One morning, you go into your mailbox and discover there's an envelope waiting for you. You bring the package into your living room, tear open the envelope, pull out what's inside, put on your reading glasses (if you wear any), unfold the letter and begin to read the contents.
Now, after completing all of these steps, you then quickly glance at the letter to decide if the sales letter is worth reading.
If not, you throw it in the garbage.
But if the envelope looks like a form letter, with a printed address label with "dear occupant" as the addressee, chances of getting the letter opened in the first place are obviously slim.
However, let's say the envelope works, curiosity takes over and the letter does get opened. Once unfolded, though, if it looks like some kind of sales pitch, not even a single word will likely be read. Into the garbage it goes.
So, the point is this: in offline direct mail marketing, the message is not the first element to be read. There are several extra steps one must go through in order to finally reach, react to and ultimately read the sales message.
That's why, in order to capture people's attention, one of the important elements of direct mail copy -- i.e., the headline -- albeit a crucial component of good sales copy, is the last in a series of attempts to captivate the reader's attention and "pull them into the pitch."
But the envelope, the label, the picture and any "grabbers" (such as any inserts, liftnotes, gifts, etc), even the overall appearance of the package, are all elements that often precede that all-important headline.
Online, however, it's different.
The headline is almost always the first element to be read. When people click on a link, enter a URL into their browser or receive an email in their inboxes, they immediately see the headline (or subject line with email).
Online, there are no mailboxes to go through, no envelopes to tear open and no unfolding to do before reading it. These steps are nonexistent. The sales message and especially the headline are right there, in their faces.
Look at websites as newspapers. You don't get a newspaper for free. Most often, you actually seek the newspaper out. You make the effort to buy it. You voluntarily acquire the "message," ready to read it.
The web is the exactly same.
Whether it's receiving an email you're subscribed to, or visiting a website you intentionally clicked on or entered into your browser, you are directly visiting the message with the full anticipation of reading it once you're there.
You're in a different state of mind when reading the newspaper than when reading, say, a direct mail piece, which is often unsolicited. (Even when the piece is solicited, the steps one must go through, from mailbox to sales pitch, is the same. In other words, there are many of them.)
A newspaper, on the other hand, is already open, with the front page message right in front of you. It's filled with photos and bold news headlines, ready to grab your attention and build your interest.
Like the newspaper's "above the fold" section, if the uppermost section of an email or website's front page don't pull you into the copy (and causing you to scroll further, in this case), you will simply click away. And you would do so faster than you would throw a direct mail piece into the garbage!
And like newspapers, you don't read websites. Instead, you scan.
If you're like most people, you skim through the newspaper to look for stories that interest you. And you do so by quickly checking the headlines, pictures and any column headers that the newspaper contains.
Plus, you can manipulate a print publication in order to fit your reading style. You can spread it out on a tabletop, where stories that interest you are easily and quickly accessible. That way, you can scan an entire piece or newspaper at a single glance.
On the web or with email, you can only do one thing: scroll. So, the desire to scan, jump and react to a message is greater and more immediate than a printed piece. Therefore, in order to capture the reader's attention, there are several things you can do to drastically boost readership.
Here are some ...
The first part of the famous AIDA formula, or "Attention," is probably more important on the Internet. Crafting a great headline that immediately captures the prospect's attention is critical to your message's success.
Again, for the reasons expressed earlier, our attention span on the Internet is enormously short. You only have a fraction of a second to capture a reader's attention. Unlike the different steps one must follow with a direct mail piece, your web page headline is the first thing they see.
If the prospect hits your front page and does not immediately feel a need to read any further, she'll leave at the single click of a mouse. No second thoughts. No wasting time. No hesitation.
The rest of the AIDA formula goes straight down the tubes.
Writing headlines (including sur- and sub-headlines, also called "subheads") requires an entire book of its own. So, for the sake of brevity, I suggest you read one of my previous articles, "Secrets of Successful Headlines," at
But for now, let's stick to the idea of top copy, openers and introductions. When it comes to web copy openers, there are three groups of "three's."
Called "goals," "desires" and "teasers," they are specific human qualities to which you can cater in order to increase the attention factor in your opening copy, be it with the headline, subheadlines, grabbers or introduction portion of the body copy. Use them, are your readership will increase.
a) The Three Greatest Human GOALS
From the headline to the opening copy of the letter, one very effective way to capture attention is to focus on three core goals almost all humans have, which are to either save or make 1) time, 2) money or 3) energy.
If your copy opens with something that can help your reader to make more money, save more time, work less and so on, for example, your chances of having your copy read will be greater.
b) The Three Greatest Human DESIRES
This should be the most important one of the three, but it's second since it may not appeal to everyone. However, this particular set of "three's" is very potent. And that's not an understatement at all. Here's an example.
If you buy some of the supermarket "rags," you'll notice their ads cater to any of these three. Admittedly, they're not considered respectable papers for most. But keep in mind that ad space in them is VERY pricey. If an ad appears in more than one issue, it tells you that the ad is indeed profitable.
Ads in these types of newspapers are often long copy advertorials, which, more often than not, cater to the three human desires. They are 1) greed, 2) lust and 3) comfort. If you incorporate any of the three (or a combination thereof), you will boost your attention-factor. Here are some examples:
Greed (such as "How to make $1,678 with my system!" or "How to save thousands usually wasted on utilities!").
