Selling online is a bit of an art.
Before your visitors reach your shopping cart, call your 800 number, or click on that submit button—in fact, from the second most visitors land on your site—they’re probably in a relatively receptive mood. They’ve landed on your site for a reason, but it’s up to you to persuade them to act.
But this isn’t the 1950s. Today, consumers are less gullible. They’re exposed to a daily barrage of the Internet’s “amazing offers”, catchy slogans, and empty promises.
There’s no one “right” way to engage readers in your effort to promote or market online, but there are several wrong ways. Here are some of the more commonly seen ones:
- The passive voice
- Feature-oriented content
- Me-oriented content
- Keyword abuse
There’s loads of this on too many small, medium and even corporate business sites:
- “Welcome to our website, here you will find…” (Help them find it, don’t tell them they’ll find it)
- “SuperWidgets are one of those things that most people (and businesses!) have, but aren’t thought about a lot – until they break, that is!”
- “Once again, thanks for checking out our website. We hope that you enjoy looking around!”
- “SuperWidgets aren’t on the forefront of everyone’s mind, but making sure that your SuperWidget is in top shape is important.”
Visitors know why they’re on your site; they want the info and value without the fluff.
Solution: If it doesn’t add value, remove it. If you can say it in fewer words, do it.
Even when writing copy for a repair company, accentuate your solutions instead of potential problems.
Try “Our patented widget lubrication system will keep your widget in perfect running order in every weather condition“, instead of “Our patented widget lube will prevent your widget from malfunctioning in nasty weather“. The difference is subtle, but the first example creates less stress, and focuses on feel good solutions instead of stressful problems.
Accentuate solutions instead of problems in your copy
Other examples of focusing on problems instead of solutions are:
- “These SuperWidgets are loaded with doodads and gizmos that can easily snap or break, which is why it’s best to let one of our professionals install them”.
- “Since many SuperWidgets are now electronic, shorts and breaks in electricity are often a problem. But we can do so and so to achieve…”
- “As you can see, there are many reasons why a commercial SuperWidget would stop working. We can be there when it does”
- “Make sure to inspect your SuperWidget regularly (once per year), so that you do not wind up with a major problem…”
Wow, SuperWidget problems are numerous and overwhelming. How depressing, maybe I’ll go lie down on the couch and stare at the ceiling instead of taking action!
Solution: Highlight benefits and solutions, not problems. Do not write statements in the negative form. Write statements in the positive form.
3. The Passive voice
Copywriting should subtly–and at times explicitly–persuade. Persuasion works best with the active voice. Think “Content drives traffic“, not “Traffic is driven by content”. Calls to action can be appropriately understated:
- “Let us help you with your xyz” instead of “We can help you with xyz“.
- “Have us repair your SuperWidget so that you don’t have to xyz” instead of “We can repair your SuperWidget so that you don’t have to xyz“.
- “Targeting local consumers can be easy” is less powerful than the direct, active voice of “Target local consumers with ease”.
Notice how the active voice is a great way to shift attention from you to your visitor? This is where the attention should be.’Target’, inspires more action than ‘targeting’ in the example above.
Solution: Use verbs, that instruct, instead of weak adjectives that describe. The passive voice is to be avoided. Avoid the passive voice.
4. Feature-oriented copy
A common copywriting mistake is a focus on features instead of benefits. Copywriting isn’t technical writing, it’s promotional, and the best way to promote is by discussing benefits. “Features tell, but benefits sell”. Corny catchphrase, but accurate.
Benefit-oriented content resonates with readers, and ideally produces a desirable emotional response. Technical writing informs, whereas copywriting persuades. As the famous Harvard Business School professor Theodore Levitt used to say: “People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole!”..
Instead of “Our boots have rubber shell and outsole protection with traction ribbing, and sealed seams that render them waterproof”, go with “Your feet will stay dry in these boots”. Back up your claims with features at the bottom of the page if you have to.
Solution: Emphasize benefits over features.
