Know those sales pages that are really, really long? They’re great, but they mostly suck. I mean the way they are usually implemented sucks.
Long form sales pages have their place, and they work extremely well in many circumstances. (Hell – my own agency has one).
Think about it – the reason you have a website is because you want to sell something. If you only have a single product, there’s no real reason to have more than one page. The only information you need to have on your site is what makes the user understand the product, i.e. its benefits and use cases. This helps consumers come to a decision as to whether the product solves their particular problem quickly. Clicking through several different pages only gets in the way.
Some call them mini-sites, some say one-pagers. Same same.
If you’re using landing pages to capture PPC traffic, and you want them to buy something , you’re probably using a sales page too (or should!).
Why that much copy?
The amount of copy you need depends on the complexity and cost of the product. The more complicated and/or expensive the product, the more you need to explain, show, educate, convince.
If you’re selling a box of matches for $0.25 – and I need one – I don’t need to read any copy. I just buy it. The product is simple and cheap.
On the other hand, if I’m on the market for a new car or a house – both complicated (many things to learn about them) and expensive – I will take weeks and months to do research, read and compare.
If you’re selling something that costs say $300 – I don’t need weeks, but I do need an adequate amount of information before I can justify (to myself, to my wife, to my boss etc) such an expense.
Buyers are readers
Worried that your copy is too long? Don’t. If somebody is ready to buy after just a brief skim – having just read ~20% of the copy – they can just skip ahead and click ‘buy’. No problem.
But if somebody reads ALL the text on your site and STILL has questions and doubts, then you’ve got a problem. This is why long form copy works well.
True – most people will not read the whole sales copy – and that’s okay. It’s not a novel. The consumers who do are the ones who are actually going to buy.
“My sales letter for Earn $1k is 47 pages long, but it converts very well. And when people read it, they will do things like this, they will nod their heads as they are reading the entire thing. We’ll see them stopping and we’ll see them resuming again. They’re really thinking about it.”
– Ramit Sethi in an interview for Mixergy
But long form sales pages are cheesy and scammy!
This is the reason I said “they mostly suck”. I agree – most of them are ridiculously cheesy and scammy. You’re absolutely right. This is why a lot of people hate them.
I went over to Clickbank and picked some random products from their marketplace. Here are 3 typical long-form sales pages.
Random crap I found #1:
Exclamation marks! Check. Hype! Check. THE Absolute best! Check. This must be selling like crazy. (In case you were wondering, it’s not.)
Random crap I found #2:
They couldn’t even get their logo display right and the headline is unreadable.
Another case of “proven headline formula” at work.
Hard cold truths about long form sales pages
- Most of them look like vomit. Worse, actually.
- The copy is written by idiots who think that adding exclamation marks and hype into every sentence boosts sales. (Grow up.)
- A lot of the products sold via long form sales pages are actually scam. It looks like the easiest business to do – just create a pdf file and start selling it. That’s why it attracts a lot of losers. The barrier of entry is extremely low, so any idiot can get started.
If you Google about long form sales copy, you will find lots of critical blog posts such as this one, but you will also see that the criticism is all about the implementation.
I want to remind you – it’s not the format, it’s the execution that sucks.
- Long form sales pages can look great.
- It is possible to hire somebody that can write great copy.
- Great products can be sold with long form sales pages – and not just infoproducts.
Here’s a long form page we just designed for a client. It’s not an infoproduct. The copy is not cheesy. Looks kickass. (Click to see the whole page).
Copy matters and is the first thing
Long form sales pages are mostly about the content. So in order to close the sale, you need really good copy. You don’t start to design before you have the copy in place. Content first.
You can only write excellent copy if you understand your target audience – and are the master of “little things” like knowing your way around with words, understanding persuasion, sales psychology and using proven frameworks.
“There is no such thing as an attention span. There is only the quality of what you are viewing. This whole idea of an attention span is, I think, a misnomer. People have an infinite attention span if you are entertaining them.”
– Jerry Seinfeld, comedian
While Jerry was talking about television, this applies equally to sales copy. No one is going to read it if it’s boring crap.
It needs to join the conversation in the mind of the customer, target their problems and desired outcomes.
I’ve written a thorough article called Quick Course on Effective Website Copywriting, but note that this article is more about the process – and less about style and techniques.
Be careful about picking a copywriter
I’ve used a ton of copywriters for various projects. My best advice: anyone worth hiring starts at $1000 (usually much more – in the $2.5k to $5k range). You’re better off learning copywriting and writing your own copy than hiring somebody cheap. People who are cheap are cheap for a reason (they usually suck).
