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October 22, 2002

E-Zine #102

SIM's INSIDER REPORT is a free biweekly newsletter dedicated to helping readers succeed online while saving both time and money with cutting-edge tools, tips and strategies for internet marketing, online advertising and website promotion.

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SIM's Insider Report free marketing newsletter

Fellow Canadian, Michel Fortin offers us some excellent advice on writing winning copy in this week's Tip of the Week. It's titled How to Write Compelling, Carrot-Wielding Copy! ...don't miss it.

Also, be certain to check out this weeks Feedback & Contrubutions for an excellent review on Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) by Will Bontrager. (first of a 2-part series)

Your comments are always welcome.

Dan Porteous

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How to Write Compelling, Carrot-Wielding Copy!

A significant reason behind websites that fail is the lack of an effective direct response sales message. Such a message is comprised of three elements: it must be
1) captivating (it captures the reader's attention),
2) riveting (it pulls her into reading further) and
3) engaging (it calls her to act).
How can you incorporate those three vital elements? If I were to answer that question adequately it would likely take me an entire book the size of an encyclopedia! But for now, let me give you a succinct explanation.

First, write to be scanned. On the Internet, people are fast- paced, click-happy (with an attention span the size of a DNA molecule) and easily bored. The burden of getting visitors to stop what they're doing and start reading rests entirely upon the headline, the headers and any grabbers things that help grab people's attention (e.g., boxes, borders, graphics, etc).

But once you captured your readers' attention, the next step is to keep them (and keep them reading). If you know the AIDA formula, you know this is where you need to generate interest. But I go a step further by saying that your job is even more important, here, since you must not only generate interest but also maintain it. And that is a much harder task.

The debate about long versus short copy can be wearisome for most copywriters, since they must constantly explain to their clients the benefits of using long copy. Even though long copy is statistically proven to outperform short copy, many clients still tell me that longer copy will never be read, and that on the Internet things are short and fast. And then they ask me to trim my drafts down, to which I fervently protest.

I completely agree that things are short and fast online. But there is a difference between grabbing people's attention and holding on to it. Keeping readers riveted, hanging on to each and every word with an intense desire to know what's next, is the goal of any direct response copy. (It sounds the same as reading a story, right? Well, it is.) Plus, why do you think we now include "stickiness" as a measuring stick in analytics?

Here's a known fact: prospects who are qualified and genuinely interested in the product or service being offered always want more information about it, not less. If they are not qualified or interested from the outset, no matter how long or short the copy is, they will simply never buy. If they're not interested or qualified, they won't read 15 words, much less 1,500 words.

Shorter copy can lead to three potential outcomes: 1) a lower response ratio due to the lack of information; 2) an incessant need for more data, leading to a barrage of information requests or questions; 3) or a higher number of cancellations, refunds and returns since the product or service turned out to be different than what was initially expected by the client.

If long copy leads to poor results, it has nothing to do with the length. It has everything to do with the copy. It's simply too boring. It didn't elevate the reader's level of interest, and it failed to keep her reading. Granted, it's a challenge -- and the reason why most online business owners usually opt for short copy, since writing long copy that engages, entices and entertains is very difficult. Yes, I did say "entertain."

Good copy, on the other hand, is where the reader hangs onto every word, and becomes more and more excited the further she reads it. You see, long copy is like telling a good story -- and copywriters are indeed storytellers. If your copy tells a compelling story, people will read it ... All of it.

When it is written well, long copy can lead to a much greater level of response. Look at it this way: you visit a bookstore and notice a book that seems to entice you. For instance, the cover, the title and the cover copy, such as editorial raves or the author's biography, pull you into the book. Even the opening chapter is delectable. So, you decide to buy the book.

The book seems to be inviting, exciting and entertaining, and the story compels you to read every single page, no matter how big the book is. In fact, the book is so good that you either wish it was longer or, once done, are prepared to read it over once more. You just can't put the book down, even if time is limited, and you're busy or preoccupied with other things.

However, as you read it further you become confused, perhaps a little frustrated, and you slowly begin to lose interest. The plot no longer invites you to keep reading. You drift away and find it harder to continue. Ultimately, the storyline fails to keep you excited about the book. So, you stop, close the book and then shelve it. Now, it gathers dust in your library.

