Maslen on Marketing, Web copywriting

Introduction of a facilitating methodology for the effective dissemination of communications through the utilisation of the internet

Er no, better make that

Do you want to write good web copy?

Attend an internet marketing conference these days and there is a very good chance you will hear a presentation on writing for the web. You prick up your ears. “Ooh! This could be good,” you say. And it often is. But what the guru advises turns out not to be so very different from what the greats of advertising and direct marketing copywriting have been saying for the last 100 years or so.

The guru will take as his (or, less frequently, her) whipping boy a piece of cloddy, hubristic advertising copy – for a sports car, perhaps. “This,” they intone, “just won’t wash on the web.”

Well, I’m sorry, but it didn’t wash in print either. It’s just that it was quite hard to tell. Now, though, with the ease and convenience of email and the web, customers can and do respond to companies’ marketing messages. They do it directly, by emailing, or indirectly, by posting on message boards, chat rooms and user groups.

And now, those same companies are waking up to the fact that boastful, self-aggrandising, irrelevant copy is of no interest to their customers (the board quite often like it, though). Which brings us back to the question in hand. What is good web copywriting?

It turns out that good web copy is much the same as good direct marketing copy. Or, for that matter, good essays, love letters, or notes for the milkman. Let me give you three simple rules that help:

1 Be concise

It’s generally – no, make that always – a good idea to say what you have to say in as few words as possible. People on the internet are busy. (Duh! Like they weren’t before?) But saying it in ten words not 20 saves more than time. It also saves misunderstanding caused by wooliness and wordiness.

2 Talk in your reader’s language

People generally speak in plain English (the ones who speak English at all, I mean). They tend to say ‘help’, not ‘facilitate’, ‘spread’, not ‘disseminate’, ‘we want’, rather than ‘it is our intention to secure the strategic objective of’…

And even if they don’t, be aware that their reasons for speaking jargon rarely have much to do with making their meaning clear. Your job, on the other hand, is ONLY concerned with clear communications.

3 Be personal

Just one thing to say here. Never, ever write ‘some of you’ on a web page (or in an email). Yes, more than one person will visit the page. More than one might even be reading it at the same time. But not as far as they’re concerned. From the reader’s perspective (the only one that counts), they are THE reader. So talk to them one-to-one. Always.

This month’s message

Writing for the web IS different. But it’s different from bad offline writing, not offline writing in itself. The best direct marketing copy will work on the web, but it needs editing skilfully. You also need to understand how hypertext works (not technically, but linguistically and conceptually). But that’s another story.

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