an anti-wrinkle facial cream. It's often referred to as “microdermabrasion.” Her copy had features and some advantages, but no benefits. In fact, here's what she had:

Features:

  1. It reduces wrinkles.
  2. It comes in a do-it-yourself kit.
  3. And it's pH balanced.

Advantages:

  1. It reduces wrinkles, so it makes you look younger.
  2. It comes in a kit, so it's easy to use at home.
  3. And it's pH balanced, so it's gentle on your skin.

This is what people will think a benefit is, such as “younger,” “easy to use” and “gentle.” But they are general. Vague. They're not specific and intimate enough. So I told her to add these benefits to her copy…

Benefits:

  1. It makes you look younger, which means you will be more attractive, you will get that promotion or recognition you always wanted, you will make them fall in love with you all over again, they will never guess your age, etc.
  2. It's easy to use at home, which means you don't have to be embarrassed — or waste time and money — with repeated visits to the doctor's office… It's like a facelift in a jar done in the privacy of your own home!
  3. It's gentle on your skin, which means there are no risks, pain or long healing periods often associated with harsh chemical peels, surgeries and injections.

Now, those are benefits!

Remember, copywriting is “salesmanship in print.” You have the ability to put into words what you normally say in a person-to-person situation. If you were to explain what a feature means during an encounter, why not do so in copy?

The more benefit-driven you are, the more you will sell. In other words, the greater the perceived value you present, the greater the desire for your product will be. And if they really want your product, you'll make a lot of money.

It's that simple.

In fact, like a face-to-face, one-on-one sales situation (or as we say in sales training, being “belly to belly” with your prospect), you need to denominate as specifically as possible the value your offer brings to your readers.

In other words, express the benefits of your offer in terms that relate directly not only to your market, but also and more importantly:

  1. To each individual in that market
  2. And to each individual's situation.

Don't focus on your product. Focus on your readers. Better yet, focus on how the benefits of your offer appeal to the person that's reading them. And express how your offer benefits your prospect in terms they can intimately relate to, too.

Look at it this way:

  • Use terms the prospect is used to, appreciates and fully understands. (The mind thinks in relative terms. That's why the use of analogies, stories, examples, metaphors, and testimonials is so important! Like “facelift in a jar,” for example.)
  • Address your reader directly and forget third-person language. Don't be afraid to use “you,” “your,” and “yours,” as well as “I,” “me,” “my,” and “mine.” Speak to your reader as if in a personal conversation with her.
  • Use terms that trigger their hormones, stroke their egos, tug their heartstrings, and press their hot buttons. You don't need to use puffery with superlative-laden copy. Just speak to your reader at an intimate level. An emotional level.

Because the worst thing you can do, second to making broad claims, is to express those claims broadly. Instead, appeal to their ego. Why? Because…

… We are all human beings.

Eugene Schwartz, author of Breakthrough Advertising (one of the best books on copywriting), once noted we are not far evolved from chimpanzees. “Just far enough to be dangerous to ourselves,” copywriter Peter Stone once noted.

He's not alone. My friend and copywriter Paul Myers was once asked during an interview, “Why do people buy from long, hypey copy?” His short answer was, “Human beings are only two feet away from the cave.”

(Speaking of Eugene Schwartz, listen to his speech. It's the best keynote speech on copywriting. Ever. Click hear to listen to it. You can also get a copy of his book, too, called “Breakthrough Advertising.” I read mine several times already.)

People buy for personal wants and desires, and for selfish reasons above all. Whether you sell to consumers or businesses, people are people are people. It's been that way for millions of years.

And nothing's changed.

Your message is just a bunch of words. But words are symbols. Different words mean different things to different people. Look at this way: while a picture is worth a thousand words, a word is worth a thousand pictures.

And the words you choose can also be worth a thousand sales.

Categories
Copywriting

Write Magnetic Headlines With These 7 Tips

I covered headlines many times already. You can find posts about headlines here. But here are some additional tips.

There are two huge mistakes people make when they write headlines. Either they are too bland and don't say enough (such as when they attempt to simply summarize), or they say too much to cover all the bases.

In both cases, you will lose readers.

1. The True Purpose of The Headline

The headline is more than a mere summary of the sales copy. Unlike the title of a book, for instance, it's not meant to summarize, encapsulate, or introduce the story. And most headlines I've seen seem to list all the of the greatest benefits from the copy.

No. A headline is meant to generate readership and pull people into the copy.

It's the first thing that people see. Just like front-page headlines of a newspaper are meant to sell the paper, the copy's headline is meant to sell people on the copy.

If a headline does not instantly give an indication — i.e., an idea or hint, not the entire story — of not only what the page is all about but also the reasons why people should read further the moment they read it, it will actually deter prospects.

In fact, headlines that do not communicate any benefit in reading the next paragraph, diving into the content, or navigating further into the website will dissuade readers from reading more and, of course, taking action on whatever the copy is asking them to do.

So the true purpose of a headline is not to summarize or advertise the website, the salesletter, or the business behind it. It's simply to get people to read further. That's it.

In advertising parlance, a headline is the “ad for the ad.” For instance, a resume is not meant to land a job but to land an interview. A headline is, in the same way, meant to land the reader's attention and arouse their curiosity — not the sale.

If a headline does not achieve this quickly, efficiently, and effectively, people will simply click away, throw away the salesletter, or skim over it without giving it much thought.

