How Fluff is Driving Away Your Viewers

April 21st, 2009
Published on
April 21st, 2009

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.

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