The "Inverted Pyramid" Approach to Web Copy

Thu, Oct 29, 2009

Copywriting

Anyone who reads the newspaper or any news site online is familiar with the inverted pyramid approach to writing, even though they may not know it by that name.  The inverted pyramid approach is one of the most effective writing styles for web copy and focuses on getting all the important facts out in the first sentence or paragraphs.  This allows the writer to add more detail as they go down.

When I use the inverted pyramid style of writing, I group my article into three main parts: the main point, details, and the least important information.  It is a commonly-used template for news articles and press releases, memos, articles, and essays, but you can also use this template when making your sales letter or any other kind of web marketing copy.

This style of writing is useful in writing meta descriptions, a good example of which is Google Snippets, since Google displays meta descriptions verbatim according to how they are written in the meta description tag.  The pyramid approach helps website owners like me increase traffic to their sites apart from writing convincing sales copies to promote or sell products online.

Why the inverted pyramid works

The main reason this style of copywriting is effective is because most people using the Internet as their source of information do not have time to read through page-long descriptions of products.  Putting all the important information–the what, where, when and the who-—in the first paragraph is enough to give them an overview of what the entire article or sales letter is about.  As long as you make the first few sentences interesting enough, you can use it to lure the reader into finishing the whole article.  Even if the reader has no intention from the outset of finishing my article, I make sure that they will at least walk away with the most important information it contains by placing such information at the top.

Pros and cons of using the inverted pyramid

While the inverted pyramid is considered the best writing style for giving all the facts in one quick serving, it also has its share of critics.  Some say that it is outdated, boring, and an artless form of writing.  Most authors say that the pyramid is the anti-story, and it deprives the reader of an exciting climax and a satisfying conclusion because it does not follow the traditional beginning, middle, and end sequence of traditional storytelling.  In short, the inverted pyramid strips the story to the bare bones and robs it of the emotional dynamic  that most people look for in a story or an essay.

However, most readers, I believe, appreciate the concise nature of the inverted pyramid. Why? Because online readers are not online to read.  In most cases, they are online to browse or shop, and only a rare few are there to read anything lengthy down to the very last letter.  Few online readers ever scroll down below the fold.  In most cases, they read only the top of the page, which makes the inverted pyramid style the perfect choice for Internet users.  Its structure also makes it perfect for online news articles that are laid out according to the classic method seen in traditional printed newspapers.  It also helps writers avoid writing overly-long articles.

The inverted pyramid and marketing copy

If you are making copy for your product, it is easy to use this template as the base.  The simplest way would be to start with the most important feature about your product or service, followed by an explanation of the benefits of the product.  Follow this up with the second most important feature of your product, its benefits, and so on.  Another alternative would be to state all the important features in the first paragraph and elaborate on these as you go down.  Usually background facts are placed on the last portion of the article.

How to avoid boring copy using the inverted pyramid

While being criticized as an artless form of writing devoid of emotion, you can avoid writing boring copy using such techniques as:

  • using exclamation points to drive home the intended message
  • using different fonts and sizes to make the sales copy more interesting to read
  • use shorter lines to make the copy more readable
  • avoiding long paragraphs and
  • using only everyday words–avoid jargon

When it comes to using the inverted pyramid for copywriting, you have the advantage of being able to stop anywhere because all the important information has already been shared at the start of the article. However, this does not mean that you can do away with good description and explanation.  If you want to produce good copy, providing all the needed information along with thorough and clear description is always important.

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8 Responses to “The "Inverted Pyramid" Approach to Web Copy”

  1. Justin Says:

    Nice article! The only thing I don’t agree with are your tips on avoiding boring copy.

    Try to keep the use of exclamation marks at a minimum, using too many fonts and font colours will really detract from the actual content. Look at your post, it’s perfect, there’s the headers, and the text font. Keeping it simple is how you should approach fonts and most online copy.

    Also, using lists is a great look.
    .-= Justin´s last blog ..Finally! I finished the free eBook =-.

    Reply

  2. Robert Says:

    Online readers scan quickly–nothing’s easier than to click away to something else. That’s why copywriters need to gather their attention quickly and at the top of the page, preferably in the first sentence.
    .-= Robert´s last blog ..So, How Does a College Student Save $372 Per Year on Car Insurance? =-.

    Reply

  3. Paul Says:

    Interesting entry on using different size for fonts. Couldn’t agree more. Thanks for sharing this buddy.

    Reply

  4. Samantha Says:

    I’d like to try this approach and see if I get more hits. I also heard from fellow blogger that this is far by the most effective writing styles for web copy.

    Reply

  5. Toto Says:

    Got your point! I see this as very effective web copy. From the reader’s perpective, this approach works best for readers these days want to get the facts straight away.

    Reply

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