Aye, there’s the rub. It’s why I’m leery about featuring case studies. You
see, folks generally read case studies and decide the study shows them right
from wrong. They walk away with a “rule” planted in their brains.
Here’s what you really need to understand: the most any case study can do for
you is explain how certain principles were applied in a particular
I got a lot of feedback on the article I wrote about
Max-Effect. I love feedback - even when my correspondent is telling me I
don’t know one of my eyeballs from a hole in the ground. At least I know, good
or bad, I’ve had an impact.
One intelligent letter was from a guy named Skip, a copywriter from
Kreating. Skip made some interesting
From the “For What It’s Worth” Department…
As a professional copywriter I am always on the lookout for business
clichés which sometimes find their way into my work. I felt that the phrase
“maximize your investment” was in that category and as the headline on the
page I found that a bit problematic.
Also…I thought the original design with the black and purple was more
stylish than the new version and it leads me to inquire as to whether it is
ever OK to use dark backgrounds on a website. I would note that the
designers I work with here completely agree with you…but why is that the
Finally on the positive side doing the “before and after” routine was a
great move --- although the President of my company felt it should have been
smack dab in the middle of the homepage --- to instantly drive home exactly
what this company does.
Enjoy your newsletter…keep up the good work. (Talk about clichés!)
As I was replying to Skip (I reply to everyone who writes me), I got to
thinking once again about the down-side to case studies. Skip’s gonna see a lot
of what I wrote to him in this article (thanks, dude!), but I think it’s
important stuff to share.
First, let’s take one giant step back. If anyone tells you there’s a
hard and fast rule for how to increase your conversion rates, you’d better have
your Skeptic Antennae fine-tuned! There are no rules.
There are only principles - many proven principles, but principles
all the same (getting the point?). And how you apply those principles is going
to depend on who you are, what your business does, what matters to the
hearts of your dogs … it’s a long list. It’s
the sort of stuff we focus on when we perform an “uncovery” with a client.
Taken as a whole, Skip’s letter is really asking if the Max-Effect case study
constitutes a series of rules. And the answer is, emphatically, “No!”
Is “Maximize Your Investment” a cliché? You bet. But to the marketers and ad
execs John Morana from Max-Effect is trying to snag, it’s persuasive lingo. And it cleverly
reinforces his business name. Do I recommend it as a tactic you all should leap
to embrace? No way. In John’s case, the tactic appealed to his visitors, got
them to engage with his home page and click through to subsequent pages (which
they were not doing in droves before). That’s movement in the right direction.
Could it be done differently? Better? I don’t doubt it for a minute.
Something else might work even greater magic. With the conversion structure in
place, that would be something John could easily test and tweak.
Style is such a sticky issue. Would I say NEVER use black? Nah, of course
not. If your goal is to be avant-garde, super cutting-edge, design-rich (as
opposed to function-sensitive), then I’d say
knock your socks off.
Is black generally a good idea for e-commerce sites focused on the usability
imperative essential to effective conversion? Nope. It’s dead obnoxious on the
eyes. Remember, you’ve got to snag your visitor quickly when you are trying to
persuade. If you make them work too hard, they’re outta there.
From a mood point of view, black can have negative connotations. People often
see it as a brooding, distancing color. Then there’s the X-X-X associations (I’m
told many p*rn sites have black backgrounds - I relate this purely as anecdotal
information, naturally). Can I argue these associations might be advantageous?
I agree with Skip. I thought John’s former page “looked” nice, too. The
design was visually pleasing on a theoretical level. But looks, in this case,
did not feed the bulldog. And when the status of the bulldog’s belly is an
important consideration, the execution of style needs careful attention.
It’s an interesting and tempting idea to showcase John’s handiwork on the
homepage. And there might be some value in doing that. But at Future Now, we
take the view that the purpose of the home page is to
engage the reader and begin the
process of qualification.
The goal is to get the visitor moving further into the conversion process
based on the information that visitor needs in order to be “sold.” It’s going to
be different for different personality types. Some will want prices. Some will
want to contact John personally. Some will want to read all the fine print. Some
will want to see if others were satisfied with the work before they even
consider looking at what he does. Some are going to want to know how John works
with clients. And some are going to go straight to the samples. Establishing
conversion paths that honor all these needs is the primary purpose of the home
Home pages cannot do everything, nor should you ever expect your home page to
manage that burden. If you understand the principles of
what your home page needs
to accomplish, you can be more selective about what you put there. And do keep in mind,
lots of folks are not going to
enter your site through the home page.
