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Want people to do good? Make em a selfish sandwich. (80,000 hours) A Y Combinator Website Marketing Tune-up.

by Paul Montreal. Average Reading Time: almost 11 minutes.

Paul Montreal Internet Marketing Tune-ups.

This week I’m looking at Benjamin’s website He’s got a Y Combinator backed startup. They help people make fulfilling career choices that also have a positive impact on the world. Let’s dive in and see what we can learn…

1. Always answer the question – What’s in it for me?

80,000 hours website marketing tune-up by Paul Montreal.

Click for full size homepage image.

The opening copy is as follows…

Find a fulfilling career that does good.
Receive part of our career guide in your inbox each week, for nine weeks.
It’s based on five years of research alongside academics at Oxford.

On the surface, the first sentence may appear to be balanced. “Find a fulfilling career that does good.”

It’s combining an internal value that benefits us, with an external value that benefits others. Seems fair, right?

But in reality human beings are far more motivated by internal, personal benefits than we are by helping others.

Here, and in other places throughout the copy I think there’s a fractional over-emphasis on the external value of “doing good”.

Essentially “doing good” is the product that is being sold here. But if you really want more people to “do good” you have to be really clear on what’s in it for them.

Imagine for a second that “doing good” is a toaster. If this page was selling toasters, I would say to you – stop talking about how shiny your toaster is, and talk about how much more your customers could enjoy their hot buttery toast.

If you want to convince people to help others, show them 10 ways in which it benefits them first.

If you have to boil that idea down to a single headline or opening sentence, make sure that as a minimum you’re focusing on 2 reasons why the individual will benefit for every 1 external benefit. Even if it sounds like you’re repeating yourself.

For example:

Find a fulfilling career that does good and makes you happy.

Find a fulfilling career (internal value, you benefit)
that does good (external value, others benefit)
and makes you happy. (internal value, you benefit)

Call it a selfish sandwich if you want. (I win, they win, I win.)

Now I wouldn’t use that exact headline, I’d put the time in to come up with 2 more distinct personal benefits, but I hope it illustrates the balance that will be more effective.

This isn’t about philosophy, or morality, it’s about what’s going to work.

Action: Marketing has to deal with how human beings are, not how we would like them to be. Throughout the copy, make sure to emphasize the personal benefits of doing good work far more than the external benefits.

2. Give the basic idea enough room to really sink in.

Website marketing teardown.

Although I love a good bar full of credibility, especially when it has links to great stories, in this case it’s cluttering the introduction. It’s too high up, and it stands out too much, taking attention away from the opening explanation of what you do.

Luckily, we don’t have to go far to solve these initial copy problems and distractions. The very next section has a much better description of what you do, and with just a couple of tweaks, it would make for a much clearer opening.

Website marketing makeover

This is clearer, visually and mentally. I’d use this as your opening page with a few, small tweaks…

You have 80,000 hours in your career…

Make the right career choices, and you can have a hugely positive impact on the world and a much more rewarding and interesting life.

We’re here to give you the information you need to find that fulfilling, high impact career. Get our 9 step career guide, sent direct to your inbox once a week.

Our advice is based on five years of research alongside academics at Oxford and is tailored for talented young graduates.

Sign-up box or Start Reading Now. (on same line)

I would blow that up to fill the screen. No other distractions. Then, the next thing down the page should be a line of human head shots, featuring the people you’ve already helped and their case studies.

I would also split test removing the “Start reading now” button and see how it affects your sign-ups.

Action: Enlarge the current “what we do” panel to be your new introduction screen. Remove as much distraction as possible. Then continue down the page with the human head shots and case studies next.

3. Everything comes down to identity, work with it, not against it.

What makes people want to do good work? There are various individual answers to that question, but they all come back to one simple idea – good work is consistent with their identity.

People will choose “good work” if it aligns with how they see themselves. And how they see themselves is constantly being shaped by their upbringing, their family, their peer group, their mentors and their own life experience.

At the end of the day, they need to feel that “doing good work is just like me, right now”.

But of course we often have conflicting ideas about who we are, especially when we’re young. We just haven’t made those decisions yet. So, to help people decide that “good work is just like them”, we have to look at all the reasons that may not be true and reconcile those issues one at a time.