Of course, price alone does not tell you the quality of the copywriter. There’s a myriad of jargon-loving “professional copywriters” out there (and I’ve had the misfortune of using several). If they’re using stuff like ‘leverage’ and ‘our principals are standing by’ in their portfolio copy, run!
A lot of them are also ego-driven (which is understandable – they’re human) which makes them poor at taking feedback, fierce about justifying their choices and it all results in mediocre copy at best. BUT – great copywriters do exist.
Decide what kind of copywriter you need
Another thing to remember is that brand copywriters and direct response copywriters are very different. It’s a whole different mindset. We once hired a brand copywriter who had an impressive resume, had been working with all sorts of big brands in the past. She completely failed at writing direct response copy. She just couldn’t figure it out.
If you’re doing copywriting in-house, I strongly recommend this book: Copy Logic! The New Science of Producing Breakthrough Copy (Without Criticism).
It teaches you an awesome technique for improving any copy through synergy and systematic approach – without anyone’s feelings getting hurt.
It’s (almost) all about readability
So you’ve got good copy. Congratulations? Not so soon. If it’s not structured and designed well, people aren’t going to read it.
First there’s how you structure your text:
- Large font size (minimum 16px).
- Short lines (40 to 80 characters per line).
- New paragraph every 3-4 lines.
- Use lists, quotes, tables – mix it up.
- Sub-headlines every 2-3 paragraphs.
- If you’re getting a decent amount of mobile traffic (20+ percent), you need responsive design.
This is basic, but oh so critical.
This wall of text is not gonna entice anyone to read:
Sub-headlines are completely missing here – but they’re enormously important.
The majority of users will only read the headlines – they use it to garner the entire story from start to finish. Scanners will scroll down the page, stop at the headings that grab their attention, read that content and begin scanning again.
In order to make a lot of copy easy to digest and read, you need to design for reading. You need to provide novelty in every screen.
This means you have to constantly change the layout around – to keep it interesting. Sameness equals boring and drives people away. There are lots of psychological phenomena at play that I’ve written about here.
- Neuroscientists say novelty promotes information transmission.
- Our minds seems to gravitate toward novelty. Not only does a novel experience seem to capture our attention, it appears to be an essential need of the mind.
Our brain pays close attention to patterns, and quickly learns to ignore anything that is routine, repetitive, predictable or just plain boring. This makes room for paying attention to anything that’s different. So novelty is what gets people to pay attention.
Ever wondered why so many sites constantly alternate the position of text paragraphs (text on the left, then text on the right, text on the left and so on)? Like here:
It’s for the very same reason I just mentioned – novelty. It boosts the number of people reading the content. Sub-headlines and white space help to achieve the same goal.
Take a look at this new long form sales page by Appsumo guys. See how the layout constantly changes – it’s to sustain attention and keep you reading. Very good execution.
Test a video version
Video can boost conversions – and long form sales pages are no exception here.
While video-only sales pages can be successful at times, in most cases video should be supplemental to text. Most people will NOT watch the video (but the most interested people might), so the text content should be created with this in mind.
We recently tested 2 “text-only” vs “video+text” long form pages against each other.
In the first test, sales pages were identical except for one thing – one had an image above the fold (left) and the other had a video (right):
Result: video version drove 46% more sales.
The second test was similar – everything the same except for the above the fold area.
Result: The version with the video got 25% more sales. (And hard to believe, but auto-play converted 13% better here than “click to play”).
Don’t leave the page
Sometimes you have additional information that’s useful to some, but not all readers. On “regular” websites you could just link to a deeper page, but on minisites you can’t — or shouldn’t. So here’s what you do instead.
In this example, a minisite is used for an one-page FAQ. When you click on a question, it expands to show the answer. This design helps you make the page shorter and also makes it easier to find the question and answer readers might be looking for.
Open info in a lightbox
You can “hide” information behind a click, but instead of navigating away, open it in a lightbox:
Use Sidecar or similar
Great visual design matters – a lot
Oh where do I start. Design is half the marketing and sales battle. Great design is about building trust and guiding the reader along. It’s about bringing out the important information and minimizing the secondary.
If your site looks like crap, the perception of your product is also crap. Look at the 3 examples I brought out at the very top. Is there anyone on the planet who sees those pages and says “yeah, these look like trustworthy sites”? Don’t think so.
Many people have the wrong idea that good design is about bells and whistles and flash videos. Not true at all. Great conversion optimized design serves only one goal – getting people to buy. Any part of the design that does not support this goal has to be changed or removed.
