The Persuasive Power of Specificity

Bullseye

Which one of these headlines works best?

  • How to Get 6,312 Subscribers to Your Business Blog in One Day
  • How to Get Over 6,000 Subscribers to Your Business Blog in One Day
  • How to Get a Torrent of Subscribers to Your Business Blog in One Day

Most of us would choose the first as Brian did in his recent article. Why?

This is one prime example of the power of specificity in copywriting.

When faced with the first example we want to know how we can get those specific results too. It’s almost a given that we know the headline is referencing a real result.

Precise details help convey that you are telling the truth. A vague “guesstimate” is not going to have the same impact because a nagging doubt clouds the prospect’s mind. Without other concrete facts they might think that you are just making the whole thing up, or at least exaggerating.

Performance statistics and exact details are ideal examples of specificity in case studies, headlines and testimonials. They draw your eye, create curiosity, produce an aura of authenticity, and show attention to detail. For most people, specifics equate to cold hard facts, while general statements and “guesstimates” can damage credibility.

When might you NOT use specifics?

The first common situation where you will not use specifics is where a specific cannot be known, or where they might get you into legal problems if you try. Say you are writing a weight-loss advertisement. Specifics might well be available for past performance based on a survey of existing customers, but giving a specific weight loss prediction for future customers might land you with hundreds of angry calls from disappointed dieters complaining about your overly-optimistic “53.2lbs in 3 days” claims.

The second situation where a specific might not work too well is where using them would cause confusion or distraction. Technical or cultural details are the most common culprits. Either your reader could feel stupid for not understanding, or it might require too much explanation for a specific to be worthwhile.

You want your copy to flow. Ideally your reader will eagerly and happily read every line without pausing, all the way to the end. Including a specific that makes no sense to them is like creating a speed bump on the road to action.

Specificity is one of the most powerful copywriting tools. However, as with any powerful tool, using specifics that do not add clarity and credibility can cause more damage than good.

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Comments

  1. Chris;

    While I agree that the headline with the specific number is more compelling…

    It seems like a random number pulled out of thin air and I might be immediately skeptical.

    I’d rather read, “How a Blogger Got 6,312 Subscribers in a Single Day.”

    That sounds like a case study and would grab me more.

    My 2 cents…

    Mike

  2. Interesting points Chris. However, I recently read in an article that makes me doubt specificity: people are desensitized by large numbers. The article stated that people are less likely to sympathize and care when a story mentions 300 + killed etc. and more likely to show sensitivity and empathy when 1 person’s struggle is described. This is only because people can relate to that 1 person, rather than 300. So, how does that impact your theory on specificity? Don’t you think that people will be less likely to care or take notice when it’s a number they can not relate to such as 6,312 subscribers?

  3. I think this article is even more relevant because of today’s advertising overload. The sheer amount of superfluous banter that is thrown at us every day is making it necessary to filter out more and more. Being specific and concrete will give yield a much better result than generalizing.

    Thanks for mentioning that second exception. In marketing, I think relevancy is even more important than specificity. If you are adding specifics at the cost of relevance, it just isn’t worth it.

    Great post brian, thanks.

    – Mason

  4. @Michael – Good point, do you think though an amount of trust will come from the fact it is a story by a familiar source (Brian)?

    @Ayat – Interesting, I would like to read more about the research, do you have a link? I can see how a huge number might be counteractive but in this case I think you would expect a big number?

  5. Whoops! Amend that last line to say ‘great post Chris.’

    I’m getting confused with all of the different people on Copyblogger. It’s amazing you all write so well, keep it up!

  6. I forgive you Mason :) You could have called me much worse ;)

  7. I picked the second title because with being specific in the first one, you are also limiting yourself to only 6,312 where by saying you want to attract over 6,000, you are free to attract 10,000 or 20,000+. Guess, I have been reading too many Law of Attraction articles lately.

