“Nobody reads copy anymore?”
This snide refrain seems to come up frequently these days. If you’re in my business you’ve heard it plenty. Heck, I think I’ve said it and a big part of my job is to write copy. Hoisted by my own petard, I’ve been. (I know a responsible blogger would put a contextual link to a description of an unusual word like petard, but then I would lose you in the first paragraph.)
So why is nobody reading copy anymore? First, my highly-abridged history of this phrase: it started with ad agencies, who wanted to protect their simple and visually arresting ad concepts, then it spread to digital agencies (who rarely employ copywriters anyway), and lastly it has spread to even clients. Clients! What has the world come to? The next thing they’ll be demanding is, “Make the logo smaller.”
But we don’t simply do what clients want, we do what our audience wants. So in that spirit, what form of writing is “people friendly” these days?
• Bullets. I could put compose this post entirely in bullets. Because we
• all are so comfortable with slide presentations, it’s certainly feasible
• that these friendly little dots, all lined up like a snowman’s buttons,
• will almost hypnotically lead the reader to the article’s end.
Or I can utilize the trusty old subhead and short paragraph combo. Here are a few reasons why nobody reads anymore.
They can’t read.
Sad alert: 14-percent adults in the U.S. simply can’t read. Anything. 21-percent read below a 5th grade level. And what of our future adults? Alas, 19-percent of high school students who graduate can’t read the writing on their diploma. That’s a lot of non-readers right from the get-go.
They can read but why would they?
The quality of writing found online is abysmal. As a parent I actually worry about my kids’ online use, not because of porn or video game violence, but because they’ll soak up too much lousy writing. Typos, bad punctuation, misuse of words, wanton creation of new words; the transgressions go on and on.
They can read but how can they?
Too much information describes the typical web experience. Even just a couple sentences must compete with a slew of other attractive information, functionality and activity. Scripts, Flash, video, ads, links (41 average), navigation — it’s like we’re trying to give our reader a seizure. In fact, between 2008 and 2012 the average top 1,000 web page tripled in size… doubled in past three years. Page bloat is growing exponentially.
It’s no wonder nobody reads copy anymore.
More accurately, fewer people are reading a small and diminishing amount of copy, probably only 20% of what we have written for them. Whether they are only reading the copy above the fold on a web page (talkin’ about you, you non-scrollers), or merely hastily scanning through text, it’s safe to assume that readers today are not willing to take in all the great stuff we have to say about our clients.
So, unless you absolutely know longer copy is what your audience digs, here are a few things you can do to hold a non-reader’s attention:
1. Keep copy length shorter than you used to…duh
2. Use frequent line breaks; even break out single liners
3. Write with shorter, punchier lines
4. Try subheads above short paragraphs
5. Organize facts or points into bulleted or numbered lists
6. Use rich formatting, like bold and italics
7. Write entertainingly … reward your reader
In fact, you’ll notice that I’ve used these very tactics in the post above, with perhaps the exception of the last one. Did it make a difference? I guess if you’re still with me it may have.
Thanks for reading.