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Anatomy of long sales letter

Posted in How To on March 1st, 2011

In the past, you must have come across one of those long sales page that never seem to end. Most designers hate long sales letters because they contain heaps of text but apparently lack on aesthetics front. Some people go extreme and even call such sales pages as evil forms of internet marketing. Truth be told: long sales letter pages are based on learnings from direct marketing and catalog industry, so there is nothing inherently evil about them. In fact, many marketers still use long form of sales pages because they convert visitors like crazy!

This is the 3rd article in the series of interviews and guest posts we are running on this blog regarding A/B testing and conversion rate optimization. In 1st article, we interviewed Oli from Unbounce on Landing Pages Best Practices. In 2nd article, Noah Kagan of Appsumo shared his A/B testing tips.

In this post, we interview Freelance copywriter Jeremy Reeves, who is a direct response copywriter and marketing consultant. He specializes in long sales letter copywriting. His unique and powerful marketing strategies, combined with results-getting copy have earned his clients millions of dollars. To learn more about Jeremy and see how he can grow your business, head over to www.JeremyReeves.com/sales-copywriter Following is the interview with him.

Common elements of long sales letter

Question: What are the most common elements of a long sales-letter type webpage? Can you break them down from top-to-bottom?

Step 1 is the main headline area. This includes the pre-head, main headline and subhead. This is the point where you want to instantly grab their attention and basically – tell them WHY they’re about to read the page. Tell them what’s in it for them, and do so in an exciting way.

- Click the image above for full screenshot -

This is also known as the “Deck” copy”.

Next is the opening words, also knows as the “lead” or “introduction”. This is where I like to get in touch with them emotionally. 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…

Next comes the body copy…

The body copy would include areas such as setting them up for the sale, revealing the solution (e.g. why it’s special, how it works, how it’s better than others, etc.)… why they should be listening to you… the benefits of the product… social proof, etc.

(This is the largest section of the copy)

Next, you make your offer. You tell them exactly what they’ll be getting, what the price is, the unique value proposition of whatever it is that you’re selling (e.g. why it’s worth more than what they’re spending on it)… the guarantee… and all that good stuff.

Basically – you’re giving them “X” in exchange for “X” dollars.

At the end of the offer section of the copy, I like to put in an order box containing a summary of everything you just said. That way, skimmers can see the “whole package” at a glance. You show them every single item they’re getting, how much everything is worth… and why they’re paying X% less than what it’s worth.

After this, comes the “close” where you can do many things including injecting scarcity into the offer (but PLEASE don’t inject false scarcity)… having them think about the consequences of NOT taking action, reminding them of the benefits/value/guarantee/scarcity, etc.

The close would basically be everything after the order form on the page – including the P.S.

And that’s basically it! I can break it down into even more chunks, but it depends on MANY factors so it would only confuse people who don’t already understand it.

Psychology tricks used in long sales pages

Question: What makes such pages so effective? Which psychology tricks do these pages adopt to hook the reader?

What makes them so effective is that, if setup the RIGHT way… you can hook into the personality styles of all types of readers.

There are basically 3 types of readers.

  • Skimmers – These people will skim a page up and down quickly, just to get a quick overview of what you’re selling. They’re typically pretty quick to act and already have their minds made up before they even get to the page.
  • Jumpers – These people spend more time on the page than skimmers, but less than readers. They will skim the page, but then if something catches their attention – they’ll dive into the copy and read it thoroughly.
  • Book Worms – These people 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 ounce of detail before making a decision. Or sometimes – they just like to read :)

If you check out the image I talked about above… you’ll see how I break up the pages into “subheads”, which I’m sure you’re familiar with. What you want to do for long-form sales-letters is make is so that someone can literally read the headline, and the subheads… and have the minimum information they need to make a buying decision.

But that’s a whole other issue in it’s own :)

The best thing a person can do is turn skimmers, into jumpers… and jumpers… into book worms. That’s why it’s important to have fun, exciting, engaging copy. Just because it’s long, doesn’t mean it’s necessary – or even good.

That’s one thing most long-form copywriters don’t understand.

As for psychology tricks, there are a million of them. To be honest, I personally don’t worry about psychology tricks all that much. I use them, but sparingly because if you use them too much – people start to notice.