Just as content shouldn’t lack persuasiveness, it can easily be over the top as well. Cheesy stock imagery (handshakes, jigsaw puzzle pieces lightbulbs, etc) aren’t the only marketing clichés that can suck the life out of your message; copywriting itself has its own share of notoriously overused fallbacks:
- Best in the West: ‘Best’, ‘greatest’, ‘incredible’, ‘unbeatable’. (Usually preceded with the 6th copywriting sin; ‘We‘. Don’t tell people you’re the best. Give them your pitch and let them make up their own minds.
- Buzzwords: Don’t leverage if you can use. Don’t synergize if you can combine. Keep it simple instead of using wordy abstractions that only double copy length and detract from readability.
Solution: There’s a fine line between avoiding hype and being boring. Find that line.
6. Me-oriented copy
Don’t focus on the ‘I’, ‘we’, or ‘us’. Instead, construct sentences using ‘you’ and ‘your’. You-oriented copy attracts readers, keeps them interested, and cues them for action. It’s not about you, it’s about them, so focus on what your readers want, rather than what services you offer.
Solution: Put the emphasis on your readers instead of on you.
7. Keyword abuse
Copywriters sometimes take it into their own hands to please you with “keyword rich” content, or “SEO copywriting”. Search visibility isn’t about repeating keywords. If keywords aren’t naturally appearing where you’d like them to, rethink your content strategy and/or information architecture, and move on to more technical and social aspects of SEO.
Solution: Think content strategy before last minute tactics.
These are the usual suspects of sub-par copywriting. Remember them to keep you on the road to writing content that’s both useful to visitors and persuasive, and you should achieve better results.
If you enjoyed this post, check out my popular 10 steps to writing better web content.
Landing page tactics are just as numerous as your conversion goals, but some are consistent winners.
Many of the best practices for landing page optimization are simply Web usability guidelines that allow your site visitors to accomplish tasks quickly and efficiently. Some of these best practices, however, have more impact on conversions than others; these are some of my favorites.
- Remove unnecessary navigation elements. In some cases—as with landing pages designed for promotional email marketing campaigns—it can be wise to omit your site’s main navigation. Members of your mailing list already know about your webite, and the presence of your main navigation can make them lose focus of your offer.
- Keep important content above the fold. Your landing page’s key points should be in clear view without the need for scrolling. If visitors don’t immediately see what’s in it for them when the page loads, the chances are pretty good that they’ll leave.
- Minimize noise. Don’t overwhelm your audience with too many options or links to choose from. Too many choices create anxiety and result in lower conversions.
- Don’t use captchas. Audio and visual captchas frustrate visitors, resulting in form abandonments. My favorite weapon against spam bots are user-friendly and just as secure as captchas. Since spam bots fill fields automatically, a simple script can prevent a form’s submission when a hidden text field is filled. I’ll describe this method in detail in a future post.
- Keep required form fields to a minimum. Don’t make the phone number a required filed unless it’s absolutely necessary. Gather other non-crucial information at later stages in the relationship with your clients.
- Add email privacy information directly next to email input field. Instill trust where it matters most instead of near the submit button.
- Remove ‘clear fields’ button from your forms. Having a button that resets form fields next to the submit button is useless and can be accidentally clicked.
- Take advantage of your form submission confirmation page. Once a visitor has hit the submit button to request contact or a whitepaper download, they’ll be in a receptive mode. Don’t waste this opportunity with a standard ‘thank you’ or ‘submission confirmed’ message; instead, use this window to promote your newsletter, blog, or other webinar.
- Match your headline to its lead source. Match your landing page’s headline with the anchor text or main idea of the page that leads to it. This helps your visitors confirm that they’ve arrived on the page they expected to. It’s impossible to overstate the importance of this point.
- Keep your copy focused. Don’t stray from the offer your making on your landing page—this isn’t the place to talk about your company’s qualities or achievements.
- Let go of the words. Trim away excess words, and unnecessary sentences from your copy. If you get the same compelling point across with half the text, do it.
- Keep your focus on your reader, not on you. Minimize the use of words like ‘we’, ‘us’, and ‘our’. Stay focused on the needs of your readers with the ‘you’ and the ‘your’.
- Write benefit-oriented copy. Your readers want to know how they’ll benefit from your offer, so address that before getting to features. Make your very last paragraph benefit oriented as well; people often read the first and last paragraphs on offer based pages before anything else.
