There are a lot of articles out there giving copywriting tips. I don’t claim to be a guru. I don’t train or mentor rookie writers – but after a few years in the field, here are the rules I use for my own copywriting.
Short really is sweet. Snippets of copy, interspersed with images, work far better than huge chunks of text. Subheadings help to divide the information up, and bullet points can also be useful. Likewise, keep your sentences snappy. When I was writing interpretation text, I was advised never to go over 21 words per sentence. I try to keep to this. (Please don’t go through this post, counting the words…)
Read it out loud. Do you sound like yourself? Can you imagine yourself using those words in everyday life? If you can’t, it’s probably too formal. Think about sentence length and vocabulary to get back on track. Your subject may be a formal one – but remember, even serious professionals don’t speak like dictionary entries.
Thinking about formal, there are a few grammar and punctuation conventions it’s OK to break if you’re writing for the web. Forget colons and semi-colons – the en-dash is the web writer’s friend. It’s fine to end a sentence with a preposition – “which shop is it in?” sounds more contemporary than “It is in which shop?” “Who” is more modern than “whom” – and “whilst” rarely reads well in web copy, the latter being rather old-fashioned. Again, try to imagine you’re speaking with your customers.
Which leads neatly onto – who are your customers? What sort of writing will they respond to? If you’re writing for a surf shop, “awesome” works. If you’re selling legal services, reconsider your adjective. Does the tone work for your brand or subject? Naturally, tone of voice guidelines are available from katewaddon.co.uk. Just saying… (A phrase I promise not to use for insurance or medical copy…)
The vexed question of SEO. Yes, Google loves content. So do readers. If you’re optimising your copy for search engines, never lose track of readability (see my earlier blog post on SEO copy).
Please please please proofread your copy. It always amazes me the amount of good websites that have glaring typos. Ask a friend or colleague to read it for you – it’s hard to spot errors in your own work, even if you’re a tip top speller. Using a spell checker can be good, but they’re not infallible – “its hard to pots errors in you’re won works”, for example.
To hire a copywriter or not? OK, I declare an interest here… However – there isn’t always a need to use a professional copywriter, and I would be showing an appalling lack of integrity if I said otherwise. Even if you do engage a copywriter for your web copy, it’s worth bearing the above points in mind. However clever and creative your copywriter wants to be, the basics need to be in place.
Bearing in mind my mantra of “short and sweet”, that’ll do. Keep it simple. Try to enjoy it. You know where I am if you need me.