Psychology tricks are great for selling books, but simply getting to know and get a deep understanding of your customer is what sells in real life. And, of course… adding the “essentials” like proof, credibility, a great offer, bonding with your prospect, engaging copy, etc.

Lessons from Direct Marketing and Infomercials

Question: I have heard that these pages draw inspiration from direct mail campaigns and infomercials. Is that true? What lessons can we learn from those two mediums and apply on the web?

Yep, absolutely!

One of the biggest things I’ve ever learned from infomercials is that it’s ALL about the product. If you’ve ever seen Billy Mays commercials – those products sell you in a split-second. They use something called “demonstrability” which is basically – showing the product in use.

For example in one of Billys infomercials they were selling a small saw, and to demonstrate it – they literally cut a car in half. If you’re not sold after that – I don’t know what will sell you!

Demonstrability is amazingly powerful, and something very few Internet Marketers do these days.

As for direct mail, the biggest lesson is that no matter what you think, or what anybody tells you… PEOPLE READ WHAT THEY’RE INTERESTED IN.

I’ll get into this more in the next question.

Another awesome example is Schlitz beer. A few decades ago, they were having a hard time getting noticed. I think they were ranked #6 (this was when there were only a few dozen breweries). One of the most famous copywriters who ever lived… wrote a longer-form ad about the process of making their own beer… and they not only hit #1… they got so busy they couldn’t keep up with the demand!

Long sales letter v/s short sales letter

Question: Is longer sales-page page always the better? Or is there an ideal length?

Ok, here’s a biggie.

It’s kind of funny that many long-form copywriters think longer copy will win in every single case… and on the flip side… a lot of “Ecommerce” guys think that short copy will always win.

… and they’re BOTH wrong.

Here’s the “secret” formula if you will.

Tell them everything that you think will push them one step closer to buying your product… and not a single word more. And do so in a fun, engaging way that will connect with YOUR audience.

Also, in general – the lower of a price the product is, the less you have to say (because it’s a more “impulsive” buy).

Trust me – if people are interested in your product, they’ll read for a LONG time before making a decision if they need to. I know guys who have written 60 (yes, 60) page letters to sell expensive coaching and seminar packages.

Some of the biggest financial and health companies in the world use 32 page magalogs to sell their prospects.

… so don’t tell me people don’t read anymore, because they do – and always will.

Here’s the key.

If you find that 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 enough.

I have a salesletter right now for a client selling a $300 product where his “per visitor” value is $10.25. (So basically… for each person that hits his page, he makes $10.25). And that page is probably 12-15 pages long or so… maybe even longer.

… and no, it’s not an information product. It’s a physical product that gets shipped to your house and weighs like 10 pounds.

Examples of great sales letters

Question: Are there any examples of best sales-letter pages on the web and what you like about them?

Well instead of just pointing out some letters I like, let me show you another one of mine simply because I also have statistical data to back up that it beat the shorter version (by just a hair under 50% with a 99% confidence interval).
http://www.losethebackpain.com/inversion3.html

And as you can tell this page is pretty long. I’m not sure exactly how long but it’s definitely a “long-form” salesletter.
We tested this version against a control this client had which was much shorter (it just had a video, a few bullets, summary of the offer, etc.)

Copywriting is not as important as..

Question: How important is copywriting on a sales page?

The funny thing is… even though I’m a copywriter – I’m willing to admit that copywriting is NOT the most important thing on a sales-page.

What’s the most important?

The OFFER.

The offer consists of the product you’re giving them, any bonuses, the price, returns/shipping policy, guarantee… and anything else included. In simple terms…

… they’re giving you “X” dollars and in return they are receiving “X”.

If you look at this example selling an “inversion table” you’ll see that I layout the entire offer right inside the order box. This is for the people who want to get straight to the offer to see what it is. Instead of simply saying “you get an inversion table for $299”… I list out ALL the features, the benefits, an image, as well as everything else in the offer.

The best copy in the world can’t sell a crappy product, but mediocre copy can sell a fantastic product. The REAL magic happens when you combine top-notch copy… with a top-notch offer. That’s why whenever I get a new client I always talk about the offer with them and help them improve it – before I write a single word of copy.

