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SEO Copywriting in 2020

David Garfinkel's Copywriters Podcast 187

David Garfinkel is not only one of the best professional copywriters I've ever had the pleasure and honor of working with, but also he is known as the world's top copywriting coach. And for good reason.

Not many people, including copywriters, can distill the craft of writing persuasively into easy-to-understand, easy-to-implement concepts.

But David can.

I've known David for close to 20 years. We've shared the stage together, delivered seminars together, and even created products together.

And in the last few years, David has been hosting a podcast called the Copywriters Podcast. It's a must-listen if you're into copywriting or just want to learn how to be more compelling in your communications.

On his Copywriter's Podcast Episode 187, David had me on as his guest. We talked about SEO copywriting, how it's changed, and how it's just as important for conversion as it is for driving traffic.

Thanks, David, for the opportunity.

Transcript

David Garfinkel 0:10
Okay, so today I'm pleased to have an old friend on the show, friend who has branched out beyond direct response copywriting. In the early 2000s, Michel Fortin, also known as Michel Fortin was a living legend. And I mean that.

He wrote the first online sales letter that brought in over $1 million in one day for Traffic Secrets, I think it was. And I am forever grateful on a different note to Michael for being my presentation partner in my famous 2005 las vegas breakthrough copywriting seminar.

And both of us also took the stage a few years later at Harvey Becker's marketing event, which I think was called the greatest marketing seminar in the world, which I feel every seminar should be called just by virtue of the fact. You know, it's marketing.

And we sold somewhere in the nature of $100,000 worth of products from the stage during our presentation. After that, a number of things happened, and not all of them good for Michael, but he took his career in a different direction. today.

He's an expert and a certified expert in SEO copywriting, which means optimizing your copy for the search engines.

And you have to understand that regardless of what you think of SEO, copywriting, everything Michael is going to tell you today about SEO copywriting can make you a lot of money, if you act on and listen to what he says.

Now, I want to tell you something now, that's not gonna make you any money, but it could save you a lot of money, and time and even your personal freedom. And that is this copy is powerful, you're responsible for how you use what you hear on this podcast.

Most of the time, common sense is all you need. But if you make extreme claims, and or if you're writing copy for offers, in highly regulated industries, like health and finance and business opportunity, you may want to get a legal review after you write.

And before you start using your copy my larger clients do this all the time. Okay, let's get started with the good stuff. Michael, welcome. And thanks for doing this really good.

Michel Fortin 2:33
Thanks, David. It's It's an honor and and not only because we are we known each other for a long time, but I also listened to your podcast quite religiously. So it's a it's always a staple in the copywriting community, right?

David Garfinkel 2:46
Yeah. Well, thank you. I appreciate that. So let's, let's talk about your I don't know your trials of job, whatever you want to 15 or 20 years ago, you were a renowned direct response copywriters, I said, highly revered partner of mine, to presentations, which I mentioned in the intro, and you still are in my mind.

But let's fast forward to 2020. Today, over the past decade, fate took your career in a different direction. Could you tell us about that?

Michel Fortin 3:22
Sure. I trying to squeeze a long story into a very small amount of time as I possibly can. So I had a very turbulent turn of the last decade where I lost my mother, my father, my sister, my only sister, and of course my wife, who I owned up, and it will thank you.

And the thing is, we were together in business, we were speaking at seminars, we were selling courses, and I was doing copy. But after all of that happen, I just didn't feel I had the headspace or the motivation to stay in business.

So what I did is I took a job as a well, first of all, there's no such thing as a right, you know, Director of copywriting at a marketing agency digital mortgage, they were actually a Google premier partner agency. They primarily did SEO. And they hired me as their Director of Communications.

So I did everything from marketing, marketing communications to display ads to SEO and fast forward to now so basically what happened was, while I was there, I just discovered that I am chronically unemployable.

I've been a freelancer all my life so and when your side hustle where see the thing is I always kept clients clients kept hiring me for copy. And when that income kind of surpasses your full time income, I decided, you know what, I'm just gonna go back into business and I was always better by then.

And it was this is furious later. got remarried. And and this is where I'm at. And just to put everything in perspective, the fact that I knew about marketing and copywriting, whether it's for SEO, whether it's for ads, whether it's for brochures or direct mail, it's a, it's a very portable skill no matter where you go.

And so I was able to pivot my career easily because of that one skill. So there you have it.

David Garfinkel 5:25
Wow, that that's, that's quite a story. I mean, I don't know if I know anyone else personally, who's lost that many people in a period of time, but you seem like you're on your feet, and my heart goes out to you. I'm glad you're doing well now or better anyway.

So let's talk about SEO copywriting. What is it? What is it these days? And how does it work?

Michel Fortin 5:53
It's not like it used to be keep in mind that Google has gone through an amazing transformation in the last just the last five years. Since 2016 2017, new algorithms came about that change the way they look at websites, they look at copy or content, and they rank them.

As you know, Google has an artificial intelligence you know, I hate to call it AI because it's it's no we're talking Skynet.

David Garfinkel 6:28
You might be might come in and change.

Michel Fortin 6:32
But but they're, but their AI is actually called rankbrain. And what happens is, they look no longer at keywords, keywords is no longer the thing like it used to be. We, you know, we used to stuff, our content, and even some sometimes in the code or in the back end, with all these keywords.

It's no longer about that anymore. Now, it's about good quality content. And of course, you can write copy content that helps to get people to change their minds to buy into an idea or, of course, to buy a product or service. And as long as you serve your customer, which is really what Google is all about.

Now, it's we know you as a client, you as a website owner, or business owner, and Google share the same client, it's the user.

So they want to provide a great search experience to their user, you want to create a great search environment and learning environment for your client, your user, your client, and of course, a search a buying experience.

So SEO kind of sort of blends into two other aspects called CRM, conversion rate optimization, and UX, which is user experience optimization. Now, Google is kind of giving you brownie points, not just for having good content.

But by having a great experience. Having a website that's responsive, that's mobile, that is also what we call Voice Search enabled.

So when you know people nowadays, we use our phones to to ask Google or Siri or Alexa to do searches for us.

And, and to, to also create a great engagement with the user, the more engaged the user is on your website, which is why copy is so important, the more Google will actually rank you higher, because it says, Wow, people we sent it, we're sending people to the search result, this website.

And apparently it's a great result for the people, they're actually looking for that result, they're staying there, they're not bouncing back. And so you're going to get better rankings that way. So that's what really SEO copywriting kind of evolved to.

David Garfinkel 8:37
Okay, that's, that's really interesting. And this is the first time I've heard that, and it's great, great information.

So I'm a little curious about this, because I, I can understand how rankbrain can measure the amount of time someone spends on the site, they might even be able to tell how much they scroll, how many pages they go to all of those things.

How does a computer program evaluate good quality content? Or does it only evaluated by the results by the amount of time people are spending on the site? Are there other things?

Michel Fortin 9:16
There's there's a number of factors, there's actually over 300 ranking factors now. Before it was just keywords. And then it would be maybe the authority of a website? I mean, how long has it been in business? How long has it been on the internet?

And then there's links like people are linking to the website, meaning is it actually valuable content, but a lot of those things, people can hack and circumvent. You can buy links, you can do all this blackhat stuff.

So now Google is has evolved to look at other signals that would, that would increase that sites, like ability or relevancy. Actually in the search engines, and it does it through a myriad of different things.

For example, in the recent time, there is a new algorithm called at eat, expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness. You know, it's kind of funny, because there's a lot of jokes going around like, do you want to eat your rankings?

And, and the reason that is, is that Google will now pay more attention to your site, if it shows that you have expertise, you know, the subject matter. Your it's properly credentialed. There's actually proof. Do you fact check your stuff.

And in fact, when that came about, it was called the medic update, because the most websites that got affected by it was medical websites. But now we were realizing that it affected any website that deals with what we call your money or your life.

So anything about health, wealth, money, finances, and all that stuff. And then second thing that came around, which is actually just recently called BERT, now Burt's, Bert and Ernie and Bert, but it's actually an acronym that stands I was thinking of Frank Zappa song, my name is Bertrand.

Yeah. Only people like us will know that.

David Garfinkel 11:15
Maven, Maven is stone faced, not his generation, man.

Michel Fortin 11:20
But BERT stands for bidirectional encoding, representations and transformations. If I think I have that, right. And what that really means is that before you had a keyword, and then Google say, Oh, that's it, that's a signal. But now it's bi directional. So it says, okay, maybe you have a key word.

