There are a lot of things we say no to. (Photo: Steven Snodgrass)

10 things to boost conversions we DON’T implement

In 1983 David Ogilvy wrote:

‘In the whole spectrum of marketing, direct mail is where you find the swindlers’

It’s as true today as it was back then: direct-response marketing attracts the swindlers.

Did all of the smart, honest kids go into medicine? Is there something about its efficacy and precision that puts off the wholesome? Does the pure factual reality of data disillusion the whimsical romanticism of creatives?

We’re not sure, but it’s the reality at hand.

My business partner and I both fell into direct-response by accident. Him studying psychology, and me public speaking and journalism. But it’s our secret weapon, as it was for Ogilvy.

Thankfully, we don’t have to worry about too many others catching on.

Ogilvy noted:

‘I have been a voice crying in the wilderness…’

We’re having similar early success, having started a new company this year. But far from crying in the wilderness, the two of us joke that we could go into the offices of most companies, pass around the best books on the topic, go into their boardrooms and draw charts on their whiteboards to lay out how effective it’d be, and still they wouldn’t be interested.

Direct-response is an apparition that only some can see.

To get here, we’ve been through the muck — the liars, scammers and charlatans. We’ve seen the gamut of sleazy tactics and distilled our learnings to those that are effective yet you’d be happy for your mum to see. It’s taken a lot of fudge to make the brownie.

Ethics and marketing are topics that don’t get discussed together as much as they should.

Here are some tactics you could employ to increase conversions, but that we choose to stay away from…

1. Videos on autoplay. For any sort of sales video, they’re shown to increase conversions. And, if it’s an advert, that’s a registered impression! Why don’t we use them? Because they’re really, really annoying. Our viewpoint: if you want to watch something, go ahead and click the play button.

2. Made up testimonials. I once heard somebody utter the words, ‘taking a loan out on testimonials’. Seriously. In our book, that’s abhorrent. Our practice is to do an initial launch to our clients’ core audience, get real user feedback and refine our products, and then and only then, when we’re armed with legitimate user testimonials, go out to promotional partners and drum up press for the course. A little bit of patience is a good thing. Any testimonial on our clients’ pages comes from a real living person.

3. Slipping a subscription into the small print. Can we sneak it in to get you to subscribe without you realising? Mightily lucrative if you do. Most people don’t read the small print, and even fewer are in the habit of regularly checking their bank statements. You can get a good few hundred extra bucks out of customers doing this. But, I hope I don’t have to explain why we don’t. Our guarantee: no fine print, and no additional product boxes checked by default. Any time a customer buys one of our clients’ products, it’s because they’ve read and understood what they’re signing up for, and they intend to make the purchase.

4. Ugly design. It’s said by some to convert better. We reject as false the trade-off between aesthetics and conversion rates. You can have both — and we do. Every page we design is beautiful. And 42% conversions on a landing page anyone?

5. Fake recent customer boxes. Social-proof is important. Some marketers go so far as to install a widget on their checkout pages that displays recent customer names and locations. The kicker? They’re automatically generated and made up. If we’re going to employ such a tactic, we’ll go out and find a tool that does it fairly.

6. Automated webinars that pretend to be live. If you’re in the business of maximising the number of people who show up for something and don’t mind lying to every one of them, there are some fantastic webinar software programmes on the market for you. They’ll record a webinar and all of the activity that goes into it (comments, discussion, questions) and allow you to re-stage it as a recorded ‘automated’ version for future attendees under the pretence that it’s live and you’re there on the call with them. You can be on the beach making millions, but that’s fraudulent, and not something we’ll ever do. (Just think of people commenting on a replay, thinking it’s live, and having their words go into the abyss!)

7. Making stuff up in copy. A surprisingly common practice on sales pages. Some ‘push the limits’ of fantasy and call that good copywriting. What? The FCC doesn’t have time for small businesses. Our copywriting and editorial leads have backgrounds in journalism and publishing, and we fact-check all of our marketing to make sure it lines up with the product. We even index bullet points so we can point you exactly to the part of a course each refers to.

8. Fake price drops. Ah, yours and my favourite, I’m sure. This usually sells for $1,000, but for today only it’s $99. And a good red strikethrough of the former price for good measure.

This is not a look we opt for. It’s extremely rare we’ll even do discounts. Perhaps for an initial launch. Perhaps for a very limited holiday promotion. But otherwise, they’re the lazy person’s way of drumming up a few fast sales when the head of marketing has run out of ideas. We instead invest our money in making a better product.

9. Upsell after upsell. Have you ever bought something and found that, in an astonishing attempt to eek out a few extra dollars, some retailers have as many as four upsell pages after a purchase? That’s just bad form. Instead, we work with clients who have such a strong brand that their reputation alone allows us to be competitive and profitable.

10. Bizarre aliases What is it with online marketers and made up names? Yes, plenty of fiction writers use pen names, but that’s not what this is. It’s one thing to use a ‘nom de guerre’ in place of a foreign or unfortunate surname across the board, but another to change your entire name on a project by project basis. I’ve seen some in the direct response world go so far as to make up a completely fictional person — with entirely made up credentials — just to sell one product. WTF? They must really not want their mum to find out what they’re doing.

And, bonus, #11: Fake scarcity. ‘There are only 57 places available.’ Why such a random number? And, you’re selling a digital product, why’s it so urgently capped? Scarcity is a fantastic driver to action. Cialdini wrote about it in all of his books. But could you at least make it somewhat plausible? We open and close our clients’ courses so that customers only have the chance to get access for a limited time. This forces a decision either way — and that’s important. Also, it’s better to have cohorts going through the course all at the same time. But we don’t make up numbers to manufacture a false sense of urgency.


Exit pops, fake security seals and VSLs (video sales letters) — I could go on. We say no to all of these things because we’re in the business of building brands. But, it’s in studying the world of direct response that we’ve learned to do this so effectively.

We’re a bootstrapped company without investors. We don’t have anybody breathing down our necks to try and force us — or our clients — to be as aggressive as possible.

We’re profitability-focused, and proudly so. But we’re not money-obsessed.

The beauty is, the former is usually a more effective means of achieving the latter. We help clients become plenty profitable without these gimmicks.

Are there any marketing tactics you’ve sworn off?

And, if you’d like to work with a company that puts the long-view ahead of a single page’s conversion rate, get in touch to see if we could be a fit to work together.