7 deadly sins of copywriting you don’t want to commit

Lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy and pride, we all know the traditional seven deadly sins (the movie Se7en will forever be etched in my mind).

But what about the seven deadly sins of copywriting? Based on research, science and my years of experience doing this wordy thing, here’s my pro-wordial law (see what I did there?).

While committing them definitely won’t send you to hell (copywriter’s purgatory, maybe?), doing so can be fatal to the effectiveness of your copy. And if your copy isn’t effective, bye bye potential customers.

1. Taking a ‘we’ mentality

Look at so many websites, brochures, adverts or whatever, and what do you find? Companies banging on and on about themselves – we sell this, we offer this, we are awesome blah, blah, blah. This is a big copywriting no-no – people simply tune out and switch off.

While the whole point of marketing copy is to let people know about your business, you need to frame it in terms of benefit to the customer. Ultimately, people only care about what you can do for them. So, reduce your we’s, and add more yous applying the 20/80 rule.

Don’t say ‘We sell orthopedic mattresses’ ask ‘Do you want a good night’s sleep?’.

2. Having textual diarrhea

In today’s crazy busy world, people just don’t have time to read lengthy waffle that takes sentence after sentence to cut to the chase.  Instead, we like copy served up short and sweet.

Because of this, to get your message across effectively, keep your sentences tight – no more than two clauses. And don’t over explain or digress. If a word, sentence or even paragraph doesn’t need to be there or isn’t adding any real value, take it out.

Have a tendency to add literary embellishments? My advice: kill your darlings, this is copywriting not novel writing.

3. Being adjective enthusiastic

Adjectives may be linguistic tools designed to help us give more information about the thing we’re trying to describe. However, use too many, especially generic ones, in an attempt to sell the benefits of a product or service and they end up sounding trite and meaningless.

From the ‘World-class, sun-drenched beaches’ of travel marketing to real estate’s ‘Stunning property with amazing outlooks’, it all sounds a bit like fluff. And the reality is that people just don’t buy it. Plus it sounds clunky and slows the reader down.

So, instead of reeling them off, stick to one per noun, ensure it says something concrete and don’t state the obvious.

4. Smart arsing it up

When people think good copywriting, they typically imagine clever, memorable campaigns or advert one-liners that delight and engage the customer due to their creative genius.

But this idea that every word and sentence in a piece of copy must be award-winning, is a dud one. Sure, coming up with fantastic puns, word plays or analogies is great, but generally, every line of copy doesn’t need to be fancy schmancy, it just needs to be clear, effective and speak to the customer’s needs.

In addition, think long words and jargon sound smart? They don’t, they just alienate people. Keep it simple; imagine you’re explaining it to an 8 year old.

5. Ignoring the psychology

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, copywriting is both and art and a science. This means, while it’s easy to get caught up in wordsmithing, it will be to no avail if you haven’t swotted up on your customer psych.

While people like to think they make rational purchase decisions, study after study shows we’re actually intuitively emotion driven. Plus it’s known that we digest and interpret things in certain ways.

Did you know that the more we hear something the more we believe it? That rhyming is deemed more truthful? That people block out sales messages but listen to stories? Or that readers remember what they read first and last, but not the middle? Now you do. You’re welcome.

6. Being soulless

What I’m talking about here is writing copy in a one-dimensional corporate tone of voice – think dry company report. Rather than enticing the reader with professionalism, it actually turns them off because it fails to connect with them emotionally (see number 5).

When customers are looking for a product of service, they want to feel an immediate connection – something which builds trust, which is the key to sales. By injecting personality into copy, and giving it a more conversational feel, you can create one.

Even copy about toner ink, accountancy or toilet paper can have soul.

7. Using too many exclamation marks!!!!

This is one of my personal bug bears. I want to get out my red pen and scribble ‘No’ all over them when I see them on websites or other marketing bumf like direct mail or emails. Even more so if they’re used more than once, in multiple places.

Thanks to social media and the like, these shouty little punctuation marks have become so overused they now simply look unprofessional and cheapen the message.

I always remember a friend of mine at university saying, if something is funny or surprising it will still be funny or surprising without an exclamation mark. And this is so true. You don’t need them, so don’t use them, or at least use them sparingly.

So, there you have it, folks – be a copywriting winner not a sinner and elevate yourself into business heaven. Need some help with your copy? Get in touch.

Why copywriting and design are like cheese and wine (and how to pair them perfectly)

For us copywriters, it’s all about the words.

It’s crafting everything from headlines to body text to call-to-actions, in order to engage the reader and persuade them to buy. However, while we might not like to admit it, even the most effective copy doesn’t do all the work alone.

Yes, designers, you can take some credit, too. Whether on a brochure, advert, website or a piece of direct mail, copy effectiveness relies on the graphical layout and elements that surround it.

