If you’re building a business through content marketing, you’ve probably noticed that the attention span of your audience is shrinking by the second.
We’re all on the verge of an attention meltdown.
This can be a huge hurdle if you’re trying to effectively engage your audience and get your products or services in front of them.
That means you have to use every writing tool you can to gain and keep audience attention.
Believe it or not, a return to solid writing fundamentals — and more specifically, specificity — can get you out ahead of the competition without having to strap dynamite to yourself to get noticed.
One small note before we get started …
If you only read one section of this article, read this one
Specificity is especially helpful for writing your headlines.
Remember the 80/20 rule: 8 out of 10 readers will read your headline copy but only 2 out of 10 will read your entire post.
Since headlines persuade your audience to read your content, you should dedicate 50 percent of your efforts to writing magnetic headlines before you write the rest of your copy.
The experts have been touting the importance of getting specific all along, and here are some of their more compelling tips to help you win the battle for your audience’s attention.
1. Get to the point
Old-school copywriter George Lois wrote a very useful guide titled Damn Good Advice (for people with talent!). In it, he gets to the heart of the importance of specificity.
Lois writes: “All creativity should communicate in a nanosecond.”
That’s about all the time you have to make an impression, but “creativity” can be misunderstood.
He reminds us that brevity is the key to good copy and that every single word counts.
“It’s not how short you make it; it’s how you make it short.”
Creativity is getting people to read your copy, without confusing hyperbole or jargon phrases.
2. Without attention, you have nothing
Without an attention-grabbing headline, you can chuck your great content in the trash.
Attention. Interest. Desire. Action.
3. Grab attention by being ultra-specific
The Four U’s of headline writing, as outlined by American Writers and Artists Inc. (AWAI), are a helpful guide when evaluating any piece of sales copy or content:
Useful is absolutely required. If your headline can only be one more thing, make it ultra-specific. This is key because specificity presents the most benefit to your reader.
You make a promise of the reward you’re offering up front so your prospects will have a reason to give you their precious time and read your first paragraph.
4. Specificity builds credibility
Brian Clark’s How to Get 53% More Readers for Every Blog Post You Write reminds us that “Specificity increases credibility because specific details are simply more believable than broad assertions.”
He has some great examples of ultra-specific headlines:
- In This Free 10-Chapter, 123-Page Ebook, You’ll Learn …
- Lose 36 Pounds in Only 7 Weeks
- How to Shave 5 Strokes Off Your Golf Score in 3 Days
If your headline isn’t presenting specific, rewarding information, you’re bound to get bogged down with the rest of the unreadables.
Just remember that the #1 rule for building credibility is making good on your headline’s promise.
5. Specificity is persuasion
Chris Garrett wrote about the advantages of precise details over vague guesstimates in his post The Persuasive Power of Specificity.
Statistics, exact details, and case studies:
- Catch the eye
- Build curiosity
- Reinforce authenticity
- Show your readers your attention to detail
Being vague doesn’t work in real life, and it doesn’t work in copywriting. Getting specific means revealing the cold, hard facts of what you have to offer.
However, he also warns us not to use specifics if they are overly technical, confusing, or can get you into legal trouble.
6. Specificity boosts your conversion rates
Marketing Experiments have proven that optimizing your headline can boost your conversion rates by 73 percent.
Not only will you boost your readership, but optimizing your headline by just a single word or figure can actually get more people to take the action you want them to take.
That’s reason enough to do some split testing of your own.
7. Warning: Big words make you sound dumb
In Dean Rieck’s post 11 Smart Tips for Brilliant Writing, he references an important psychology study that showed using overly complex language doesn’t make us look smarter to readers.
We’ve all seen inexperienced authors use big words to make themselves feel smarter.
You’re not fooling anyone, so do your research and know your audience.
Remember Nathaniel Hawthorne’s maxim:
Easy reading is damned hard writing.
8. There is no substitute for great copy
Robert W. Bly wrote in The Online Copywriter’s Handbook that the most important thing that will set you apart as an effective online marketer is “powerful, attention-getting, compelling copy.”
Your words must grab your prospect and never let them go.
9. To approach greatness, you have to start at the start
Ernest Hemingway started out as a reporter for The Kansas City Star.
He won a Nobel Prize in his later years and credited his formative years writing “copy” as a journalist.
Cub reporters were each given a style book when they started, with these rules:
- Use short sentences
- Use short first paragraphs
- Use vigorous English
- Be positive, not negative
It doesn’t get much simpler than that.
10. One word can make all the difference
Mark Twain wrote:
“The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter — ’tis the difference between the lightning-bug and the lightning.”
Specificity is the lighting rod that will lead your prospects through your sales cycle to take action.
Let’s get specific
We can all use help getting more specific in our copy.
There is no “the dog ate my homework” in content marketing — do your research or somebody else will do it better and with more detail.
Know your audience, their problems, fears, desires, and dreams, and you’ll be well on your way to getting them to reading your copy and taking action on your offers.
Editor’s note: The original version of this post was published on May 10, 2012.