Is Less Always More? Good Question.

Written: 30-Aug-2010 | | Filed under: Content & Copy

Recently I came across an article with tips on how to freshen up your WordPress website or blog.

For the most part, I thought the advice was excellent: focus on usability, include calls to action, use appropriate colors and design elements for the type of site you’ve got, all good commonsense stuff.

But there was one bit of advice I think requires some amplification (and a wave of the caution flag). To wit:

Remember less is more when it comes to website and marketing in general. Chances are if you failed the 1-2-3 double click test above you have a “more is less” issue. Acknowledge it if you do. Make note of the pages where content can be minimized. Do a quick analysis to see what redundancies there are in content, forms etc. Remove pages that are providing no value.

(Emphasis mine.)

Sometimes, less is just less.

This is a, uhmm… discussion I’ve had with others in the marketing department at Ye Olde Day Jobbe least once or twice a month. They’re big fans of the “less is more” school of marketing, at least when it comes to online.

I mean, I don’t know that they’d ever seriously claim a postcard always outperforms a long-format sales letter. (They’d better not, because they’d be flat wrong.) But when it comes to our web pages, they are constantly pressuring me to edit out (or at least find some way to hide) all that nasty text. They tell me our customers are undoubtedly being “overwhelmed” by 1,500+ word product descriptions.

As it happens, though, I have test results that clearly demonstrate my benefit-focused, call-to-action laden, cheerfully “zaftig” product descriptions perform significantly better than their runway-model-thin counterparts. 🙂 Turns out our customers like to know everything they can about a product before dropping upwards of $1,000 on it and don’t mind reading a bit to find it out. Who woulda thunk it?

Moderation In All Things — Including Moderation.

Now, what works for our site won’t necessarily work for everyone. But a lot of people have tested in a lot of situations, and more often than not the rule of thumb turns out to be “Long Copy Sells.”

Of course, in some cases people have “tightened up” their content and seen big improvements in their site performance. If your pages lean more toward pointless rambling than benefit-focused copy, you might be able to trim without too much pain.

But there are many, many more cases where site owners have let designers slash through their page copy like General Sherman on his March to the Sea. To their consternation, many of them experience decreased conversions and sales, their search rankings disappear and their website traffic is like a delusional sheep in the Monty Python skit: it doesn’t so much “fly” as “plummet.”

“But doesn’t the site look lovely without all that ugly text cluttering up the pages?” the designer cries. Yep — nice and clean. To borrow from another Monty Python skit: “Beautiful plumage!” (And the site’s just about as useful as a Dead Parrot now, too.)

Even more site owners have never even experimented with long copy. If we’re lucky, they offer “product descriptions” that are simply a few bullet-pointed features and specifications. (If we’re not, they may just give us a picture and a price.) They consequently have no idea if their site could do better, or if their current 0.4% conversion rate is the best it gets.

Hey, maybe it is. But if you’ve never tried any alternative, how do you know?

Test, And Ye Shall Be Enlightened.

Way back in 2007, I wrote about Google Website Optimizer. It’s still a great idea — an excellent (and FREE) testing tool, allowing you to “try before you commit” on any significant changes to your pages.

Should you get rid of content that isn’t performing? Probably. Only thing… unless you test, how do you know which content that is? As retailer John Wanamaker is supposed to have said: “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.”

Without testing, you won’t know “where content can be minimized” and where the content absolutely has to stay just as it is… and where content needs to be expanded even more. No matter what you’re planning to do, unless you test before you take the plunge, you could find yourself implementing a site “upgrade” that costs you a significant chunk of your sales.

(And if, despite the fact that Website Optimizer is easy and free, you for whatever reason can’t test — at least save the old version so you can quickly revert if your spiffy new pages turn out to have been a mistake. Better in my opinion to have a somewhat clunky site that makes the sale, than an finely-wrought virtual paperweight.)

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