"The Basics of Writing Effective Sales Letters for the Web"

There's a lot of basics in copywriting. Anything more before you master the very basics is like trying to build a skyscraper on swampy land: the foundation would be weak.

You want to have a strong foundation to build upon, especially in the realm of writing copy - and even more for online copy.

Write Like You Talk - Or How You Would Talk if You Could Think Faster in Real Time :)

There's a big difference between writing for the decadent halls of esoteric academia and writing to sell something. BIG difference.

First off, it's okay to inject your own personality into your writing. Second, it will make you more money than academic writing. Far more money. When you master it.

It took me 3 solid months to train myself to writing like I talk. Too damn much education really took a toll on my writing. Once I figured out that my real writing would be to real people, and not professors, I began honing that skill.

Whew! Talk about kickback! I took a lot of flack in school for my "folksy" tone. I simply decided that they weren't making much money, so why in hell should I listen to them about how to write to make money? Real people, people like you and me, shouldn't have to read through super boring crap. And we don't. You don't and I don't.

People won't be bored in their reading on their own time. You and me are perfect examples. You're here to learn something. I'm here to teach you that something.

So write like you talk. You'll make a lot more money.

Want Some Proof? Here you go...

Let's take a brief look at what professors typically make. If you figure $50,000 a year, you're probably figuring a little high. Who cares what they think if they're not your target audience?

Look at journalists. A typical journalist might make $25,000-$40,000 a year. Not very much for the amount of writing they do, huh? Well, at least they're published.

A freelance writer might make $25,000 if she is VERY good and gets published a LOT. Typically she will get about $300 for a 1500 word article that typically has to be sent back 3 times for editing before it's finally approved. That usually takes 3+ weeks to go through, so she'd better be busy writing more articles at the same time!

A typical fiction writer makes, and this is the real number, an astounding $2,500 a year from his writing! (Yes, that's two thousand five hundred dollars.) And think of all the craft that goes into writing fiction. It's amazing how little they're paid.

A typical good copywriter makes over $50,000 a year and only writes 15 to 20 letters. And that's not even selling his or her own product. Now, look at your business. If you were to pay $3,000 for a good copywriter (not really good or great) consider how long it takes you to earn that money, after taxes.

If you're pulling in $20 an hour for your work, that's 150 hours of work, before taxes, just to earn that much. Almost a full month.

If you spend 150 hours studying and practicing copywriting, you'll be far better qualified to write your own copy than anyone you'd just pay $3,000 to! You'll get better results. You'll get more sales.

And that's from writing like you talk. From injecting you into your sales letters. And applying the principles of great copywriting, many of which you can learn for free right here on this site.

The 3 Rules of Selling Anything

(I think I learned this best from Michael Masterson...)

  1. People do NOT like to be sold. Sure, we like buying stuff that we want, but we don't like to be sold.
  2. People buy what they want primarily for emotional reasons, not rational reasons. Get that, people will only buy what they want (or are forced to by a suppressive government law). The motivation is for the greatest future survival: buy it and survive better, or don't buy it and survive less well. And that is an emotional subject, survival.
  3. After they decide to buy, people seek to justify their emotional decision with logic or reason. So they make their decision, now they need to make sure they've made the right decision. That's where the logic and reason comes in. That's the justification: better survival for less money, for a longer period of time, in a strong group...

Now don't get me wrong here, there's other reasons that people buy, like impulse buying, but when they're buying your product or service online, it's first emotional, then rational.

Just always remember to give the emotional reasons to buy, and the logical reasons the person can tell their friends. :-)

If your tires blow on your truck, you could opt to not buy new ones. You could always walk to work or ride your bike or take the bus. But you want that luxury of driving yourself to work. It saves you time. Allows you to travel farther to work. That's all.

It's not even a rational thing to do. The auto insurance that you're required to have by law costs money. The fuel prices are high. The monthly payments on your vehicle are taking money from your pocket. It's just not a logical decision to keep driving your vehicle. Besides that, you could probably use the exercise from walking or riding a bike! Your health suffers some by driving everywhere.

Because you want that extra convenience, you're willing to pay all those ridiculous costs (monetary and health) involved. Truly illogical. But we both path those costs anyway.

So remember those three rules of selling: People hate to be sold to, they buy for emotional reasons, and once they decide to buy they need to justify that decision. Real basic stuff, but it's use is very important.

Know Your Prospect Cold

You must know who your typical prospect is. What's their typical age range? What's their approximate income level, on average? What other things do they tend to like or buy? Their sex? Marital status? Have any children? Own their own home? Are there any hobbies that a lot of your customers seem to have in common? What do a lot of them do for a living? What kinds of things do they consider "good" "bad" "great" "awful" "a sin" or "saintly"?

