Writing a sales page can be a real drag
You start, stop, start and stop. But is it possible that you're writing a sales page in an inefficient way?
What if you started writing the landing page from the bottom up? What if that bottom-up method got you to create a quicker and far superior sales page for your product or service?
Find out a simple, tested method that works time after time using the bottom up technique of writing sales pages.
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26 Olympic medals
22 of those medals were gold.
You know his name because almost anyone following the Olympics knows his name.
As Michael Phelps stepped up to the starting blocks, the eyes of the world bounced between Phelps and his biggest rival in the race: South African Chad Guy Bertrand Le Clos. Their short and intense rivalry had fired the imagination of the press.
No one was particularly fixated on Singaporean, Joseph Isaac Schooling
Schooling it seems was the underdog. No pushover in the pool, Schooling had won the bronze at the 2015 World Championships. He'd been clocking up wins in the Asian, Commonwealth and South East Asian competitions. But at the finals 100 metre butterfly event, he seemed slightly outgunned.
When you're dealing with copywriting and a sales page, the spotlight always seems to veer between the headline and the opening paragraphs. Other elements of the sales page seem to have a much shorter, less important stature. Yet it's these seemingly obscure elements that are the powerhouse of the page.
If you've been frustrated with the process of writing a sales page, there's a quick, more efficient way to the finish line. And it starts not from the top down, but instead from the bottom up. And this is why we'll look at three factors in this article.
Factor 1: The bullets
Factor 2: The features and benefits
Factor 3: The target profile (even when you don't have one).
Factor 1: The Bullets
Last week I bought a new car.
Not just another car, but a kind of car I'd waited for since I was 12 years old. An electric car.
An electric car that was tiny, responsive and had a rich pedigree of car engineering.
I bought myself a BMW i3 and plugged into the socket to charge—yes, just like a toaster.
I'm no car fanatic
I don't revel in terms like torque.
But a week later if you asked me to describe the car, I'd go into a slight rhapsody. I'd do what most of us would do when asked about a product or service. I'd spit out the bullets.
It's the greenest car on the market
It's the most efficient electric car you could buy at this point in time.
It's not a monstrous hulk. It's sub-compact.
Did I tell you that you can park it by using gestures? Imagine doing that in a car park.
You could do the same for any product or service
You could describe your house using bullets.
Your computer? Your home town? The cafe you visit? All of them could be described with a series of bullets.
And seasoned copywriters tend to avoid the headline and opening paragraphs of a sales page
They start with bullets instead. They sit down and write 10, 20, 30, even 60 bullets for a single product or service. And that's what you should do too. When you write bullets, you get into a brainstorming trance of sorts.
Try it right now.
Sit down and make a list of a service like a cafe. The way to go about it is to break up the service into sections. So if you’re writing bullet points about a cafe, for instance, you’d have main topics. e.g. the food, the drink, the ambience, location etc. It’s pretty much what you’d expect to see on an AirBNB listing online. Those points, they’re bullets.
When you tackle a product, a similar method applies
Several years ago I wrote a series of books that I was very proud of called ‘Black Belt Presentations’. I realised that people get on webinars all the time and do a terrible job. They also have to make presentations either in person or via audio.
And they tend to be so verbose and unfocused. So this series of books were about three main topics (yes, it’s always a good idea to break up any product into sections). The topics were about “slide design”, “presentation structure” and “crowd control”. And every single one of those books had different elements that when compressed, formed bullets.
Part 1: Controlling Presentation Design or DIY Slide Design: How to create stylish slides without driving yourself crazy.
Understanding the ‘proximity of elements’ and why it avoids visual chaos
The power of invisible lines and how they help avoid distraction—and increase focus
Why a simple colour palette saves you endless amounts of preparation time
How to avoid ‘unwanted noise’ by choosing uncluttered backgrounds
Why 95% of your slides need just one thought for max impact
The palm test: How to get rid of unwanted and distracting graphics
How to use the power of size to make graphics pop on your slides
Two core methods to instantly increase curiosity on every slide
Why most photos/graphics are flat on slides and how to bring them to life instantly!
How to avoid busting your budget on photos/graphics
Easy ways to stretch your budget without compromising on quality
How masking and transparency make graphics stand out
Why most graphs are confusing—and why to avoid 3-D completely
How to transform graphs into powerful visual data that make audiences sit bolt upright
How to avoid the downsides of animation
The secret of how ‘invisible’ animation helps reduce surprise
Handy presentation resources to help improve your presentation skills
Every product or service has dozens of points that can be covered
If you look at the pencil lying right in front of you, you could cover at least 10 interesting points. In your case, the product or service you’re selling is going to be way more complex. You could easily generate between 30-50 bullets on that product or service alone—provided you break it up into sections first.
