Exclusive: Writing Better Copy for the Web 2.0 Landscape

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by Bryan Eisenberg ::

  Being data-centric with the ability to use that data to communicate to your customers effectively and in a human way is an important way companies will differentiate themselves in the decades to come. The job of copywriter will be a sexy one in the next decade.


Copywriters in the 1960s used to say that copy needed to be like a lady’s skirt: long enough to cover the essentials and short enough to be interesting. But as my brother Jeffrey recently observed, “The skirt seems to be getting shorter and shorter.” AdWords, Twitter (microblogging), social media, text messaging, Google’s seeming preference for pages 500 words or less and the continual assault of data on our senses is raising the bar.

Until recently, the copy challenge was mostly about providing relevance. Now, it’s about providing the same or even higher relevance but in fewer words. In Frank Luntz’s book, “Words That Work: It’s Not What You Say, It’s What People Hear,” he writes:

It is no accident that the most unforgettable catchphrases of the past fifty years contain only a single- or at most two-syllable words. And when they initially haven’t been so simple, someone inevitably has stepped in to shorten them. Just ask the makers of Macintosh (“Mac”) computer. And when was the last time you used the words “International Business Machines” rather than “IBM”? Federal Express is now officially “FedEx,” Kentucky Fried Chicken is now “KFC,” Oil of Olay is just “Olay,” and Dairy Queen now refers to itself as “DQ.”

“Power equals work, divided by time,” says my fellow copywriting trainer Jeff Sexton. “Your copy’s persuasive power equals its emotional credibility divided by the time required to read it. The trick isn’t just to say more with fewer words — it’s to say it more credibly with fewer words. That’s much harder to do but anything less usually fails. Unread copy is infinitely unpersuasive.”

To write great copy, you must adhere to three principles:
• It must be relevant.
• It must be credible.
• It must be as short as possible (not just short).

Notice how the word “creative” is absent. People don’t have time for you to be cute, play tricks, or gimmick them. They want the facts, and they want what they’re looking for now.

How to Write Better Web 2.0 Copy
Newspapers have long employed people to write nothing but headlines. This skill is desperately needed online. And, it’s very attainable using the power of the Web, and analytics. The Huffington Post uses A/B tests on multiple versions of its headlines to see what one will get the most clicks, then defaults to the winner after the first few minutes (it has that much traffic). Copywriters must get in the habit of creating multiple versions of their headlines (and sub headlines) to find those that work best. This is a great example of improving creative communication by being data centric. This will be a must needed tool for copywriters.

Kill the jargon, fluff, and hype. Not everyone can be the number one, premier, most trusted, scalable, most robust, and leading vendor. But if you do make a claim, make sure you can validate it immediately. Customers are more sensitive than ever to shoddy sales pitches and false claims.

Speak to customers in an authentic, human voice. Embrace transparency and authenticity and, wherever possible, embrace the voice of the customer. While you’re at it, make sure your copy has a voice that matches your brand; a voice that people will remember.

Stop haggling over copy length; customers don’t care. They care about getting the information they need from your copy, quickly. Make sure you answer their questions and close the loopholes in as few words as possible. Asking a copywriter what he thinks of an editor is much like asking a fire hydrant what it thinks of a dog — but editors who can slash copy to its meaty essentials are invaluable. Learn to trust their instincts, but feel free to test the edit with an A/B test.

Lastly, be sure to format your copy for reading online. Use headlines and sub headlines, bullet points and lists, short paragraphs. Use bolding and linking effectively and keep the reading around the eighth-grade level.


About the Author: Bryan Eisenberg is an internet marketing pioneer and is professional marketing speaker. Bryan is the recognized authority and pioneer in improving online conversion rates and was recently recognized as one of the top 10 User Experience Gurus. Eisenberg is the co-author of the Wall Street Journal, Business Week, USA Today and The New York Times bestselling books “Call to Action,” “Waiting For Your Cat to Bark?” and “Always Be Testing.”

 


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2 comments

LateaseR 12-03-2009 4:38 PM

Writing for WEb2.0 sounds like a good blog post.  But you make some valid points Bryan.  I have become so indoctrinated in writing short bursts and getting straight to the point, that my blog posts are reflective of that.  Thanks for showing me to trust my subconscious!

kristin rielly 12-04-2009 7:58 AM

I agree with pretty much everything, except keeping the reading level around 8th grade.

There has been a consistent "dumbing-down" wave occuring in America. I feel that maintining an elementary reading level will only contribute to this.

Keep the copy short and sweet (especially the headlines), but we should also start to challenge the reader with a higher level of content and vocabulary. And if there's a word, phrase or reference that the average person may not know, it can always be linked to Dictionary.com or Wikipedia.com.

Thanks for this article :)

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