You may have heard of the famous “AIDA Formula,” which stands for, in order: Attention, Interest, Desire, and Action. Ads must follow this formula in order to be successful.

They must first capture the reader's attention, then arouse their interest, then increase their desire, and finally lead them to take some kind of action. In that order.

Other than “grabbers” like photos, pictures, graphics, pop-ups, liftnotes, and multimedia, the first part of the formula often refers to the headline.

(Look at direct mail marketing, where liftnotes, envelope copy, and “lumpy mail,” where advertisers and mailers add trinkets to grab people's attention and get them curious.)

But online or off, grabbers provide eye gravity. They are meant to draw the eyes to that most important element: the headline. If the headline does not command enough attention both effectively and, above all, rapidly, then the rest of the formula will fail…

… No matter how great your copy is.

Ultimately, the headline is not meant to do anything other than to create readership. To “grab people by the eyeballs” and pull them into the copy. Period. Enough said.

2. The Gapper

Usually, there is a gap between the prospect's problem and its solution — or a gap between where a person happens to be at the moment and the future enjoyment of a product's benefits. In sales, you've probably heard it being called “gap analysis.”

It works because many prospects either do not know there is in fact a gap or, because it is one, try to ignore it as a result. Therefore, a headline that either communicates the presence of such a gap or implies it can cause people to want to close the gap.

And the obvious way to do this is to read further.

Using a headline that immediately conveys either a problem or a potential benefit not only makes the reader aware that there is a gap but also reinforces it in the mind.

(And this doesn't mean writing all the benefits in the headline to cover all the bases, as in the case of long, needlessly wordy headlines. Those long headlines often backfire.)

Some headlines are newsy, others are sensational. Some make claims, others make statements. Some arouse curiosity, others provoke controversy. Some are intriguing, others are inspiring. Either way, it doesn't matter.

All that matters is that the headline gets the reader to start reading. And if you created, communicated, or, better yet, widened the gap mentioned earlier, then after reading the headline readers will want to know, by browsing further, how they can close that gap.

Widening the gap will not only appeal to those who can immediately relate to it but also cause those people to want to close the gap even more.

Famous sales trainer Zig Ziglar said that people buy on emotional logic. They buy on emotion first but justify their decision with logic. So emotionally-charged headlines help to widen gaps. The wider the gap is, the greater the desire to close it will be.

For instance, rather than saying “Lose 40 Pounds In Just 6 Weeks,” you can say, “Shed 40 Pounds Of Stubborn, Ugly Fat In Just 6 Weeks.” Or, if you prefer a health-conscious angle, say “killer fat,” “unhealthy fat,” “disease-causing fat,” or “life-shortening fat.”

3. The Pain-Pleasure Principle

While your copy should focus on the solution rather than the problem, adding a negative (or a potentially negative) situation to the headline is often more effective because it appeals to stronger, deeper, more dominant emotions and motives.

Granted, this might seem somewhat unusual or contrary to what you have learned in the past. So in order to understand this, let's take a look at how human emotions work.

In the late 1960s, psychologist Abraham Maslow developed the hierarchical theory of human needs. In essence, Maslow stated that the foundation of all human needs is our need to survive. The next one in that hierarchy is our need for safety and security.

After that, it's the need for affection, to be loved, to feel a sense of belonging. Then, the need for attention, or to feel valuable or respected, is next. And finally is our need to outdo ourselves, to get to the next level, to achieve, to be all that we can be, etc.

The important thing is to look at this hierarchy from the bottom up and pay closer attention to the more fundamental human needs, which are survival and safety needs.

Now, another principle is called the “pain-pleasure principle.” It states that people want to either avoid pain or gain pleasure. In anything we do, we want to either move away from pain (i.e., solve a problem) or strive towards pleasure (i.e., gain an advantage).

But when given the choice between the two, which one is stronger? Naturally, the avoidance of pain is the stronger motive, because our need to survive and be safe takes over. The emotions attached to pain are far superior than those attached to pleasure.

So a headline that communicates a problem (i.e., a painful situation they feel right now, or a potentially painful one that could arise without the benefits you offer or without at least reading the copy) will have more emotional impact than a pleasurable one.

It also instantly communicates to those who associate to its message and qualifies them on the spot. Thus, it isolates the serious prospect from the curious visitor.

For example, when I work with plastic surgeons, rather than saying “Do you have wrinkles?” I tell them to use as a headline, “Suffering from wrinkles?” Prospective patients who can instantly relate to the headline will more than likely read the ad further.

They do so for two reasons.

First, the headline appeals to those who have wrinkles. But not all people are bothered by them. That's why the headline also appeals to those who hate wrinkles (i.e., people who have them and also want to do something about them).

Therefore, think of a negative situation that is now present, or one that will occur without your product or service. Even better, one that will happen if they don't read your copy.

Now, sometimes this pain can be implied. The implication can often be a lot stronger than the one specified, because readers can draw up their own negative scenarios in their heads. As a mentor once told me, “Implication is more powerful than specification.”

For example, in a recent headline split-test for a salesletter I wrote that promoted a marriage counseling information product, the headline “Save My Marriage!” won over “Stop My Divorce!” In fact, it won by a huge margin. The conclusion?

My guess is, “Stop My Divorce” is a negative, but it's specific. And the implication is that the product may only stop the divorce but may not necessarily get the relationship back on track and stop the marriage from disintegrating — which is the true problem.

