Content, Copy, Language, and Prepurchase Behavior

  |  February 13, 2004   |  Comments

Selling in a literate medium.

Good content's goal is to expose business value and articulate it in a way that matters to the customer. Great copy persuades the reader to take action.

These two Web site components should work hand in glove. Copy gets much more attention that content, probably because it's more akin to advertising language, the marketer's vernacular.

Most advertisers think in terms of 30- or 60-second commercials, generally 120-150 words maximum. But online, prospects want all the information they can get.

My colleague Gerry McGovern wrote:

Advertisers tend to think in intervals of 30 seconds or less. This has a huge influence on the type of communication. It becomes much more emotional and visual. The Web is a very different world. The Web is a result of an increasingly literate consumer. It is no surprise that the Web started off in universities. The Web works better with facts rather than emotions.

Not Enough Words

I'm reminded of the emperor in "Amadeus" saying he didn't approve of Mozart's composition because it had "too many notes." Linguistics research backs up the premise it takes around 300 to 500 words to cover a topic. One study proves reading comprehension drops off after 300 words, then not again until 3,000 words.

If you write less than 300 words, it may be nearly impossible to properly explain what you offer over your competitors. Writing copy for a Web site is about making a point correctly rather than quickly.

Direct marketers often err on the side of the absurd. They employ copy ad nauseam. They write so much copy, I doubt they even bother to read it all. I can just imagine them saying, "Shoot, by now they'll give up and have to buy it."

How Many Words?

Let's try a simple exercise in empathy. A prospect arrives at your site. She's hungry for information. She looks for all she can before she feels confident enough to purchase. She's curious as to what she's buying. If you don't give her all the information she seeks, she'll find someone who will. She wants relevance.

Perhaps not coincidentally, when search engine companies characterize what's important on Web pages, they look for what searchers will find most relevant.

Maybe all those linguistics Ph.D.s at optimization companies read the same studies I do. Says iProspect research:

Depending on the search engine, between 250-400 words seem to work well. Search engines do two things primarily; they index text and follow links. The more indexable text available, the better job search engines can do in understanding the pages content.

Understanding your customers keeps you a step ahead in this game. Search engines and people alike look for many of the same things. Specific titles, headlines, and body text that speak directly to customers make them more willing to buy from you and increase search rankings. Make sure to lay content out so it's skimmable and scannable.

Content Must Address Personas

By developing personas, you learn who your customers really are and what they really want from you. This helps you to persuade better. Each persona has different content needs. One may know exactly what she wants. Another may only have a general interest in your product category.

For the first persona, clear, precise navigation is enough. The second requires copy that incorporates the five-step sales process and AIDAS to sell her anything. The more information you provide, the closer she'll come to a sale.

When you focus on a persona's needs, you find the resolution points, which allow you to develop the conversation your prospect seeks. You spend time answering her questions, not dumping everything on one long page.

The elegant beauty this medium provides is the ability to relate pieces of information connected by preestablished or user-created links that allow the user to follow associative trails.

The Right Length

How long should copy be? There's an old advertising expression from the '50s that is hardly politically correct but certainly makes the point. Copy should be as long as a women's skirt: long enough to cover the essentials but short enough to keep it interesting.

It's ironic the site bearing the name of the king of long-copy ads,, links from the home page to "what do we do" with almost no copy. That should have been obvious from the get-go. You can't assume a visitor knows all about your brand, no matter how famous you are. No brand is universal.

Win Their Hearts. Their Minds Will Follow

Copy, long or short, must be the right length. Length is based on your personas' needs. Does your Web site attract visitors who have no interest in your offerings yet visit out of curiosity following aggressive search engine optimization (SEO) efforts? Do you specifically target your customers with language that inflames their minds and opens their hearts to what you offer?

The right content for your site, and all online communications, is smart. It's what your customers seek, what search engines are looking for. It's just the thing for improving conversion rates. And, if done properly, it separates your site from your competition's.

Does your copy do all this?

Meet Bryan at Search Engine Strategies in New York, March 1-4.

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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,, 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

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