… and my version that you see is beating his original version by just a hair under 50%. I don’t know about you… but a 50% increase on a $300 product typically means a pretty big jump in profit :)

The best part is – I haven’t even gotten a chance to test this page yet. By the time I’m done testing out 4-5 different “themes” (the overall “big idea” of the page)… I’ll likely bump it up another 50%.

Best copywriting tips and techniques

Question: What are your favorite copywriting tips and techniques?

The best technique you can ever use in copy is simply understanding the dominant emotions going on inside your prospects mind at the exact moment he/she is reading your copy. If you can understand that… it paves the way for every single word on the page and the copy flows like water.

It helps you understand how to phrase things, what kind of offer to give them, what to price your products at, what benefits to hit on, how aggressive or subtle the copy should be… and literally everything else you need to know.

Why designers hate long sales letters?

Question: I have talked to couple of UX and web designers and they absolutely hate these long sales-letter pages. They find it scammy and cheating naive web surfers. What are your thoughts about this?

My thought is… they’ve never tested it.

I don’t understand how people can find it “scammy” or “cheating”. You’re giving the customer ALL the information they need to know, as well as giving them the choice to either skim the page to get the gist, and then make a buying decision… or read it word for word.

Also… if they think this – it’s also a sign that the copywriter sucked. Great copy is engaging and entertaining as I mentioned earlier… but it should also be EDUCATIONAL. The goal is to get people to read it word for word.

If you don’t think people read it word for word… again you’ve never tested it (or your copy sucks). Just this morning, a prospect for a piece of copy I wrote noticed a TINY spelling mistake buried on about my 10th page of copy.
… which made me glad because it shows that people are truly interested in the content and reading it thoroughly.

Why designers are at a loss if they ignore long sales letter format

Question: Do you think “sophisticated” web designers lose a lot because they are not ready to embrace techniques employed by long sales letter pages?

Absolutely. In fact, I’d be willing to bet that if they started testing long-form salesletters… they’d very soon be able to buy themselves a new house.

(Depending on how big the business is already, of course. Maybe they could only get a new car :)

The HUGE majority of sites on the Internet today are what I call “OED” (owner-ego-driven). Let’s just put it this way to make it simple. If you look at your site and the first thing you think is “wow – that’s great looking!”

… you’re probably losing a TON of money (in most cases, not all).

Take my example earlier. I took my client from a short letter to a long letter… and gave him just about a 50% increase in profits for that product.

I’m still working with that client to re-do every salesletter on his site… but what if each new letter I write increases the profits to that product by 50%? Well… he then not only has 50% more profit for that product, but can then dump those profits into more advertising, more affiliates, R&D, new products, etc. etc.

Another client I just finished a project for ended up getting a $3 EPC for a $47 digital/$77 physical product.

(Comparable products that I didn’t write were about $1 EPC)

I’m not touting my horn here – my point is – they were ALL long-form salesletters.

So that about wraps it up. To whoever is reading this – I really hope it helped you. If I offended you… I apologize, but I hate to see people losing thousands of dollars per month (or even day) simply because they’re not A/B testing things they should be testing. (Editor’s note: Jeremy uses our product Visual Website Optimizer or A/B split testing his copy)

Hopefully this will change your mind about long-form copy and show you that in the VAST majority of cases (in particular information products and high priced products/services)… it outperforms short copy.

This does depend on the website, and the market, and the individual page… but either way – it’s absolutely 100% something to test.

About Jeremy Reeves

Freelance copywriter Jeremy Reeves is a marketing consultant whose unique and powerful marketing strategies, combined with results-getting copy have earned his clients millions of dollars. To learn more about Jeremy and see how he can grow your business, head over to www.JeremyReeves.com/freelance-copywriter.html

Editor’s note: Hope you liked the interview. For next articles in this series, if you know someone whom we can interview or want to contribute a guest post yourself, please get in touch (paras@wingify.com).

Jeremy Reeves

Jeremy Reeves is a direct response sales copywriter and marketing strategist who helps businesses uncover hidden profit centers, boost conversions and maximize profits. See how he can help grow your business at www.JeremyReeves.com.

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44 Comments
clicksaw
March 1, 2011

awesome writeup!! there are so many people out there that are caught up thinking that these sales pages are completely worthless when they couldn’t be further from the truth

it’s cool to see someone dissect why these are effective

Thanks for the thumbs-up!

