Are Long-Form Sales Letters Dead?

Alright, let’s be honest. We’ve all seen people say things are “dead” just to get attention. Email is dead. Blogging is dead. I’ve heard it…

Alright, let’s be honest. We’ve all seen people say things are “dead” just to get attention. Email is dead. Blogging is dead. I’ve heard it all, and each time, they are stupid ploys for attention.

Today, however, is no ploy for attention. I am asking an honest question. This has been rolling around in my head for several days now. At this point, I am leaning toward the conclusion that the long-form sales letter has passed on into the white light. Must send flowers.

marketingThe Usual Approach

There is absolutely NO doubt whatsoever that long-form sales letters work. They have been tested every which way and they have worked ever since the original days of direct response marketing.

Many copywriters today create sales letters that can be upwards of 20 pages long. For the people new to all of this, that simply means that, were you to print out the text onto paper, it would be that long to read. Obviously, on the computer screen, it is just one LONG sales letter.

The usual rule of thumb is that the sales letter only has to be as long as it has to be. In other words, do what works. On average, we’re seeing lengths between 10 and 20 pages.

Today, most long-form sales letters end up getting the usual range of reactions. Some immediately see it and their guard goes up because they know it is meant to sell. Others get annoyed by all the scrolling it takes to get to the bottom of it. They’ll read the big headline, then scroll WAY down to the bottom to find the price. Then, they’ll use the price to determine whether to read the rest of the letter.

Copywriters are trained to deal with this, BTW. The use of the P.S. at the bottom of the letter is designed specifically for those who immediately scroll to the bottom. The sub-headlines are used to catch the attention of the scanners and hopefully entice them to read in more detail. Done right, the sub-headlines of your sales letter should deliver roughly the same message as the entire letter, just in short form.

Truth be told, as many people who complain about these long-form sales letters, the proof is ultimately in the pudding. They work and they make sales. Hence people use them.

Are Times Changing?

Ever since my Blog Masters launch (which I’ll go over in a minute), I’ve been rolling this idea over in my head. Then, as if the stars aligned, I’ve been noticing similar rumblings out there.

It started with the launch of Third Tribe. This is the program by Brian Clark, Darren Rowse, Sonia Simone and the notoriously handsome Chris Brogan. The sales letters for Third Tribe is not long-form. What it is is a shortened sales letter broken up into tabs. It is not a hard-sell, and the tabs immediately break the flow up.

Immediate pattern interrupt to the usual ways of online marketing. Good idea to back up the whole “third tribe” concept.

Then, I saw Dave Navarro with his post, Short Sales Letters (And Why They Work). He makes some great points, but he also features Laura Roeder, who just launched her own Twitter-related product using this same approach. She simply made a quickie video and essentially that was her sales letter. What Laura did was use a solid pre-launch, building that relationship before they ever even saw this video. By the time they visit the video, they are practically pre-qualified.

I’ve also noticed this trend in the past. Even internet marketer extraordinaire, Frank Kern, often does sales letters which consist of nothing but a video with a big BUY button next to it. And Frank is making a killing.

My Observations From My Recent Launch

As many of my readers know, I just recently completed the re-launch of Blog Masters Club.

Now, I am a constant student of online business. I practice what I preach, but I also learn from what I do and make adjustments. So, along that line, I’ll share what I saw with my own launch.

I used a long-form sales letter for my launch. In fact, let’s be honest: My sales letter was longer than HELL. 🙂 It was. Jordan Cooper even cracked that it broke his scroll wheel!

Now, because this was honestly a shotgun-style launch, one that I pulled off with little prep and really quickly because of the pending birth of my son, I did not have the time to set up any split tests. I even forgot to track my damn conversion rate, as embarrassing as that is. But, I’ve got numbers to run some calculations with.

If we look at the total number of visits to the sales letter, versus the number of signups during launch week, I did roughly a 5.5% conversion rate.

Now, considering the average conversion rate for a sales letter is around 1%, I did OK. That said, I’ve heard of others who’ve converted between 10% and 15%, the difference being professional copywriting and the content of the prelaunch.

But, more important than the overall conversion rate is this…

Most of those sales came right after my prelaunch webinar, and on the last day as I was streaming live on Ustream all day.

So, after a 10-day prelaunch with a lot of videos and stuff, it culminated in the webinar. About 31% of the sales from the entire launch week came in the first 3 hours after that webinar. A little over half of the entire volume of the launch came before the doors even officially opened. This was all driven by the prelaunch content and the webinar, which was completely live.