All these things are things that you can write to stimulate the proper emotions (motivations) to get them to take the action you want them to take.

So, to get an idea, if you don't already know, write down the characteristics of your ideal prospect. (Do it now - this is an exercise that will pay dividends later on.)

Okay, when you know all that, you're well on your way to building a good foundation for writing effective copy.

Know Your Product AND It's Myriad Uses - Intimately

That's almost a no-brainer if you own your own business, but it's a must if you really want to write copy that sells your product or service.

You've already done all the research you need to do. If not, do more and learn everything you can about your product or service.

Knowing all about your product is what give you a great head start over hiring anyone. You already know it. Also, since you are the one in business, you also know your prospects and customers better. Not much research has to be done.

The 2 Basic Approaches You Can Take

The first approach that you can take is what some call the "classical" approach. Some call it the "normal" approach. Others still call it the "product" approach.

Whatever you decide to call it, the approach is just that you really push the 'product' or end result, the big promise. It talks a lot about the product or service, how it will benefit the reader, and why it's a great product or service.

There's not really anything wrong with that approach. Indeed, it does work well with many products and services.

But a better approach, a better style of copywriting is to use the "personal" approach, the "charismatic" approach, the "intimate" approach. So many names for the same thing. This is where you add your personality into your copy. You add a focus on you, in addition to the product or service you're selling.

There's a few really good ways to do that, to get intimate with your reader.

  • My personal favorite (which doesn't make it the best) is to include the reader into a special group. There's been a few that have really caught my interest, too. You know, there's something special about your typical prospect that is something so powerful that they'll immediately identify with it. "Hey, that's me!" they'll think. Turn that thing into a special group.

  • Put yourself in your reader's shoes (BE YOUR CUSTOMER). Say that you know how they feel because you've been there, too. You can include that in your story if you want. Basically, this one is where you become your prospect and think of all the reasons that you yourself (as the prospect) wouldn't buy your own product or service. You handle all those reasons in your copy. (And it's never time, and it's never money. I'll explain why down lower on this page. Time and money are not valid excuses not to buy.)

  • Show a weakness of yours, your "Achilles heel" so to speak. Look, you're not perfect. Neither am I or anyone we know. So be sure to show some kind of personal weakness that will not discredit you or your business or product.

  • Include your picture. You'd be surprised how much of a difference that this one little thing can make to your bottom line. I've had customers who were still borderline on buying until they saw a picture of me on the page. That stupid picture of me has helped sell more courses than I'd care count.

  • Get intimate with your reader. Don't just use "you" in a headline because it's been shown to be a "power word." Never use a damn "power word" unless it's real to you. Uptone originality will sell more of your product than using those damn "power words" regardless of what any expert tells you. The real power of your headline and your copy lies in your product or service, and how many folks you can target with it.

    (Sure, you want to target as many people as you can while still focusing on your audience. You can add power words and sometimes even see an increase in response. You can take a proven headline and tailor it to your product or service. But you'll get a heck of a lot more sales by finding that one thing about your product or service that will stand out in a crowd. One thing that will pull more readers. And different combinations of words, tested to make sure that it pulls well... Anyway...)

  • Include you own experiences in your copy. Inject YOU into your copy and you will be able to set yourself apart. Target your audience. Sell More.

Well, those are some ways to really get close to your reader in your copy, to add your own personality into it. Let's go on to the most powerful, overriding factor to your copywriting...

Passion. You've got to be passionate about it.

Your level of passion for your product or service will shine through in your sales letter. You can't bullpoop your way around that. Your readers will somehow sense whether or not you yourself are passionate about your product or service.

If you're not sold - completely and utterly - on your product, you'll sell less.

People want to be close to others who are passionate about something. Have you ever noticed that when things are going wrong in life that others just don't seem to have the time for you? Almost nobody cares about you and your business. Everyone wants to know "What's in it for me?" Your problems aren't beneficial to them. (But through a clever twist, they can be sometimes. Give me a call and I'll tell you...)

So it's passion that sells better than anything else. See, you can screw up the structure of a sales letter (though you'll sell a little less), mess up on other things within the letter...but if you are truly passionate about your product or service, you will sell so much that you might have a hard time keeping up! Your passion sells.

Educate Your Prospects

When you give some of what you know away for free, sometimes people feel somewhat indebted to you, if even superconsciously. Though I seriously don't expect that from you (really) because this is the Internet and you expect to find great info for free. Well, in the field of business online, there is almost nothing good and workable and truly useful to help you for free. That's part of the reason this site is here.

Anyway, back to the point, one way to really keep your readers riveted is to add into your copy little bits of platinum, little pieces of relevant info about your field or something in your field that directly affects them.

