Copywriting Lie no: 1 – People don’t read online
Let’s get something out of the way. People don’t read anything boring. Online or offline.
If people just don’t read online, how else do you explain Quora? Reddit? Ebooks? Blogs?
Now that we established people continue to be sentient beings with enough education to ensure they understand written words, we can go back on subject.
With very few exceptions, before I get down to writing the first word of anything, I get the following:
Please don’t make it too long. I want to squeeze in my latest offer as well, mkay?
And you may think I roll my very blase eyes, telling the client to eff of and let me do my business. But I don’t. I never ever roll my eyes when this request arises. Because this request has 2 business stifling problems:
- First, it assumes any piece of copy should be short
- And second, it assumes that any given piece of copy (or sales material for that matter) can have more than one job.
So I start by explaining the concept of *one job* first.
Imagine you’re a door-to-door salesperson. I know you hate salespeople but play along for just a minute. You have to sell this vacuum cleaner and it’s a brilliant product. It’s the greatest thing since bread came sliced. So before the sale, you carefully study your script, as you always do, you learn a little about the neighborhood you’re going to, so you know you’ll be selling to young families.
You make a mental note to remind yourself to mention how this vacuum cleaner also has a gizmo that helps you wash hard stains off the couch, to appeal to mothers and the occasional careless bachelor and now you’re all set to go and you’re welcome into the first house.
The conversation is okay, perhaps they don’t look too convinced yet, but they’re still listening. That’s how sales usually go, nothing weird so far. Now tell me. Would you sacrifice your sale halfway to also sell them a set of speakers out of the effin’ blue? Think how they’d feel. They’d be baffled, not to mention annoyed. You came in promising to deliver valuable and interesting information about a vacuum cleaner they’re interested in, and yet here you are, talking about speakers. And more than anything, you’re asking them to take action NOW! They trusted you. They’re right to kick you out now.
Just as any sales tool, every salespage, newsletter, flyer, etc has one job. It has to sell one product. (or service) If you try to make it sell more, it will crash and burn. You don’t believe me? Try sending an all-encompassing newsletter on your next campaign and see how it performs.
Now let’s have a look at how long your copy should be
First of all you’re not writing anything *long*. You’re building an argument.
School has taught you that any text made of more than 1 paragraph is either fiction or an academic article (which in some fields is not that far from fiction), that storytelling belongs with the realm of fiction, that reflections belong with philosophers and that description is strictly something to bore you between the things that are actually going on in your book. They somehow forgot to mention argumentative writing. Copywriting, and especially conversion copy, borrows a little from all types of highschool writing assignments, but it borrows the most from the argumentative essay.
Whenever writing for an online channel – let’s say a sales page, or a newsletter – people are essentially asking their copywriters to write a poor descriptive essay. They tell us to keep it short and decorate the text with fluffy, buzzy words, rather than *use* the text for the conversion machine it could really be. This results in content that doesn’t say and do anything. Some think it’s enough to do a lot of show and tell and allow the user to *learn* first about your product or service, but let me just interrupt your reasoning for a second there and ask you: Couldn’t this user learn while you convince him or her of your product/service?
How many times have you seen a product/service website whose purpose is to simply *expose* users to this new something? Normally, websites are instruments of selling and you need to let them do that, because we all love full pockets. (I regularly fill my pockets with candy to experiment the feeling until pay-days)
Joking aside, if what you want to do is sell, your goal is to get people to do something:
- Sign up for your mailing list
- Try your product
- Buy your product
- Watch the video, etc
But in order to get them to do any of the above, the user has to understand that
- You understand what they’re going through (their pain, their need, etc)
- You have the solution to their problem
- Your solution is way better than other solutions out there
- They should take action today
And how, might I ask, can you get people to understand all this if not by communicating with them? How’s a product shot going to tell them all they need to know? How’s a video getting watched if they don’t know what they’ll find there? (clarity in calls to action and headlines is something we’ll discuss in another post) How will they remember that your solution is better than others if you only describe what your solution can do?
Give them social proof. Explain. Compare. Empathize.
Long copy doesn’t come from our obtuse desire to get ourselves published because we couldn’t do it with a regular publishing house. Rather it comes from research – it comes from knowing your audience really, really well. Which leads me to the next point.
Wanna know if you’re going for short or long copy? Know your audience’s stage of awareness.
As seen on copyblogger, Brian Clark explains them pretty nicely, but I’m gonna quote them here anyway.
- The Most Aware: Your prospect knows your product, and only needs to know “the deal.”
- Product-Aware: Your prospect knows what you sell, but isn’t sure it’s right for him.
- Solution-Aware: Your prospect knows the result he wants, but not that your product provides it.
- Problem-Aware: Your prospect senses he has a problem, but doesn’t know there’s a solution.
- Completely Unaware: No knowledge of anything except, perhaps, his own identity or opinion.
The temptation, especially for new businesses, is to take all this sweet, sweet intel and start diving into selling their service/product to literally anyone. If you’re already doing this, or even considering it, stop now. It’s just a breeding ground for sorrow and wasted budgets.
Where you want to look more closely is from problem aware and above. While that dated speech that says “have them realize they need it” is still exciting, lemme just spill the beans now and tell you that unless you’re a brilliant inventor, your pledge will go unanswered for decades to come. (and now that I think of it, there’s always a need to start from. It’s just that people misinterpret it. I thought of Henry Ford.)
Now that you know the stages of awareness, what you want to do is move the user from solution aware to product aware and then to most aware. So, if someone is problem aware, your copy needs to reflect on their problem or pain at an early stage, so you could then introduce them to the solution, thus making them solution aware, so you can then introduce your product, and after that, the deal.
Let’s get a more applied example:
Generic problem: not enough profits equals not enough money and that’s bad.
If you’re a company, you want to make profit
If you want to make more profit, you take on more business
If you take on more business, you can charge your clients for the hours you work
If clients gets charged for the hours you work, your C-levels (or you) need to manage it well so everyone gets paid
If you don’t manage time wisely, you waste time your company can’t bill for
If you waste time your company can’t bill for, you don’t get to take on more business, you can’t bill, and you end up with no cash.
Solution? Manage your time wisely.
How? With the help of this all-star time-management tool.
Deal? First 30 days are free.
My point here is not the argument, but the length of it. Writing intelligible text that doesn’t sound like a robot and that addresses all of the points above can’t be fixed in 10 words. If your marketing manager tells you that, send them to talk to me.
So how long should my pages be after all?
Like everything us marketers do, it depends on the stage of awareness of your user. It’s not about choosing a one-size-fits-all length for any given salespage. It’s not even about copying successful sites (although starting from scratch is not such a bright idea either). It’s simply about knowing and understanding your reader. There’s no shortcut to research.