Tell and Sell

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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.