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.


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!)


Digital Scarcity: Does It Still Convert?

Scarcity is an effective tactic often used in copywriting to create a sense of urgency in an effort to convince the undecided reader to make a purchasing decision.

After all, people procrastinate, and they do for a variety of reasons. It's simply human nature. So the goal of applying scarcity is to prevent prospects from procrastinating.

As online consumers become wise to these direct-response copywriting tactics, one question often arises:

“What about digital product downloads, like ebooks and software? How can you create a sense of urgency for something that, in itself, is limitless or perceived as such?”

Here's how to use scarcity selling effectively with digital products:

Limit The Offer

Many people use this strategy ineffectively. They say the offer will only last until midnight. However when a visitor returns to the website the next day, the offer is still up.

Another example of scarcity done badly is to follow through on the promise and the offer is no longer available on that particular website. However, it is still available on another website, through affiliates, or via another Internet marketer.

Consumers are more sophisticated than ever before, and nowadays they tend to easily notice this tactic, shun it, and even react hostilely to it. It lessens your credibility as a business person, and makes any other offer you promote suspect.

However, one of the ways to add scarcity to a digital download is not by actually limiting the quantity or time, which can be seen as irrelevant for a seemingly “unlimited” product, but rather by limiting the offer, its many components, or the promise of its availability.

For example, rather than placing a limit on the quantity or putting a deadline on the offer, you say the package, the price, the premiums, the guarantee, or any additional services (such as support, upgrades, consulting, etc) is only guaranteed through a specific date.

You continue by stating that, if they wait or return after that date, the offer may change and may even be no longer available. So they run the risk of losing out if they don't buy now. Of course, always give a believable, logical reason to justify your sense of urgency.

(This is important, so I'll come back to this with some examples.)

Now, here's how this tactic is different and why you don't lose credibility. Even if your product is still available after that date, you're not contradicting yourself because you only guaranteed that it would be available until then.

You didn't outright promise that it wouldn't be available after the limit or deadline has been reached. You only raised the potential risk of losing out on the offer, at least as it currently stands, if they procrastinated and failed to buy now.

For example, you can tell potential customers that the price is limited to the first 1,000. After 1,000 copies are sold, you may change the offer by raising the price or removing the premiums, or even stop offering it altogether…

… At any time, without warning or notice.

Update The Product

Take advantage of the features of digital products.

Digital products have something in common: they are constantly being updated. It's simply the nature of technology. Software keeps updating with new versions all the time. Ebooks, therefore, can operate in exactly the same manner.

So don't be afraid to put a version number on your digital product, just like you would on a piece of software. When a new version comes out, even if slightly edited, the older one no longer becomes available or becomes obsolete by default.

The good thing is that updating a book is as easy as editing or adding a few paragraphs, inserting an interview, attaching an updated chapter, including a guest contribution, injecting extra appendices, or upgrading the resource list — especially bookmarks.

(We all know how websites and links change all the time. Some URLs can change, redirect, move, or become unreachable. So by upgrading the bookmarked resource list, among others, your list stays fresh and your links remain valid.)

Let's not forget the ubiquitous “alpha” and “beta” stages most software products go through. These can be applicable to ebooks and digital information products as well.

Plus, they don't have to be applied to an entire product. They can be used with specific chapters, add-ons, premiums, tools, or even membership sites.

Additionally, they don't have to be called “alpha” and “beta.” Use your imagination. For example, call it a “pre-release version,” “launch edition,” “introductory version,” “2007 format,” “early bird deliverable,” “advanced copy,” “pre-market issue,” etc.

If you sell an ebook with “free updates,” then that is the element that's scarce. To add more scarcity to the offer, you limit the bonuses or the free updates for a specified quantity and/or time, and not the actual product itself.

Make It Time-Sensitive

The third tactic is to add a chapter or a bonus that's time-sensitive. I'm not talking about a deadline. I'm talking about content that's timely and more valuable based on its freshness rather than content that is released with a deadline.

This can be done practically with every information product out there.

For example, if you're selling a principled, evergreen, or theory-based ebook that, in itself, can't go out of style or become outdated, then add a few extra pages, like a list of resources or specific tactics, that are relevant at the time of writing the product.

However, the best way to do this is to include information that, directly or by implication, makes it scarce. It can be something tied to a specific event, activity, trend, or news item. If not, and if you wish to keep your product evergreen, then specify it in the copy.

