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FutureNow Article
Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2008

1,000 Tips for Selling Online Without Paying a Copywriter

By Jeff Sexton
January 30th, 2008

no words here“Why do we — as web-builders — overlook even the most basic aspects of language so frequently when we build our sites? Is language so transparent in our lives that we fail to recognize its importance?” -Julia Hayden

The answer to Julia’s second question is yes. The omnipresence of language hides its overwhelming importance from us; it’s one of those “don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone” situations.

That’s why I recommend Netdisaster to anyone who wants to know if hiring a copywriter is “worth it.” Just enter the website’s URL, select “text sucker” as your preferred disaster, and let the magic vacuum do its thing.

This is what happens when you remove Amazon’s homepage copy:

This house is not a homepage

Think that’s bad? Look at what happens to a product page without copy:

failing to persuade

Pretty hard to use a website like that, isn’t it?

Intuitive graphic design is important, but let’s not forget the findings of Apple’s Human Interface Group*:

“In 1985, after finding that pretty but unlabeled icons confused customers, the Apple Computer Human Interface Group adopted the motto, “A word is worth a thousand pictures,” and a descriptive word or phrase was added beneath all Macintosh icons.”

So, the next time your boss or a prospective client fails to see the full value of Web copy, give ‘em a dose of the text sucker. This may be one situation where a picture truly is worth (more than) a thousand (persuasive) words.

Oh, right! I almost forgot the tips. Well, it’s actually the same tip 1,000 times over.

Tips #1 – 1,000: Don’t be cheap! Hire persuasive copywriters.

[*Editor's Note: We're not sure where the original quote is from, but perhaps Ankesh is. Also, if you're still looking for advice on how to sell online, here's the ultimate cheat sheet.]

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Comments (23)

  1. Great post Jeff. But could you please explain little bit about How someone select a particular copywriter. Or In brief what things you will like to communicate to copywriter for him/her to write good copy for you other than product features and benefits. There are lot of copywriters around but hard to find which one is really good. And people like me who don’t have great budget can not afford to try and test with different copywriters.

  2. Jeff,

    I was going to comment on how much I enjoyed this right-on-the-money post, but then I looked again at the title, “1,000 Tips for Selling Online Without Paying a Copywriter”, and I am forced to give your post the very lowest rating: you do not deliver on your promise! You promise a thousand tips on how to AVOID paying a copywriter, and yet ALL THOUSAND TIPS ADVISE US TO PAY A COPYWRITER. Clearly, you have failed utterly and totally to achieve your goal. So, sadly, I must give this post only 1 star. It was well written, though, and personally I agree with all thousand tips. But, you have totally misdirected and deceived all those many readers who rely on the fidelity of words to find their way through web pages such as this one. What would happen if a web page title said “Save $10 on your phone bill” and yet, when you loaded the page, actually added $10 to your phone bill? Think on that, my friend! This bad faith in language is a real problem, in my opinion, and you have just committed it in spades. I hope you’re happy! I hope you think of all the many thousands of disappointed readers of your post, hoping to save a buck or two, only to find out that they instead must spend a buck or two (or a thousand).

  3. Jeff, I enjoyed your post, it kind of had a hook on the end of it for a ‘got ya’. Sometime, some of us, (me) do need to have things drilled into our heads, even a 1000 times, before the light bulb starts to come on. Must be due to hardness of the head……

  4. Jim,

    You’re right, the title is somewhat misleading. However, those looking to write their own copy can avail themselves of the cheat sheet provided in the comments, and I think this more than delivers on the literal promise of the title. As for the title’s end (or real) promise of helping the reader to save money, taking to heart the message of the post will save readers more money than they could ever hope to find by skimping on the copywriter.

    All in all, I hardly think that the title’s play on words equates to “bad faith.”

  5. Jeff,

    My comment was meant to be humorous. The title of your post is NOT misleading, it was a lead-in to a very important topic. Your post was excellent. My humor was meant to play on the posts’ own play on the title. I apologize if my comment was inappropriate in this context, and I totally agree that the titles’ play on words does NOT equate to “bad faith”, but rather works very well to make a point. I was hoping that my comment would follow suit in highlighting that point. Apparently, I failed. Please accept my apology.