What's the context? It's not just about content, it's words around it, maybe images, maybe the code in the background, it's basically trying to understand the context behind the content. And so it uses something called No, we you know, we call it we call it NLP. But we know NLP stands for other things.

But it's called natural language processing, which is part of this rankbrain process. So basically, it looks at adjacent keywords before and after around it, images, what the images are saying. And all those things will help to determine what that content really is.

For example, if I look at keywords, soap, and I type in soap, well, does it mean soap opera? Does it mean dish soap, does it mean carwash soap, does it mean SAP the programming language?

So the whole point, and I'll finish with this, Google has looking at more and more at one to one topics, not keywords anymore. So we actually I don't even do keyword research, I do topical research.

And that's what really is, is is important these days. And as long as your topic is, in line with this other thing, search intent. What's the search intent of the user? Are they looking for just information? Are they looking for education?

Or are they actually looking at possibilities of our different solutions for a problem that they're undergoing? Are they actually looking for to buy the problem, they don't buy solution to the problem, they're fit, they want to fix the problem.

We call that you know, navigational search, informational search, investigative search, and commercial or transactional search. So all those things is the only way you can determine that.

Now, first of all, when you're using Google, by you, by you searching the kinds of questions you ask, you know, nowadays, just a single keyword isn't enough. Sometimes we ask a full question. Hey, Google, what is the How do you make a gluten free vegan pizza?

Now I just said Google, though, my phone just went off my Android. But that's the point is that now it knows that I'm when I'm looking for pizza. I'm not just looking for a pizza place. I'm actually looking for a recipe for a gluten free pizza. But now that's great. Google knows what you want.

But what about the sites that it wants to send you to? So what it does, it looks at the copy on their websites, the content and all those things that I just mentioned, to determine the context.

And then it will send you and because what it really wants is to give people the best search results possible, so that their experience is great, because what they hate is people what they call Pogo sticking, which is they click on the link, they go to the website.

That's not me. And they go back, they just backspace or back, you know, to the to the search engine. That's when Google says, oh, that cert that search result is not really what you're looking for. So that no, it's it's another one of those signals, but it's one of many signals.

Hopefully that answers your question. I'm not sure it does. It

David Garfinkel 14:32
does give me an idea. It's certainly a lot more than you know, what I used to think of is keyword stuffing where you would find the keywords and you try and jam as many of them into what becomes unreadable copy that looks like it was written written by a bot or something.

Okay, but I'm sure this question comes up to you a lot from clients. So I'm just going to put it right at you. How does all of this affect traffic and conversion, especially if you're using paid advertising?

Michel Fortin 15:15
Right? So, the bottom line is this, the one number one rule that I've always used in copywriting. In fact, I taught it at the seminar at your seminar, which is also a great way to beat writer's block, which is to know more about your market, research your market as much as you can.

It's not about restricting keywords anymore. It's about researching your market. What do they want? In fact, you David said something that I love. You said, What is the market? What's their problem? And how are they talking about it? Right?

Like I remember, you said that at a seminar one time, and I think you also said on your podcast, who is your market? What is their problem? And how are they talking about it? That's that's exactly what you need to know, not only for copy, but for SEO for CRM conversion rate, and all those things.

Because here's the thing, if you can deliver, and meet and connect with them and deliver the content in the copy that matches that search intent that where they're at, to meet them where they're at, you know, Collier said to continue the conversation going on in their mind, well, that's the same thing with SEO.

Because when they are looking for something on Google and they land on your site, or even if they click on an ad, is there a connection is there congruency.

In fact, the more congruent your copy is, with the intent behind the person landing on your site, or opening your direct mail piece, or whatever the case is, the greater your conversions, the greater your response rate. And it's the same thing with SEO.

So back to my point is, learn more about your market do more market research, and and what we call topical research, not keyword research.

The best seo tip that I've ever heard is from a guy who actually doesn't even do SEO, he says, and he's getting millions and millions of visitors, he actually has a podcast with millions of subscribers, and he says, I just look for the kinds of questions my particular audience is asking. And I just answered them.

David Garfinkel 17:13
That's it. Okay, so it's, it's not really that different than marketing fundamentals to just basic stuff, right? Is what you're saying?

Michel Fortin 17:24
Absolutely. Just no more about your market, find out what they're looking for, and just give it to them. content that will get you better SEO, it answers what they're looking for. And it's also going to increase your sales and your your conversion rates when they land on your site.

And the read your sales offer whatever the case is, whatever you're offering, wherever you're selling, it'll sell better because it's in line with what you're looking for. And it's also and then I'll bet I'll just add another point.

Remember, I told you about search intent, there's navigational, there's, there's informational, educational, so if people are not really ready to buy, you know, we both you and I, we know we love Eugene Schwartz, he talks about the stages of sophistication of the market.

I use a an acronym called oath, the oath formula, how aware is your market? And it's kind of saying how prepared are they take an oath?

Are they oblivious about the problem? Are they apathetic, meaning they know about it, but they don't care? Are they thinking about doing something about their problem? Or actually, are they hurting and they want to buy it now they will need to solve the problem now.

Well, guess what, in in SEO, they talk about the funnel, they talk about problem aware, solution aware and are no problem, we are product, who here solution aware and so on and so forth. It's the same thing.

And my point in saying that is before we used to write these long sales letters that would sell make an offer and educate the client to put the prospect throughout the entire process.

But nowadays, you can just do education, bring people at the front end, the top end of the funnel, we call the top of funnel, educate them, get them into the funnel, get them interested, get them to raise their hand.

And slowly but surely taking them by the hand, whether it's through a long page, or through a drip campaign, or multiple videos, that you eventually get them to take action, you get them to finally buy whatever you're selling.

And that's why that's why it's so important to when you write copy or SEO copy is that you write it at the level of where it is they're at that we're there, you know, what kind of conversation having so back to my my initial point, know your market, do your market research.

And you know, you'll get great SEO as much as great copy.

David Garfinkel 19:34
That's, that's awesome. Let's, let's look at the surprises for a second. What's counterintuitive about SEO, and if you want to see our Oh, and UX, so that is what works that you wouldn't expect good work and vice versa.

Michel Fortin 19:50
Well, the thing is, because of the changes with the search engines, the changes with Google specifically and the fact that it's becoming better and better at Knowing what kind of content is on your website, what kind of information you're giving out, and also what kind of searches people are making.

Before, when we used to think about SEO, we used to think of stuffing cute, like you just said, stuffing keywords.

And nowadays, it really comes down to a couple things, very simple things, giving great content, good quality content that actually helps people that actually serves their their their interests, that that solves their problem that that answers their questions.

And what you do is you optimize the event that the way that people can use or consume that content, I'll come down to this. SEO really boils down to two things, a good quality content and good quality, good user experience.

That's it, those are the two things you need to do, as long as you offer good content that matches their their intent. And then once they land on your site, or sales copy, or whatever the case is, they have a great user experience.

They they have a great experience of consuming that content, then, you know, that's it's kind of topic, you know, it's it's, it's counterintuitive to the degree because a lot of people thought, Oh, I need to do keyword research, I need to do all this Hocus Pocus in the backend I used to I need to do all this coding stuff.

And you know what? Yes, those things are important from a, let's say, a usability standpoint. But really, what's important is, is your site crawlable can Google actually see your website? And and all the things that help get create a good user experience? Is it secure?

Meaning, you know, nowadays, if you land on a website that has HTTP rather than HTTPS, you'll get a warning, you know, Google will say, hey, this site is not secure. Do you still want to do you want to proceed? Well, you need now you need now to secure site.

It's all back to this user experience optimization, I was telling you about. Fast loading time, if you don't guess now, most, you know, 99%, that's not true. It's about 60% 7060 65% of the population now use their mobile devices to access the internet. So you need to have a fast loading website.

And if it's taking too long, people will do what we call that pogosticking, they'll just land on the site is that gets taken too long, they'll just backspace and go back to Google to look at the next search result, well, then Google will then penalize you.

You're going to lose traction, because you're not giving them a good experience. So so it's kind of counterintuitive to the greed that it's not as mathematical as it used to be. Just write good content, just serve your client, well solve problems.

Good, you know, and give them a good experience and consuming that content. And you've you've got a you're going to be very successful that way.

David Garfinkel 22:38
That's really good. You know, they don't call me the Nostradamus of podcasting for nothing. I predicted Nathan would have a question anyway. And I think he does.

