Begin with the Blurb
Begin with the Blurb By Bill Cook ( firstname.lastname@example.org )
You see them all over the Web. Some call them teases, others just call them linked text. Me, I call them blurbs. They usually look something like this:
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Blurbs are those short pieces of linked text you put on a home page or an index page to drive traffic to content within your site. Usually a blurb is written only after the content it's pointing to is already finished; too often, it's written in a few minutes, almost as an afterthought.
Big mistake. Because when you write your blurb before you start developing content - whether it be text, tools, apps or graphics you're actually vetting, editing, focusing and supporting that content all at once with a minimum of time and effort.
Good Blurbs and Bad Blurbs
Here's what a good blurb does:
- It neatly and quickly summarizes the content it points to
- It promises that the content will provide a benefit or reward to the user
- It engages the user with an appropriate tone or "voice"
- It gets clicked
Bad blurbs, by contrast, are long, don't promise the user a clear benefit, and speak to users in an inappropriate voice. And they therefore don't get clicked.
Bad blurbs are sometimes unavoidable. Why? Because bad blurbs often reflect the same lack of focus and organization within the content itself. When you sit down to write a blurb for a finished piece of content...
- Does it take you two paragraphs to summarize the content for a user? The content is probably too complicated and should have been simplified.
- Does it take forever to find one interesting thing to say about the content? The content probably has no real benefit for the user built in to it and should never have been approved for development.
- Does your blurb seem schizophrenic because it contains numerous, unrelated topics? That's probably because the content itself contains numerous, unrelated topics and should've been focused or broken down into several articles before it was published.
In this sense, a blurb is a diagnostic tool; it can tell you whether your content works or not. So why wait until the content is finished before you find this out? Just remember this: Before you create any content for your Web site, write the blurb; before you buy any content, demand that whoever is creating the content submits a blurb first.
Putting Blurbs to Work
Blurbs can be useful in four ways:
- They tell you at a glance whether a piece of Web content will be useful for your site users before you approve it. If the proposed blurb doesn't have a clear user reward or provides no user benefits, scrap it. The content won't have it, either. Congratulations. You've just saved yourself a lot of time producing boring content. If someone tries to sell you some content that they can't summarize neatly in a blurb, pass on the purchase.
- They help you shape and develop that Web content once you've given it the green light. That high school English teacher who said a short thesis statement can organize all your ideas was right. Let your blurb be your thesis, whether you're creating text, tools, games or graphics. Refer to your blurb while you work. Are you getting off-track? Are you adding additional topics or purposes or features that detract from your initial goal? Are you really delivering the simple benefit that your blurb promises? Resist the temptation to go back and rework your blurb so that it matches your shifting content. Fix the content instead.
- They give all members of the content-creation team - marketers, producers, writers, designers and programmers - a shared idea as to the purpose and tone of the new content. Reducing the project development to a clear two-sentence form ensures everyone is on the same page and has the same goal. This not only reduces interpretation errors, but it can also tell all team members how the final project should appear just through the tone. Is the content playful or serious? Is it aimed at teenagers or businessmen? The blurb's tone tells all.
- They drive traffic from the home page or index page to that content once it's published. If you've taken the time to write a compelling blurb before creating the content, the clicks will come. Even better, the users will find the content useful and will return to your site for more of the same. Nice, huh?
So now you know to create your blurb before your content. But how do you actually write the darn thing? Here are some tips. Your blurb won't necessarily have all of these ingredients, but a good one will have at least one or two of them.
Make a promise
Remember this: Most people constantly operate in "so what?" mode. To break through this shell of "so what?," let your users know right away that your content addresses their specific interests. How? Make sure your blurb contains a promise.
A blurb with a specific promise with real value will get a click. The promise doesn't need to be overt, but it needs to be there. Take a look at the following blurbs:
It's the most popular show on television.
News Click here to read about all things "Survivor"!
News We know who got the boot this week. Do you?
The first blurb is a good example of how information itself is not persuasive. It's a statement, not a promise. The second blurb is better, but its promise is vague (and that exclamation point isn't fooling anyone).
The third blurb is best. The promise is clear - "click here and we'll tell you which sucker is heading home."
A question is always better than a superfluous exclamation point, by the way. They call these things "teases" for a reason. A real promise creates real suspense, and a real blurb promises a real reward.
Created: April 20, 2001
Revised: April 20, 2001