Joanna Wiebe
Copy Hackers

About Joanna Wiebe

Founder and CEO of Copy Hackers, Joanna Wiebe helps businesses to get their message across in a way that converts. As a conversion copywriter, she continually illustrates the dramatic power of words, combining a mixture of old school copywriting techniques with modern optimisation techniques. Merging the best of both art and science to help you create messages your customers will love you for.

In her Learn Inbound talk, Joanna shares from-the-trenches case studies in writing copy that converts for SaaS and e-commerce. And guess what! All of the winning copy is considerably longer than the losing copy. See why long copy works and how to use it.

Key Takeaways

  • Don’t make your page longer by simply cramming all the copy into one big paragraph, or letting images and videos do all the work
  • Vague and summarised messages like “save time and money” make you unmemorable
  • Longer copy helps your visitors visualise, makes concepts concrete and shows your visitors themselves on the page
  • Make sure your copy passes the Closed Eyes Test, connect the dots and rewrite the ‘I’ and ‘we’ sentences so they start with ‘you’

Video Transcription

I've spoken about this a lot, and the more that I do it, the more people are like, "Oh, yeah. Okay, cool, so I should use my words better.Thanks Joanna, that's great."

And then they'll send me some email. Like, they'll send over via email like, "Oh, here, I've tried what you said, and I think it's really good." And it'll be like the shortest, most summarized statement ever, and it breaks my heart a little bit. So I keep thinking, I'm actually thinking, like, "No, you're your copy is too fucking short." But I never say it because I'm Canadian, and we're polite. But this is the reality, is what's going on in my head when I'm reading most websites knowing that they're not converting.

People are writing to me, "Oh, it's not converting, what's wrong with it?" There's always this, you're just not writing enough. And we're going to talk about why that is, and what to do about it. So, at Copy Hackers, we're very data-driven. We work with a lot of tech startups like people who are in Silicon Valley, fast-growing startups, and they're very data-driven.

So everything we do has to be data-driven as well. So when I'm talking to people in events like this or with clients, we get some of the same data points coming up again and again, things you should be thinking about when you're writing copy or optimizing a site, we get stuff like this. And we heard this earlier. Talia said, it's only about 3 seconds on mobile, 10 seconds to leave an impression, and tell visitors what they're going to get from you on your site, 10 seconds on average.

This one came up in a webinar for me the other day, "Joanna, the average visitor only spends 15 seconds on our site." So I see data like that and I'm like, "So? What do you want me to do with that information?" Like we're not... I don't know what to do with data points about the average visitor, it's kind of lost on me, I'm not trying to convert the average visitor.

People who are trying to convert the average visitor get about a 2% conversion rate, which is how businesses go under again and again and again, we see it all the time. And again, I'm in the startup world. I see it all the time trying to convert all of these people we're driving to our sites, we're so excited about them.

But what are we actually saying? What are we actually doing to get them to say yes to us today? So when we take data points, like your average visitor only has about 10 seconds on your site, and you've got 15 seconds to do X for them, it's problematic for me as a conversion focus copywriter because to me, I hear that and I think, "That is how you murder copy."

We call it editing, but it really means murdering copy, like, it's the end of it. You take something that could be awesome, and you work hard to make it average, and you destroy it in the meantime, you absolutely take out all the good. Most of our first drafts of our copy are better than the third, fourth, fifth draft, and you'll know that if you've ever experienced writing by committee which I have been part of for the last 14, a lot of long time, a lot of years.

I'm seeing that happen going through the editing process and taking all the good, all of the convincing stuff out of the copy that you're writing on your websites and in your emails. And what's really bad here, I'll take this off the screen. I stole it from Talia. Is that when you do that, you're really destroying the only thing that is actually there for the purpose of selling, whatever selling looks like to you, whether that's lead generation on a land page or it's an actual effort to convert people with a paid conversion.

When you do that, when you get rid of the words because you believe you're there to convert the average visitor, not your prospects, but the average visitor coming to your site, the average person, you destroy the copy, you murder that online sales person. Which you would never do in real life, but we have no problem doing it on our own sites. Now, when I'm talking about long copy, I'm not saying that you should be writing a long form sales page, those really offensive to most of us, sales pages that go on and on and on and on.

