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Whats your visitors UPA

By Michel Fortin
Posted Thursday, August 26, 2004

One of my students, Neil Priel, made me realize something important today.

In fact, his point was so well made since he drove it home using the very idea he was illustrating. While his comment was general in nature, it opened my eyes -- I understood how well his point applied to the Internet. But before I explain it to you, let me put the story in context so that you can understand what I mean.

In today's class we were discussing the natural human inclination to illogically and unconsciously assume that there is a parallel between a part and its whole -- I dub this human propensity as a UPA (or unconscious paralleled assumption). For example, if you visit a web site whose design is poor or unprofessional, or one hosted on a cheap server, you will naturally assume that the business behind it or the products it sells are just the same.

Poor... Unprofessional... Cheap... Etcetera.

The psychology behind UPAs is simply the fear of making bad decisions. Human nature dictates. We tend to seek the negative in what we are considering as to ensure the decisions we are making are good ones. For instance, when we are about to buy what a website offers, we will more than likely skim the site entirely (or a good portion of it) to make sure it is telling us the truth, that it is trustworthy and that there is no "fine print" -- looking for anything contradictory in the slightest.

If something appears to be out of place for any reason (even if it's just a little thing like a typo), we will tend to leave the site quickly or in the very least feel uneasy. I call this the "ketchup principle" (the fact that you will remember the tiny ketchup stain on a salesperson's tie instead of his impeccable sales presentation or appearance). As my mentor said to me so many times: "Mike, remember that everything counts -- even the littlest of things. Everything."

But UPAs can also be the result of people not understanding the meaning of what is being communicated on a web site. While we can certainly read the text, understand the message and learn about the products that the content describes, the question is, do we truly understand the meaning of the message conveyed? Does the message mean anything to us specifically, in other words?

Too many web sites describe the products they are selling or use a language that only the sellers understand. More than likely, in such cases buyers do understand the content but they do not fully grasp what these products can do for them. Why? The mind thinks in relative terms. It processes information by visualizing or comparing the information given to things it does understand.

Keep in mind, words are not actual objects. They are symbols.

OK, let's go back to the student mentioned earlier. At the end of my lecture, Neil (the student) turns to me and pulls out a chair and places it beside a class table. He then asks me, "What's the difference between this chair and table?" I said, "One is to sit on and the other is to write on." "No!" he shouted. "Not at all."

I figured he was up to something because Neil is a bit of a storyteller. He adds: "Mike, you're thinking in relative terms. Sitting and writing are descriptions of each individual product. They are functions. They are not differences. Therefore, the difference IS their function." He continues: "What's the difference between a tennis ball and a soccer ball? Not that one is small and the other is big, which is what most people will say. The difference is size." He made an excellent point.

As Neil explained so well, the mind thinks in relative terms. As a result it is important to use comparisons, metaphors, analogies picture words and so on so that the mind can easily and fully appreciate what is being communicated. I call these UPWORDS -- universal picture words or relatable, descriptive sentences. With the use of UPWORDS people will understand and retain more. And of course, UPWORDS will also persuade visitors more effectively.

For example, to explain the benefits of using a backup device on your computer: "This system will save you a lot of frustration if your computer ever malfunctions. It's like watching your favorite movie when your VCR suddenly destroys the videotape, especially when an important scene in the movie was about to unfold."

Essentially, think of your visitors -- does your web site copy communicate in THEIR language? Do you provide a frequently asked questions and answers page? Does it explain the product you offer -- and particularly its benefits -- in relative terms? If not, then the UPA you will create for your visitors will likely be one that will lead to disinterest, misunderstanding or frustration.

Remember that the Internet lacks touch and feel. People cannot inspect products. Therefore, your web site copy has an increased responsibility -- and more than you might think. Ultimately, make sure the UPAs your clients make are good ones. If you want your visitors to assume that your online business has good customer service, and has a great product that's easy to use, then make sure your web site copy indirectly communicates the same.

About the Author
Michel Fortin is an author, speaker and Internet marketing consultant dedicated to turning businesses into powerful magnets. Visit ( He is also the editor of the "Internet Marketing Chronicles" ezine delivered weekly to 100,000 subscribers -- subscribe free at (


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