Over-riding the F Shape in Copywriting

Having read a number of posts while researching the latest insights into the notorious F Shape pattern (based on Jakob Nielsen’s Eye-Tracking Studies in 2006), I have come to the realization that I’ve been writing for the web since the 1980s!

And I have learnt my craft from some of the greatest web writers of the 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s — David Abbott, Bill Bernbach, Sam Scali, John Bevins, Ron Mather, Peter Carey, Susie Henry, Mary Wear and Barbara Nokes.

In case you’re not familiar with the F-Shape study, heatmaps from Jakob Nielsen eyetracking studies showed areas where users looked the most are colored red; the yellow areas indicate fewer views, followed by the least-viewed blue areas. Gray areas didn’t attract any fixations. As you can see from these heatmap images, there was a fair bit of browsing, and but very little of the copy was red, therefore read.

Whenever I present these findings to my students and ask them, “what is the moral to this story?”, many are silent while the rest jump to the conclusion that you have to write according to the F Shape.

Worse still, I recently read a piece by a content mechanist declaring the very same conclusion and, with all due respect

I thought





And felt feelings of deep concern for neophyte copywriters








What if the copy chosen in the Neilsen studies were highly readable, informative, meaningful, engaging and thus rewarding to read? We all love a good read, so it is highly likely that there would be a whole lot more red all over the copy. In short, the moral to the F-Shape study is this:

The whole point of the F Shape is to over-ride it.

Like many of us “classic” writers, Neil Patel also questions the blinkered approach of writing to the F Shape. Neil is a web-expert recognized as a top 100 entrepreneur under the age of 30 by President Obama and one of the top 100 entrepreneurs under the age of 35 by the United Nations. He rightly focuses our attention on eight take-aways in his post, 8 Powerful Takeaways from Eye Tracking Studies (April 16, 2014):

1. Put your most valuable content above the fold

Not in the first line of your copy (this is usually impossible, and only applies to your SEO keyword or phrase).

 2. Put calls to action at the bottom of the page

That stands to reason, you don’t ask somebody to marry you immediately after you introduce yourself.

3. Create big, bold headlines

And make sure the point of the content is clear, concise and compelling enough to make them dip into the copy.

4. Chunk your information

Yes, but turning that information into knowledge and insight, and arranging it into narrative logic is superior writing.

5. Leave a lot of white space

Every great art director and typographer has made white space an art form. It is the silence between the notes that makes the music.

6. Give importance to the left side of your page

Mainly because we have been screen trained to read in that way, apart for the fact that Western writing reads from left to right.

7. Get rid of banners

Yes please, it’s always communication wisdom to focus the mind of the reader by minimising distractions from the main point.

8. Use pictures of people

As long as they’re real people, try to avoid the stock standard plastic expressions you get from the majority of stock shots.

But even if you get eight out of eight, there’s still no guarantee you will turn a browser into a reader. It comes down to one fact you can remember, and abide by, every writing day of your life:

“The real fact of the matter is that nobody reads ads. People read what interests them, and sometimes it’s an ad.”

That was said last century by the Socrates of San Francisco, Howard Luck Gossage. Translate that into today’s talk and it goes like this:

“Nobody wants to read your story. They only read what’s meaningful to them.”

That is regularly said this century by yours truly in all my copywriting courses. It’s a fact, because we have all been there. Whether you write for online or off-line publications, the same copywriting principle applies this century as it did last century  —

  • Every element of copy has just one purpose: to get the first sentence read.
  • And the purpose of the first sentence is to get the second sentence read.
  • And the purpose of the second sentence is to get the third sentence read.
  • And the purpose of the third sentence is to get the fourth sentence read.
  • And so on until the final full stop and the reader leaves rewarded for the giving of their precious time.

So every word you choose, and every sentence you compose with those words, and every propositional content carried in those sentences must be interesting, useful, meaningful, entertaining, instructive, and, here’s the extra bit of genius, even inspiring and insightful.

Of course, this is all easier said than done unless you know exactly what you’re doing.

That’s where my online copywriting course comes in. The latest timetable is up and running and ready to take your booking now

Originally posted 2016-08-26 10:26:40.

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