“Save My Marriage!” implies so many things. And the positive benefit is also implied — the marriage (i.e., the love, passion, relationship, happiness, etc) can also be saved. Because not saving those, too, can be labor-intense, painful, and too difficult to bear.

(Another reason may be that in “Stop My Divorce!” the message might indicate that the divorce is imminent. If this was the case, people would probably be more interested in how to win in a divorce rather than stopping it. But I digress.)

4. The Director

Incidentally, the last headline uses another readership-enhancing technique: it starts with a verb. Verbs direct visitors and take them by the hand. Some examples include “claim,” “discover,” “find,” “get,” “read,” “see,” “earn,” “visit,” “surf,” “join,” “sign up,” etc.

But go a step beyond that. Instead of plain verbs, use action words that paint vivid pictures in the mind. The more vivid the picture is, the more compelling the headline will be. (For example, “zoom past the confusion” is better than “get more clarity.”)

Ultimately, don't let visitors guess what they must do or what they will get from reading further. You can also tell them in the headline. Also, you don't need to be direct. You can, in this case as well, imply what they must do.

Say you're selling an accounting software. Rather than “Poor fiscal management leads to financial woes,” say, “Don't let poor fiscal management suck money right from your bottom-line.” People can picture the action of “sucking” more than they do “leading.”

Headlines that communicate something worth reading will cause people to read further. But the important thing to remember is, you only have a few seconds — if not a fraction of one — to connect with you reader. That's why being pithy is vitally important.

Think of an “elevator speech.”

Like with a potential client you've just met in an elevator, you only have a few seconds during that short elevator ride to get their attention, introduce yourself, and make a memorable impact until you or the other person leaves the elevator.

So your elevator speech must be good enough and concise enough to capture, in just a few short moments, the attention and interest of that person. Headlines are no different.

Sometimes, headlines need a little push. Just making a bland statement is not going to get you anywhere. For example, forget those hackneyed introductions, like “Hi, my name is Michel Fortin, and I'm a copywriter. Do you need one?” Boring. Bland. Busted.

Don't just tell them who you are and what you do. Tell them what you can do for them.

But even that may not be enough. You need to compel your readers. You need to not only capture their attention but also keep it. You may need to shock, surprise, be intriguing, pique their curiosity, even be sensational, and not just introduce or inform.

For example, think of the types of headlines you see in tabloid-style newspapers or grocery-line magazines, like The National Enquirer, The Globe, Cosmopolitan, Vanity Fair, Men's Health, and more. And the reason is simple.

Just like the short elevator ride, the brief wait in the grocery checkout line is all these magazines have to work with to get your attention and get you to buy their publication.

Some of the highest paid writers in the world are front-page headline copyeditors!

For example, which headline is better: “Ancient Mediterranean Diet Boosts Metabolism”? Or a headline, riding on the buzz created by the recent movie “300,” that says “2,000-Year Old Weightloss Diet Used By Ancient Greek Warriors Finally Unearthed”?

5. The Ziegarnik Effect

In 1927, Bluma Zeigarnik, a Russian psychologist's assistant and one of the early contributors to Gestalt Psychology, discovered something peculiar. Almost by accident. She found that people remember unfinished tasks better than they do finished ones.

After observing waiters who seemed to remember orders and forget them once the food was served, she realized the incomplete task created a certain tension, discomfort, or uneasiness that caused the brain to “hook” onto the unfinished task until it was done.

You see, we have an intrinsic need for closure.

We get a certain feeling of disconcertedness when something is left unfinished. Often called the “Zeigarnik Effect,” we not only remember interrupted tasks best but also the tension tends to create curiosity to an almost excruciating level.

Achieving closure is part relief and part release. When something is left unanswered, unopened, or incomplete, we either passionately attempt to complete or close it, or feel a certain discomfort until it is and often go to great lengths to get it done.

In copywriting particularly, this tension can be created in a headline.

For example, to the headline “How to lose 30 pounds in 6 weeks,” you add “with these 7 tips,” it will push people to read further to find out what the heck those “7 tips” are.

(That's why the headline of one of the world's most lucrative ads, “Do You Makes These Mistakes In English?” worked so well. People wanted to know, “What mistakes?”)

With a headline like “Inside Britney Spears' Divorce Settlement With Kevin Federline,” it doesn't really open up anything. But with “Uncover The Shocking Reason Behind Britney Spears' Divorce,” people want to know, “what secret” or “what's so shocking about it?”

In fact, making some kind of sensational, controversial, or intriguing statement, even though it doesn't open anything up in a direct sense, creates tension because people want to know what it is. (The “gap” mentioned earlier, in this particular case, is implied.)

Take, for instance, some of these other, well-known headlines: “Lies, Lies, Lies.” “The Ugly Truth About Low-Carb Dieting.” Or, “What Doctors Don't Want You To Know.”

(Here's a little test: take a look at these 100 of the most successful headlines, and see how many use the Zeigarnik effect. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised.)

6. The Window Shopper

Erroneously, many people often look at their prospects reading their salesletters for the first time as qualified patrons. And they tend to do so by considering their visitors as being “physically” inside the store once they read the front page…

… Particularly with headlines that begin with that familiar word: “welcome.”

(While they may or may not be targeted, they're still not qualified. They may be pre-qualified if they're targeted. But they're only window shoppers at this point.)