I think you’re completely right. The people who completely dismiss long copy are simply ignorant and in love with their own ideas.

As I mentioned in the post… long copy does NOT work with every single product, in every market, etc.

However… it’s one of the best tests you can do. In the MAJORITY of cases, long copy wins.

Thanks again!

Jeremy

Matt Collins
March 2, 2011

Great article on a great topic. I particularly liked the point about the ‘offer’ being much more than just the product itself, instead including any bonuses, returns/shipping policy, guarantee, etc.

Dale
March 2, 2011

I can’t believe I read the whole thing… (think way back to a great advertising campaign in the 70′s) great work. I do believe that the primary goal of a letter is not to have the entire thing read, but to create the desired action, no matter what that action is. It could be just a click, or an opt-in, ultimately it is always to sell something. Keep up the great work.

[...] subject of the discussion—the original author’s article—makes considerable effort to autopsy a typical long form sales letter, while providing narration [...]

joe
March 2, 2011

All the Hacker News traffic is going to diminish Mr. Cannone’s conversion rate.

Stephan
March 2, 2011

Are you saying that (as one example of many) a site like http://basecamphq.com would do better by incorporating the pages of the “Learn more” links right into the front page and go easier on the graphics? – S

[...] Anatomy of long sales letter (tags: marketing sales longletter) [...]

Jeremy Reeves
March 2, 2011

Clicksaw/Matt/Dale – Thanks for the positive responses! :)

Joe – Haha, yes it probably is :) Untargeted traffic rarely works well!

Stephan – Not exactly. Long form can absolutely look gorgeous… it depends on the graphic designer working on the page.

As for the “learn more” links – that would be a great test.

I think they should KEEP the graphics though, as it’s designed pretty nice (although could use a few extra pixels of padding for some extra white space)

Jeremy

zyxo
March 3, 2011

We once did an experimpent with a long and a short copy. The long one was the best !

Simon
March 3, 2011

I have done several of these myself and although I hear what you are saying, your proposition is flawed by a willingness to believe in 50′s Marketing hype and the 90′s spin it through television. Frankly I believe you have overlooked that quite literally… “the media is the message”
Being “immersive” is a TV experience – no input… just listen and watch as the ad rolls over you. The internet is a different beast and requires your input and attention – It can be seen by the minimalist pages that are appearing these days – and honestly.. reading soooooooooooooooo much is tiring. The example you give is woeful – inversion table. For me it demonstrates a complete lack of understanding that a customer has any value whatsoever… there is no effort other than text, to sway me out of my TV complacency.
You seems to be suggesting an old man in small shorts and a beard could sell me something better than a young guy in a suit… even though the old guy in shorts may have a Science degree.
As a designer… let me say you have no understanding of what has gone before you… and the resulting market response.
Though I could be perceived as wrong… I have serious doubts about your premises
Simon

Simon
March 3, 2011

Further I guess I should reference my sites (both exemplifying my stance… and for SEO) :)
http://www.realwritingjobs.com/

Not as text heavy… though certainly as hard selling.
Simon

kiwus
March 4, 2011

While I hear this over and over about long sales letter effectiveness I just couldn’t make myself create one. It’s just that I hate them so much ;]

Thanks for the tip, and good luck with your landing pages guys!

Jeremy Reeves
March 4, 2011

Simon…

The way I write and other good copywriters write has NOTHING to do with what used to work ages ago.

First… I write based on what’s working NOW (salesletters that are long enough to get the job done).

Second… I tested EVERYTHING. I’ve done several tests on various sites where I wrote it out long, and then cut back on the copy and tested it.

Every. Single. Time. The. Longer. Copy. Won.

Your site isn’t too bad, although I’m surprised at how incredibly hard it is to read, considering you’re a designer.

It also doesn’t have all of the selling elements needed, such as a USP. What’s different about that site than the other 18 million writing sites?

Also – that’s a completely different product, market, and niche. If I were hired to write copy for something like that… I wouldn’t do long copy because it’s not needed.

Remember, copy comes down to this. Say as much as is needed, and not a word more.

Yours is a FREE to signup and easy to understand.

An easy sell.

Therefore, little copy is required.