  6. Jim,

    Please accept my apology for your apology. I wrote the post’s headline in a vain attempt to snag the attention of those marketers and business owners who are constantly looking for the cheap-and-easy way out of building a website, then blame the developer and designer when it doesn’t perform, before hiring some reluctant SEO firm to “optimize” a site that was built on a foundation of balsa wood, mud, sticks, and stock photos.

    Our hearts go out to these people. They’ve been lied to; lied to by amateur firms who promise clients the world with minimal effort and investment; lied to by amateur “copywriters” who drive down the market’s expectation of what copy that SELLS is really worth.

    That being said, I’m going to have to apologize for my apology for your apology. Jeff and I stand by our prank! ;)

    -Editor, GrokDotCom

  7. Robert Gorell,

    No apology of any kind necessary! I wholeheartedly stand with the both of you in support of this prank. It’s great, for exactly the reasons you enumerate. I liked the title!

  8. That text sucker tool is very interesting. I think it is also a good tool to find out how well your design is – specifically at grabbing initial attention. I totally agree with you though, copy is one of the most overlooked aspects of online marketing that is simple yet complex at the same time.

  9. When people search online, most often they are seeking information. They want facts and details, and if they don’t find that at your website, they’ll simply click away and find a site that answers their questions. Pictures are nice, but it’s the words that actually persuade the visitor to go from tire-kicker to enthusiastic buyer. A professional copywriter doesn’t COST you money; they MAKE you money by increasing your sales!

  10. Hi Ladies Scarves,

    It can be tough to find a great copywriter. It can be even tougher to find a great copywriter who knows how to sell.

    I’d suggest you go with a writer who has marketing agency experience. Not necessarily AD agency experience…but someone who knows direct marketing. Someone who knows how to generate response.

    And here’s a tip…if a writer only wants to know about your features and benefits, they’re NOT the writer for you.

    Because people don’t buy features and benefits. They buy solutions to their real or perceived problems. Every one of your prospects lives in her own “me-centered universe.”

    I spend MUCH more time interviewing my clients about their PROSPECTS than I do about their features and benefits. (That’s collateral fodder.)

    Tell me what keeps your prospect awake at night. Or what he worries about happening if things stay as they are. Pain in the present, and the fear of pain in the future, are the two most motivational emotional states that get people to pull the trigger on a purchase. (To a lesser extent, pleasure in the present and the desire for pleasure in the future can also motivate a purchase.)

    And here’s a dirty little secret about direct response copywriting…if you’re asking me to go to take the wrong message to the wrong person, you’re wasting your money on my brilliant copywriting. The quality of your lead (or list, in the case of DM) is responsible for 40% of your response rate. The relevance of your offer to your prospect? Another 40% of your response. Creative (copywriting and design) only generates 20% of your response.

    So…to (finally) answer your question…find a writer who understands how to drive response…who understands the relationship between lead generation, offer and creative.

    To start, you could search for providers on Elance with the keywords “sales letter.” Anyone who writes sales letters (well, successful ones!) would be a good candidate for your sales copy.

    Ask them what they need to know to get started writing your copy. And if they just say, “send me your brochure, I just need features and benefits,” move on.

    Hope this helps!

  11. Here’s a tip for you, Jeff: Don’t lie to your readers. You said “1,000 Tips…” But readers don’t get a thousand tips. Or even one. Just a smartass remark by you.

    You think you’re witty, clever, and smarter than us. But you’re wrong. Because you trash your own integrity. And disgusted readers vote with their wallets.

    If you lie even in your headline to get us to read about you, why should we think you’ll be honest in providing good value if we pay you good money?

