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Nobody reads copy 7 July, 2008

Posted by Jay Ball in Uncategorized.

If many in our industry are to be believed, copy is somewhat of a optional extra when it comes to marcoms. Or maybe a necessary evil. To be tolerated as long as it doesn’t exceed 30 words or so. Of course you see this most in advertising which has become increasingly image-led over the years. Direct mail still resists, bolstered by the mountains of evidence that copy drives response. And then there’s web.

Look at the usability studies and you’ll see that effective web copy is a case of less is more. Unfortunately many designers seem to take this as an excuse to design layouts allowing not 30 words, but 30 characters of copy – even on highly complex products. Rather than helping to structure the message, all too often copy is seen as the stuff that simply replaces the lorem ipsum in the design.

This is nuts.

It’s copy, more often than not, that visitors to a site are looking for. It’s copy that sells products, services and ideas. Copy is a core part of the experience. This is especially so in B2B where complex arguments must be communicated efficiently, powerfully and elegantly.

This is not a call to have endless scrolling copy on every page you serve. Good copy can achieve its aims in surprisingly few words.

So just as an experiment, on the next site you create – start with the copy.



1. Laurent - 10 July, 2008

I agree with you: when it comes to product-oriented websites, i am convinced that people are looking for quick answers to questions such as “do they have the product I need?”, “where can I buy it?”, “how can I contact them if I have a problem with a product?”… The challenge is to be able to anticipate these questions so as to answer them in the shortest possible way.

I’ll try your little experiment.

Meanwhile, i wonder if you had the chance to identify repeating structures when preparing copies for different customers and develop reusable patterns.

2. Jay Ball - 24 July, 2008

I try to avoid using templated structures preferring instead to try to forget what I know about the client’s business and try to come at the job from a customer’s viewpoint. What does a successful visit mean for them? Can they get to what they need quickly and easily? Am I persuading them to change their view of the brand, increasing the desirability of the product or getting them to take the next step in a purchase? (Very much the kinds of questions you outline but maybe a little more focused on changing behaviour.)

BTW if you are looking for language structures, a useful book is “Words that change minds” by Shelle Rose Charvet.

3. Laurent - 8 August, 2008


Thanks for the reference: I will get a hold on the book.

I have read an interesting article on the concept of “flow”, a way of creating designs for goal-oriented websites (the questions in my first post). It conceptualises your point of “getting them to take the next step in a purchase”. You might find it interesting too:


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