That Inversion table is $300. NOT an easy sell. Lots of objections about it (e.g. being upside down hurts, etc. etc.)

Therefore… long copy is required.

Hope that helps clarify a few points you may have missed.

Jeremy

Marco
March 8, 2011
Mike O'Horo
March 31, 2011

Good stuff. I’ve longed respected direct-response copy as a distinctively different skill than display copy. (I don’t claim to have the skill, merely respect it.)

I remember many years ago reading “Ogilvy On Advertising,” in which he makes the same point: If it’s interesting and relevant, people will read all of it.

Does your advice differ if you’re selling a new category, for which there are no easy comparables? We’ve just created the first interactive virtual sales training for lawyers. It’s based on 20 yrs successfully training senior lawyers one-on-one at large firms, and providing just-in-time tactical coaching by phone.

This new subscription version is targeted at solo lawyers, and is based on affordability, proven effectiveness (of the real-world process on which it’s based), 24/7 convenience, and the psychic safety of a private virtual world to make mistakes w/o witnesses. (Myers-Briggs says that lawyers have a powerful aversion to being wrong publicly.)

When you say “virtual training” to lawyers, you get blank stares. We haven’t figured out a comparable. We tried “flight simulator for sales,” but that didn’t resonate very well. So, it seems we’ve got to support the category as well as the product. Thoughts? Thanks.
Mike

[...] de ce test est un billet publié sur le site visualwebsiteoptimizer, qui explique comment s’y prendre pour rédiger une long sales letter (un long argumentaire commercial). La méthode est inspirée du marketing direct traditionnel, elle [...]

[...] test came via a link,  Visual Website Optimizer’s “Anatomy of long sales letter” blog post, posted in their chatroom. They were intrigued by the technique and decided to test it. The [...]

Bernaz Shipping Delivery
July 26, 2011

Great article, definitely going to restructure the copy on my shipping site.

Kathi Rabil
July 27, 2011

Do you think this works as well with services as it does with products? Just curious….

Tait
July 30, 2011

Jeremy, are you aware of long form sales letters being used in other languages and cultures? I’d specifically be interested to know if this type of marketing is used to target non-Western readers.

[...] Willem Maas on August 3, 2011 Visual Website Optimizer’s interview (here) with direct response copywriter Jeremy Reeves is a dollars-and-cents example of how [...]

[...] form sales letter Ryan Singer posted a link to Visual Website Optimizer’s “Anatomy of long sales letter” blog post in our Campfire chat room one day. We were fascinated by this technique. If I remember correctly [...]

[...] in your sidebar may not work very well, instead you can pitch your subscription using one of those long sales letters. Then, once in a while, as you write a blog post, you can mention your newsletter and give a link [...]

Mizko
August 29, 2011

Great blog post. Web designers will definitely disagree with this but hey, do remember that a conversion analyst and a web designer both have two very different goals and perspective about this matter.

One cares about how perfectly each pixel is carved and the other cares about successfully communicating the message across to increase the dollar signs.

Overall, enjoyed the read!

[...] in your sidebar may not work very well, instead you can pitch your subscription using one of those long sales letters. Then, once in a while, as you write a blog post, you can mention your newsletter and give a link [...]

[...] form sales letter Ryan Singer posted a link to Visual Website Optimizer’s “Anatomy of long sales letter” blog post in our Campfire chat room one day. We were fascinated by this technique. If I remember [...]

Aquaster
November 11, 2011

We trying to use the A above B in our company name and website. Or Marketing letter for selling “goedkope websites” (cheap websites) uses most of above thinking. Any Idea why this is not selling?

http://www.aquaster.nl/Starters/

[...] recently read this statement in a blog post: “The HUGE majority of sites on the Internet today are what I call ‘OED’ [...]

Lee
December 11, 2011

@Jeremy,

Thanks for pulling so much great info into one article. I had found many of these techniques over the last couple of years, but not in one neat package.

As a design company it was somewhat difficult to convince my team members that we should do split A/B test on a long format sales page.

Our team had spent quite a bit of time on our original homepage and site redesign. With some heated debate I won them over.

The main thing I had to get across was that long format did = front page looking sales letters with animated gif’s and sensationalized text with hyperbole.