Nathan 22:49
Yeah. So here's kind of a controversy that's going on between copywriters and search engines right now, is a lot of the search engines are moving away from sending people to websites.

So they don't, when you look up something on Google, Google wants to give you the answer without having to send you to someone Oh, yes. And so a lot of times, especially you mentioned, most searches are being done on mobile.

They don't want you to have to go so they'll just take a snippet of your website, and you won't actually get that traffic. So I kind of want to know what your thoughts are, as far as going forward. How is that going to impact?

And I know a lot of copywriters that are concerned that Google is taking their content, serving it as their own content and not giving the traffic that the whole reason we're writing the content is for traffic. And Google's saying, hey, we'll take what you're giving us.

But we're not going to give back Why you're giving it to us.

Michel Fortin 23:50
I am so glad you asked that question. You know why? Because it really boils down to this one skill called copywriting. And I say this because we I had this argument just the other day, and it's exactly the same issue. People are thinking, I'm getting zero because zero clicks search results.

So that's when your answer appears at the top, and people can see your answer or see your website content on their website without sending traffic to your site. And that's the reason why Google kind of is doing that is because they want to remove the number of clicks that people will get to a final result.

And if they're if they're in the informational stage, they're just looking for information. That's kind of understandable. It's frustrating. I understand that. However, this is where if you can use great content, great copy. There's a you know, when you're a content appears in the top search results.

This is called schema markup, or what we call featured snippets or Rich Snippets rich, rich data. I think some other people will call it structured data. You know, sometimes when you type in a recipe, and you'll actually have the recipe at the top of the Google search result right? then going to the actual site.

You know why? Because a lot of people, the reason why Google does that, too is because a lot of people when they visit a search site or a recipe site, you know how many recipes or like, you have to go through a lot of content and all the bads and a lot of crap before you actually get to the actual recipe.

So Google is trying to give a better user experience to their user. Remember, we shared the same client, Google's clients, and our clients are the same.

So the thing is, if they are actually looking for just information, then you want to be focused on your brand, your value proposition, what makes you unique, what makes you good, what makes you better, and then put that in the rich snippet.

Because now you can actually do what we call a rich rich data markup on your website, so that that will actually appear. And you can control what they show to their users. Not all the time. No, Google is Google.

But you can, and we want to make sure that you get them their attention, because you want if you are good at copy, you'll be able to also get their attention enough that they will click on that link. Even if you give them the answer to their question, they'll say, Well, I want to know more.

And they click on the link and they visit your website. However, there's also the issue that if you if you if you're good at quotes, a branding, and mentioning your brand, or especially your unique sales proposition, you're going to create one called Top-of-mind awareness.

So that when you appear the search engines later on in other search results, or even when they just need you when they're actually in because right now they're probably just at the educational and informational gathering stage.

But if when you're ready to buy or when you're ready to look for a solution, you'll remember your brand, because that's what that is really good for is to increase the branding element. Now, finally, the final answer to this is, Google is now testing different things.

In fact, there's a recent Google what they call search 2020, which is kind of their annual State of the Union address to the search community, right?

They're saying that they're moving away from that a little bit more and then moving towards where you probably noticed this, when you go to Google and you type in on a search result, it'll actually go to the section of the same on that page that gives them that particular answer for their question.

And, and so they're saying, great, okay, fine, we're going to give people the chance to visit your site, we're going to do less and less of that, you know, showing up and doing zero click results, we're going to give people a chance to visit your site.

But we want to get them to the actual section on your page that answers your question. So they don't have to go through a whole bunch of crap before and give them a really bad user experience.

So it boils down to good copy just big, you know, learn good copywriting, you will be able to capture not, you know, maybe some traffic from that. And if they're if you're selling a product or service, oftentimes your your search result won't appear there.

I mean, sorry, your your content will won't appear there. Because you're not answering your question, you're actually getting people to buy product, if they're in that, that that stage.

In fact, Google wants probably wants you to buy shopping ads, right, they probably want you to buy ads to drive traffic rather than giving them information.

But if they're just looking for information, then focus on having good copy that gets them interested clicking on the link, probably visiting your site, or at least getting the your unique sales proposition, your unique offer, or your brand, your brand name, your product, name, whatever the case is.

So that you create that Top of Mind awareness, it also creates authority. Remember, I told you earlier, eat expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness.

The fact that you appear at the top of search results is implied authority, oh, he must be an authority or she must be an authority or this site must be an authority. So that either they'll visit from that result or later on when they do more searches. And your result will pop up in a normal search results.

Direct. they'll recognize you they say oh, yeah, that's I was like on that on that other search. They'll click on you.

And this has actually been proven they've done ample test to show that when you do appear, and you don't get enough traffic, you'll you actually increase what we called secondary ancillary traffic, because you're becoming known as an authority you create that implied authoritativeness.

Nathan 29:15
So it's the goal seems to be give people what they're looking for. And also subtly try and sell the click as well. But um,

Michel Fortin 29:27
Yes.

David Garfinkel 29:29
That was pretty good. How do people keep up with your content?

Michel Fortin 29:34
Sure. Well, my own website, my own blog is at Michel fortin.com. But if you want to send them directly to the page that I probably would want to send them to, so that we avoid Google stealing my click. David Garfinkel, stealing my click No, I'm kidding. Go to daily marketing memo.com that's my newsletter.

And it actually goes it's it's just redirects to my own website, but To the page where people can learn about my newsletter, it's called the daily marketing memo. So dailymarketingmemo.com.

David Garfinkel 30:06
Excellent. Wow. You completely changed my mind about SEO copywriting. And, you know, in a way, I've always felt like the the goal of the good hearted journalist and the goal of search engine was the same, you know, just to provide people the information they want need. And of course, life interferes.

Well. Anyway, Michael, thank you so much. So good to catch up with you after all these years.

Michel Fortin 30:36
Thank you. Thank you.

David Garfinkel 30:38
I'm glad you've made it through all these trials and you seem to be better man for it. So hope things get even better for you in the future. Oh, they are. Yeah. All right. Thank you.

Michel Fortin 30:47
Appreciate that.

Nathan 30:49
Awesome. Thank you, Michael, for coming on. David. Thank you for putting this together. listeners out there. If you want to check out more episodes head on over to the copywriters podcast website and that's copywriterspodcast.com and until next time, we will catch you later. Bye.

Categories
Copywriting

How I Broke Into Copywriting

My last post, where a disgruntled copywriter demanded “the truth” about creating wealth in copywriting, inspired copywriter Andrew Cavanagh to share the story of his beginnings on my forum:

“Here's how I made my first ‘money' in copywriting.”

Then one by one, other copywriters started adding their own. The responses were nothing short of amazing! Many of the stories show that there's indeed hope. They also show that we were all struggling copywriters once, too.

And we didn't all become overnight millionaires with million-dollar clients, as “Chuck,” the disillusioned copywriter, postulated.

I loved it so much that I posted my own story. I've decided to share it with you here. (By the way, the picture below is of me, circa 1991. A lot thinner, with glasses, and a lot more hair!)

Michel Fortin (1991)
Michel Fortin (1991)

Anyway, here is my story.

When I first started out, I was a salesperson. And the worst part was, I loathed cold-calling. Especially since I had this excruciating fear of rejection. I still have it. (If you know me, then you know about the story of my alcoholic father and how my fear was the result.)

Update: I first wrote this article in 2007. Since then, I discovered that I have ADHD and suffer from RSD, or Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria, which explains why I fear rejection so much.

I accidentally stumbled onto copywriting not by chance or by education, but by desperation. You see, I dove into sales in order to fight my fears head-on. I was working on strict commissions at the time as a licensed insurance salesman. I also had a young family to support.

So I thought that the pressure would help kick me into gear. But I was doing so poorly that my family and I had to eat 25-cent ramen noodle packages for months! Eventually, I was forced to declare bankruptcy at 21 years old.

I remember that time like it was yesterday.

The humiliation and the hurt I felt was indescribable. In a matter of days, the car company repossessed my car, the landlord evicted us from our home, and my wife took our daughter and left me. (We eventually divorced.)

I was desperate to make money. So I had to find a way to get people to listen to my presentation. One day, the insurance company (Prudential Canada) requested feedback from sales reps for ideas to improve sales.

I may have feared rejection immensely, but I was always teeming with ideas. I didn't realize it back then, but I was a natural at marketing.

