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Pumping Up Your Site's Marketing Copy

To increase page views, you've got to give people a reason to click. Try following these four hard-and-fast rules for crafting compelling copy.
March 29, 2006
URL: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/60920

We all know that well-written copy is one of the most effective methods for getting people's attention and attracting them to your product or service, but the importance of the shortest copy is often overlooked. A lot of people don't even realize that things like their navigation menus, links or even their newsletter subscription offers are copy and require careful consideration.

Ironically, this kind of copy is one of the most valuable tools you have. Think about your.

This sort of copy is typically asking people to take some sort of action that is vital to your business: visit your web site, request more info, subscribe to your newsletter, click through, buy the product. which is why it requires much more attention than it tends to receive.

Of course it's more difficult to get your message across when you have limited space, but short copy is the glue that holds your marketing campaign together. And if every button on your menu, every ad, every link isn't as compelling and effective as it can be, you're not going to get the results you're hoping for, be it more sales, more subscriptions, more referrals, etc.

Here are four hard-and-fast rules of copywriting that must be followed for even the shortest of copy to guarantee you always make the most profitable use of the little space you have.

Rule #1: You must emphasize benefits, not features.
I know, I know, you've heard this one before. But I so often see copy--short and long--that neglects to mention how the features of a product or service will benefit customers that I'm guessing a good number of you aren't sure what this really means. So let me clarify for you.

A feature is one of the components or functions of your product or service. For example, if your toothbrushes come packaged with glow-in-the-dark toothpaste, that's a feature--not a benefit.

A benefit is something your product or service will do for your buyer to somehow offer a solution to a problem. So if your toothbrushes that come with glow-in-the-dark toothpaste make stubborn kids thrilled to brush their teeth before they go to bed, then you've got yourself a benefit!

Are you following me? An online real estate agent advertising "real-time mortgage calculations" is advertising a feature of her site; however, if she writes, "Avoid wasting time haggling at the bank with my real-time mortgage calculator," then she's advertising a benefit.

Emphasizing benefits is the number-one most overlooked rule of copywriting, and this lack of emphasis is one of the top reasons advertising falls flat. Short copy is no exception--and you don't need a lot of room to do it right.

Let's take a look at a short classified ad. If you posted an ad that read.

Real estate on the internet.
Plenty of listings.
Shop at your convenience.

.you probably wouldn't get the greatest response. The ad is brief and to the point, but it lacks clarity. First of all, what kind of property is being advertised? Are the listings for commercial buildings or family homes? What part of the world does the ad refer to? How many listings is "plenty"? How do we get to see these listings? And, most important, how does this service benefit me?

There's a vague reference to the benefit of "convenience" in this ad--but it's not really explained. Let's dress it up a bit:

Take a Personal Tour of 375+ of Seattle's Hottest, Most Affordable Single-Family Homes
Skip the hassles of house hunting when you search our HUGE online database of single-family homes:
375+ homes with pictures, video tours and detailed descriptions!
Search by price, location, number of bedrooms, number of bathrooms and more!
Get FREE local school reports, neighborhood information and mortgage calculations!
Click here now to begin searching our online database of Seattle's hottest, most affordable family homes--without leaving your computer!

This version expands on the benefit of convenience and details the different ways this convenience offers solutions to the house-hunter's problems. So the benefits we're clarifying for the reader are:

Also note that this ad targets a specific niche: single-family homebuyers in the Seattle area. Targeting your advertising is the only way to get your benefits in front of your best potential customers, as we'll discover in the next section.

Pumping Up Your Site's Marketing Copy

Rule #2: You must write to a targeted audience.
The fact is, your product or service is not going to appeal to everyone. And if you try to market it to everyone, you'll wind up with far fewer sales than if you choose a select group to direct your copy to. So once you've defined your target market, you need to turn your attention toward making sure your copy addresses them directly.

For example, let's look at pay-per-click advertising. Let's say you bid 17 cents per click in Overture.com for the key phrase "single-family homes." Because you pay every time someone clicks through this link, whether they purchase from you or not, you want to make sure that your ad carefully targets your best potential customers.

Given that you're targeting single-family homebuyers in the Seattle area, you'd want to make sure your ad includes this vital piece of information. That way, you can be sure you won't waste money on people searching for single-family homes in San Diego! And if you bid 41 cents per click for the key phrase "Seattle homes," you'd want to make sure to write an ad that clearly states that your site features single-family homes so you don't waste your advertising dollars on condo-seekers or recreational property buyers.

