Do You Mind Being Squeezed? Thoughts on Registration Forms

Dear Copy Bitch: I noticed on one of the client sites you list in your portfolio that you’re using a squeeze page for white paper downloads. There has been a lot of interesting blog chatter about content gates recently (my favorite from D. Meerman Scott). I’m curious — what do you think about it? I am writing an ebook for my new website and think I’m going to offer it without a registration page. What has been your experience with your client’s registration page?

—Clare M., Belmont, Mass.

Answer: I find that if people really want the content, they’ll fill out the forms — even long ones. But the content must be valuable. Burn them once with crappy content, and you’ve likely lost them forever. Last week, I talked about a long-ass form I had to fill out for a free magazine subscription. I went through with it, mainly because I’m fairly certain the content will be valuable to me.

To squeeze or not to squeeze? How do you decide?

It depends on your goals — if you’re looking to be a thought leader and you want your philosophy and way of thinking to spread like wildfire, you have a much better chance of that happening if you offer something free and 100 percent clear (e.g. no registration form required). If you’re looking to develop a list of people who are interested in your products or services so that you can continue marketing to them (with their permission, of course!) — then a squeeze page makes sense.

But let’s look at an example. Let’s say you’re a corporate mentoring consultant providing a free white paper on how to leverage a corporate mentoring program to attract, develop, and retain talent. Well, that’s a very specific (read: small) audience we’re targeting. If someone is interested in this white paper, it’s probably because they have an existing corporate mentoring program or they’re thinking of starting one — both excellent leads for the client.

Let’s say the same mentoring consultant wants to get out on the speaking circuit because he thinks his mentoring philosophy is the way companies should approach mentoring in the 21st century. And let’s say he has an ebook that provides insight into this philosophy. Well, if he offers that ebook free and 100 percent clear, it stands a better chance of being shared by many people — people who could be interested in bringing in this consultant to speak to an organization.

On most of my clients’ websites, we give away some stuff, such as newsletter articles, free and 100 percent clear, and then require registration for other things. I think that’s a good approach for most SMBs: having a solid mixture of free-and-100-percent-clear content and registration-form content based on the client’s goals.

Curious as to what my other readers think. Weigh in with your comments.

Yes, it’s FREE! Well, wait…

I just signed up for a free magazine subscription. Actually, the magazine comes out monthly, and you can buy the full 12-month subscription OR you can choose the “standard-level subscription,” which gives you four issues for FREE (if you qualify), one each quarter.  I’m signing up for this magazine because a client mentioned she thinks it has good info for me to follow regarding her business. She told me to sign up for the freebie since that would give me just enough of what I needed to know.


Here was my experience in The Land of (Not-So?) Free:

Why don’t they say “Click here for your FREE subscription – one issue, one per quarter”? Oh, because apparently they want to play. Here’s what they said: “Request a standard subscription.” That doesn’t sound very free, but maybe that’s me being a poor sport.

When you click on the “Request a standard subscription” button, you’re brought to a landing page that says:

Free Subscription to <Name Redacted> Magazine
It only takes 2 minutes to complete this one-page form!

And then, beneath that, there’s a big yellow WARNING triangle that says:

Did you receive a FREE COPY at your address?
Or are you an existing subscriber?
If so, do NOT fill out the form below!
Instead, LOGIN to confirm your pending subscription, renew or change address.

And then below this is the World’s Longest Form For Something Free (27 fields to fill out). It includes a field that asks me the first letter of my father’s first name, for verification purposes (as Dave Barry would say, “I’m not making this up.”)

After filling it out (I forget to time it to see if it took two minutes) and submitting it, I kinda felt panicky, like I just agreed to getting slapped with a $50 invoice. There was nothing saying “Congrats! You’ll get your first free issue in 6-8 weeks. And we’ll send you three more free issues after that. If at that point you want to subscribe to our 12-month plan, you can do so. And if not, no worries — you’ll never get an invoice from us unless you decide to upgrade.” Instead, everything felt vague and confusing. Even the follow-up email made me feel like I had an “account,” which I guess I do.

Here’s my beef: if you’re going to give something away for FREE, give it away FREE and CLEAR. Do not make me jump through hoops with a long-ass form. Do not make me believe, after filling out said form, that I’m going to be saddled with an invoice.

Since I’m filling out a request for a free magazine, I understand you’ll need my mailing address (that’s already giving you much more info than I provide on most forms). But for everyone else out there who is giving something away for free, get only the basics: a name and an email address and include an opt-in check box for future communications. That’s it. Yes, I understand what you’re giving away is a bait piece, but really, if I give you my email address and my explicit permission to continue marketing to me, that’s all the info you need. And if I DON’T give you permission to market to me again, get over it.

I’m a marketing copywriter, so I understand the “client side,” trust me. But I also believe that by advocating for the customer side first, both sides will ultimately win in the long run.

