My Eight-Step Formula for Writing Long Sales Copy
By Michel Fortin © 2002
A lot of people ask me how I write copy, particularly long copy. Of
course, there's way too much information to squeeze into one article.
But I can offer a basic look at my methodology by giving you a short
list of the eight steps that I take. Here they are.
1. First, with all my projects, I ask that my clients fill out a
preliminary, 25-point questionnaire. The answers will provide
me with some background information. Admittedly, there's a lot
more research for me to do. But at least they supply me with a
place to start and, more importantly, a basic understanding of
their business, the purpose of the message and its goals ...
Yes, that's "goals" in the plural.
Of course, there is the main goal, which may be to generate
leads or sales. But other, secondary goals may include: to
dispel rumors, eliminate misconceptions, answer questions,
build credibility, differentiate from the competition, etc.
(If you want a sneak peek at my questionnaire, I posted one
online at http://successdoctor.com/questions.htm.)
2. Then, I read and study their answers carefully, and I add to
the questionnaire by conducting a lot of research. I try to
gather as much information as I can about the business, the
product, the offer and, above all, the target audience.
Throughout the process, I copy everything into a plain text
editor (I use TextPad at http://www.textpad.com/), where I can
easily rearrange the content, include any corresponding URLs
(links are active in TextPad), make important notes and add
small story blocks. (I'll return to "story blocks" later.)
3. When I conduct my research, it also helps me to go through the
information, and isolate and highlight the important data. The
idea at first is to have as much information as possible at my
fingertips: including any facts, features, factors, etc. But I
undiscerningly add whatever information I find out there.
Of course, a great deal of information exists. While some of
it may be good, a lot of it is irrelevant to the story or the
platform (I'll explain later). But at the beginning, however,
I gather as much as I can, put it all into a single document,
highlight the important stuff and later discard the rest.
4. After that, I dig deeper. I spend a lot of time studying the
information. I ask questions about the product or the offer,
and perhaps get some clarification from the client, even from
their own clients if possible. Then, I try to put what I have
into words that specifically meet the audience at their level.
You see, what the client feels is appropriate (or positive, or
beneficial, or interesting) may not be a shared feeling among
her own clients. Many businesspeople often become "married" to
their products or businesses -- so much so that they tend to
forget (or become removed from) their clients' perspective.
5. Next comes the creative part. I first try to find what top
copywriter Bob Bly calls "a copy platform." A platform is a
storyline, an angle or a slant that I will take to describe
the offer. It may be the fear of loss, a news flash, a "hot
button pusher," a success story, a claim, the pleasure of
gain, a takeaway offer, a "lie dispelled," a secret, etc.
From the chosen platform, I begin to write the copy but start
with bullet points only. I list keywords or phrases from which
I'll expand later on. (The chosen platform will give me a good
indication of what I can write about and the options I have.)
For example, I:
- Write the headline (the most important part);
- Add qualifiers (e.g., surheadlines and subheadlines);
- Create the opening or introductory paragraphs;
- List the features, advantages and benefits (for more,
- Expand by listing key ideas for the main body;
- Integrate headers at every two or three paragraphs;
- Incoporate story blocks (i.e., highlighted stories,
remarks or sidenotes, which aim to give a break and
reinforce key benefits, reasons, urgencies, etc);
- Create the offer and boost its value (such as by adding
any premiums, bonuses, discounts, dollar values, etc);
- Build credibility (by adding background information,
testimonials, proofs, factoids, guarantees, etc);
- Close with an urgent call-to-action statement;
- And plug some "PS's" at the end to restate the offer,
emphasize the urgency or add a bonus not yet offered.
6. I then rearrange the content for flow. One of the benefits of
working with TextPad is that it allows me to split a document
into multiple, tiled windows, each showing a different part of
a same document. That way, I can quickly jump from one window
to the next, easily scroll through each section, and copy-and-
paste content from one segment of the salesletter to another.
Why? Because it helps me to ensure that the ideas in the copy
flow properly and that they all follow the AIDA formula (i.e.,
that the copy grabs attention, creates interest, builds desire
and calls for some kind of action). From this, I can sense if
I also need to add certain elements, whether cosmetic (such as
a "grabber") or tactical (such as a liftnote or pop-up).
7. Once re-arranged, I start writing. I expand, cut out, tighten
up and add some more. I then place it all into an HTML or rich
text document in order to add emphasis, such as with the help
of formatting, typestyles, tables, colors, graphics and so on.
(Understand that direct response copy goes beyond mere words.
The cosmetics involved are just as important, since certain
visual "triggers" help to increase readership and response.)
Finally, I re-read the copy. Out loud, too. Why? Because if I
struggle when I read or if I verbally trip at any point, then
I know I need to edit or rewrite that specific section. After
I'm done, I have my assistant proofread it, and then upload it
to my website for my client to read and offer some feedback.
8. Ultimately, I revise the copy until the client is satisfied.
One final note: there is no way to predict how well my copy will do.
For some clients, my work multiplies their response rate like
gangbusters. For others, it's a downright dud. It happens, maybe
because the platform or the timing is wrong, the audience is not
targeted or qualified, or the type of offer is simply not good enough
and will never sell, no matter how good the product is.
The only way to know is to test, test, test.
I appreciate it when my clients keep me posted on the results. While
there's not much I can do, some clients prefer to keep me on a
retainer after the initial project so they can easily have me rewrite
parts of the copy or offer any suggestions on how to improve it,
without contaminating the initial control.
Michel Fortin is a copywriter, author and consultant dedicated to
turning businesses into powerful magnets. His specialties are long copy,
email and web sales letters. Get a FREE copy of his ebook and
subscribe to his FREE monthly email newsletter, "The Profit Pill," by
visiting http://SuccessDoctor.com/ right now!