Let me ask you, how many books in your library did you fail to finish reading (or to start reading, for that matter)? Perhaps some. Perhaps many. But the same thing holds true with direct response copy. Long copy works better than short copy. But it only works if it's interesting, captivating and riveting. Call it "edutainment." Copy must be educational and entertaining.

However, in a handful of cases shorter copy is warranted. But the only real way to know for sure is to test, test and test. Claude Hopkins, author of "Scientific Advertising," wrote an important axiom:
"Almost any question can be answered cheaply, quickly and finally, by a test campaign. This is the only way to answer them, not by arguments around a table. Go to the court of last resort ... The buyers of your product."
(I invite you to download and read Claude Hopkins' timeless classic at successdoctor.com/free.htm.) Additionally, as one my mentors, copywriting genius Dan Kennedy, once said in a recent interview (read the entire interview at http://dankennedy.com/paulson.html):
"Now, the person who says 'But I would never read all that copy' makes the mistake of thinking they are their customer ... And they are not. We are never our own customers. (...) There is a thing in copywriting I teach called 'message-to- market match'. It is this: when your message is matched to a target market that has a high level of interest in it, not only does responsiveness go up but readership goes up, too ... The whole issue of interest goes up."
The next step is to engage the reader. Again, you're like an author telling a good story, and your copy must read like one. But like all good stories, the reader must become intimately involved in the plot. They see themselves in the shoes of the characters living out the story. And to do this, you need what I often call "UPWORDS." It's an acronym that means: "Universal picture words or relatable, descriptive sentences."

First, using "universal picture words" means to use words and mental imagery that help to paint vivid pictures in the mind. Lace your copy with words that engage as many of the senses as possible, and cause your prospects to easily visualize already enjoying the benefits of your offer.

As for "universal," it means to use words that appeal to, and can be easily interpreted by, the vast majority of readers. In other words, use words to "encode" your message so that, when they are read, can be decoded in the same way by your reader. Your job is to get the reader not only to read your copy but also to understand it, internalize it and appreciate it.

Remember this simple yet extremely important rule: "Different words mean different things to different people." Some words can be interpreted in one way by one reader and in a different way by another. Your job, therefore, is to choose words that cater and universally appeal to the bulk of your readers in order for them to fully appreciate what you're conveying.

For example, a challenge among cosmetic surgeons is the fact that prospective patients will call for an estimate over the phone when obviously the doctor needs to see her beforehand. (An initial, in-person assessment is always required, even by law, to see if that patient is a surgical candidate. Giving out an estimate implies that the patient is indeed a good candidate for the surgery when it may not be the case.)

Here's the crux of the problem: most patients don't understand the significance of seeing the doctor in person. Some may feel intimated by doctors or by surgery, while others may simply be in a rush and want to "shop around." While they may understand the reason, they may not necessarily appreciate the importance because cosmetic surgery is an uncommon process. So, doctors will use analogies, referring to a more common approach such as cosmetic dentistry.

Unlike surgery, most people have had their teeth done at some point in their lives. So, doctors will say: "Like a dentist, I can not give you an estimate over the phone without any x-rays of your teeth let alone the knowledge of how many cavities you actually have." People now understand not only the reason but also the importance of seeing the doctor in person in order to obtain an accurate estimate. This applies to every business.

Business owners often become so intimately involved with their product or business that they tend to forget to look at them from their prospect's perspective. For example, they tend to use a language that only people in their industry or "on the other side of the fence," so to speak, can fully appreciate. But that approach can backfire ... And often does.

Therefore, your job is to use analogies, metaphors and comparisons, all in a language to which the prospect can relate. That's what "relatable, descriptive sentences" mean. Words are not messages in themselves. They are merely symbols. Your choice of words can actually alter the understanding, and particularly the emotional impact, of your message.

Finally, use action words (i.e., active verbs and not passive ones) that not only compel your readers but also "propel" them into action. Tell them what they must do and take them "by the hand," in other words. Don't stick with mere verbs. Use action words that paint vivid pictures in the mind, too. And the more vivid the picture is the more compelling the request will be.