On the last day, I live-streamed for 12 hours on UStream.TV. I embedded the live feed and the chat room right on the top of the sales letter. About 14% of all the sales came on the last day, while I was on camera.

What does that leave us? Work those numbers and only about 30-35% of the total sales volume happened during the launch week itself, powered by my sales letter.

My Conclusions

The majority of my sales volume was driven by LIVE interaction with me. When that was happening, people more or less scanned the sales letter and went right for the button to enroll. When left to their own devices, they mostly bounced off the sales letter.

In other words, my sales letter didn’t work very well unless I was there to back it up. People wanted interaction with me, not the sales letter. They needed ME to answer their questions. They got a feel for me during prelaunch. The sales letter threw them off.

What it comes down to is the difference between relationship marketing and cold marketing. For a cold prospect who had never heard of me before, a long-form sales letter is probably more necessary. For a prospect who already got to know me via my blog and the prelaunch, the long sales letter got in the way and probably just made me look like just another frickin marketer.

For Me, They’re Dead

I think there is a time and place for a long-form sales letter and there always will be. For me, though, they’re dead. I do not intend to use a long-form letter like that again. When it comes time to launch my next thing, I will test out something drastically different.

For those reading this post, here is the thing to keep in mind…

Bloggers who make money are inherently in the business of relationship marketing. Things work different. People want transparency. People want to know you’re real. People want to know, like and trust you. If you do a good job with all of that, then you don’t need to use a big long sales letter and break their scroll wheel to sell them something.

And I would argue that, these days, using them actually hurts more than they help.

The way I see it, if your testing shows that you need a big, long offer page, then perhaps you’re not doing a good enough job with the pre-launch and relationship building.

In my case, I think my pre-launch and live interaction worked awesome, but the sales letter was a bit of a lead weight.

So, what are your thoughts on these long sales letters? And, if you’re a marketer or copywriter, what is your experience when them versus the more “third tribe” approach?

About David Risley
David Risley is the founder of the Blog Marketing Academy, a 20-year veteran blogger and online entrepreneur. His focus? Building a reliable, recurring business around his "lifestyle" and the lives of his students. He has this weird obsession with traveling in his motorhome around the country with his wife and 2 kids. David also likes to talk about himself in the third person. In bios like this one. Read his full story.
  • PJ Brunet says:

    Thanks for sharing your observations, I need to work on this. I see it as a balance between being too concise vs. long-winded. To paraphrase Brian Tracy, people want more information, as much as you’ll give them, through that decision process. Maybe it helps some people get through the cognitive dissonance. Maybe they’ll recommend the product more effectively if they have more information. I wouldn’t rule out the “Long-Form” if people get closer and closer to a purchase by becoming more and more informed. I could also argue for being more concise. Like you said, test it.

  • Mestiko says:

    Why do I need to read to pure exhaustion on a sales page to really find out what is selling. Sales letter does not have to be long and never ending to get to the point. If you don’t have me in the first paragraph then you will never have me at the last neither.

  • David I think you touched on something really important and that that the presell is the thing that matters most. The relationship always leads to a connection but the solving proccess leads to a sale

  • becky says:

    I absolutely am sick to death of those red sales letters. Nope, I never buy from people who sell in my face. I mean, when I've DECIDED I want to buy, I'm ready to pay and see the price and see the receipt at checkout, NOT be sent continually to have my arm twisted again and again with a severley annoying sales letter. It is such a sales turn off and runins my buying experience. What you gurus keep missing is that if the site is good enough, if the quality content is there and I like who I'm buying from, then forget the sales letter. Just ask yourself why Amazon is so successful – wow, I love this site – so easy to use with NO damn sales letters. When I'm ready to buy I just checkout – like in a normal store. WOuld you have some assistant selling to your face when you're standing in the queue ready to check out with a product you're about to buy – heck I'd put it back on the rack, walk out and go some place else to buy. It's all about user experiece and the sales letter fails miserably.

  • becky says:

    I absolutely am sick to death of those red sales letters. Nope, I never buy from people who sell in my face. I mean, when I've DECIDED I want to buy, I'm ready to pay and see the price and see the receipt at checkout, NOT be sent continually to have my arm twisted again and again with a severley annoying sales letter. It is such a sales turn off and runins my buying experience. What you gurus keep missing is that if the site is good enough, if the quality content is there and I like who I'm buying from, then forget the sales letter. Just ask yourself why Amazon is so successful – wow, I love this site – so easy to use with NO damn sales letters. When I'm ready to buy I just checkout – like in a normal store. WOuld you have some assistant selling to your face when you're standing in the queue ready to check out with a product you're about to buy – heck I'd put it back on the rack, walk out and go some place else to buy. It's all about user experiece and the sales letter fails miserably.

