Long-Form Sales Letters

Credit: Peep Laja, CXL and Jeremy Reeves, VWO

Remember infomercials? The long, drawn-out sales pitch. The dramatic voiceover. The cheesy black-and-white reenactments of customer problems and the call-today-and-get-one-free-for-a-limited-time offers?

Brings back memories, huh? I’m choking on nostalgia over here…

Of course, the infomercial never died. Along with direct mail, it made its way online in the manifestation of the long-form sales letter.

What is a long-form sales letter?

You’ve definitely seen one before. They’re one-page websites that are usually a mile long and uglier than sin, featuring web 1.0 styling and more exclamation marks than a teenage girl’s Whatsapp messages.

Yes, this look like garbage. But here’s the thing…done well, sales letters can be an effective content marketing strategy.

“What makes them so effective,” says Jeremy Reeves in an interview with VWO, “is that, if set up the RIGHT way, you can hook all types of readers.”

Specifically, he goes on to segment prospects into three types of readers:

  1. Skimmers – People who skim a page up and down to get a quick overview of what you’re selling. They’re usually fast to act and have already made up their minds before they even get to the page.
  2. Jumpers – People who spend more time on the page than skimmers but less than readers. They will skim the page, and if something catches their attention they’ll dive into the copy and read it thoroughly.
  3. Book Worms – People who read the whole damn thing, top to bottom. Every. Single. Word. They’re typically slower decision makers and tend to think things over and want every single detail before making a decision. Or sometimes they just like to read.

“What makes sales letters so effective,” says Reeves, “is that they appeal to all three types of readers. The best thing you can do is turn skimmers into jumpers and jumpers into bookworms. That’s why it’s important to have fun, exciting, and engaging copy.”

How do you go about creating one that converts like crazy and doesn’t look like ass? Follow this winning formula.

How to format a winning sales letter

It all starts with bold statements at the top of the page, including the pre-headline, main headline, and subheading. After that, segue into a captivating intro.

The point here is to tease the solution. Tell them you’re going to reveal the secret to solving their pain point below and tee it up as a really, really big deal.

“This is where I like to get in touch with them emotionally,” says Reeves. “Depending on the market, product, and hook I found when doing my research, this could be any of the major emotions such as anger, guilt, fear, pride, etc.”

After the intro is established, it’s time to dive into the body.

In the body, reveal your solution—why it’s special, how it works, how it’s better than others—and why readers should listen to you.

Third comes the offer. Explain exactly what you’re selling, from price to value props to guarantees. Lean into why it’s worth more than what they’ll be spending on it.

At the end of the offer section of the copy, put a summary of everything you just said in a box. That way, skimmers can see the “whole package” at a glance.

Lastly, comes the close. Inject scarcity into the offer, bring up the consequences of NOT taking action, and remind readers of the benefits, value, and guarantee. End off with FAQs, a P.S. section, and the order form at the bottom of the page.

How to design a sales letter that doesn’t look like crap

Now that we’ve run through copy, let’s talk about design.

Contrary to many designers’ beliefs, sales letters don’t need to look like crap. I only used the previous example to illustrate best copy practices—not design.

Peep Laja on the CXL blog says, “So you’ve got good copy. Congratulations? Not so soon. If it’s not structured and designed well, people aren’t going to read it.”

Here’s how you structure your text according to Peep:

  • Large font size (minimum 16px)
  • Short lines (40 to 80 characters per line)
  • New paragraph every 3-4 lines
  • Use lists, quotes, tables – mix it up
  • Sub-headlines every 2-3 paragraphs
  • Leverage responsive design

“Design is half the marketing and sales battle,” Peep says. “It’s about bringing out the important information and minimizing the secondary. If your site looks like crap, the perception of your product is also crap.”

Here’s an example of a sales letter that doesn’t look too shabby.

There are more and more templates on Themeforest every day to build one-page websites with aesthetically pleasing elements. Find them, use them, test them.

Personally, I can vouch for the effectiveness of well-designed long-form sales letters. The last campaign I A/B tested between this medium-form page vs. this long-form page saw the long-form page perform 8x better. No contest.

Summary: Long-form sales letters

“The biggest lesson,” Reeves says on VMO, “is that no matter what you think or what anybody tells you, PEOPLE READ WHAT THEY’RE INTERESTED IN. Trust me. If people are interested in your product, they’ll read for a long time before making a decision.”

Is long-form copy always the answer? No.

If the product is simple, brief can do. Impulse purchases don’t need a ton of fanfare. On the other hand, if you sell insurance or houses or software, consider long-form.

Reeves says, “Tell them everything that you think will push them one step closer to buying your product…and not a single word more. If people aren’t reading your copy and feel it’s because it’s “too long”, try hiring a great copywriter and look at the difference. The difference isn’t that it’s “too long”, it’s that it’s not engaging.”