They convert very well in certain scenarios. But I'm not going to talk to you about writing a long form sales page. We could, but I'm not going to. What I'm talking to you about is the things that you should avoid doing when you're writing regular things, like your home page or product page, or your emails. You should not do things like this. And this where I'm going to show you a couple of random samples I searched, alternatives to base camp, and these are the landing pages for paid ads, they're paying people to look at these pages.

We've got... I know you can't see that much, what you can see is there are not that many words on that page. And this is what a lot of us are doing, making your images do all the work. Or, you write copy, and you say, "Oh, nobody reads online, so we're just going to shove it in a video, we're going to use it now as a script, it's just going to go in the video, people love videos."

And I'm not saying people don't love videos but they also are trained to read. We are literate people, we can read online, and yes we do read online. You should also not do this thing, where you the checklist aside, you have this little bit of copy is on the page, which you can see up at the top, there's that little bit there, all of their copy is crammed into this unreadable lump, and then they look at you like, "It's not converting," like shocker.

No, nobody can read this giant lump of five sentences, centered and spanning the entire page. That's not good. No one's going to read that, of course. So let's not do that. And let's not...this is the big one, summarizing everything into as few words as possible. For some reason, someone is spreading this myth that you have to pay for every word you use.

You don't have to. They're free. You can use as many as you want to for free. So avoid the thing where you summarize what could be a really powerful message, like things that your customers say to you that takes a long time for them to get out. And you're like, "Great, that was brilliant." And then you go back to the boardroom and you get to summarize it down to six words and hope it's going to do the job.

And of course it won't. You're doing this thing where you're trying to please the average visitor but you are not average, nothing you're selling is average. You're just working so hard to sound average, to sound exactly like the person next to you, exactly like your competitors. And that's largely because there's real safety in that.

It's safe. Everybody is saying the same thing. It's a safe place to be in. The problem is not that I'm a copywriter and I want you to write more copy. That's not why I'm standing up here. The reality is, with all those data points that are out there flying around, the 10 seconds, the 15 seconds, the 3 seconds, all of them good in some ways. What I'm worried about, because I work with businesses that don't want to go out of business obviously, what I'm worried about is what those prospects are doing.

What about the people you could actually move to say yes to you today? The real prospects, not the average people, forget them, but the ones that are close to saying yes to you, to signing up, to sticking around, and of course, to buying. For those people, this is the scary data point for me. As many as 60% of sales are not lost to your competitors, they're not lost to anything more than just not deciding.

So, what's the real threat? The real threat that I think about when I am writing copy or talking to a client is that, is this force of inertia, this like, "I'm just going to keep doing what I'm doing," kind of thing. Where I'm reading your page, I don't get anything out of it, I don't really know what you're trying to say to me.

So instead of me sitting here and figuring out why I should choose you, I'm just going to keep doing what I'm doing, I'm just going to keep walking on. And that's the force that you are fighting against when you write any page or any email, this exact thing, "I'm just going to keep doing what I'm doing." That's what's going on in all of our heads when we're on websites and reading emails.

Now, yes, I'm going to talk to you about long copy today. But what if we just throw out this fear or this idea of how many words you should or should not have on a page? And instead, we just try to convert one person, just one. What if you just try to convert one person?

And in talking about that, I'm version of a writer, I'm a copywriter, but I did the English degree and everything in poetry. So let's go way back to a nice, simple poem to illustrate this. So you've probably heard this before "Roses are red, violets are blue." And the second part is maybe new to you, "Donate to a teacher with the same name as you."

Has anybody seen this example before? Okay, this is the entire body of an email that DonorsChoose sent out on Valentine's Day in 2014, they sent to their subscriber base. The idea here was, we're going to say, "Joanna Weibe, here's a teacher named Mr. Weibe. Fund this project."

And that's the whole idea. It didn't matter if he was teaching French, and I had donated to only science projects, so forth, it didn't matter that he was located in Arkansas and I was Canadian, none of that mattered, just matching based on name alone. And what happened?

What did they do? They tested it, and with this variation, they saw three times the donations, people gave three times as much, and it brought back people who had stopped donating, to such an extent that they put it in their annual report. Big results here just by using someone's name. So, like what's going on with that?

What can we do with that? And I think we could get all academic about it, but when it comes down to it, it's pretty obvious what's going on, "You've used my name. I see myself in that." It's an exciting wake up moment. And we are online, so it doesn't just happen once, it happens again and again, and everybody getting it is having the same, crazy in some cases, reaction to it.

