Guest column by Nick Usborne
The Rule of One falls into two areas...what you write about, and who you write to.
Here’s the first part of the rule...
Confine each communication to a single topic
This is a battle that has been raging between copywriters and their clients for a very long time.
Twenty years ago I remember trying to discourage clients from wanting to say too much in a single ad or direct mail letter.
I think they felt that if they were going to pay the media costs, they would get “more for their money” if they used every opportunity to say as much as possible about their products, services and company.
My counter-argument was that they would communicate much more clearly, and with better results, if they stuck to a single topic and a single message. The same problem persists today on the web.
Too many web pages try to cover too much ground.
Think of it this way. Very few people arrive at your site wanting to hear about all of your different products or services. Most will have used a search engine to find information on a single, clearly defined topic.
Whether you bring them to a specific landing page or some other interior page, build your pages so that they focus on just one topic at a time.
Do that and you will stay focused and please your visitors.
As a side benefit, you will also please the major search engines, which consistently reward pages that are confined to a single topic. The more clearly defined the page topic, the higher the listing.
And now for the second part of the Rule of One.
Write to one person at a time
You have probably heard this advice before. But as I read web pages across a variety of industries, I see little evidence of writers following this simple rule.
Basically, you will write more clearly, more personally and with better results if you picture an individual prospect or reader as you write.
Don’t write to some amorphous demographic group. Write to one person within that group.
Don’t create a mental picture of “that kind of person”. Picture a real person with a real life. Think about that person’s life. Think about what they want out of life.
Now think about how your product or service fits that person.
If you do this well, if you can truly see an individual prospect in your mind, it will have a profound impact on what and how you write.
Your text will read and feel as if it is being written to a real person. The corporate-speak jargon and biz-speak nonsense will disappear, and you will suddenly begin writing more clearly, with a true empathy for the person who will be reading your text.
Keep one thing in mind. This is not a “copywriting trick”. This is writing pages in a way that corresponds to how they will be read. It may sound obvious, but so many people lose touch with the fact that every page you write WILL be read by individuals with unique lives and needs.
No “group” will ever read your page. No “industry” will ever read your page.
The web pages you write will always be read by individuals, one at a time.
Stick to one topic and write to one person.
It sounds easy, but very few people do it. Sometimes copywriters fail to write in this way because they haven’t thought about it. Sometimes it happens due to unrelenting pressure from above.
Either way, sticking to the Rule of One will always help you. Discipline yourself and fight your clients and managers if you need to.
In the end, the results will speak for themselves.
Note: Nick Usborne is the leading advocate of good writing on the Web. He is an
author, copywriter, consultant, speaker, and the publisher of the Excess Voice
newsletter for online writers. Read his articles at http://www.excessvoice.com