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Creating long-form content is one of the best things you can do for your online marketing strategy.
Long-form content that passes the 3,000-word mark blurs the line between an article and a guide, making it a unique type of content. It’s detailed, but it’s not too long.
It’s the perfect type of content to truly help your readers.
Not only that, but long-form content also sets you up as an authority, attracts backlinks, and helps you create a sustainable content marketing system.
Throughout my career, long-form content has always been an important part of my marketing strategy. And most of the radically successful entrepreneurs I know also use long-form content. Coincidence? I don’t think so.
I know what you’re thinking: “But how can I write these humongous articles? I don’t even know where to start.”
If you have an idea for an article in mind, that’s enough to get started. All you need is an idea, some time, and good Googling skills.
Over the years, I’ve honed the process of writing long-form content that works for any topic. It’s so easy to learn, I bet you’ll finish your first 3,000+ word article within a few days.
Ready? Let’s get started.
Write about what you know
First, I want to tackle an issue I see all the time.
I’ll read an article that ticks all the right boxes, but the content sucks. And it’s extremely clear that the author hasn’t studied the subject.
If an article makes a lot of vague statements and relies heavily on others’ quotes, you can bet that the author doesn’t really know the topic.
And when you’re writing 3,000+ words, you need to know what you’re writing about.
I can crank out 3,000 words on marketing, no sweat. But if I tried to write a 3,000-word post on how to backpack across Spain, I’d be totally lost.
Writing 3,000 words requires you to know a lot about the topic. If you’re fumbling and making things up as you go, your finished product won’t be that good.
But when you write about what you know, your experience shines through. Your readers will be able to tell you’re an expert on the subject.
Most importantly, your article won’t be boring. It’ll be informative and in-depth.
With that out of the way, let’s look at the process of writing long-form content.
Building your outline
When most people think of an outline for writing, they think of this:
While these outlines may be great for writing academic papers, they’re convoluted for articles.
You can use a much simpler form of outline. For example, your outline might be a list of all the subheadings in your article. Or it could be a bullet point list of things you want to write about.
Whatever you use for an outline, don’t spend too much time on it. You want to move to the drafting part of the process as soon as possible.
Getting your sources
Sources are vital to an article’s success. If you don’t have good sources, your readers won’t trust your points.
Your sources need to meet two important criteria: they need to be trustworthy, and they need to be relevant.
Try to use sources known for their credibility. Case studies are always safe bets.
Here are some great places to look for sources:
- Online publications
- Research-based sites (e.g., MarketingSherpa, HubSpot)
- Industry blogs
Always choose primary sources over secondary sources. A primary source is original research or content.
Here’s an example of Buffer using a primary source:
Of course, your primary sources don’t have to come directly from you or your company. For example, you could cite the Buffer post above, and that would count as a primary source.
Here’s one of the best writing tips I can give you: Find your sources first.
If you wait till later to find your sources, it’ll be tougher to organically implement them into your writing. But if you find them at the beginning, you can write using your sources as the basis of your article.
This makes your writing flow smoother and your arguments stronger. It also saves you time in the long run.
Look back at your outline, and identify the main points you want to make. Find one or two primary sources for each point. This will ensure your arguments are sufficiently supported.
Draft with detail
After you have your sources, it’s time to knock out your first draft. When drafting, keep one important thing in mind: detail.
That’s one of the reasons why I generally dislike short content—it’s not detailed enough.
If you asked me to write a 500-word article on long-tail keywords, I’d have to sacrifice a lot of detail just to fit in the main points.
Shorter content can work under the right circumstances, but if you’re trying to build authority and grow your readership, you need longer content. And that means detail.
Many bloggers make the rookie mistake of assuming that their readers will know what they’re writing about. But you can’t make that assumption. If you do, you run the risk of alienating some readers.
As a rule of thumb, it’s always better to go into too much detail than not enough. Keep that in mind when writing your articles.
When you start writing, just let it flow. Write whatever comes to mind even if you think it’s bad. At this point, your goal is to get words on the page. If they suck, you’ll edit them later.
While you’re drafting, try to keep the following two points in mind.
Break it down
When you’re writing an extra-long article, you need to make sure everything is broken down into parts. Explain each aspect thoroughly.