  8. I hadn’t thought of it like that Patricia, but don’t they say you should be very specific about what you want to attract just be vague on the how?

  9. Here is the Digg link, you should change it in the ‘digg this’ link.

  10. Mike, this is far from scientific, but just to give some background on the performance of that post… it made the front page of Digg, Delicious popular, Delicious home page and scores of other social media sites. The post brought in over 30K unique visitors that were NOT regular Copyblogger readers, so although I don’t know if another approach to the headline would have worked better, that one worked pretty well. :)

  11. Nice! We should have a chat one day about how we can split test in RSS :)

  12. Excellent advice! Often, however, I think writers make up a number so they can be specific.

  13. Brian!

    Very cool!

    As I said, I like it.

    I just wonder how slightly altering it might have performed.

    No way to know now :)

    Mike

  14. In your weight loss example, it’s not just about consumers getting mad…more importantly, people will say the product doesn’t work. Setting unreasonable expectations is never a good selling proposition, so your example is a good one.

  15. Proof that odd numbers are better in lists than evens

  16. Heh heh, Ryan… I linked to the post last Monday, and Chris Pearson even made a joke about that in the comments to the 6,312 post. :)

  17. I am proud to say that I picked #1. It made me more curious. In example #2 (where you said over), it made the number “6000″ seem like a number you wanted to sound big, but not too big.

    In #1, I felt like I was going to read an article about how someone got 6,312 subscribers.

    Well, that’s just me. :)

  18. Good point, Chris. I also think that specific headlines help you appear more as an authority on the subject of the article or post. That’s why using “5768″ rather than “over 5000″ convinces readers you know what you’re talking about.

  19. I’m surprised that so many people doubt or don’t agree with chris’ theory on specifics. Not trying to take anything away from him/you, but it’s a very fundamental copywriting principle or isn’t it?

    However, I’ve only read one book about copywriting (tested ad. methods) so I enjoy reading articles like that, because it helps me retain that knowledge and brush up on it, etc.

    I think the fact that the copy has to flow and that specifics shouldnt make the reader stop and wonder is yet another traditional copywriting principle: clever copy isn’t good (however I didnt think of it in this context before).

    To the person who said that reading about the struggles of one instead of those of 300 persons helps the reader relate better: I can see how this is logical (and am glad about reading this as Ive learned something new), but I highly doubt the headline “how to attract 1 subscriber to your blog” would help a lot hehe.

    Imho, this is about 1 person: It’s about 1 blogger who attracted xyz subscribers. If the story was about how 300 bloggers attracted xyz users that might be what you described..but in this case we do relate to that one blogger, I think..

    But on the other hand I also think that the importance of that empathy principle really depends on the type of story. If we’re talking about somebody’s death or a love story, empathy is probably important, but possibly not so important if we’re talking about attracting subscribers to your blog (we’re not really trying to evoke empathy with that type of story, I think).

  20. It seems that the larger the number, the more people read the post? heh :)

    • Not using powerful specifics is the one mistake that I see my clients make the most- and its fairly easy to fix.

    Good reminder Chris & Brian of how very important laser target specifics are. Thanks!

  21. On a related not, when I was an RA in college, I used to set house meetings for times like 7:04 or 8:11. People would question the weird time, but they always remembered it. Why? Because specifics work.

  22. Great post! I find that specifics (especially when dealing with numbers) adds a certain amount of authenticity to your writing. Round numbers are good, and have their place, but a specific number is more convincing and believable. Of course, it’s pretty easy to pull a random number out of thin air, but that’s besides the point! :-)

  23. Sweet post, I love the comment on specifics, I will use this more often in my own blogging. The image attached to it seems to just look and feel better.

  24. I prefer to read about specifics, it quantifies for me measurable results. (I love numbers, especially around results!)

    “Over 6,000 subscribers” to me sounds like the person getting subscribed too gave up counting after 6000, and didn’t bother counting the 6,001st and 6,002nd and any subscribers after them either.


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