Have you ever walked by a retail store whose sign in the main window said “welcome to [store name]”? Not likely. But you've probably seen such a sign upon entering a store.

And there's the problem: In both cases, you had to walk inside the store first before you were greeted or welcomed, and asked to browse further or if you needed any help.

When people read your headline, they're not “inside the store,” yet. They're still outside, window shopping, thinking about whether to go in or not. So there must be something that gets them interested in walking into the store to browse or inquire further.

It could be a variety of things.

It could be the display in the window, an outdoor sign touting some special, a banner announcing a special event, a sales flyer received in the mail, or a friend heralding the benefits from a product she bought at — or some deal she received from — the store.

Salesletters are no different. A headline is like the store's front window or entrance — people are not inside yet. And this is especially true in the case of online salesletters.

Look at the web as one, colossal shopping mall.

When people surf the Internet, they're browsing the mall, so to speak. When they hit your front page, they are only seeing the “outside” of your store. Your store's window.

Think of the people reading your headline as merely “window shopping.” So your headline must be effective and efficient enough to instantly capture their attention, and compel them to enter your store and browse further.

Understandably, a salesperson's ability to instantly capture the attention of her busy and incredibly preoccupied prospect is easier in the physical realm.

Most of all, her enthusiasm for, and belief in, her product are easy to convey in person. Her ability to instill confidence and create trust, as well as her unique set of sales and people skills, product knowledge, personality and expertise, are equally advantageous.

A salesletter is your salesperson in print.

And like a salesperson, a headline must grab the reader's attention and qualify the reader, and it must do so by communicating those ideas (e.g., credibility, intrigue, proof, etc) and emotions that empower people to at least enter the store.

The responsibility therefore rests almost entirely on the words you choose. And words should appeal directly or indirectly to specific motives — whether it's looking for specific products, deals, benefits, events, relief, help, cures, or solutions.

Just like what you'd put in a store's window to draw traffic inside your store.

7. The Specific

One last tip. Vagueness, unless it is intended to create curiosity and readership by pulling people into the copy, will only confuse people. Avoid it like the plague.

So try to be as specific as possible. Use very specific, quantifiable descriptions. For instance, use odd, non-rounded numbers instead of generalizations. Odd, non-rounded numbers are more credible and have pulled more than even or rounded numbers.

That's why, for example, Ivory soap was marketed as being 99 and 44/100% pure. If Ivory said 100%, it would not have been as believable. “Amazing new system helped me earn $3,956.75 in 29 days!” is much more credible than “$4,000 in 1 month!”

This tip may sound simple, but it is indeed very powerful. In fact, I have found that the best claims, benefits, or headlines, are those that have any one of three components:

  1. They are quantifiable
  2. They are measurable
  3. They are time-bound

Any one of these three is better than none at all. But if you can have two or even all three components in your headline, the stronger and more credible the impact will be.

I've covered “quantifiable.” But being measurable means to add a baseline against which the quantity can be compared or contrasted. And being time-bound means there is a specific timeframe within which the quantity (or benefit, problem, or idea) was achieved.

For instance, if I can show you how to make “$784.22,” it may mean nothing. But if I tell you, “How I generated $784.22 in just 5 minutes,” that would be a lot more interesting.

In conclusion, ask yourself: does the opening statement beg for attention? Does it arouse curiosity? Is the language easy to understand by that market? And does it genuinely reflect and cater to the needs, motives, and dominant emotions of my market?

Remember, your headline is your magnet. It can pull people in or push them away.

Categories
Copywriting

Apply The Law of Contrast to Build Desire

In a recent critique for a coaching client, the issue of “gap analysis” arose. Gap Analysis is something I learned in sales, and it was heavily taught by sales trainers like Brian Tracy, such as in his course “The Psychology of Selling.”

Gap Analysis is an immensely powerful selling technique. It's also an important feature of copywriting. Most people will know a variation of it, which is often called “Problem-Agitate-Solve,” a term coined by top copywriter Dan Kennedy.

I prefer “Gap Analysis” because it drives home the relationship between those three elements. So what is Gap Analysis and how can you apply it to your sales copy?

A gap is the perceived difference between the problem and the potential outcome. That is, you have to describe life with the problem and life without it.

Your product, which is your solution, is the bridge between the two. Showing the benefits enables you to position your product as the bridge over the gap.

Once the gap is established, your words can widen the gap by aggravating the problem, or by pushing away the solution — i.e., making it seem less achievable or reachable.

I know this might sound contradictory, but a great strategy is to start out by making your prospect feel uncomfortable and raise their level of discomfort. You do that by exacerbating their problem or pushing the solution as far away as you can.

Specifically, once you identify the gap, you should widen it as much as you can — in their mind. Your sales copy should make your prospect as uncomfortable as possible and any solution for the problem it solves as unattainable as possible.

Why? The reason is, once you widen the gap, then when you do eventually present your solution, it will become far more compelling, desirable, even mandatory.

You're turning what was once a desire into a necessity.

Your product becomes like a cool, refreshing oasis in the middle of a scorching desert, as if magically appearing only after walking for miles under the sun's blistering heat.

Granted, you must first identify your prospect's problem before showcasing the benefits of your solution. But just defining the problem and presenting the solution is not enough.

