How much copy is too much?

A few weeks ago, a VC friend of mine reached out with an interesting question:

In early days of Cockroach Labs, how much “detail” was on the website before the product officially launched?

She emailed because one of her portfolio companies was stealth. They were wondering how much copy to put on their website, and how much information is too much or too little.

Whether you have a exploding startup or a small business, the words on your website matter. They’re likely the first impressions you’d leave on your future customers. If you’re battling with the same question as the portfolio company, and getting mixed feedback from your network, here is a decision tree on what to do next.

Test copy with target audience only

Your target audience is those you need to convince to pay for your product. So ignore what your uncle, colleagues or your investors say about your website copy, unless your product is built for them.

Let’s say you’re building a modern health insurance company. Do you need approvals from HR, startup founders, or other insurance brokers? In the early days at Cockroach Labs, the target audience was primarily application developers, so the more technical information we had on the website, the more credible we appeared.

The most effective way to find the optimal amount of content on the website is to mock up a few variations (at least 2, ideally 3, but no more than 4), put different logos on the mocks, and present them to your target audience in 1:1 interviews.

A sample question could be “These are some new insurance companies that will launch later this year, which one will make you give up your current provider and why?” and hear what they say.

If you’ve done a good job recruiting, the signals from the interviews should be clear.

But… I have mixed signals

So you’ve recruited participants, listened closely to what they have to say, and at the end of the study, you still don’t know the optimal amount of copy to put on your website.

Take a deep breath. It’s okay because it happens all the time, and sometimes you have to run the same study twice to learn from the experience. Whenever I have mixed signals from my studies, I can trace them back to one of these causes:

  1. Recruiting criteria isn’t specific enough. Re-examine your recruiting screener with your team. Did you screen out the people whom you don’t want to talk to?
  2. Target audience is too broad. If your screener looks right, perhaps your target audience is not narrow enough. In our insurance company example, knowing that the target audience are people who work in human resources department might not be enough. The company size, or the years of experience in the industry can matter.
  3. The amount of information on the website doesn’t make a difference. For some reason, this is the toughest answer to swallow for teams I’ve worked with. If your target audience is specific enough, and you have interviewed the right people, then the mixed signals are telling you that the copy on the website isn’t going to break or seal a deal. What do you do then?

Write from the brand’s vision

What are the core values of your brand? The length of copy and clarity of content are true anchors of the brand’s personality.

If our hypothetical insurance company values transparency, the content on the website should be as thorough as they need to be transparent. If it values cleverness above all, the copy needs to be witty to delight employers and employees alike.

One question that sometimes does the trick: If you can turn your brand into a person, who would that be? Write as if she’s talking through you. Embody his body posture when you type.

Treat the cause, not the symptom

The debate of the amount of the copy on the website is often a symptom of a company experiencing great uncertainty. The real question is: How do we get people to use and pay for our product?

Focus on the needs of your customers, and make the first customers very happy. Because the copy is just an interface.

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