Long form online sales letters have a bad rep. Many copywriters will roll their eyes at their bright red headlines, disingenuous storytelling and overblown hype that mercilessly preys on desperation and gullibility. It’s no wonder the format is often seen as the shady car salesman of copywriting.
But while we bemoan the rather scammy and, frankly, unethical approach of some long form sales pages to taking people’s money, the fact is they work. It’s true. In tests long form sales letters will frequently out pull a crisp and concise 300 word landing page. SEOMoz, for example, improved conversions 170 percent after changing to a classic long form sales letter style. With this in mind, is it time your website’s home page became a long form sales letter?
Long form sales letters contain your pitch in one page, rather than rely on visitors to piece it together themselves
A conventional website relies on visitors to click around, visiting separate pages to find out more about you, what you do and who you do it for, and then piece together your proposition themselves. A long form sales page, on the other hand, presents your entire pitch in one continuous flowing page. It grabs people by the hand and doesn’t let go until it’s taken them through your entire sales pitch, building trust, rapport and desire along the way.
Key aspects of a long form sales letter include:
Headlines focused on benefits rather than being clever
It’s believed that 80 percent of people will read the headline and only 20 percent will read the body copy. This reflects how vital the headline is in drawing people in and getting them to read the first line. So headlines must always focus on benefits and giving visitors a reason to read on.
Stating the problem
Sales letters take people on an emotional and psychological journey. This begins with an introduction that hits on the pain points and the problem the visitor wants to solve. Get them agitated and conscious of the need to find a solution.
Building rapport with storytelling
People prefer to buy from people they like, know or trust. The only way you can do this in a sales letter is to tell them who you are and how you can relate to their problem. Tell them a story about how you’ve battled with their issue yourself in real life, and what led you towards finding a solution. Give them a reason to listen to you and to trust your opinion.
Explaining why the existing solutions aren’t working
It’s likely visitors have looked elsewhere for answers before arriving on your site. If they haven’t found the answers they need, tell them why. Explain why existing (i.e. competitor) solutions aren’t working and why you offer a unique alternative. Hit again on their pain points and why other solutions they might have tried haven’t worked. Then open their minds to the possibility that a salvation to their problems awaits.
Give them the solution
Much like the unveiling of Apple’s latest gadget, reveal your product as being the optimum solution to their problem. Explain how it overcomes the barriers you’ve already mentioned and why there is simply nothing else like it on the market. Tell them how all their worries and fears will vanish and a new world beckons in which they’ll be happy, wealthy and fulfilled (I think we might be veering into hype territory here, so but on the brakes before you go too far. Unfulfilled promises just means lost trust and refunds in the long run).
Nobody is going to take your bold claims at face value. So give them proof. If you can, add logos of businesses that use your product or, at the least, testimonials from customers. Even better, provide links to case studies along with facts and figures on your solution’s success rate, particularly when targeting the B2B market.
Offering a 30 day ‘no questions asked’ guarantee can feel like you’re throwing away profits, particularly if you’re selling a digital product. But guarantees are proven to increase sales due to the removal of risk. The increase in sales you’ll gain from a solid guarantee will more than cover the inevitable refunds.
People, on the whole, are honest (and forgetful), and the majority wont ask for a refund if your product delivers. This puts an emphasis on the need to not make false claims and to sell a high value product that fulfills the promise you make, another reason why overblown hype is never sustainable in the long run.
Justify the cost
A classic example of behavioral economics is how restaurants will stock an expensive bottle of wine to give their other wine prices context. People are more likely to buy the second most expensive because they will feel they are splashing out without going overboard. You can use the same tactics by comparing the price of your product to the other solutions available. How does your product help them to save time and money compared to the alternatives? Give your price tag context that frames for the prospect why they are getting value for money.
But wait there’s more
A common long from sales letter tactic is to hit prospects with add-ons and bonuses if they buy from you today. You can do this in your sales letter as a final nudge towards whipping out their credit card or after they’ve made a purchase and have just felt the rush of spending money. Encouraging them to spend a little more is going to be much easier at this stage when they are in a warm, positive buying mood.
After the headlines, the most read section of the page is the P.S. at the end. This is because people will often scan through and then look for the closing summary. With this in mind, the P.S. should restate your offer in a different way and highlight the benefits they’ll gain.
Long form sales letters work – it’s about delivery, not the format
You’ll see these copywriting principles used over and again in long form sales letters. They’re proven to be effective, and there’s no reason why you can’t apply them to promote your own products and services, whether you sell eBooks, B2B software or golfing holidays.
It’s for this reason that a new generation of long form sales letter style home pages are emerging. Home pages that present the proposition in a single persuasive page, instead of relying on visitors to hop around to collect all the clues and solve the mystery of your offer on their own.
Along with SEOMoz, another great example of a modern long form sales letter is the AppSumo long from sales page. It uses many of the classic copywriting principles, including:
- A simple benefit laden headline
- Storytelling to build rapport and explain the problem
- Explaining why the status quo doesn’t work
- Why their solution is different and social proof to show they’re not just hot air
- A P.S. section in the form of a third party review, which restates the offer and the benefits buyers will gain.
As you can see from the AppSumo example, long form sales letters can be used in a way that’s classy, modern and will appeal to more sophisticated buyers. When organized correctly and applying all the key principles of copywriting in an ethical manner, they take visitors on a stroll through your entire sales pitch, leaving them better informed and interested at the end. With split testing tools freely available, isn’t it worth finding out whether it can do the same for you?
Video does convert. But it shouldn’t be left to do all the selling on its own
The rise of video as a marketing tool has led to many predicting the end of the long form sales letter. Who wants to read 2000 words when you can grab a coffee, sit back and just hit play? It is indeed true that video can dramatically boost conversions (with wild estimates of between 64 and 85 percent). While video is effective, it can’t do all the selling on its own. Many people will still want to read about your proposition and get the details they might have missed in the whistle stop tour of a promotional video.
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