When you write your first draft, try to answer some fundamental questions:
- If you were completely new to this topic, what questions would you have?
- Have you broken down every area into easily digestible parts?
- Have you defined terms some readers may not understand?
If you’re writing about an advanced application of a topic, include a beginners’ guide somewhere in the opening of your article. That way, uninitiated readers can learn the basics before moving on to your article.
You might consider including a table of contents at the beginning of your article. Kolakube uses them nicely:
Remember, your goal is to help the reader, and a table of contents helps break down the article into smaller, bite-sized chunks.
Revisit your outline again, and take a look at your main points. You should have 5-7 points you want to make.
These 5-7 points are your pillars, and together, they support the central argument.
For example, take a look at this Kissmetrics article:
The title is the main point, and the subheadings give you the pillars of the article.
That’s the format you want to aim for. I like using subheadings as the pillars, but as long as you have your supporting sections, you’ll be golden.
One final word about your first draft: Try to make it longer than you want your post to be. That’s because during the editing process, you’ll usually cut out a lot more than you think.
I recommend going about 400-500 words over as a safety net. If you want your final post to be 3,000 words, aim for 3,400-3,500 words in your first draft.
Next, it’s time to edit.
When you edit your own writing, you have to be brutally honest with yourself. It’s easy to develop editing blindness: you’re too familiar with your own writing and can miss mistakes.
To battle this, leave your article for a day or two. When you come back to it, you’ll be able to be more objective when editing.
Start by reading through your article, preferably aloud. (Yes, it’ll take a while, but it allows you to notice mistakes you might not otherwise notice.)
At the very least, give your article a close read all the way through. Do all sentences make sense? Are all phrases unclear? Be ruthless with your editing.
It’s also a good idea to use apps to help refine your drafts. First, put it through a spell checker, but be careful because a spell checker won’t catch everything.
(For example, if you wrote “I through the baseball” instead of “I threw the baseball,” a spell checker won’t catch it even though it’s incorrect.)
Next, use Grammarly. It’s a free grammar checker that will highlight any errors and help you correct them.
Finally, run your article through the Hemingway app. This is a fantastic text editor that will point out long sentences, complex words, and adverbs.
The idea behind Hemingway is to make your writing more concise and more powerful.
Finally, give your article one last run-through, and if it looks good, it’s ready to be published.
That wasn’t so difficult, right?
And the best part is, once you do this over and over, you’ll get better and better at it, and it’ll be easier and easier to do.
Writing a long-form article is simply a formula that you can apply to any topic. Find your topic, get your sources, build your pillars, write with detail, and edit. Rinse and repeat.
If you write about something you know well, the formula can’t fail. All you need is a few hours behind your screen and some motivation.
In fact, I’d say that writing 3,000+ word articles is easier than writing short (500-700-word) articles. You can cover a lot of ground in 3,000 words without having to worry about rambling on.
But it still takes a lot of practice to write great long-form articles. (I’m still practicing after 10+ years of blogging.)
So, take this formula, and use it to create some awesome long-form content.
What’s your biggest challenge with writing long-form content?
Most pricing pages have three plans laid out horizontally across the page.
And in what order?
Simply copying what everyone else is doing, without understanding the purpose behind certain features or the research that shows which features convert the best, will give you a hollow page that fails to convert.
Here is a breakdown of five research-backed steps to create your own high converting pricing page.
Overview of the Five Steps for a High Converting Landing Page
This post is long, with tons of research and additional recommendations for high converting landing pages. So here are a few of the highlights:
- Psychology-Backed Layout: Use techniques like price anchoring (to set context) or scarcity (to increase visitor urgency).
- Easy to Understand: Remove clutter (like extra nav details) and complexity (like hard-to-understand features).
- Order & Recommended Plan: Order plans from MOST to LEAST expensive, while also adding one recommended plan.
- Copy, Colors & Risk Reversals: Use copy and color to sell value, and credibility indicators to reverse risk.
- Conversion-Boosting Features: Include a free option with FAQ and live chat options.
Step #1. Understand the Psychology Behind High Converting Landing Pages Design, Layout, and Tactics
People hit the Pricing page for one of two reasons.
