Answering my own questions since 2001

The Hyper-Optimized Ebook Website

I’ve been doing some reading about ebooks recently, and enjoyed a Copyblogger post about creating ebooks that sell. Brian references an ebook site featuring a book on, uh, writing ebooks.

When I visited the site, I was reminded of a phenomenon I’ve observed in recent years around ebooks and similar digital offerings. You can also see it on GoogleAdSecrets.com and the prolix URL SearchEngineOptimizationStrategies.com.

It’s a particular (and peculiar) kind of website. Really just one very long page, it features a single, centered column, few images, and many bold offers, claims and testimonials. It pretty much defies every major web design trend of this millennium. To the sophisticated web surfer, it looks profoundly tacky.

Clearly it must sell ebooks, though, or people wouldn’t use it. Did one person prove this was the optimal selling strategy, and everybody emulated them? I’d imagine so. The pages certainly don’t inspire confidence in me, but I guess they’re not selling to me.

11 Responses to “The Hyper-Optimized Ebook Website”

  1. Brian Clark

    Hi Darren. Those long single-page websites are inspired by offline direct mail sales letters. And they do work better than most other approaches, at least with certain people.

    I don’t mind the content of Alexis’ sales letter, but it does look tacky. A shame, because her ebook is really good. Although I don’t think she’s too worried, because that format works just fine among the Internet marketing crowd.

    I think the most interesting thing about your post is the “hyper-optimized” part of the title. Because frankly, taking an offline concept like a sales letter or a book and simply pushing it online is not the most highly optimized use of the power of the Internet.

    I think people are finally starting to realize that we’re dealing with an interactive, multimedia environment here, and we’re not really using it to best effect.

    Hopefully we’ll see less tacky offline metaphors slapped online, and more innovative use of the medium we’re actually in.

  2. Dave E

    Speaking from experience, they do indeed sell very well.

    The key to the strategy is to minimize the number of clicks for a user to find out information about the product and then complete the purchase. It often doesn’t matter if there is too much information – if the page written well, the user will scroll past anything they don’t want to read.

    Of course, the assumption is that the user is interested in the product in the first place. With that in mind, there are a few triggers that are going to complete the sale. With e-books, the user isn’t going to get an opportunity to preview the content – they’re going to have to glen what information they can about the product from that page.

    I think the main drawback to the approach is that it does lack a certain professional feel. But they’re a very good example of what web marketers should always keep in mind – the content comes first, the ease of use second, and attractiveness third. If you take some of the most successful websites on the web such as google.com or craigslist.com, you’ll see they followed that formula.

  3. Jordan

    There is a certain internet marketing company here in Vancouver that makes a great deal of money with a similar (hideous looking)long sales letter approach, selling guess what? A system that teaches you how to use that same strategy to launch your own successful online business. Frequent use of highlighted yellow and bold text are popular with these folks.

    Apparently it really does work, in spite of breaking almost every rule of web usability.

    Dave E, I like your comparison to Craigslist and Google, although their UI are much more simple and esthetically pleasing by comparison.

  4. Dave E

    Ah yes, I know which company you speak of.

    The unattractiveness of those websites actually works into their marketing strategy. Their marketing line is that you don’t need any special skills to launch a successful online business.

    One thing I’ve noticed that these sites tend to use a lot of red and yellow – the same colors that MacDonald’s has used to sell billions of hamburgers. Don’t be fooled, there are some very smart people building these sites.

    I’m not sure it breaks web usability rules – if it works better than anything else at its purpose, then it becomes a rule of its own, in my opinion.

  5. darren

    Dave: Usability applies to the user, not the creator. There are simpler, shorter ways to build a page which informs the user about the ebook, and enables them to buy it. These pages are optimized to sell, not to help the user.

  6. Jay Cross

    Part of the classic direct-mail formula, which many web ventures would benefit from is test, test, test. Every mailing comes out in several versions. You never know when putting the stamp upside-down or using red ink on the envelope instead of brown is going to double your response rate. It’s a weird game; I’ve played it; it works.

    The hottest direct-mail guy ever was Robert Collier. He sold encyclopedias and books of classics throughout the Depression. His letters were so compelling that people would use the food money to buy from him. His Robert Collier Letter Book (1931) is the bible of the business. A few tips from Collier:

    Find the thing your prospect is interested in and make it your point of contact, instead of rushing in and trying to tell him something about your propositions, your goods, your interests.

    When you come down to it, isn’t the prime requisite arousing in your reader the feeling that he must have the thing you are offering, or that he cannot rest until he has done the thing you are urging him to?

    But if you want to sell goods, if you want action of any kind, base your real urge upon some primary emotion.

    You know every man is constantly holding a mental conversation with himself, the burden of which is his own interests–his business, his loved ones, his advancement. And you have tried to chime in on that conversation with something that fits in with his thoughts. Look for news value!

    jay

  7. Simon

    Those kinds of selling pages must work to some degree or there wouldn’t be so many of them. But would you trust one? I wouldn’t. To me they’re the online equivalent of the dodgy car salesman. The whole thing comes across as untrustworthy.
    To me, it creates the impression that all the effort has gone into the marketing, rather than into the product. And I’ll bet that nine times out of ten, that’s the case.
    Of course, I can’t know for sure, because I’ve never bought anything from one of those pages.

  8. On Really, Really Long eBook Sales Pages

    […] research for marketing our book, I checked out a bunch of these single-page, really-long sites. From my personal site: It’s a particular (and peculiar) kind of website. Really just one very long page, it features a […]

  9. Erik Bratt

    really great comments here. I too am a little bit distrustful of these “infomercial” pages but with so many of them, they must work. Dave E says he speaks from experience as well.

    I’d be interested in know how a cleaner more professional site such as http://www.shortyreport.com compares against these sales letter type approaches? Different prices, etc. I know.

    Kesha @st. louis website design Reply:

    Thanks Erik, for listing the shorty report’s sales page. I LOVE it. It’s given me an idea for my own!

    Not only do I not care for long sales pages but I surely don’t want to have to write one.

    I think the shortyreport one is what resonates better with me.

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