Because of this, marketing copy and design must work as a complementary pair, a bit like, well, um, cheese and wine. Okay, while my analogy is definitely an insight into what I like consume, I think it describes the relationship pretty well…

The perfect accompaniment

Let’s say that wine is the design (hey, it rhymes) and cheese is the copy. Now wine and cheese are both delicious on their own, but pair them well and one really brings out the other. This is exactly what should happen with copy and design.

Imagine enjoying a cold Sauvignon Blanc with a fresh, tangy goats cheese. Or, an aged creamy blue with a plummy Merlot. Salivating yet? Well, in marketing communications you want to get that same reaction from your customers.

One sip, one bite

Getting this reaction is in part down to how copy and design are consumed.

When you eat cheese and wine you’re not supposed to devour a bottle then fill your face, or vice versa. Instead you’re meant to enjoy them one sip, one bite, one sip, one bite, as you do each brings out the flavour notes of the other.

This is exactly how customers are meant to consume copy and design; to take them in one look, one read, one look, one read. The graphics and layout should direct the reader to the words starting with the headline, while the words should bring out the story of the graphics and images.

From unpalatable to ineffective

A mismatch in wine and cheese can pretty ‘meh’. The same goes for copy and design. Despite this, it’s amazing how many people don’t actually take the time to consider how the two work together.

So often graphic designers and copywriters are kept separate. One gets creative with the feel and layout, while the other gets busy with the words.  Even when working to the same brief, this often results in a confused piece which won’t have your customers coming back for more.

Expensive plonk and plastic cheese

In addition, quite often people will pay out the big bucks for someone to design their website, but then just throw the words together on the page themselves or hire a two-bob writer instead of a professional copywriter who can help them get it right.

But when it comes to copy and design it’s important you don’t splash on one and scrimp on the other. It’s like buying an expensive Shiraz and then serving it with a piece of plastic cheese.

Getting that perfect pairing 

So getting your copy and design working together is pretty crucial to success, but what do you have to do to get it right?

Here’s my smorgasbord of advice…

  • Be a design/copy connoisseur – just as foodies know their cheese and wine pairings, marketers should know what copy works with what design elements. Pay attention to what successful brands are doing and keep up with the latest trends.
  • Know your brand qualities – what do you want your business to look and feel like? How you can communicate this through your words and graphics? Once you know your unique business ‘flavour’ i.e. your tone of voice and brand colours, layout and style, you can align your design and copy.
  • Stay on the same plate – this means getting everyone involved together in the beginning to run through and agree on some initial ideas. You should then meet on a daily or weekly basis depending on the project, to ensure everything ties together.
  • Do a taste test first – once you have your copy and design, put it all together and see if it works? Is the design directing people to the important copy? Are the images in sync with the words? Does the copy give meaning to the design? If it’s not working try something else.
  • Ask for consumer feedback – just like taste testings in the supermarket, once you’ve sent out your piece, make sure you pay attention to the feedback. If you’re not seeing action try something else, your matching might be off.

Follow these tips and you stand the best chance of creating a mouthwatering aka customer-winning combination.

7 ways to get your blogs the love they deserve [infographic]

Blog, and the customers will come.

That’s what we’ve all been told at least. However, in reality that isn’t usually the case.

Even great blog posts can fail to attract a decent number of likes, shares and referrals, leaving you wondering where you went wrong.

If your blogs are well-written and audience relevant, but they’re still not getting much love, it’s likely your promotional strategy is lacking.

So, don’t be shy with your blog post sharing, get out there and shout about your latest content from the digital rooftops.

Wondering where to start? Check out my bite-size blog promotion infographic.

7 ways to get your blogs the love they deserve infographic

 

 

 

Don’t hire a copywriter just to ignore their advice

Would you ever call in an electrician, get him to fix the problem, then decide you can do it better yourself and start playing around with the wires?

I’m guessing not (unless you have a death wish).

Now, while you can’t really compare copywriting to electrics, the point I’m making here is that if you’re going to hire a skilled professional, you should be trusting them to do their job well, or why bother requesting their help in the first place?

Trust us, we’re copywriters

It seems obvious, but you’d be surprised by the number of clients us copywriters work with that seem to think they know best.

I’m not saying that clients don’t have and shouldn’t give feedback and opinions. Of course they should, it’s their business so they need to be happy with the words. But, when they start tweaking chunks of the copy they are paying a copywriter to write, it’s frustrating, to say the least.

Part of the problem is that everyone today thinks they can write. Which, on a basic level, yes, most can string a have decent sentence or two together. However, copywriting for business is a very different kettle of fish to your average piece of text.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Copywriting isn’t just an art; it’s also a science.

