Does your SEO copy leverage the rule of three?

I originally wrote this post in 2009. Since it’s such a timely topic (I’ll be talking about advanced writing tips during SMX East 2013,) I wanted to dust off the post, revise it and make it just like new. If you’re in NYC October 2nd, I’ll be talking about what writers can learn from neuromarketing, consumer psychology and direct response copywriting. I hope to see you there!

Is three really the magic number?

I’ve gone on stage for over 15 years talking about how people retain things when they read or hear them in “threes.”  Think of the “Conjunction Junction” song from Schoolhouse Rock “Thinking about words and phrases and clauses.”  Or the special summons in the movie “Beetlejuice” (Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice!.)  Or how many informercials repeat the same benefits at the beginning of a segment, in the middle, and at the end.

When I was attending college, my professor told me how to write a scientific journal article: Tell them what you’re going to discuss, discuss it, and summarize the discussion. I’ve obviously never forgotten the advice.

The rule of three is one of those things that are so ingrained in how we, as individuals, think that we don’t even notice the repetition. But it does help drive important information deep inside our brains. According to Sean D’Souza’s post “Harness the Psychological Power of “3” to Improve Communication:”

“The brain finds it relatively easy to grasp threes — elements, colours and fonts. Push that marginally up to four and the brain gets confused about where to look and what to do, and sends the eye scampering like a frisky puppy on a sunny day.

So why does this happen? For that we might have to go back a little to diaper country. As a child, everything you did and learned seemed to be centered around three — A,B,C; 1,2,3; Three blind mice, Three musketeers, Trinity, Three Stooges and Huey, Louie and Dewey. (Quack! Quack! Quack!)”

Another study from the University of Minnesota found that “decision making is simplified when a consumer considers a third, less attractive option” (they call it decoy marketing.)

Plus, this video has examples of “rule of three” taglines (threes seem to be everywhere!)

So yes. Three does seem like a magic number.

Your challenge: Blend the rule of three with your SEO copywriting

Consider this in terms of your SEO copywriting and online content creation.  How can you use the rule of three to your advantage?

  • Create a catchy three-part tagline (“Free shipping. Awesome service. Just for you.”)
  • Separate your copy into three paragraphs
  • Provide three product or service choices (think of the decoy method.)
  • Use “threes” within your copy ” to show action and excitement (“ready, steady, GO!”)
  • Limit your bullet points to just three (oops…but I think you get the idea!)

Give it a try and let me know what you think in the comments below. It’s an easy tip to implement. It’s fun. And it will change how you write SEO copy.

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11 replies
  1. Jacqueline says:

    Hi Heather

    I also heard the same advice at uni, it was in relation to presenting…”tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them, tell them what you told them.” I still find it surprising that few people follow the advice though, especially when it is so effective and simple to put in to practice.

  2. Kevin Carlton says:

    You know what, Heather, whenever I explain to clients how I’ll go about their copy, I often say things like ‘we’ll have a list of 3 points here’ or ‘we’ll group this into 3 panels there’.

    The only explanation I could ever give was that it just seemed right.

    But now I can thrust a copy of this post in their face and say ‘here’s the reason why’.

    BTW Wasn’t it Raphael who completely transformed the art of painting – by doing everything in 3s, triangles or something?

  3. Heather Lloyd-Martin says:

    Kevin, hi!

    I didn’t know that about Raphael – that’s interesting. It is funny how doing things in threes just seems “right,” doesn’t it? I did it for years before stumbling upon the reason. It’s pretty cool, eh? ;)

  4. Philip Harper says:

    I’ve ALWAYS believed in the power of three when describing offers, benefits and features. (see did it again) There is something about the rhythm that just helps it stick. I’ve been writing this ways for years and it’s nice to see this being practised elsewhere.

    Really. Great. Post.


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