I know I’m repeating myself here, but bear with me
I’m looking out of my office and I see a shed. I see the sections: the roof, the exterior, the interior etc. I can’t stress how important it is to break up a product or service into sections before writing the bullets. If you lazily look at the shed, you’ll have very little to write. Break it up into sections and your brain starts to co-operate. Suddenly you have a ton of bullets.
And once you have a mountain of bullets you’re done with Stage 1 of writing your sales letter.
It’s time to move to the second stage: the features and benefits.
Factor 2: The features and benefits
At one point or another, we’re likely to have been to a buffet.
Spread in front of us is a variety of food all beckoning to us at once.
And so we decide on a temporary strategy where we try just a little of everything.
The bridge from bullets to features and benefits is somewhat like a buffet
About 15-20 minutes later, we realise the futility of such a strategy, because we’re clearly overeating. No matter how little we take of everything, the little bits add up to a lot.
With a little work we can drum up between two-three dozen bullets.
And if we try to turn every single bullet into a feature or benefit, we end up with a sales page that’s an overkill. There’s way too much for the reader—they’re stuffed too quickly. The best strategy when moving between bullets and features is to pick about 7-8 of the most valuable bullets.
But how are you supposed to know which ones to pick?
The act of writing bullets is akin to brainstorming. You have some great points and some that are less interesting. In an ideal situation the best judge of what’s interesting or not is the client. But let’s assume you’re working all by yourself, you’re going to have to trust your own judgement.
Let’s go back the ‘Black Belt Presentations’ series yet again and pull up some bullets
How examples can save your bacon when you’re running out of time
How to get a good chunk of your audience to sign up for more information
Why a break in the middle of your presentation improves conversion
Out of those three bullets which ones got your attention?
The least interesting was the “sign up for information” bullet. The “examples” and “running out of time” ranked higher. But there’s not a shred of doubt that the “break in the middle” and “improving conversion” is the most powerful of all. That’s what you need to pull aside because we’re going to take that bullet and turn it into a feature or benefit.
When writing a feature or benefit, use a simple formula
The formula goes like this: problem + curiosity.
Hence the bullet we chose might read like this: Wondering why the audience claps but you get poor conversions? Speakers thrive on audience applause, yet some speakers get a thunderous applause, plus have a high conversion rate. How do you increase your conversion rate by using a little known “break in the middle” technique? How can you improve your webinar or seminar conversion rate almost overnight?
You could clearly spot the problem and solution couldn’t you?
It’s about speakers that get applause but the sales don’t match the audience response. And then right after the problem we had a set of points/questions that ramped up your curiosity. You may have been a little keen to know what the “break in the middle” technique was all about. You’d have been chomping at the bit to figure out how to improve your webinar or seminar conversion rate.
If you’ve got a slightly expensive product or service, go with 7-8 features and benefits
Features and benefits are usually a paragraph of 3-4 lines long, so don’t stuff too much on the reader’s plate. 4 x 8 = 32 lines to read and that’s more than enough for the prospect to make up his or her mind. If you have a less expensive or simpler product, you may want to reduce the features and benefits to about 4-6.
There’s no right figure and if you choose to run with 7-8 every single time, that’s perfectly fine. The only criteria you have to consider is the problem + curiosity. If you have those elements in place, you’ve managed to write some great features and benefits.
What’s even more vital is you’re not stuck at this point
Remember the times when you tried to approach the sales page from the top down? Remember how long it took you to get started? When you start at the bottom with the bullets and work your way to the features and benefits, you’re moving at a relatively frenetic pace. You could spend the morning writing the bullets, take a lunch break and by 5pm you could be well on your way to finishing the features and benefits.
There’s just one itty-bitty problem
Having a client would make this process simple and reliable. But what if you don’t have a client? What if you can’t do a target profile interview in advance? Let’s find out how we clamber our way to the top of the sales page despite having a terrible disadvantage.
Let’s move to Part 3: Getting the top of the sales page (even without a target profile).
Factor 3: Getting to the top of the sales page (even without a target profile)
Do you know when the world had a massive recession that lasted over 19 months?
If your mind automatically went back to the Great Depression, you’d be slightly off the mark.
The correct year was 2009
2009 was what the International Monetary Fund called the Great Recession—the worst the world had faced since World War II. So guess what headline was topmost in my mind as I planned to conduct a workshop in Campbell, California? Yes, you probably guessed correctly. I was conducting a website masterclass workshop, the headline was about how your website could beat the recession.
