January 28, 2008
Blog Entry

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

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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!

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