You must give your readers a clear, common vision of what relief from the problem will mean to them on a personal level. It's an essential step in the sales process — the one that fosters desire and increases the need and the urgency to find a solution.

Thus Gap Analysis is a powerful tool that should be included in your copywriting toolbox.

A large part of its power is in it's simplicity. It boils down to only four steps:

  1. Introduce the problem.
  2. Introduce the “other side”.
  3. Widen the gap.
  4. Bridge the gap.

Here's a very simple example.

You qualify the reader by introducing their current situation into the conversation. Relate to the issues presently facing your prospect. You can discuss how bad things are or at least how bad things are as it applies to the problem you are introducing.

Once the problem is introduced, you will want to present the other side. That way, you also introduce the gap. For example, you might say things like:

  • “Wouldn't it be nice if…”
  • “What all of us dream of is…”
  • “Would you like to know how to…”

Followed by “avoid,” “leapfrog over,” “skip,” “eradicate,” “reduce,” or “solve” [problem], and “achieve,” “enjoy,” or “picture enjoying” [the benefits of solving the problem].

Now that you've created the gap, you can work on widening it.

You can make the problem appear bigger by focusing on it, exacerbating it, and making it more real, concrete, and painful. Or you do so by making the solution seem unachievable and describe the frustration of not having access to it.

To push away the solution even further you can remind them of how great it would be if they get benefit, benefit, benefit. You can do that by painting pictures of them enjoying the benefits of solving this problem — or of not having it in the first place.

You also emphasize how urgent it is to solve the problem. Talk about the importance of solving the problem quickly, or the downfalls of not taking action right now. Use vivid descriptions and mental imagery to enlarge the effects of the problem going unsolved.

Then you can move on to the final step.

Now, with perfect timing, you release your solution.

Just like the mounting pressure of a soon-to-erupt volcano that has built up over a period of time, growing, expanding, and festering with no end in sight, your solution comes along to finally relieve the ballooning stress and pent up frustration.

It's at this point that your solution will be far more in demand. By finally bridging the gap, they can grasp more fully how achievable “the other side” really is, and this increases their desire to buy your solution in order to reach it and relieve that pressure.

It's applying the law of contrast, really.

If I offer a solution to your problem, you may be apathetic about it, regardless of how fantastic the solution is or how great its benefits are. Why? Because the problem is not as important to you. If it is important, it may not be as urgent.

In other words, even if solving the problem is important to you, you may be shopping around for alternate solutions, or the solution may not be as desirable since solving the problem is not at the top of your mind at the moment.

(For instance, when do you think about seeing your doctor the most? Before a problem happens in order to prevent it? Long after a problem has happened and is now in the back of your mind? Or while the problem is happening and hurts you the most?)

But you will be a lot more excited about the solution if the problem is indeed at the top of your mind at that moment, and if you know how bad the problem really is — or you know how bad things can be if the problem is left unsolved.

Now that's the power of Gap Analysis.

Also, it also helps you to apply the law of contrast in another way.

Since paying for your solution is a problem in itself (money is security, and nobody wants to lose their hard-earned dollars), then by widening the gap the problem of not owning your product is now a lot larger in comparison to the smaller problem of paying for it.

In other words, by blowing up the problem, you're also shrinking the problem of making a decision to buy. You're reducing the price in their minds and its psychological impact.

Of course, you can and should lower price sensitivity by increasing the value of your solution. But by using Gap Analysis and the power of contrast, you make the pain of paying for your solution a lot more bearable in contrast to the pain of not owning it.

The pain of the problem is greater than the pain of paying for the solution.

Ultimately, by now it's probably quite clear to you how important it is to introduce both sides of the gap during a sales presentation. It's the only way to provide your readers with a complete picture of how impressive an impact your product will have on their lives.

Remember to use your target market's most basic yet dominant desires — we all hate problems — as emotional highlights to your descriptions. It's important to elicit an emotional response in your reader, and “widening the gap” has the potential to do so.

An added benefit is, the whole of this process works to build your relationship with the reader, and by extension the reader's relationship to the product.

By presenting the gap effectively, you connect with your reader by relating to their predicament as well as their dominant desires, while inflating both at the same time.

So that, when you finally reveal your product, they are not only ready for the solution, but also predisposed to accept it, desire it even more, and eager to buy it.

Obviously, you will want to practice and perfect this technique.

Just remember the four steps outlined. Mind the gap, and it will help if you keep a solid picture of your target market so that you use words, phrases, situations, stories, and “reasons why” that your reader will be able to relate to, appreciate, and be compelled by.

You'll soon find that “widening the gap” is a natural part of your copywriting repertoire.

Categories
Copywriting

The Oft-Confused Features And Benefits

If you've been a student of marketing for some time, then I'm sure you've heard of the saying: “People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill, they want a quarter-inch hole.”

That quote by Theodore Levitt is probably one of the most quoted passages in marketing in trying to explain the difference between features and benefits.

However, I believe the quote is incomplete and leaving out something that, to me, is far more important. And that is, what's the purpose of this quarter-inch hole? What does the reader plan on doing with it? Even better, what's the end-result the reader wants to achieve with it?

The answer to that question is, in my estimation, the real benefit. The ultimate benefit.

Not the hole. And certainly not the drill that created it.

Sure, it is a benefit to some degree. But “benefit,” defined in the dictionary, is “something that improves, enhances, or promotes well-being.” So let me ask you, how is one or one's well-being enhanced by a quarter-inch hole?