It woke you up. It startled you out of this force of inertia, this thing that's just saying, "No, just keep going and stop paying attention." Now, that doesn't mean... I'm not talking about personalization here, it does not mean that using someone's name is a silver bullet. I'm not saying that at all. What does it mean? For me, it signals something bigger, something that we know is going on, and that is that we are completely overwhelmed by all the messages out there.

We've heard about noise already today, all the noise, so much you can't even make out what's on this slide, that's intentional, just in case you're like, "I can't read that." Yeah, no, you can't. So we have all of this noise going on, and we all know it, every one of us knows that we're competing against a lot. Thirty years ago it was 2,000 messages a day that we were exposed to.

Two thousand is a lot of something, $2,000, if you found it, that would be a very cool thing. If you're in a room with 2,000 rats, it's a very bad thing. I don't know why that comes to mind for some reason. And that was 30 years ago. Today, it's much bigger. And I had to look this up again because I was like, "A day, maybe a year." But no, 5,000 ad messages a day that we see, it's a stunning amount.

And among that, we recognized 50, and we remember 4. Shit. That's bad news. What do we do with that? So we could get overwhelmed by it, or we could see the opportunity in being among a very small pool that you're actually competing with. The four. The four are doing the thing that you have to think about.

The 4,996, forget them, they're doing all the same stuff, vague summarized messages. We can be among the four that actually stick. Now, that's hard people to hear with this whole idea that, "People don't read online." It can be like a difficult thing to think of, "How I'm I going to add to this noise?"

Or, "Am I adding to this noise?" Or this idea that people don't read online, and we keep telling ourselves that nobody reads online, we're just going to more noise. How could the solution, how could I stand up here and say to you that the solution is to write more copy? There's a lot of noise out there, let's say more things.

And I'm not saying say more things, but use more words. And the reason I believe that's true, we're going to get into some data that supports it. But the biggest reason I believe that is true, using more words is the way to be among the four, the right words. But more of them is because using the short ones it's not getting us there. The short, summarized messages that we're all relying on, they're not working.

The save time and money message, it's upsettingly bad. Like, it's the worst message you can put out there, and it's so common because we think, "Oh, everybody loves "Save time," everybody loves money. People can save time and money with our solution, so we'll just scrap all the detail and just summarize it down to that, because we have 3 seconds or 10 seconds or 15 seconds to get and keep their attention, so we better say it in like 1 second," ta-da, it's done.

And of course the reality is that that, as we know, isn't working, and it makes you one of the 4,996 pieces of noise, like, blur of noise, this huge amount of noise. So to be one of the four, I'm going to show you how you can be one of those four stickier messages by actually using your words, not installing new tools, not changing your product, not going off after a different market, not doing anything but changing the words that are already on your page or in the emails you sent out.

So your copy is too short, keep that in mind. And here is how to make your copy longer, which people don't like but we're going to do it anyway. Help your visitor visualize. So I'll show you some examples of all of these. Help them see what you want them to see, what you think they can see but you're completely implying it they have no idea what you're talking about, help them visualize.

Make something that's conceptual into something that's more concrete, something sounds wrong here, concrete or concrete. Most obvious. Okay, answer your own questions. This is a big one, we ask a lot of random questions in our copy, like, why choose fresh books? Why don't we just answer that question instead of asking that question?

Little things like that. Spelling out the things that we summarize, is a huge opportunity. And all of this falls into this bigger category of helping your prospect see herself or himself, however you put it, on the page. That's our goal when we're writing copy. That's goal one. It's scary.

It's a scary thing to do. And I'm not just talking of personas, it's everything we've already heard about today, but then putting what you know on the page, not your product, him or her on the page. So here's how we did that. So, we worked with a group, SweatBlock, They're like a clinical strength antiperspirantor, a pretty big deal, they're number one on Amazon, so not too shabby.

We worked with them to optimize their home page. So they already had a longer home page in play, it was something that where they're trying to move people to buy because it's a single product e-commerce site so we just used it as a one pager. So we had this one long page, you don't have to read it, I would have made it bigger if I wanted you to read it. This is the long page, and against that we tested a new variation which was approximately the same length, basically the same length.

