If I had a nickel for every “copywriting” site that says “I make seven figures writing online sales letters,” I’d have a whoooole lot of nickels. But is that legitimate? And what is a sales letter, exactly? Let’s dig into the myth and mystery of online sales letters today. Read on…
Today’s question is from Jodi A. who asks, “I keep seeing people talking about online sales letters on copywriting and marketing forums. What are they?”
Okay, so let’s start with a straightforward answer. Online sales letters are long-form pages that can and often include headlines, subheads, testimonials, bonuses, stories, call-outs, guarantees and other persuasive elements combined with lots of font sizes, bolding, italics, highlighting, different colored text. Are you getting that there’s a lot of stuff crammed onto these pages? And are you getting that people have to do a looooot of scrolling to get the information?
These pages give you a lot of different kinds of persuasive elements, put together in very specific orders to try to encourage you to make a [usually rather large] purchase. But you’ll notice you won’t find online sales letters on, say, BMW’s website, even though one of those will set you back a pretty penny.
Online sales letters are relegated to a very specific sector of the online sales world. You’re more likely to find them in small, digital-only, info-marketing companies. Information marketers are people who sell their own (or, often other people’s) information via books, ebooks, videos, courses, etc. But outside of information marketers and some solopreneurs (one or two-person companies), you won’t find online sales letters.
Why? Well, they can be very effective, but they’re certainly not sleek, savvy, elegant or upscale. They’re also generally not fun, friendly, straightforward or modern. Can you see how they might not fit with many established brands? They can also feel a little dated.
Online sales letters work well for product that require a lot of persuasion: the product is pricey, the benefit might require some work, the company isn’t particularly well-known, or a combination of any of these. And they can help tip the scales for someone who’s considering purchasing, but if someone scrolls to the price and isn’t interested, there’s not much they can do.
If you do a little searching for copywriting online, you can pretty quickly surmise that there seem to be two groups of copywriters. Those who do a variety of work (ads, banners, emails, direct mail, etc.) who work for ad agencies, internal agencies and/or individual clients, and another group who focus mostly on online sales letters and other pieces for information marketers. (Our site is geared to the first group, but we give you the skills to work in the second as well. In general, online sales letter-focused writers don’t work in agencies: They just write for info-marketers.)
So: Are there really writers that make $20,000 per online sales letter? Sure—I’m sure there are a handful of professionals who charge rates like that. Online sales letters aren’t easy to write and they can sometimes net the info-marketer a lot of money.
But online sales letters aren’t a growth market. As people become savvier and as website designers come up with new ways to display copy and content, forcing people to scroll through screen after screen of red and highlighted copy looks, at best, unbearably dated and, at worst, suspect and untrustworthy.
The truly smart copywriter takes the nuggets online sales letter writers have perfected (attention-grabbing, benefit-heavy headlines; persuasive testimonials; features that speak to a target audience’s deep needs; stories that make the company/owner relatable and trustworthy; etc.) and incorporates them into their other copy projects to make them more compelling.
You can learn a lot from well-written online sales letters…but what you’re also likely to learn is that, if you want to be the kind of copywriter that works in ad agencies and in-house agencies and lands big-name clients, they’re not where the future of your career lie.
Your turn! What are your impressions of online sales letters? Let us know in the comments below!