Tell and Sell

You are here:
Module 2: How to Plan a Website That Sells
Section 2: Your Customers and Your Website
Post 4: Tell and Sell

Images sell. But they can only go so far.

Words are the real workhorses. You must show and tell if you want to sell.

Design grabs attention. Content holds their attention and moves them forward if you do it right.

Write like a real person to a real person

Here’s a little mental exercise to engage in every time you think about copy for your website:

Remember the customer persona you created? (If you want to refer to it, just go to Part 2 – How to Attract the Customers You Want – in the Differentiate Your Brand Guidebook from Module 1.)

Picture yourself with that person. If you do business face-to-face, picture that setting. If it’s some other way, call that image up in your mind.

What would you say? How would you say it?

What questions would they ask? How would they say it?

This is how you need to write on your website. And never forget to…

Dumb it down – not because your customers
are dumb, but because they’re so busy.

They don’t have time (or they won’t take the time) to decode your message. So remember the K.I.S.S. principle:

Keep it super simple!

You understand the complexity of what you do. But you have to be able to communicate its features and benefits simply and clearly.

It should be so clear that a fifth grader can understand it. Even better, make it so simple that they can explain it themselves!

Here are three keys to writing as a real person to real people:

  • Your company doesn’t do anything

As a real person writing to real people, remember that your company doesn’t do anything. People do everything!

So don’t say: “Acme Consulting has a proven track record…” Instead say, “We have a proven track record…”

Which one would you say in real life? The first one is stiff. The second is conversational. Yet the copy on most websites is like the first.

You want yours to come across as friendly. So use “I” or “we” instead of your business name or other formalities.

Before we move on to the next point, here’s something to know about “I” and “we” – “we” makes you sound bigger. So if you provide a very personal or exclusive experience, “I” may be better.

And don’t think you can’t use “we” if you’re a solo entrepreneur.

After all, you still have suppliers. You may work with a coach or coaches. You may partner with other professionals to deliver your product or service.

There are a whole lot of people at work in just about every business. So “we” is appropriate.

Of course – when you’re telling your story or talking about something you personally did, you’ll use “I”.

  • “You” trumps “me”

The sweetest word to any person is his or her name. You won’t be able to call your customers by name on your website.

However, you can use the second sweetest word – “you” or some version of it. All persuasive communication should be written with the “you-view” in mind.

So if you want a website that sells, you’ll want to talk about “you” and “your” much more than “me” and “mine”. How can you be sure you do this?

Count – literally! Count the number of times you use words which refer to your customer (you, your) and how many times you mention yourself (we, our).

In most cases, you-view terms should far outnumber me-view terms.

  • Communicate with customers, not competitors

This may surprise you – we’ve seen many websites which are written to competitors, not customers. They don’t do it knowingly, of course. It’s just that…

They’re so used to talking the way they talk, they don’t think a thing about it. They understand the jargon, the lingo and the buzz words. So do their competitors.

Unfortunately, their customers don’t. They get confused. When people get confused on your website, they leave.

So take off your industry cap. You’re not at a conference. It’s more like an expo.

Potential customers are walking by your booth. You need to capture their attention.

Others are already in it. You need to keep their attention and move them forward.

How can you do these things? With clear communication.

Remember this – the best marketing engages future customers in the conversation they’re already having in their own minds.

They’re not talking jargon. They’re speaking plain English. If you use their language, they’ll do business with you.

There’s a trap which is easy to fall into when writing for the web – you only see the computer, not the real person behind the computer.

Avoid this trap by keeping your customer persona in front of you whenever you write copy for your website.

Start short and sweet, lead to long and luscious

Long story short, short copy sells better…except when it doesn’t.

As a general rule: start short and sweet. Lead to long and luscious. In other words:

Summarize early. Get specific later.

Think about your buyer’s journey. When buyers first become aware of you, they want simple, short and sweet. Spark their curiosity!

Then let them click through for more details. When we’re ready to buy, we want specifics. We have questions. We need answers!