My idea was to use:
- Easy to understand language
- Explain benefits
- Stick with our branding efforts
- Toss in a bit of NLP
- Add an extra helping of Testimonials

I think we create one of the most beautiful long form pages from a designers stand point.

We changed our homepage a long tail format and saw an immediate increase of almost 10x in conversions.

I am getting ready to A/B test a shorter version of our current homepage. Think of it as an abbreviated long form page.

[...] can pitch your subscription by one of those long sales letters. Then, once in a while, as [...]

Scott Martin
January 3, 2012

Thanks for sharing. I’m a direct response copywriter and this page helps me explain what a sales page/landing page is all about.

Cheers,

Scott Martin
Charlotte NC

Jae
March 6, 2012

I wonder if there’s demographic information we’re missing here. I’m 24 years old and female and before I started working at my current company I had never seen a long form sales letter. And I certainly would never have bought anything advertised that way. The long copy feels scammy. The way they are designed makes one feel as if it’s a product made by a small and unprofessional company. When I see something like this I always think, “Why are they trying so hard? What have they got to prove?”

The funny thing is, when I asked my friends what was up with the sales letter, none of them had ever seen one like that or would be even remotely interested. We see vast expanses of text and tune out. My company is targeted at women and I’ve noticed that the incredibly long sales letter is commonplace. In the same industry targeted for men I’ve noticed that the sales letters get much shorter, or are replaced with a simple website-based sales method.

Something to consider as the next generation gets older.

[...] Over een dure aankoop beslissen de meeste mensen immers niet zomaar. Van dat product willen ze eerst alles weten. Een leerzame blogpost hierover vind je op Visual Website Optimizer. [...]

[...] Trick: If you are creating a long landing page (such as our own at Dlopy.com or long sales letter), add a “DELETE ME!” text label and drag it down for a while. In this way, you’ll get a long [...]

[...] is a long history of advertising people proving the claim that a long copy will always beat out the shorter version_kmq.push(["trackClickOnOutboundLink","link_4fba58a0c2835","Article link clicked",{"Title":"a long [...]

[...] There is a long history of advertising people proving the claim that a long copy will always beat out the shorter version. [...]

[...] is a long history of advertising people proving the claim that a long copy will always beat out the shorter version [...]

Elizabeth Armenta
September 8, 2013

Great article. Thanks! I have a lot of experience but long form sales letters are one area that’s new to me. I appreciate the thorough post.

Alex
December 5, 2013

Jemery, you say that long salespage letters almost always outperform shorter ones.

But what about powerpoint video salespages and/or animation video salespages, do they convert better then text salespages in general?

Is this maybe dependent of the extent of how much the particular market is exploited?

Robert
January 17, 2014

Well, after your firm stance that there is no evidence that people find sales letters “scammy”, I present myself as exhibit A. The sales letter you demonstrated above is a good example of something I wouldn’t even bother to read: the headline is over-exaggerated, and the layout conveys “this is too good to be true”. And please, don’t get me started of so-called SEO. It doesn’t work, it’s usually breaking the rules, and it’s a scam. If you want higher search rankings, publish quality content, not useless advertising.

Siddharth Deswal @ Wingify
January 17, 2014

Hi Robert,

Sorry you feel that way about the long-form sales letters in this post. We do try and generate quality content. Here’s a couple of them: http://visualwebsiteoptimizer.com/split-testing-blog/removing-social-sharing-buttons-from-ecommerce-product-page-increase-conversions/ and http://visualwebsiteoptimizer.com/split-testing-blog/2013-conversion-rate-optimization-round-up/

Would love to hear what you think of them.

Cheers!

Jeremy Reeves
January 17, 2014

Robert, a few things.

1) I never once said that nobody thought they were scammy. I said even though some people thought they were, overall, they increase conversions. Read carefully.

2) Nothing is even mentioned about SEO results in the article. Once again, read carefully.

Here’s a million dollar tip for you.

Stop worrying about what YOU like. Start worrying about what resonates with your customers and increases sales.

Since writing this post I have come up with a new way that keeps the selling power of a long form letter but with more clean and professional design, but they’re still “long form”.

And the most important part is – they still increase conversions most of the time.

Period.

Last – this is extremely valuable content… for those business owners open-minded enough to try it.

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