How to Write Copy for
Short Attention Spans

Short Attention Span

No matter how gripping your sales copy is, it’s an unfortunate fact that the majority of people will only read the first few lines of it. Does that mean all the effort you poured into the perfect call to action is wasted? Not at all! But in today’s fast-paced world of communication, less really is more.

Taking into account that many people will be reading your copy from a mobile device or skimming after a quick search, it’s worth breaking up larger thoughts into small, mentally-digestible “chunks” for easy, quick scanning.

Begin With the Action in Mind

Many copywriters go about the process in reverse – filling up the valuable top left space with lofty promises no one really cares about and then spend the rest of the page getting to the product or service that’s going to bring the eventual offer.

While this type of approach is great for harnessing your long-term readers, you don’t want to alienate the visitors who are judging your site’s relevance for the first time. Some people, when they’re confronted with a long sales page, will skip right to the bottom to find out the cost, then jump right back up to the top if they feel it’s worth their time (are you nodding your head, too?)

So how do you attract the quick browser and convince them that your page is worth their time while appealing to the more serious reader who’s in it for the “long haul”?

So What?

One of the best exercises I’ve ever done to help with this process is to continually ask myself “so what?” Whittle down your copy to the raw benefits that directly engage your readers:

“XYZ company can save you up to $500 on your car insurance by helping you get a free quote online” – So what?

“Put an extra $500 in your pocket today” – Now I’m listening!

You don’t have to forego imagination for the sake of clarity either. There are some products where using the right word can make all the difference while still condensing the overall message – like so:

“XYZ chocolate makes a terrific gift. Order now for great savings and fast shipping” – So what?

“Get sinfully delicious chocolate delivered right to your door.” – I’m interested!

Strategic Chunking Retains Readers

Take a closer look at your pages – especially the very first paragraph. How can you condense and filter your message to attract the casual browser and convince them to stay? Are you making good use of headlines, sub-headlines, photos and captions? Does your call to action really call them to act or is it buried under heaps of text?

Try “chunking” your message and test it on your audience. You may be pleasantly surprised at how many more people stick around to keep reading!

About the Author: Sherice Jacob is a web designer, copywriter, and author of Get Niche Quick. Don’t forget to follow Sherice on Twitter.

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Comments

  1. Great ideal… I heard this “so what” in one of Russell’s DotComSecrets monthly newsletter, and this doesn’t not just ‘Chuck” your message, but also brings out the benefit to craft great bullets on the sales copy…. this method is really powerful, no doubt about it….

  2. It is SO important to start with the “So what” because it directs your writing and it helps you become more concise it your messaging. Even those without short attention spans are typically short on time, so they need to be able to see the gist of your message right off the bat.

  3. The point about the “so what” is sooooo very important in everything you do, especially blogging and content. You have the immediate present (at time of landing) to engage the interest of your reader, the so what powerfully does that. Great tips!

  4. Chunking the message, topped with ‘so what’, lets the reader know you respect their time. Did you respect our time? Yes, you did – that’s so much!

  5. If you own Bob Bly’s “The Copywriter’s Handbook” (EXCELLENT resource that I have highlighted and dog-eared until the pages are falling out), there’s a great example of the “So What” process in action talking about the benefits of a #2 pencil. Something as simple as a pencil had been whittled down to benefits like “Can be resharpened for extra longevity”, “snug metal fitting ensures eraser never comes loose” and so on.

    Even if you’re a die-hard pen fan, it will make you want to go grab some graphite – that’s what great sales copy is all about!

  6. I really like the idea of asking yourself “So what?” If you can’t quickly answer that question yourself, then how can you expect your reader to care?

  7. Website copywriting is critical for conversion of traffic into leads or customers. You hit the nail on the head with the “So What?” methodology. Congratulations on an excellent blog. I found it via Twitter – Social Media at work!

  8. Ironically, I started reading this article, and then something else distracted me. Ten minutes later, I returned to it.

    I wonder if the “So What” should’ve been in the opening paragraph! ;)

    (Just giving you a hard time. Excellent article! Anything that reminds us to produce content with a PURPOSE is always a good thing.)

  9. Casting a critical eye on your own work and asking that “so what?” question is sometimes hard to do. But it needs to be done in order for your copy to be effective, and this post illustrates that well.

    Greg @ iGoMogul

  10. This is a great strategy for helping us understand what the true benefit is. We all know that benefits can be whittled down to something like saving time or money, or satisfying a need such as hunger, but it’s often easy to overstate the case.

    Taking it down to the barebones, helps us remove redundant jargon, while letting us focus on the core values of the product or service, such as that sinfully delicious chocolate–now if only it could be delivered via download!

  11. I love this. I find with my blogging, summarising my political point in one or two sentences first is important, sometimes bolded rather than slowly building up to my point.

  12. Thanks for the post. Liked the “so what” idea.

  13. Sometimes less is more — more appealing that is. I like the way you revised the 2 examples under the “So What”. I DO want delicious chocolate delivered to me!! That sold me. Great example to keep in mind. I too think the call to action needs to be right out there for them to see, don’t hide it too far down, because a large majority of the audience won’t get there.
    Rock on.

  14. I had totally forgotten about the “so what” technique that works so smoothly. Recently I’ve been totally lost in all of the Copy Blogger information. This great strategy fell the the wayside.
    Well, it worked for this comment. I’ll keep it in the forefront of my writing techniques.

    Thanks!

  15. Ooooh. This gives me a lot to think about. I’m definitely going to be using this the next time I write a blog post, article or other website content. I especially like the last example you give on condensing your message.

  16. This is why I like reading posts such as these because I always find techniques that work that I hadn’t previously thought of before. It is easy to try and fit everything in the titles that it just ends up not making any sense. People like short, sharp text that tells them what they want to know within the first few lines. I’ll definitely be using this technique in the future, thank you.

  17. Heck I know I have a short attention span when reading content around the web so I trust even my readers do to. This is a very structured tip and one that I plan on utilizing.

  18. Thanks… great information. The “so what” question is what to whittle down my words but also to determine if I should write on the topic in the first place!

  19. This “so what?” approach is a great tactic for keeping things in perspective. We have so much we want to communicate, but we have to remember that we aren’t writing the copy for ourselves.

  20. Great advice, reminds me of what Mike Paetzold once told me, when writing for short attention spans. “Ask so what? Until you can’t question it anymore.”

  21. By “chunking” do you mean adding a short actionable statement at the top of your article? Just trying to clarify.

    This is helpful. I have a sales page on a site that really has not been converting–maybe this will help.

  22. Hi Chris,

    You could do that too, but “chunking” simply means breaking up each thought or idea into its own paragraph on your page. Notice how many of the paragraphs in my article are single thoughts or statements. That’s chunking at work :)

  23. I knew about chunking. You make the process sound so easy.
    I try and generate 5 or 6 alternate starters for each para and really have to struggle to do it.

  24. Thanks for this – I love the “so what” idea. It really helps to clarify exactly what the benefits are in what you are selling.

  25. For some reason I prefer the “XYZ company can save you up to $500 on your car insurance by helping you get a free quote online” as opposed to “put $500 in your pocket today” bit, I guess I just want to know exactly how I’ll save the money as opposed to having an openended statement like that.

  26. Sherice,

    I too rely upon the “so what?” question. Everything in your copy has to answer that most important question, otherwise you’re just going to lose your audience.

    This is something I bring up a lot when I read others’ work — I ask what happens here, then follow it up with “and why is that important?” Whenever there’s a hesitation, they immediately get the point.

  27. I love this. I find with my blogging, summarising my political point in one or two sentences first is important, sometimes bolded rather than slowly building up to my point.