Recap: If you’re really giving something away free and clear, say so and stand by it. Make it easy for people to get the goods. Respect the fact that for many, this is all they will ever want from you. And then move on and focus on the ones who do want to hear from you again.

Next week, I’ll be answering a question from a reader about whether free stuff should require any sort of form at all. It’s a good question. Stay tuned for my answer.

Does Direct Mail Still Work? (Short Answer: Yes)

Dear Copy Bitch: We’re an HVAC company, and we keep encountering marketing consultants who say we should abandon direct mail marketing altogether. But here’s the thing: our direct mail pieces convert. The ROI is great. Still, I wonder if this is just an anomaly, and if I should get out while I can and redistribute my marketing dollars elsewhere. We have an optimized website, we add engaging content regularly, and we’re delving into social media. Should we put all our focus in those things, or is it okay to still have some of our marketing dollars going towards direct mail? What say you, oh wondrous Copy Bitch? And if you do think there’s still a place for direct mail, can you give some examples of effective direct mail pieces? Thanks for the great blog!

–M.H., Atlanta, GA

ANSWER: The death of direct mail has been greatly exaggerated, methinks. A good direct mail piece can still work — and might even have a greater chance of working today, thanks to the fact so many people are abandoning this marketing method (i.e. if done right, your piece has a great chance of standing out since there are fewer pieces of junk mail, at least in my mailbox).

Now as my regular readers know, I drink at the Altar of HubSpot, and I worship Saint Godin. HubSpot is all about inbound marketing, but it recognizes that outbound marketing tactics — like direct mail — still have a place in a company’s marketing plan. Saint Godin is all about what works and what makes sense for your business and, most importantly, your customers.

So, in essence, you’ve answered your own question: your direct mail is working, people are responding to it, you’re seeing conversions, and you’re experiencing great ROI. You have marketing dollars invested in inbound marketing efforts as well. Sounds like you have the right mix right now. The key is monitoring and measuring results. What works today might not work two years from now. But it sounds like you’re well aware of that.

So what does work? Here are three direct mail pieces that were delivered to my mailbox that caught my attention (for the right reasons):

  1. A free DVD of the Oscar award-winning movie Smile Pinki from Smile Train, a charitable organization that I support. Who wouldn’t love to get a free movie in the mail? And this movie has a great way of reaching other potential donors, since I’m bound to share it (and talk about it, like I’m doing here) with others.
  2. Coupon booklets – I always thumb through the coupon booklets I get and often use the restaurant coupons.
  3. The book Linchpin: Are You Indispensable? by Seth Godin. He didn’t send me his latest book because I ordered it. He sent it to me because I’d bought books from him in the past and he thought I’d enjoy it. Of course, I’d planned on buying the book on my own. I hadn’t placed my order yet, but in the letter that accompanied the book, Saint Godin said that if I already had Linchpin, then I should pass on this extra copy to someone else who could benefit. (Is the guy brilliant or what?)

Here’s a piece of snail mail that caught my attention for the WRONG reasons:

TruGreen and Lowe’s sent me an over-sized postcard with a coupon for $29.95 off my first custom lawn treatment. Problem is, I’m in an apartment building. All of us in the building got this postcard. Someone wasted marketing dollars on a mailing list that included apartment numbers, a field that could have been easily filtered out, had someone been paying attention to the details.

The Anatomy of a Great Offer

Dear Copy Bitch: I’m launching a new website (I’m a fellow copywriter), and I wanted to know if you had any ideas for great offers. I can come up with this stuff for clients, but it’s hard to do it for myself.

—Steve T., Santa Monica, CA

ANSWER: Congrats, Steve! But before I answer, I must address that pesky pachyderm in the room. I know some people are wondering why I’d give advice to a copywriter, i.e. a competitor. Simple. I believe there’s enough room for all of us. Competition is good because it ensures we writers (lawyers, marketers, politicians) do as good of a job as we possibly can. I also believe in the concept of paying it forward. Many people have helped me along the way after all.

Okay, enough of the philosophizing. Let’s talk about the anatomy of a great offer. Here are some traits that I think all great offers have:

  1. It will provide me with something that I consider valuable.
  2. It’s easy to access.
  3. It’s easy to understand and/or use.

1. Make Valuable Offers

So how do you figure out what people will consider valuable?

Ask current customers. Shoot them a quick email or make a quick call and ask them what they would get excited about seeing available on your website.

Ask potential customers.
Think of the type of business owners you want to do business with, and ask them what they would consider valuable. Chances are if you don’t directly know some of these people, you know someone who does.

Put yourself in your customer’s shoes. Picture yourself as a business owner who lands on your website. What sort of information would be valuable? Tips on how to proofread more effectively? A 21-point guide on creating blog posts that get people talking? A step-by-step tutorial on writing an effective web page?

