The reading level for this article is Expert

If you’re a web marketer and you’ve done your homework, you’ve probably come across the Long Sales Letter in your internet travels. Top web marketing experts like Yanik Silver, “The Copy Doctor” Michel Fortin and countless others use it to pitch their comprehensive instructional kits. You may have even made a purchase based on what you read in one of these letters.

Powerfully persuasive, the Long Sales Letter employs carefully targeted copy to draw the reader in, emotionally identify with them, create a need for the product, and incite them to make an immediate purchase. The Long Sales letter, in all its verbosity and sensationalism, gleams with promise. It appears the surefire way to make sales come pouring in.

But is it? Should you fork your hard-earned cash over to a copywriter who will create a hypnotic and riveting sales letter that goes on for pages and pages hyping your product? Should you grab for your credit card and buy one of those comprehensive teaching packets that tells you everything you ever wanted to know about writing a Long Sales Letter yourself?

Answers often come in the form of questions. Here are some questions I typically ask my clients:

What are you selling, and how much does it cost?

Does the product you offer on your website fulfill immediate short-term needs?

Or is it something that might help someone reach a long-term goal?

Items that satisfy immediate yearnings for a low price don’t require a rousing speech to attract buyers. What these products do require is visibility. How funny would it be to receive a letter in the mail from the CEO of Bubble Yum, urging you to buy his product! Totally unnecessary; Bubble Yum does a fine job of selling itself on the “impulse buy” rack by the supermarket check-out. Music CDs and clothing are things that don’t cost huge amounts of money, and virtually sell themselves. Your customer will know in a matter of seconds whether they want what you have. In such a case, skip the letter. Instead, showcase these items in a high-traffic area where they will be seen.

Who are you marketing to?

I did some work recently for an e-greeting company who had me writing a long and persuasive letter. I posed the question: “How much do we really need to convince people to buy these e-greetings? Either people will like them, or they won’t.” My client in turn made a good point: the sales letter wasn’t needed to toute the actual product on the site. But it would certainly come in handy for potential affiliates and promoters. The sales letter was a handy tool that depicted us an intelligent group of people with a knack for selling – and that could very well be the driving decision for those who might want to represent us. So yes, a sales letter may actually work to your benefit, depending on the audience you plan to address.

Would your product or service be considered ‘an investment?’

An investment is a possession acquired for future return or benefit. Items that offer long-term benefits cost more money. They promise a brighter tomorrow; an investment for the future. They also require more convincing to get people to buy them. I recently met a career coach who features a goal achievement system, in the form of an e-book, for purchase on her website. Her e-book is moderately priced for its category, and well-written in my opinion. Would I advise her to use a sales letter to pitch the e-book? Yes, but I’d make the letter an overview of her entire service offering and not just about the e-book.

The trick is to convince people that a career coach will help them reach their personal and professional goals, which in turn will do wonders for their career, bolster their confidence and improve their quality of life. If you can sell them on this broad concept, then they’d likely sign up for career coaching sessions, and at the very least purchase a goal achievement system e-book. With your sales letter, you can build a case for maximum investment, and at the very minumum, make a few supplemental bucks with a supporting product.

How much information can you fill your letter with?

As much as you have to build a solid argument. Start by openly addressing the customer’s frustrations and fears. “Are you tired of throwing away money on lukewarm ads that just don’t sell?” The reader is hard-pressed to disagree. Next comes the aspirations; the hope for a better tomorrow: “Imagine an ad campaign that can triple your sales at a minimal cost to your business!”

Pose your company as having solution; the secret key, the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. “Watch your sales rate explode!” “Discover the secrets that successful marketers know!” They’re not really secrets and nothing is literally going to explode, but such language creates a sense of excitement and urgency. Build your credibility with testimonials and success stories. “Bob Luken had this to say about our system:” (list testimonial). “Marla Thompson lost 49 pounds in three months thanks to our weight loss program!”

Finally comes the call to action: “Buy now, and get on the path to a more properous tomorrow!” “Click here to start saving immediately!” A word to the wise: once you make your point, wrap it up. Beware the hypnotic effects of repeated ideas and words, and endless streams of mind-numbing copy. Not everyone succumbs to such trickery! I speak for myself when I say that after four or so paragraphs, the reader is likely losing interest. At this point, one of two things may happen. They will scroll all the way to the end and click BUY NOW, or they will grow disgusted and leave your website.

How strong of a message do you require?

The flashy, all-I-need-now-is-a-megaphone Sales Letter doesn’t work for everybody. Take the hospitality industry, for example, which calls for a bit more subtlety and finesse. You don’t want to appear frenzied or desperate to make the sale, or you may scare away the customer. Strong language can do just that. Some Lengthy Sales Letters use what I consider marketing brainwashing tactics. The brainwashing comes when you start repeating what you’ve already said, but in a slightly different way. Or when you follow the formula I’ve outlined in the previous paragraph, but do it no less than 12 times in the body of your letter. This is a form of “loud” advertising in itself!

If you ask yourself the right questions, you’ll get a better idea for whether a Long Sales Letter, or any other type of advertising strategy you might have learned about, is the best approach for your own company. Be honest with yourself during the questioning process. It also helps to “put your feet in the consumer’s shoes.” In my ten years as an advertiser, one thing rings true as far as I can see: the more aggressively you push your products and the “busier” the ads, the more lowbrow or “low-confidence” consumer you’ll attract. As a general rule, when creating ads, less is more. So if you have a good point to make, make it in the best way you can, but don’t go to extremes. If your ads are always long-winded, bold and frantic, you’ll attract plenty of attention. But it may not be the kind of attention you want.

Copyright Dina Giolitto 2005. All rights reserved.

This Sales & Marketing article was written by Dina Giolitto on 3/21/2005

Dina Giolitto is a New-Jersey based Copywriting Consultant with nine years’ industry experience. Her current focus is web content and web marketing for a multitude of products and services although the bulk of her experience lies in retail for big-name companies like ToysRUs. Visit for rates and samples.