Imagine the internal conversation, “I would do good work but…”

“…there aren’t enough good work jobs.”
“…there isn’t enough money doing good work.”
“…my parents paid for me to study (some non good work thing).”
“…it’s a family tradition to do (some non good work thing).”
“…I’ve already invested years into becoming (some non good work thing).”
“…my friends all do (some non good work thing) for a living.”
“…I’m not sure I have the skill set to do (some non good work thing).”

What we ultimately have to do is give people the tools to show them that doing good work is actually perfectly in line with those other values that are important to them. Not trying to change those values, that rarely works. Showing how those values are actually consistent.

One very important value that any young person holds dear, is the idea that they can make their own choices and that this is ultimately what being an adult means.

I can imagine that many of the competing values your “customers” will be struggling with will involve the parental expectations. The more tools you can give people to have those conversations in a structured way with their parents, the more likely they are to make an independent choice.

At the end of the day, most parents want their kids to be happy (even if it is by following their plan and definition). And most young people just want to be loved and respected by their parents (whilst following their own plan). It’s our job to remind both sides what the ultimate goal is – happiness – and demonstrate that this decision is being made after much rational, mature consideration towards that goal.

Action: Remember in all cases, persuasion requires a deep understanding of the identity of the customer. The desire to make an adult choice will be strong. It will also come with conflicting parental and peer group values. Give the customer the tools to resolve those apparent differences in values, so both sides can focus on the end goal of “happiness”.

4. Guide your user.

Website marketing.

Selling the basic idea of what we do is hard work. We’ve thought about it for hundreds of hours. But our reader has just heard about it, like 5 seconds ago. After reading the introduction, people are mentally trying to comprehend what it actually means to them. So, try not to distract them by forcing unnecessary decisions.

Right away we’re presenting them with a choice, do I go left or right? Graphically it’s actually represented as if there are 3 choices. That’s unnecessarily confusing.

The direction should always be the same – deeper into the topic.

Quizzes can be very effective (and they make a lot of money for fitness websites). Email guides can be very effective. But I’d split test offering one or the other and see which works best for your opening page.

The loser could still be a step in the process, but don’t make it the first thing people have to make a choice on.

Action: Don’t make people choose unnecessarily at a point where they aren’t invested. Guide them deeper. Step by step.

5. Spend as much time on the headlines as the content itself.

Online marketing advice.

On the next section of the page it seems like you’re attempting to draw people into the various chapters of your career guide, but I don’t like the abbreviated headlines you’re using.

They sound a little “know it all” or “actually-ish”.

That approach might repel the people you want to read them, but encourage the trolls. When I click through, some of the headlines on the content are actually much better.

I know when you’ve done a bunch of research and come up with “the answers”, it’s tempting to lead with those answers. But in my experience that just doesn’t work. You have to remember that your reader hasn’t done the research that you have, they don’t have your perspective.

If you lead with the answers your readers will jump to conclusions. Either agreeing or disagreeing instantly. The internal attitude is “yeh, yeh I know all this”. Or “that’s nonsense, I know something else is true”.

We don’t want that here, we want people to read your guide. So, we have to tease them in with headlines that connect with where they are at right now. Then we can take them on a journey and arrive at the “answers” at the end of that journey.

Just bear in mind your audience, and test to understand what headlines they prefer to respond to. Headlines are really, really important. Without the right headline, the content might as well not exist, because no one will ever see it.

And the more the headline (and content) speak to and resolve those conflicting identity issues we discussed earlier, the better.

Headlines like:

  • What to do if you parents paid $100,000 so you can study law but you want to go into sustainable energy.
  • How to tell you parents that being being in finance isn’t going to bring you the happiness they want for you.
  • How to know if you’re the type who could find happiness helping others.
    • I’m making these up, based on my 5 minute psychological profile of your audience. The point is, a headline should really grab someone and move them towards a solution to those deep questions they’re struggling with.

      Action: Don’t give people “the answers” in your headlines. Instead, hook them with the problems they are struggling with.

      6. People are important.

      Website marketing feedback.

      I love the “About” section, even though it makes me feel old. In fact, I may have unwashed coffee cups that are older than you guys. :)

      But it also makes me hopeful for the future. Well done on putting this together, I have huge admiration for what you’ve achieved, even as I’m trying to find holes in it. Overall this is a very well put-together site.