  • This is the first I've heard or seen anything like this. You see, I tend to live in a little cocoon. The world is nuts, but I guess this stuff works.

  • infopediaonlinehere says:

    great post

  • Dave Doolin says:

    It's interesting that almost no one commenting here like long copy, just the opposite in fact.

    Yet your long copy converted better than 5%, and might have done even better had a pro written it.

    Curious.

  • Dave Doolin says:

    Well put, Erica.

    I howled with laughter at Kern's *long form* sales letter for Video Boss… where ragged all over long form copy “nobody wants to read long sales letter.” I suspect that email converted very well for him. It was extremely well written.

    Long, short, doesn't matter as much as “not boring” I suspect.

    In the end, long copy is just another tool in the shed. Use it when needed.

  • Eric says:

    Honestly everyone is different and I'm on the same boat. I personally don't prefer them unless I know the person behind them well enough because I think that the person who creates them is just in it for getting a hold of my money.

    If I know the person and have build trust with them at all, it's different.

  • Ursula says:

    I find I never read anywhere near the whole letter — I just skim quickly through a few parts here and there, but since I know their format, I pretty much just scroll all the way down towards the bottom (or almost-bottom) to find the price and the buy buttons.

    I'm not sure if I'd use a long sales letter myself for my future products… something to think about!

  • travisamorgan says:

    Gonna have to agree with you on this one.

    Even as a potential customer to others out there, I HATE HATE HATE sales letters. It looks and feels like bogus. It feels very over-exaggerated and frustrates me to no end, I'm at the point now, where if I see a sales letter, I immediately click out of there.

    Sorry, a little venting…

    However, when I see something like a video presentation, or the salesman right there in front of me, describing it and showing me around, I feel like it's a bit nicer than just flat out text. Plus, I get to sit back, relax and enjoy a nice presentation. No reading, just watch and listen.
    Maybe this is because of the microwave society we live in?

    Anyway, great post, I'm going to have to 150% agree with you, maybe even more than you agree with you. If that makes sense. Thanks bro.

  • David says:

    When you have a relationship with your audience a long sales letter in not always neccessary. If you NEED a long sales letter to describe all the benefits then go for it, but if you have an online pressence like you, I would think that video mixed with and outline of the benefits of joining should be all you need, in addition to all the pre launch marketing.

  • evanhadkins says:

    I think it's very true (certainly for me) that people like to buy but hate being sold to. I think blogs and other social media are making a difference. I don't think we know what the difference exactly looks like yet.

  • evanhadkins says:

    I loathe long sales letters – I don't like getting them so I won't use them to sell to others.

    One way is to break them into a series (Product Launch Formula approach) or break them up with tabs (Third Tribe).

    I think they are more for the IM (anonymous) space than the blogging (relational) space.

    So I like the personal/blogging approach. My difficulty with it is growing a big enough audience. Relationships take time. Any thoughts you have on this are extremely welcome.

  • Interesting observations. I’ve been trying new things with my products, many of which are evergreen and aren’t launch based.

    The launches that work well without long sales pages either have

    a) rockstar personalities behind them. i.e. “gurus”
    b) huge lateral sales page…kind of like 3rd Tribe has been doing for months.

    I think there’s a way that you can still use long sales copy without making it look like it’s long sales copy. Information pages masked as sales pages, for example.

    I’m curious to see what you’ll find…for me thus far, it’s been far from black and white.

  • I am with you here. I have never seriously launched a product, and while I have had music for sale on the web for years I am pretty new to the whole content-marketing, info-product realm… and I am also very new to the realm of trying to seriously understand marketing and online business. I am here to learn and accept that I have a lot to learn, and that up to a point it is better to emulate things that work than to try to invent a whole new category of marketing based on gut ideas and not much else…

    however: I can honestly not imagine myself writing a long-form sales letter. I just don't think I can do it – they just smell bad to me and even though I know they work, and I've actually watched them work on me despite my being aware of it, I just don't think I can do it. I'll do pretty much anything to avoid it.