If you were selling iron supplements, for example, and you let your readers know that Spinach, typically considered to be high in iron, isn't anymore. Historically, just 50 years ago, a serving of spinach contained like 148 mg of iron. Just 30 years ago, that dropped to 68 mg of iron, 10 years ago it dropped to 8, and today it's a paltry 3 mg of iron. Why? Well, because the soil is never replenished anymore and the same crops on the same field year after year absorb what's left.

You know, little things that would be relevant to your product. Little bits of platinum dropped into their mind. It helps keep their interest high.

Now this bit about "educating your prospects" is really far reaching. Someday I'll have to add a 'marketing' section to these tutorials, but for now I'll just let you know that there's a common myth about how to educate your prospects and customers, and what to educate them on.

The actual truth of the matter on educating in sales letters is that it's far more effective to keep them reading by building their level of curiosity so high that they have to have your product or service.

You know, turning features into word picture benefits (another tutorial) in such a way as to build that curiosity.

Still, planting those platinum bits into your copy is a great and useful technique for giving them something for nothing in your copy. It's purpose is to help build a little more credibility for you or your business or your product. So do it.

Why it's NEVER time or money - Ultra Power Info

I could go on and on about this. It's my particular fascination.

Time is merely the idea that everything around you will keep on existing. Change happens, but that's only a by-product of time. It has to exist before it can change. And it has to keep on existing before it can change.

Actually, you create time for anything that's important enough to you. Quite frankly, I don't have the time to be typing this out for you. I've made it because you're important to me. I don't have the time to get my car fixed. I make it because it will save me time getting into town and working.

And you really don't have the time to be reading this. You've got a thousand and three other things that you could and should be doing, but this is important to you. Learning about all this. So you're making the time.

It boils down to the future. What do you want in the future. What are your goals. You know, how well do you want to be surviving in the future, and with what? Well, your prospect is in the same position. She's got two thousand two things she should be doing.

But she wants more. Why in hell should she make the time to read what you have to say? After all, you're trying to get some money from her in exchange for your product or service.

Well, she wants more. So you must tell her, right off the line, what's in it for her. If that aligns with what she wants, she'll make some time and read or listen to you.

If what you have will take some more time, you'd better darn well show her that some great results will happen. Period. They WILL happen if she does...

And it's never money. If you have a product that sells for $200,000 and you've got a qualified prospect reading... Hold on. I'm getting ahead of myself here.

Okay, money is an idea backed with confidence. If you want that person's or business' money, your job is to build more than enough confidence in that entity about your product or service to make it more than worth parting with the money. Read that sentence again.

So if someone tells you "I don't have the money," then you have not built up enough confidence in that person about your product or service. Period. You must continue to build up value until it's easily worth three to ten times what they must pay.

And the result must be guaranteed. (Another confidence builder.)

An "easy" way to build confidence is to give market information, trends that are affecting them in a very negative, painful way. Put your readers in pain. Scare 'em with problems they're facing and never realized. That will raise their necessity level to where they have to have your product if it solves those problems.

I could go on and on about this whole time and money thing, but the basics are here. Any more might just put you on information overload.


So these have been the basics about the fine art of copywriting. When you look at it, Any letter without these factors is useless.

Copywriting is about using these basics, about how to use these basics specifically, to get your prospect to take the action that you want her to take. See, you and me and anyone reading your copy will not be bored in print. So be passionate. Be informative. Tell them "What's in it for me?" Know who you're writing to. Know your product. Add YOU into the letter (almost always). Build confidence in your product or service. Know and incorporate the three rules of selling.

Great copywriters do these things without even thinking about it. And they also follow the rules about the specifics, which are covered in other sections of this free tutorial on writing your own great copy.

If you just master these basics, you will be far, far better qualified to write your own copy than any copywriter you could get for a mere $3,000. And that is the truth.

If you continue to study and master the rest of the sections, you'll actually be qualified to write for a living. And product excellent results. You won't know it all, but you'll know more effective tips and techniques than 50% of working copywriters.

And you'll sell a hundred times what you otherwise could without the knowledge. So any additional course that I recommend to you contains info that is not here that will definitely be very beneficial to you.


Just please keep in mind that these tutorials were written in 2000. :)

Links for This Section:
| The Copywriting Tutorials Index |
| What is Copywriting? | The Basics | The Emotions |
| The Headline | Lead or Hook | The Body |
| Building Benefits | Subheads | Why You? |
| Building Credibility | The Withdraw | The Close |
| Creating Urgency | The Guarantee | The P.S. |
| The Order Form |

© 2002-2010 by Russell Burnham. All Rights Reserved.
All pages, graphics and talks are protected under Copyright Law.
Any unauthorized translation or duplication in any means electronic
or physical will begin the process of damages recovery. Learn copywriting today.

Modified April 20, 2010.