Computer screen reflected in glasses with subliminal purchase messages

How modern websites persuade you to buy things... without you realizing it

Lessons in the art of mixing classic marketing techniques with new digital strategies and analytics

By Ian Barnard

Marketing Specialist

I use classic marketing strategies, behavioural psychology, and design to create websites and online campaigns that sell more stuff.

Imagine walking into your office on a Monday morning to discover that your website traffic has tripled since last Friday. Social media follows and email subscription rates have soared, causing a torrent of potential leads and new customers. Best of all, the new traffic has made your conversion rate skyrocket, resulting in an avalanche of customers doing what you’ve been struggling to get them to do for months — buy more of what you’re selling!

You don’t need a cutting edge website or complex ad campaigns that cost thousands of dollars to make this happen. In fact, those things can sometimes hurt you more than they help to grow your business. It’s too easy to get lost in the latest new technology trend, social media platform or analytics report. With the sheer number of marketing options available today, how can you figure out what works and which ones are a waste of time?

Trends come and go, but human nature remains constant. Connecting with people’s needs and desires has been the foundation of good advertising for over a hundred years. The techniques have evolved over time, but the principles of selling never change.

As a Marketing Specialist, I adapt these principles to the digital world to help people grow their businesses. By following a few simple rules and guidelines, I’ve created websites that have drawn huge increases in traffic, literally overnight, and written landing pages that were so successful the company had to hire more employees to keep up with the sales.

I’m going to show you exactly how I did it: by mixing the lost art of long copywriting with modern digital marketing techniques and design.

Don't have time to read the full article? No problem. I'll send you a print-friendly PDF with bonus material that you can read in your own time.

The lost art of long copy

Before television, long copy was everywhere. Magazines and newspapers ran full page ads with paragraphs of text that told stories without using a single picture, and direct response marketers mastered the technique of persuading people to purchase products using nothing more than a mailed letter.

What is long copy?

Long copy is any advertisement that relies on a lot of text to sell a product or service. It is the opposite of short copy, which uses images, shorter headlines and less text.

Advances in technology have convinced many people that we no longer have the imagination or attention span for this kind of approach, but is that really true?

I had the chance to find out when re-designing a landing page for a client offering a complicated and expensive service. The short copy provided did not fully explain or sell the features of the service being advertised. After meeting with several members of their staff, I wrote a long and in-depth overview and uploaded it to the page.

The client panicked.

“Nobody will read that much text! You’ll scare everyone away! We need to keep it short and simple…”

The joy of modern web analytics is that we can test questionable assumptions. I asked for a two week trial of the long copy before making any changes.

Not only did the new longer copy attract more page visits than the old short copy, but the average time on page doubled overnight.

The client kept the long copy. After three months, service inquiries had increased by 55%. It’s a pattern I’ve seen repeated time and time again.

Graph of page views increasing after re-writing page content

Look at the overnight difference that re-writing a single web page can make. After I made similar long copy re-writes for their other assessment services, this organization had to hire new people in order to keep up with the increase of bookings!

I'll tell you a secret: long copy only scares away people who have no intention of buying your product or service.

Customers want information on the products they are interested in before buying them. Don’t be afraid to give it to them.

Sliding down the buying funnel

How you present this information is crucial. Human behaviour studies show us that when considering buying something, whether it’s a pack of gum or a new car, everyone goes through a decision making process that has clearly defined stages. This process is known as “The Buying Funnel”, and clever marketers can move you through each stage to the point of purchase without you realizing it.

Let’s see how it works.

Drawing of the buying funnel

This is the buying funnel, which encapsulates the full customer cycle.

  1. Awareness – Someone has to be aware that your product exists before they want to buy it. At stage one, you need to clearly explain what your product is and how it benefits the customer.
  2. Interest – You need to make people desire what you’re selling by showing them the benefits it will bring to their life. How will this product make them feel? How will it change other people’s opinion of them?
  3. Consideration – After desire has been stoked, we need to satisfy the rational needs that people use to justify a purchase. This is where features are explained, testimonials are shared and guarantees are made.
  4. Purchase – The happy climax of the process, but not the conclusion! A good website will make payment easy and quick.
  5. Loyalty – Often missed, in the final stage of the funnel you are encouraged to become a repeat customer. Loyalty tactics can include referring friends for a future bonus or discount, store credit on check-out, or email coupons.

It’s important to remember that long copy is not always the best choice when selling a product. However, well written long copy that follows the buying funnel progression has proven to be highly successful in selling all kinds of stuff.

The web content I create attracts more traffic and increases sales.

If you’re struggling to get web traffic or turn page visits into sales, I’d be happy to help out!

The spider’s web of digital marketing

Now that you have your long copy written and structured using the buying funnel, how do you get potential customers to read it?

My favourite (slightly creepy) analogy is comparing attracting online customers to a spider’s web. Think of the internet as a large room, and your website or landing page as the center of a tiny spider web on the ceiling. Now imagine that people browsing the internet are like little flies buzzing around the room. Because your web is small, it’s unlikely to catch many of the flies in the room. In order to catch more flies, you need to make your web bigger!

