Words: One of Your Better Investments

Everyone's clambering for your development dollars - software systems guys, design guys, marketing guys, SEO guys, usability guys, information architecture guys. They're all going to tell you their little piece of the pie is crucial to your success online. And they have a point ... up to a point. I guarantee I have opinions on "the good, the bad and the ugly" in these subspecialties as they relate to the construction of an effective persuasion architecture for your ebusiness. So, I won't sit here and warble that none of this stuff matters, 'cause it obviously does.

I will warble that none of this stuff matters if you are fundamentally unable to persuade your visitors to take the actions you want them to take. And the key element in your persuasive arsenal is your copy.

"Oh, geez," moan my long-time readers. "Here he goes again." Yes, I've devoted a number of my articles to the importance of copy online. I've helped create an entire book on the subject. And I lend a hand at our Persuasive Online Copywriting Seminar and Workshop. All because I know for a fact that words are among your better investments when it comes to developing or redesigning your site.

But it seems lots of folks still need convincing. Among the not-yet-convinced? Then read on.

In his January 17, 2005 New Thinking newsletter, Gerry McGovern made a pitch for reconsidering (and properly rewarding) the true value of the lowly writer:

Most people within most organizations don't value content. In a typical organization, the higher up you go the less appreciation there is. That's all about to change because content is a 'hidden' asset of great value. ...

Here's how a typical web project gets done. IT spends a load of money on some content management software. It's handed over to marketing who gets a graphic design company to create some concepts. Halfway through the project, someone mentions the idea that content will be needed for the website before it can be launched.

The manager in charge of the project will get the most junior person they can find to go round up some content from the other departments. If this content is absolutely awful, then the manager may get this junior person to rewrite it. Or perhaps they have a summer intern who can throw a few words together. That's how content is treated in many organizations. ...

This is for all you true content management professionals; you writers and editors. Stand firm. ... Your time is coming because web content will in time be seen as one of the most valuable assets of the modern economy.1

If you could get more of your visitors to say "Yes" simply by writing copy (how fiendishly low-tech!) that spoke to them in their language and met their needs ... well, isn't it a bit of a no-brainer? Your words, properly crafted, are music to your visitors' eyes (um, you get the idea, right?). This is the inside scoop that lots of catalogue companies have known for decades.

Take the experience of our own dear Dave Cadoff to heart. He recently posted this illuminating piece to the RevenueToday blog.

Would you buy a 6 pound briefcase?

I travel...a lot. Sometimes it's overnight, sometimes longer. And, every time, I over pack. Especially my briefcase which was, until recently, a backpack. Problem with backpacks on airplanes is they offer little to no protection. And my poor Powerbook suffered the consequences - cracked screens are expensive!

So, I needed to upgrade to something with more protection, maybe even double as an overnight bag. Plus, I looked ridiculous wearing a backpack at my age.. Guess where I went first. Yup, eBags, where else? Lots of bags to choose from there. They got a great rep to boot. The briefcases that most interested me were all around $200 bucks and weighed in at six (6) pounds. Heavy! Stuff the briefcase full with my Powerbook, various hard and soft cover books, papers, bottled water, Starburst Fruit Chews, iPod, headphones, sunglasses, my cell phone and whatever else I can fit in, we're talking major league, arm-lengthening, shoulder-slumping poundage. I think I'll take a pass this time.

Now, eBags has a great looking site. Solid navigation. Bag specifications are clearly visible and readable. Nice pictures, multiple views, close-ups, too. Frankly, eBags has most of the elements that I'd expect from a leading ecommerce vendor. Except for one thing - the copy was...dull. Sure, the facts where presented well, the pictures looked nice, but the words just didn't convince me that the briefcases I viewed would work for me. I couldn't glean benefits from the specs. I only saw potential problems. After all, who wants to schlep around a briefcase that is 6 pounds when empty! I clicked away leaving my eBag shopping cart briefcase-less (though I'm sure the affiliate cookie is still anxiously awaiting my return).

That affiliate cookie has a long wait. I did buy a briefcase. From Levenger. I ended up buying the "Endurance Brief" from the Levenger Winter 2005 catalog. Page 66 to be exact. And, you guessed it, their words convinced me. Check out this wonderful copy with my comments in parentheses.

Keep Loading Up - This Bag Never Quits (Sounds good, so far).

Keep dishing it out and filling it up (how did they know I do this?) - this traveling bag can take more, more, more. Our Endurance Brief (sounds sturdier and longer-lasting than my old backpack) combines the best of hard- and soft-side briefcases (hey, protection! Just what I need). It's ballistic nylon and tough as nails (good, protect my new Powerbook screen). Compact, efficient, organized, expansive - wow!

Assets at a glance: organizational panel in the front zip-down flap, two accordion files in the front compartment, removable laptop sleeve in the back compartment, and a back zip pocket that unzips to slip over a rollaboard handle (Look Ma, no bullet points!). There's even a pocket for the water bottle and a case for your cell phone (are these guys psychic or what?).

With its double zippers, generous padding (Powerbook rides safe and secure), a comfort-grip leather handle and detachable shoulder strap, it's manageable even fully loaded or overloaded (they really do know me). Sized for overheads (how did they know that I worry about overhead space?). In black or sage green with a reinforcement of contrasting full-grain leather, and a substantial but reassuring 6 pounds ("heavy" never sounded sooo good).2

So what's the point? I did buy the six (6) pound briefcase...and I even spent more (comparable briefcases were $30 bucks cheaper at eBags)...'cause the good folks at Levenger anticipated why I really needed the briefcase and painted a clear picture of the benefits as they would apply in my real world, gotta travel but hate to do it, life. Bottom Line: Their words painted a better picture than the pictures. Their words resonated. Their words weren't just a listing of the specs. Their words crafted images of the briefcase in use in my life.

We all have heard that the average online conversion rate tops out at about 2%. What you probably don't know is that the average offline catalog retailer that moves online has an average conversion rate of 6%. That's 3 times better than average! Why? Their words. They know how to sell three-dimensional products in a two-dimensional world. Follow their example. Let your words create a three-dimensional reality of your product or service in the mind of your site visitors. Watch your conversion rates soar. And, if you are sitting next to me on a plane, ask to borrow the latest Levenger catalog for some great copy reading. I'll dig it out of my substantial but reassuring 6 pound briefcase.

A Call to Words

Simple little things, but oh so incredibly powerful. If you don't need further convincing (and by now, you really shouldn't), then head on out, hire good copywriters who understand the online environment and the needs of your audience (don't forget that different personas have different needs), and pay them every last penny they are worth! Your return on that investment alone will amaze you. Words. Your best low-tech investment in a high-tech medium. Use them effectively, value those who create them, and you really will be taking them to the bank!

P.S. To all you cheering writers and content managers: Just west of the area you call Hellas in the Martian southern hemisphere is a brilliant little take-away that makes a to-die-for green pudding. Get my meaning? (chortle)

1  When it comes to content, Gerry McGovern has been around the block - he has authored several books, written numerous articles and offers content management solutions.  You can subscribe to his weekly newsletter, New Thinking, at http://www.gerrymcgovern.com/.  This quotation has been excerpted (and abridged) from Volume 10 No 2.

2  Grok aside:  It's interesting to note that in their online copy for the same product, Levenger abandons the catalogue wording that worked so persuasively for Dave in favor of the far less effective style that is regrettably SOP.  Compare the catalogue quote with the Web page copy.  Pity.

Volume 104: 01/15/05

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