By writing a separate ad for each of your keywords that carefully targets your market, you'll ensure that you attract the most buyers for the least cost. Of course, if you're writing copy for banner ads, your approach will need to be a bit different. Whether you're purchasing blocks of impressions (i.e. you pay a set dollar amount for your banner to be displayed 1,000... 10,000... etc. times on other websites) or participating in a banner exchange (i.e. you're trading banner impressions with a network of other site owners), you've paid for your advertising up front, so you'll want to do everything you can to attract viewers' attention and persuade them to click through to your site. And this means you'll want your ad copy to be a bit more general, to ensure it attracts the highest number of click-throughs.

The title of the above classified ad would make a great banner because you're targeting your best potential customers:

Take a Personal Tour of 375+ of Seattle's Hottest, Most Affordable Single-Family Homes! Click here now...

But you might also try testing banners with more general copy that read something like this:

Search a HUGE online database of 375+ Seattle Dream Homes and skip the house-hunting headaches! Click here now...

The first ad is going to attract the most qualified audience--those people looking for a single-family home in Seattle for a reasonable price. The second version, however, will attract a slightly broader audience. Still in Seattle and still looking for homes, this group is not necessarily looking for a single-family dwelling and they're not necessarily worried about price. They're just checking out homes in the Seattle area, and they're attracted by the size and convenience of the online database.

While the first ad may generate a higher visitor-to-sale conversion rate (the percentage of people clicking through who then sign up for the service) because it's more specific, the second ad will probably solicit more total click-throughs because it has a more general appeal. You'd have to test to see which version would pull the most sign-ups altogether.

Pumping Up Your Site's Marketing Copy

Rule #3: You must include a call to action.
Okay, that's easy enough. BUY NOW! There's a call to action. But hold on a minute. If it were that simple, everyone marketing online would be rich, and every online shopper would have to move into a bigger home to accommodate all that happily purchased stuff.

There are two very important things that you must include in your call to action:

Isn't "Buy now" exactly the action you want? Not necessarily. Think about what exactly it is that you're trying to do. Are you trying to generate leads? Do you want people to sign up for your free newsletter? Are you trying to attract a specific audience and hoping to convert as many of those people as possible into sales?

It's important to understand that all copy, if possible, should contain a call to action that clearly identifies what action is desired. I can't emphasize this enough. Think about the buttons on your site menu. Each one is a call to action. And they're all very important. If they're not as direct as possible, telling visitors specifically what to do, they'll be useless.

For example, if you have a button labeled "Sales," you're doing nothing but confusing your visitors, leaving them guessing whether you're referring to product sales (i.e., online ordering), products that are on sale (i.e., specials or discounts), or maybe the opportunity to sell your product (i.e., merchandising opportunities). But your visitors won't guess for long--why would they bother? They'll just leave your site.

If you change the button copy from "sales" to "order online," you're now asking visitors to take an action--to order your product. This clarifies the purpose of the button and tells the visitor what to do to get your product. Another example: Instead of writing "E-mail," you could ask visitors to "Contact Us." Again, you're asking visitors to take a specific action.

Of course, you won't always be able to include a call to action in every button; you won't always have the space. Your best bet in this case is to be as clear as possible. For example, it would be difficult to include a call to action in a button of your navigation menu that leads to your newsletter back issues. There would not be room to say "Click here now to read our newsletter back issues." So in this case, you'd just want to make sure your copy is clear. Label the button "Newsletter Back Issues" instead of "More" or "Old Stuff."

Now let's think about your links. Supposing "Buy now" is the action you want. You have to give people a reason to buy. Huge, garishly colored words on a screen won't do the trick; added benefits will. And in your links, you have a little more room to move. The call to action should remain the central focus of the link, but pack in as many benefits as possible around it. Something like this will win out every time over "Buy now":

"Click here now to claim your 'Golfer's Guide to the Green' and instantly receive the downloadable video that features up-close-and-personal interviews with pro golfers who reveal their hottest golfing secrets, guaranteed to improve your game in 2 weeks or your money back!"

Rule #4: You must pay attention to layout.
Making the most of your layout is especially important when you're writing short copy. The right blend of emphasis and information is the best way to attract viewers. Don't underestimate the effectiveness of bolding, italics, underlining, color and white space. But don't overdo it either.