Until a client told me I was hopelessly off the mark and that she wasn’t interested in the recession at all.
When we write a sales page, we often make a fundamental mistake
We don’t talk to or interview a client about our product or service. Instead, we often write what we perceive to be true. Like for instance the headline I wrote about the recession which had zero interest for the client. And it’s a mistake I made many times over before I realised that the best way to write a sales page is to interview a client.
But what if you don’t have a client?
This is the problem that many of us face when we’re just starting up, or even when starting up a new project. And finding a prospect, let alone a client might seem quite impossible. A lot of business owners start to go around in circles at this point. They can’t find the prospect so they can’t write the sales page and without sales, well, you know how the story goes, don’t you? Which is where you the bottom-up structure comes to our rescue yet again.
We started out with the bullets, chose 6-8 features and benefits
From those 6-8 features, 2-3 may turn out to be really powerful. When going through the brainstorming stage and churning out bullets, it’s hard to know which bullets are great and which are not.
But by the time we get to the features and benefits, we seem to pick the ones that resonate more strongly than the rest. And finally, if we were to narrow it down to 2-3, we could eventually get to just one point and make that the biggest problem on the sales page.
When I first wrote the text for the sales page of The Brain Audit, I didn’t have a target profile
It was early 2002, and hardly anyone was selling products, let alone e-books on the Internet. I had just one client, the owner of a sofa store, who though very friendly and helpful, wasn’t going be of much use with the sales page of The Brain Audit. And so I took a stab at the most important point—the most important feature—and made it my headline.
Which is why you see the headline: Have you seen a customer back out of a deal at the very last minute? on the sales page.
I didn’t have anyone in mind when I wrote that headline. But it was the strongest headline out of the list of bullets. And so it went to the top. It formed the basis of a headline. Once the headline was in place, I continued to write the rest of the text.
And no, you don’t have to believe me because the proof of how I got to the whole conveyor belt story is sitting on Archive.org. You can see how the features and benefits have the very same idea and how that concept got transferred to the headline and the opening paragraph.
And you can do the same if you don’t have a target profile or prospect
You can work your way up from the bullets to the features and benefits. You can then pick the one that most resonates and drive home that problem and solution. However, this advice isn’t what I’d recommend. The sales copy for The Brain Audit worked and has stayed reasonably consistent since 2002. Yet, it could have gone horribly wrong.
The text I wrote for the 2009 workshop didn’t do any of this “resonating bit” with anyone
Luckily I had the client who said her biggest problem was that her list was too small. She wanted to know whether I could show her a way to run a business even though she had a tiny list. In the case of The Brain Audit, the bottom up method worked—and it might work for you in a pinch. But my advice is to keep searching for a prospect—for two specific reasons.
Reason 1: If you can’t find a prospect, there’s a good chance your product or service is a non-starter
The biggest reason why a product or service fails isn’t because of the quality of the product or service itself. Often it’s because the writer doesn’t understand the pressing problem. If you have the best product or service in the world but there’s no clear need for it, your product or service is unlikely to succeed. If you are endlessly searching for a prospect, it’s a good chance your product or service is a dud.
Reason 2: While you can guess your way to the headline and first paragraph by using the bottom up method, you’re also missing out on the emotional language of the prospect or client.
When a client speaks, they go back in time to the time when they were deeply frustrated. Their language is laced with deep rivers of emotion. This emotion is what makes your sales page come alive.
The reason why many sales pages are boring is simply because they lack the power of the client’s language. Finding a prospect or client is critical to making sure your sales page (and sales text) gets other clients to respond and buy your product or service.
Something is better than nothing
When you’re not going anywhere in a hurry, the most efficient and speedy way forward is to build your sales page from the bottom up. Start with the bullets, work your way to the features and benefits. Finally pick one of the most powerful points in the features and benefits and use that to start your sales page.
And that’s how you quickly get a sales page up and running.
When the media looked at Schooling, we didn’t think about him being an underdog.
They didn’t think of him at all.
They were focused something completely different.
And that’s the problem we have with writing a sales page. We tend to start with the big dogs: the headline and the opening paragraphs. We don’t ignore the bullets but we don’t realise the value of working your way upwards.
The next time you’re writing your sales letter start from the bottom up.
In the race to the finish, it’s the fastest most efficient way to go.
If you’re keen on reading more detail about bullets and features, there’s a really good book called Client Attractors.
erin Dragonsong says
Great article, as always, Sean!
Really brought home to me that I don’t clearly know what desperate, driving NEED my online course resolves. Time for more research. 😉
Thanks for this!