Maslen on Marketing, Web copywriting

How web 2.0 changes your copy

Have you heard of web 2.0? The latest buzzword on the net is all about user-generated content, social networks, new ways of hooking up with people, and, inevitably, new ways of making money.

It also places a premium on truth over hype. Integrity over gloss. Real people over corporate flacks. (Or, to put it another way, the lunatics have taken over the asylum.)

Now this doesn’t mean you have to redesign and rewrite your website to emulate the near chaos of many blogs and shared community sites like bebo and MySpace.

But maybe you should take a long hard look at your site and ask the following questions:

Seven questions you need to ask your website

  1. Have we used a slick library image of someone beautiful? (Hint, most people don’t relate to these shots because they portray an unrealistic world where every merchant banker, IT manager and indeed carpenter is straight out of central casting.)
  2. Have we blocked entry to our site with a Flash intro? (Hint, for a start these bore Google’s spiders who assume you have no text on your site and move on. For a finish, they irritate the hell out of your site visitors. If people wanted to watch a short animated film they’d go to an animation site.)
  3. Have we larded our copy with hollow adjectives like cutting edge, revolutionary, fantastic, exciting and unique? (Hint, nobody EVER believed this, but in the increasingly democratic world of the web, they begin to seem out of touch big time.)
  4. Have we hidden any trace of humanity? (Hint, without photos of your staff, your principals or your customers, people are going to start wondering who’s really behind your business. Without engaging copy that sounds like a real person wrote it, you’re never going to connect with a generation of web-users who expect just that.)
  5. Have we forgotten that people want bite-sized chunks of information? (Hint, long copy still works for the nano-attention-span crowd, but you’ve got to work overtime to get them to read it. The easiest way to do it is to use ultra short paragraphs. And the shortest words you can manage.)
  6. Have we left our reader with unanswered questions? (Hint, tell people EVERYTHING they need to know before making a purchase decision, or whatever decision you want them to. And do it on your main pages. Don’t expect your reader to make the effort to scroll through your FAQs page.)
  7. Is your copy readable? (Hint, although I did see a pink page with white type and morphing yellow stars on bebo, most readers are still more comfortable reading dark type on a pale ground. That doesn’t move. And is either ranged left or justified. Your designer probably doesn’t believe this.)

And above all, have we given a full and detailed account of the TRUTH? In other words, have we explained exactly why anybody visiting our site and reading the copy should believe a word of what we’ve said? And then act on it?

And I’m telling you this because?

John Caples once said, “Times change, people don’t.” He was half-right, because the people you’re selling to haven’t really changed, despite the advent of web 2.0. They are still prone to the same emotional reactions to sales copy and corporate publicity as they were a couple of years ago, ie highly sceptical

But the people who NEED to change are … well, marketeers. They need to kick their addiction to slick graphics and vapid phrasemaking. Instead, marketeers need to focus like never before on their customers, or readers, if you prefer

From now on, every word you write has to be as genuine as the most badly punctuated screed on blogspot. As compelling as the item descriptions on eBay. And as involving as the stories cropping up on every social networking site now spreading over the web like a rash.

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