    I like the idea of the “sideways sales letter”, and I am planning to use video, and based on what you've reported here (thanks for being so up-front and transparent about it! You're right that it inspires confidence and trust) I think the webinar/streaming model is a strong possibility…

  • David Gordon says:

    Ask yourselves – do you like being sold to? That will dictate a bit how you will structure a sales letter don't you think? Me? I hate being sold to. When I come across a long sales letter, I sigh, then I scroll down to the bottom, past all the testimonials and the frequent “Get it now” buttons and the bladi-bladi-blah to see how much this is going to cost me. I then go back and read snippets and if it grabs me then I'll decide. Usually with long sales letters I look at the price and make a snap judgement if it is going to be worth my while. I don't have the time to sit and read a long sales letter, especially as I'm not a 6 figure blogger yet. I haven't got rid of my day job and a lot of people have a family to look after. They don't want to spend 20 mins reading a freakin sales letter. If you haven't grabbed somebody in the first 5 seconds they read your sales letter say good bye to their money. Simple. Just because this was the way it's always been doesn't mean it is the way to continue. Look at Toyota – it became the model on how to make cars across the world with free thinking – then suddenly their thought patterns started to harden and they are now losing billions in revenue. The ones thing that is constant in the universe is change. Everything evolves and to think that some methods won't change is to become stuck in a paradigm.

  • ebusinessmom says:

    I've used long sales letters in the past and they worked. However, they are not working now. People are sick and tired of them. What most people did anyway was read the headline and then scroll down to the bottom to see the price. Hardly anyone reads that stuff anymore… too much. Now they're being replaced with those Keith Wellman super long videos those are getting annoying too. Why not make a short video and get to the point? Things are changing, but for the better. Thanks for the great read as always David.

  • I reckon bloggers are changing the game in every aspect, and LONG “sales letters” is just another thing we need to address.

    Informative as they are, I personally DON'T like them.

    Their “static” form seems rather odd in culture where personal interactions and credibility are important.

    Let's remember, lengthy sales letters has been around for donkeys years, and the concept still works.
    However, some elements of it can be re-applied to fit the blogging culture.

  • I do not like these long online sales letters. In fact, they make me feel like the product I am considering is a scam. It seems that most people here think that they work, however, all they do is make me mad especially if I cant find the price.

    What I think is interesting though, is that I have bought items that were being sold through real, paper sales letters in the past. They don't turn me off. I will scan them and if something catches my eye I will sit down and read the whole thing. I guess it is jus the ridiculous length of these web letters that irritates me.

    I really cant believe they can be so effective. Who even has time to read them 🙂

  • cfagbata says:

    Tell you the truth, they have been long dead for me. I rarely read them not with all the social media profiles I have to update or multiple blogs I have to always refresh. But you know what I enjoyed the Third Tribe flow and read every bit of it – as simple as it gets!

  • Agreed 🙂

  • jp moses says:

    Compelling. My opinion: Long sales letters are not dead by any stretch. They'll continue to perform well when expertly executed. But they now have starkly different competition that can give them a run for the money any day. In other words…the long sales letter isn't the only viable game in town anymore. Which is awesome…cause they're a PAIN to write! 🙂

    …jp

  • I've just realised that the webinar and the UStream day were two different things.

    In which case I signed up during the UStream day, not during the pre-launch webinar.

  • David Risley says:

    The sales page wasn't even live until after that webinar, so I'm curious what you were reading for days.

  • David Risley says:

    Yeah, long-form won't die. It does work. I just think, in certain instances, they hurt more than help.

  • I signed up during the webinar, but I had been reading the sales page for days and was undecided.

    It was the e-mail from MikeCJ that persuaded me…

  • I thoroughly loved your analysis here, David. The point that stands out the most is that if you're building relationships with your potential customers *beforehand* then there's essentially no need for long info-packed sales pages.

    Depending on your product & niche, where you might not have the ability to reach potential customers on a regular basis (such as tutorial/how-to wares from a high level of search traffic) – I can understand having a long sales page, since you need them to get to know you *fast*.

    Besides those cases, a good marketer has already cultivated a deeper relationship with potential customers via their blog, e-mail list, etc. that this “get them up to speed” attitude may not be required at all.

    For those that still say long-form still outperforms short-form in split tests, it may not actually be the case because of the format, but on the effort or lack of effort made by them in prepping potential customers for the sale beforehand with relationship marketing.

  • vmosso says:

    Most definately, people want to see and interact with a REAL body, a real person …and video or live streaming such as Ustream are the way to go.
    Long sales letters…I never read um…. they are boring and insulting to me.
    I much rather interact with someone that I can see and develop a feel for who and what they are.
    I became a Member of the BlogmastersClub probably due in part to the fact that I could interact with David, and ask questions on the spot.
    Long Copy sales letters feel shiszter to me…… I think they have been overdone, and are too much of a desperate attempt to 'convince' one to buy.
    Keep it simple, open and honest…. thats what people want now.
    ps) Good insight as usual David!

