How to Seduce a Goldfish

People have the attention-span of a goldfish. And that affects your marketing.

People have the attention span of a goldfish. And that affects your marketing.

Have you ever knocked on the side of a fish tank and felt betrayed by the goldfishes that ignored you?

You push your face against the side, yell at them—loudly enough to wake up a fossil—or serve their favorite purple treats that smell like chicken poo, and they’re still more fascinated by the water around them than you.

Does your website or marketing efforts remind you of that fish tank? No matter what you do, no one notices.

It could be that people have the attention span of a goldfish.

Depending on the goldfish, it’s somewhere between three and 10 seconds. (That’s actually a myth, but you get the idea.)

That’s how long you have to turn apathy into solid interest or risk losing your visitors and prospects to other sites and businesses.

Understanding what makes people excited about your message is the key to effective writing and marketing.

People are wired to make snap decisions

The average person sees 1,000-10,000 marketing messages per day (depending on the source you believe).

Add all other messages to that mix, and it’s clear you can’t process all of them consciously.

Instead, your brain makes snap judgements.

If what you see isn’t what you need or something surprising, you won’t even notice it; your brain decides it’s not worth wasting time on.

To grab your visitors’ interest, give them exactly what they want or hit them in the head with something completely unexpected.

The first headline they see has to be irresistible. If it isn’t, they click the “back” button.

In fact, visitors click that button the moment they lose interest anywhere on the site.

Are you interesting?

Why would anyone stay on your site if it doesn’t engage them?

People won’t try to find something useful or inspiring. Instead, you need to put it right in front of them immediately or they leave.

This might not seem related to conversion optimization, but writing about something your visitors don’t care about is one of the most common conversion problems I see.

There are only two things people are really interested in:

  1. Problems they want to solve
  2. Goals they want to achieve

Entertainment doesn’t necessarily fit in either of those categories, but people are drawn to it. However, it’s difficult to use as effectively as the other two.

Writing about anything other than reader problems and goals is a risk.

Just like any risk, it can pay off, but you should take it only when the pay-off is pretty certain.

If you’re not sure,just avoid writing about other topics altogether.

But it’s not quite enough to write about the right topic.

The visitors’ point of view

People are essentially more interested in themselves than they are in you or anyone else. (Note for romantics: even if you put someone else’s needs ahead of your own, effective marketing focuses on your interests, and that can be somebody else’s needs.)

As long as you focus on the readers, you have a fair chance of keeping them captivated.

The moment you wander to topics they don’t care about, they tune out.

It’s not enough to write about their problems or goals; you need to write from the readers’ point of view.

For example, “I can show you how to lose weight” is written from the writer’s point of view, while “You’ll lose weight and feel good” is the reader’s point of view.

The difference is sometimes hard to detect, but it can increase your conversion rates significantly.

Imagine someone reading what you wrote out loud. Would it sound like they’re talking about themselves? Or would it sound like they’re talking about you, the listener?

If it’s not clearly focused on the listener, you can expect a low conversion rate.

That applies to all copywriting (and writing in general) whether it’s a sales page, home page, or a blog post.

Be the reader’s best friend

A good best friend is someone who listens to you, cares about you, and is interested in your opinions. They don’t constantly talk about themselves.

If you write like a best friend, people want to read it, and they might even like you.

Being a good friend also means that you help them. And that help can be something you charge for.

Assuming you’re running a business (or even if you’re writing a blog “just for fun”), you need people to take action. You need them to buy your products or services, join your email list, and/or share your content with their networks.

For many people, finding the balance between being the best friend and asking for the sale is difficult; they either come off as pushy or they don’t even try to sell anything.

It doesn’t have to be like that.

Being helpful and selling something are not opposites even though many people feel that way.

How you create the balance depends on your business. And it’s a topic for another article.

But even if you find the perfect balance, you still need to be interesting.

Otherwise, the goldfishes—your readers—won’t care about what you have to say.

Write about their problems and goals from their point of view.

Offer them help, even if it costs them something. Just do it as a friend.

If you need help finding the right way to offer your products or services to people, I’d love to help.