So I sent a suggestion to the company, which was to have a rider that people could add to their life insurance policies, which would allot a portion of their coverage to a charitable organization of their choice.

Prudential loved my idea and launched a new product called (if memory serves) Charity Plus. They sent me a letter to thank me for my “contribution.” I even remember the sales manager reading it out loud to everyone at the next sales meeting. I was blushing with pride. We were both proud.

Excited, I decided to write letters to people within my territory offering them a free presentation to go over this new product with them. It was an open door, if you will. A perfect opportunity to reassess people's policies.

That's when I had a lightbulb moment and realized that this — writing salesletters — was my “way out” of doing cold-call prospecting.

I could mail to anyone asking if they would be willing to set an appointment with me. That way, I no longer had to be rejected. (It didn't work at first. I tried several times and I was about to give up a number of times, too.)

But then, things “clicked.”

I started booking appointments and selling policies. I later became one of the top salespeople for this insurance company for about eight months in a row.

Problem is, I hated my job. I hated it because I had a poor territory (salespeople were assigned territories), and this was back in the old days when insurance agents also had to visit every single client each month to collect premiums.

(My territory was so poor, some paid their premiums with empty beer bottles!)

So I moved on.

Eventually, I found a job as a consultant for a hair restoration company. Some of their services included hair transplants and surgery, with a doctor on staff.

My main job was as a patient advocate, where I consulted clients on the appropriate hair restoration method for them. I was paid a very small base salary but with commissions on any sales I made.

Part of my job, among others (and similar to what I did in the insurance biz), was to help increase appointments of consultations with prospects.

That included writing copy for direct mail pieces, display ads in newspapers (with dense copy), information packages, and even infomercial scripts. Which is why I liked the job. I didn't have to do any prospecting.

You see, the way it works is that people first read the ad or see the infomercial on TV, and then they request a free information kit to be mailed to them. If the client was interested, they would call to book a consultation with me.

During my first year, I noticed something peculiar. Before every consultation, the clinic asked prospects to fill out a form (e.g., asking about their medical history and other forms of hair replacement tried, etc).

If a prospect went ahead and bought, a client file was created. But if they didn't, I would do some phone follow-up. And if that didn't work either, their consult form was simply filed away in a storage box.

One day, I stumbled onto a bunch of these boxes in storage (I think there were 30-40 of them), which contained several years' worth of filled-out consultation forms of clients who never bought.

That's when a lightbulb lit up in my head.

It reminded me of my experience at the insurance company.

I asked my employer to buy a computer. (At the time, the only person with a computer was the accountant!) We hired a data entry clerk from a temp-help agency, and created a database of all these people who didn't take action.

Next, I wrote a direct mail piece, which made a limited-time offer.

The direct mail touted some new hair replacement procedure that looked a lot more natural than its predecessor, as well as new advancements in the field of cosmetic surgery that were introduced since their last consultation.

That's when things started to explode! I don't remember the exact number, but this little direct mail campaign resulted in over a million dollars in sales.

(Keep in mind, the price range for hair restoration solutions ranged anywhere between $2,000 to $20,000, particularly in the case of hair transplants.)

I even remember on the last week of the promotion, there was a lineup outside the waiting room of people wanting to get a consultation before the promotion ended. I was obviously ecstatic. In fact, it was also my highest grossing week in terms of commissions. (It was around $7,000 Canadian.)

Since then, we repeated this feat several times. Many of my dense-copy display ads would get a ton of new clients and patients, and I was doing quite well.

My base salary at the time was $22,000. But I made a lot more than that in commissions. I think it was around $80,000 back in the early 90s.

Now, over the period of a few years, this company grew by leaps and bounds. I would say mostly because of my help. (Admittedly, my employer at the time, who was also my mentor, was a brilliant salesperson. I learned a lot from him.)

As the company grew, opening several franchises across North America, I was tasked with the job of hiring and training salespeople in them, and consulting their owners (including doctors on staff) on how to market themselves.

And yes, that included copywriting, too.

My employer flew me to almost every major city to conduct these trainings.

Here's the problem.

While I'm on the road training other people about marketing and consulting, I wasn't selling. So my income went back down to $22,000. I was getting worried.

He had hired another consultant to take my place, so I couldn't go back to selling. But I was working really hard while the company made a ton of money. “There's got to be something better than this,” I kept saying to myself.

So I approached my employer and asked for a raise. After much back-and-forth over several weeks, one day I was called into the meeting room. The office manager then said to me, “You're doing fine work, Michel.”

“Oh, great,” I said to myself. “I can feel something good is going to happen!”

She said, “I know you've been working hard training all these franchises while not making any commissions like you used to. We want to give you a raise for your hard work and dedication.”

“Your new salary will be increased as of today by…

(I was grinning with anticipation.)

“… An extra $3,000.”

I said, “Oh, $3,000 a month! Great!”

“No, no,” she said, “your new annual salary is now $25,000.”

I was so disappointed. And angry.

Don't forget, those were Canadian dollars (less than $17,000 USD) and nowhere near the $80,000 I made previously. As you can imagine, being partly responsible for their explosive growth, I felt rejected. And hurt.

Not willing to give up, I kept asking. But with every protest I made, they gave me a different reason as to why they couldn't “afford” to raise it more.

So I quit the very next month.

It was the best decision I ever made.

I went freelance, and shortly thereafter created a company called “The Success Doctor.” (I specialized in doctors since I gained a lot of experience in that field. So the name implied “I help doctors become successful.”)

I wasn't doing too bad. But I was still eking out a meager living charging anywhere between $100 to $500 per copywriting project. (My clients at the time were primarily local doctors with small offices.)

But some of them did work really well. My first royalty arrangement was while working for a hair transplant doctor in Toronto. I was getting paid a salary plus commissions plus a percentage of the clinic's profits.

One day, while working for one doctor, a sales rep came to the clinic selling advertising space on this thing called “the world wide web.” Their services included a web page and a listing in their directory.

My curiosity was piqued.

You see, part of my job as a marketing consultant was writing copy in different media to get exposure for my clients. I was a big fan of the yellow pages. So this seemed like a natural complement.

Plus, I've been using BBS services (dialup bulletin boards) since I was 11 years old. So I knew this would be a good medium to advertise in.

Plus, since a lot of people saw our TV infomercials but failed to call for our information kit, it made perfect sense to be in as many places as possible when they finally did decide to do something about their hairloss.

So I created my client's website in 1992.

Over time, I worked with other types of cosmetic surgeons. Then other types of doctors (e.g., dentists, chiropractors, acupuncturists, physiotherapists, etc). Then other types of professionals and service providers.

But as a result of that one sales rep's presentation (which sold me on having a presence on the world wide web), I decided that I should have a website for myself, promoting my freelance work.

So I signed up on this new thing called Geocities back in 1994, and created my first website. It was nothing to sneeze at. It was just a simple, brochure-like web page with contact information. (I later registered “SuccessDoctor.com.”)

The result? Nothing. Not a single request.

Years before, however, I wrote a booklet called “The 10 Commandments of Power Positioning.” I used it as a way to get clients to hire me offline — the report was much like a salesletter in disguise. And it worked quite well.

So going online, I decided to digitize my report and offer it for free, especially if people joined my email list. (As far as I can tell, I was one of the first ones to do this way back then. At least in the freelance marketing or copywriting business.)

I started with some article marketing. I would chop my booklet into standalone articles, where the byline promoted the “rest of the articles” (i.e., the booklet).

It worked well. But the day my traffic and business really exploded was when I decided to let other people pass that booklet around. As a result of that little book, my site was bombarded with quote requests.

I was doing some salesletters and web page copy for as little as $300-$2,000 each. Mind you, I also did a lot of free ones at the time only to get my name out there and start building my portfolio. I also bartered a lot.

That's when things started moving very quickly.

It was late 1998, and I made a bartering deal for a well-known marketer. I did his long web copy for just $2,000 in exchange for getting referrals from him and for publishing my articles to his list, which was part of our arrangement.

And the rest, as they say, is history.

Bottom line, it does take work. And there's no such thing as “overnight riches.” Thinking that this happens when you first start out as a new copywriter is an illusion. It took me the better part of 20 years to get to where I am today.

However, with so much training and information available, it shouldn't take that long for anyone with enough gumption, bouncebackability, and the right attitude to get there.

It may have taken me 20 years. But knowing what I now know, I can safely say that, if I were to lose everything once again, even overnight, I can easily make it all back — and then some — and do it in a lot less time.

