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The Curse of Knowledge

June 24, 2021
Matt Southam

It may seem odd to say that knowledge is a curse but stick with me on this one.

We have recently been talking about CRO, which is conversion rate optimisation. CRO is the process of making sure visitors to your website take an action that you define.
This action could be filling in a contact form, purchasing a product or downloading a free guide.

One of our top tips for CRO is making sure your copy, and especially your headlines, are engaging.

So many websites have complicated clever-sounding text. But it isn’t clear to a visitor what you do or how you can help.
This isn’t always the website owners fault. We are generally taught how to sound intelligent when writing. Rarely are we taught how to be clear.

Warren Buffet has always been an expert at this. He changed this sentence:

“Adjustments made to shorten portfolio maturity and duration are made to limit capital losses during periods when interest rates are expected to rise”


“When we expect a major and sustained increase in rates, we will concentrate on short-term issues.”

I am sure you will agree that the second sentence is much easier for a non-specialist to understand.

You may be thinking, well, if the visitors don’t understand, then they must be stupid. But if you have built a website for these visitors yet they don’t understand what you do, who is the stupid one?
So scrap that corporate and complicated copy and replace it with a more conversational tone. Your number one aim should be understood. Not to sound clever.

So how does this come back to the curse of knowledge?

Well, it is very easy to expect everyone to know your industry. To understand the acronyms you use. To see why a particular feature is good. But they don’t.
You probably didn’t at one point, either.

This is a cognitive bias most easily demonstrated by watching a quiz on TV. Have you ever got frustrated that the person doesn’t know the answer? Think about it for a second. You only know what you know, so how are they supposed to get it right if they don’t know!

In a recent video (found here), I said we would be open about CRO on our websites. A great example is when we built a form and asked people to enter their website URL. We soon realised that almost half our visitors didn’t know what URL meant. (URL means the website address. The bit after www.)

We had the curse of this knowledge and because of this, made it hard for our website visitors.

How to get around this issue.

Get a fresh pair of eyes to review your website. Even better, get a fresh pair of eyes to write the new copy!
Who writes the best blogs about accounting and finance? Non-accountants. Or, at the very least, an accountant who understands their audience.
This is because they have been written to be easy to understand. They are not supposed to be a whitepaper.
I don’t need to know every little detail. I needed to understand why it benefits me.

Takeaway and challenge

Write to be understood, not to sound clever.

Ask someone to review your website and see if they understand what your offering is. If they don’t, or they ask questions, this gives you great feedback on which to act.

Bonus tip – Most of us are great at explaining what we do face to face. Why not record a video of you explaining your offering and then put this on your website.
You can always use the transcript as part of your sales messaging too.

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