If you know someone who’s struggling to keep people reading what they have to say, give them a link to this article. You might save them months of frustration as they try to figure out why people don’t seem to care about what they have to say.

Increase your conversion rate quickly

Whenever I build or evaluate websites and landing pages, I use a three-step system.

It helps me find the issues that are causing low conversion rates.

And it works as a solid guideline for creating effective conversion paths...

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Peter Sandeen

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  1. Shanna said:

    Haha! Peter, you’ve explained my cordial loathing of How-to posts. I hate simplistic advice, and that’s always what How-to implied to me. Glad to see that yours lived up to its promise.

    • Peter Sandeen said:

      Hi Shanna,

      I understand that, though I often look for a simple way to accomplish something (even if it’s difficult to do). Contrast “How to…” with “Learn to…” headlines. As I explain in the eBook, “learn to” doesn’t imply such simple advice and it also works for more difficult topics. And it’s not the only difference.

      Glad I could avoid your loathing 😀

    • Shanna,

      Your comment on Hating simple advice speaks to the difference is so many people… I love How-To posts. When I want to do something that I don’t know how to do I immediately search for a how-to post that will teach me to do it.

      And usually when it comes to Ho-To posts attacking and explaining one simple task is the best way to do that.

      But everyone is different and that’s what makes the World go round.

      Peter… Love what you’re doing here brother. Great stuff!

      Ryan H.

      • Peter Sandeen said:

        Hi Ryan,

        I love how to’s too 🙂 But they aren’t the best options for every topic…

        And thank you so much, I’m really glad to hear you like it 🙂

  2. Hey Peter.

    Killer headline: “How to Seduce a Goldfish”. Classic my friend. 🙂

    Businesses today? The ability to write compelling copy is a must. Period.

    If you can’t write, or find someone who can, you’re toast. Double period.

    Thanks for sharing your tips Peter. And love your new look… 🙂 Eric

    • Peter Sandeen said:

      Hi Eric,

      Thanks, and you’re right; as Brian Clark said – though his obviously biased 😉 – “Copywriting is hands down the most important business skill”…

      And thanks, I’m quite happy with the design too 🙂

  3. Jackie said:

    Great Headline Peter, I had one of those…what the??? moments.

    The more you read and the more you write, you become more adept at recognizing those “average” posts. These days if the post doesn’t grab me in the first couple of sentences…I’m gone.

    Curiosity is paramount in the headline to engage the reader to click through. Its a skill that takes practice, some people seem to have a natural ability to consistenty crank out headlines that scream click me.

    Have you used Advanced Marketing’s Headline Analyzer – its a handy tool that helps you to improve your headline composition.

    • Peter Sandeen said:

      Hi Jackie,

      Thanks, I hoped you’d feel like that ;D

      I do that too; I read a few sentences before leaving most of the time. It’s an exception that keeps me reading. But I think what you call, “natural ability” is just training. If you haven’t checked it out yet, take a look at 101 Headline Formulas. I wrote a lot about why each headline works, when and where to use them, and what should come after the headline if you want the readers to keep reading to the end 😉

    • Peter Sandeen said:

      …and thanks for the recommendation. I hadn’t used that tool, but it seems interesting 🙂

  4. Another great source of inspiration for headlines is first lines from novels, “Call me Ismael” (Moby Dick), “When Mr. Bilbo Baggins announced he would shortly be celebrating his eleventh-first birthday with a party of special magnificence, there was much talk and excitement in Hobbbiton” (The Fellowship of the Ring), “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen”, (1984). They set the tone for the rest of the story. If your headline is lame (like the “welcome to my web site” on home pages), it’s likely everything else will be as well.

    I love “How to seduce a goldfish” too!

    • Peter Sandeen said:

      Hi Mike,

      That’s so true… Generic blog taglines are an obvious sign of a bland blog.

      Interesting idea to take first lines from novels, but I can see why that works 🙂 Thanks.