But what happened is, for variation B we took what was summarized in the control/variation A, and we replaced those summaries with real details, like, we just took what was summarized and we pulled it apart, used more words, said more things to make it clearer. So here are a couple of examples of what we did.

So, to control is always going to be on the left, and the variation we test is always going to be on the right. Help me visualize. So the headline here for the control was "Control Sweat, Stop Embarrassment." But what does that look like? In my busy life, if I am just walking by, I catch this site, I land here, I'm busy, other things are happening, there're distractions, how do I pause and think about what "stop embarrassment"means or looks like.

Like, I don't, like, I don't, I don't. It's not my job as your visitor to figure out what you're trying to tell me. So instead, we said, "Control your sweat and wear what you want." That was one of the biggest problems that we heard from people, "I can't wear gray." "I can't wear light blue." "I can't wear anything where I would have to lift my arms." So we just helped them visualize, not stop embarrassment, which nobody again knows what that looks like.

And it means you have to pause to think through it instead of wear what you want, that's getting closer to a point. And we're not using a lot more words, we're just not trying to summarize it down to nothing. The next one is taking those things that are conceptual and helping people again really understand what that would look like in their lives in real life. So here, I'm going to read this for you because it's very hard to see, "The control is stop excessive sweating for up to seven days per use."

And we were like, "Well, what's a use? I don't know what "use" looks like." Very simple, very small change. Instead, we added "Stop excessive sweat for up to seven days with just the dab of a towelette." So now I know that after seven days after I've put this towelette under my arms, I'm still going to have sweat control.

Really simple, not a lot of extra words. Answering your own questions is the next one. So what is sweat block? Turns into the answer to that which is, the "SweatBlock towelette, your little secret." Importantly here, we're not summarizing in giving everything away in a single statement, the "SweatBlock towelette, your little secret" is reason to keep reading, keep pulling people down the page which is what copy is supposed to do.

Headline leads down to the subhead, subhead down to the body copy, keep moving them down the page. Answering your own question. And the last one here is the spelling it out. And these all work together, you can see how spelling it out is the same as helping me visualize and things like that. But in this case, the control said, "Up to seven days a sweat relief" which is fine, but what is sweat relief?

It's the same thing as like, what doesn't embarrassment look like? Well, what is it? And what it means is, get up to seven days of dry, high-fives, hugs and hoorays just for like alliteration there. But get these real things, so you can actually high-five someone and it is dry, and you can hug people and it's dry, real things that people are concerned about. So we did changes like that down the page, keeping the messages largely the same, changing only the words, and we doubled revenue on the home page.

Everything stayed the same except the words, people were just able to understand finally what hell we were trying to tell them. We could actually tell them in real words what it is that they're supposed to be understanding. So we're like, "Cool. Okay, that's great." And the company is like, "Cool, nice work."

And we're like, "Okay, well, we have an interesting idea here, and given that we just doubled your revenue on the home page, maybe you could come along with us on this interesting thing." So we ran a new test against that winning control. And with this one, we worked harder on that idea of helping the reader see herself on the page. So here's what we did.

You can see that this is the longer one that was tested against it. And I'll zoom in to show you the part that we added here, which was just at the top, the top of the page. This is it, zoomed in and then the page continues down below that. Opening with the reader, and bumping the product reveal down like three scrolls in our mobile, it's a different experience completely, but three scroll down on your desktop.

So instead of having this hero at the top, or a hero which was the product at the top, we made the reader the hero at the top of the page. So before the control, the product was the hero, you land there, you learn about SweatBlock, immediately you see only a little bit of yourself.

With ours, the new treatment, the only mention of the product at all, the only thing that was about the product was our logo. And you had to scroll and scroll and scroll, and hopefully reading through that of course, before you got to the part where the product was revealed. This is a very scary thing for every business owner on the planet, the idea of waiting to talk about your product is not a good thing.

But we'd already had that one big win, so we're like distressed us, let's test it, we'll just see what happens. So when we did that we also used a framework to help, so we were basing this on this problem agitation, solution framework which a lot of copywriters would be familiar with. If you're not, it's a really great way to lay out your page, open with their problem, agitate that problem, and then give them the solution, which is what we're doing here, which is all this is about.