To echo something my friend the late, great Gary Halbert once said, “If you're a good copywriter, there's no reason why you should be starving.”

There you have it!

Now let me ask you, what's YOUR story?

Categories
Copywriting

How to Hook (More) Copywriting Prospects

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The other day, an aspiring copywriter asked me a question that I hear all too often: “How do I distinguish myself from other copywriters?”

The answer is not an easy one. It takes some thought, some time, and perhaps some inspiration.

But time after time, I have found that most people tend to overlook one of the most effective and frequently used copywriting and marketing tools. And that's your “Unique Selling Proposition,” or USP.

(I prefer to call it a “Unique Selling Position.” If you've read my book, “Power Positioning,” or if you know my personal story, then you'd know that I'm a big fan of positioning rather than prospecting.)

Your USP is also your “hook.”

A USP is what distinguishes you from the pack. It increases perceived value, expertise, and credibility — without needing to state it outright.

But since I hear this question often, particularly from copywriters just entering the field, it's because it's never an easy process. You either have to dig deep to find your USP, or create one from scratch. And that's why people need a little help in defining it.

I understand. So to help you, here's a tip.

In marketing, every product or service has three levels. They include:

  • The core product.
  • The product itself.
  • The augmented product.

What does this have to do with developing a USP? Before I share it to you, let me explain what these three product levels mean.

  • The core product is the actual end-result, the benefits, that the product offers. It's what the product does for people. As Theodore Levitt once said, people don't buy quarter-inch drills. They buy quarter-inch holes.
  • The actual product is what the product is and consists of. This includes the things that make the product a product. Those are the features, the components, the ingredients, even the packaging.
  • The augmented product is what is added to the product or offer to augment it. Things like free shipping, guarantees, customer support, premiums, etc.

Now, in the context of copywriting (the business or the service of copywriting, that is), you can look at it this way (please note this is an example and not the example):

1) Core Product: Generate and/or increase response.

That's the ultimate result, or at least the reason why most clients hire copywriters.

2) Actual Product: The copy itself.

Writing the copy includes research, writing the first draft, and delivering the final draft. It includes all the elements that help to achieve the core product: headline, storyline, bullets, product details, offer, response device, etc.

The actual product is also directly tied to the market. Therefore, it also includes the market you're selling to, such as focusing on a specific industry or audience, or a particular kind of copy such as sales letters, direct mail, websites, etc.

3) Augmented Product: Whatever you add beyond the actual product.

Things you add to the service to “beef it up,” such as extras, value-adds, add-ons, bonuses, premiums, gifts, additional promises, and so on, which can vary tremendously from copywriter to copywriter, and industry to industry.

For example, it can include formatting, graphic design, layout suggestions, project management, market research, rewrites, guarantees, split-testing the actual copy before the final draft, exclusivity, rush service for quicker turnarounds, etc.

How do you use these three layers to define a USP?

Think of these three layers in the form of a bulls-eye, where you have three concentric circles. The center of the bulls-eye being the core product, the middle layer being the actual product, and the outer layer the augmented product.

Now, here's the fun part. To develop a unique selling proposition, you can add, remove, change, or give a unique twist to any of these three levels.

The easiest way, of course, it to go from the outside in. (It's easier to aim for the outer circle than the bulls-eye itself.) That is, find ways to augment your product that few do or that no one does. It may not be one single thing. It may be a combination of them.

Bulls-eye analogy aside, why is this the simplest way?

Because coming up with different angles or variations of the center of the bulls-eye requires a bit more creative thinking. It's easier to add to the existing product or its market than it is to repurpose it, rebrand it, or redefine the market for it.

(Mind you, developing a USP from within usually produces the best “hooks,” the most prospects, and the greatest perceived value.)

Nevertheless, here's an example of working with the outside layer.

You can offer design suggestions, layouts and mockups, additional tips on how to best use the copy, offer free revisions, writing copy for other parts of the sales funnel (opt-in page, order page, thank-you page, autoresponders, etc), and so on.

Here's an extra tip.

Don't offer these willy-nilly. Always place a value on these augmented elements or add-ons. Why? Because if you don't, people will assume that it's part of your original offering. It may even decrease your perceived value.

The idea is to increase the perception of higher value. And to do that, you must not only add value to the core offer but also make it visible.

For example, don't say your copy comes with formatting and layout suggestions (or worse yet, assume clients will know the implication). Instead, say you will throw in formatting and layout suggestions, which are additional services, free of charge.

Plus, add a dollar value on those add-ons as if you were to sell them separately. Don't say your copy comes with one or two revisions. Say your copy comes with an additional revision, free of charge, worth $500.

Aside from the increase in perceived value, this tactic also helps to prevent freeloaders and deal-seekers from asking for concessions. If they want “a good deal,” doing it this way will make them feel like you're already making concessions.

If they start to haggle at any point, then you have tools to work with — by removing the extras and their associated dollar value. This is better than offering discounts.

(Never discount! Never.)

Next in the layers is the actual product.

What can you change, add, or remove from the actual product to make it unique?

For instance, how do you conduct your research? Do you interview the client or the client's clients? Do you have a preparatory questionnaire they must fill out before work commences? How is your copy written and delivered, exactly?

While it is easier to work with the augmented product first, there is also an easy way to work with the middle layer. Which is, of course, defining the market.

Specifically, niche marketing.

Niche marketing is “to find a niche and fill it.” But with an existing product, it's to focus on a particular audience segment, an industry, or a certain style of copy.

You could be a copywriter specializing in, say, health products. You could even hone it down to, say, nutrition and foods. You could even be a copywriter who focuses on diets and weightloss exclusively.

But don't just focus on industries or niches.

Remember, it's the “actual” product. What you choose to work on and deliver can also be specialized. You don't have to add or change anything, either. You can simply remove something to make yourself unique.

They say that less is more. In fact, offering less or focusing strictly on a certain type of copy can create instant demand and credibility, because being a specialist creates the perception of greater expertise and skill.

I know a copywriter who focuses strictly on catalog copy. I know another who does email campaigns only. I know a third who writes for social media. I know some copywriters who specialize in a combination of niches and copy types — such as direct mail for the financial industry. And they're doing extremely well.

But that's not all. Don't restrict yourself to the medium, either.

For example, you might be a copywriter who focuses strictly on headlines. As a result, you become known as the headline expert. When people (or other copywriters) need help with their headlines, they turn to you.

Or you might be one who only focuses on initial drafts in plain text. While that might seem like a lesser offering, you can say that this is a benefit since you're entirely focused on the research and the content — unlike other copywriters who offer too much, overextend themselves, and dilute their value as a result.

A neurologist is still a doctor. But you wouldn't have a general practitioner work on your brain, right? Much less a podiatrist or coroner. You want a doctor who specializes in the specific problem or area that needs attention.

Copywriters are no different.

Finally, the innermost layer, the center of the bulls-eye, is the hardest part.

Copy is copy. And copy has one principal function. And that's to sell. But let's say that your copy's goal is to increase the client's existing response, as it is with most copy. Ask yourself, what other benefits do you offer?

I don't mean additional benefits provided by the augmented product. I'm talking about the copy itself. What else does your copy do for your clients? What else does your copywriting service specifically bring to the table?

Sure, the ultimate goal is to boost sales and profits.

But perhaps it's to make the client look good as to increase referral clients. Maybe it's to increase visibility or generate more word-of-mouth. Or perhaps it's to attract qualified staff or potential investors.

You can and should think of all the benefits your copy delivers.

Don't just stick with the obvious.

Take some time (even write a list, if you have to) of all the advantages your specific copy offers. What kind of results have you achieved in the past? What other benefits (including unsought benefits) did your clients receive?

(Sometimes, asking for or re-reading client testimonials can offer some clues. If not, take some time to interview some of your past clients. Ask them what your copy or copywriting service did for them, beyond just increasing sales.)

Here's a “off-the-top-of-my-head” example. Say your client is also looking for copy that “sounds like them.” In other words, they want a copywriter with a knack for writing in their voice, their language, and their communication style.

In this case, it makes your ghostwriting ability far more effective than other copywriters. That's a USP right there. (As your “hook,” you might call yourself “The Chameleon Copywriter” or your copy service “The Copywriting Cloner.”)

What about you?

Again, you need to sit down and take some time to really think about this. It might not come overnight. For me, as an example, it took over a decade to find the various benefits my copy specifically brings to the table.

It won't take a decade. The difference here is, you have a leg up because you have some tips in this article to give you a headstart.