Compelling evidence for doing something a particular way is always compelling
evidence. When the application of a principle produces cool results, it’s
something to get excited about … provided you don’t indulge in binary,
I’ll never say “never” (chortle), so don’t go looking for a Grok Rulebook
anytime soon. Although I promise you, if I do ever find a hard and fast rule,
you’ll be the first to know. I’ll keep talking principles … you keep
scrutinizing case studies for how those principles might apply.
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Don’t Sell Yourself Short on Copy
I’d like to say there’s a healthy debate going on out there about how long
the copy for your Web site and emails should be, except there really isn’t.
Everywhere I turn, I read admonitions to keep your copy short because folks just
can’t be bothered to read lengthy copy.
Well, stand back, ‘cause I’m blowing a big raspberry! By now, you should know
how I feel about “rules”
and I don’t want you stuffing a Short Copy Rule into your brain without
considering the consequences.
The truth is, your copy should be as long as it needs to be. Not a word more,
and not necessarily a word less!
David Patterson wrote about the 5 most important things to consider in email
marketing. One of them was “brevity.”
“We all know the expression short and sweet. In email marketing, it might
be better said, "short is sweet." People want to get through their email
quickly. If you send a message many screens long, they're likely to react
the same way they would if you were the driver in front of them doing 20 in
a 50 MPH zone. Expect to be passed by at the first opportunity and to
receive the virtual equivalent of the universal rude gesture.”1
Do I agree with him? Well, sorta, but not exactly.
Here’s an interesting story about copy length.
A software marketer tested three different sets of copy for an email
· a tried-and-true version with three brief paragraphs
· a slightly longer version - about three-quarters of a printed
page - that expanded on the offer details
· a one-and-a-half-page version with lots more detail on the
offer, products, and company.
He mailed all three at the same time in plain text to three equal-sized
segments (50,000 names) of his house list. The winner? The page-and-a-halfer!
Although it was substantially longer, it produced a 7.5 percent click-through
rate and a 4 percent conversion rate. The “slightly longer version” came in
second, with a click-through rate of 6 percent and a conversion rate of 3
Kinda makes you question that Short Copy Rule, eh?
So what really gives? Am I saying we all ought to be writing reams of copy
for our emails and Web sites? Hardly. Remember, I’m the No-Rule Principle Dude!
What I will tell you is this: when folks indulge in lengthy copy, they are
often rambling. Copy gets long when you don’t get to the point or when you try
to say too many things all at one go. This is the sort of length that wastes
people’s time and makes ‘em head for the hills. ’Ive
said it before: copy is always
most effective when it says one thing really well.
But I’ve also talked an awful lot about the importance of speaking to your
visitors’ emotional needs, creating mental imagery that puts them center stage,
developing relationships based on the unique personality you have chosen to
convey. So you have to say
what you need to say. And you have to
say it engagingly,
applying all those wordsmithing techniques
we’ve talked about. Because what Rudyard Kipling said is absolutely true - words
are “the most powerful drug used by mankind.” They certainly bear the
lion’s share of your persuasive message.
If you short-change your copy - bleed it of its persuasive power - you can do
serious damage to your conversion rates.
All things being equal, short copy is better. I’ve heard it’s possible to
make almost any point in 500 words or fewer (and, no, I’m not presenting this as
a rule!). Therein is the challenge of writing well and working some editorial
magic. Because if you can say exactly the same thing in fewer words -
accomplishing exactly the same goal - that’s a very good thing indeed. You won’t
find me blowing raspberries at that.
But saying less than what needs to be said, just because you’ve been told
copy must be short, is not a good thing. Beware the difference!
Years ago, when most copywriters were men, the advice went like this: compare
your copywriting to a woman’s skirt - make it long enough to cover the
essentials, but short enough to stimulate interest.
My apologies for the sexist analogy … it’s really a principle thing. You Grok,
Shameless plug: I’m tickled extra green about our new pdf-format e-book,
Take Your Words to the Bank. We wrote it for both the copywriters who create
copy and the marketers who must evaluate the suitability of copy. It’s all about
Web-writing that persuades - a handy collection of some of the articles you’ve
read here and lots more.
Add it to your reference
1 “The Five Most Important Words in Email Marketing.” David Patterson.