I hesitate to single out a handful of "must-have" words for your Web site. It brings to mind the overblown promises of "power words" and the like. "Power words" strike me as being about as useful as "power naps" and "power lunches." Heavy on hype and light on content.

However, some words really can make a difference on your site. They are not "powerful" in isolation but, in the right context, can make an important difference.

No. 1—Free

For those of us, myself included, who go on about how writing online is different, it is humbling to see how some things are exactly the same. "Free" is an extremely important word in the world of offline marketing, and it's just as important online.

In fact, in some ways, "Free" is even more important online. Much of the Web has grown up on the promise of Free:

  • Free browsers
  • Free music
  • Free software trials
  • Free subscriptions

And so on. If you have any doubts about whether users of the Web are that interested in "free"—do a quick search on Google. I just did, and got 172 million results. The number one listing? "Adobe Acrobat Reader—Download."

So don't be shy about using the word. Offer free downloads, free subscriptions, free reports and papers, free trials, free shipping, free consultations.

The Web likes free (even if online publishers don't).

One caveat: many people filter out emails that use the word Free in email subject lines.

No. 2—Sign Up

So it's two words. The point being that every site should be inviting its visitors to sign up or subscribe to an email program or newsletter.

Why? Because you need to reach your prospects by email.

People check their email more frequently than they surf the Web. Much more frequently. As you already know, to your cost, conversion rates of first-time visitors to immediate purchasers is horribly low. And that person who bailed after spending a few seconds on your homepage is unlikely to be coming back again any time soon.

So instead of hoping that your visitors will make a purchase on their first visit, concentrate instead on collecting their email addresses.

Caveat: your emails or newsletters had better be good. Good content in their inbox will bring visitors back to your site again and again. Poor content will damage your chances of ever hearing from them again.

No. 3—Buy

You need to ask for the sale. It's amazing how many sites invest in presenting products and services, but fail to close the sale. Again, conversion rates online are nothing to write home about. So make sure that you actually ask for the sale at the right moment.

Make that BUY link prominent, both by positioning it close to the product or service in question, and by boosting it with a strong graphic treatment.

The word BUY is an instruction. It tells people to do something. So make that instruction jump out and grab their attention.

No. 4—Now

Now is good. "Later" is death. If someone digs deep enough into your site to find the product or service they want, and then just makes a mental note to come back again some time, you've lost her.

The Web is an easy-come and easy-go environment. If you can't get people to act immediately, forget it.

So ask people to do things NOW:

  • Sign up NOW
  • Buy NOW
  • Tell a friend NOW

Go further still with some incentives:

  • Sign up NOW and receive a FREE report on [whatever].
  • Buy NOW and get FREE shipping

No. 5—Thank You

OK, so it's two words again. But it's the thought that counts. When you sign up a subscriber or make a sale, the job is just beginning.

Just because someone signs up for your newsletter doesn't mean that they will read it.

And just because someone buys your product doesn't mean that they won't send it back.

When visitors become customers, your work is just starting. You have a relationship to build. And the first step in building that relationship is to say thank you. It's courteous. It's the right thing to say.

Maybe this will inspire you to go back to those automated "acknowledgement" emails you wrote a few years back.

Rewrite them, be personal, say thank you.


There are other important words to consider, but I can't think of any that top these five.

Look through your site, your emails and your newsletters—and consider the places where these words could make a difference.

Then make some changes and test the results. As always, the proof is in the testing.

Editor's Note: This MarketingProfs Classic article was originally published on January 8, 2002.

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image of Nick Usborne

Nick Usborne has been working as a copywriter and trainer for over 35 years. He is the author of Net Words, as well as several courses for online writers and freelancers. Nick is also an advocate for Conversational Copywriting.

LinkedIn: Nick Usborne

Twitter: @nickusborne