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The Inverted Pyramid Theory of Web Copy

Each online landing page you write should start with a headline that grabs the attention both graphically and conceptually. This should be followed by a strong statement to explain your headline and tempt the reader to engage with the details that follow. This is the classic practice of the inverted pyramid theory that has proved a successful formula since long before the web was on the scene.

Following the newspaper story model, the theory suggests that successful web copy should start with the conclusion and end with the details.

It seems like the newspaper men and women of yesteryear figured out the answer to great web copy long before the web was around.

The basic idea is that, to pull people successfully into your story, you have to follow a kind of three step dance:

  • Conclusion: The first step is to give a big conclusion.
  • Expansion: Then you offer just a quick summary of the story.
  • Full Story: Then you provide all the details of the story in full.

So to use one famous newspaper headline as an example:


Giant liner Titanic is lost off the New Foundland Coast. 866 rescued by Carpathia but probably 1250 perish.

Or to use another example that I took from the BBC recently:


The Nobel Prize for physiology or medicine has been split two ways for groundbreaking work on parasitic diseases. William C Campbell and Satoshi Ōmura found a new way of tackling infections caused by roundworm parasites and Youyou Tu shares the prize for her discovery of a therapy against malaria.

In both cases, the outcome is the first thing you see and, as David Ogilvy claimed in his famous Lemon ad for Volkswagen: if people are inspired by the headline, they will need just a little more info before deciding to dive into the depths of the full story (excuse the pun, no disrespect intended, it just came out that way).

Frank Orman explains how @David_Ogilvy's Inverted Pyramid Theory works for #webcopy too. Click To Tweet

In the same way, when it comes to writing copy for our clients’ websites, I always suggest the inverted pyramid strategy where we start the copy for each page with a main headline that is designed to attract attention and to tell the reader a little more about what this page or the product is all about, before going into the full whack with all the relevant details.

So, for example, if you were a ski holiday operator and you featured a few destination pages on your site, on your Alps Page, instead of just having a header such as “ALPS” in the spirit of the inverted pyramid, how about something like:

Inspiring Ski Adventures in the Alps

And then a little bit of an expansion such as:

We at ABC Ski are proud to offer you some of the most exciting and unique ski experiences in the Alps. Each of our itineraries was born of our eternal quest to create a holiday that is different and an experience that inspires. Here is our collection of ideas that we love best. We hope that you find one that you love too!

And then, beyond that, you can show your portfolio of holidays interspersed with more copy that provides more of the details that matter to your customers.

Simple? Obvious?

I agree. The theory is a great way of stating the obvious.

Except, as obvious as it might sound, I am still amazed at how few websites follow this basic principle. Even today, I see so many websites that still provide their readers with one huge wall of frightening and burdensome text on most pages of the site.

Usually there are excellent technical reasons why these pages can’t be adapted to make them more human friendly. And usually the more impressive and complex website systems are the ones that are least flexible when it comes to catering for those rather irritating by-products of development called “people” (who are your potential customers).

But, as you know, your customers are not really interested in any technical reasons why not. From our point of view, the only thing that one should care about is how to write great sales copy, and how to present it in the inverted pyramid format so that it’s super easy to digest and will inspire your readers into action and into sales.

This is something worth thinking about.
And this is something worth fighting for.
It’s what we do for our clients every day, because it works.

If you are looking to implement this powerful three step dance strategy into your own company website (both in terms of copy and in terms of page design and layout) or if you are looking to make your website work harder for you, then give me a call to find out if we can make excellent dance partners.

Want to dance?


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