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Concise is king: writing snappy copy that sells

Riley Cullen's Layout avatar

We’ve all heard the shocking claims that human attention spans are lowering. You may have even heard that humans can only focus for an average of 8 seconds now, or that we have shorter attention spans than goldfish

While these claims may be more attention-grabbing than based in actual fact, there’s a reason marketers and designers believe our audience is unable to focus on our messaging. The fact is, human beings aren’t losing their ability to focus—they’re just getting better at identifying the things they should focus on. 

In a world where we’re bombarded with ads at all hours of the day, banner blindness—the ability to ignore advertisements—is becoming even more common. This begs the question: How do you ensure your audience receives your message?

The elements of your design certainly matter, but no matter what you’re selling—be it a product, a service, or yourself—the actual words you choose are essential to the success of your efforts. Keeping your message as concise as possible—or choosing to omit words entirely—keeps your marketing efforts punchy and helps your audience engage more effectively.

Now there are exceptions to every rule, so if your market research tells you that your audience prefers long, flowing prose, then by all means oblige! However, these six simple rules will help most sellers, marketers, and designers come up with more compelling copy.

Write approachably

Most modern standards dictate your writing should be easily understandable to an 8th grader if you want to ensure most of your audience can easily understand the message. A Flesch Reading Ease or Flesch Kinkaid Grade Level Test can help you determine how easy your copy is to understand.

This doesn’t mean you have to “dumb things down,” when you’re talking about complex subjects. That said, creating content that’s digestible becomes even more important to your end goal of a conversion when you’re dealing with a complex subject. 

Use adverbs wisely

You’ll notice the last two headings have been short phrases ending in adverbs, but they didn’t feel clunky or repetitive. A good rule of thumb is to use adverbs only if you need to inform the meaning of the verb, not to reinforce it. 

For example, you wouldn’t say your product will “increase results abundantly” because the verb “increase” already implies growth. However, if you say a product can “increase results quickly,” the adverb “quickly” adds an element of time not already implied by the verb. 

Blend emotion with logic

Obviously you’ll need to explain the hard and fast benefits of your product or service if you want conversions. That said, you’d be surprised how powerful an appeal to emotion can be when done well. 

To get the right reaction from your audience, find a way to blend the important benefits of a product or service with the emotional need of your audience that it intends to solve.

Make keywords less keyword-y

Keyword stuffing has been contrary to web standards for years, and search engines do what they can to discourage the practice. We know it’s bad for your rankings, but honestly, it’s just as bad for your copy.

Trying to cram in an awkward phrase like “digital marketing near me” just because it’s a top-ranked keyword will make your copy sound clunky. Focus on the experience of a user who’s reading the copy first, then add keywords where they make sense.

Use a definitive, active voice

Almost any list of writing tips you come across will include the directive “Write in an active voice.” To be honest, this is something even I struggle with as a career copywriter. An easy way to check if you’re writing in an active voice is the “Zombie rule.”

When you’re wondering whether a sentence is written in an active or passive voice, add the phrase “by zombies” to the end of it. If the sentence is still grammatically correct, you’re writing in a passive voice. For example, the sentence “Your response has been recorded” is considered passive because the addition of “by zombies” still makes sense. For an active alternative, you could write, “We have recorded your responses.”

Sell, don’t scare

As you’re writing, you want to create a sense of urgency so that your audience will feel called to take action, whether that action is to buy a product or simply fill out a form. However, you’ll want to create a sense of urgency without creating a sense of doom.

Scare tactics, even if it’s a more innocuous turn of phrase like, “You’ll never see prices like this again,” can be a huge turn off to some readers. There are some benefits to selling your solutions using fear as the basis of your messaging, but take a long look at the pros and cons of fear-based marketing before you decide this tactic is right for you.

In conclusion, K.I.S.S.

Take time to pore over your writing, ax the extra fluff, and when in doubt, follow the K.I.S.S. method of writing. (For the uninitiated, K.I.S.S. stands for Keep It Simple, Stupid.) Lay out a simple message for your audience instead of muddying your communications, and you’ll understand why concise copy is truly king.

Have more tips on writing high-quality copy? Let us know in the comments!

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