Five Surefire Things You Need For a Great VSL

What hundreds of hours watching winning VSLs have taught me about making a great one.

In giddy anticipation, I stand in front of the microwave, listening to the accelerating kernel pops as I wait for my buttery treat. 

I’ve found the perfect bowl–the one that is rarely designated solely for popcorn, but is the perfect vessel for a movie-time snack. 

Popcorn in hand, I sit down and get comfy. It’s time to watch another VSL.

Okay, okay… you caught me being a bit dramatic (more on that later). I don’t actually watch VSL marathons the way I would watch a movie marathon, but there are some similarities between the two art forms (yes–I referred to a VSL as an art form).

So today, we are going to add a little “movie magic” as we dive into the five biggest mistakes you can make when you are creating your VSL.

For those that aren’t aware a VSL stands for “Video Sales Letter.” A VSL is a great way to capture an audience’s attention–especially in the current world of content where consumers are blitzed with things and information to digest. 

VSLs can engage and capture a consumer in a way that even the most snappy of headlines and most compelling of content cannot. VSLs open a door to more traffic channels and tend to do better with mobile audiences–which has become increasingly important as mobile continues to overtake the desktop market. (For reals though, does anyone even use a desktop if they aren’t at work anymore?) 

VSLs come in many shapes and sizes. From 30 second pitches at the top of an ecommerce page to 90 minute epics selling you a course on how to make 8-figure VSLs… the limits are flexible. Today we are going to focus on the long from VSL. On ClickBank, we tend to see the most success for both sellers and affiliates who use long from VSLs. 

Alright, let’s just into the five things every great VSL needs.

  1. A Great Story
    Just like every memorable movie, a VSL must have a great story. The first step to creating a great story is focusing on the VSL copy. Also similarly to the movies, even the best effects and production can’t save a script that is total garbage. (I’m looking at you Sucker Punch.) Yet, on the flip side, a great script shines even in the lowest of production environments. (Clerks cost Kevin Smith all of $27,000.)

    VSLs, and really all things marketing, require good copy before impressive production. Otherwise, you’ll spend hours and hours in production (and likely a lot of money) on something that will never captivate an audience the way you want it to.

    With your long form sales page, you will be able to easily test multiple headlines and CTAs. You’ll be able to optimize the copy without investing time and money into a VSL that will never convert.

    Once you feel confident that you have winning copy, don’t overthink things. Create what Digital Marketer calls an “ugly VSL” using PowerPoint and your own voice over. Test this primitive VSL and do it cheaply so you can scale into a polished VSL.

    Keep in mind that there is one thing that you must have in your script for it to capture conversions… drama. 
  1. A Dash of Drama
    Can you imagine how bad Die Hard would have been without the terrorist? Or what if Harry met Sally and they got married in two months of uneventful dating and lived happily ever after? Or what if Forest Gump just stayed at home and mowed lawns?

    These would be terrible movies. No one would watch them and they probably never would have been made (or in the case of Dances with Wolves would win tons of awards but still bore us all). We need the DRAMA to drive the story. Not just movies, but in VSLs as well.

    However, unlike movies, there is little time to spend building tension in your VSL. In cinema, a good build up is applauded when executed well. Movies such as Blade Runner, There Will Be Blood, or–more recently–The Joker do an amazing job of building tension until the third and final act, leaving viewers with their jaws dropped and their butts still in their seats (even after 2+ hours).

    The liberty to take one’s time in crafting a story is truly reserved for movies alone. Movies viewers are committed to watching one thing with a minimum of 80% attention for at least 90 minutes. They are buckled up and ready for the climb.

    VSLs are different. When a customer gets to your landing page, they are being bombarded for their attention from all manner of sources. Family, work, friends, facebook, Farmville, bank account, the random question they had to answer about that serial killer from 20 years ago, a new email, other ads! The list is endless.

    This means they are unlikely to give much patience to wait and see if a VSL is going to eventually get interesting. As a VSL creator, you have about five seconds to keep someone watching.

    That is why you need to start every VSL at the peak of drama. Channel your inner Spielberg and start with boulder-chase-level of drama like he did in Raiders of the Lost Ark, or make it irresistibly action packed in the same way Christopher Nolan did to open the Dark Knight. Without a doubt, the best VSLs always start at the peak of the drama.

    As I was falling to the floor I could see my life flash before me. Was this really it…”

    “I could feel the cold steel of the .357 barrel on my temple. Quivering, crying, and feeling so lost I didn’t think I could go another day if something didn’t change in my life…”

    “I woke up in the middle of the night to the blood-curdling sound of my daughter screaming. I knew something was wrong…”

    These are all examples of high drama leads for a VSL. Make it intense and something that the viewer simply can’t turn away from.

    Great! You have them hooked. But how long will they stay?…
  1. VSL Length
    The most common question I get asked when it comes to VSLs is, “How long should it be?”

    Here’s my answer every time: 

    “As long as you need to sell the product.”