When a customer or potential customer reads your website, brochure, or whatever piece of marketing material it may be, they behave in certain ways. They scan, they look for benefits, and they’re pulled in by emotional hooks that speak to their specific needs. They are also looking to be guided to the next step e.g., read more, get in touch, buy now, etc.

Cast aside what you think you know

Unfortunately, many clients aren’t really tuned into this.

I mean, it’s not their job, so fair enough. But it is a copywriter’s job. We spend hours swotting up on the latest stats and trends, looking at the data, checking out the most successful campaigns, and doing our audience research. This means we’ve got a pretty good idea of what will work and what probably won’t.

So, while a client may have their own preconceived ideas about the kind of information they want to include, or how it should be written, they often don’t take these things into account.

Case in point

I had a client a few months ago, for example, who wanted copy writing for his website. It was only a small job, just four pages or so, but it included the homepage, which, as any copywriter knows, is the most important bit to get right.

Alarm bells should have gone off in the beginning as he was pretty uncommunicative and barely gave me anything to go on. However, I put all my creative and business-minded skills to work and then submitted the first draft of the copy to him and asked for his feedback.

Tumbleweed. After a few more emails, I gave up and he paid up, so all good. Recently, however, I checked out the site and cringed. While a lot of what I’d written was there, the homepage had been hashed.

Now, I’m not just being proud here, but I did want to throw my hands in the air. He’d reworked the main heading, played around with the copy so it was all about them rather than the customer (a massive no, no) and removed the all-important call-to-action. Eek. Definitely not one for the portfolio now.

The frustrating thing is, he was entitled to two rounds of revisions. So if he’d have actually shown me his changes, I could have given him some advice on why it had been written in a particular way. We could have then tweaked things together and probably got him better results.

Ah well, you can’t win them all. But it has got me wondering why some people bother paying for a professional if they think they know best?

Another case in point

I also have another regular client, and whenever I submit a piece they add their touches (it’s ghostwritten, so it’s meant to be written by them). However, every time I request that they send it back so I can check it and proofread, they don’t. Instead, I find the odd spelling and grammar error in the bits she’s tweaked and published.

The editor in me cannot handle. Errors look bad to clients and reflect badly on your business. Again, take advantage of me. You’re not only paying for my words but also my expertise and advice.

Work with us, not against

If you’re going to hire a copywriter, I urge you to do these three things: communicate, communicate, communicate with them at every step, work with them not against them, and be a bit more trusting in what they have to say.

If you do want to make changes, let them first tell you why it was written in that way as it may make you change your mind. If it doesn’t, it can, of course, be changed while still keeping the science in mind. And if you really can’t agree, it might be best to part ways.

So the moral of the story is, if you think you know best and play around with a copywriter’s words too much, you might just be burning your hard-earned cash.

10 grammar rules you can definitely break

Grammar is set in stone, right? It’s either right or wrong.

Well, so say prescriptivists, at least. These people are the English teacher who red pens your work with fury; or the friend who loves to point out every little error in your text or Facebook post – yes, those self-proclaimed Grammar nazis.

In the other camp you’ve got descriptivists. While they don’t shun the rules of grammar, they don’t follow them rigidly, instead preferring to look at how language is actually used – how people speak and write it. They recognise its fluidity and don’t sweat the small stuff.

As I’m a copy editor, you’d probably think I’d sit firmly with the nazis. People rely on me to get their language right so surely that means nit picking every tiny grammatical detail? Well, no.

While I do understand, appreciate and for the most part stick to the preordained rules of grammar – heck, without them there would be no benchmark for quality, not to mention textual anarchy – I’m also largely with the descriptivists.

Related: Is write as you speak actually good advice?

That’s because sometimes, the rules just don’t matter. In fact, sometimes the rules actually work to the detriment of good communication – for example they can make you sound like you have a broom stuck up your backside aka rather formal, or they can stilt the flow. And in today’s world where conversational, easy-to-read copy generally works best, this ain’t ideal.

So which rules is it okay to break?

Rule 1: Never start a sentence with a conjunction

In the world of grammar, conjunctions are words like ‘and’, ‘but’, ‘if’, ‘so’ – just in case you skipped English class that day. Their linguistic purpose is to connect clauses or sentences therefore, according to prescriptivists, they should never to be seen at the beginning of a sentence. Bah!

Far from being improper or inelegant, as it’s typically argued, starting a sentence with a conjunction can actually be a good stylistic thing. Why? Because it’s a great way to create flow within your paragraphs while still keeping sentences concise. Plus, it also avoids overuse of stiffer openings such as ‘Therefore’ or ‘In addition’.

Rule 2: Don’t use ‘like’ and ‘such as’ interchangeably

This is a common ‘mistake’ people make, but is it really a ‘mistake’? According to the grammar text book they each have a different, unique function. ‘Like’ should be used an exemplar e.g. ‘Someone like me’, whereas ‘such as’ is the same as ‘for example’.

