I’ve learnt a lot about writing for the web and made a tonne of embarrassing mistakes along the way.
And I’m still learning. Still finding ways to add or razor an article to get it just so. And as a writer, I know ‘just so’ never comes. The best you get is ‘just the best it can be’.
But here are 10 copywriting tips that I think are just about spot on:
Solve a problem
Customers don’t come to you for fun, they come to you to solve a problem. Period. So solve it. If you don’t, they’ll go somewhere else.
Tell a story I can believe in
How did you start? Why? What do you care about? What are you working on next? Can I be involved? People love great stories. They love to share them too.
Show don’t tell
This is the best advice I ever heard about writing screenplays. Can you communicate in a look or with an image what your character would otherwise have to explain? The web is a visual medium, not a novel.
If your call centre, blog, Twitter feed, or help pages aren’t run by real people and/or don’t tell me I’m about to share information or talk to a real person who cares about solving my problem, your brand isn’t real to me.
Stand up for what you believe in
Don’t water down your brand’s mission and values. Don’t shy away from being controversial or dividing opinion: it will save you wasting time converting the people that aren’t right for you, while accelerating alignment with those who share your views. That’s not to say you have to have a cause. Being in it to make money is fine. We all have to eat. But don’t make a big play of donating some of my money to a local dog shelter if you’re a cat person who makes patio furniture.
Assume the audience is smarter than you
Don’t avoid wading out into complex arguments or using deeply technical copy, so long as you’re still writing to read (covered next) and are still solving customer problems along the way. It doesn’t put me off that I have to think, but it does put me off if I think you think I’m a child or an idiot.
Write to be read
Use white space. Make sandbites and takeaway quotes stand out. Use sub headings that foreshadow what I’m going to get next. Images and graphics to show rather than tell. Make long stuff available as a printable download I can read on the train. Write for convenience too.
While still solving my problem and telling me your brand story.
Break the rules
Surprise me. Make me laugh when I really expected to your boring technical page to – well, bore me. Play on words. Invent new ones. Be memorable.
Never stop learning from others
Inspiration doesn’t happen in a vacuum: we are all borrowing, plagiarizing (in the right way), deconstructing and recombining ideas from every source available. So keep learning. These days, especially keep an eye on the research studies into what people are reading and sharing and why.
I’m sure there are others I could have put in there and I’m sure you’ll have more words of copywriting wisdom of your own, and I’d love to hear what rules you abide by when writing for the web.
About Stuart Shaw
I’m a freelance copywriter and white hat SEO expert with 20 years’ experience writing web content that speaks louder than words. I live and work in Milton Keynes. Yes, the home of concrete cows. Get in touch by calling 01908 330242 or email: [email protected]