There are all kinds of marketing tactics that you should learn to make the most out of your copywriting career. For instance, you need to know about mediums like email campaigns, paid ads (like you see on Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and as website banners), opt-in landing pages, and sales pages.
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.
Here’s the thing: online sales letters are dead. This is not a medium you should worry about being able to write in your career.
Let’s dig into the myth and mystery of online sales letters today.
What is an Online Sales Letter?
First, let’s get on the same page. What do we mean by online sales letter?
The term “online sales letter” is very much a holdover from when, you guessed it, these were actual letters.
Online sales letters are long-form webpages. These pages often include headlines, subheads, testimonials, bonuses, stories, call-outs, guarantees and other persuasive elements. Design-wise, it’s very basic: lots of font sizes, bolding, italics, highlighting, and 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 have persuasive elements, put together in a very specific order, 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. And, we all know a BMW 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.
Online Sales Letters vs. Sales Pages
If you’re thinking this sounds like a sales page, think again.
An online sales letter is typically text-based. Think: bolding, italics, different colored fonts (heck, sometimes even multiple font types).
A sales page will be a much more multi-media rich experience. Sales pages may include elements like videos, images, screengrabs, podcast episodes, and more. This is all strategically designed so each section of the sales page has a specific purpose.
There is white space to give the reader’s eye a break. It includes other ways to consume information—not just copy—to engage the user. (Since, as we know, no user is going to read everything).
Why Do Companies Use Online Sales Letters?
In the early days of the internet, pretty much everything was fresh and new. All of the techniques that are so common today—email marketing, opt-in freebies, content marketing, paid advertising—all of that didn’t exist yet.
One tactic that did exist was online sales letters. A company would try to tell you everything you possibly needed to know to make a sale. And then, at the bottom of the page, they asked for the sale.
And you know what? Sometimes they worked—because, again, everything on the internet was a novelty. People could be persuaded to spend a half hour reading an online sales letter. And then might even be willing to make the purchase. (IF the sales letter was written well. And IF they cared enough about the product.)
But online sales letters are certainly not sleek, savvy, elegant or upscale. They’re also generally not fun, friendly, straightforward or modern. They can also feel a little dated. Can you see how they might not fit with many established brands?
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 combination of any of these
These pages 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.
Can You Really Make Six Figures Writing Online Sales Letters?
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
- Those 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.
Why Online Sales Letters are Dead
The main reason online sales letters don’t work well is that people are not willing to spend a half hour reading through a sales letter anymore. The internet and the internet experience are totally different today and demand a better user experience.
Online sales letters are a throwback to when people were entranced with the newness of the internet and had plenty of time and attention to read a sales pitch.
What’s even crazier to me is that there are still companies out there telling people that if they learn to write online sales letters, they’ll get rich! Let’s be clear: No one uses online sales letters anymore.
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.
What You Should Write for Your Clients Instead
Instead of trying to pack all relevant information—pain points, context, benefits, features, testimonials, case studies, company history, pricing, guarantees, etc.—into one web page, it’s immensely more effective to give this information to users in digestible chunks.
Email sequences are a series of emails that convey all of this information to prospective customers, but over a series of days, or even weeks, instead of in one single page.
They allow for the building of a relationship between the company that’s sending the emails and the person that’s receiving them. They allow for the growth of liking and trust toward the company, and they establish the company as experts, and as the exact right provider of the exact right solution.
Now, that’s a pretty tall order, right? (And don’t forget that each and every one of these emails has to also be valuable to the reader.) But all of that is what makes them effective—and the challenge of conveying all of that is why most companies are smart enough to hire a copywriter to do it for them.
Elements to Layer Into Your Email Sequence
There are also all kinds of other elements that can be layered into an email sequence, things like videos and downloads and webinars and challenges, all of which can further deepen that relationship.
But the key is that getting a sale—building the kind of relationship that makes a sale almost inevitable—takes time, takes care, and takes authenticity. And that’s what we can offer our clients in the form of well-strategized, well-crafted email sequences.
These emails may eventually lead to a sales page, but that sales page will reinforce information that the customer has already had a chance to digest, making it that much more impactful.
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 work in ad agencies and in-house agencies and lands big-name clients, online sales letters are 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!
Last Updated on November 21, 2022