For example, you're a financial consultant. Rather than saying something like, "Poor fiscal management may lead to financial woes," say, "Stop mediocre money management from sucking cash straight out of your wallet!" (People can visualize the action of "sucking" better than they can "leading.") Instead of, "Let me help you maintain your balance sheet," say, "Borrow my eyes to help you keep a steady finger on your financial pulse."

About the author:
Michel Fortin is a copywriter, author and consultant dedicated to turning businesses into powerful magnets. His specialty are direct response, long copy, email and web sales letters. Get a free copy of his ebook, "The Ten Commandments of Power Positioning," and subscribe to his free monthly email newsletter, "The Profit Pill," by visiting SuccessDoctor.com/!

Copyright 2002

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Cascading Style Sheets (CSS); Learning More
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Cascading Style Sheets (CSS); Getting Started

If you've been putting off using CSS because you have some uncertainty about exactly how to use it, then today is the day you'll get started. You'll see the simplicity of CSS. You'll realize that making style changes to your site's web pages is not only quick and easy, but also fun.

There are four ways a style can be applied to a web page. Only the first method is presented in this Getting Started article. The other methods are mentioned so you're aware they exist.
  1. Styles are specified through the use of an external file, a method called "external style sheet" or "linked style sheet." This is the method you'll learn in this article. There is one file on your site that specifies the styles. Then, one line in each of your web pages links to that file. To change the style on all your web pages, simply change the external file.

  2. Styles are specified in the HEAD area of each page the style is applied to. This method is called "embedded style sheet."

  3. A style is specified in the actual HTML tag where the style is applied. This is called an "inline style."

  4. A combination of embedded and external style sheets. For this, each page has an embedded style sheet. Within the embedded style sheet are certain codes that import one or more external style sheets. This method is called "imported style sheet."
To create an external style sheet, make a file named mysite.css with the following three lines:
font-family: sans-serif;
Upload mysite.css to the same directory on your server where you have your main index page.

Now, in the source code of one or more of your web pages, in the HEAD area, put this line (make a backup of the pages before changing, in case you want to restore to the original):

<LINK REL="stylesheet" TYPE="text/css" HREF="mysite.css">

(The above assumes your web page is in the same directory as the style sheet file, but that situation isn't required. The HREF="__________" URL can be a relative URL or an absolute http://... URL.)

That's all there is to it. Every page with the above line in the HEAD area will have it's text "magically" converted to a sans-serif font.

Okay, there may be just a bit more to it than that. If you currently have FONT tags specified in the source code of your web pages, then those will need to be removed so the CSS style can do its job.

Once all FONT tags removed from your page, let's experiment a bit. In the mysite.css file, change the font from sans-serif to serif:
font-family: serif;
Like magic, all your text is converted to a serif font.

A paragraph about definitions: The "font-family: serif;" line is a style element. Styles can have other elements, like size and color, and some of those are addressed below. Each style element has two parts, as you've noticed. The first part is called the "property" and the second part is called the "value." The property is followed by a colon and the value is followed by a semi-colon. The property must be specified before the value, and they must appear together. Thus, "font-family: serif;"

So far, we've specified the generic sans-serif and serif fonts. These allow the browser to use its default sans-serif or serif font.

You can, however, specify exact font names, and if the font name is available on the user's computer then it will be used. Arial and Helvetica are common sans-serif fonts for PC and Mac desktop computers. To control the exact font name to be used, with backups in case the one you specify isn't available on the user's computer, list the font names in order of preference, separated with a comma. Example:
font-family: arial,helvetica,sans-serif;
The above line in the style sheet will cause the browser to use font Arial if it's available on the user's computer. If Arial is not available, Helvetica will be used. If neither Arial nor Helvetica are available, the browser will choose a sans-serif font that is available. And if no sans-serif font is available, the browser will use its internal default font, whatever that may be.