Either they’re getting a quick spot check; finding out if this option fits within their expected potential budget range.
Or they’re deep in the weeds by this point, actively evaluating this option against a few others and deciding whether or not to click that button and give the free trial a spin.
This last group has already put in at least a modicum of thought by now, and they’re trying to make a decision one way or another.
That means your pricing page can either be greased to send people directly into a free trial, or become a bottleneck to growth by stopping people dead in the tracks.
But here’s a sample of the problems (and their psychological solutions):
Problem #1. We don’t understand context.
People always think something’s “expensive” if they lack a detailed understanding of the problem or pain point your solution solves.
So instead, the better retort is… compared to what?
Price anchoring takes your expected or preferred options and compares them to a much more expensive one to make them appear more palatable in comparison.
Problem #2. We’re stressed and overwhelmed.
President Obama wears the same color suit everyday. Sartorial statement? Not really… it has more to do with attempting to limit the amount of decisions he has to make on a given day. He (and we) is so overwhelmed with choices throughout the day that it’s easy to suffer from decision fatigue.
A side-product of this is analysis paralysis; where someone has already looked at 10 other pricing pages exactly like yours and is now staring glassy eyed.
Problem #3. We sometimes need a kick in the pants.
The first two problems lead to stagnation. We do all the research and analysis, and then… stop – failing to cross the proverbial finish line.
Introducing urgency into the equation is one of the most powerful ways to persuade and influence those stuck.
How exactly? By emphasizing scarcity, a shorter timeline, or limiting the availability, you can increase pressure on those to take action before it’s too late.
Step #2. Improve Information Presentation Before Tactical Decisions
Pricing pages are difficult to construct because they’re complex.
They’re trying to whittle down all of the possible information a user might need to make a purchasing decision and present it in a coherent manner.
Sometimes that’s easier said than done. And the results heavily dictate the ultimate success or failure (more so than the number of pricing plans you’re highlighting and other tactical considerations that follow).
Hiten Shah and ProfitWell did a study to determine which pricing pages got this right, splitting popular apps you know and love into different categories based on the level of information they’re providing, along with how actionable they were.
Their findings showed that pricing pages that packed the most information with the most action resulted in confident users (who converted more because of their proportionally higher level of trust and information understanding).
That compared with other pages that got one of these key elements incorrect, results in a mix of intimated, distracted, or discouraged users.
Let’s look at a few examples.
Zendesk’s pricing page was one of those that left users overwhelmed.
On first blush, it looks like they nail all the basics. It appears like any other standard pricing page.
However, look at two plans and try to determine what makes them different.
There’s no simple, easy way to spot the difference, because there’s a TON of differences. It’s only after you click on the Compare Plans option above and methodically comb through each individual feature set like a forensic accountant that you begin to grok which plan may or may not have your specific features.
This page could benefit from some of the specific improvements listed below, but the main point here is that the information needs to be organized and translated better first.
Now compare that with Campaign Monitor, which succeeded in both high information and high action:
Three plans with easy-to-understand features for each, with a sliding scale above to determine which pricing range you fall into.
It’s simple and clear-cut, helping users feel confident that the decision they’re about to take is the right one.
Step #3. List Your Most Expensive Plans First, and Highlight a Recommended Option
Unsurprisingly, 81% of those with pricing pages listed the least expensive pricing plan on the left-hand side before moving up to the most expensive.
In fact, BOTH examples we just looked at (Campaign Monitor and Zendesk) followed suit.
But here’s the thing.
“Participants choose more expensive packages more often when they are listed first, or furthest left in left-right order.”
To figure this out, they ran through different task scenarios, conducted eye-tracking studies, and used survey tools to gather feedback.
While people generally consumed or “processed” the information the same, listing the expensive plans first on the left resulted in longer ‘dwell times’ on the page. The first two positions tended to receive the most attention.
This is price anchoring in full effect, plain and simple. The initial expensive options might provide a bit of sticker shock, but your middle and lower tier plans look excellent in perspective.
Inserting a ‘Contact Us’ pricing tier for more complex, enterprise options is a good idea (38% of the Montclare pricing pages feature this), but consider locating it somewhere else (like in plain text underneath) so that you don’t interfere or sabotage this powerful price anchoring effect.