Say you sell a book on how to grow bigger, redder tomatoes. Your book can have a chapter or a bonus report that talks about how to enter and win a certain annual, well-recognized, and popular “tomato-growing contest,” which has a set date each year.

This information therefore becomes time-sensitive, because, if they buy after the contest, then the book holds less value — at least in the way it's positioned in the copy.

Another way is if it relates to a season or period of the year, such as a book on how to coach youth basketball. The book will have a time-sensitive element a few months before basketball season starts, and little or no value once the season is over.

Ultimately, think of how you can add scarcity to the product itself by adding either content or add-ons (like premiums or bonuses), or by how you position it in the copy, to make it time-sensitive somehow — without having to limit the offer directly.

For instance, can the value or perceived value of the product depreciate over time or after a certain number of downloads? If not, how can you incorporate this element (whether it's through extra content, premiums, or add-ons)?

Use your creativity, here.

In my experience, practically every digital product, no matter how timeless or evergreen it may seem at first, can be made scarce or urgent in some way, or made to appear so, that's independent of any limits you otherwise impose.

Technological or Resource Limits

Done properly, this is a very compelling and clever use of scarcity, because you are essentially using technology or time against itself. Here's how it works…

An example that's also the easiest is where you tell prospects that the item is limited because you need to conserve or limit the bandwidth. Many hosts limit accounts by filesizes or allocate a certain number of bytes transferred per week, month, or year.

As a result, you may need to revise the offer or raise the price to cover your growing costs at a certain point in the future, as greater resources are consumed. Not only that, but maintenance and support costs proportionately grow, too.

“Of course,” you might say, “everyone knows that.” Yes, but they don't necessarily realize this may directly affect the offer, price, or availability of the product altogether.

So the idea is to specify it in your copy. Tell your readers that, as more and more people buy and download your product, the costlier it becomes to maintain.

Price increases are inevitable, and therefore they must act now to take advantage of such a “low price.” If they wait they might lose out on a great deal or on the product altogether as it may be taken off the market to conserve resources and control costs.

The trick is, you can specify a certain date or quantity sold by which you will revise your offer to ensure it appropriately reflects and covers your costs at that time.

That's why the scarcity, in this case, is not so much a promise that an increase in price is imminent, but the promise you will maintain the current offer as it stands for a predetermined period of time only. After that, anything can happen.

Now, while that might seem logical for software, sometimes this tactic might not be as convincing in the case of digital products. (Especially in the case of a very short ebook, among others.) In this case, try to make your digital book dynamic.

Again, this doesn't have to apply to an entire product or to the product itself. Certain parts, chapters, or bonus add-ons only can be made dynamic.

For example, some PDFs now have forms and quizzes. Some ebooks contain streaming audio and video. Others are compiled as standalone executables but pull content from the web. And let's not forget membership or password-protected websites.

Dynamic content obviously uses more resources than simple one-time downloads. And it may be common knowledge. But the goal is to communicate this to your prospects.

Nevertheless, aside from products themselves, there's the most scarcest resource of all.

And that, of course, is time.

There are only so many hours in the day or so many clients you can serve at any given time, right? Therefore, if your product comes with, say, free consulting or coaching, such as critiques, reviews, email consultations, etc, you could then say:

Due to the growing demand on my time, I can only accept a certain number of individuals. So I guarantee that the next 10 clients only who buy this product will get [add-on service].

Bottom line, and pardon the pun, but don't just limit yourself to the product proper. Look at the features or parts of your product, the delivery method, any add-ons or bonuses, the offer, the resources required, or the service-based components.

Digital scarcity works quite well, even when the product may seem to be limitless. Because the possibilities are only as finite as your creativity.


The Seven Deadly Sins of Website Copy

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

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

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

1) They Fail to Connect

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2) They Lack a Compelling Offer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3) They Lack “Reasons Why”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Response more than tripled.

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

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

4) They Lack Scarcity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5) They Lack Proof

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To help you, follow my FORCEPS formula.

6) They Lack a Clear Call to Action

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

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

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

Focus on the “power of one.” That is:

  • One message
  • One audience
  • One outcome

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7) They Lack Good Copy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Above all, it must serve your prospect.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Use Scarcity To Sell, Not Scare

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now, how much more do you want that shirt?

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

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

It's really meant to prevent procrastination.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The third is limiting the offer as it stands.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are some examples.

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

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

Example #1:

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

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

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

Otherwise, why would one join?

Example #2:

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

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

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

Example #3:

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

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

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

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

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