Tuesday, 24 July 2012

What is copywriting?

Mashup lyrics for challenging copywriting: Words don't come
 + You can't get blood from a stone 

How I got to know SEO (Hello, is it you I'm looking for?) 
My background is in print journalism. When the recession hit the UK, I was just out of maternity leave and out of London, where my all media clients were based (and still are). In order to work remote, I built on my blogging and web editing experience to reinvent myself as a digital writer. At first I was writing articles for content site Suite 101 and testing products for Made for Mums

So why was I moonlighting there and subsequently on Brighthub (which pays a modest fee)? I was learning SEO copywriting. I don’t know what the situation is for these sites post Panda, but back then all articles were reviewed by an editor, who also provided SEO guidance. This came in very useful in my day job as product tester and digital feature writer. 

A call out of the blue in 2009 catapulted me into agency copywriting. A digital agency found my website and I ended up copywriting three campaigns for Danone Ireland. While writing thousands of words of static copy and tons of emails for registered users, I learnt about marketing SEO and how to tag videos. All this work was remote, save for one face-to-face meeting. Don’t you love the internet? I do and seeing that nearly all advertised opportunities demand inhouse freelancers makes me angry. I love remote technology.

Rant over, what is SEO copywriting for marketing? (Come gather 'round people wherever you sell aka the marketing song)
When you think of SEO, you might visualise page rankings, incoming links, keywords and social media strategies. Building a community is especially important to brands that sell, say children’s products - if you want to sell something to a parent, you’d better have a website with informative static content, a forum, useful videos, engaging emails for registered users, a helpline and the killer: a good cause. Corporate social responsibility is part of corporate identity and has a competitive advantage – business research has proved this over and over. Global brands know this so well and you will find a good cause advertised aside most branded products.

And if you are selling even a remotely health-related product (a smoothie for kids falls in this category for the anxious parent) you need high-quality content and some experts at hands to take those calls on the helpline and front the videos on the website. Contentwise, you engage a copywriter with knowledge in that market and off you go. But what is quality content? Rules have changed since Panda and Penguin came along. Pundits think it’s all for the better as content is king. It’s back to basics really, there is nothing more off-putting than a badly written website.

Writers have known this all along and I did have to argue with an agency about using different spelling of a word on their client's website. With my SEO hat on, I know that you need to cover all the search bases, but I’d have that in the keywords section, which is not visible (unless you do a source view), not in crossheads or in the copy. Having good content and different spelling of a word throughout an article is not on. Think of copywriting: you can have copy writing, copy-writing, copywriting.... people key in all sorts of spellings when they search for something, correct or not. You can’t have those peppered in the copy, it looks stupid.

Good content (I'm picking up good vibrations)
Perhaps we are now less constrained as writers to produce good content - repeating that a keyword every two sentences doesn’t make for quality copy. Yes, you need to include some keywords, but you can reach your quota using photo captions, tags for videos, crossheads (still unwisely underestimated), infographics, you name it. However, let’s not obsess too much about keywords. We need to spend time on the writing, prioritising quality, originality and clarity. So no stuffing, please, unless you are thinking turkey.

And while you are at it, you have to find that magic voice that speaks to the potential customer while driving home the concept that you are giving him/her value for money, which is far trickier for expensive products. But wait, is there a health benefit to highlight? Yes, there is.... then you need more copy to nail it. 

Presence, feedback and engagement (Bound to ascend + Country feedback)
For maximum exposure, you need to integrate all channels: TV, print, social media... so you need copy targeted for each of them. It’s a long list: scripts, press releases, blog posts, targeted tweets... Yet some companies think that one piece of copy will fit all. Saving on content is a false economy, a website with great design but poor copy is a dead duck.

Word-of-mouth is a good selling tool. So are critiques and reviews. Even negative ones can help, if the company addresses the issue and solves the customer’s problem there and then. Bring on all the social media tools, don’t skimp. It might be time consuming, but it works wonder. 

Usability (Use me)
All of this is fine and dandy, but if the website is difficult to navigate, then you spilled good copy for nothing. A clean design without hundreds of side panels to click is best. Yet some clients don’t want the surfer to miss a thing, so their websites end up as an overwhelming mess. Web readers have a short attention span. You want them to stock up their virtual cart and finalise that purchase, not bore them so they click away.

Have a mull and feel free to chip in your top tips...

P.S. I found a great article on how journalists make for good marketers If I might direct a personal dig to recruiters who rejected my CV as not relevant to marketing jobs (where writing was mentioned in the job description), this article is for you.

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