So technically saying ‘Bob enjoys food like pizza, ice cream and strawberries’ is incorrect as this implies he enjoys food like that, but not actually that.

When you think about it in those terms you wouldn’t do it but, the reality is, people have been interchanging these two for years. In fact, even the literary greats – from William Shakespeare to HG Wells – broke this rule. Now it’s so universally understood that it’s fine to swap away.

Rule 3: Always ensure the predicate is ‘I’ not ‘me’

This is a grammar issue people love to pull others up on. So what exactly is the problem?

Both are first person singular pronouns but ‘I’ is the subject pronoun used for the one ‘doing’ the verb (predicate), whereas ‘me’ is the object pronoun or the ‘receiver’ of the action (accusative). So, for example, ‘I am reading a book’ versus ‘She asked me to come too’.

It’s obvious you shouldn’t say ‘Me am reading a book’ or ‘She asked I to come too’ so where’s the confusion? Well, this comes where two objects of subjects are linked, for example, ‘Donald Trump and I’ or ‘Donald Trump and me’. In reality both are perfectly acceptable, and the latter often preferable as it’s much less formal. But here’s hoping you never have to say either.

Rule 4: Don’t mix up your ‘who’ with your ‘whom’

This one is a little bit like the last in that it’s a technical issue. According to formal grammar, ‘who’ should be used in the subject position of a sentence, whereas ‘whom’ should be used in the object position, as well as after a preposition. For example ‘who gave me this’? versus ‘whom do you think will win?’ or ‘to whom it may concern?’.

But, rules, smules. Who actually says whom these days, anyway? While we might see it written, very few people would actually say it in speech, unless they were trying to imitate a 19 century aristocrat or just attempting to sound posh. In fact, even its use in formal text is declining. So if the ‘who’ fits, use it, and forget the ‘whom’.

Rule 5: Avoid engaging in comma splicing

The comma is the simplest of punctuation. It marks a pause between parts of a sentence or, alternatively, it separates items in a list. It’s harmless, it’s functional, but when it’s used to join two separate clauses, by God does it cause outcry among those prescriptivists out there. “Why not just use a semi-colon, dash or conjunction instead?” you hear them cry.

Well, yes, you could. But just what exactly is the problem with the comma in this context. For example, to say “I’m going out, I’ll be back soon”, sounds okay, doesn’t it? In fact, replacing the comma with ‘and’ in this context and it would just should too formal. Likewise replace it with a semi-colon or dash and it just seems wrong. A comma adds lightness, so I’ll use it, bite me.

Rule 6: Never split infinitives

Unclear on what a split infinitive is? Basically, split infinitives are the ‘crime’ of putting an adverb between ‘to’ and the verb’ e.g. ‘to fiercely love’. Gasp. In correct grammar terms this should in fact be ‘to love fiercely’. However, this rule is based on an old Latin assumption that ‘to love’ is the verb. Whereas in English ‘to’ and ‘love’ are separate words.

Admittedly in many cases the split version does sounds a bit clunky, and can even make little sense. However, in so many other cases it works perfectly well e.g. ‘to boldy go’, ‘to carefully apply’, In fact, you could easily argue that between a ‘to’ and a verb is the common sense place for an adverb. If it’s good enough for a Star Trek phrase that has stuck for generations, it’s good enough for me.

Rule 7: Always use pronoun-subject agreement

For a prescriptivist, pronouns must follow their antecedent (preceding noun) in terms of being either singular or plural. However, when it comes to the pronouns ‘he’ and ‘she’, this rule runs into problems, mainly sexist ones. For example, saying “Somebody left his bag behind” would be the traditional correct way to say it, even when said somebody could be a woman.

To correct this some people have gone to the other extreme, replacing all ‘hes’ with ‘shes’. I hate this, it’s just sexism reversed. Alternatively you can use ‘he or she’ but this can sound clunky if used repeatedly in writing.

For years now people have instead replaced it with the gender neutral plural pronoun ‘theý’. Who cares if it’s technically wrong, it makes sense and it doesn’t offend anyone (expect prescriptivists, of course), so go ahead.

Rule 8: Don’t confuse your ‘that’ with your ‘which’

Ever wondered whether to use ‘that’ or ‘which’ when writing a sentence? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. This grammar dilemma has been plaguing people for centuries. So what is the rule about? Basically, it says that ‘which’ should be used in non-restrictive clauses and ‘that’ in restrictive ones. To avoid the jargon (or jibberish) let’s look at an example.

‘The house, which looked like a relic from the 60s, needed a renovation’ – this is a non-restrictive clause as the part with ‘which’ in is sectioned off and could be omitted. ‘The house that looked like a relic from the 60s needed a renovation’ – there is nothing to omit here. Ultimately it doesn’t really matter, either works.

