“Strategic copy issues”

We love this cat named Nick Usborne. Writing in the now-passé ClickZ, a zine whose name we can never figure out how to pronounce (“ClickZee”? “ClickZed”?), Usborne races out of the wings as he wields a gigantic powderpuff and bellows “Maaake-uuup!

Who gets whacked? Jakob Nielsen, deliciously enough!

Dissing a particularly anomalous example that has become the welfare-queen-in-a-Cadillac myth about online writing, Usborne bares a discreet fang:

Right from the outset that text should have been written as a bulleted list. Never mind the Web. Whether shown on a Web site, in a magazine, or on the back of a cereal box, that block of nonsense would have done a better job by being shown for what it was – a list.

The 124 percent improvement wasn’t about the Web; it was about improving a bad piece of writing.

Unfortunately, because Mr. Nielsen is so highly respected and widely read – and deservedly so [Oh, knock it off, Nick. – NUblog] – nobody has bothered to ever question this article. Well, it’s time to do so.

Usborne goes on to enumerate “Four Points on Usability and Web Copy.” They are very sound indeed. He offers a rock-solid example:

Let’s say you’re selling cell phones. On your home page, show some model names and thumbnails. Users need help finding what they want, so just use bullets at this stage, no descriptions.

Then click on a thumbnail, and go to the next page. There’s a big picture of a phone plus enough copy to make and close the sale. At this point, users don’t need some naked bullet points; they need descriptions and benefits. In this environment, they can’t touch the phone, pick it up, or feel its weight in their hands.

You need to paint a picture and use as many words as it takes. Tackle the important stuff first, and the details later -- first the benefits, then the supporting facts. People will read as much as they need to read, the first 30 words, the first 60, the first 100.

The only blemish on the Usborne’s tantalizingly-exposed cleavage? His business claim to “consult on strategic copy issues for business online.” To reiterate, oh, knock it off, Nick.

Posted on 2001-05-20