“Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.” — Elmore Leonard’s 10th rule of writing
This rule, created by the well-known late author of novels such as “Get Shorty,” is particularly important for marketing … and often broken by marketers.
The reason it’s so important for marketing is, compared to readers of fiction, readers of brands’ content and websites have little patience for navigating around text they don’t care to read. And there are a variety of ways that marketers break the rule, but two of the most common are putting in too much detail (especially in website copy) or being overly promotional in content.
If you regularly break the rule, the consequences include:
- Many people will quickly navigate away from your content or site, likely never to return
- You will fail to create a strong connection with readers who do stick around, as they won’t be fully engaged with what they’re reading
- Your marketing efforts will be less successful
So what should brands do?
- Consider every word and every sentence carefully to best speak to the reader—you only have the reader’s attention for a short time—often less than a minute on a website.
- Write clearly and concisely.
- Make sure the text is well organized.
- Use bullets and display text to make content more scannable and readable.
- Cut, cut, cut the fat—if in doubt, leave it out.
(Important note: this doesn’t mean all your content has to be short. It just means that your content shouldn’t be longer than it needs to be, and needs to provide value to the reader throughout.)
Let’s take a quick look at how the rule applies to website copy and content.
As mentioned earlier, going into too much detail on your website can be problematic. It can distract potential buyers from your key messages or even drive them away from your site entirely. And with so many brands recognizing that less text is often more on their websites, excessive text is becoming all the more off-putting. So focus on presenting your key messages effectively and memorably, and providing a welcoming experience for visitors.
The two big problems here are poor-quality content and being overly promotional. The former appears to be on rise; more and more brands seem to be pushing out content pieces (especially blog posts) that are superficial and don’t have any use to the reader. For some brands, content has become a to-do, something to check off, instead of a priority. Others outsource content to the lowest-bidder writers or agencies, and get what they pay for. Whatever the reason, the result is entire content pieces that violate Leonard’s 10th rule, because readers will want to skip them altogether. On the other hand, overly promotional content seems to be on the decline. Many brands now recognize that content “commercials” masquerading as thought leadership don’t get great results and can even harm their reputation. But this means that if you consistently are overly promotional you’ll stand out—and not in a good way.
So consider adopting Leonard’s 10th rule. Focus on creating website copy and content that people will want to read—from start to finish. Your marketing efforts will be better for it.
About the Author: Eric Anderson works with fisher VISTA clients to create compelling content. His previous experience includes eight years as a reporter and editor.