Shaving Your Web Copy with Occam’s Razors

The long copy vs. short copy debate always seems to be raging. I have a really succinct answer for the question “which works better?

copywriting

What we generally refer to as Occam’s Razor is more appropriately classified as the principle of economy. That principle states that “it is futile to do with more things that which can be done with fewer.” We could say “it is futile to say with more words that which can be said with fewer.

In other words, get to the point! The quicker, the better.

Wikipedia says of Occam’s Razor:
…we should tend towards simpler theories until we can trade some simplicity for increased explanatory power.”

So we see that simplicity and brevity are good things. But if you can increase the explanatory or persuasive power of your argument, by all means, keep talking!

Applying this concept to your website can pay off big time. We continually hear about the shrinking attention span of the average consumer. If it can’t be said in a text message or tweet, many won’t bother to read what you’re saying.

We have to apply the Razor to our words ruthlessly. Anything that doesn’t provide for a more persuasive, more informative statement, consider whether you need to say it at all.

The only reason people listen to you speak or read what you write is that they expect a reward of some kind. You’re going to solve a problem they have or educate them on a topic that matters to them. You’re going to entertain them, make them laugh, or motivate them. They’re getting something out of it. When you would-be audience doesn’t pay attention to you, it’s because they don’t see any reward coming.

If you have something really valuable to say, you should not feel the need to rush through. The more value or reward for visitors to your website, the more time you can take and words you can use to make your statement. But the faster you can say it, the higher the reward-to-time ratio is, and the happier everyone can be.

What to Cut

Having said all that (hopefully without taking too long), what are some of the things we need to watch out for in our communications? What are some of the biggies that we can apply the Razor to?

1. Talking about yourself
Bragging about yourself is a major turnoff. Focusing your copy on yourself is the easiest way to remove the reward from the listener.

Establishing your credentials is important. It’s perfectly acceptable to tell personal stories that entertain or that listeners can gain something from. But concentrate on speaking to your readers about their own interests. Your audience should be able to immediately spot “what’s in it for them.”

2. Features over benefits
The cliché is true: when someone buys a drill, what he really wants is a hole. Or a screw driven. Don’t talk about the thing you’re talking about. Talk about what benefits your readers will get from your product or service.

3. Technical Jargon
Be careful when using industry specific terminology. Sometimes it will help, sometimes it will hinder. For example, the language doctors use in their professional publications makes no sense to most non-doctors.

4. Big words and fancy phrase structure
Two quotes make this point beautifully:

“From now on, ending a sentence with a preposition is something up with which I will not put.” – Winston Churchill

“Never use a long word when a diminutive one will do.” – William Safire

Simple words tend to be the strongest.

You don’t have to impress anyone. But you do have to convince your visitor to take action. Don’t overcomplicate things.

5. Exaggeration
Don’t exaggerate. You never want to come across as deceptive or inaccurate.

Overexaggeration can be a powerful way to make an impact or a word picture. When I say that my wife’s cooking is “so good that it makes me want to slap my mother,” you know what I mean. I’m not going to go to my mother’s house to smite her. But my wife’s cooking is extra yummy.

What Not to Cut

1. Clear call to action
Again, be direct, be plain. If you’re not understood, you won’t get the action you’re looking for.

2. Benefits to be received
Tell people “what’s in it for them,” and they will see that giving you their attention is a good investment.

3. Proof elements
Give your audience every possible reason to trust you. Otherwise, why should they listen?

G Donnie Bryant is a direct response copywriter living near Chicago, IL, USA. He specializes in increasing conversion, sales and profits for businesses and entrepreneurs by injecting true persuasive salesmanship into their marketing messages. Visit his website at http://donnie-bryant.com

 

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Comments

  1. very true! keep it short and simple (KISS) does it..

  2. The KISS acronym is as true now as it’s ever been.

    There’s still a place between overcomplicating and oversimplifying that you have to find.

    Distracted customers don’t buy. Neither do bored ones.

    But don’t cut your message short in an attempt to keep it simple. As popular as the argument is, people will read longer copy–if it’s relevant. People aren’t buying big-ticket items from 140 character messages.

    Say what you need to say, then shut up!

    Thanks for the comment, Celine!

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