The second research study ConversionXL conducted focused on how ‘calling out’ a preferred or recommended plan impacted results.
They ran the same study as above, manipulating the pricing tier order for SurveyGizmo’s pricing page, along with highlighting a recommended option with a different color.
Here’s what they found using the same task scenario, eye-tracking, and post-survey feedback methods:
Ordering your pricing tiers from most expensive to least expensive results in higher revenue. And highlighting one of those options results in even greater results.
Step #4. Pricing Page Tactics 101: The Five Features All Good Pricing Pages Have in Common
Pricing pages typically fail because they’re missing the mark on one of the first three steps above.
However once you get beyond those, it’s all downhill from there.
Because pricing page principles or tactics rarely differ much, no matter if we’re talking B2B or B2C, SMB vs. enterprise, or CRM vs. help desk app.
Feature #1. Include a Free Option
Almost every single pricing page featured at least one ‘free’ option, whether that was a free trial or freemium plan.
The benefits are obvious. You want to give people an easy, ‘next step’ that requires zero thought.
It’s low risk, removing any barriers to entry or possible doubts and suspicions that might prevent them from giving your product a fair evaluation.
Another spin on this for larger-ticket items is “concierge onboarding”, which is like a guided walkthrough or one-on-one demonstration to help enterprise clients get a feeling for how their setup will work within your app.
Feature #2. Keep Package Tiers to Three Max
The average number of most pricing pages comes out to around 3.5.
If you didn’t skip over the first few steps above, the reasoning should be obvious.
You want to provide people enough information and context so that they can quickly understand which option is right for them, while also avoid presenting too many options that might induce decision fatigue or analysis paralysis.
Feature #3. Allow for Flexibility & Customization
Limiting plans to only three options might sound like a tall order if your product is complex or expensive.
Two ways to combat this:
First, simply offer an ‘enterprise’, customizable plan as mentioned before where people can get in touch for a tailored approach.
The second is to borrow from the Campaign Monitor example earlier where you incorporate a sliding scale option that will dynamically change or update your pricing tiers as you go. That way, you can use a very simple interactive element to condense a TON of possibilities into an easily digestible format.
For example, Autopilot uses a selector (monthly vs. annual) and a sliding scale (based on the number of contacts) to help users quickly demystify an otherwise complex pricing system.
Feature #4. Add a FAQ Under the Pricing Tiers
66% of the most successful pricing pages proactive answer questions before they pop-up, with a convenient FAQ section under the pricing tiers.
The goal is to head-off the most common potential sales objections you get before they happen. (Essentially anything that might stand in the way of someone signing up for a free trial.)
This section becomes especially helpful if you require payment information upon free trial sign-up for example, to make sure there’s no confusion around how billing might work or change depending on if someone cancels their account.
When done correctly, you can also use this section to help differentiate you from the competition. For example, many CRM tools will charge per-user. But not Highrise, which they’re quick to point out on the right hand side of the FAQ section on their pricing page.
Feature #5. Provide Multiple Contact Options
One final way to further reduce friction on a pricing page is to provide convenient ways to get in touch with sales and support.
According to one study, 76% of companies had at least one option, with 13% of those coming in the form of a live chat popup.
One increasingly common option is Drift, which powers a little widget in the lower right hand corner of someone’s screen.
The added benefit of a tool like this is that you can also use it for in-app messaging, and for behavioral or segment-based targeting (to aid your other retention-based strategies).
Step #5. Pricing Pages 201: Copy, Colors and Risk Reversals
Incorporating each of the first five features is good, but just a start. They’re table stakes.
Here’s five tips to enhance those essential ingredients to get more bang for your buck.
Tip #1. Sell the Value & Benefits
Every single line of copy on your pricing page needs to reinforce the value and benefits you’re delivering.
That sounds obvious and trite, but there are a few common missteps many pages still make.
The first is incorporating “lazy ass messaging” in your headline with overly general or clichéd phrase like “save time and money”.
The second is over-emphasizing the features of each plan (as opposed to the benefits those features produce).
A final example involves plan names with meaningless words like “Essential” that don’t do enough to (a) translate value or (b) differentiate one package from the next.