Digital marketing is what increases the size of your web. Online ads, blog posts, Facebook pages, Twitter accounts, Instagram and Pinterest boards (to name a few) are all tiny additions to your web that grow it from a small corner on the ceiling to covering a large part of the room. Suddenly, a lot more of those flies buzzing around are getting caught in your web and being pulled to its centre: your website.

I told you this was a creepy analogy.

One of my favorite digital marketing strategies is also the most overlooked: email marketing. In my experience, email is the most efficient way of bringing potential customers to your website. You might get more overall traffic from a Facebook page or a Google ad, but email traffic is more likely to convert than any other acquisition source.

What are conversions?

A conversion is anything a website visitor does that brings you value. This could be buying a product, following you on social media, leaving feedback or reviews, starting a free service trial or signing up for your newsletter.

Email conversion are rates higher than social, direct and paid traffic

Despite bringing in the least amount of traffic, visitors who arrive by email are the most likely to convert. For this site, referrals by email converted at 45%, about double the rate of paid traffic! How’s that for an un-tapped source of revenue?

Smart marketers know this too, which is why websites will try a variety of tactics to get you to give them your email address.

The most effective one is the free give-away. A guide, trial subscription, special report or exclusive research can be yours absolutely free of charge — you just need to provide your email address so they know where to send it!

Email subscription rate increase after opt-in campaign

I love free give-aways because they work. Look how the email subscription rate quadruples when a pop-up campaign with a free offer is introduced at the beginning of August.

The last take-away to remember about email marketing is that unlike other forms of social media, it not only widens your spider’s web but lets you recapture flies that escape.

Someone finding your company on Facebook or Twitter can check out your website, but if they leave without converting it’s unlikely that they’ll ever come back. A person that signs up for your email list however will receive future sales pitches directly into their inbox, enticing them to come back again, and again, and again...

If you overlook email in your digital marketing efforts, you’re leaving money on the table.

I’ve created email marketing campaigns that have open and click rates 115% above industry average. This means you’re getting a steady stream of highly engaged web traffic: customers who are are primed to buy!

Lessons Learned: how to avoid 7 common marketing mistakes booklet cover

Special Offer!

Want more detailed information on how to create successful web content and digital campaigns?

  • Design websites that work
  • Create a perfect digital ad
  • Write web content that people will want to read
  • Measure your online success

Download a free copy of my booklet, Lessons Learned: How to avoid 7 common marketing mistakes.

Design: the overlooked ingredient for growth

Good design pays off. The biggest mistake that you can make with design is treating it as a last-minute process to make something “look nice”. Design goes much deeper, and should be used at the beginning, middle and end of your marketing process.

On the internet, a website’s look and feel is a huge decider of the trust and authority we place in it, which are essential in making us feel comfortable to make a purchase.


1) to plan and make decisions about something that is being built or created

2) to plan and make something for a specific use or purpose

Clients often get scared at the perceived cost of hiring a designer. However, a study by the Danish Business Authority found that companies that invest more in design gain an additional 40% in gross revenue compared to those who did not.

Another study by the Design Council in the United Kingdom reported that every £100 ($170 CAD) a business spends on design increases turnover by £225 ($390 CAD), a return on investment of 2.25!

I design professional print and web content, materials and campaigns that drive sales and improve your brand image.

Combined with my copywriting and marketing strategy skills, it helps my clients look good and sell a lot more stuff.

"I first started working with Ian to improve our online visibility to clients with the hope of increasing sales. In a short time, Ian was able to better our position online and draw individuals over to our website. The result: sales have increased by 22%!"

Judith Meyntz, Business Operations Manager
JVS Toronto

Keep learning about the art and science of digital marketing

We’re only scratching the surface of how clever marketers persuade you to buy things online.

If you’re still on the fence over whether I can help you sell more stuff, or just want to learn more creating email campaigns, landing pages and websites that increase sales significantly, there’s an easy solution.

Sign up for my free Digital Marketing Secrets course to learn how you can use my simple rules and guidelines to grow your own business.

In just four weeks, you will learn:

  1. How to design websites that work
  2. The elements of a perfect Google ad
  3. How to write web content that people will want to read
  4. The right way to measure online success

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About the guy who wrote this

Ian black and white headshot

Toronto, ON

I'm a digital marketing professional that uses classic marketing strategies, behavioural psychology, and design to create websites and online campaigns that sell more stuff.

Holding a degree in Political Science, a chance internship during my last year of university kickstarted a love affair with marketing and communications that lasts to this day. I get excited over things like click rates, conversions, and behaviour flows so you don't have to.

I'm the creator of Job Hacking, a blog that pioneers job search techniques influenced by the practices of technology start-ups. It teaches people to use creativity, analytical thinking, and digital strategies to showcase their talents and gain exposure.

Outside of marketing, I enjoy cooking, listening to miserable English bands, and solving life problems by thinking, “What would James Murphy do?”

My Work

You can check out my digital marketing strategy and copywriting skills above.

Here's some of my recent marketing, graphic design and web design work.

Contact Me

Let me use the strategies and skills I've shared with you here to help grow your business and sell more stuff.

If you'd like to get in touch, send me an email!