In the end, there are so many ways to develop a good USP. There are so many variants, too. Each way comes with a plethora of possibilities. The idea is to be a bit creative, a bit of a contrarian, and a bit different.

Sometimes, you have to look at and copy from (and not just think) “outside the box.”

See other industries. Look at other services. Check out non-competing products. You never know. In one of them may lie the seed of something amazing.

And being amazing doesn't have to require a massive change, either. Just by being 10% different, unique, original, or special is enough to make you stand out like a sore thumb in an overcrowded, hypercompetitive marketplace.

Categories
Copywriting

Risk-Reversal’s Role Reversal

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The greater portion of my career has been in copywriting, selling, and direct marketing. And one of the common denominators I've found in any successful piece of copy is the power of risk reversal.

That is, taking more of a risk from the sale than the purchaser of your product.

Risk reversal is a powerful method to increase sales by easing the buying decision and allaying fears consumers might have.

When people are considering an offer, and if the offer is “too good to be true,” they will invariably seek out more secure means to benefit from it. Otherwise, they will have a tendency to think, “What's the catch?”

The greater the guarantee, the greater the sales. This has been consistent in almost every industry in which I've worked, and with every split-test I've conducted.

For example, a 30-day guarantee will outsell no guarantee. A 90-day guarantee will outsell a 30-day one. And so on and so forth.

However, there are some exceptions to this rule.

Sometimes, shorter or more creative guarantees can outperform longer ones.

Why? Perhaps this is because, in a promise-filled industry oversaturated with, and burned by, over-the-top hype, long, unrealistic guarantees make the offer suspect.

People might be left scratching their heads wondering if the guarantee is an attempt to pull the wool over their eyes.

Guarantees that are too strong (like one or even multiple years, lifetime, etc) can unconsciously convey that the product is so poor that either the purchaser will forget about the promise during the guarantee's extended lifespan, or the seller is trying to build perceived value in areas other than the product itself to make up for the lack.

But length doesn't always mean strength.

In other words, the strength of a guarantee is not limited to its timeframe.

Creative guarantees work extremely well, especially in an industry where people encounter typical money-back guarantees. These include guarantees that don't necessarily have anything to do with refunds or money. By being different, a unique guarantee can provide a powerful twist to an offer.

Notwithstanding the legal requirements to offer a money-back guarantee, think of guarantees that include gifts, discounts, credits, vouchers, etc.

For example, just recently a friend of mine launched an intensive and pricey classroom-style training program, but with a very interesting angle. Whether you succeed or not, or whether you like the program or not, you get your money back.

It sold out in just a few hours.

Ultimately, guarantees exist because we fear making bad decisions.

And a purchase is a buying decision.

But remember that a guarantee's job is not to remove fear. Not in a direct sense. It's to increase the customer's confidence that the product will do as promised.

In fact, in an article titled “The Great Customer Service Hoax,” the author, Belinda (who is also a copywriter), said it perfectly. “The simple truth about customer satisfaction,” the author writes, is this:

You might think that to maintain awesome levels of customer satisfaction you need to have outstanding products and services, diligent processes and reports and excellently trained staff who know when to make a decision that’s right for the customers. Well, you do need those things but the truth about consistently good customer satisfaction is much simpler.

Customers are satisfied when you met their expectations.

Guarantees help to communicate this important promise. A guarantee communicates not only that the product has value (e.g., “it's so good, I guarantee it!”), but also that the product will meet their expectations.

A guarantee encourages sales and profits. (Sales is self-explanatory. But profits? Yes! Guarantees can also decrease refunds. I'll come back to this in a moment.)

So objectively, add a guarantee that's easy, strong, and reasonable (that is, it's not far-fetched). If it has the appearance of being too long or unbelievable, either reduce it or add copy to justify your attempt.

Just like the power of “reasons-why” advertising, don't forget to back it up. Provide a logical, commonsensical explanation behind your guarantee to justify why it's so strong. The more you do, the more believable your guarantee will be. Otherwise, an overzealous guarantee will make it questionable.

(For example, with a “lifetime guarantee,” people will often ask, “Whose lifetime?”)

But in the majority of cases, if you failt to offer a guarantee let alone a strong one, you're losing a great percentage of potential sales.

In addition to communicating value of and confidence in a product, a guarantee can also become a powerful positioning tool.

Take for instance the story of the Monaghan brothers. The two ran a small business in order to pay their way through college. While one worked the day shift in order to attend school at night, the other did the converse.

After about a year in the money-losing venture, one of the brothers sold his share of the business for a beat-up old car. The other, however, with a good dose of stick-to-it-iveness, decided to make something of his fledgling pizzeria.

According to some interviews he recently gave, Tom Monaghan said that, at the time, he wasn't quite sure that his decision to put a guarantee on his pizza delivery would change much. But obviously, history tells us that his decision was a good one.

By simply marketing the strength of a guarantee (i.e., “Pizza delivered fresh in 30 minutes or it's free”), Domino's Pizza became the multimillion-dollar franchise operation we know today.

Online, strong guarantees are more than just sales tools.

The Internet has opened many doors, including those to many unscrupulous entrepreneurs. Scams and snake oils are rampant online. Millions (if not billions) of dollars are lost to these scamsters each month.

The Internet is rife with fraudulent offers, phishing attempts, and shoddy products. Even laws and anti-scam tools won't stop crafty entrepreneurs who are determined to bypass the systems to scam the unsuspecting.

So people are understandably leery, skeptical, distrusting, and cautious.

Obviously, the use of testimonials, demos and tours, statistics, laboratory tests, clinical trials, case studies, free trials and samples, real pictures of the product in question, and so on are all incredibly important.

But in addition to these methods and elements of proof you can and should add to your copy, strong and creative guarantees are equally powerful proof elements and probably some of the most underutilized.

Why? Mostly because business owners are leery themselves of adding, extending, or creating guarantees because they fear the onslaught of losses from returns.

If the product is mediocre, then this fear is sadly justified. But most products are good. (Granted, there are just as many fraudulent consumers out there as there are scams. Businesses fear them equally as consumers fear buying from fraudsters.)

But generally, guarantees will increase sales.

Chris Ayers, former publisher of Unlimited Traffic!, gives an astonishing real-life example. Writes Ayers:

“One of my first direct mail products years ago was a self-study program. When I first offered the program in a magazine, my sales weren't even enough to cover the cost of the ad. I changed my ad and sales letter to include a guarantee. The number of responses to the same ad increased by a factor of 20 and my conversion rate from my sales letter rose from 10% to almost 40%.”

Remember that adding a guarantee might increase returns and refunds. But try it and do the math. In some cases, a small increase in refunds might be greatly overshadowed by a disproportionately larger increase in sales.

For example, in one test I've conducted with a consulting client, we raised the guarantee from a 30-day guarantee to a 6-month, double guarantee.

(The “double” included a 100%-money-back guarantee within six months, and a double-your-money-back within the first 30 days.)

The result? During the test, there were no refunds within the initial 30 days. But refunds within the first six months increased from about 4% to 6.5%.

Of course, that's significant.

But look at the increase in sales…

Sales conversion went from a little less than 3% to 7%. Mathematically, it means refunds increased by 62.5%, while sales increased by over 133% (i.e., twice as many more sales as the increase in refunds).

The lesson is this: while a guarantee might increase refunds, the increase will be negligible when contrasted by the more significant increase in sales.

This is true in the majority of cases. But in other cases, net profits can increase quite substantially. Even more than the norm.

Why? Because, unbeknownst to many marketers, one of the most important benefits of using a guarantee is the fact that it can actually reduce returns.

If you have a professionally-looking website, an ethical sales approach, and a proven product or service, the lack of a strong guarantee will still, particularly on the Internet, cause most prospects to perceive your offer as questionable in the very least.

But adding a guarantee — particularly a strong one — not only increases sales because it removes the risk from the buyer's mind, but it also increases perceived value and therefore overall confidence in the product and the seller as well.

Guarantees also grant you an almost instant credibility with potential customers.

And finally, strong guarantees also help to raise tolerance levels.

Customers are more apt to ignore or even accept a few flaws, thereby reducing the need to return the product at the slightest imperfection.

This is because they feel they are in good hands, whether they know this experientially or not. The confidence level that the guarantee created acts as some sort of psychic security net.

In other words, a guarantee not only reduces the skepticism around a purchase, but also contributes to what psychologists refer to as “The Halo Effect.”

