10 Ways Specificity Helps You Build a Profitable Audience

why you should sweat the details

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.

AIDA is the classic marketing acronym heralded by many great copywriters, including Brian Clark, Sonia Simone, and John Carlton.

Attention. Interest. Desire. Action.

Gaining attention is gold because it’s the first step on the path to getting your prospects to take action and buy.

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:

  1. Useful
  2. Ultra-specific
  3. Unique
  4. Urgent

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.

Do you have more suggestions for getting specific?

Let us know over on LinkedIn …

Editor’s note: The original version of this post was published on May 10, 2012.

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Reader Comments (30)

  1. says

    Every single one of these tips are on point. I especially love #7. Far too many times I’ll land on a site and leave based on the language.

    It’s all about engagement and speaking to your audience in a way that they can FEEL it is key.

    Great post Kelton!

    • Kelton Reid says

      Thanks Donovan. The title of that psychology study was:
      “Consequences of erudite vernacular utilized irrespective of necessity: problems with using long words needlessly.”
      Psych humor perhaps:)

  2. says

    Specificity helps readers understand exactly what they can expect for their team. It’s what makes it worth their time and effort and taps into their real needs.

  3. says

    I’m about to put the specificity effect into practice with a product I’m launching. I have a “general” pronunciation course for English learners that has sold a few copies. But later this month I’m coming out with a new course targeting the 15 specific problems that Brazilian English learners have – this is the audience I know best, and in fact the course is written in Portuguese. I’m really curious to see how sales and conversions compare…

    • says

      That’s a really interesting example, I’ll be curious to see how it does for you! I would expect it to do quite a lot better, but you never know for sure until you actually test the market with it.

      • says

        Sonia – I launched the more specific course a week ago, and it has sold twice as many as the more general one so far! Here’s hoping for continued success…

  4. says

    Brilliant post. It reminded me of the advice I used to give when I was doing a little freelance work helping high school kids with their college application essays. I’d advise them to “tell a story only you can tell,” and “show, don’t tell,” using vivid personal experience as support. My mantra, repeated to them ad nauseum was, “focus, specificity and proof.” Until it was burned into their teenaged brains. ; )
    And what a difference it made (IF they followed the advice), from a first draft that was often rambling, generic and clichéd, to one that sucked the reader in and told a persuasive, interesting story.
    Specificity is important in every kind of writing there is.

    • Kelton Reid says

      Very nice. It works because storytelling is hardwired into humanity at the deepest levels. I think every content marketer could take a page from this “tell a story only you can tell” advice.

  5. says

    I think there’s another way to get attention in a crowded “market”: being weird.

    What I mean is that you can get people to notice your message if you frame it in a unique way. That works in marketing as well as in headlines.

    For example my latest post titled, “How to Seduce a Goldfish” :)

  6. says

    I’ve been reading copyblogger for years and I have never left a comment. Now this is good stuff. I can’t help but express my feelings on this one! Great advice.

  7. says

    Another way to grab readers attention is to put humors in the post,make them laugh.I like your idea of being specific because it saves time of both….readers as well as author.

  8. says

    Awesome stuff Kelton! What about specificity in your target audience? The more specific we get in who we’re targeting, who we’re addressing our content to, the more in tune with our target audience we’ll be and the more they’ll feel like we’re talking directly to them. And speaking specifically to our target audience, the particular “persona” we’ve developed. I think this is what Shayna was referring to above, when she talks about a new course targeting Brazilians.

    • Shayna says

      I wish I could remember where I read this, but there’s an idea to make your target audience “wide” in one sense and “narrow” in others. For example:

      English pronunciation course for Brazilians
      WIDE: all levels welcome, beginner to advanced
      NARROW: specific nationality
      NARROW: focus on pronunciation (not grammar, vocab, etc.)

      An alternative product angle:

      Advanced Business Travel English
      WIDE: all nationalities welcome
      NARROW: level (must have at least an intermediate level of English to benefit)
      NARROW: subject area – focus on travel, specifically business travel

      Or this one:

      Campus English for Study Abroad
      WIDE: work all areas of English – reading, writing, spraking, grammar, etc
      NARROW: age range (college or pre-college)
      NARROW: topic focus on academic and social English

      It’s an interesting thought exercise, because it helps avoid both the errors of making it too wide AND the error of focusing it down SO much that the market’s too tiny.

      • Shayna says

        Speaking, not “spraking”. Please excuse the typos… I wrote this on my phone :-/

  9. says

    really great advice. I wasn’t using the power of short sentences. now I specifically try to proofread it to see how I can make it short and sweet.

  10. says

    Great stuff! The more specific your headlines, your benefits, your offers, etc. the more likely your ideal customer will stand up and say “that is perfect for me!”

    Thanks for sharing :-)

  11. says

    I got an important lesson – be specific!

    Sometimes general explanation on particular issue is too general and readers might know about it just by reading the title which means your idea is not unique compared to others. I realized my mistake after all. Thanks for the inspiration Kelton!

  12. says

    Great content. Two aspects have been cleverly fused. Yes! That makes the post complete.
    Minimalism is more..simplicity is the highest form of sophistication. And having a clear ‘Position’ makes things clear and easy.

    But, the law of human behavior dictates; “You have to learn a lot; You have to learn what is no more needed; You have learn how to unlearn what you learnt :)

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