Book Excerpt: Web Copy That Sells: The Revolutionary Formula for Creating Killer Copy Every Time

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It is not your customers' job to remember you. It is your obligation and responsibility to make sure they don't have the chance to forget you.-- Patricia Fripp

Whenever I refer to Web copy, I am using an umbrella term that includes not only Web site copy, but also e-mails that sell, opt-in offers, newsletters, e-zines, online ads (including pop-ups), autoresponder messages, free reports or promotional articles, search engine listings, signature files, and so on. These can represent as much as 90 percent of the sales you can make online.

Of all the components that make up the Web copy mix, e-mail marketing is, in my opinion, the most important. For that reason, I believe writing e-mail copy is crucial to your online success, whether you are a Web copywriter or an Internet marketer.

Traffic Conversion: Turning Visitors Into Customers

On the Internet, there are two fundamental ways of acquiring Web site sales: The first is to generate traffic to your Web site (traffic generation), and the second is to convert your Web site visitors into customers (traffic conversion).

Web copywriting is the primary element of traffic conversion. Make no mistake about it, as a Web copywriter, your primary function is as a traffic converter. After all, what good is all the traffic in the world if you can't get visitors to your site do what you want them to do when they get there?

Traffic generators are those things that drive traffic to a Web site. Traffic generators include high search engine rankings, investing in pay-per-click search engines, affiliate marketing, e-zine advertising, joint-venture endorsements, and similar devices. There are thousands of ways to generate traffic. When you write marketing communications such as free reports, promotional articles, online ads, newsletters or e-zines, SIG files, and search engine listings, you assume the secondary role of traffic generator.

Wagging the Web Site

Whenever I discuss e-mail marketing, I always mention "Wag the Dog," a movie starring Robert de Niro as a political operative and Dustin Hoffman as a movie producer, whose characters come together to promote the sagging candidacy of the president. De Niro hatches a scheme that, with the help of Hoffman and the magic of Hollywood smoke and mirrors, fools the American public and the highest branches of the U.S. government into believing there is a war going on, setting in motion a huge chain of events. Thus, the tail (de Niro) is wagging the dog (the United States). The metaphor of the tail (a small, relatively insignificant appendage) wagging the dog, finds parallels in Web commerce, particularly in the dynamic between e-mail and a Web site.

On the Internet, what do online businesses pay the most attention to and spend the most money on? The Web site, of course, because that's the highly visible component of the marketing mix. The Web site is where a business displays its products and services; it's where you close the sale and take the orders. E-mail, on the other hand, is not glamorous and is therefore viewed as merely a supporting component of the marketing process, which is a big mistake.

Most online entrepreneurs and writers overlook the significance of e-mail, and as a result, they write e-mails haphazardly, almost as an afterthought. They regard e-mail as something that supports the objectives of the Web site, or as a vehicle for customer service, or as a way to send out special announcements. In other words, they regard e-mail as a low-cost, inconsequential accessory to their Web presence (like the tail of a dog, for instance).

While e-mail can and does make a fine supporting actor, used properly it can assume a starring role as the primary sales tool. E-mail can be used to direct what happens on your site, not vice versa. In essence, you can use e-mail to "wag the Web site."

Why Your E-Mail May Be More Important Than Your Web Site

I'm not suggesting by any means that a Web site is not important or that you should forget about putting one up. I am saying that if you rely exclusively on a Web site for your sales without using the power of e-mail to fuel those sales, your Internet business is not going to get very far.

E-mail marketing is a hot item in e-commerce. A layperson may think of commercial e-mail as spam, but to the marketing industry, e-mail is a gold mine that allows companies to speak personally and directly to prospects and customers and to carry on a relationship that contributes significantly to sales.

As you know, chances are, less than 1 percent of visitors to your site will ever buy your product or service. Even the best marketers with the most successful Web sites seldom convert more than 5 percent of their Web visitors into customers when their Web site is their only marketing vehicle. That's why an opt-in mechanism is vital for capturing your visitors' contact information, developing a relationship with them, and, as a result, dramatically increasing the chance of ultimately making the sale.

In view of this, writing powerful e-mail copy is one of the most important skills required for doing business on the Web. You should never write e-mail haphazardly. If you do, you'll be leaving a lot of money on the table. Here's why:

1. Virtually every person who is online sends and receives e-mail, but not everyone surfs the Web. E-mail provides greater visibility for any Internet marketer. E-mail is also a far better vehicle than a Web site for distributing and collecting information, as well as for developing a dedicated following.

