The insights about what you SAY vs. what you DO

Ramit Sethi

I love getting comments like this:

“TLDR, this is too long. You ever heard of an editor?”

It makes sense that people ask for shorter versions. They’re busy! They need to get through all this material! Can’t you just summarize it?

It turns out that reality is very different. In fact, what really happens is people CLAIM they want short, “just the facts, ma’am” writing…but when you study their behavior, they respond very differently.

In repeated testing with tens of thousands of data points, my long copy outperforms shorter versions. For example, I recently ran a test of 4 entirely different versions of an email. There were long versions, short versions, and minor variations on each.

In fact, the longest version won, beating out the next-best-email by nearly 50%…in revenue.

Length wasn’t the only reason it won, but I know from repeated testing (including having a 47-page sales page) that what people claim vs. what they do is often very different.

This is the area that I’m fascinated with: what we say vs. what we do. We all “know” that we should go to the gym…so why don’t we?

So I wanted to dig into this example of writing long pieces to show why I do it — and why it works.

Beyond pure performance, and the fact that writing detailed material sets me apart from “Top 10 ___” writers, there’s also another reason I love to write longer pieces.

They’re a barrier to useless “skimmers.”

Skimmers are people who treat material like popcorn…who open up their RSS readers every morning to get their fill, then move on to the next blog, rarely implementing anything. They treat my material as intellectual entertainment and I want them off my site.

Besides taunting them, one way is to write more detailed material than most “easy-to-read” blogs. After they skip 2-3 of my posts, they tend to unsubscribe — which is GREAT! There are better sites out there for them, and neither of us needs to waste the other’s time.

But for the people who are going to take action…they love articles like this (networking) and this (how to stand out to hiring managers). Yes, they may take 3x longer to read….but you can get 5x the results. This is Disproportionate Results in action.

You can use this principle in many areas of life. For example, you can use barriers…

The idea of focusing on a smaller number of higher-quality people is something that can have powerful effects. Marketers love to talk about it, but few follow through. (This is understandable: After all, would you rather have an email list 100,000 people or 10,000? What if the 10,000-person list was worth 100x the larger list?)

Note: This is not just about email lists. Substitute “friends” or “fans” or virtually anything for “email list” above.

Interview: Psychological Insights About Human Behavior

Here’s an excerpt from an interview I recently did:

People say, “TLDR, this is too long. You ever heard of an editor?” And I said, “It’s interesting you say that among 280 other positive comments. This site’s probably not right for you if the length’s a concern.” The truth is, and we know this from plenty data analysis from video and video conversion- all kinds of stuff; long copy- that if people are interested and engaged in the material, there’s almost no length that is too long.

What that person is doing is basically raising his hand and saying, “I’m going to treat your site like commodity information, and I just want a quick transcript to, in his words, “skim it”. Why does he deserve to read and watch the material that you put so much time into? I think it’s very important for us, if we are indeed creating the best material for our students and for our readers, to demand as much of them as they demand of us. And when we do that, yes we may get fewer fans and follows and readers up front, but the quality of those people is second to none. And that’s really what I’m talking about all of today, is that’ it’s not just about quantity- it’s really, really about quality. And if you can find those readers, the ones who are actually engaging with your material, it’s often better to have, say, 5,000 of those than 50,000 non-engaged skimmers.

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  1. avatar

    Just FYI, the email submit redirects to the private list index page. There is no apparent link to the interview you speak of.

    • avatar
      Ramit Sethi

      Will fix this ASAP. Thanks Mike.

  2. avatar

    I love this Ramit! Recently I was told I should write shorter posts for SEO purposes. But is SEO worth sacrificing your content?

  3. avatar

    Ramit: Mike is right. The link redirects to your private list index, but there’s no obvious link to the interview.

  4. avatar
    Financial Advice for Young Professionals

    Content is king. I think your longer articles did well because the content was good. It’s hard to pack good content in 400 words or less 🙂

  5. avatar
    Nissim Nabar

    Are the links to Networking and Standing out to hiring managers the same? I guess there might be an error there. Both are taking me to ‘What the Pros Know About Networking’ article.


  6. avatar

    A few months back, someone emailed me and said: “Who has time to watch video these days? A text version that I could skim and get the information that I want from the article in a minute or so would be much better.” You’ll be happy to know that I responded with the only proper comment. “Please unsubscribe.”

    • avatar

      Ouch, isn’t the customer always right? or in this case the reader? 😉

  7. avatar

    Ramit, out of curiousity, how do you know if someone joining one of your courses has credit card debt?

    I consider myself “credit card debt free” because I pay in full every month, but at any given moment, my credit report typically shows a pretty hefty balance. Since I do this to earn rewards points — based a suggestion in your book — I assume this is *not* what you mean by “having credit card debt.”

    So, how do you know?

  8. avatar

    I think the snarky blog comments are also a way to shift blame, from the reader to the author.

    “It’s not MY fault that I don’t have the patience/interest/intelligence to read and digest a long blog post. It’s YOUR fault for using too many words!”

  9. avatar

    This can apply to receiving criticism too. People love to tell other (often more successful) people that doing it a different way would be better. LOL. For example: There is a friend who always tells me my websites are too ugly (too many ads) Yet, he has ZERO revenue generating sites.

    I just don’t know what to say to that kind of criticism. You have to go by what works not what ‘makes sense’ or as you put it, “what people say vs what they do”.

  10. avatar
    The Joe Sweeney

    Ramit: Well written. When I’ve asked my blog readers for feedback, most comment on wanting more personal stories and specific topics they want to hear more about. That said there are always a few who ask for “shorter posts” which didn’t bother me at the time but I now realize those comments were the conversational equvilent of saying, “please hurry up and get to the point I’m losing interest” (how rude) to which I think Derek hits the nail on the head with the proper response and they should be redirected to the Drudge Report or the nearest copy of USA Today. Cheers & looking forward to your next lengthy post. Best regards, Joe

  11. avatar

    Please sign me up for your blog.