Worried that these types of offers give away too many trade secrets? Don’t. Educating your clients or prospective clients on certain writing tasks won’t put you out of a job. (Empowering people is never a bad thing. Well, at least in this case.) What it will likely do is 1) make them appreciate what you do even more and/or 2) make them advocate for you (especially if they’re reporting to people further up the food chain).

Something else to keep in mind: I believe in crafting multiple offers. Make them page specific. So if you have a service page on website copywriting, craft your offer around that. For example, a document called “What’s a title tag and why should I care?” might work well on this page.

2. Make Your Offers Easy to Access

Don’t make people email or call you. Make the offers free and downloadable off your site. Use simple forms (i.e. make the forms short). Get only enough info so that you can continue to stay in front of people, but don’t ask people to surrender every last shred of information about themselves. Don’t  use automatic opt-ins. If you have a question like “Do you want to subscribe to my newsletter,” make sure the “yes” box isn’t automatically checked. After someone hits “submit,” make sure whatever it is that people just signed up for—a document, a coupon, a webinar, access to a private area of your site—is obvious. Include easy-to-read directions if your offer involves anything that involves more than one step. A nice touch? Automated emails that include information around your offer.

3. Make Offers Easy to Understand

In your case, you’ll probably be providing tip sheets, white papers, and tutorials. Remember the KISS rule (Keep It Simple, Stupid). These items are not the place to show off jargon or impress people with your literary prowess. Instead, provide readable, practical information that a 10-year-old can follow, digest, and start using today.

The same holds true no matter what the offer is. If I run an online store, and I offer a coupon code, it should be clear as to what the code is and how and where I’m supposed to use it.

The best way to make sure you’ve taken care of items #2 and #3 is to test it yourself and then have some other folks go through the process.

Hope this helps!

Client Relations: Should You Give Customers What They Want or What They Need?

Dear Copy Bitch: I’d like your take on something. Lately, I’ve been dealing with clients who want to go in directions with their copy and marketing that I don’t think are in their company’s best interests. So what should I do? Take their money and do what they want? Or say no and walk away? I mean if I were in the business of building houses, and a client wanted a bay window, but I didn’t think it would work where they wanted it, well…I don’t have to live in the house, do I? So what say you, Madame Copy Bitch?

–Ed, Boston

Answer: Before you don your mercenary or martyr hat, consider another option: it’s called honest vendor.

I don’t always agree with my clients’ decisions. But that’s okay. I don’t need to as long as 1) I’ve spoken up and given my reasoning for The Other Side and 2) they listened to–and considered–my reasoning.

So, to get back to your specific question, my answer is no. You shouldn’t simply give customers what they want, at least not when it comes to copywriting and marketing advice. Nor should you ignore their desires and do what you think is right.

Here’s what you should do:

  1. Listen to their wants. Let them have the floor and talk.
  2. Ask questions. Dig deeper. When a client says, “I want to create a social media plan for Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and a blog” he or she might be saying, “I really need to get on board with all this social media stuff because everyone else is,” or he/she might be saying, “I really need more sales and this is the way, I’ve heard.”
  3. Once you understand what’s motivating these “wants,” you can then make suggestions about what they really need in order to fulfill these desires.
  4. Keep in mind that your suggestions aren’t enough. Despite the fact they’ve hired you for your expertise, you’re just one more person in a sea of well-meaning people telling them what they need to do. I always arm myself with hard evidence, like articles by respected industry experts that supports whatever I’m recommending (I don’t make recommendations based on hunches either. I have my hunch and then I research to see if my hunch is right).
  5. Don’t overwhelm the client with too much info. Give him or her enough to gnaw on. And give the person time to digest the info.
  6. Then, let it go. It’s out of your hands. At the end of the day, the client gets the final say.

Here’s when I do what the clients wants, even if I don’t think it’s what the client needs:

  • If the particular task, in all fairness, could “go either way” in terms of results
  • If it’s simply a marketing/business decision that the client has thought about (I realize I’m not always going to agree…at some point, I need to respect my client’s need to run his or her own business and make decisions–and potential mistakes–as a result)

Here’s when I’ll walk away:

  • If the client has asked me to do something unethical (e.g. spam a list that hasn’t opted in) or, obviously, illegal (no amount of money is worth this)
  • If the client’s tactics make me feel uncomfortable, for whatever reason (listen to your gut)
  • If the client never, ever listens to my recommendations. I walk because I don’t see the point in continuing a relationship with someone who doesn’t value my expertise and recommendations. It makes me wonder why he or she is paying me to begin with.

How ’bout you, dear readers. How do you handle this scenario?

Marketing Advice for Halloween

Dear Copy Bitch: I challenge you to come up with a marketing post involving Halloween.

