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Copywriting: the key to good web content (part 1)

Mark Tomkins - Creative Director at Aubergine
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It’s worth starting with a fundamental piece of information to establish the terms used in this article are fully understood.

Copy (copywriting) is content.

Content is a piece of communication that uses text to explain something – whether it’s explaining a solution to a problem you have or conveying some news. It’s actually about selling.

It’s about selling a thing or an idea: you are trying to get across to someone you aren’t with and have the reader react to it.

Invariably, it’s the hardest part of any kind of communication project. Whilst you have it all in your head, extracting it out in a logical and coherent way is hard – the brain doesn’t want to work that way and tries to connect one bit of information with another, potentially incorrectly. So we have to be very mechanical about it to make content work well so that it can be fully understood and there’s no misunderstanding.

Fundamentally it’s about distilling down a complex and long story to just a paragraph or two, so getting the language, tone of voice and all the salient points in it is vital.

In this two-part article we’ll cover:

  • Tone of voice and why it is important
  • Etiquette – what to say, where and how
  • How to start and create your first piece of well-constructed copy

 

 1. Tone of voice

Tone of voice is very important. Every language on the planet uses it to infer the emotion behind the words. It sets the emphasis of the conversation you’re having with the reader. If you are writing a piece that represents the brand – ask yourself the simple question ‘who do I want to read this?’ Once you have that, then ask yourself ‘why should they listen to me?’

If you could have absolutely anyone who has ever lived do your company or business voiceover on a TV or radio advert who would it be? People relate to other people so giving your brand a consistent tone of voice that the reader can relate to builds a bond.

 

Why do we do this?

  • We’re not there so we want the message to have as much dimension and appropriate emotion as possible. Just words on a page aren’t enough, even with images. Adding a personality to it makes it personal to the recipient and adds that emotive aspect.
  • What are the imaginary voiceover’s values – why them? Work out what it is about their personality and character that works so well for you:

 

Is it confidence? Assurance? Fun? Experienced? Young and trendy? Understanding why you’ve chosen that person will help you towards establishing the tone of voice for your content.

 

What next?

Re-read your piece in your head as if you are them. Does it work?

Now, this is quite a literal explanation of ‘tone of voice’ but the principles remain the same.

When talking to an audience on social media or on a web page, make sure the message comes over with the right intentions as you can’t be there to say ‘no, wait – that’s not what I meant’.

Be respectful, talk TO the listener not at them.

No shouting into the void.

Bad brand example: “We do this, we do that, buy my stuff we’re great blah blah blah”

The typical consumer: “Stop. My ears are hurting. How does this affect ME?”


Audiences

Tone of voice is also important when talking to different audiences and demographics.

  • Ages
  • Professions
  • Social groups

Obviously, if you were writing a piece to promote a new drum and bass festival you wouldn’t use the same tone of voice as you would if you were, say, a creative agency talking to yummy mummies about how they can have a logo, website and leaflet for their SOHO business.

 

Practical tips

 

  • If you’re writing for a brochure or website (or advert even) the basic rules are the same.

Keep it short and precise. Nobody likes to waffle.

  • If it’s a web page or social media post – check with the designer as to what space you have with which to work or what the character count is on a particular social media platform.

Once you’ve done all the background and have the long-form version down – the start, middle and end. Get the gist of it in your head.

Then read through it a couple of times and work out what are unnecessary words – take them out.

People scan-read on social media – it’s why a lot of people get the wrong end of the stick when it comes to reading people’s posts and misunderstand. They read what they want to read.

  • If your channels are FB, Linkedin and Twitter you’ll need to produce a version for each that fits those character counts.

Remember the character count for desktop versions and mobiles is different.

 

We call these versions ‘shorts’

 

  • Practical – MS Word and Excel will count characters for you. Write it in there before posting it online!
  • Excel doc can be set up so that when you’re planning out your posts on the different platforms the cells will have max character counts so you can collate and contain all the post versions in the scheduling document for best planning and posting efficiency schedule.

Remember – Truncation (where it chops off) can be triggered by too much content, web addresses (because there aren’t spaces) and too many hashtags.

 

2. Copywriting etiquette

What is etiquette in the context of copywriting and content creation? In short, it’s guidelines that set the boundaries of the conversation or communication to ensure it’s received by as wide an audience as possible without creating offence.

The writer and the reader are in a relationship of sorts.

Imagine in your mind your ideal reader – who are they? How old are they and from what background? Visualise the ideal person in your mind and then think about how you would talk to them if you were with them in person.

How would you engage in conversation with them and what sort of language would you use?

 

What is etiquette?

When writing, it’s making sure that you don’t overstep the boundaries of your relationship with the reader.

  • You don’t know them so don’t assume too much.
  • Don’t talk to them like a mate.
  • Have some standards. Would you show the piece to your mum?
  • Don’t swear. Ever. Not even a tiny bit.
  • Don’t talk down or be condescending.
  • Consider how the reader may interpret your message.
  • You’re talking on behalf of someone else (the brand) so remember that it’s not about you and what you think but the personality of the brand or company.

 

Making content shareable

What makes someone want to share your content on social media?

We need to apply some good and simple marketing principles.

Human behaviour – WHY should they share? What’s in it for them?

  • Obligation?
  • Incentivised?
  • Newsworthy – look at me, I’m first to tell you.
  • Ego.

 

So, how do you make your post or content shareable?

Firstly – there’s no guaranteed answer and no magic bullet that will definitely work.

However, if you follow the core marketing principles of content creation:

– What is it you want to say? (Have a start, middle & end to your piece)
– Why should I listen to you? (Justify why you are best-placed to tell the reader through an
expression of expertise and emotive writing)
– Write it towards the person you ideally want to respond – think like them, empathise.
– What do you want me to do? Always make sure there’s a call to action. You can write the most amazing piece of content but if you don’t tell the reader what you want them to do it will have failed.
Keep to the rules of what to say and where and you won’t go far wrong.

 

And one final thing….

If you’re in the UK and writing for the UK domestic marketing, don’t ever use a ‘z’ in any spelling unless you have to use the word zebra or Zulu and the like. This is the United Kingdom, not the United States and using a ‘z’ just means that you have been a lazy copywriter and allowed the autocorrect to handle it. It devalues what you want to say.

Spelling, spelling, spelling…. Oh, and grammar. They’re, there and their….