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How to Apply Direct Response Methods to Get Results from Your Website

By Al Bredenberg
Posted Sunday, September 12, 2004

"I get plenty of hits, but nobody's buying!"
Now that's a cry we hear a lot in the Web marketing business -- accompanied by the sound of gnashing teeth and rending garments!

Many have quickly concluded that World-Wide Web users just aren't serious customers and that the Web isn't yet a viable marketing medium.

But hold on! Just because your effort isn't going as well as you'd hoped doesn't mean Web marketing is a washout. At the risk of treading on fragile egos, let me ask a question: Could it be that your creative approach is what's at fault, rather than the Web itself?

Why not give your Web marketing effort a fighting chance by applying direct response advertising methods in the development of your Web pages?

As a direct response copywriter and online entrepreneur, I'm convinced that many Web efforts, large and small, would show greater results by taking a cue from the direct response profession.

A direct response (or direct marketing) communication, such as a sales letter, seeks to generate an immediate response from the prospective customer. By borrowing principles and techniques from the direct marketing industry, you'll be able to make your Web site a source of sales and leads -- and profits.

Focus on Results
First, be clear about what you're trying to achieve. What response do you want from the user who visits your Web site? Are you looking for direct sales of a product? Or qualified leads? Are you building a database, perhaps the mailing list for your print catalog? Or are you trying to obtain research data?

Knowing what response you're looking for, you'll be able to work out an offer and key selling points.

Put simply, your "offer" is: What you're going to give them and what they're going to give you in exchange.

If you're selling a software program, they're going to give you an amount of money and you're going to give them the program. Want to increase your response rate? Figure out a more exciting offer. Maybe you can sell the program at $50 off for Web customers -- or give away a "light" version free.

Are you trying to get answers to a survey? Nobody's going to spend 10 minutes online filling out your form just for the fun of it. You've got to offer them something. How about a chance to win a prize?

The more compelling the offer (and your presentation of it) the better the response will be.

Build Your Site Around a Compelling "Call to Action"
If you want the user to respond, your entire approach should be built around that objective. Deliver a strong "call to action" and structure the entire presentation around it.

For example, if you're selling a motivational seminar on tape, you will probably have an order form somewhere along the line. Make that order form the focal point of the whole presentation. You might even start your design with the order form, rather than the home page.

A call to action is a clear, compelling statement of your offer, urging the user to accept it. Let them know what you want them to do, and ask them to do it:

"Free offer! Order '5 Easy Steps to Happiness' today, and we'll send you Bob's new video, 'Keep on the Sunny Side' -- absolutely free! Follow this link to request your copy -- while they last!"
Make it easy to respond. I don't know how many times I've searched high and low on a Web site and been unable to find so much as an e-mail address.

The best response is an immediate one. If possible, provide a way for the user to respond now -- a button to click, an online form, an e-mail link. A toll-free number, fax number, or postal address is better than nothing. But if you force them to wait and contact you later, you risk losing the urgency and excitement you've built up through your Web presentation and call to action. Remember that most people only have one phone line, so they can't call you when they're surfing the Web.

Apply Direct Response Copy and Design Techniques to Get Results
Important: Grab them as soon as they hit your site.

This means putting a strong headline on your opening screen. Your offer and the response you're looking for should determine how you open. Most likely you'll only have a few seconds to get the user's attention and convince them to follow your presentation.

That means firing a big gun to open the battle. "Welcome to Plotnick Screws and Bolts!" is not a big gun. Offer a major benefit for continuing on into the site. Try something along the lines of:

"Save $100 on your first shipment of Plotnick fasteners!"
Want to send users scurrying back where they came from? Just present them with huge blocks of text in long paragraphs. On the other hand, if you want users to stay with you, make your Web pages friendly and easy to follow by breaking up the copy. Use frequent headlines and bulleted lists. Write short words, short sentences and short paragraphs.

Write in a personal, one-to-one, natural style. Imagine yourself having a face-to-face conversation with the other person. Use contractions -- "you'll," "don't," "I'll." And it's okay to start a sentence with "And" or "But" -- and to use sentence fragments. Like so.

Be discerning about the use of graphic design, artwork, and Web magic. Make sure that your design and visuals support the marketing purpose of the site. Poor design can interfere with the direct response process.

For example, you may have written a killer headline. But if you display that headline in brown lettering on a dark green background, it will be hard to read.

It's possible that beautiful pictures, background images, sound or video, or a Java applet will enhance the selling power of your message. But make sure that you're not including them just to satisfy your own (or someone else's) creative urge.

Test the Results
Work out a way to measure the response to your Web presentation and to test the effectiveness of various elements of the site. Objective testing and measurement tell you what works. When you change an element, does the response rate go up or down or remain unchanged?

You can test many elements of your site -- offer, creative concept, headline, graphic design, order form design, or other factors. It's better to test only one element at a time. Testing different offers might be the best place to start.

Even the most basic Web provider these days can offer you an access report for your Web site. Suppose you have a six-page linear Web presentation leading the user from the front page to an order form, one page at a time. Check your access reports. If the number of visitors drops off sharply after page three, that's an indication something's wrong with that page. For a more sophisticated report or for measurements on a large site, it might be good to invest in specialized software or even the services of an outside firm.

In many ways, the World-Wide Web is unproven as a marketing medium. Web experts love to pontificate about how to be successful, but the truth is that "what works" and "what doesn't work" depends on your individual business situation and marketing plan and how you go about incorporating Web marketing into them.

Applying direct response advertising techniques in your Web effort gives you a chance to take a sound, results-oriented approach and to prove for yourself what works and what doesn't.

More how-to guidance for Net marketing is available in The Small Business Guide to Internet Marketing -- an electronic book you can order from Al Bredenberg Business Reports.

About the Author
Al Bredenberg is a writer and creative consultant. He is the author of "The Small Business Guide to Internet Marketing," an electronic book. To get in touch, send e-mail to Al Bredenberg or visit his World-Wide Web site at (

This article and others in the "Net Results" series are available for republishing in print or online media. For rates and permissions, contact Al Bredenberg.

Al Bredenberg is publisher of the Email List Source[], the free Web directory of permission-based email lists for advertisers.


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