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Would you send a million letters costing tens of thousands of dollars to print and mail, in a direct marketing campaign, without testing the letter content first?

That's what many Web site owners do when they don't test and measure their own site copy and content, then spend thousands on Web marketing campaigns to drive traffic to their sites.

In direct mail campaigns, the mailers know based on test mail-outs what to expect and therefore what the return on investment will be. They basically write, rewrite and rewrite again until they have the content that gets the desired response.

Many moons ago, I used to work full-time writing for direct mailing companies. The mailers would ask for three or four different versions of the same message. They tested each one with a short mail-out (about 1,000 per shot) and gauged response to find the best percentage.

So the direct mail marketer has a solid figure to work on. He knows if he spends figure “a” on direct mailing he will get figure “b” response.

Why can't the same apply to Web site marketing? Well, we think it can.

We tested this theory for eight months, and for the last four months we have consistently been hitting the same solid percentage level (within roughly 0.5%) of conversion.

By defining your Web site goal and objectives, experimenting with copy, content, persuasion, design, color and architecture, it is possible to predict what the response of your site conversion will be. In other words, you can confidently predict how many people will do what you want them to do every month… month after month. Easy? No. It takes a lot of work, but it certainly is possible.

In a number of tests conducted on a Web site designed with Web services for sale through a period of eight months (from January through August 2003), we proved that a consistent level of conversion of new visitors could be achieved.

We found the following:

  1. Headlines can improve the click-through of a page by up to 35%. Over two months on one page, we tested the headline and looked to see how many more visitors moved onto another page.

    During the first month, the headline “Just on site, improve the way you do business online” pulled only 15% of readers to perform another action and stay on the page (reading, presumably) for more than three minutes.

    With the headline, “Do you know if your Web site is a success or a failure?” 50% completed another action and stayed on our Web site for more than three minutes. A terrific improvement, when you consider it was only one line of text that we changed.

  2. Scan-proofing the text greatly improves the chances of click-through in your pages. By writing for a reader who scans rather than reads and making the key words appear in bold, we found a similar increase in response to the page. There was, again, a more-than 30% improvement as a result of scan-proofing the text.

  3. Active voice (and referring to the reader with “you” and “your”) dramatically improves the rate of readership and conversion. As many as four times as many people respond to text that says exactly the same thing but is written in a different way.

Of course, much depends on the service, the kind of incentives, the clarity of your content and the overall architecture of the site. We found out all that by using a constant measure in conversion (the percentage of subscribers from visitors rather than the number of subscribers/inquirers) and a constant control in the email address that was used to subscribe to.

If you can do this with your Web site, you are in an informed-enough position to make a decision on what to spend to drive more traffic to your Web site. If you get the conversion consistently right, then there is no reason to expect that the conversion rate percentage will change simply because more qualified traffic arrives. The key word is qualified. If the visitor isn't interested, he or she won't stick around… so you still need to carefully plan how to get the traffic.

So if it costs you “a” to drive 1,000 visitors to your site and you know your average conversion rate is going to be 10, you know that “b” = 100 of those visitors will on average be in your database. You then can do the math and figure out what the campaign is going to be worth to you. Simple, when you think about it.

In other words, you have done what the direct mailing marketer does—tested, experimented and then spent the money rather than blindly hoped that more visitors equals more sales.

Continue reading "What Can Web Copywriters Learn From Direct Mail?" ... Read the full article

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Steve Jackson ( is editor of the Conversion Chronicles and CEO of Aboavista, a Finnish company that improves Web conversion rates.