  12. Kathleen, that was a very useful, concise guide. Every small business person who wants to be more successful with their marketing communications should read it! A great addition to Jeff’s article. All too often people get obsessed with the technical side of Internet marketing and forget that they need words, salespeople in print, too! Text Sucker is a great tool; new me to me, thanks Jeff.
    Chris, marketing lecturer / consultant, in Prague.

  13. Thanks, Chris! I appreciate the kudos. :)

    I’d say about half of my business involves translating organization-centric, chest-thumping silo-speak into customer-centric English.

    It’s not hard; but it’s amazing how seldom it’s done. How many big corporations inflict their internal organization structure on their customers? Most of them!

    When I write copy, I have a picture of the prospect in my head…and the prospect is saying, “it’s all about me…it’s all about me…it’s all about me.”

    My own Elance profile is written in the same way. So at at least once a week, my phone rings, and a prospect says, “I read your profile and it was like you were INSIDE MY HEAD!” I HAD to call you!”

  14. My pleasure, Kathleen. I work with small companies, here, and, if anything, they’re even worse when it comes to WE-WEing. 8-( Someone I once tried to work with — and who instinctively understood sales but NOT, alas, marketing — got one thing right which I always teach my students: remember all your potential customers are tuned in to their favourite radio station: WII FM . . . What’s In It For Me! My students usually remember that!
    Chris, marketing lecturer / consultant, in Prague.

  15. Joel,

    Well, you’ve proven me wrong: I disregarded Brian Clark’s advice on avoiding humor, thinking that surely my readers would “get’ the intended play on words as well as the importance of the underlying message itself. Unfortunately, your comments vividly illustrate Brian’s wisdom.

    Just for the record, there are no good tips on “How to drink poison,” Joel. At least other than, “don’t do it.” The same can be said for attempting to sell online without the services of a competent copywriter. If you actually came to this post expecting to find tips on how to do that, then the one tip I offered you wasn’t smart-assed in the slightest; it was truly the very wisest and best-intentioned advice you could have received. And if it had to be repeated to you a thousand times until you “got it” (or displayed for you in a “can’t miss” illustration, putatively worth its weight in repetition), then that still represents better advice than any other tips you could have found on the subject.

    If, on the other hand, you weren’t trying to get away without a copywriter, but were trying to fill that job yourself and were willing to commit to a study of the craft, then I DID present readers of the post with a link to a treasury of useful copywriting articles and tips.

    Of course, if you don’t want to accept my explanations, as indeed you would seem not to as this has already been mentioned in the comments to the post, then
    Meryl has presented a nice summary and explanation
    over on her always-worth-reading blog, as well.

    And that’s all I have to say on this, Joel. Sorry for your unmet expectations.


  16. [...] That’s why the strategy we’re pursuing this year is relationships. Writing is often not valued until you see what things look like without it. (Here’s an extreme example.) [...]

  17. [...] So, "web copy" refers to any and all words published on your website. And without it, your website looks something like this. [...]

  18. This post at Wordout uses the same literary technique as your title, and I thought it worked out well at first. But even though the first sentence begins “You Won’t Find That Here, You’ll Find Something Better” I’ve discovered that those people who search for that don’t want something that works. They want what they want, even if it means they get exactly what they do not want, if that makes any sense.

    Visitors to that page typically spend less than 5 seconds before bouncing. That’s sad, as the page actually has ways of easily speeding their system.

    I’d be curious to know what kind of stats this post accumulates over the next few months, as it gets traffic from search.

  19. [...] not always the case. Words are the most fundamental blocks of our communication. To prove this Jeff Sexton at Future Now asked, “What happens when you take the words [...]

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  22. Please accept my apology for your apology. I wrote the post’s headline in a vain attempt to snag the attention of those marketers and business owners who are constantly looking for the cheap-and-easy way out of building a website, then blame the developer and designer when it doesn’t perform, before hiring some reluctant SEO firm to “optimize” a site that was built on a foundation of balsa wood, mud, sticks, and stock photos.

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Jeff is a Persuasion Architect, Web copywriter, blogger, and instructor of FutureNow's Persuasive Online Copywriting workshop. Follow Jeff Sexton on twitter

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