If you get too specific too early, you’ll destroy trust.
If you’re not specific enough later, they’ll lose patience.
In either case, you lose them – perhaps forever.

So if you want to move them from browser to buyer, you’ll need longer, relevant (i.e. luscious) copy. How long? It depends on two things:

  • Complexity

The more complex your product or service, the more you’ll probably need to explain – in simple words, of course. Buyers won’t buy if they don’t understand.

  • Cost

The higher your selling price, the more information you’ll likely need. You have to convince people of its value before they’ll commit.

Keep in mind – all of this depends on your purpose for your website and the page they’re on. For example:

You may not “sell” your product or service on your website. You may “sell” a free report in exchange for their email address.

There’s much less complexity and no cost to that sale. So you can get by with relatively shorter copy. Sell the benefits of the report. Then you can continue the conversation in subsequent mailings.

Once upon a time leads to happily ever after

Stories sell. We talked about this in Module 1. (To review the stories you recorded, go to Part 2 – The One Thing Your Customers Really Want to Know – of the Create Messages That Sell Guidebook from Module 1.)

Stories are like images. They reinforce your copy.

So tell stories to give your content a boost. Of course, you’ll want to keep in mind what we just said about length. But sometimes, a short testimonial is all it takes to persuade a visitor to take the next step.

Watch your adjectives and adverbs

Boy, this is starting to sound like school!

Just in case grammar class is a little foggy – an adjective is a word which adds to a noun, an adverb does the same for a verb. For example, “fast” is an adjective in “fast service” and an adverb in “deliver fast.”

Here are some rules about adjectives and adverbs to keep in mind as you think about copy for your website:

  • Eliminate them if you can

As you look over your copy, ask yourself: How much does this word add to the meaning? If it’s not significant, ditch it.

Same message. Fewer words. Better results.

  • Use them to spark emotion

Remember – we humans buy on emotion. We rationalize with logic. So use an adjective or adverb to spark an emotion.

For example, “There are few things as precious as your files. Your time is one of them.” They go on: “Keep your files protected automatically, with Secure Cloud Backup from Carbonite.”

Note how the words “precious,” and “secure” make you feel. They definitely add immensely to the copy, don’t they?

  • Support your superlatives

Be very careful about using superlatives. If you can’t support it, don’t say it.

For example, don’t say “best pasta” in town unless you cite the source. Otherwise, think about alternatives: “home-made pasta” or “pasta made daily from our family recipe.” It’s just as bankable, perhaps more so.

Headlines & Lead Ins

As we said when we talked about the most valuable space on your website – writing for the web is different than the way we learned to write in school.

The most important copy on every page is your headline. It must be so compelling that your website visitors just can’t resist it – they have to know more.

So they go on to the most important paragraph on every page – the first paragraph. It’s the lead-in for the rest of your content. You may even want the font size for this paragraph to be bigger than the rest.

You’ll want to spend a disproportionate amount of time on your headlines and lead paragraphs. Sure, they’re a tiny part of all your content.

But they’re responsible for 100% of your sales. Visitors must pass them to get to your call-to-action.

How to drive your site visitors away

We would be remiss if we didn’t talk about one of the most certain ways to drive visitors away from your website. It’s the dreaded wall of text – line after line of copy with no breaks.

You’ll want to make sure you plan to break up your pages by using:

  • Images

Not just any image, of course. It must support the copy or it will detract from it.

  • Short paragraphs

As a general rule, keep your paragraphs to four lines or less. Then start another one.

  • Headers

Headers will be bold and in a bigger font than the text around it. Try to include a header after every three or four paragraphs.

  • Bullet points

Include bulleted lists rather than paragraphs of copy when you can, like we’re doing here.

All of these things create white space. They give your site visitors room to breathe and make your pages more appealing to the eye.

While design is certainly important, it’s your copy that converts ultimately. So think about your future customers, at each stage of their journey.

What do they need to know to move forward? Put the answers in writing. Tell and sell!

