Words. Do you remember them? Those little squiggly things, line after line, neatly laid out across the page. I’ll tell you something. They matter. They really do.
And yet – it’s odd (and desperately disappointing to professional content writers) how the value of words, and the skill required to use them effectively, frequently goes unappreciated. Yes – we copywriters do feel unloved.
Our product, words, are the plain, neglected, sibling of our glamorous, popular and successful older sisters – design and functionality. We are indeed the Cinderella of marketing.
Ask any web designer. More often than not, their clients become excited, on occasions, almost obsessed, with how the new website will look and what it will do. But when the web designer raises the topic of content – those, word-things, the client’s interest instantly wanes, he glances at his watch and starts muttering about setting off to avoid the rush-hour traffic.
For so many business owners, well-written copy is just an afterthought, not to be taken seriously.
So often, my heart sags as I hear, “I’ve never needed a copywriter. I wrote the copy for my website. My husband looked it over. He’s always been good at spelling.” or, “Oh, I do all the copy myself. I’m good at English. I got A* at A Level.”
You need to travel a fair way back to find the year I studied English A Level 45 years ago, but, if I recall correctly, writing commercially effective web copy didn’t take up a significant amount of the syllabus. Neither did headline writing, correct use of anchor text, calls to action, Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) or keyword research.
I’d like to know – do these self-made copywriters bask in the same confidence about other life skills? Do they carry out their own domestic re-wiring? Would they plumb in their own radiators and service their own combi-boiler? Would they merrily write the code for their own website? Possibly … but, more likely, the answer is ‘no’. They’d call in the experts.
Why should content writing be any different?
Content does the heavy lifting
We all realise the need for good web design. A visually engaging website is vital for both grabbing and keeping the attention of the visitor. But, and it’s a huge, whopping ‘but’, however attractive the graphics and layout might be, they are merely a beautiful canvas for the copy.
Finding the right words, written in the right ‘voice’, isn’t only critical for effective web copy. It’s just as important for:
- Sales Letters
- Case studies
- Press releases
- Letters of introduction
Appealing design and graphics are, of course, vital to initially attract the casual browser and to make the browsing experience a pleasant one. But – it’s words that do the heavy lifting.
So, what makes good copy? Is good copy lovingly-constructed long sentences worthy of Charles Dickens or Jane Austen? Is good copy long, ‘professional-sounding’ words? Does it slavishly follow the rules of grammar? You won’t be surprised to learn that the answer is ‘no’.
So, what is good content?
That’s easy. Good content is … content that does the job!
And before we embark on a copywriting project, we must ask what that job is.
What are these words for? What do we want them to achieve? Do we want them to encourage potential clients to get in touch with us? Do we want them to inform clients about the recent developments in our industry? Do we want them to encourage the reader to sign up for a newsletter?
Our next question is ‘Who?’
Who are our words for? Can we paint a picture of our target reader? Are we writing an email to a prospective client, a final demand to a late-paying customer, a note to the milkman, a valentine card to a loved one?
No matter who our reader is, we need to picture them in our mind’s eye. We need to consider their character, their behaviour patterns. The more we can try to get into their shoes, the more effective our words will be at pushing the right buttons.
Clarity is everything!
Good content needs to be clear, concise and compelling. Clear words avoid confusion. Concise words convey the message. Compelling words promote action. The greatest of these is clarity.
So let’s elevate the status of content writing in business. Let’s lift it from the gutter of irrelevance to its rightful position, right at the pinnacle of marketing communication. After all, words make the offer, words seal the deal, words make stuff happen!