While you're changing the font family specifications, let's also specify the font size and text color. Your mysite.css file can now have these five lines:
font-family: arial,helvetica,sans-serif;
font-size: 14px;
color: #000000;
The above specifies a font size of 12 pixels ("px") in height. Font sizes can also be specified in points ("pt") and other measurements. However, use the pixel measurement; pixel measurement maintains the most consistent size among different monitors and operating systems.

The above also specifies a text color. The color can be specified either as a hexadecimal number preceeded with a "#" character (like the example) or by a color name such as "black".

Once you upload the above style sheet, your pages will have black, 12 pixel sized text, Arial font. Change the color to
color: blue;
and suddenly all your text is blue. Change the size to
font-size: 55px;
and your text is huge.

Just one simple change in mysite.css changes every page that has the one-line tag in the HEAD area.

By now, you've probably been wondering about the


line in file mysite.css. That is a list of tags that the style will effect, tags separated with a comma. In this case, it effects the BODY tag (which is everything in the page BODY that doesn't otherwise have a style), the TD tag (table data cell), the P tag (paragraph), and the BLOCKQUOTE tag.

Let's add another style, one for the H1 tag. Your mysite.css file should now have these twelve lines:
font-family: arial,helvetica,sans-serif;
font-size: 14px;
color: #000000;

H1 {
font-size: 36px;
font-weight: bold;
text-align: center;
color: red;
background: blue;
The above will cause the H1 text to be 36 pixels in size, bold, centered, colored red, and with a blue background. The font face will be Arial because that's what's specified for BODY, and H1 didn't specify any different.

Once you upload mysite.css, all your web page's H1 text will be the specified style.

A note about degradation: Some users have style sheets off in their browsers. Some browsers are unable to process style sheets at all. Although the percentage of those is likely to be tiny, it's still a good idea to design your style sheets so your pages degrade gracefully for such users. In other words, if you're going to specify a font size of 24px, that's closer to a non-style sheet H2 size than it is to H1 or H5. So, if you can, use H2 for that particular font size because it would degrade with more grace than H1 or H5 would in that situation.

Your mysite.css file can contain specifications for any HTML tag. The file can be named something else, if you wish, although by convention it should have the .css file name extension.

Yes, there is a lot more to be learned. Even with just this small amount of knowledge, however, you have the ability to specify the font attributes for any and all HTML tags that contain visible text -- throughout your site. Except one.

The one exception is the anchor tag, often referred to as the "A" link tag, the tag you use when you create a link on a web page. The A tag can have three different styles, one for each of it's states: link, active, and visited. To see how it works, change your mysite.css style sheet file so it has these thirty lines:
font-family: arial,helvetica,sans-serif;
font-size: 14px;
color: #000000;

H1 {
font-size: 36px;
font-weight: bold;
text-align: center;
color: red;
background: blue;

A:link {
color: yellow;
background: red;
font-weight: bold;

A:active {
text-decoration: underline;

A:visited {
color: red;
background: yellow;
font-style: italic;
text-decoration: line-through;
With the above, your linked text will be bold, colored yellow, and with a red background. When the link is active (while it's being clicked on), it will be underlined. Once the linked page has been visited, the text will be italic and have a line through it, the text color will be red, and the background will be yellow.

Note that the "active" and "visited" behave differently in different browsers. If you specify font changes in the "active" style, the change might or might not display. Changing the font style to italic in the "visited" style causes the font to be italic; however, in some browsers the font weight remains bold as specified in the "link" style and in other browsers the font weight becomes normal.

Another A tag style you may wish to utilize is "hover" style. This style becomes effective when the mouse cursor hovers above the linked text. The "hover" style works in IE 5+ and in Netscape 6+. The style has no effect for browsers that don't support "hover". Here is an example "hover" style:
A:hover {
text-decoration: none;
color: purple;
background: pink;
font-size: 22px;
font-weight: bold;
The above causes any underlines or line-throughs to disappear, turns the linked text color purple with a pink background, changes the text size to 22 pixels, and makes the text bold.

Some of the styles demonstrated in the examples cause dramatic effects. They serve to demonstrate possibilities. Your actual implementation will probably be more pleasant to the eyes.

Will Bontrager

Copyright 2002 Bontrager Connection, LLC
"WillMaster Possibilities" ezine

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