First of all, have a look at this:

It’s amazing.

It’s using what you can do online to tell a story far more vividly than it would be with simple words and pictures. It uses mapping and detail to draw you in. Tiny scraps picked out with video, pulling you into the report so much you can practically feel the rust and smell the salt.

Now, one question:

Why the fuck doesn’t your sales page look like that?

We’re in 2013 now. We’ve got the full range of Harry Potter shit at our disposal. We’ve got magic advanced enough that it looks like science.

And this is the kind of thing you should be thinking about with your sales page design.

Like all things, it’s traffic-dependent.

On launches, I probably wouldn’t bother. Launch traffic is very warm, and with warm traffic the cardinal rule is always ‘don’t be clever, make the damn sale’.

It’s when you’re dealing with cold traffic that techniques like this really start to shine – and if you want to really scale, you have to start dealing with cold traffic.

The words you use will always be important, but these days they don’t have to do all the work.

The internet can do a lot of amazing things, and you should be thinking about how to use them.

But to do this properly, you might need to change the way you think.

If you see making a sales page as ‘get copy from guy A, get it designed by guy B, add buttons, fin’ you’re never going to produce something like that NYT page.

That approach treats the copy as the car and the design as the go-faster stripes. In reality, your copy is the engine and your design is the wheels. You want your car to run, they’ve got to work together.

So if you want to get a sales page that really exploits what the internet can do, you’ve got to get the people working on it talking to each other.

Your copywriter should be happy to give suggestions on the design. If they’re not, don’t hire them.

Your designer should be happy to take suggestions from your copywriter. If they’re not, don’t hire them.

(And by suggestions, I mean ways to emphasise what the copy is trying to do. There’s not much point having your copywriter give suggestions on making the page look pretty – but if all your designer is doing is making the page look pretty, they’re a waste of cash. Fire them.)

And your copywriter ought to take suggestions from your designer too. They should be coming up with ways to present information – like that NYT article – and telling the copywriter what they can do.

If I’m in touch with a designer and they tell me they can produce something like that, I’ll write copy that’s designed to take advantage of it. If I’ve got no direction, I’ll go with a lowest-common-denominator approach, so likely the equivalent of a plain letter with space for a video. I’ve got to, because I don’t know what design can be delivered.

And yes, that can work. It has worked, repeatedly, very well.

But it doesn’t take advantage of the fact we’re not in the 90s any more, and it’s not necessarily the best approach.

It’s just the one your team is forced into if you keep all the pieces separate.

Your sales message is not your words, and the point of your design is not to make your sales message look good.

Your sales message is everything that is on your page, and every bit of it should be working together.