      I do want to emphasize how much it changes the feel of a page when, as a reader, you finally come across some humans. It becomes less theoretical, more emotional, more “real”. That’s the state you want to encourage if you expect people to buy something.

      Yes, people will judge you when you show yourself. They’ll think you’re too young, or too old, or too white or too black or too fat or too whatever. Just like every time you leave the house. It’s what people do. We want to surround ourselves with people “just like us” because it makes us feel safer and it reinforces that identity again.

      But it’s also why it’s essential to do it. So the people who are like us can feel that connection.

      Website marketing tear down.

      And finally we come to a series of case studies. I love these, they’re superb. Keep making them. You can never have too many case studies. Just move them to the top of the page.

      Action: I would recommend having the case studies higher up the page, under your opening statement. Bring that humanity and relevance in right at the beginning of the story.


      There’s a ton of good stuff here which only needs a little tweaking and re-ordering. Remember to always over stress the personal benefits of helping the world. Simplify and create space so that people deeply understand your basic premise. Bring the humans and their case studies in earlier, to add life and context. Don’t make people choose, it makes our brains hurt, take us by the hand and guide us. Overall, I’m super excited to see how far you guys can take this. Stay the course, see it through, make the world a better place!

Website not giving you the results you expected? How about some non-judgemental feedback from a fresh set of eyes? Apply for an online marketing tune-up with Paul Montreal

What do you think?...

This is a safe place for learning, so don't be shy. But do be cool.

  1. Hi Paul,

    Thanks so much for this and the kind words.

    Here’s our comments and todos:

    1. We see our early adopters as people who *already* want to do good, and want advice on how to be more effective. So our first priority is to get those people on board, rather than persuade people to do good in the first place (although we’d like to do this too eventually).

    Would this info change your recommendations?

    2. The point about opening copy makes sense. We’ll AB something similar to your draft. (And/or move the credibility bar)

    We already did an AB test of the ‘start reading now’ bit and seemed to slightly help. I’ll try it again when we’ve rejigged everything.

    We’ll also AB test moving the stories higher.

    3. Surprisingly, we haven’t found parental pressure to be a key issue for our users. I agree we could think more about identity and and sticking points. I think the biggest sticking point is turning the general advice into personalised, concrete next steps.

    4. I agree we should remove the “how to start” section, and just promote one key CTA. I was already thinking this.

    5. Yes, one of the most common questions at this point is just “what is your advice?”, and we also think the best way to get people engaged is to get them to start reading about something of interest to them.

    Point taken about the headlines. I’ll switch them to the headlines that are on the main articles, and focus more on user problems.

    6. All together, maybe the ideal order is?:

    a) Splash, including ‘what we do’ content and CTA
    b) User stories
    c) Our impact stats and credibility bar
    d) Who we are
    f) Common questions
    g) Repeat CTA

    7. If there’s any time for more advice:

    a) We have a second landing page:
    How should we structure it?

    b) I think our biggest bottleneck right now is going from engaged user (i.e. on newsletter) to changing career plans. We’re running people through a drip campaign but the conversion rate is only about 1% per year. This isn’t bad considering its such a “big sell”, but I expect we could get it a lot higher. What can we do here?

    Thank you so much again,


    • Paul Montreal says:

      “We see our early adopters as people who *already* want to do good”
      that’s not a bad strategy, and changing people is very hard. But its the people who you can tip over the edge that are your real opportunity.
      The “already” crowd don’t really need you. They are like the folk who line up for 24 hours outside the apple store, they don’t care what the ad says, or what the product is like, they’re going to buy it anyway.

      “Surprisingly, we haven’t found parental pressure to be a key issue for our users”
      it may not be, remember I’m guessing at the psychology of your customers to make more general points. There will be something that they are battling with.
      This ties into point 1, your early adopters, the ones who are already “do good buyers” are most likely to have the full support of their parents. But the real opportunity, the “tippers” I’d be surprised if their resistance doesn’t stem from some parental conflict. Whether they express it that way or not, is a different matter. We always have to work out what people are comfortable admitting and what is really going on. Those are often worlds apart.

      I would start testing with
      a, b, d, c, f, g.
      Clarity of message and proof of results from people “just like me” is the key on your particular page.

      7. hahaha you guys are going to go far. Leave it with me for a few of weeks.

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