How Fluff is Driving Away Your Viewers

Many websites try to win over a users heart through self-promotional welcome messages that often contain very little useful information. It's no surprise that many (nay, everyone) will ignore this copy, but did you realize that useless fluff can actually prevent users from the actual important stuff?

Many websites try to win over a users heart through self-promotional welcome messages that often contain very little useful information. It’s no surprise that many (nay, everyone) will ignore this copy, but did you realize that useless fluff can actually prevent users from the actual important stuff?

How Fluff Is Hurting Your Site

Fluff and Filler copy have gotten their fair share of nicknames from prominent names in the UX field. Steve Krug sometimes refers to it as “Happy Talk”, Jakob Nielsen calls it “Blah-Blah Text”. What it really is though is useless filler text. It contains no information a user is actually looking for.

The Fluff itself isn’t hurting your site, but the effect of fluff certainly is. When you have a lot of useless information, a user skips over it and also ignores important information under the assumption that it is also useless. If a user can’t find the answer to their question, they leave to find it elsewhere. It doesn’t matter if your website addresses the problem or not. Any important information included in copy that appears to be useless is highly likely to be skipped entirely.

Less Really Is More

It’s cliché, but it’s true. By saying less, users really do obtain more information.

How Much is Too Much, and How Much is Too Little? It’s an impossible question to answer for every website, but as few words should be used to convey as much useful information as possible.

Steve Krug has a strategy for cutting down on copy in which he removes half the words from a page, and then removes half of what is left. Jakob Nielsen makes the point that studies show removing half of a website’s words doubles the amount of information users get.

You Can’t Afford a Welcome Mat at the Front Door

The biggest mistake made with fluff is arguably the welcome copy on the home page of a website. Almost all of it is useless self promotion or instructions. Users skip over welcome messages, and if instructions are needed something is probably wrong with the site.

Users don’t come to a site for a nice cozy stay like a guest does to your home. Users treat websites much more like a fast-food service. Get in, get out, get on with your life.

Don’t put out the welcome mat to make them feel good, get them on their way to whatever it is that’s important. Ditch the fluff and get straight to the point, your viewers will actually appreciate not having to scour your site for what they need.

Don’t Remove Too Much

Welcome messages tend to be bad, and fluff is certainly useless, but don’t go overboard with copy reduction. A home page should clearly convey the purpose for an entire site, and pages should explain what they contain and why it’s important.

Typically, a sites purpose can be reduced to a tag line (I’ve spoken briefly on taglines here), a description that explains the point quickly. A Logo is enough to tell a user where they are—it’s senseless explaining to your viewer they are on SoAndSo.com if they see “SoAndSo” in the banner.

The purpose of a page can typically be reduced to one or two sentences. A quick lead sentence that explains what’s on the page is generally enough to get a user on their way. If you just hop straight into statistics and information without context, you might actually confuse a user.

Help your viewers find what they’re looking for. If they feel like some of your copy is useless, they’ll continue to skip over parts that they actually want, and will leave your site disappointed. Cut down on daunting blocks of text wherever possible, and get straight to the point.

About the Author

David Leggett

David Leggett is a designer, developer, and builder of things. He currently resides as Director of Marketing and Design at Python Safety.

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19 Comments

  • Ashraf Ali Reply

    This post would be useful if it would include screenshots of websites that represent the same ideas you guys are actually looking into.

  • David Leggett Reply

    @Ashraf Ali: I think it’s a bit unfair to call attention to websites I believe are “doing it wrong”. It’s so easy to focus on the sites that are doing it wrong and miss out on the things they’re doing right. As Steve Krug so well puts it, “It’s like gold: a handful of ways to get the ball in the hold, a million ways not to.”

    I like to focus on sites doing it right rather than nitpick the wrongs around the web.

  • Eric D. Greene (artist) Reply

    I think the better approach is as David says – focus on the sites that are doing it *right*!

    Good article. It makes me rethink my own ‘welcome’ messages. I’ve never felt comfortable doing those. So cheesy and wastes peoples time…

  • Janko Reply

    Excellent points. I have an useless welcome message on my blog *blush*. It will go away with my next redesign which I already planned.

  • Jesse Skeens Reply

    Timely article as I’m redesigning my site and was considering keeping the opening copy shorter. Would have been nice to have some examples but I understand the reason why you didn’t.

  • Jack M Reply

    I think home pages are the worst culprit of “fluff”. Studies show that websites are similar to Trade Show Booths – you have about 2 – 3 seconds to convince someone that you have something they need. So, basically, get to the point.

  • Marie Poulin Reply

    Great article! Useful advice for both designers and clients alike!

  • Kev Reply

    I’ll second Ashraf’s comment about having screenshots. It’s not like you’d be saying the whole site is shite by pointing out examples, you’d just be saying that in your opinion some aspect could use improvement in a particular area. That’s legit and fair. This post makes good points but without the actual examples they’re pretty much just platitudes. Show us the goods!

  • David Reply

    I read Steve Krug’s book and when he covered this topic it was a real eye opener. It is really like ‘seeing the light’. Had a 2.5 paragraph welcome block on a homepage of a site I run and we have downsized it to 1 short sentence and a list of important links. Does exactly the same thing as the 2.5 paragraphs, but in less space (which the homepage always has trouble with) and conveys it alot quicker and easier. People read it.

  • nate Reply

    “It’s like gold: a handful of ways to get the ball in the hold, a million ways not to”

    I had to read that three time to figure out what you were talking about

  • John Hyde Reply

    @nate – I think he means “golf” – not gold. Think about the keys on an english keyboard – D and F are neighbours.

    Then he means “hole” (not “hold”).

    From the original quote:

    “Designing, building, and maintaining a great web site isn’t easy. It’s like golf: a handful of ways to get the ball in the hole, a million ways not to. Anyone who gets it half right has my admiration.”

  • Florian Dellé Reply

    Interesting article.

    Sometimes it is not easy to reduce the content to a minimum. Especially when you work on an article, you should give yourself time, to rethink what you have written. Make a break and come back later to revise it.

  • nebulous Reply

    I agree, Some visual examples would definitely make this article more interesting.

  • Christle Reply

    great info. thanx! This gives me a better idea on what to do…basically, get right to the point.

  • Aaron W. Herd Reply

    We see a lot of this at my organization. After reading your first paragraph, I have a feeling many of them might say, “Yeah, but MY carefully written 8-paragraph introduction isn’t fluff!”

    Just because something is important/has meaning to US, doesn’t mean it’s important/means anything to our VISITORS.

    It can be hard to swallow, but we’ve got to remember that our visitors just don’t care about our site–beyond how it can benefit them and answer their immediate questions.

  • John – Sage Audio Reply

    I am in complete agreement about removing “fluff” from a website. It does increase visitor comprehension and also can help increase presence in search engines. Plus it gives visitors the information they need without boring them!

  • online mastering Reply

    When you work with a website it is very important to try and view the website as would a visitor looking for a service.Objectivity is not easy to have if you put your site together so it can be good getting some clients to give you a quick low down on what they think is information that is not needed.

    cheers

  • Lisa Larsson Reply

    @John Hyde: Thanx for explaining the quote! I also had trouble with it… “only a few ways of getting gold in you hands”?! It makes a lot more sence now:)

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