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Join Our Research Team at DMA 2014
Jan 28, 2008
Blog Post

SherpaBlog: How to Improve Bullet Point Copywriting - 2 Critical Rules

SUMMARY: No summary available.
By Anne Holland, Content Director

As a young copywriter, I used to pop bullet points into the middle of long direct mail letters to break up the prose on the page, catch and re-engage the eye.

These days -- especially in email and online -- bullet points are the most-read copy on the page. Bullet points are doing the heavy lifting, and ours eyes skip over prose nearly entirely. I’ve learned two rules from years of eyetracking tests, search marketing, landing page construction and email copywriting that you may find useful. 

Bullet point success is all about putting your most powerful copy where the human eye is most likely to see it as it scans the page (or screen.)  You’re not controlling the eye so much as you are letting the eye’s known habits control where you place copy. Two ways to do this:

#1. Reorganize your list

Copywriters write numbered or bulleted lists in order of importance. The first is usually the most important and the last is the least important. The problem is that the eye doesn’t see importance that way. The eye sees the top two bullets. Then it often skips down to the very last bullet. And then it skips merrily on its way to someplace else on the page. Middle bullets are often ignored completely.

So, organize your bullet lists like this:
o Most important point
o Second most important point
o Less important point
o Less important point
o Third most important point

#2. Put the keywords first

When people scan lists they are not reading prose, so you cannot write a list as if it were prose. You also can’t (heaven forbid) start each bullet with the exact same word or even words starting with the first same letter of the alphabet, unless you want the rest of the bullet content to be ignored or all swim together into an unidentified blur.

Here are the words that the eye tends to read on a bulleted list (I put the words it doesn’t read as "blah blah blah")

o Word word word word blah
o Word word word blah blah
o Word blah blah blah blah
o Blah blah blah blah blah
o Word word blah blah blah

If you put your best words -- especially ones that look physically different from each other by starting with different first letters (again, catch attention by breaking patterns) -- in the spots I marked as “Word,” your copy is immediately more powerful.

In practical terms, I usually find it’s easiest to write a bullet point list as I would normally do it, to get it out on paper for my own working needs.  Then I re-craft and edit it, moving words, positions and tweaking verbiage until I get it right for the reading eye.

Got any copywriting tips that work for you that you would like to share with Sherpa readers? Comment below!

See Also:

Comments about this Blog Entry

Jan 28, 2008 - Matthew Caldwell of Yesmail says:
Great article Anne! I especially like hard, direct directions, this hits the mark. Kudos!


Jan 28, 2008 - Lisa Banks of SEO Advantage says:
Great post, Anne! As a copywriter, I'm often thinking of how to get the most powerful points into bullets and subheadings. One thing to also keep in mind when writing bullet points is the length - both the number of bullets and the length of each. It's easy to use bullets when you're listing features that can be expressed in brief words, but having too many means the reader glosses over more points in the middle. Try to break them up into sections of 3-5 bullets each under a descriptive subheading. And for points that need more explanation, (benefit statements can go 2 lines or longer sometimes), use only a few bullets and get the designer to keep a line space between each - otherwise your bullets start to look like a paragraph!


Jan 28, 2008 - Jim Lane of 124c41 says:
The irony of it: When people scan lists they are not reading prose, so you cannot write a list as if it were prose. You also can’t (heaven forbid) start each bullet with the exact same word or even words starting with the first same letter of the alphabet, unless you want the rest of the bullet content to be ignored or all swim together into an unidentified blur. So, organize your bullet lists like this: o Most o Second o Less important point o Less important point o Third


Jan 28, 2008 - Shel Horowitz, ethical marketing consultant/author of http://www.frugalmarketing.com says:
Yes, Anne, this coincides with my own informal observations. The middle bullets get much less attention, and have to rely much more on the first 1-2 words. and you're the first person I've seen writing about this. Bravo.


Jan 29, 2008 - Kelly Robbins of The Copywriting Institute says:
Great Article Anne, The energy that goes into writing good bullet points can be refined even more with the knowledge you've shared. The fact that middle bullet points are ignored almost completely at first glance defies logic. Order of importance seems to be the most natural way to write. Great to know! Thanks for sharing!


Jan 29, 2008 - Phyllis Doran of Trimble says:
Could someone please do a session on copy editing for CEOs? I find that no matter what I do, I have my copy edited by someone, which invariably included rearranging bullets! As I once heard, there is only one desire greater than lust...and that is the desire to edit someone else's copy!


Jan 30, 2008 - Stephen Tucker of Saepio Technologies says:
Anne, Great stuff. This approach is simple and straight forward and has the added benefit of helping us identify bullet points that may not need to be included in the first place. Thanks for the info.



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