Rule 9: Don’t use sentence fragments

Never use sentence fragments, they cry. Well, I say bugger that. While the very basis of grammar may hinge on the complete sentence – its construction, syntax, grammar, punctuation etc. – that does not mean that we always have to use them. In fact, fragmented sentences are everywhere today, especially online.

Look on social media and you’ll see them in abundance. Typically it’s done to emphasize certain words or sentences. For example ‘Best. Thing. Ever.’ Or for stylistic effect e.g. ‘The ocean was blue. Powerful. Inviting.’ So while it may not be ‘correct’ it can enhance the meaning and mood of your copy so crack on and do it, unless you’re writing something extremely academic or formal.

Rule 10: Never end sentences with a preposition

Firstly, let’s once again start with defining a preposition. Prepositions are words that create relationships with other words like ‘put’, ‘on’, ‘from’, ‘out’, ‘against’. Because of this, it’s considered wrong to leave them hanging at the end.  However, this is another one which rests on Latin and that actually results in some very awkward sentences in modern English.

For example: “Which group is she in?” sounds much better than “In which group is she?” or “She is in which group”. The last two just sound preppy and uncomfortable. As an even more extreme example, or to quote Winston Churchill when he was once criticised for using a preposition at the end of a sentence “That is the sort of thing up with which I will not put!”

Conclusion

We need grammar rules, they keep us on track. They provides us with language guidelines and we look to them as a benchmark of quality. But, what we also need is common sense and a understanding of how English is used. If breaking a rule is going to result in a better piece of communication, then heck do it. After all, rules are made to be broken!

Did you spot any of these so called ‘errors’ in this blog? Go back and see how many you can find…

Is write as you speak actually good advice?

When it comes to advice on how to write well, there’s plenty of it out there.

In fact, I just stopped typing to do a quick Google search and got back over 526,000,000 results on the subject.

Some of the common ones include be clear, be concise and pay attention to your grammar. Others include sticking to the active tense, focusing on one idea per paragraph and doing it every day – and generally you can’t argue with any of that.

Another popular piece of advice is: write as you speak.

Now this is one plenty of people argue about. You’ve got advocates on both ends of the spectrum, from writers to marketers, putting in their two bobs worth about why it is or isn’t good counsel.

So, time to put in mine.

The reality of the spoken word

The first thing it makes sense to consider is: how do we speak?

While there will be the odd intellectual who speaks with unfaltering eloquence, if most of us recorded ourselves in conversation and transcribed what we said, the outcome won’t exactly be the works of Shakespeare; in fact, it would most likely be pretty awful writing.

The reality is that everyday speech is messy. It’s littered with ums and pauses and, um, repetition. We go off on tangents, we don’t explain things in detail or clarify what we mean and generally we aren’t too concerned about the structure of what we’re saying, as long as we get the message across.

When taken literally then, this piece of advice actually sucks.

But, it’s not actually supposed to be taken literally – it’s not about mimicking every irregular nuance of speech. Instead, it’s about approaching the written word as you would a conversation – something we don’t typically do.

Formal language lacks personality

Generally when we write something, especially in a business context, we slip into formal mode. We forget that even though the format is professional, the person reading it at the other end is still a person. We start putting on our written airs and graces, elongating our sentences and using posh words, all in an attempt to sound competent.

Ultimately, however, what we end up doing is alienating and, in many instances, downright boring the audience. Just think about the last time you were delightfully engaged with a legal document or the contents of an annual report?

By attempting to sound smart, formal business-type writing typically ends up sounding stilted and standoffish; it starts to lack natural flow, charisma and personality. Except, maybe, the personality of someone you wouldn’t want to invite to your next dinner party.

Such writing can not only come across as unfriendly but, by incorporating far too much flouncy language and an unnecessary amount of industry jargon, it can actually confuse the message and the reader.

Conversation forms connection

Put simply, if writing isn’t engaging to read and easy to read, people simply won’t get it and won’t connect with it – or the person or business behind it – which kind of defeats the purpose of communicating in the first place.

This is where the conversational approach comes in.

Conversations are, by their very nature, an effective form of communication. Why? Because we talk to the person directly; we use simple, everyday language; we share stories; and we try our hardest to get along – to find common ground.

When we speak we are informal, we don’t worry about the constructions of language or the rules of the business or industry. We just talk, person-to-person, on the same level (in an ideal world at least) and this is where relationships begin.

So the advice, and what ‘write as you speak’ is essentially trying to say is, follow this same approach in your writing. Forget ‘poshing it up’ because that’s what you learned at school or what you’ve got used to in business, instead kept you writing clear, friendly and relatable.

Applying the advice                                  

Great, you might be thinking, but how do I apply it?

Here’s a tip.