Bad example: the oft-mentioned ProfitWell uses trademarked product names for their plans that curiously doesn’t do a great job explaining the value a user is supposed to get.
Instead, you should try this…
Tip #2. Name Your Packages Based on Customer Segments
Naming your package tiers can help people self-select faster. Ideally, your packages should align with specific customer segments too.
For example, Bidsketch uses package names like Team and Solo to instantly communicate which plan is for which type of customer.
Introducing segmented plans like this helped Bidsketch see the biggest increase in monthly revenue they’ve had, in addition to increasing the average revenue per user.
Tip #3. CTA Language
The word ‘submit’ commonly underperforms in conversion tests because it has a negative connotation (submission). In addition, it’s generic and not particularly inspiring (see also: ‘download’ and ‘buy now‘).
Instead, try using more specific language that emphasizes the next action (like ‘Add to Cart’) or the benefit someone is about to get (like ‘Download My Report’).
The Bidsketch example above uses ‘Start Trial’ as a way for the user to reaffirm the next step a user’s about to take next.
Tip #4. Use a Contrasting Color
We’ve already seen that you should be highlighting a recommended plan.
The two most common ways to do that are through (1) color and (2) sizing.
AdEspresso uses a color variation, shading the entire recommended plan before using a HUGE green button to simply get people into the trial first (which is obvious based on the specific CTA language).
Tip #5. Credibility Indicators
Last but not least, you want to reverse the risk (from the user back to your company) to limit any other potential barriers to entry.
A free trial is the first obvious example, or its money back guarantee alternative that provides people the ability to ‘test drive’ the product to determine whether or not it’s going to be a good fit.
Most pricing pages look similar.
Many have the same surface-level features.
But simply slapping a few generic options across the page with little understanding of how to organize them or what you’re calling them won’t give you the results you’re looking for.
Instead, start by understanding the psychology behind what users want when they hit your page. Then focus on presenting and organizing your pricing information as simply as possible, from most expensive to least, with a recommended or highlighted product to prevent decision fatigue.
Then you can dive into the common tactical features, like limiting your plan features or incorporating a FAQ to ‘tick all the boxes’ users will expect.
Once you’ve gotten this far, you can switch attention over to the advanced stuff like what you’re calling each plan, or how your CTA language and color choices are helping (or hurting) conversions.
The best pricing pages somehow walk a fine line between giving people everything they need to make a decision, while also reducing any extra friction that might disorient, discourage or dissuade someone from signing up.
By offering all three benefits of a price- and propostion-simplifier, Uber’s founders were able to create a service no one knew they needed.
2016 has been an exciting year full of unexpected booms and busts in the marketing and technology world, making us look toward 2017 with eager anticipation. So what predictions came true and which ones started with a bang, but ultimately fizzled out? Let’s take a closer look:
1. Blended Marketing Continued to Dominate in 2016
To the surprise of no one who monitors these kinds of things, mobile marketing continued to dominate the web as I predicted back at the end of 2015. However, just as the incredible rise of ad blockers on the web has filtered out much of the advertising noise, so too are consumer bombarded by omni-channel offers that don’t really meet their needs, or happen at inopportune times.
As a result, consumers are being much more selective about the apps they install, the sites they visit and the emails they receive. If you’re not doing enough to stay at the top of their minds in ways that aren’t intrusive, you’re giving yourself a one-way ticket to UnsubscribeLand.
This is why many businesses look at omni-channel as more risk than reward. Do you really want to be everywhere the customer is all the time? Does the customer want you to be? Are you more of an elegant butterfly in their minds, or a pesky fly? If you don’t take the time to refine and chart your marketing course appropriately, they’ll make that decision for you.
Social media and mobile media continued to blur the lines with integrated shopping, recommendations, videos and reviews – creating an even greater push to get noticed among the amalgamated chunk of product pitches, retargeting ads and “I’m-an-authority-look-at-me” videos. As more and more advertisers step up to the plate, they look at what others are doing and then copy their efforts – rather than test on their own to see what their unique audience would respond to.
And, in an effort to get in on this big, blended push, Google shifted its search results to include video, recent news, location information and other details to help match the user with their search request even faster and more thoroughly than before.