–The Instigator, Chicago

Answer: No problem. Here’s a great post on marketing from marketing guru Seth Godin: “Why Celebrate Halloween?”

(Note: Mr. Instigator, you didn’t say it had to be an original marketing post involving Halloween.)

Marketing Tips for Facebook Business Pages & Company Blogs

Dear Copy Bitch: Do you have any resources on how to create a Facebook business page and how to promote my new blog?

—Suffering from Social Media Angst in Annapolis

Answer: Sure do, Social Media Angst (okay, I’m starting to feel like “Dear Abby”). Honestly, HubSpot is my go-to for this stuff. Here’s everything you need regarding setting up and managing a Facebook page.  And check out how to start a successful blog.

Good luck!

[Updated August 2017]

Copy & Marketing Tips: 2 Tools You Can Use

Dear Copy Bitch: I really love all the tidbits of advice you’ve been giving on your blog. Here’s a “weird” question: name three “tools” you use in your business that the rest of us could use in ours.

–Sam, Framingham

Answer: Here are two tools I use a lot.

1. Color Cop: I learned about Color Cop from Constant Contact’s Zak Barron. I sometimes design newsletter templates for my email marketing clients, and this free, downloadable tool makes getting a color’s hex values (also known as RGB) an absolute breeze. (Updated in 2017: I still use Color Cop regularly!)

2. Visual Thesaurus: If you’re a visual person, then Visual Thesaurus is for you. What a great way to discover the perfect word for marketing copy, taglines, you name it.

What are some of your favorite finds? Leave your answers in the comments section.

Web Marketing Strategy Done Right

Dear Copy Bitch: Your post on “Why I (sometimes) hate writing websites” really made me stop and reconsider my web strategy. My company has been in business for 15 years. We’ve finally decided to get a website. (Up until now, we’ve gotten business through word of mouth and referrals.) Can you point me to some sites, articles, etc. that will ensure we do this web development/strategizing thing just right?

—LB, Lexington, Mass.

Answer: It warms the Copy Bitch’s heart to hear you say you’re going to develop a web marketing strategy before developing a site. Smart, smart, SMART move. Here’s a GREAT resource that I share with my clients and prospects. It’s Stoney deGuyter’s “The Best Damn Web Marketing Checklist, Period.” Download the PDF. Print it. Study it. Make it your web bible. (Stoney is an SEO god and writer for Search Engine Guide. He owns Pole Position Marketing.)

Another good resource is this one: 7 Crucial Questions to Ask Before You Hire an SEO Agency.

Marketing Failures: Triple Shot Friday

Here are three failed marketing initiatives I experienced this week:

1. Be Careful How You Ask Me for Money

My college sent me a letter telling me to be on the lookout for a letter from two alums. I had a feeling the second letter would be asking me for moolah. I was correct. However, this second letter was printed on three pieces of paper–front side only. The letter could have EASILY been printed on one piece of paper, using both sides.

Failed Marketing Takeaway: Do not waste paper and then ask me to make a three-year monetary “gift” commitment.

2. Audience Rules

A marketer created a print ad for a local publication and wanted me to “spruce up” the copy. After asking him for the pub’s demographics, he sent me census data on the town in which the publication appears, as if that info would tell me who reads the publication (as Dave Barry would say, “I’m not making this up.” I went to the publication’s website and downloaded the info myself. Yes, this is the same marketer I wrote about here.) The ad included the company’s “credo” and a picture of the owner and staff. The credo was written in a “We/they” format:

We see our patients as individuals with specific needs and goals; we believe in providing our patients with the best possible care–always.

The tone was really distant, despite the inclusion of first person. I suggested turning it to “you,” as all good advertising copy should ultimately be about YOU, the prospective customer:

We see you as an individual with specific needs and goals; we believe in providing you with the best possible care–always.

This change alone makes the copy better (and not because it was my doing). However, the marketer said he wanted it to stay in third person because “that’s how credos are written.”

Failed Marketing Takeaway: Comes down to the same stuff I’ve told my writing students over the years: yes, you need to learn the “rules.” But once you do, you also have the authority to break them. When breaking the rules, understand your motivation. If it sounds better to start a sentence with “And” or “But” or (gasp) end a sentence with a preposition, then do it. I’d have been okay if the marketer had said, “Gee, I thought it sounded better in third person.” (I would have disagreed, but that’s more of a judgment call.) Saying we couldn’t do it because of a rule is just plain dumb. (And in advertising, the only rule you need to remember is that your audience rules.)

3. “Preview” Buttons Exist for a Reason

I just received an entirely image-based email that I was very interested in clicking on so that I could learn more about the offer. However, the only thing clickable in the entire email was the unsubscribe button.

Failed Marketing Takeaway: Test, test, test your stuff–be it web pages, contact forms, emails, etc.–before you send it to the masses.