- Keep your paragraphs short. A paragraph should be no longer than 4 or 5 lines. A wall of words is a great way to lose the attention of your visitors.
- Drop the caps. We have a tendency to read words whole when they combine upper and lower case letters, but letter by letter when they’re all caps. Using all capitals for passages of text will only frustrate and slow down your visitors. Big no no.
- Dark text on light backgrounds. Black text on a light (or close to it) background is much easier to read that the other way around. Unless you’re designing an official motion picture website, think dark text, light background.
- Keep paragraphs under 60 characters wide. Lines of text longer than this make it difficult to track back to the next line, hurting readability.
- Add captions under your images. People read captions as a result of being drawn to images; don’t miss out on this short yet valuable piece of copywriting real estate.
- Make offer-related images clickable. Clicking on a product image should result in additional product information or a higher resolution.
- Make your call to action button obvious Your landing page’s call to action button should be big and in clear view where your copy is the strongest.
- Use enough contrast to make it stand out from the rest of your design. Some studies show that red is best, but if, for example, orange stands out on the page, it’ll work.
- Place your call to action buttons above and below the fold.
- Be descriptive with the button’s text. ‘See plans & pricing’ works better than ‘click here’ or ‘learn more’.
- Choose real people over stock photo models. If you have receptionists and sales reps, use pictures of them in action instead of stock images. “Real people” look real, and help instill trust.
- Include client testimonials. Testimonials increase your brand credibility and can and substantially improve your conversion rates.
- Display randomly selected testimonials in your sidebar each time a page is loaded.
- Place your sidebar’s random testimonial within view of either a contact form, phone number, or any other call to action.
- Use real testimonials Keep everything legit. If you only have 1 testimonial, use it by itself, or wait until until you get more.
- Add a link under your random testimonial to a page with all your testimonials once you have enough of them.
- Add a phone number. A prominently displayed phone number on a landing page can instill a sense of security from the fact that there’s a real person available to talk to if needed.
- If you’re promoting local services, add a phone number with your local area code to show that you’re not actually a call center in Timbuktu (Unless of course, your business actually is in Timbuktu).
- Display trust seals. One or more legally obtained trust seals located near the top of your landing page is a good way to boost customer confidence, as they can help lend credibility to your business.
- Data security seals validate that your website uses Secure Socket Layer (SSL) protection for transmission of sensitive data via Web forms (McAfee, VeriSign, Comodo, GeoTrust, etc).
- Privacy seals signify that your company respectfully uses the personal information visitors provide. Privacy seals are the most difficult to obtain, as they require an extensive certification process (TRUSTe, Trust guard, etc).
- Reliability seals vouch only for the basic identity of your company (Shopzilla, SquareTrade, BBBOnline Reliability, Comodo Authenticity, etc).
- Consumer Ratings Seals link to reviews and ratings left by your customers (Shopzilla, Shopping.com, etc)
- Video can help engage visitors, especially on landing pages for software. Screencasts give an immediate peak at your software along with a stimulating voice-over.
- Keep your videos as short as possible. 30 minutes is a good length for a commercial style video, but sometimes longer is necessary. Experiment with additional calls to action midway through videos that are 60 seconds or longer.
- For screencasting software, take a look at Techsmith’s Screencast.com. You can export your screencasts directly to YouTube in great resolution, and delete them from the Screencasts.com server’s if you want to.
- Put the video controls into the visitor’s hands.You can test auto-playing video, but a/b testing will usually have you switching back.
- Have the play button in the middle of the video screen, opposed to the bottom of the player where it’s less compelling.
The most challenging aspect of landing page optimization can be making it all work without your landing page looking like the Web version of an infomercial; clichée, over-aggressive, and too loud.
Loud can be okay, if it’s in the right place—as in your primary call to action—and if that “loudness” is in balance with the other elements that make up your landing page.
Once you get more comfortable with optimizing your landing pages, you’ll want to begin A/B testing them, because nobody’s a better judge of how compelling a call to action is than your visitors.
Remember that the more you consider the Web usability implications of your landing pages, the more naturally they’ll come together.
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