Next Step

Congratulations! You’ve completed the reading for Section 2 of Module 2. Here’s what to do to complete it:

  • Go to the You and Your Website Guidebook. Complete Part 4 (if you’ve been doing each part as you go) or Parts 1 – 4 (if you read straight through).
  • Then you’ll be ready to move on to Section 3 of this second module – Search Engines and Your Website.

Of course – if you have any questions, email us at
with “BTS QUESTION” in the subject line.

Show and Sell

You are here:
Module 2: How to Plan a Website That Sells
Section 2: Your Customers and Your Website
Post 3: Show and Sell

In the original Wall Street movie, Gordon Gekko (played by Michael Douglas) is in his limousine with Bud Fox (Charlie Sheen). Gekko is making a point about success, as they are driven through the streets of New York.

He points to two men, standing on a busy corner. One is in a well-fitted suit, briefcase in hand. He looks clean and fresh. The other is digging through a trash can. He’s the opposite of the first man.

Gekko points at them and says, “You gonna tell me the difference between this guy and that guy is luck?”

We could launch into a social commentary here, but that’s not the point. The fact is – we judge people instantly by their look. Just like we judge books by their cover. And…

People judge your website by its appearance.

We discussed this in the first post of this Module – in the first split second on your site, people are already forming an impression of your brand.

Study after study shows that what people say and what they actually do are two different things. The reality is:

Content drives their ultimate experience. But early on, their opinions are based on the visual look and feel of your website.

Here’s an important principle to understand:

Trust is destroyed with poor design.
Trust is built with great content.

So design is defense. It won’t help you win the game, but it allows you to keep playing (i.e. the visitor stays on your site). Content is offense. It’s how you win them over.

In this post, we’ll talk about the visual part of your site. Don’t worry – we’re not trying to turn you into a web designer.

We do want you to understand what design that sells looks like. Then we can put together the pieces so you get a truly exceptional website.

What destroys trust on a website?

94% of the factors which form the first impression are related to design, according to research. [PDF]

Trust-destroying factors include:

  • Inappropriate name for the website
  • Complex, busy layout
  • Lack of navigation aids
  • Boring web design, especially use of color
  • Pop-up advertisements
  • Slow loading
  • Small font
  • Too much text
  • Corporate look and feel
  • Poor search capabilities

These factors are based specifically on a study of health sites. But a broader study [PDF] of various industries confirmed the importance of design in establishing credibility.

Out of 24 factors, “design look” was the #1 factor with nearly half (46.1%) of the study’s participants. They wanted clean, professional looking sites with related graphics that aren’t out-of-date or too flashy.

Now that you’re convinced of the importance of good design, let’s discuss some items to consider for your website.

Accentuate the negative for a positive user experience

Clutter creates confusion. So you don’t want your layout to be too busy or you’ll risk driving visitors away.

You can avoid this with white space. White space – also known as negative space – is the portion of a page left open.

It’s the area between your copy, photos, columns, etc. By leaving white space around a particular item, you make it stand out more than if other elements are crammed up against it. In other words…

White space helps visitors determine what’s important.

White space gives your visitors room to breathe. It’s especially important if you sell elegance or sophistication.

We can look to the real world for an example of this. Generally, upscale stores leave more room between the merchandise than a discount store. The same is true online – more white space creates the feeling of higher value.

Many business owners and professionals don’t understand the use of white space. It may be a carryover to the days when they crammed as much as they could into an ad.

After all, they were paying good money for it. White space was considered wasted space.

Ironically, their ads probably would have pulled better with more white space. But we digress. You don’t have the same constraints on your website as you do in a print ad or direct mailer.

You want each screen – what a visitor sees on their computer – to draw attention to what’s important. White space helps you do that.

Size sells (and so does contrast)

BIGG and bold will always get more attention than dinky and dull. For example, all else equal:

  • Bigger trumps smaller
  • Contrast conquers complementary

We’ll start with images to help you understand these two points. First, which box draws your attention in this photo:

Image - Size

It’s the second one from the left, right? A bigger image will get more attention than a smaller one, all else equal.

