When you’re inside the bottle, it’s hard to read the label. We call this Inside-the-Bottle Syndrome – the difficulty most people have communicating the value of their businesses to others. You may have a deep familiarity with what you do – knowledge that distinguishes you among your competitors. But, oddly enough, that can often impede your ability to promote yourself persuasively to the clients you seek to serve. Take John Morana.

College degree in hand, he got a job as assistant art director for a Yellow Pages advertising publisher. “Every day, “he said, “I saw businesses spending outrageous sums of money and getting so very little in return. In fact, mediocrity ruled! Staff artists were expected to crank out 20 to 30 Yellow Pages ads a day for a reason. Those flaccid, ‘look-alike’ ads assured the publisher that everyone in a given heading would get roughly the same number of calls. That way, they’d all sign up again the following year.”

Believing that Yellow Pages advertisers deserved results-oriented advertising from someone committed to their success, John eventually founded MaxEffect, where he set about creating eye-popping, distinctive, and downright persuasive Yellow Pages ads for ecstatic clients. What John could do for them would knock your socks off. Trouble was, his own website wasn’t knocking anybody’s socks off. Lots of people came … and just as quickly left. John had the traffic, but his website wasn’t helping him turn that traffic into business leads.

When John came to us, we identified three remedial areas where he could implement easy, low-cost changes that would improve his conversion rates:

1. Look & Feel Aesthetically pleasing though John’s old home page might have been to a designer, it screamed “Don’t Bother!” to prospects. The background was black – somber, negative, and making it very difficult to read text. Various text elements were red, or purple, or teal, or even yellow – an intense, jarring juxtaposition of color that was often difficult to decipher.

Most dispiriting for visitors, much of the copy was reversed out of gray. This sort of design creates usability problems. And if you’re an ad designer hoping to get prospects to believe your ads will get folks to take action, you want to do everything to promote your credibility. How credible do you look when folks aren’t even persuaded to get past your own home page?

John’s new home page is brighter, conveys energy, and, most important, highlights the copy that is critical to his conversion process. Once you’ve focused on the central headline, you are quickly drawn to text that is benefit-rich and includes hyperlinks as internal calls to action.

Tips for look/feel: Keep the design simple and clutter-free. Black text on a white background reduces eyestrain. Design elements should be formatted in a way that allows visitors to quickly scan and evaluate the contents of a page. Choose color schemes that are cheerful, inviting, friendly.

2. Copy John’s old home page copy suffered slightly from an emphasis on how wonderful he is. (He IS – but wewe-ing over yourself is not a way to persuade a visitor.) However, the critical problem lay elsewhere. While John’s copy correctly favored benefits over features, the language in which he had couched those benefits was profoundly negative. The heavy-handed copy spoke to “pain” with words like eliminate, hassles, minimize, struggles, frustration, doubts, worries, aggravating headaches, and nullify.

At one point, the copy proclaimed, “Yellow Pages advertising is expensive!” Even though the context might be appropriate for such words, the effect on an audience is detrimental. The new home page copy is more to the point, removes the hard sell, focuses on the positive in customer-centric language, is more believable, and eliminates the discussion of cost in favor of reinforcing value.

We replaced generic phrases like “save you money, save you time, eliminate frustration” with more precise examples of MaxEffect’s value proposition: “Your customers will be drawn to your Yellow Pages ad more strongly than anything else on the page. Recognize that you are the solution to what they’ve been looking for.” The change in tone was significant – from scrappy street kid fighting for credibility to confident, seasoned professional … in significantly fewer words!

Tips for copy: Be specific. Focus on customer-centric language (“you” not “me”). Emphasize benefits, not features. Keep your verbal images positive, not negative or painful. Write using the active voice, not passive. Use informative, compelling headers and subheads to convey the points and flow of your copy.

3. Product Presentation Think about a Yellow Pages ad. Any Yellow Pages ad. Chances are, you can’t do it. Kind of unmemorable, aren’t they? As John said, very “look-alike.” In John’s business, the visual element is critical, because his product is an image. So his website originally offered a whole page of his sample ads clustered together on that black background. And they were really great ads. But we figured we could make the product presentation much more persuasive.

Now, instead of 13 samples of his work, you find only two (on a white background). Each is paired with the client’s former ad – the one that ran before John worked his magic. The comparison highlights John’s abilities with startling clarity. Anyone looking at that page who needs an ad is going to be impressed.

Tips for product presentation: Present images that show the product to its best advantage. Use high-quality images. Consider portraying the relational dimension of your product. The Results With these simple changes in place, John’s website more accurately reflects and communicates his Yellow Pages ad philosophy and its effect on Yellow Pages users. It’s the sort of thing John easily could have done for himself, had he climbed outside the bottle and become his own client.

It wasn’t long at all before John went from 1 or 2 leads a week to 2 or 3 a day. He more than exceeded his ultimate goal of 7 leads a week. In fact, he got more business than he could handle! So he hired someone to help. Recently, John raised his rates, figuring that would discourage some of the visitors to his website so he could catch up with his workload. It didn’t. What a problem to have, huh?

[Ed Note: Bryan and Jeffrey Eisenberg are the co-founders of Future Now Inc., a New York City-based online marketing company. They are co-authors of “Persuasive Online Copywriting” and their new book “Call to Action”.]