To make offers truly irresistible, words should appeal to specific buyer motives. Common copywriting wisdom dictates that the first rule in doing so is to stress benefits over features. Think benefits, benefits, benefits. Sounds simple, right?

Not really. For if it were, a website would be successful simply if it listed a product's features and its subsequent benefits. And we all know that is not true. Many benefit-laden copy have failed. So you need more than that.

In an attempt to provide you with some guidance on how to dig deeper to find better, more compelling benefits, here's a tool I've used to help you.

The Product Analysis Worksheet

One of the classes I used to to teach in college was Professional Selling. In it, the curriculum's textbook was “Personal Selling: An Interactive Approach,” by Ronald Marks, Ph.D., a professor of marketing at the University of Missouri.

In this book, Dr. Marks discusses the ability to convey benefits over features using a tool he calls Product Analysis Worksheet. The way it works is quite simple.

Product benefits usually consist of four principal levels. They are features, advantages, motives, and benefits. Each layer has its own set of attributes and characteristics, which varies depending on the product type and the market to which the product caters.

To illustrate, here's a description of each layer:

  1. Features — what products have. For example, say you sell an accounting software. You can say, “This accounting software has a reporting feature.”
  2. Advantages — what features do. To continue our example, “Reporting provides real-time, on-demand, updated mission-critical information to key personnel.”
  3. Motives — what motives do features satisfy. For example, “Cost-savings, greater control, increased production, better decisions, etc.”
  4. Benefits — what those features mean. This is where you attach the advantages you outlined to specific motives those features satisfy. To continue our example…

    “With this powerful reporting feature, managers are able to keep their finger on your company's financial pulse at all times, thereby reducing costs by as much as 50%, maintaining greater control over expenditures, increasing their output by 10-20 times at any given time, and avoiding making decisions that could cost them thousands if not millions of dollars — all in just a few clicks.”

What does this do? By digging deeper and communicating what benefits really mean to your audience, it adds weight, purpose, meaning, relevancy, and power behind the benefits you initially come up with. It gives your benefits legs.

Obviously, coming up with a list of benefits may be easy if you know your product well enough. But describing them in a way that's appropriate for, and directly related and targeted to, specific audiences is not an easy process.

Market research helps to solve that challenge. In fact, researching your market before you put pen to paper or electron to screen is the most important component of good copywriting. Not the headline, not the offer, and not the price.

The market.

The market is the single most important component of your sales copy. The more you learn about your market, the better and more effective your copy will be.

For example, a common problem among marketers is to develop content using a language their readers will understand. Sure, readers may understand what's being said to some degree. But comprehension of a message doesn't mean they will relate to it.

The problem is, marketers often use words that only they can relate to.

This is quite normal as we write in the way we think or talk.

However, the goal in writing good, compelling copy is to think like our readers, talk like our readers, and connect with our readers. This is where much of the copy I see fails.

Even yours truly is guilty of this from time to time. We're too married to our product, or we're too disconnected from how and what our readers think, feel, and communicate. This is where the “product analysis worksheet” can become very helpful.

Here's how it works…

First, list all of the features of your product or service, including standard, technical, supportive, even abstract features. Then, with each feature, develop a subsequent list of relative advantages. Write down what each feature listed does.

Some people think that what a feature does is the benefit. But this is where most business owners and copywriters fail to relate those benefits to their readers.

They assume an advantage is a benefit and stop there, when those benefits are too broad or one-sided. Instead, the feature's function or purpose, not how it actually serves, relates to, and benefits the reader, is merely an advantage.

While a feature is what a product has and an advantage is what that feature does

… A Benefit is What That Feature Means.

A benefit is what a person intimately gains from a specific feature. It's the ultimate end-result. When you describe a feature, say this: “What this means to you, Mr. Prospect, is this…” Followed by a more personal gain your reader gets from the feature.

Turn it around. don't focus on a certain feature's benefit. Rather, focus on how those features specifically benefit the individual and what those benefits truly mean.

Here's an example using my private membership website, where members get access to videos of me tearing sales copy apart, and revealing copywriting tips, tricks, and actual, tested conversion strategies in the process.

  • Feature: Watch a top copywriter in action as he writes killer copy, all recorded on video, using real salesletters and real websites from real clients.
  • Advantage: You get to learn how to write copy faster by understanding the logic behind successful copy (not just how to write it), and also learn copywriting tips, mistakes, shortcuts, and proven split-test results in the process.
  • Motive: What you want is to reduce the learning curve, risks, effort, and costs involved in trying to do it all yourself. Therefore, what this feature means is this…
    • Benefit #1: This means you get real-world examples from real case studies and actually see the process done before you, instead of plain textbook theory or mere swipe files that leave you scratching your head.
    • Benefit #2: Using real-world examples means you can understand what goes into world-class copy and appreciate how they're being used, so you can easily repeat the process on your own, in the future.
    • Benefit #3: Repeating the process on your own means you don't have to pay an expensive copywriter to write it for you or fix it if it's not performing well.
    • Benefit #4: Not having to pay for a copywriter means you save money and get it done faster by learning proven strategies you can apply immediately, without waiting for someone to do it for you or explain it to you in some “how-to” course.
    • Benefit #5: And learning proven, tested strategies means you eliminate the need to search for, find, test, and learn everything yourself, and avoid making costly mistakes by having to figure out what works and what doesn't on your own.