Ultimately, add a strong guarantee to your offer. But don't stop with just at increasing its timeframe. Be creative with your guarantee.

Think about multiple-money-back guarantees, add-on guarantees, gift certificates, credit or discount vouchers, the ability to keep bonuses if they return the main product, keeping the product even if they ask for their money back, etc.

Bottom line, guarantees will increase sales. The stronger the guarantee is, the larger the increase will be.

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

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

Your Reader Wants To Know These 5 Things

The other day, one of my readers asked me the following question, which I found rather interesting: “Why should the author of a product be included in their sales copy?”

Seems like a pretty redundant question, right? Especially to any veteran copywriter or marketer worth their salt.

But the question didn't stop there. The reader offered the following insight, which explains why this issue was such an important one to him, and why I felt compelled to answer:

“Specifically, why do my readers need to know who I am or what I bring to the table? How does telling them my qualifications increase the strength of my copy? My product solves a medical condition. But I am not a doctor and I have never had this condition myself. I've spent a year researching the best method to cure this condition. I have a list of 20,000 people with this condition and converse with them a lot. I know pretty much everything there is to know about this condition and have made it into an ebook.”

The answer is quite simple, actually. In fact, in his attempt to defend himself (i.e., that he's not a doctor but has lots of experience and specialized knowledge about his market), the reader answered his own question. Let me explain…

Why should people buy from you?

This is not some new concept. John E. Kennedy, a Canadian fireman back in 1905, was the person who coined the term “Reasons-Why Advertising” in a book of the same name. (He was also the person who coined the famous term “salesmanship-in-print.”)

I'm a big fan of reasons-why advertising.

I always try to add as many reasons as possible in my copy, such as why the offer is made, why the author is making it, and why it's important to the reader.

Good, successful copy tells the reader why right upfront because they always ask. If you don't tell them, the irony is they're left wondering why you left it out. It is almost always a direct advantage to tell your prospects why they should buy from you.

Additionally, people want to know five different types of reasons. They are:

  1. Why you (the reader)
  2. Why me (the author)
  3. Why this (the offer)
  4. Why now (the urgency)
  5. Why this price (the value)

1. Why You?

Your copy should qualify the reader for the product you're selling and the offer you're making. As part of this qualification process, it should address why the reader is targeted to, and suited for, them — including in reading the copy in the first place.

For example, why is this important to them? Why is this copy, product, or offer perfect for them? Who is it not appropriate for? In other words, who should not read the copy?

2. Why Me?

Credentialization is an important element in copy. Your credentials — as the author, seller, or provider — are immensely important to build credibility and lower buyer resistance, particularly in this day and age of scams, cynicism, and competitiveness.

Tell your readers why they should read what you have to say. Whether you're an accredited expert or not, the more reasons you give, then the more credible you are, the more believable your copy is, and the more apt people are to buy from you.

(This is the section to which the reader's question above relates, and I'll come back to this in a moment as it is important — especially as it pertains to the lack of credentials.)

3. Why This?

Are you selling this product just to make money? Perhaps. But whether making money is the main reason or not, either directly or indirectly, your product exists and your offer is made for specific reasons. So why not put them in your copy?

Don't assume your reader knows or doesn't care about them, no matter how trivial you may think they are. If you don't include them in your copy, left to their own devices your readers will be the ones making assumptions. (And they won't all be positive.)

4. Why Now?

Jim Rohn said, “Without a sense of urgency, desire loses its value.” Whether it's direct (such as a deadline or limitation) or implied (such as missing out on something important), adding scarcity and reasons to act now is important.

But by itself, urgency is almost always suspect. So back it up with reasons why your readers should act now. Don't be shy in explaining why they must take advantage of the offer immediately, or what the consequences are if they don't.

5. Why This Price?

Why did you price your product or make the offer the way you did? Perhaps your price is based on industry averages. Or you're doing a clearance sale to make way for new stock. Maybe your product is new and you're offering an introductory price.

But do your readers know? Do they, really?

Don't be afraid to tell your readers why they should pay what you're asking for. Why is it valuable to them? At least compare your price to the ultimate cost of either buying an alternative (perhaps even competing) product, or not buying your product at all.

The bottom-line? The most important word in persuasion, according to Dr. Robert Cialdini, author of Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion , is not “you” or “free.”

The most important word in persuasion is “because.”

Now, let me go back to the original question…

In this case, this person has quite a distinct selling point. They are what is referred to as the “anti-authority.” Non-experts. Lay people. And the fact that they are not a doctor, which means they are more like their readers, can be positioned as a major advantage.

They did all this research from a layperson's perspective. They did all the legwork for their readers, which not only saves them time but also is perceived as less biased.

They did all the searching for them. They analyzed all the data (from an outsider's vantage point) and cherrypicked the best answers. And they condensed and distilled their findings into one, easy-to-read, easy-to-find place.

Add to that the fact they conversed with over 20,000 people afflicted with this condition and know almost everything about it, makes them a lot more credible than some general practitioner who may have come across just a few hundred cases in their practice.

So this person is loaded with credentials, particularly unique ones, that definitely shouldn't be avoided or hidden from the reader. In fact, it should be not only communicated but also highlighted as a major benefit in the copy.

So, to the question “why you?” Because in the mind of the reader, you are the expert on this subject. Use your unique credibility and experience as a major selling point.

Categories
Copywriting

Headlines That Pull, Persuade, And Propel!

When writing direct response copy, a few things can maximize the responsiveness of your message. The first and most important element that can turn any website, salesletter, or advertisement into an action-generating mechanism is, without question, the headline.

But lately, I'm seeing more and more headlines that are limp, bloated, or simply dead wrong.

A headline is meant to do two vital things.

No more and no less. First, it needs to grab your reader's attention. That's the primary and most important job of the headline. It's not meant to summarize an offer or be a paragraph in and of itself. It's not meant to make a sale, either.

You know what I'm talking about, right? Headlines like these make me twitch…

“Stomp Out Yo-Yo Diets For Good When You Apply The Amazing Accidentally Discovered Secret Weightloss Strategy That Can Literally Triple Your Energy, Boost Your Immune System, And Shed Unwanted Pounds of Pure, Stubborn Fat Without Moving A Single Inch And While Eating Everything Your Heart Fancies — Even If You Carry The Fat-Magnetizing Genes Of Someone Who Can't Lose A Single Ounce After Running Back-To-Back Marathons… Starting As Early As Tonight, 100% Guaranteed!”

Ugh.

Double ugh.

People not only won't read it all, much less your salesletter, but it also immediately sends off alarm bells way too early that your copy is a blatant sales pitch.

In today's fax-microwave-email world, people want everything fast. Their attention span is smaller than an subatomic particle. Online, they surf the web in a click-happy state, ready to open and close browser windows at the blink of an eye. Literally.

For example, they tend to scan web pages quickly, even many of them simultaneously. Your site is but a blur to them. So, your headline must be prominent, effective enough to stop them, and efficient to do so in a very short span of time.

And the headline's second job is, it needs pull the reader into the copy.

To do that, it must create curiosity. It must be interesting enough to pull the reader in and push her further into the copy. It must be pithy enough — not necessarily short but straightforward enough — to do its job in the least amount of words possible.

And finally, it must cater to a specific emotion or a relevant condition that speaks to the target market at a personal level, and does so immediately and with as little thinking as possible — one to which the reader can easily and instantly associate.

Before I give you some examples, note that most of these headlines were enormously successful for my clients, not because they were tested and tweaked, but because they were actually stolen from other, equally successful ads or salesletters.

All copywriters worth their salt do this. They steal. Recycle. Copy. Model. Swipe.

But above all, they adapt.

Of course, they mustn't be copied verbatim. When I say “steal,” I mean to do it in an ethical way. There's a big difference between plagiarism and modelling. But they can be easily adapted to fit the market, the offer, and the message.

I have a large swipe file that contains copies of ads, websites, direct mail pieces and salesletters I come across. I then turn them into templates or “fill-in-the-blanks” formulas.

