Persuasive Web: Where Psychology Meets Conversion

DAY 25: When Time Is a Factor, How Much Copy Is Too Much Copy?

Posted in 30 Days of Persuasion by persuasiveweb on June 25, 2009

Mechanical_StopwatchI’ve been a web writer for quite a few years now, and I’ve developed a list of pet peeves along the way. It’s a short list of pet peeves, thankfully — yes, I’m one of those annoying people who loves what she does more with each new day — but it is a list nonetheless. And at the top of that list is this statement, commonly made by marketing managers or executives reviewing a website’s copy:

“There’s too much copy on this site! Let’s just get to the point.”

Balance that bit of opinion-based criticism with this statement we often hear from users in usability studies:

“I need info. Where is it? Why can’t you just tell me what I need to know?!”

Given that we’re sticklers for usability around here, I tend to listen a bit more to the frustrations of our users regarding copy quantity than to management. (Call me crazy! ;)) As a result, I lean more in the direction of writing additional content — and, of course, positioning that content in non-interruptive but easily accessible ways 🙂 — than in the “get to the point” direction. 

But am I right?

Are study user groups right?

Are managers right?

And, hey, you have an opinion on the subject. Are you right?

That really brings us to the obvious, oft-debated question: How much copy is enough copy on a website… and how much is too much?

The answer: Ha ha ha! Were you really expecting an answer here? I mean, how could there be just one answer? We’re dealing with people — so there’s always an exception (or a whole massive group of exceptions). But it would be nice to get closer to an answer… So let’s ask a better question. 

The better question: When my users are on my site and are trying to find a product without wasting their time sorting through content, how much copy is enough copy… and how much is too much? Now that’s a question we (with the help of Chowdhury, Ratneshwar, Mohanty and their lovely recent research) can answer.

Time-Harried Shoppers: Crafting Enough Copy to Help Users Make Decisions as Fast as They’d Like

Not everyone makes decisions the same way under the best of circumstances — nevermind when they’re uber-busy. The truth is that, when consumers need to make decisions quickly, time becomes a hugely influential factor in their choice processes. Chowdhury, Ratneshwar and Mohanty showed us (in 2009) that consumers will even alter their preferences, switch brands or fail to buy products when hurriedness enters into the equation

That’s right: Time is an influencer. Actually, it’s both an influencer and a barrier. (Double-edge swords are fun!) A lack of time can prevent people from making decisions… That said, when considered during your site’s content development, a user’s lack of time can actually work in your favour and help to persuade your users. 

Time is an influencer.

Here’s how time influences the decision-making of the 2 primary groups of consumers, Maximizers and Satisficers.

  • MAXIMIZERS – This group of consumers strives to make the best decisions possible and seek out content to help them make those decisions. Maximizers arebusy-shopper born window shoppers: the more options you present to them, the more time they’ll spend considering those options. When pressured for time, maximizers feel it heavily and may make a rapid decision accordingly,… but they’re more likely to feel regret about those decisions and change their minds later, if given the opportunity to do so. 
  • SATISFICERS – This group of consumers is willing to settle for decisions that are adequate rather than perfect. These folks like to get to the point. When pressured for time, satisficers hold up well, making rapid decisions with little regret; unfortunately, satisficers may be more prone to making the wrong decisions (given that they are happy with “good enough” and may not consider what “good enough” fails to address). 

Picture 3If you’re building a website for satisficers who may be rushed, less copy/content is fine-and-dandy (as are fewer options). Just get to the point — you’ll make satisficers happy enough to make a purchasing decision. (Just hope that they don’t have a maximizer partner at home to point out why their decision was not good enough and force them to return the purchased item to you.)

If you’re building a website for maximizers who may be rushed, you need to be a bit more careful with the amountPicture 1 of copy you choose to put on or cut from your site… not to mention how you organize/design that copy. Maximizers require enough content to make them feel that they can make the best decision because they know all the facts and are 100% informed of their options. …But when they’re busy, maximizers need to find a balance between getting enough content to feel confident and not getting so much content that they feel they won’t become 100% informed (because they don’t have enough time to read everything!), can’t make the best decision and, as a result, may not buy at all. 

Make sense? The primary point I’m getting at, without saying it, is that you have to know if the majority of your site’s visitors are satisficers or maximizers, and you have to write content for them

Example Site: Designed for Satisficers

This website is one of the top-converting sites today and is made, largely, for quick purchases rather than well-researched purchases — not too surprising for flower-ordering/-delivery sites. That is, it’s designed as if it’s made for satisficers first, maximizers second.

Picture 5










 can still help maximizers (rushed or not). But that’s not what the home page is for. That’s what the rest of the entire site is for. (Pretty smart, if satisficers are the primary visitors to this site.)

Example Site: Designed for Maximizers

Top-converting provides more content to help maximizers find the info they want to find… and purchase it only when they’re actually ready to. (That is, not from the home page.)

Picture 7











At the end of the day, of course, as you’ve already guessed, building a site for satisficers makes less sense than building a site for maximizers. Why? Because satisficers are happy with “good enough”. It’s the maximizers who give a damn what you’ve got for info. It’s the maximizers you can actually help with your site’s copy. So give ’em what they need… and see how the amount of copy you place can lead to better conversions thanks to better persuasion. 



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