Lust (like "How to shed unwanted pounds!" or "How to make him/her fall in love with you all over again!").
And comfort ("How to build a web business in only 14 days!" or "How to write breathtaking copy in minutes!").
By the way, you may ask, "Mike, isn't 'comfort' similar to 'less effort' you mentioned earlier under 'goals'?" In terms of desires or feelings, look at comfort as the opposite of fear. Avoidance of fear is a powerful desire.
Your aim is to instill fear in the minds of your readers in order to offer them a solution that will comfort them and allay those fears, such as the fear of loss, the fear of death and so on.
Granted, the above examples are somewhat categorical, too. But if your opening copy contains a hint or a slant of any of these, you're much better off. You can cater to any of these three in a number of different ways.
Nevertheless, the last three are ...
c) The Three Greatest Human TEASERS
In addition to the six elements above, try to cater to any of the three "provokers" or "arousers," if you will. The following three elements stir. They arouse. They mesmerize. They hypnotize. Why? Because they cater to fundamental human characteristics.
They are: 1) curiosity, 2) controversy and 3) scarcity. Try to add an element of any of these three and you will boost your chances that the reader will be sucked into your copy will increase substantially.
For example, in terms of curiosity don't mention everything to your readers at the beginning -- give them ample information to pique their curiosity but not too much so that it pulls them in.
Leave some interesting tidbit out or keep them on the edge of their seats, hanging onto every word, eager to read further.
For instance, say, "Learn nine of the Internet's most closely guarded secrets for tripling website sales in less than 26 days!" People will then wonder, "Gosh, what are these nine secrets? I want to know what they are!" And they'll read your sales letter, intently, in order to find them.
Second, controversy is something not often used but does work extremely well. If your copy addresses something that stirs people's emotions or causes certain "lights to go off" in their heads, you can pull them into the copy just as effectively as any of the other elements, above.
Here's an example. Howard Stern, a well-known "radio shock jock," was one of the first to break many of the rules while on the air. In his semi-autobiography, "Private Parts," the story goes that people who loved him had a tendency to listen to his show for about an hour.
But people who hated him listened up to two to three hours.
Maybe it's because they wanted to see what he'll say next. Maybe it's because they wanted more ammunition to bring the guy down. But whatever the reason is, Stern's highly controversial approach undoubtedly made him extraordinarily rich and famous. He got their attention!
While you may want to stay away from such a drastic position, you can use "lighter" forms of controversy -- such as using (or "piggy-backing" on) current events, a newsworthy issue, or an emerging or popular trend -- to build your case an create an almost instant desire to read your copy.
A shocking news item, an outrageous claim or an unbelievable statement are some examples. Even when they're not true. Let me explain.
Often, brilliant copywriters write copy that is somehow tied to a recent event or some controversial subject. Sometimes, the angle they choose have nothing to do with the overall topic discussed in the sales letter. But used in the opening of the copy, this approach can be very effective.
For example, not long after 9-11 many commercials have surfaced that capitalized on the event to sell security equipment, self-defense products, public transportation other than air travel, home alarms and the like.
(By the way, I agree that this may seem somewhat gutless and capitalistic to you. But look at all the charities who regularly profit from dramatic events like these. They use controversy all the time.)
Controversy can also be something significant, slight or even funny or different, such as with the use of a story, a unique angle or a new twist. For instance, I once opened my email newsletter with the following, dramatic statement: "I have a new 'baby'! And I love beating it from time to time!"
Of course, whether you knew that I was a drummer or not, I was referring to my new drumset purchased the week before. I call it my new "baby." But the point is, did it capture your attention?
Here's another. Think of the times you've seen a story about someone starting an online business. While that may sound a little trivial (and usually, it is), it isn't if that person is a politician, suffers from some kind of disability or is raising 10 children at home. Here's an example.
A client of mine was an amputee -- and an inventor. The product he was trying to promote was a backpack with special straps he created, These special straps made carrying it a little more comfortable.
I told him to use his lack of one leg as being the inspiration behind his creation. So, the copy opened with: "One-legged man makes a daring promise to lighten people's loads!" It worked extremely well.
Finally, adding an element of scarcity to your copy is to somehow limit the offer by making it time-sensitive or quantity-bound.
Adding a deadline or a cap on the number of new clients, or even making the offer something that's secretive, exclusive or otherwise unavailable to the general public, can arouse stronger motives in the psyche of your readers.
But in order to give your added sense of urgency some level of credibility, never just leave it as a plain limit. Always backup your deadline or limitation with some kind of logical, commonsensical and believable justification.
For example, "We were overshipped on these cassette tapes and only have 541 left in stock," or, "my schedule this week has only two openings left to be filled, so if you need copy done before the weekend, act now," or, "during our recent move we slightly damaged 178 pieces of our stock -- while the damage is hidden and insignificant, I can't sell them as new and must let them go at a discount ... But remember, we only have 178 of them left!"
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The headline of your piece will either makes your reader so excited they'll want to read the rest of your ad, letter etc. or it will make them switch off completely.
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Imagine sitting down at your computer, and with a few keystrokes, creating a stronger sales letter that immediately captures your prospects attention, creates a visual image in their mind of them having great success with your product, and then gets them so fired-up about your offer that you nearly close the sale in two or three paragraphs. In a moment, I’ll show you exactly how you can do this for your sales letter.