Next time you’ve got to write something, whether it’s a business email, a report, some sales copy or some content for your website, imagine you are sat across from your reader and engaging in a conversation. Now start writing.

Calling the person ‘the applicant’ or ‘the customer’ in this context just sounds weird. If you were referring to them in a real spoken conversation you’d call them ‘you’, so do the same in your writing. In addition, using lots of jargon and fancy words also will also make you sound a bit aloof and unfriendly, so don’t do it.

Instead simply put pen to paper (fingers to keyboard) and let what you’re trying to say come out as you would if you were speaking to someone. Even better, inject a little you into it, whether that’s yourself or your company. While the end result might be a little unpolished, that’s okay – you can tidy it up through editing.

Ultimately, people prefer everyday language. So forget the stiff words, take the clear, friendly and conversational ‘write as you speak’ approach.

Quality writing isn’t about sounding fancy, it’s speaking to the reader as you would face-to-face.

Can a copywriter write about anything?

What do you need to look for in a copywriter?

Good credentials? A portfolio of decent work? Testimonials from happy clients? Ideally, all of the above. But should you also be looking at whether or not they specialise, or have experience in, your industry or field of business?

Certainly niche copywriters are a thing. Do a Google search for any type of business, say real estate, followed by copywriter and you’ll get a handful of results for writers who work solely with property clients. The majority of the results, however, will be for copywriters who do write real estate, but not exclusively.

This is because a lot of us copywriters are generalists, by scope at least.

While knowing an industry certainly helps, our speciality is being able to write great copy that has the desired effect on the intended audience – whether that’s peaking interest or inciting action. What we’re writing about is almost secondary, and easily accommodated with the right research – something we do as standard.

It’s all in the research

This typically involves lots of online searching to find credible sources of information – articles, whitepapers, studies – and to suss out who the competitors of our client are, what they’re writing and what kind of language they’re using. It also means probing the client for info on their business, their products/services and their audience.

Voila! Now, we know what we need to know and are ready to do what we do – write some informed, engaging copy for your business – whatever type of business it may be. Well, almost ready. First there’s the constant re-reading of the brief and the obligatory brainstorming and internal idea-chewing to complete.

So basically yes, with the right amount of research, a copywriter can write about anything, for any business.

It’s on us, not you

But the question is do we want to write about anything? You see, if you enlist the help of a copywriter who doesn’t specialise in your industry, the onus falls on us, not you (unless you didn’t pay attention to their credentials, portfolio and references and the person you chose can’t write for toffee – then that’s kind of your bad).

If we write for any business, we’re committing to more research than when writing for one in an industry we’re familiar with. That’s our time suck, and we can’t, or at least shouldn’t be, charging clients for those extra hours. So essentially, we’re making it harder and less profitable for ourselves. Hmmm. Maybe I should specialise?

Variety fosters creativity

I won’t, at least not for the time being. Why? Because I enjoy the variety of work that being a ‘write about anything, for any business’ copywriter brings. One week I might be working on web copy for a dentist clinic, the next crafting an infographic for a tech client, and the next writing a blog for an online fashion retailer. Plus I think it keeps my writing fresh.

We all have our niches

But while I’m not a niche copywriter, that’s not to say I haven’t developed some niches over the years. For five years I was a copywriter for a well-known travel company in the UK, so I’m pretty well-placed to knock out a holiday brochure or two and have worked with a number of companies in the industry since.

In addition, as a freelancer I started out working for a selection of digital marketing, tech and business to business clients and because of this I now know a lot about these industries – and tend to attract a lot more of this type of work. Which is kind of what happens, often you fall into a niche by proxy, and by referral.

However, my portfolio is much broader. I’ve written for food retailers, property developers, law firms, career coaches, to name a few.

Anything is possible, with the right writer

Basically, my point is, if you need a copywriter don’t put all of your efforts into finding one who specialises in your business type or industry. Instead focus on finding a copywriter who knows how to write great copy and has a solid portfolio, plus happy past clients sharing positive testimonials.

If we specialise, or have experience in your industry – great! But with the right skill and the right research, a good copywriter should be able to write about anything, and get results.

Related: 7 reasons why you should hire a professional copywriter

 

What is consistent copy? (And why yours should be)

This week I’m thinking about copy consistency.

Well, to be more accurate, this week I’m thinking about copy consistency a bit more than usual – as a copywriter and editor it’s never far from my mind as it’s kind of important in this job.

Why am I thinking about it more this week? Because, as per what usually sparks me off, a particular project I’ve been working on has brought it into focus. The job in question? A set of email newsletters for an independent yoga studio – which isn’t really relevant, but gives you some context.

Now unlike big companies who typically police copy consistency (usually with a written style guide), most small, independent clients – like the aforementioned – don’t. I’m sure if you asked them why they don’t, they’d either say they haven’t the time or resources to worry about it or, more likely, they’re not really sure what it is.

