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May 08, 2002
Case Study

Why Content Price Testing is Really, Really Smart (How to Profit by Selling Single Articles Online)

SUMMARY: Even if you are not in the publishing industry, if you are selling anything online you may pick up an idea or two from this Case Study, which features lots of tactics an entrepreneur used to raise site sales conversion rates from blah to extraordinary. Entrepreneur Don Crowther tested pricing, adding graphics, and classic direct response copywriting to get visitors to purchase articles on PR at his site Plus he also gives a useful tip on copywriting Overture ads for a higher sales conversion rate.

Don Crowther of Breakthrough Consulting does not exactly consider himself a publisher per say, although he focuses on selling content online. "I specialize in running around the Web and finding holes where you can make money by filling those holes."

Late last summer, he began to notice a hole in the PR professional information field. "A lot of people are very interested in PR, and there was very little available in that area that was both inexpensive and easy to get a hold of."

Crowther then sought out and signed deals with some of the best PR consultants writing practical in-depth articles on the topic, including Joan Stewart and Susan Harrow. He was now their authorized online reseller.

Now he just had to figure out how to profit by selling five-to-ten page-long articles (which he calls "Reports") online.


First Crowther avoided the trap many other (now failed) ventures fell into, that of launching a general all-purpose e-content store.

Instead of a "Contentville" or "MightyWords" where you would find everything, he launched an online store tightly focused on serving just one kind of content to one particular audience:

Then he focused even further, stocking the store initially with just 37 articles on different aspects of publicity and media relations (which are only two of many possible PR-related topics). The store became a treasure-trove for anyone interested in those two particular topics. Hopefully visitors would cross-sell and upsell themselves on buying multiple articles with tightly interrelated themes.

Crowther designed the site itself using every tactic he had seen that seemed to work elsewhere on the Web, and in direct mail, including:

1. Red 100% guarantee "stamp" on most pages

2. Benefit-laden, compelling copywriting with the word "you" (instead of "we")

3. Lots of numbered lists (people love numbered lists)

4. Cross-selling product lists, "People who ordered this report also ordered:"

5. "Handwritten" notes on "notepad paper" and "stick-ums" strewn about to underscore benefits and push action

6. The Company's mailing address, phone, fax and email at the bottom of every page of the site so visitors know it is "real."

7. Extensive information about each item offered, including bulleted benefits and a free sample extract that is long enough to be valuable in and of itself. At the bottom of the free sample, a quick sales pitch tells you what more you will get if you click to buy the whole thing. Just last week, Crowther added a small graphic image "of" the article at the bottom as well.

Plus each article's title is carefully crafted to sound as tantalizing as possible, such as "52 Tips for Kick-Butt News Releases (and Bonehead Mistakes to Avoid)" and "How to Write the Perfect Pitch Letter That Convinces an Editor to Write About You."

The site also features a free newsletter opt-in form to capture visitors' email addresses. Initially the opt-in form just said, "Free newsletter" in text, but after a few months, Crowther tested adding a yellow graphic background and pepping up the offer with some benefit copy, "Learn how to POWER UP YOUR PR SUCCESS RATE. Get your FREE newsletter filled with PR tips, and techniques to help you achieve your promotional dreams."

Crowther sends opt-ins a regular newsletter featuring more useful samples from articles, and of course offers. In addition the store is set up with an autoresponder that sends a series of three messages to all buyers:

1. At time of sale - Thank you for purchasing

2. Day after sale - I hope you were able to download successfully. Please let us know and we will be happy to help you out.

3. Two days later - Special offer for a higher priced collection of best-of articles

Initially, the site launched in September 2001 with articles priced at $7 each. Crowther tested raising this to $9 each on April 19th 2002.

With a price point this low, Crowther can not afford the customer service costs invariably associated with publishing in an encrypted, eBook or PDF format. No matter how "easy" you think your format is, there will always be plenty of people who can not figure out how to download or use it. He then decided to fulfill all documents in the lowest common denominator, Word files.

Crowther says, "We looked at high fraud prevention stuff, but I don't want to do it. If I get one phone call, it shoots the profit for that sale."

Also, he figured that people are less likely to steal things that are available at such a reasonable price.

Crowther initially limited his outbound marketing investment until he was sure the site was converting a high enough number of visitors. He did not want to pay for traffic when he was not putting his best foot forward to make the highest possible number of sales from it.

He did a no-cost links campaign (asking related site owners to link to his site), and then began testing paid search engine listings at FindWhat, Overture and Google AdWords Select, for such terms as "media kit."

He is very careful to use a different, trackable link for each and every ad and keyword buy he makes so he can track what works and drop what does not.


Crowther's ceaseless testing (especially price testing) has really paid off in terms of raising profitability. The site initially made about 5.8 cents per visitor, now it makes more than 30 cents per visitor. (That is a healthy $300 per 1,000 visitors.)

More numbers:

- Enticed by the free sample content, visitors spend a significant amount of time on the site, surfing an average of 4.6 pages per visit.

- The price increase, from $7 to $9 per article on April 19th, definitely lowered the site's conversion rate from visitor to sale, BUT each end-sale (including cross-sold items) was worth so much more money that as Crowther puts it, "short and sweet: profits tripled."

Why? Crowther's theory is, "I think some of the more serious people saw the $7 and thought, 'This can't be worth anything.' Now serious PR people are buying multiple reports."

- After Crowther added a graphic image of each article in the sales area under its free sample, conversions again increased until they surpassed the percent they had been at prior to the price increase. Now he is converting more visitors and making more profit per sale.

- Adding a graphic image and benefit oriented copy to the free newsletter offer also made a big difference. Initially only 5-10% of visitors signed up for the newsletter, now almost 18% do.

- Crowther only gets one or two customer service emails a week, sometimes from people with old Macs that have trouble with Word format. In that case he sends the document to the buyer as a text file. He sees this as a way to increase customer lifetime value, even if he loses money on servicing the first sale.

- Aside from traffic from newsletters and other messages sent to the site's opt-in and buyer lists, the second most profitable traffic sources are Overture and Google AdWords Select paid listings.

- Clicks from Overture ads which are copywritten to include the price of the article (example: $9 special report on how to...) convert at a significantly higher rate than clicks from ads without a price.

- Google AdWords Select will drop your listing if your ad does not get a high enough click rate to please them, so Crowther has had to rewrite some of his Google ads to remove the price info. This "softer offer" gets more clicks but not as many convert to buyers. In any case, it is still profitable. He says, "I've got ads at Google generating 3-4% click through rates. We wouldn't be there if we weren't converting."

- FindWhat paid listings have not converted into a single sale, and now that the price is rising from one cent to four cents per click (due to FindWhat's new partnership with Excite), Crowther is seriously considering ceasing to use the service.

"It's kind of fun to do this stuff," says Crowther of all his tweaks and tests. He adds, "I really need to get five times more traffic now. I'm out actively searching for more traffic now that I'm getting the model to be what I want it to be."

Technology behind Crowther's online shopping cart (he highly recommends it, and this is his affiliate link):
See Also:

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