  5. Hehhe… great stuff Peter, and a lot of people are buzzin’ about Sally Hogshead and Fascination lately 🙂 (good on her)

    I understand deeply a lot of writing techniques. Kurt Vonnegut’s story-arcs, Halpern’s perfect post, Hogshead’s fascination principles, Jon Morrow’s Headline Hacks, Eugene Schwartz, and on an on.

    They’re all brilliant, and so is your post here.

    I usually find though, that getting attention is more heavily related to knowing Who You Are and What You Stand For and Expressing That Well.


    Just a bit of a fresh perspective on an already awesome post.

    • Peter Sandeen said:

      Hi Jason,

      Well, there’s a good reason why she’s been talked about 🙂

      And if you want another source of headline “understanding”, check out my free eBook. You’ll see what Danny Iny and Tom Treanor thought about it there too 😉

      You’re right, it’s all about expressing what you stand for. Most people just can’t write headlines that would accomplish that…

      And thanks for bringing it; fresh perspective is the best part of comments!

  6. Kendall said:

    A very good thought. Today, with a lot of stimuli in the environment, people are really having shorter attention spans.

    • Peter Sandeen said:

      Hi Kendall,

      Thanks, you’re right; the more stimuli, the shorter the attention span. But because we’re used to so much stimuli, our attention spans are short even when there isn’t any stimuli… 🙂

  7. Sarah said:

    Definitely a great headline and nice use of the sustained metaphor. I especially appreciate the advice about how quickly attention can be lost – I need to keep that in mind as I’m writing from now on. Thanks!

    • Peter Sandeen said:

      Hi Sarah,

      Thanks, I tried to do what I “preach” in the eBook: use the right formula and match it with content that keeps people interested. I’m happy to hear it worked 😀

      Thanks for commenting 🙂

  8. Right on Peter! First of all I love your headline and your intro. Great job!

    I agree with you completely. I heard it was 8 secs to hook and 100 seconds to close. Maybe its 8.5 secs?

    That’s why 99.9% of cold call salespeople fail. They start with their name, the company their with. They just used up 6-7 seconds and the person they are calling has already lost interest. Rather than “Hi, I’m John Smith, I’m calling you today from Alpha Corporation to tell you about an amazing offer… blah.. blah.. blah” what they should be saying is “Hi, If I could save you 40% on your shipping costs, would that benefit you?”

    • Peter Sandeen said:

      Hi Steve,

      Thanks, I’m happy with them too. I decided to try something new and that’s what I came up with 🙂

      I haven’t heard the 8 second version, but that’s besides the point anyway 😀

      You’re right about telemarketing people…and other sales people often as well. They don’t give you a good reason for listening, instead they follow the “norms” of normal social interaction. BUT selling isn’t normal social interaction, nor is writing!

  9. Peter,

    Great post. You present a great example for all of us with your headline and writing here. Bravo!

    • Peter Sandeen said:

      Hi Tom,

      Thanks. As I said to Steve, I decided to try something “new” 🙂 Glad to hear you liked it.

  10. […] How to Seduce a Goldfish (Affect Selling) […]

  11. Ishan said:

    Awesome headline.

    The headline alone made me read the article. I agree that attention span of readers is getting smaller and smaller. Thanks to Youtube and social media sites. I remember advise of Brian Clark on this, we have to make reader read first line only. The first line should make read you next line and so on. Goal of every line has to be to make sure that reader needs next line.

    • Peter Sandeen said:

      Hi Ishan,

      Thanks, I’m happy to hear the headline works 🙂

      I’ve heard him say that too, and everyone else who knows something about copywriting has said it too 😀 But actually that’s not entirely true; a good headline does a lot more than just get you to read the next line…

  12. […] if your headline is, How to Seduce a Goldfish, you’d better write about seducing […]

  13. […] How to Seduce a Goldfish from Peter Sandeen […]

  14. […] example “How to Seduce a Goldfish” is weird enough to attract […]


  1. […] How to Seduce a Goldfish (Affect Selling) […]

  2. […] if your headline is, How to Seduce a Goldfish, you’d better write about seducing […]

  3. […] How to Seduce a Goldfish from Peter Sandeen […]

  4. […] example “How to Seduce a Goldfish” is weird enough to attract […]

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