The 20 Percent Edition Nr. 5: Applying Ockham’s Razor to Website Marketing

Hello friends, and welcome to this edition of The 20 Percent.

This week’s breakthrough idea is a methodological principle (and one of my favorite mental models) called the Ockham’s razor.

Suppose that there are two explanations for something. The explanation that requires the least speculation is invariably better. The more assumptions you have to make, the more unlikely it is to be right. 

William of Ockham (or Occam) was a 14th century Franciscan Friar who studied logic. His great insight was that one way you can be wrong with your assumptions is by coming up with too many or too complicated explanations.

Mental models are high-level abstractions of recurring concepts. Once you are familiar with them, you can use them to quickly create a mental picture of a situation, which becomes a model that you can later apply in similar situations.

Super Thinking: The Big Book of Mental Models by Gabriel Weinberg

Being Wrong Less in Marketing

The purpose of applying Ockham’s Razor is to be wrong less. It’s a mental model especially useful in digital marketing that’s incredibly data-driven. When you encounter competing explanations that plausibly explain a set of data equally well, you probably want to choose the simplest one to investigate first.

Headlines and Marketing Communication

Shaving off complicated assumptions finds a breakthrough use in marketing communications (website headlines, advertisements, etc.) where we need to explain sets of complex ideas in new intuitive ways.

Compressing and distilling information (what’s the product, for whom it is, how’s it different from the competition, and more) into a headline boils down to explaining a set of ideas in simple terms, making simple assumptions about its value.

In marketing communication, complicated assumptions usually lead to addressing everybody. But to address everybody is to address nobody.

Using Ockham’s Razor to Create an Effective Headline

A practical tactic for creating outstanding headlines is to look at your explanation of a concept, break it down into its constituent assumptions, and for each one, ask yourself: Does this assumption need to be here? What evidence do I have that it should remain? Is it a false assumption? Moreover, think about your target customers, and focus on what you know to be true about why they prefer to work with you or buy your product.

Take for example this website headline rewrite from Slack:

Image source: Julian Shapiro

The first headline bears the assumption that Slack’s target customers value it as a team collaboration tool. Especially the “your new HQ” part mainly addresses corporate buyers. Is this the right assumption given their diverse audience? What about communities on Slack, and remote teams that use it for synchronous communication?

The second headline trims off the wrong assumptions and focuses on a 2-part header pattern that is product and benefit-focused:

1. What you/ your product or service does

2. How much better do you do it than anyone else

Simplicity Is a Business Attitude

Simplicity shows care, understanding, and effort. Doing the work to distill ideas to simple, validated concepts is to fight back against the pull of entropy. The human mind is messy and given the opportunity complex sentences, and invalid interpretations will leak to your website copy.

Using Ockham’s Razor to Decide on a New Website

Running all of your business operations using a single website is much simpler than using several websites.

It helps search engines understand that you have domain expertise. It helps concentrate ranking signals, such as links from other websites pointing back to you. It also improves many operational aspects of an online business.

Yet, many entrepreneurs unnecessarily segregate their business’s digital presence.

I always recommend to my clients the following: Does this new idea/ project/ podcast or blog really need to be treated as a separate entity? What evidence do we have that we should treat it as such? Is there any feedback from your audience that suggests this is a good idea?

In GoDaddy’s world, where businesses start with a domain name, it’s just so easy to focus more on domains than on actually building a business.

How to Start Being Wrong Less

If you find it challenging to apply Ockham’s razor, you mind find useful the concept of inverse thinking.

After all, the best way to being wrong less is to start being right more. So if you find yourself uncertain about what might be a wrong or complicated assumption, start with what do you certainly know to be true.

Stay inspired,