Both of these responses are totally reasonable, but they’re missing a trick. Consistent copy can be extremely beneficial to business. Before I explain how, I’ll back up and start with some definitions.

Defining consistency (and style guides)

So what is consistent copy? Basically its copy which maintains the same rules of grammar, punctuation, style and tone throughout. A style guide is the next step and is essentially a document created with the sole purpose of setting out (and remembering) the rules.

Interestingly, not all rules have to be technically correct. In fact, for many aspects of consistency there is no correct way, only a preferred way or a way which best improves the copy clarity or visual appeal. The important thing is deciding what you will do and applying it, yes, you guessed it, consistently.

Let’s look at some examples of some typical copy consistency decisions to consider:

  • What font/font size/line spacing should we use?
  • Should headings and subheads by in Title Case or Sentence case?
  • How do we approach abbreviations? Do we apply it in the first instance or do we spell the full word or name out first and follow with the abbreviation in brackets e.g. ‘Search Engine Optimisation’ (SEO) then use it on its own thereafter?
  • Should we use en dashes (–) or em dashes (—)?
  • How should we write dates? 1 January 2017 or 1st January 17 or time? 1.00p.m. or 1:00pm or 1pm?
  • What should we italicise? Bold?
  • Should we use double quotes or single quotes for direct speech/emphasis?
  • How should we write numbers? Do we always use figures e.g. 1, 2, 3 or do we use words until 9 then figures from 10 onwards (often the preferred practice)?
  • Should we use a fun, quirky tone of voice or a professional, friendly one?

Now to non-wordy folk these minutiae of copy detail may seem rather pedantic – and in the whole scheme of life and the universe – they are. However, in the world of copywriting, editing and marketing, setting out these rules and sticking to them is important.

Inconsistent copy equals inconsistent business

Why are they important? Because inconsistent copy which applies one rule here and another one there demonstrates lack of care. Okay, it’s not as much of a no, no as blatant spelling and grammar errors, and perhaps, you’re wondering, would a reader even pick up on it these little discrepancies?

Not all will, no. But many will, whether consciously or subconsciously, and this is bad news in business because the state of your copy speaks volumes about the state of your company. If your copy is inconsistent, unreliable and unpredictable will your service or product be the same?

However, by taking a bit of time to think about and apply consistency, you can go a long way to demonstrating to potential customers, or whoever else is reading, that you are dependable and detail orientated – that you know what you’re doing. For a copywriter or editor, it says the same to clients, of course.

Don’t forget to pay attention

So next time you’re writing something for your business, be it a blog or web page, or even a job application for yourself, start to pay attention to these little details – to ensuring copy consistency – or have a copywriter or editor on hand to help you out.

Copywriting vs. content writing: what’s the difference?

What’s the difference between copywriting and content writing?

Before you wait for the punchline, there isn’t one. What there is, on the other hand, is a fair bit of confusion.

Now this isn’t really surprising because both copywriting and content writing as definitions aren’t in themselves particularly clear. Throw in the fact that even those who work in the industry aren’t even in agreement on the distinction and what is clear is that they need some explaining.

Coming from someone who does both, here’s my shot.

Same, same but different

First off, copywriting and content writing are not the same thing despite often being clumped together.

While they both involve a talent for writing, the best way often used to describe the split is that copy sells whereas content entertains, informs and educates. This is pretty good, and true to a large extent, however if you’re talking about intent it isn’t entirely accurate as content writing also aims to sell, eventually (I’ll get to that in a minute).

Okay, so what is copywriting?

Copywriting is headlines and taglines and all the catchy advertising stuff. But that only scratches the surface. Copywriting is also writing for a whole lot of other on and offline marketing bumf – brochures, leaflets, websites, email newsletters and point-of-sale material such as packaging.

While the format and writing style varies for each, and between industry, the task of copywriting is always to sell or promote a brand. Each word, sentence or paragraph is carefully considered and crafted so that it plays a part (consciously or subconsciously) in convincing people that they should take a positive action towards buying.

Therefore copywriting is not just straightforward ‘I can write’ writing, it’s a bit more cunning. It involves researching the audience, tapping into the consumer psyche and, with this knowledge, using prose as a tool of persuasion.

How about content writing?

Content as a broad term is a form of communication to be digested by an audience. Now, in this respect it encompasses all writing, including copywriting. But this isn’t really content as we talk about it today. The reality of content has become digital content – so for me content writing is web content writing.

What kind of things do content writers write? Blogs, editorial articles, infographics, e-guides, case studies, social media copy – all of which not only require a different writing skill set to copywriting but in themselves are very different forms of writing e.g. journalistic, factual, snappy.

Essentially, the art of content writing is writing something people want to consume, like and share. It’s not about persuading, it’s about engaging people – something story telling does well.