For example, an offer to subscribe to your newsletter must be brief, compelling and effective. It will certainly not be the main feature of your webpage, so it must be attractive enough to grab the attention of a distracted reader. But it also needs to remain readable and informative, without a gross misuse of formatting tricks. If your ad has too much going on in it, it will look unattractive, unappealing and unprofessional--and the clutter will detract from the meaning of your message.

On the other hand, too little emphasis leaves you in danger of never catching anyone's eye. If your ad is totally boring, no one will ever even see it--and if they somehow do, they probably won't look at it long enough to find out what it's about.

So let's try to find a happy medium, emphasizing without crowding:

Subscribe to our FREE "Potato Farmer's" Newsletter
Subscribe today to the FREE "Potato Farmer's" newsletter, and on the first Tuesday of each month, you'll receive tips and strategies from industry leaders who'll reveal. Secrets for selling your crops for the highest profits! Tricks for cutting down the time you spend in the field! Cost-effective strategies for tripling your crop yield! Plus much, much more! Each issue contains tons of easy-to-implement techniques, guaranteed to reduce your expenses while dramatically increasing your annual income!
Click Here Now to Subscribe!

Catchy, effective and professional in appearance, this version draws your attention and doesn't distract you from the information it contains once you're there. The ad is clearly laid out and easy to read. The title is underlined and in blue, as is the link. (This is the standard way to handle links, and it lets the viewers know they can link to the sign-up page from either place.) Giving readers two chances to link through to your sign-up will always work better than one.

I've used only subtle formatting tricks to provide emphasis while keeping the ad visually appealing. The title of the newsletter is in quotation marks to give it additional emphasis. The main features of the newsletter--what you'll learn from the experts--are emphasized by the use of bullet points and a nice amount of white space. And the main benefits of the newsletter--reduce your expenses and dramatically increase your annual income--are italicized and strategically placed right before the call to action.

Because the call to action comes at the end of the ad, it is supported by all that came before it. And because it is the last bit of text and it is in blue, the viewer's eye is effectively drawn through the ad after being attracted by the title.

Of course, some of the formatting techniques discussed here are available only to people formatting their ads in HTML. Obviously, you have more options in HTML and can do pretty much whatever you like. But in a text format, you don't have the choice of adding color, bold, italics, etc. You do, however, have the ability to use characters, spacing, capitalization and indentation for effect.

So if we had to format our ad in text, it might look like this:

==================================================
"FREE Subscription to 'Potato Farmer's' Newsletter"
Subscribe today, and on the first Tuesday of each month,
you'll receive tips and strategies from INDUSTRY LEADERS
who'll reveal...
Secrets for selling your crops for the HIGHEST PROFITS!
Tricks for cutting down the time you spend in the field!
Cost-effective strategies for TRIPLING YOUR CROP YIELD!
Plus much, much more!
Each issue contains tons of easy-to-implement techniques, guaranteed to
REDUCE YOUR EXPENSES while dramatically INCREASING YOUR ANNUAL INCOME!
Visit http://www.PotatoFarmers.com to subscribe!
=================================================

Because we don't have the option of hyperlinking the text, effectively highlighting it in blue, I've moved the capitalized "FREE" to the beginning of the title to attract attention. I've also enclosed the headline in quotation marks for emphasis and put the newsletter title in single quotes (which should always be used inside double quotes). I've capitalized the benefits that were italicized in the HTML version and added a few more benefits to make the ad as eye-catching as possible. The general rule in text is to capitalize whatever you would have bolded or italicized in HTML, but be careful with your use of caps--they're difficult to read if used excessively.

Final Thoughts
So now that you know the secrets of fitting high-impact copy into small spaces, I'll let you in on another little secret . . . there's a lot more to learn! However, now that you have some of the basics under your belt, you should be able to start making dramatic improvements to your short copy . . . improvements that will attract a much bigger response and increased sales. If all your copy is written with the rules of benefits, audience, calls to action and layout in mind, you simply can't lose.

And remember: No amount of copy is so small that it can be overlooked. Every link, button, banner and classified ad is either making or breaking your marketing campaign as we speak.

Editor's Note: This article originally appeared on Entrepreneur.com as "Writing High-Impact Copy for Your Site."