Plain-spoken Online Conversion Rate Newsletter - covering web design, email techniques, sales, marketing, copywriting, usability,  and consumer psychology.

The Down-Side to Case Studies

People LOVE case studies. They devour them and come back begging for more. Me, I’m more skeptical. Don’t get me wrong; I love reading about how folks solved a problem. And I love showing you how we at Future Now solve problems. Case studies can be really valuable tools


you understand what they are revealing.

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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 situation.

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 observations:

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 case?

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? Sure.

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.

Product Presentation

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 page.

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, right-wrong rule-thought.

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.

Sound Off!

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Writers and Non-Writers Both Will Be Taking Their Words To The Bank

No kidding! We just released an exhaustive, plain spoken, no-nonsense copywriting handbook written to fit the needs of any marketer working on the World Wide Web. Pick up your copy of "Take Your Words to the Bank: The Marketer's Handbook of Persuasive Online Copywriting". Here is what Faith Kuczaj of Sabre's Virtually There had to say about this 123 page PDF:

"Take Your Words to the Bank speaks to e-marketers with exuberance and clarity about what is at the heart of their careers - effective and powerful communications. It should be required reading for executives, directors, managers and employees in every organization that has an e-marketing department."

This is your last chance to attend Wizards of Web in 2002.  Also, please let us know if you want to be included on our advanced notice list for events.

Bryan Eisenberg
CIO, Future Now, Inc.

P.S. Do you have questions you would like to see answered here? Ask away!

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 campaign:

· 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 percent.

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, right?

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 collection!


1 “The Five Most Important Words in Email Marketing.” David Patterson.


Sound Off!

click here for a printable version of this entire article

P.S. If you enjoyed this issue, why not share it with your colleagues and friends?
They'll appreciate it. Forward This Issue To A Friend!

GROK is taken from the landmark novel "Stranger in a Strange Land", by Robert A. Heinlein. It is a Martian word that implies the presence of intimate and exhaustive knowledge and understanding. Our "GROK" is a keen observer of the world around him and he takes a particular interest in the World Wide Web. The folks at Future Now like him a lot because he's taught them that "sometimes the price of clarity is the risk of insult."

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