Blurring the writing boundaries

Just to throw a spanner in the works, copywriting and content writing may be different for the most part but they’re not mutually exclusive skillsets. Some copywriting techniques work well in content e.g. headlines which are crafted to persuade people to read. Plus copywriting, like content, can entertain and inform.

But don’t let this confuse things, all this means is that understanding the principles of one can enhance the other.

Information as brand bait

Now I mentioned earlier that like copywriting, content writing also sells. But how can it sell if it’s not using words to persuade?

This is how. If you can produce good quality content you can position a brand as relevant, entertaining and knowledgeable. This will not only make people sit up and take notice but is also intended to keep them coming back for more – and there’s the hook. By drawing people in, content builds awareness and trust and creates potential customers.

So content writing sells, just indirectly.

Clear as mud?

It’s all in the technique

Ultimately the differences between copywriting and content writing can be pretty fuzzy around the edges, but when you separate them by technique i.e. manipulating words to sell versus writing words which entertain, educate and inform (even though the intention is also to sell) – the distinction becomes a little clearer.

 

 

 

 

 

Copywriters: what’s our time worth, anyway?

A couple of weeks ago I received an email from a potential client who’d seen my advert on Gumtree. She already had a writer she worked with but wanted to get someone else on board to help with a bulk of upcoming work.

I replied thanking her for her interest and prompted for more information. The project was a series of 400-500 word blogs on home renovation, with vague subject areas supplied. Sounded interesting so I was more than happy to provide a quote.

Now I know that unlike other avenues of potential clients, people looking on Gumtree usually have a lower budget. With this in mind I dropped my price a little as I reasoned it would be regular consistent work for a couple of months. I clicked send.

Her response made me chuckle, but was not unexpected. She informed me that my price was high and that her current writer charges just $20 per blog. $20? This basically means they work for less than the minimum hourly wage for a job that would take at least couple of hours (if done well) to complete.

In addition, she went on to ask what made me so different that I could charge so much. After  choking on my tea, I sent her a polite response detailing my 12 years plus experience, clients I’d worked with and average costs paid to qualified copywriters for blogs of that length. I’m still waiting for her response.

Unfortunately, this is the reality of freelance writing today. Because the internet has made it possible for anyone to become a published online writer, people start to assume that anyone can write. This in itself works against us copywriters who are now expected to provide our services for a less than fair price despite credentials and years of experience.

In addition, outsourcing sites like Fiverr, UpWork and Freelancer, far from opening up opportunities, have actually devalued our work and made a lot of people looking for freelance services think $5, $10 or $20 is a fair price to pay someone for what could in reality be many hours of work.

While these sites may be great news for clients on a budget- if they don’t mind taking a lucky dip on quality – and good for new writers looking to fill their portfolio – on the whole they suck for us professional copywriters trying to make a decent living.

My personal bugbear with these sites is not only do they pay poorly and send the true value of a copywriter’s work (or any other freelancer for that matter) plummeting, but when you use them you also typically have to pitch for the jobs in the first place.

For each job this means sending a detailed run-down of why you’re suitable for the job and how you’ll tackle the copy. In reality, the time and effort taken to do this in itself can be worth more than you’ll actually end up getting paid, and you’re not even guaranteed the work. Sometimes you’ll find a client willing to pay what you’re worth, but on the whole, most are looking for a bargain.

A few years back when I was just starting out as a freelancer, I signed up and got on the books of a site which specialises in freelance copywriting – I won’t name names. This one checked past work and credentials, not all do. I pitched and won several jobs but quickly realised my time was way more valuable than the dollars offered. In addition, they don’t even put your name to the work as your words become the intellectual property of the buyer so, in theory at least, you can’t even add it to your portfolio.

Even now I still get daily emails with new jobs looking for writers willing to pitch. $23.50 for a 600 word blog; $15.00 for a webpage; $30 for a series of emails. The other day they even contacted me directly asking if I could write a 2,000 word whitepaper for $100. Considering it would take me a good few days to write and research, I declined.

Now I’m not just writing this blog to have a moan (well, not entirely). My point is that if you’re looking for a copywriter, try to be realistic in what you’re expecting to pay.  Not only will you get a better calibre of writer but you’ll also get better service and more value. You wouldn’t expect a lawyer, electrician or any or profession or trade to work for $5 so why are we any different?

While I’m willing to work around a client’s budget, I won’t devalue what I do for the sake of a few bucks. So what is a copywriter’s time worth? I charge per project, based on estimated hours, but as it’s a creative process it’s not always easy to set a time limit. A fair price for a blog these days? $150-$200; an infographic? $250; a brochure? $500-$750 – it all depends on the specifics.

Us seasoned copywriters aren’t cheap (we’re not always expensive either), but in a world where words can be, I think we’re worth it.