Unwritten Internet Rules

  |  June 24, 2005   |  Comments

Follow them at your own risk.

  • No vehicle without a driver may exceed 60 miles per hour.

  • No one is allowed to ride a bicycle in a swimming pool.

  • A person may not walk around on Sundays with an ice cream cone in his/her pocket.

  • Slippers are not to be worn after 10 p.m.

These are just a few of hundreds of silly laws U.S. states have on the books. It's hard to know exactly why or how laws like these came to be. They must've made sense to somebody, some time.

The Internet is no exception. It has its share of silly (though unwritten) rules that the masses seem eager to follow.

Solid rules and best practices are great for managing well-established systems and keep social order. Online, following unwritten rules can be a recipe for rotten conversion. Here are a few of my favorite unwritten Internet rules.

Unwritten Rule 1: When in doubt, create a link that reads "click here."

In the Internet's early days, when people were trying to create momentum on a Web page, it was necessary to instruct people what to do and where to do it. So, the "click here" hyperlink was born. It's overstayed its welcome.

People know what to do when they see a hyperlink. Telling them to "click here" is equivalent to placing road signs every couple of yards that read "Stay on the road."

Example following the rule:

The X-Arcade 2 Player is guaranteed for life. To read our lifetime warranty, click here.

Now, let's break the rule:

See how your X-Arcade 2 Player is guaranteed for life.

Unwritten Rule 2: Use lots of "more info" links.

People want more info, right? But info about what? It seems adding a few extra words to the "more info" hyperlink is cost-prohibitive. No one seems willing to tell me what info I'll get when I click the link. Do those extra few letters cost money?

Example of following that rule:

Microsoft Word is the industry-standard word processor. It has a seemingly endless number of features, each designed to help you be more productive while creating and revising documents. More Info

Let's break the rule:

Microsoft Word is the industry-standard word processor. See Microsoft Word's seemingly endless number of features, each designed to help you be more productive while creating and revising documents.

Which is more persuasive?

Unwritten Rule 3: Use as many vague hyperlinks as possible, such as "read more," "continue reading," and "next."

Same as rule 2. What will I be reading more about? Why can't you tell me what will happen when I click?

Instead of "Read more," why not "Read more about how this Magic Widget can help you work smarter and faster"?

Instead of "Continue reading," why not "Continue reading this article"?

Tell people specifically what happens next: "Next: enter your billing information."

Unwritten Rule 4: Write for search engines.

Last time I checked, Google's spider had never purchased anything on my site. So why should I write for it? Don't get me wrong. Pages should be easy for spiders to index. But if you write for spiders first, you lose... big. Our search engine strategy is simple: write pages for people; the search engines will follow.

Unwritten Rule 5: Short copy is better online. Or: Long copy is better online.

Relevant copy persuades visitors to do what you want them to on your site. Copy length should be like a skirt: long enough to cover the essentials, short enough to be interesting. If you're debating short versus long copy, I'd bet length isn't the problem. It's the copy.

Say the right things, things people need and want to hear. Have keyword-rich content seasoned with right keywords within the hyperlinks. Quit worrying about how long the copy is or try to follow the search engine manipulation gospel.

The Internet Is Too New for Rigid Rules

Other selling and marketing media have been around for quite some time. They have clear best practices and set rules for success. Online, even the most successful sites are still learning. They haven't reached the pinnacle of how well their sites can perform.

Let's not get too attached to rules and best practices. As a self-proclaimed conversion-rate pioneer, I make it point to follow principles and not to get bound by silly rules that may actually hurt conversion.

Recently, we had a very successful test on a landing page campaign for a client. We decided to duplicate some elements for another client's campaign, only to learn our premises for client A didn't translate for client B.

If we were in the rule-writing or best-practices business, we would've created two new contradictory rules for landing page campaigns:

  • More calls to action above the fold in an email convert better.

  • Fewer calls to action above the fold in an email convert better.

Confused? If you really need a rule to follow while building persuasive pages, follow this one:

Question every unwritten Internet rule. It may not apply.

Let me know what rules you keep bumping into.

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Bryan Eisenberg

Bryan Eisenberg is coauthor of the Wall Street Journal, Amazon, BusinessWeek, and New York Times bestselling books "Call to Action," "Waiting For Your Cat to Bark?," and "Always Be Testing." Bryan is a professional marketing speaker and has keynoted conferences globally such as SES, Shop.org, Direct Marketing Association, MarketingSherpa, Econsultancy, Webcom, SEM Konferansen Norway, the Canadian Marketing Association, and others. In 2010, Bryan was named a winner of the Direct Marketing Educational Foundation's Rising Stars Awards, which recognizes the most talented professionals 40 years of age or younger in the field of direct/interactive marketing. He is also cofounder and chairman emeritus of the Web Analytics Association. Bryan serves as an advisory board member of SES Conference & Expo, the eMetrics Marketing Optimization Summit, and several venture capital backed companies. He works with his coauthor and brother Jeffrey Eisenberg. You can find them at BryanEisenberg.com.

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