I’ve seen blog posts touting the idea that ‘ugly websites convert better’. In every case where this was claimed and where the “good design” version was actually shown, the good design sucked ass. Here’s a screenshot from a forum thread:
The thread starter did not post the pages for comparison, so a part of me thinks this is all made up, BUT – let’s look at what’s being said here. “Professional looking”, “a lot of cute images, graphics… the works”. Oh my god. Perhaps we should be thankful that he didn’t post the screenshots. I can only imagine the crap.
It looks like the reason some people think ugly sites convert better it because they think sites full of business porn and image sliders are what “good design” is. They just don’t know what good design looks like.
So let’s look at some of the arguments made for ‘ugly’ design and against ‘good’ design.
- #1: “If your website looks BMW-fancy your visitor is going to assume BMW-pricing.” Give me a break. They can SEE the actual pricing. If BMWs came with Suzuki pricing, everyone would drive one. So if your site looks like BMW, but the product costs like Isuzu, you’ve got a winner. Also, iPads are still the best-selling tablets around. Ever seen their site (and the price tag)?
- #2: “Trust – Nobody likes advertising. “. Yes, trust is uber important. But it’s the other way around. Great design builds trust – crappy design kills it. The connection between great design and advertisers is stupid.
- #3: “Accessibility – Build for technology two cycles back.” – The claim that good design is somehow not accessible is silly. Good design is most definitely built with accessibility in mind.
- #4: Google, Amazon, eBay, Craigslist are ugly. – First of all they’ve never been ‘ugly’, always good enough (except for Craigslist). And in case you haven’t noticed, Google has undergone a design revolution recently and is taking design *very* seriously. Both Amazon and eBay got a face-lift relatively recently. Craigslist is a unique case (there’s always one) – and it’s a success since it’s always been like that. Try starting a new, unknown site today that looks like Craiglist and see how far you get.
- #5: “Ugly websites are simple” – This is a non-argument. No reason why beautiful websites can’t be simple. Look at Simple, Blossom, Customer.io or Google “minimalistic website showcase” or similar stuff. You’ll find a gazillion simple, yet beautiful websites.
- #6: “The content should always be the highlight of the website – not design.” – Yes indeed. Design is always there to support content. Remember the Appsumo site example above? The design HELPS to read the content, not the other way around. In fact, in ugly websites the ugliness gets in the way of content and distracts.
- #7: “I tested ugly vs. a newer more sophisticated version and the ugly one won!” – Without seeing the “better designed” version it’s impossible to comment. My guess is that the better version in those case is one with automatic sliders, stock photos and perhaps some flash here and there. No wonder then. Until I see the ugly vs. good design side by side, these arguments are worthless.
- #8: “See – here’s a case study”. In this case the answer is given at the end of the article. “It has everything to do with providing the CTA in the correct place in the thought sequence.” The ‘pretty’ version gives you very little text (poor copy too) and then asks for money. No wonder it didn’t work. The ‘ugly’ version actually sells you the idea before asking for anything. Now if they’d take the copy and structure of the ugly site, but made it look good – I bet we’d see an improvement in results.
- #9: “But this ugly site sells well!” – I bet it will sell even better with a good design!
Any cherry-picked ugly site that converts well does not support the claim. The logic of “if X is ugly and sells a ton, then I’ll make an ugly site and sell a ton too” is a causal fallacy. What about all the beautiful sites that convert well. Oh my, a contradiction!
We’ve improved conversions on every long form sales page we’ve worked on. Sometimes only by changing the design! Give me an ugly page and we will make it convert better.
People judge everything they see – all the time. We meet somebody new – we judge them by their looks. We go to a new place – we make up our mind about it based on its looks. Your friend gets a new car – we decide whether we like it based on what it looks like.
When people see your website they form their opinion about it in less than 50 ms – and create a long-lasting impression (if it’s ugly, it will haunt you even if you re-vamp your site). (I wrote a whole post on the importance of first impressions – I recommend you read this post then the previous two links).
These impressions have a strong influence on conversions.
Three examples of awesome (and well-performing) long form sales pages
Every single page converts very well. How do I know? We built them.
One of the best-selling fitness products.
You will notice that this particular version is slightly different than the one I showed above in the video test example. This one converts more than double compared to version they had before we came along.
The Timeline Blueprint
This was built in conjunction with a high-converting email capture page.
Long form sales pages have their place. If you’ve only got one product or service, or use a PPC landing page where you want people to buy something right away, it’s a good idea to use one.
Most long form pages suck – but it’s not the format, it’s the execution. Strong research, great copy and good visual design have to go hand in hand in order to drive conversions.
A penny for your thoughts.