Rather than using size to call attention, you can also use contrast:

Image - Contras

All these boxes are the same size. Yet the second one stands out, doesn’t it? A contrasting color will grab the eye faster than a complementary one.

But these principles aren’t restricted to images:

Font - Size

Font - Contrast

You’ll want to remember these two as you think about your compelling value proposition and call-to-action. For example, some people argue that the best call-to-action button is BOB. BOB is an acronym for BIGG Orange Button.

However, the most famous test of call-to-action buttons was reported on Hubspot:

CTA Button Test

As you can see, the two pages are exactly the same with one exception – the one on the left used a green call-to-action button while the one on the right had a red button.

They tested the button on over 2,000 visitors. Was there any difference?

The red button got 21% more clicks!

What’s the takeaway? Only use a red button? No. Use what works for you.

Just realize that it will probably be a contrasting color. Notice the red really jumps off the page at you whereas the green complements the other colors more.

Many business owners and professionals unwittingly sacrifice profitability for prettiness. You’ll get better results if you use contrasting colors to make your most important elements pop.

Another way to use contrast is to document before and after. Some products and services naturally lend themselves to this type of comparison.

But almost every business can find ways of doing this. For example – let’s say you provide a service for business owners. Last year, you increased their profit margin from 3% to 7%. Instead of just saying it, show it!

Profit Pennies

Break the pattern

As we said in the last post, website visitors want simple and familiar. It lends credibility to you, your business and your website.

But we humans are fascinating creatures. Our brains are wired to look for patterns. Once we find one, we get bored quickly.

And you know what people do when they get bored on your website? They leave.

So break the pattern to give them the variety they crave. How do you do this?

Think in screens. They may start above the fold on your Home page. Then they scroll down or click through to another page. You probably don’t want it to look exactly the same.

A simple way to break up the monotony is to rotate images left and right. Apple is a master of this. They use this style for a lot of their services. For example, here’s a snippet from iTunes:


You’re seeing below the fold here. It’s the second screen which you would only see if you scrolled down.

The key for you is: Make sure your website mixes it up.

Say “cheese” to avoid being cheesy

All photos are not created equal. A lot of business owners and professionals think this is the reason to use stock photos.

But they’re generally worth only one word: cheesy. Research reveals that people ignore them.

Many businesses think photos of “pretty people” are the way to go. But actually, it’s just the opposite.

Photos of normal people will get more attention than pictures of models. So assuming you’re normal, say “cheese” to avoid being cheesy – make sure your photo is on your site. If you have employees, we suggest that you include them as well.

Remember – business today is personal. We engage more digitally than in person these days. But your current and future customers still want to see who they’re doing business with. Photos of you and your people fill this void.

Accounting software-as-a-service provider Freshbooks is a great example of this. They have a photo and bio for all of their employees under their About tab.

Note that it’s not a team photo. These can quickly become outdated. For example – if you add a new employee, the team photo is now dated. So we recommend individual photos.

WHERE you see is what they get

When you’re face-to-face and you want to sincerely communicate with someone, what do you do?

Look them straight in the eyes!

You’ll want to do the same thing in your photos on your website. Research shows that people connect with you better if you’re looking right at them.

No fancy shot will work as well. No need to worry about which is “your best side.” Just look straight into the camera.

Here’s a snippet from the Home page for 37 Signal’s Highrise customer relationship management product:

Eyes - Straight

You instantly see a customer telling you about their experience, while looking you straight in the eye. Real people telling real stories build real trust.

However, there is one exception to this rule. You can use the eyes to direct your website visitors.

They will look at whatever the person in the photo is looking at. So point them to something important.

Here’s one of the best examples we’ve ever seen of this. It comes from dating site

Eyes - Directing

Note how this plays to what we discussed in the last article. Your eyes naturally start in the middle looking right at the person in the photo.

You can’t help but look at what her eyes are pointing to. They take you the primary purpose of this page: sign up to take their free test.

