…or why shorter is better than longer, every time.

“I think we need more copy,”  lamented a client a while back. “No problem,” I said. “What is it that’s missing?” “Nothing,” he said with a slight hint of confusion. “Nothing at all. It’s just that we need more. Because more is better, right?” No prizes for guessing my response. The idea that more is better has taken root largely because of all the arachnocentric babble that’s out there. Or put another way, copy written for search-engine spiders. Now don’t get me wrong. Search engines are important, and SEO-optimised copy is essential these days. But you can be optimised and concise – because quality trumps quantity every time. And humanoids – your clients, my clients and clients in every galaxy out there – like quality and conciseness. Trust me. They just do.

The long and the short of it

So cut it down and make it better. But how?
  • Halve it, improve it. Treat this one as a game: anything you can say in page, you can say in half a page. Anything you can say in half a page, you can say in a paragraph. You know that euphoric, out-of-control feeling when get when you’re slashing weeds with a machete? (Or is that just my weird fetish?) Well that’s the adrenaline rush you get when you slash what you write. So get slashing.
  • Try keeping everything ‘above the fold’ – a newspaper term that’s now been carried through to computers. Can you say everything you need to before people have to click the scroll bar or hit Page Down? (And remember, more and more people are browsing on mobile devices with smaller screens.)
  • Bullet-point it. Why? First, it’s less intimidating when you’re trying to write. Second, it helps you focus. Third, you can always expand it later if you need to.
  • Get to the point fast. Imagine you’re at somebody’s front door and they say you have 30 seconds to do your thing.  What would you say in that precious half-minute? Lead with that.
  • Don’t be yourself – be them. Your reader, that is. Just because you write it doesn’t mean they’ll read it. Remember how you read? Well guess what? That’s how they read too – skipping, skimming, half-understanding, looking for pegs, stepping-stones and bite-sized chunks.
  • Keep it simple. When you’re writing, keep your sentences under control. Avoid too many subordinate clauses, and if you don’t know what they are, then count the number of commas in your sentence. More commas mean more subordinate clauses – which in turn means confusion.
  • Put it through the ‘why should they care?’ test. You’d be surprised how much copy is simply padding. Like cotton wool in a box around expensive jewels, it hides what you most want people to see. They don’t even register it in their rush to find the good stuff. So don’t hide the good stuff.
And when you’ve said what you’ve got to say, stop. (See how satisfying it is? Second only to slashing weeds.)