- Whether reading online or offline sales messages, there's no difference in human behavior. When people are told an "offer ends this weekend, buy now" they act immediately, regardless of whether they're being told to in print or online.
- Transparency is key to writing online sales copy. Don't make false promises because customers can read up on your products on comparison websites and customer review forums to get the real deal.
- Online customers aren't a captive audience, so making the sale can be harder. Generating leads by offering free trials or a free newsletter may be more important than blindly pursuing the big sales pitch.
Some people think writing sales copy for the web is exactly the same as writing for print. Many make the simple mistake of copying and pasting their print-based marketing messages onto their websites, and then scratch their heads wondering why their conversion rates are poor. Wordtracker has teamed up with Nick Usborne, a leading authority on the subject of writing for the web, in a new e-book which shows you how to make the transition from writing print sales copy to online copy and stay one step ahead of your competitors.
As a public speaker, trainer and consultant Nick Usborne has advised dozens of companies including Yahoo!, MSN, Reuters, Citybank and Apple. And as the author of Net Words: Creating High-Impact Online Copy,a guide to writing high impact articles online, there is no-one better placed to help Wordtracker customers get their message across to an online audience with some Kick-Ass sales copy.
What's in Nick's e-book?
Writing Kick-Ass Website Sales Copy illustrates how you can 'power up' your sales messages by using nine different tactics, as well as showing you how to create powerful sales messages from your home page. Written in a relaxed style, Nick takes time to pull out the most important aspects of writing for the web with useful tips on how to structure your website in a customer-friendly way, where your products and services will be found easily. He also gives a step-by-step guide on how to maximize conversion rates by writing the kind of copy that gets sales.
Nick has worked as a freelance copywriter and trainer for the best part of 20 years and has witnessed the evolution of online writing, as well as the changing behavior of online consumers.
He says the biggest mistake people make when writing sales copy online is that "they still think they are talking to a captive audience."
"If you are stuck in traffic and you're listening to the radio, or at home watching TV, or reading a magazine with adverts in it, you've got a fairly captive audience. People can be reached by these adverts one at a time in isolation.
"I talk about this in the Writing Kick-Ass Website Sales Copy e-book. Let's say someone is sent a piece of direct mail about a digital camera. They can't run down the street and ask the postman if they have another piece of direct mail about a different camera so they can do a comparison."
Online copy needs to be transparent
Nick explains that, online, readers are not in isolation because they can visit comparison websites and customer review forums to check that the manufacturers' claims are really true. He says that it's this kind of commercial environment which has led to businesses becoming more transparent. This in turn has had an effect on the ways in which people write sales copy.
Nick believes it's only in the past five years that businesses have realized that it takes a different skill set to write online.
"People were either writing editorial themselves on the website or they were pulling in ad agencies who were saying they'd write it, and then write it in the same style as they would in print."
Customers in control
With the transition from print to online there has also been a shift in control from business to customer, as Nick explains:
"You no longer have control of the brand or the way in which your services are talked about - that's the huge difference.
"But the one thing that doesn't change, and again there's more of this in the e-book, is human behavior. If I say in direct mail, radio or TV 'act now and get this for free,' that elicits a response and I can say the same thing online and I'll get the same response. So, although the mediums have changed, the same response is given to the same message.
"Creating a sense of urgency like 'buy now' or a sense of scarcity like 'only 20 tickets left' are the kind of bread and butter techniques created by direct marketers, and they still work online."
Another valuable technique recognized in both print and online copy is use of the headline. In Nick's e-book he discusses in detail why headlines are crucial to online sales copy.
"People scan web pages using an internal process which seeks to answer one question; am I in the right place? As long as your headline is sufficiently engaging people will continue reading the article, but if you aren't specific, informational, or interesting then the reader will think it's boring and back-click."
Now or never – getting the sale
Nick makes a great point when he says that if you read a magazine with an advert in it there's a big chance you will give it attention when leafing through the publication, or when you are reading one of the feature articles. Similarly, if there's a billboard ad between your home and your place of work and you don't notice it today, you probably will tomorrow and the next day. Nick has identified that it's a different ball game when it comes to online.
"If I go to a website it may have thousands of pages so if I leave that page the chances of me coming across it again, once I've clicked out of the website, is pretty small. With a web page it's either now or never. You can lose the reader if you haven't told them what your business, product or service is, or engaged them sufficiently.
"That's why I think sales pages online are focused on 'buy now' messages because you need people to act immediately, because unlike the billboard or magazine advert, when you lose someone from a web ad you really have lost them forever."
For many reading that statement it may seem that you have to be more aggressive with your sales messages to grab the readers' attention, but not so, as Nick makes clear in his e-book.
"You can't be aggressive because the control online is with your customer. No-one responds well to aggressive marketing. It's a challenge because on one hand you have to make that conversion now, but you can't be overbearing about the message."
Generating leads rather than sales
Nick has come to the conclusion that many businesses have noticed the challenges of trying to sell to a customer from one web page, and instead are focused more on generating leads which could end up in a sale further down the line.
He says: "That's why you will see things like download this white paper for free, here's a video or here's a free trial. What they're doing there is recognizing that they know it's tough to get people to buy from one page, so they will reduce the size of the barrier and make it really easy for people to take services or products.
"It's a change in mindset again where you have to say I'm not going to try and sell the biggest and most expensive product today, but what I will do is offer a useful product for free."
Reduce perceived risk
Another point made by Usborne is to reduce the perceived risk of purchasing online. He uses Amazon as an example of a business which has built confidence in its customers by allowing customer reviews to be published. Nick says there is "far more credibility" to what a real person will say about a product than the manufacturer's blurb.
He says: "Allowing customers to review your product online means the company mindset has to change. You have to be prepared to let go of that control and accept that some people may not like your product or services, and they'll tell people about that."
Usborne also talks a lot about endorsement in his e-book as a means to help reduce fear about making a purchase online. He says it's exactly the same as link building but applied to a different area.
"You are looking for well-respected, well-established and trusted websites with which to establish a relationship.
"If you think about Google, they follow links and will see it as a vote of confidence, and it's the same thing with endorsements; you are looking outside for external votes of confidence that are credible."
Nick believes there is a "huge vacuum" in terms of the number of people who have the skills to write online sales copy successfully. By downloading his e-book now you could gain the skills needed to put you head and shoulders above your competitors, and increase your conversion rates with the kind of copy that generates real sales.
About Rachelle Money
Rachelle is a contributor to The Web Content Recipe book
Nowadays, Rachelle is Communications Manager at Scottish Renewables.
She graduated from the Scottish School of Journalism in 2005 where she was awarded an internship with two national publications - The Sunday Herald newspaper and The Big Issue magazine.