Revive the Lost Art of Direct Response Copywriting Online

Last week, I was interviewed by another major publication about the similarities between direct marketing and online copywriting.

Talking to my younger-than-me interviewer, I realized that a lot of what I was talking about in regards to proven direct marketing copywriting technique is news to the online generation. Yet, I’ve seen it all work wonderfully well in e-mail — increasing revenue and response rates way beyond the norm.

Here’s a short rundown of direct marketing tips that translate well to e-mail.

  • Johnson Box: This is a mini-billboard of copy that you put above your main copy to call out the most compelling message and call-to-action. If readers scan nothing more than the Johnson box, they’ll get the whole message.
  • Short sentences: Big blocks of copy — especially online — are eye-glazing. Break all that dense copy up by using this direct marketing formula:
    • Start off with a short sentence: One or two lines at most. A one-and-a-half line opening sentence is ideal because it creates more white space between the text and the next paragraph.
    • Follow it with a two- or three-line paragraph.
    • Then a one-line paragraph.
    • If possible, make your next paragraph, just a few words, such as “Think about it” or “It works — no kidding.”
    • Then, keep the copy rhythmic by following three- or four-line paragraphs with shorter ones.
    • Your last sentence should be no longer than two lines.

  • Indent for emphasis: If you have a short anecdote or research point you really want to call out, indent the whole paragraph on both sides.
  • Use underlines, boldface type and italics to increase scannability: See if just reading the highlighted copy gives you the whole story. If so, you’re on your way. Of course, sprinkling action links throughout the copy will increase your response rates and break up the copy.
  • Ramp it up further. Use handwritten underlines, hand-drawn circles, and yellow highlighters.
  • Add a P.S. at the end. And be sure to put a link there. You should experience a significant uptick in response from your P.S. links.
  • Sidebar: This is another critical response driver, so make it work for you by creating a mini-ad in the sidebar with a photo, headline above it, and a big honking button below it. Add a compelling caption to the photo — and you’ll find it is the most-read text in your e-mail.

Finally, study up on direct mail techniques. The great thing about direct mail — vs. regular advertising — is that it’s always been tested and measured. Techniques that have stood the test of time are likely to work. Translate them to your online campaigns and you should see your response rates go way up.

What techniques have you borrowed from other advertising disciplines? Share your best techniques with Karen for a future column.

Join ClickZ Expert Julie Batten for a new Webinar: Should You Outsource Your Online Marketing Services?, Thursday, April 16, 2009, at 1 pm (EDT). Learn why outsourcing your online marketing activities — including search marketing — can help you save money and achieve better results.

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