… And on and on.

Can You See The Difference?

Now, once achieved, look at your worksheet.

Did you cover all the benefits that a specific feature has? Did you go deep and specific enough? Don’t just resort to apparent or obvious benefits. Dig deeper. Think of the end-results your readers get from enjoying your product or service.

Coming up with the first batch will be easy because they will be at the top of your mind. But forcing yourself to dig deeper and come up with stronger, more intimate benefits, although it will be more challenging, will provide you with some of the best ones.

To help you, here's a simple exercise.

Once you've listed one benefit tied to a specific feature, just keep asking, “What this means to you is this…” And work it until you run out of reasons.

Or use what copywriter Peter Stone calls the “so that” technique. Same idea, but add the words “so that” at the end, like, “With this feature, you get [benefit], so that [deeper benefit], so that [even deeper benefit],” and so on until you can't go any further.

Once you're done, you then move onto the next feature.

Remember that features tell but benefits sell.

Above all, make sure you communicate those benefits in a way that truly reflects and caters to the situations, problems, needs, and desires of your target market. Express benefits in terms that relate directly to each individual in that market.

Some people shy away from describing benefits because they assume they generate hype or puffery. Not so. As illustrated above, they are effective tools to get your readers to fully understand and appreciate your product's true purpose, meaning, and relevancy.

After all, different words mean different things to different people.

In other words, forget features and what they do, which is what most people think are benefits. Think of what a feature means to the customer and the words that communicate this meaning at an individual, intimate, and emotional level.

Because the more intimate your benefits are, the more real, vivid, significant, and meaningful they will be. And subsequently, the more sales you will generate, too.

Categories
Marketing

Are All Business People Dishonest?

Seems I'm ranting a lot these days, and a little more opinionated than the norm. Perhaps it's my back problem, which is killing me, that's making me more sensitive or irritable. I don't know.

But something someone recently said in my copywriters forum irritated me. And it's not what this person said specifically, but the mindset behind it that's bothering me.

In a thread about an Internet marketer who was recently arrested (yes, it had something to do with forced continuity, but it had more to do with refusing refunds and avoiding customers than it had to do with forced continuity itself), one member said:

“There is NO such thing as an honest business man. (…) Ask any accountant.”

Now, I have no clue as to why this person said this. And my opinion here is not about this person specifically. Again, it's about the thinking process that some people have when they make such assertions.

Personally, I believe this view of business people is skewed, off, and wrong. It's destructive, too.

In fact, copywriter Marcia Yudkin said it best. In her reply, she said this gem: “I feel sorry for you. That is a terrible philosophy to hold, hurtful to you and hurtful to the honest people who deal with you.”

Well said.

I know what the original commentator was trying to say, but I wouldn't have said “dishonest.” I believe the word choice is wrong because of the implication. Are all business people really dishonest?

Saying it that way can be easily misconstrued. And it can also be easily misinterpreted, too.

That's the power of words. That's what makes us copywriters, too.

We choose our words carefully. The words we use can be incredibly powerful — both good and bad.

If “dishonest” is referring to communications, I'll be the first to admit that we do exaggerate from time to time. We try to put our product in its best possible light. We focus more on the benefits than we do on the downfalls.

But you know, that's not reserved to business people only.

We do it when we try to explain a movie we love to our friends. Or when we bolster our ego talking about a great deal we got at the local store. Or when we court a potential life partner.

It's human nature.

Words have emotional impact. Even with the most logical, analytical people out there. Our choice of words can make or break the sale, whether the product is good or not. Just as words can make or break relationships, court cases, even wars.

For example, real estate agents will say they sell “homes,” not houses. Dentists will say they create beautiful “smiles,” not “teeth.” We tell stories to communicate a product's purpose or brand. We use words that paint vivid mental pictures.

(I recommend Seth Godin's book, “All Marketers Are Liars.” By the way, Seth is referring to the power of telling stories in marketing.)

But to say all business people are dishonest, and even implying that one should ask any accountant, is a terribly skewed vision of the world. And I'm speaking generally, not just about business itself.

Business people do try to make maximum profit with every transaction, and they will try to do it at the least amount of expense.

That's business.

The difference is, the honest ones will do so at the service of others, while the dishonest ones will do so at the expense of others.

Making a profit can be seen by a lot of people as “dishonest.” I'm a capitalist through and through, and I believe in win-win. I don't see anything wrong with mutually beneficial transactions, which is what business is and should be, in my opinion.

We sell products and services that benefit our customers. But just as much as we are responsible not to mislead, lie, or deceive, customers are just as responsible for their own lives, their own decisions, and their own actions.

What I have a problem with is, some people do see any kind of marketing, or any kind of selling, as dishonest.

And for some reason, that bothers me.

For example, in the same vein as “all business people are dishonest,” some have said, in the recent forced continuity debate, that all marketing is unethical.

They say that a product should sell by itself based on its own merit. And that marketing and selling (and to that I would add copywriting) exist because it's the only way to sell a poor product that can't sell itself.

Oh, really?

If so, then we must be all psychics, because we should know about all the good products in the world. We should rely only on word-of-mouth — we all have friends who will tell us what we need to know, right?

And we should all buy everything that “is good” (even though “good” is subjective and personal) solely because they alone merit our attention, our patronage, and our money.

Forget about life getting in the way.

Forget about competition.

