The first thing we do, let’s shred all the thesauruses.
A famous scene in the Marx Brothers classic 1935 movie, “A Night at the Opera,” features Groucho reading contract language to Chico: “The party of the first part should be known in this contract as the party of the first part.” Even 80 years ago, poking fun at the verbosity of lawyers was comedy gold.
Representatives of the legal profession would do well to rein in their tendency to populate their websites with abstruse and obtuse terminology, which too often results in written fusillades that are at once unclear and prolix. Case in point: strike the preceding sentence and replace it with: “Attorney websites should be clear and concise.”
As search algorithms, clients and consumers have grown ever more sophisticated, this dictum has evolved from a rule of thumb to a mandatory clause. No longer can online marketing content be stuffed with tags and metadata that hoodwink search engines and force readers to slog through excess verbiage. Internet users (a.k.a. “everybody”) are more discriminating these days; if you don’t immediately grab and hold their attention from the first sentence on, they will abandon your website faster than you can say, “Why are our conversion rates so low?”
Therein lies the challenge. Writing succinct, efficient copy has always required time, effort and skill. More than 350 years ago, French mathematician Blaise Pascal apologized in a letter for his long-windedness, stating, “I would not have made this so long except that I do not have the leisure to make it shorter.”
Anyone who has labored to make every paragraph of marketing content as pithy and precise as possible immediately understands Pascal’s statement. It’s far easier to ramble on for 200 words than it is to craft a tightly written 50-word paragraph that not only conveys the same message but does so more effectively.
So what can an attorney do? For starters, try writing more conversationally – like you would when speaking to a client in person. Visitors to your website aren’t looking for poetry, they’re looking for answers and your time is better spent writing than editing.
After all, 10 words may take an hour today and tomorrow you might crank out a 50-word jewel in 15 minutes. Don’t sweat the clock, and don’t over-edit. Your goal isn’t to write for so long or so many words – it’s to produce excellent content. Fortunately, as literary icon Henry James noted, “Excellence does not require perfection.”