And the new variation, beat the control buys overlapping story here by 49%. So we had this high converting control doubling revenue, and we beat that further by adding more words on the page that were all about that prospect. So the rule here, make it about me.

This is not optional. If you think it's optional, it's not. If it scares you, good. it's supposed to. that's when you know you're probably doing things right. It's really uncomfortable? Perfect, keep doing it. So that is one example. Now, for the rest of this talk...

I don't have a timer showing here. Oh, there it is. Okay, cool. Wow, I don't have much time, shit, sorry. Okay, it's really little. So, forward very quickly, for the rest of the talk, I'm going to talk to you about these emails that we tested with Wistia. So everyone knows Wistia.

Wistia is awesome, Phil is here from Wistia. Yeah, right? Wistia is the best. So, we tested their onboarding emails, I'm not going to get into how the sequence works, but there were eight emails that they had in their control. We tested eight emails against those. In HubSpot, valid, wonderful data we got out of it. Our emails brought in 3.5 times the paid conversions, 3.5 times the paid, so trial to paid, 3.5 times.

I have to repeat it because it's a really big number, went from, if you made a $1,000 in one day, if you got 3.5 times then suddenly you'd make $3,500 that day. It's a very good thing, not coincidental, not insignificant, and never short copies. So all of the emails that we wrote for them except for one of the eight emails, only one was the same length, all of the ones we wrote were longer.

The messages stayed by and large the same, we just explain things better to people. So I'm going to walk you through quickly, two of them. Now the first one, not all eight, don't worry, but two of them. The first one, this is their control. I'll read it to you. Okay, it reads, "Customize your player, 18% is a lot, that's the improvement in play rate that Wistia customers see by customizing the color of their video player appearance to reflect their company branding on the website. It's that easy.Get more plays on your videos by customizing your player colors."

So we read that, we were like, "Okay, cool guys, great, they're awesome marketers, awesome, completely great marketers." There's always room for improvement with copy though. So, I read that and I was like, "Okay, well, the natural reaction if I read that on my phone or I read that line at work, I gave you a chance, I opened your email, I look at the co...

I don't look at it as copy, I look at what you're trying to tell me, and my reaction would be, "Thanks, I'll just keep doing what I'm doing." Like, close down quickly. So if that's true, what can we do to make them pay better attention? They opened your email, they opened it, we did change it. We changed a few of the subject lines but mostly we didn't change the subject lines. So we're getting the same opens.

Here's what we did. We rewrote it. We're not going to read the whole thing. Maybe I'll read a lot of it actually, maybe not. Okay, so it begins, "We saw 18% more people that click play when we did this, Joanna." "We cust... first name, whatever it is, "We customized the color of our video players, that's all it took to get nearly 20% more views of our videos.The Wistia video player defaults to gray which is nice but gray, so why stick with gray when you can go with hot pink or Dollar Bill Green or well, Wistia blue? Take a look."

And then we show them what Wistia blue looks like, then we give me a call to action, you can change a video's player color in two clicks in Wistia. Getting 18% more views is pretty major. Videos that used to get 100 views a day now get 118 views a day, in a month that's next to 500 plus views. typo there.

And it only takes something like 11 seconds to make this very simple but very powerful change to your videos. So we tested this..." and then the rest continues on. So we tested this one against that control, and what we were doing here of course was taking these concepts and helping people really understand what it is that we're trying to get them to see. So, what is color? What does color mean? I don't know what color is.I know what it is as a concept, but what does it look like in my life?"

So, while the control had just talking about color, instead, ours got into that hot pink, Dollar Bill Green help them see it, just replacing the one word which is nicely summarized with words that will help people see it. In the second part of that was spelling things out, so 18% is a lot, was the opening line of the control. eighteen percent is not a lot.

Nobody thinks 18% is a lot. We have to help them understand that 18% is a lot. You saying it is not good enough, so we walked them through. We spelled it out with our part where we said what 18%really means, 118 videos or views a day instead of 100, walking them through it, that means 500 more a month, that could mean 6,000 more a year.

And if you went further and talked about more about their conversion rate, keep going and going and helping them really understand what that means in their life. Okay, now this is the last one, I'm really low on time. But I'm going to read something to you. So if I could ask everybody to close their eyes. And I can see you, it's a small space, please close them. I'll tell you when to open.

