The average goldfish has a nine-second attention span. The average Internet user has an eight-second attention span.
That’s what your marketing is up against every time someone hits your landing page or opens your email. Your readers are literally less attentive than a goldfish. That’s not a criticism of how smart they are. It’s the mental state they’re in when they read digital content.
There’s too many stimuli competing for their attention. They’re doing too many things at once. They aren’t very committed to what they’re looking at. And they’re easily distractible.
But it gets worse: about 50 percent of all ads are only visible on a page for five seconds or less. That’s how long you have to catch someone’s already limited attention before they scroll past your ad.
Every second counts. You can’t waste time trying to sound smart or beat around the bush. If it takes your audience too long to understand what you’re offering them, what you want them to do, and why it matters, they’re gone.
So when it comes to writing clear marketing copy, less is more. Shorter sentences. Fewer words. Whenever you write an ad, landing page, email, or blog post, ask yourself: is there an easier way to say this? Can we make this more clear?
Here are three tips to improve your marketing copy.
1. Be concise (it’s not as simple as you think)
Marketers need to change their definition of what it means to “sound smart.” Most of us grew up associating complexity with intelligence. We learned to write essays that sound more like our textbooks than the way we talk.
It’s hard to read. And it doesn’t translate very well to marketing.
“Be concise” is a cliche when it comes to writing advice, but we usually turn it into “use less words.” That’s only part of what being concise means, and unfortunately, it can lead to some confusing marketing. In the name of using less words, some marketers wind up being . . . vague.
Take a look at this ad:
Image source: Marketing Sherpa
This ad is brief, but it’s not concise. There are only nine words in the whole ad, including the name of the brand and four words for the button text. But what does it actually say?
Unless you’re already familiar with endpoint security solutions, you’d have no idea that this was talking to companies that have remote employees, or that it had something to do with cybersecurity. And even then, what’s in the info kit? What’s it about? What do they mean by “endpoints out of control”?
Being concise doesn’t just mean using fewer words. It means using fewer words without losing any meaning. It means making your copy “brief, but comprehensive.”
Endpoint security is a complex niche, and these ads are probably targeted to IT directors, but the copy leaves those IT directors to fill in a lot of blanks. Most notably: what’s the info kit, and why should they care?
Compare the ad above to something like this:
“Do you have remote employees? Keep your network safe. Learn more.”
Even without a supporting image of employees using the company network at the airport or in a coffee shop, this copy makes it more clear who it’s talking to, what it’s talking about, and what you’re getting into when you click the button. It also doesn’t limit the audience to IT directors. Other people in leadership positions want their company’s data to be secure, too. No need to alienate them with jargon.
It’s three more words, but it’s also more concise. Workshopping it with a marketing team could make it even more concise.
The best marketers take complicated ideas and make them simple. Not just by cutting words, but by clearly communicating what’s most important.
2. Avoid passive voice (when possible)
Passive voice is when the subject of your sentence is the object of your verb, and not the actor. The action is happening to your subject.
In other words: you arranged the words in a confusing way. It technically works—using the passive voice isn’t a mistake—it’s just a bad choice. It takes longer for your reader to understand what’s happening.
Compare these two sentences, which convey the same thing:
Active voice: More than 100 volunteers fed the homeless in our community.
Passive voice: The homeless in our community were fed by more than 100 volunteers.
The passive voice communicates the same message, but it usually looks and feels clunkier. It’s not wrong. But when you only have seconds for someone to understand your message and decide to act on it or move on, you can’t afford to use the passive voice.
If a sentence doesn’t feel right for some reason, and it seems a little confusing, ask yourself: who or what is the subject? Who or what is the source of the action? If those two questions have different answers, you’re probably using the passive voice.
3. Use short paragraphs
When you’re reading a book, it isn’t surprising to find a paragraph that fills a whole page or more. But when you’re reading an email, a landing page, or even a blog post online, anything longer than about four lines starts to feel too dense.
It literally looks like too much work to read.
That’s not to say that you can’t ever use longer paragraphs. But you should avoid them as much as possible, and save them for the middle of your content.
Shorter paragraphs can convey all the same information, but the extra white space makes your copy feel more skimmable. Your eye progresses through the page faster, even if the page is actually longer.
It’s less intimidating to your readers, and it forces you to create paragraph breaks whenever you start a new idea—so your copy really does become easier to read and understand.
Keep your audience’s attention
Most of us can tell if an email or a web page is too wordy. We can tell when something sounds too complicated. But it’s also easy to assume that we’ve already reduced our ideas to their simplest form.
“It’s just a complicated topic.”
“Our audience knows what this means. It’s basic knowledge within the industry.”
When you see copy that’s too wordy or complicated, don’t settle for excuses. Because your readers won’t either. Take the time to be concise, simplify your ideas, and arrange the text in the most helpful way.
Remember, you only have a short amount of time to get your message across—don’t let wordiness get in the way!