Of course, arrows will serve the same purpose. But doesn’t feel more personal with a human directing you?

They can’t touch your products, but they need to feel them

You’ve probably been somewhere – maybe even a retail store – and saw a sign with the following message:

Do not touch.

It’s a daunting sign (especially when you’re a kid). Doesn’t it just make you want to touch all the more?

Bricks-and-mortar retailers thrive on consumers touching their products. Research shows you’re more likely to buy an item you’ve held in your hand. And the longer you hold it, the more you’ll pay!

You don’t have the luxury of touch online. However, you can make your customers feel your products. How?

We’ll use Apple once again. When they launched the MacBook Air, they highlighted its unique advantage with this photo:

MacBook Air Envelope

They knew they were competing on size, not power. So they showed someone pulling their computer out of an envelope.

You can’t touch it. But can you feel how small and light it is? It lives up to its name!

Here’s another thing to think about when it comes to showcasing your products online: bigger photos tend to sell better with one caveat. (We’ll get to that in just a minute.)

So instead of four columns of products, think three. Instead of three, try two. These can be products you’re highlighting with a specific strategy in mind. Here are some examples – they may be:

  • seasonal
  • trending
  • loss leaders (if your strategy is to be a low-cost provider)
  • high turning products (you feature them so customers find them quickly)
  • your most profitable products (the ones you really want to sell)

So bigger product images are better – as long as they don’t get in the way. Then people ignore them.

However, testing shows people will click on a link to a larger photo. But many site proprietors don’t make them large enough – they should be at least twice as large as the regular photo.

In addition, picture a person picking up your product in the physical world. Would they just look at it from one point-of-view?

If not, show shots from alternative angles. You might even consider letting them see it from a 360 degree view using a low-cost service like

If you sell products, make them the stars! Spotlight them by helping customers feel what they’re like.

Don’t overlook video

Video is growing rapidly as a marketing tool. It’s becoming pervasive. In fact, video is used by more marketers than live demos by their reps.


Susan Weinschenk (aka The Brain Lady) is a consumer behavior psychologist. She’s worked with major companies in retail (e.g. Best Buy, Kohls, Target, Walmart), financial services (American Express, American Family, Charles Schwab, Vanguard) and more.

She says there are four reasons why videos sell. We humans love:

  • Faces

She says our brain is hard-wired to pay attention to faces. They help us gather information and judge believability.

  • Voices

When you bring voice to your content, it comes alive. We’re better able to process the information we’re receiving.

  • Body language

We convey emotions through our body language. We naturally connect to people through the experience.

  • Motion

Our species survived by paying attention to motion. So movement appeals to an old part of our brain.

Of course, video alone probably won’t do the trick. It supplements all your other great content.

Why doesn’t video stand alone? Because most people won’t watch it.

But your most interested prospects very well may. And aren’t you most interested in moving your most interested prospects along?

Now, don’t think you need to go out and spend a bunch of money on professional videos. There may be times when it’s appropriate. But don’t neglect home-made, informative videos either.

Invest in your front door

We know a successful real estate developer who taught us an important lesson. He spent a disproportionate share of his budget on the entrance of the buildings he owned.

Why? Because he understands first impressions. He knows people who have a positive first impression subconsciously bring that into every interaction.

You know all of that. We talked about it in the first article of this section, Do You Have a (Split) Second.

Your Home page is like the developer’s front door. You’ll want to invest an inordinate amount of mental energy into determining exactly what you want on it.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. There’s still more to tell you.

So for now, just realize that images are not decoration. If you treat them as such, they’ll be ignored at best or drive visitors away at worst.

Images serve an important purpose – to show and sell. In the next post, we’ll look at how to tell and sell.

Next Step

At this point, you can either can either dive into the next post or go through Part 3 of the Your Customers and Your Website Guidebook. (As you might guess, we recommend going to the Guidebook but you’re the boss!)

Should you have any questions at this point or as you go through the Guidebook, please email us at
with “BTS QUESTION” in the subject line.