2. Relationship marketing is at the very heart of all e-commerce. You simply can't build a relationship solely through your Web site, no matter how many interactive bells and whistles it has. E-mail, on the other hand, builds relationships. To produce an income, a Web site relies on people visiting and revisiting the site. You may have heard the saying, "The money is in the list." What it means is that when you leverage your relationship with the prospects in your database (your list), you are more likely to close a sale. That's because you give people a chance to know you and trust you. Even if your Web site gets only modest traffic, you can convert that traffic into more money than you can imagine through e-mail.

3. While it's true that a Web site makes the front-end sale, you'll be missing out on 90 percent or more of the potential profits if you don't use e-mail to fan the flames. The real selling starts after the first sale is made, by multiplying that one sale into many, many more sales through follow-up e-mails. This is why the lifetime value of the customer -- not the first sale -- is paramount.

Lifetime Value of a Customer. How do you calculate the lifetime value (LTV) of a customer? First, you figure out how many years your average customer does business with you (customer lifetime). Next, you estimate how much business you'll get from the average customer over that period of time (sales per customer). Then you factor in the number of referrals the average customer gives your company and multiply that by the percentage of those referrals that become customers. The formula will look like this:

Customer lifetime x sales per customer x number of referrals x percentage of referrals that become customers = LTV

Let's plug in some hypothetical figures for an online bookstore:

Customer lifetime = 10 years

Sales per customer (per year) = $50

Number of referrals made by average customer = 4

Percentage of referrals that become customers = 26%

10 x $50 x 4 x 0.26 = $520

Next, subtract the cost of books sold, say $403, and that gives the bookstore a gross margin (gross profit) of $117 per customer. That's the LTV of one customer to that bookstore.

If each customer has an LTV of $117, then the bookstore can easily determine how much it can reasonably spend to acquire each new customer and still make a profit over the lifetime of that customer. The profits probably won't come with the first sale. They may not even come in the first year, since the cost of acquiring a customer can be high, but if you build strong relationships and offer quality products and services, over the life of the customer, you should reap handsome rewards.

Note: If the bookstore sells other things, CDs, DVDs, stationery, greeting cards, and so on, each new category introduces new revenue streams and significantly increases the potential lifetime revenue from a customer.

4. E-mail helps you keep the customers you have. It costs much less to keep an existing customer than to acquire a new one. As mentioned in Chapter 3, according to eMarketer, it costs five to 10 times as much to find a new customer as it does to retain an existing one. Additionally, loyal customers are more profitable to your business because they usually buy more of your company's products, are less sensitive to price, and often refer other customers. They usually take less of your customer service time because they're already familiar with your company.

5. An increasing number of traditional brick-and-mortar companies are discovering that a Web site is simply not sufficient for success in e-commerce. The Internet's killer application -- e-mail -- is now the primary vehicle for interactive marketing. Why? E-mail is a high-response-rate vehicle because it's in-your-face, immediate, and inexpensive. It sells, promotes, informs, creates buzz, acquires and retains customers, reinforces branding, and provides customer service all in one fell swoop.

Forrester Research reports that by the year 2005, the amount of commercial e-mail sent to U.S. consumers alone will grow to 40 times its 2002 volume. Therefore, it makes sense to maximize the impact of your e-mail messages, or you'll be buried alive in the mountains of e-mail that people get.

Having a mailing list of prospects does not mean you will automatically make money. That's not what "The money is in the list" means. The money is indeed in the list, but only if you know how to leverage that list through e-mail copy that deepens your relationship with the members of your list. You do this first and foremost by getting them to like you and gaining their trust.

In your e-mail, you can also use the same psychological devices you use when writing Web copy, but if you fail to get your e-mail audience to like and trust you, you won't make sales. It's as simple as that.

How many times have you bought products that you didn't particularly like, want, or need just because you liked and trusted the people who were selling them to you. Ralph Wilson, who according to The New York Times is "among the best-known publishers and consultants who preach the responsible use of e-mail for marketing," exemplifies this premise. In addition to his reputation for providing outstanding marketing content in his Web site (, he is well liked, trusted, and respected by hundreds of thousands of subscribers to his three e-mail newsletters (Web Marketing Today, Doctor Ebiz, and Web Commerce Today), something that undoubtedly contributes to the success of his online enterprises.

WEB COPY THAT SELLS: The Revolutionary Formula for Creatomg Killer Copy Every Time ©2005 Maria Veloso. Published by AMCOM Books,, Division of American Management Association, 1601 Broadway, New York, NY 10019. All rights reserved.


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