I'll try not to stare hard at the people who are keeping their eyes open. Okay, I'm going to read it to you, I'll tell you when. All they want you to do is just listen, see what happens in your head. If anything happens with what I'm saying to see what visualizes, what forms in your head, or what doesn't, whatever, just listen and then I'll ask you a question. Meet Wistia customer, ZeeBlu.

There are a lot of creative ways to grow your business with video. Collecting email addresses is an easy way to fill your database with sales ready leads. we thought you'd enjoy reading how ZeeBlu, a digital marketing firm, collects leads with video for their clients, the Santa Barbara Chicken Ranch, and uses coupons to connect with their customers. Want to collect leads with your videos?

Upgrade to a Wistia pro plan, and use turnstile in your videos. Okay, open your eyes. What did you visualize? What did you see? - [Male] [Inaudible]- Chicken, every time it's the chicken, that's it.

Chicken, nothing else did anything in your head, there was nothing else there. So in the absence of having a visual in that email, your brain, your brain, the thing that we're trying to convince to buy today, your brain saw nothing. Your brain had no reason to wake up.

There was nothing there for it outside of a chicken ranch which was not the goal of the email shockingly, I know. Words are our tool, they're super free, they're the freest thing you can find for your marketing, for your business at all. They're supposed to create pictures. I know that goes against this whole 10 second, 15 second rule that we keep hearing about, but if we just forget about that because that's not working.

Words are supposed to create pictures, they're supposed to engage our imagination. I mean, that's how we believe a hat can move and put you in some random host. This is what words do, not just in the world of fiction, why would it be different? Our brain doesn't think differently suddenly. It's not just there, it's also for us. I do a lot of Mad Men references because I love Mad Men.

I was very sad when it ended. Yes, he's a misogynist That aside, other than that, the imagination is a huge opportunity for us. It's like the untapped opportunity. Tools can't do anything with it, but it is the thing that your words can do something with.

So I strongly encourage you to use your words to get inside the heads of your prospects, forget the average visitor, think about your prospects, get in their heads. So here's what we did. We went against the Chicken Ranch one, I'm not going to read this whole email but it is a lot longer. What we were doing in our version that we tested against it was we're trying to help people understand what a turnstile is in Wistia, and it's a very cool part of Wistia, and a reason to upgrade, so at least at the time it was.

We explained, we're talking about turnstiles. We said, "This, my friend, is a turnstile." Then we showed a little gift of an actual turnstile, and we explained it, it's a really elegant content gate in Wistia. Here's how it turns your marketing and demo videos into lead collection machines. One, prospects land on your page. Two, they see your video front and center, not squished next to an ugly form.

Three, they click play, they watch. And then just at that moment when you're about to reveal an incredible data point or the climax of a killer story, voila, the turnstile appears and let me go on and finish it off. We're really trying to help people see what a turnstile does and how it will work in their lives.

So we're helping them visualize what a turnstile really does in their lives, just by flashing it out for them, just helping them understand. Again, in almost every case the winning email copy was two to three times as long as the control. It's not true that people don't read online, they do read.

They read online and offline They read. Your prospects can and will read if you give them a reason to, if you make them want to. They won't read and sit there and try to figure out what you're trying to say, but if you can stay inside their heads with the words that you're using, you can obviously do really incredible things. Those general, summarized messages that you're used to using, that marketers love using, they don't work.

If they worked, I would have a much easier job. I would never have to try to convince anybody of anything. I would just go with it. Your copy is too short right now. Here are some ways to quickly...because I'm out of time, here are some ways to make sure that your copy is doing its job. Okay, do the closed eye test, just do it. Just close your eyes, have someone read the copy to you.

If you don't visualize anything, if you don't walk away better understanding something, without thinking hard, with just being there, rewrite it. If there are dots to connect, and there always are, connect them. Don't cut out the great copy that connects those dots, leave that in there, if it's not in there, add it in. If there's a question on the page, if you ask a question in the copy you write, there's a question mark, question it.

Should it be there? Would it be better if you answered it. And lastly, this is a really good trick. If your brand name or the words "we" or "I" lead to any sentence you've got, replace it immediately with...sorry, "we" or "I," replace it immediately with the word "you." That means rewriting it but you will rewrite it so that your prospect actually sees him or herself in it.

Use your words. Again, they're free in unlimited quantities. And thank you very much.

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