Here's a list of “triggers,” coupled with actual examples I used in the past:

  • Curiosity (“Revealed! Closely Guarded Secrets For …”)
  • Mystery (“The Five Biggest Mistakes to Avoid By …”)
  • Fear (“Over 98.4% of People End up Broke When …”)
  • Pain (“Suffering From Needless Back Pain? Then …”)
  • Convenience (“How to Increase Your Chances With …”)
  • Envy (“How Fellow Marketer Pummels Competitors By …”)
  • Jealousy (“They All Laughed When … Until I …”)
  • Sloth (“Slash Your Learning Curve By 57% When …”)
  • Love, Lust (“Make Her Fall in Love With You With …”)
  • Shock (“Finally Exposed! Get The Dirty Truth On …”)
  • Greed (“Boost Your Income By More Than 317% When …”)
  • Pride, Power, Ego (“Make Fellow Workers Squirm With …”)
  • Assurance (“… In Less Than 60 Days, Guaranteed!”)
  • Immortality (“Reverse The Aging Process With …”)
  • Anger (“Banks Are Ripping You Off! Here's Why …”)

Study and model successful copywriting as much as you can.

Dan Kennedy, a successful copywriter, teaches this exercise: buy tabloids, such as The National Enquirer, on a regular basis. Of course, the publication may be questionable for some, and it may not necessarily fit with your style or cater to your market.

But here's the reason why.

Ad space in tabloids is excruciatingly expensive. If an ad is repeated in more than two issues, preferably copy-dense ads and full-page advertorials, common sense tells you that the ad is profitable. Rip out the ad and put it into your swipe file.

(If you don't have one, a shortcut is to copy someone else's, like this list of headlines from Jay Abraham, or swipe from proven list of successful headlines. But also, don't discount supermarket magazines, like Cosmo, Vanity Fair, Men's Health, and the like.)

Then, copy the headlines into a document. They can be easily converted into “fill-in-the-blanks” formulas. Keep in mind, you need to understand why the headline worked — simply swapping in a few words here and there doesn't mean it will work.

Swiping, done correctly, can work well with almost all markets. I've tried these types of headlines on both low-end and high-end clients, from simple $10 products to six-figure investment opportunities. And they worked quite effectively in both situations.

The cosmetics of a headline is equally important if not more so. The type must be bold, large, and prominently placed, even written in a different font or typestyle, if possible. It must draw attention. It must grab your readers “by the eyeballs.”

Remember, your first job is to catch their attention. Then, and only then, it's to get them to start reading your letter. And the headline is often the best tool to do this.

Specificity is also quite important. The more specific you are with your headline, the better the response will be. Use odd, non-rounded numbers because they are more believable and pull more than even, rounded numbers.

(For example, in its commercials, Ivory Soap used to say that it was “99.44% pure.” Otherwise, if it used “100%,” it likely wouldn't have been as believable.)

Whenever possible, be quantifiable, measurable, and time-bound.

For example, don't say “how to increase your income” or “make money fast.” Words like “income” and “fast” are vague. Instead, say, “How six simple sales strategies helped me stumble onto an unexpected $5,431.96 windfall — in less than 27 hours!”

The bigger the numbers are, the greater the impact is. If the same number can be presented in a way where the numerals are larger, then use the larger one.

For instance, if you say “five times more,” replace it with “500%” (or better yet, “517%” or “483%”). Don't say “one year,” say “364 days.” The brain thinks in pictures, not numbers or words. Both terms may mean the same thing, but one is perceived as bigger.

Using some of the triggers mentioned at the beginning of this article, here are some examples of being specific with your headlines (see if you notice them):

  • “Nine Jealously Guarded Techniques That …”
  • “Here Are 17 of My Most Prized Recipes For …”
  • “How I Made $42,791.36 in Only 11 Days With …”
  • “Boost Your Golf Drives By 27 Yards When …”
  • “A Whole New Way to Lose 45 Pounds in 7 Weeks With …”
  • “Marketing Toolkit Contains 35 Powertools That …”
  • “Follow These Eight Magical Steps to …”
  • “Read This 22-Chapter, 376-Page Powerhouse …”
  • “The 10 Commandments of Power Positioning …”
  • “Chop Paperwork By as Much as 47% When …”
  • “Slash Your Learning Curve By Four Weeks With …”
  • “… And Start Within Only 33 Minutes!”

My favorite headline formula is one I call the “gapper,” which is based on the pain-pleasure principle. In sales, it's often referred to as “gap analysis.”

(Dan Kennedy calls it “Problem-Agitate-Solve.” That is, you start by presenting a problem. You agitate your audience by making the problem “bigger,” more significant, and more urgent. And then you present your solution in the offer.)

There's a gap between a prospect's problem and its solution — or a gap between where one is now and where that person wants to be in the future. But many prospects either don't know there is a gap or, because it is one, naturally have a tendency to ignore it.

It's simply human nature.

So, a headline that communicates the presence of such a gap — and particularly one that helps to widen it — will likely appeal to those who can immediately relate to it. That is, the people who happen to fit within that specific site's target market.

For example, a headline for a diet program might say:

“62% of Americans Are Only One Hamburger Shy of a Heart Attack, Doctor Reports.”

This headline speaks to the gap of a health-conscious market who are obese and want to do something about it, and widens it by instilling a sense of danger and urgency.

(In addition to the headline, this can be accomplished through other components, such as a surheadline, subheadline, “lift” copy, sidenotes, deck copy, or lead sentences. For instance, a subheadline to the above might say: “Here's what you can do about it now.”)

By opening the gap or widening it helps to reinforce a sense of urgency in the mind.

After the headline, visitors will want to know how, by reading further, they can close that gap. And the wider the gap is, the greater the desire to close it will be — and the more valuable the gap-closing solution, which is your offer, will be as well.

Why? Because it appeals to stronger motives.

Abraham Maslow, the famous psychologist who developed the hierarchy of human motives, stated that the foundation of all human needs is our need to survive. Once satisfied, the next one is our need for safety. Our need to be with other people is next, followed by our need to feel appreciated. Finally, our need to be challenged is at the top.

The “pain-pleasure principle” states that people either fear pain and try to avoid it, or crave pleasure and try to gain it. When given a choice between the two, however, and according to Maslow, pain is almost always a superior motive.

Our need to survive and feel safe, which are at the bottom of Maslow's pyramid, rule over all other needs, which are social, esteem and self-improvement needs.

So a headline that communicates a problem (i.e., a painful situation or a potentially painful one that may arise without the benefits of your offer) will have more impact.

People who associate with the message will feel compelled to read more, which also helps to qualify your readers — it isolates the “serious” from the “curious.”

You heard it before: there's a difference between “needs” and “wants.”

When I work with plastic surgeons, I often tell them to use as a headline, “Suffering from wrinkles?” That way, it pulls only qualified prospects into the ad because it appeals not only to people with wrinkles but also to those who suffer from wrinkles (i.e., they want to do something about them, since not everyone who has wrinkles are bothered by them).

A web salesletter I recently wrote for Michael Murray talks about the fact that he is a college student stricken with cerebral palsy who's “made it” online. The copy and most of the headers use some of the triggers I mentioned earlier.

Below is a brief list. Can you identify them?

  • “SPECIAL REPORT! Want to cash in on …”
  • “… But don't have a product or a website?”
  • “How a ‘Physically Disabled' Teenager …”
  • “Earn a $2,000-to-17,000 Monthly Downpour of Dollars …”
  • “… On a Shoestring Budget!”
  • “Jealously guarded ‘secrets' are finally revealed …”
  • “Get your hands on dirt-cheap products to sell …”
  • “You'll never have to create your own products!”
  • “… Model after actual websites ‘making it' BIG TIME!”
  • “PLUS, for a limited time only, the next 500 orders …”
  • “And if I can do it, I'm sure most ‘abled' people can!”

At the time of writing the letter, Michael was a 19-year old with cerebral palsy.

Also known as the “Bill Porter” of online marketing, Michael and his story moved me personally. But in choosing his headline specifically, my biggest concern was, most people have become so desensitized with opportunities of this nature.

So, in order to beef up the attention factor, I used what John Carlton often calls “the incongruous juxtaposition of seemingly irrelevant ideas, things, or events,” and catered to people's emotions by using Michael's disability as a psychological “hook.”

I wanted the headline to stop people in their tracks and force them to say to themselves, “If a teenage kid with cerebral palsy can make that much money, then there must be something in here I need to know more about…”

Ultimately, ask yourself: “Does my headline effectively stop people from scanning, capture their attention, and trigger their emotions in order to pull them into the copy?”

More importantly, ask yourself, “Does my opening statement beg for attention, and genuinely cater to the dominant motives and resident emotions of my market?”

If not, change your headline, even with the same copy.

Sure, it may be a small and insignificant change overall. But sometimes the smallest changes in your copy can be the ones that create the most dramatic changes in results.

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.