Forget about our innate fear of loss.

Forget about the state of the economy.

Forget about the need for marketing to help better decide how we spend our money.

And forget our natural proclivities to want to be secure, to procrastinate, to avoid making bad decisions, and to save our money to buy only what we need — not what we want. (Goodness forbid we buy what we want, not what we need!)

Obviously, that's wrong. At least to me, it is.

My opinion?

(Here comes the rant.)

In my experience, people who think all marketing is unethical or that all business people are dishonest are usually people who feel everything should be free.

Now, I'm not trying to start a political debate regarding capitalism versus socialism. I'm talking about people who have a sense of entitlement, especially those who whine and complain all the time.

People who bitch about businesses exploiting them are just as much trying to exploit businesses themselves by always trying to find, or haggling for, a good deal.

This is called “projection.” (I'll come back to this in a moment.)

People who feel that they deserve great products and great customer service (which is a given and expected) but for the least amount of money possible.

People who feel they should get the most by working (or paying) the least.

These people who have a sense of entitlement blame others all the time, never take responsibility for their own circumstances, victimize themselves constantly, and whine all the time about how unfair the world is.

To them, not only are all business people dishonest and all marketing unethical, but also everything costs too much. They automatically assume that all marketing is a scam, and that they, in turn, will do their darnedest best to scam businesses, too.

They will suck them for freebies. They will never buy anything. They let coupons and deals dictate their lives. And they will be the first ones to pounce on any mistake a marketer makes — such as a grocery store accidentally pricing an item too low.

They're the ones who think, “if it's that good, then it should be cheap… Or free.”

They try to get the most by paying the least (now tell me, how different is that from the business owner who tries to make the most profit with the least expense?).

People who make such assertions should look in the mirror first.

In a recent blog post, one of my favorite authors and speakers, Larry Winget, talked about banning one of his blog commentators who was toxic, always negative, and went out of his way to badmouth Larry.

This person was so incensed, even to the point of going on Amazon and giving every book Larry wrote a bad review.

In that blog post, I commented that, if only the bad commentators would put as much work into, well, working on their own success, I betcha they wouldn't find the time to bitch.

They would be too busy being successful.

Larry once noted that the hardest thing one can and will ever do in their lives is to look at themselves in the mirror and say, “It's all my fault.”

These “bad commentators” aren't looking in the mirror as they should be. And I would venture to say that people who don't look in the mirror expect everything else to be one. (That's what I mean by “projection.”)

Remember the old Einstein saying that, when your only tool is hammer you see every problem as a nail? It's the same idea, here.

That is, when these faultfinders blame others, they are projecting their own self-loathing onto others.

Similarly, what I found is that those who whine and complain are usually the ones who aren't happy with themselves, and feel the need to blame others.

And they put a lot of work, effort, and even money into dragging other people down, or into whining about how bad things are (e.g., how broke and tired they are, or how scammed they've been).

Why don't they spend all that energy and money on getting ahead instead? Or dare I say it, into starting a business, and — here's a novel concept — marketing and selling themselves?

Go figure.

In Larry's program, “Success is Your Own (Damn) Fault,” he quotes the Sanborn Maxim, which goes: “The customers who are willing to pay you the least will always demand the most.”

While that might be true in terms of money, I think it's the same with everything else.

For example, “The people who are willing to pay you the least respect will always demand the most.” (And I believe they're the ones who deserve it the least, too.)

I agree that there are some business people out there who are dishonest. Thinking that all of them are honest is just as skewed as the converse.

But that kind of thinking can be a lot more hurtful and damaging than the simple comment “there is no such thing as an honest business person.” Damaging to oneself as it is to others.

In conclusion, let me quote something Michelle MacPherson said, a marketer I admire a lot, which sums it all up beautifully:

“If you don't take responsibility for your own actions in life and instead hand that responsibility (in the form of blame) to someone else, you have no power (you've effectively given that power to someone else, since it's ‘not your fault'). If you have no power, you'll never have success — you'll just spend your days blaming others for your lack thereof.”

Thanks for listening.

P.S.: What do you think of the new blog design? Just a larger font, more whitespace, and less “busyness.” It's based on your feedback, which I appreciate immensely.

Categories
Copywriting

The Seven Deadly Sins of Website Copy

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

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

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

1) They Fail to Connect

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2) They Lack a Compelling Offer

“Making an offer you can't refuse” seems like an old cliché, but don't discount its relevance and power. Especially in this day and age where most offers are so anemic, lifeless, and like every other offer out there.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3) They Lack “Reasons Why”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Response more than tripled.

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

  • Why me? (Why should they listen to you?)
  • Why you? (Who is perfect for this offer?)
  • Why this? (Why is this product perfect for them?)
  • Why this price? (Why is this offer so valuable?)
  • Why now? (Why must they not wait?)

4) They Lack Scarcity

Speaking of “why now,” this is probably the most important reason of all.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5) They Lack Proof

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To help you, follow my FORCEPS formula.

6) They Lack a Clear Call to Action

Answer this million-dollar, skill-testing question: “What exactly do you want your visitors to do?” Simple, isn't it? But it doesn't seem that way with the many sites I've visited.

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

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

Focus on the “power of one.” That is:

  • One message
  • One audience
  • One outcome

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7) They Lack Good Copy

It may seem like this should be the number one mistake.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Above all, it must serve your prospect.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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