So if everything’s coming together in a more finely-tuned customer experience, what didn’t really take off as well as we expected it to?
2. From Lifestyle Apps to Augmented Reality
I had originally predicted that 2016 would see the rise and greater adoption of lifestyle apps – meaning apps that people installed as a reflection of who they were. These could be a combination fitness-weather-diet tracker app rather than having apps for all three of these items. But the looming spectre of data overages constantly nipping at their heels means developers have tended to go easy on what’s available via app versus the much more open and accommodating web.
What stirred everyone’s imagination was augmented reality. The undisputed summer hit was Pokemon Go, but it, too, failed to gain much traction after the initial buzz wore off. Still, it was a masterpiece of gamification and as mobile becomes more powerful, we can look forward to seeing what augmented reality can do – particularly when you’re able to bring together the aforementioned apps into an all-in-one experience that isn’t just helpful, but subtly addictive too.
3. Talk To Me – Dash Buttons and the Internet of Things
Voice-guided search, wearable devices and innovations like the Amazon Echo and Google Home are starting to bridge the gap between the internet you access on your computer, and the internet you access everywhere.
Awkward attempts to blend e-commerce with that always-on, on-demand functionality has come out in the form of Amazon Dash buttons – WiFi connected devices that let you instantly order your favorite household products, but they’re more of a novelty than a really useful and innovative design. Watch them become as memorable and curious as the CueCat.
What will be changing for marketers is an increasing investment in understanding analytics and getting a truly cross-channel view of the consumer. Rather than throwing out a bunch of things that the company “thinks” the customer might want, they’re finally gathering enough intelligence (and enough of an understanding to know what to do with it), that they can track a consumer from a search on their home computer to a product description page on their mobile phone, to an order form on their company laptop.
This is known as advanced attribution, and it’s going to change the way we market to customers in ways we probably can’t even imagine. But think of the potential of engaging that consumer at the right time and place, on the right device, when they’re at the right stage of the buying cycle, and you can see precisely how much of a game-changer this technology is.
4. A Bigger Focus on Tools and Services that Fill in the Gaps
Things like predictive analytics and personalization tools are great – but they’re mostly in a vacuum. That means you can’t really leverage them to see the big picture, as well as the granular details you need in order to make decisions with confidence.
Expect innovations in 2017 to help bridge the gaps with many of these services, allowing for greater integrations with existing systems and a better, visual picture of what all that information really means. Kissmetrics is one such type of service. Rather than plop a bunch of analytical data in your lap, it zeroes in on who is doing what, and allows you to track and monitor their engagement across devices.
Other types of services that are not even part of the analytics industry are popping up to fill in the empty spaces left by other innovators. Uber, Airbnb, Amazon Echo/Google Home and many other services like these are becoming ubiquitous in our lifestyle because of the service they provide — a service we never even knew we needed until we saw its potential.
Tools like these are poised to change the way we market on the web, and you can expect even more integrations with popular software and SaaS products to broaden their reach and capabilities.
5. The Power and Passion of Social Media – Who Decides What You Get to See?
Although this doesn’t just apply to marketing, the U.S. election was watched, dissected, ranted and raved over across social media platforms. So much so, that “fake news” and allegations started littering people’s news feeds.
But this then begs the question – should you encapsulate yourself in a bubble – seeing only what you want to see, or should companies give you a little bit of everything and let you choose accordingly? Who decides? Social media has a very powerful and passionate audience on its side – and a significant amount of data that it’s going to have to make some definitive and perhaps unexpected decisions on. After all, not offering a balance can affect user engagement, and losing user engagement is the one thing that no social network wants to imagine – it’s their lifeblood. How they plan to approach this particular conundrum remains to be seen, but you can bet that eventually they’ll be forced to decide – and not everyone may agree with the results.
What Do You Think is in Store for 2017?
Do you think we’ll see some surprising changes on how we market to consumers in 2017? What do you think will happen? Share your own predictions with us in the comments below!
About the Author: Sherice Jacob helps business owners improve website design and increase conversion rates through compelling copywriting, user-friendly design and smart analytics analysis. Learn more at iElectrify.com and download your free web copy tune-up and conversion checklist today!
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