5 Ways to Get Your Copy Read by the 'Scanner'
When I landed my first job as a catalog writer,I believed every word I wrote would be read. After all, as an English literature major, hadn't I spent hours dissecting poems, plays and essays word-by-word?
Not so with marketing messages! Customers are busy and buried in ads. You're fortunate to snag a few seconds of their time as they scan your subject line or glance at your outer envelope.
That's why it's important to write (and approve) copy/content with the scanner in mind. No matter which channel you're writing for — no matter how long or short the copy — your copy is much more likely to get scanned than read word-for-word.
That's why you should try these scanner-friendly tips:
1. Heat It Up With Hot Spots
How do you capture a scanner's interest? It's all in how you use hot spots. Hot spots are where your potential reader's eye goes first. Some are innate — natural landing places such as headlines where the eye has been trained to go. Others are created purposely to attract attention such a bursts and sidebars. Wherever the eye goes, you want to use these hot spots to present important information, including product benefits and such offer elements as deadlines and discounts.
As a catalog writer, I quickly learned the scanner's eye went from the product photo to the price, then to the product headline and then, MAYBE, to my spellbinding product copy.
2. First and Last Are Both Big Winners
Once the eye settles in a hot spot (e.g., upper-left corner, violator, button, headline, first sentence in a paragraph, etc.), it looks at the first word first. That's why direct response writers frequently use active verbs (order, send, buy, increase, subscribe, join, cut, slash, etc.) as starters. They jumpstart momentum and keep the eye moving.
The eye also likes to settle on the last word in a headline or paragraph, which is why you don't want to bury your phone number or URL link in the middle of a sentence or paragraph. Put it at the end and it will be easier for your customer to refer to later.
3. Effective Eye Flow Isn't An Accident
Effective eye flow is created by the writer and designer working together to ensure that, wherever the scanner's eye lands, it continues moving and increases reader involvement. What fuels eye flow? It can be a combination of factors, including individual words, type font and size, images, color, and the relative positioning of graphic and copy elements.
Want to learn more about eye flow? Do a search for eye tracking studies that describe eye flow as it applies to print and the Web.
Patrick Fultz, a colleague of mine who is a seasoned direct response designer, uses this equation to explain the value of having your designer and writer team up from the get-go. Fultz says, "Writers and designers generate control-beating results when they work as a team from the start, not just as they cross the finish line." This also holds true when you want your copy and design to entice scanners to read more.
A writer's rough layout can help the designer understand general copy flow, but good designers actually read the copy (!), then use images, graphics, type and color to keep the eye moving through the sales message to the call-to-action. And they suggest copy elements such a violators or footers when they see they're missing.
5. More Tricks Of The Trade
What else can you do to grab a scanner's attention?
- Use involvement devices, such as scratch-offs, zip strips, buttons and scannable QR codes.
- Stop the eye with unexpected images, subject lines or outer envelope teasers.
- Show numbers as numerals not words for quicker and easier scanning.
- Choose images with people in them. People like to look at people — in print and on the Web.
- Use photo captions. Scanners look for them to find out ... "What am I looking at and why is it important?"
To get in the practice of writing and editing for scanners, try this: Visit a Web page or open a mailing or email you didn't write, design or approve. Scan it as a customer would. Where did your eye go first? Is the information in the hot spots powerful enough to keep you engaged? What else attracted your eye? How was your eye flow affected by the elements discussed above?
Now apply what you just learned to your own copy and design. And remember, Scanners Reign!
Pat Friesen writes for direct mail, email, blogs, catalogs, the Web, and other direct response media. She's also a sought-after copy coach, workshop presenter and columnist for Target Marketing magazine. Contact Pat at (913) 341-1211 and firstname.lastname@example.org.