  • I agree with your sentiment 100%. Closing ratio in many instances dramatically increases when the price is revealed later on. If the technique didn't work so darn well, I'm positive marketers would adjust their approach 🙂

  • I agree with the line you draw between long pages being more appropriate for a cold audience. when it comes to marketing I think there will always be a place for that. Reaching new people is always going to be part of the game.

  • lorenmickelson says:

    The long sales letters totally “turn me off”… I won't buy from them… too much “stuff”… too much hype… just say what you need to say….

  • David Risley says:

    Agreed. I intend to run some tests on this matter next time I launch a project.

  • David Risley says:

    Great input. And I tend to agree. I thought the Third Tribe sales letter was unique in the structure, but the copy was definitely weak.

  • I don't know if saying they are dead is accurate, it seems that some of your sales did come from the long form. While I completely agree that the live interaction and amount of time you spent being “available” either here, Twitter, or your webinars, was the difference in how many sales you got, I don't think you can discount that some sales came from the long form too.

    To me, using multiple ways to get your sales message out seems logical, shoot there might even be a couple of tactics you didn't use that could have made more sales.

    I guess that analyzing the ROI for each technique would maybe eliminate the need for the long form if it isn't worth the effort based on results.

    Personally, I prefer the long form video 🙂

  • Sam says:

    You're not the first one to say this. But fact of the matter is that even you haven't split tested them yet. Third Tribe used short copy doesn't mean that short copy is good. They didn't provide their conversion rates to anyone.

  • ericabiz says:

    Another thing I just thought of. (Sorry I'm posting multiple comments! 🙂

    I tend to lean more toward the Internet marketing side than the Third Tribe side. I'd bet a good amount of money that Ryan Deiss's video sales letters have a FAR higher conversion rate than the “Third Tribe” sales letters. Not to mention Kern and some of the other top marketers.

    Third Tribe can get away with what they do because they have a huge audience. But their copywriting isn't super-strong.

    The weaker copywriting is often from people who are afraid to piss off their “tribe” or be all “sales-y”. This (from my perspective as an entrepreneur) is crazy. We are in the business of getting people to buy stuff that they need and/or desire. Strong copywriting helps get people over their own barriers and do something that they need to do.

    Strong copywriting cannot convince you to do something that is not in your best interest.

    It is my opinion that people selling stuff on the Internet should learn copywriting skills and persuasion skills. All too often, I see the Third Tribe folks skittering away from this. It's a mistake–unless you really want to gain 100,000+ subscribers before you start making a FT income online. 😉

    -Erica

  • ericabiz says:

    Oh, and FFS, don't make your video more than 5 or 6 minutes. If it's longer, it should be pre-launch content…not on your sales letter. 😉

  • ericabiz says:

    The best advice I have seen from top Internet marketers is to do a sales letter like this:

    [pre-head sentence]
    [VIDEO]
    [buy button]
    [BIG HEADLINE]
    [subhead]
    [sales letter, blah blah, subheads etc.]
    [buy button #2]
    [P.S.]

    The buy button can also be placed to the right of the video. But the point is to get the first buy button above the fold so that people who don't want to read the letter can buy right away.

    That way you get the benefit of relationship marketing, plus you add some sales from “cold leads” who need to read your whole sales letter.

    -Erica

  • Nothing is dead. It will co-exists with other emerging forms like video, short copy for capturing quick lead and sales. Nobody reads long form sales letters. But many people do believe that unless you have one, your product is crappy. Go figure. About the type of sales letter that Third Type has, I will not see it making a big dent at least in a next few years. But it is a refreshing approach.

  • Jenny says:

    I get irritated when the price is hidden, requiring me to submit information (a.k.a. get some cheesy weekly email with a subject line that tries to look like it's from a friend) just to figure out the price. I don't care if you're selling a trip to the moon, my budget is my budget. It just annoys me when people try to hide the price when that is obviously the make or break in many situations. If I'm reading at all, it's because I'm interested and you're a trusted source. From there it's about R.O.I., and despite R.O.I., DO I HAVE THAT TO SPEND?

  • Yes, long sales pages are dead, if they ever were alive. Those who have used it say they work. They say that buyers read those long pages. I say, buyers read those pages because they have to. What the heck is up with not putting even an option to buy on top!

    Many marketers THINK the long page works, because they have always used them (because some copywriting guru who charged them a bucket load of money said so).

    I think very small percentage of marketers have actually split tested long vs. short copy, they have just used the long. Without split test, I would go with short copy, or even all video. With testing, I'd go with all three and combinations until finding the right one for that specific product. In the end, if the long works the best, more power to it, but I doubt it.

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