    You can sell the features of a product in a stylish, simple video. Look no further than the “As Seen on TV” product line. Exhibit A: A charismatic pitch-man showing me how I can finally make arduous vegetable cutting a thing of the past with the Slap Chop!

    The price point is low, the marketing is flashy, and the end goal is my commitment to an impulse buy. There are no upsells, the AOV (average order value) isn’t going to be that high, and–if they want to keep selling Slap Chops–the volume needs to be enormous.

    This doesn’t work for digital products or high-end supplements. 

    You may be wondering, “But why?”

    Because selling digital products and high-end supplements require the sales of a concept, not just a product. The concept of the paleo diet can’t really be explained in a 60-second video. Likewise, the concept of spending $200 a month for a 6-month supply of a fat burner cannot be done in a 5-minute video.

    When you think about movies, this same concept applies. Movies with simple concepts like animated films and horror movies clock in around 90 minutes. The deeper the concept, the longer the movie. Dramas and blockbusters are on average 30 minutes longer, taking up about 120 minutes. These movies tend to win awards and make more money.

    When it comes to selling concepts, there needs to be a deeper connection at work, which can only be done when a story meets education in a marriage unique to long form sales copy. And while sometimes you can sell a product without the long form VSL by using other tactics (such as adding a free-plus-shipping cookbook), you won’t get the same AOV when it comes to your upsells.

    That is because when someone commits to buying your concept rather than just a tangible good, they are trusting your ability to deliver to them a solution to their problem. They will want more of it. And they are also willing to pay more for it.

    I don’t want to leave you without some specifics, so I will say that the most successful VSLs that I have seen range from 45-80 minutes in length. It doesn’t mean you can’t do more or less, this is just the spot that I see the highest conversions at.

    Now that you have the perfect story, with the fight amount of drama, at the right length, you want to make sure that your VSL and sales page look good.
  1. Bad Production Will Destroy Your VSL

    When I say bad production I don’t mean that you need to spend a lot of money to produce your VSL. In fact, a high budget doesn’t mean good production–a phenomenon we see in cinema all the time. (John Carter anyone?) Your dollars need to fit the feel of the sales letter and the page.

    If you are going to go simple, commit to a VSL that will highlight the text and story. This is where a really good voice actor and copywriter can do wonders. If you want to invest in lots of stock footage, a real actor with live shoots, go all in. Don’t cut corners with obvious or corny-looking stock images that are repetitive or look low budget. Essentially, don’t let your production fall somewhere in the middle.

    Middling production is a no man’s land that will hurt conversions every time. I truly cannot think of a top-performing VSL that lived in the middle. As a famous sage of cinema once said, “Do. Or do not. There is no try.”  
  1. A Busy Page Doesn’t Convert, It Distracts
    The most important lesson I can leave you with is this: 

    Consider where you want the viewers eyes to be at all times during your VSL.

    Naturally you want your viewers to be watching the actual VSL until you present the CTA. So it would make sense that the more you add to the page around the video, the more you fracture your viewer’s attention. Fractured attention is bad because you need as much attention as you can get from them on your VSL. With too much going on on the page, they won’t be as bought in and they won’t be as likely to convert.

    Don’t show the CTA. Don’t add testimonials. And, please for the love of Frodo, don’t fill the margins around the video with text or images. There is a time and a place to show them more and it isn’t until you present the CTA. If you are worried about keeping people on the page, spend time on your video not the content around it.

    I had the pleasure of attending a training session at the YouTube Offices earlier this year. During the training, YouTube had a presentation from their in-house conversion optimization and testing team and they shared some interesting information about the production of ads that worked.

    First, ads that have more frame changes convert better. Look at every successful Harmon Brothers offer and you will see how often they change frames in their videos. They keep you on your toes to keep their viewers engaged. Remember all those competing attention grabbers I mentioned? This is how you combat those.

    Second, focus on the face and speed up the pace. Make sure you have tight shots that focus on people’s facial expressions to enhance the intimate feel of video. This is especially important for small screens. Then, the fast pace (literally talking and moving faster) will capture and keep attention.

    Finally, add in superimposed text! If you want to emphasize a point, you need to display text on the video. When text is put in front of us that only offers a limited time to read it, the viewer must read it as it is presented.This is one of the reasons I remember so much more from foreign films that are subtitled. I am forced to read the captions and fully immerse myself in the conversation. The commitment it takes to reading alone keeps my attention more than standard dialog.

Speaking of attention, if you’ve made it this far, I must have kept yours. As we roll to the credits, let me recap on what you need to make a killer VSL: 

  • You need great copy first.
  • You need to start your video at the peak of a dramatic story. 
  • You need to spend around 45-80 minutes selling a concept. 
  • You need to avoid bad production and pick either high-concept or low-concept production. but not the middle ground.
  • You need to avoid making your page busy and distracting so viewers can focus on your video. 

When you want more examples, or if you are curious where to find the best VSLs use the ClickBank Marketplace to find them.  

We automatically sort the top offers in REAL TIME and put them to the top so you don’t have to search. Look at them, understand them, and create your own high-converting VSL.