• Hayley Cherrett

Is your copy fit for purpose, or just written to fit?

Updated: Mar 31, 2020

Picture by Jamie @ Flickr

In your heart of hearts, is your marketing copy everything it could be? It’s ok, but somehow a little underwhelming?  A little bit ‘meh’.

You’re not alone. Picture the scene…. We’re in the office – typing, creating, persuading, chewing on dictionaries and such like. The phone rings. Caller: Hi. We’ve got some web copy but it doesn’t seem to be working. We can’t work out why. Us: Hmmm. Did you give a lot of money to some people with hipster haircuts and black polo necks in return for a stunning website design? Caller: Uh huh. Us: Did the said stunning design feature lots of text boxes you had to fill with words yourself? Caller: Uh huh. Us: And by the time you got said text boxes, there wasn’t much time until the site went live? Caller: Uh huh. Us: Ok. Now, think carefully. If they’d given you an egg cup and asked you to put an elephant in it, would you have questioned it? Caller: Yes, but…. Us: Or given you a haystack and asked you to play hunt the needle? Caller: Of course. Us: But you were happy to take any shape or size of text box and fill it with words, no questions asked? Caller: Er, well … Us: That’s why your web copy isn’t working. It’s been written to fit, not fit for purpose.

How to make sure your copy is fit for purpose.

1.   Use story-nailers

Marketing is more effective when copywriters nail the story first. Projects are often led by design or digital agencies because these are skills the marketing team knows they don’t possess. So they hire experts. Because they feel they can write, they don’t worry about the copy. Until it’s too late. The communications suffer because the copy is shoehorned into pages with no regard for the story. If the text box is too big, the copy waffles and repeats itself.

If the box is too small, the copy can’t breathe and fails to connect. Sometimes there just aren’t enough boxes. So we rearrange them or create new ones that help tell the story better. You can see more on this at our post smash your web copy. Designers are not born storytellers. They focus on patterns and shapes, not the insight that good communications depend on. Everyone wins if copywriters nail the story. We’re not distracted by the technology, or the latest design trends, or the whizziest widget. The design is better because it’s informed by a strong message. The communications are better because they’re less muddled. And the copywriters do a better job because they’re not shovelling words into a box. 2.   Make like a terrier

Once we’ve identified a key message, we’re like terriers with a favourite stick – we’re not going to give it up easily. Websites can swamp good communications – so many pages, so many links. Your customers can’t see the message for the sitemap. Our role is to keep dragging things back to the main point. Sometimes that means going to the sitemap and reordering it to fit the story. We’re not distracted by flashy tech things or cunning pop ups. We’re only interested in the story. For example, we’re working with a holiday company. In the school holidays their bookings are really good. Their aim is to increase bookings in the ‘shoulder season’. Does their existing web copy reference late summer hols or out of school breaks? Nope. So we’ll make sure those messages are much more prominent in our rewrite. Simple. 3.   Don’t write anything.

Once we’ve nailed the messages, we get the detail sorted. Because great copywriting is bloody hard work we save our best ’til we’re good and ready. We send our clients a bullet point outline of the content for each page (print or digital) to agree first. Once everyone is happy with the detail, we write the copy. And because we know it’s not going to come back covered with amends, we write much better copy. The focus is on style. And we’ll all be agreed the copy is fit for purpose. A content outline for this paragraph might look like this:

  • Nail messages

  • Sort content points and sitemap

  • Create bullet point outline

  • Copy better once facts checked

  • Great copy need to focus on style

  • Saves time

4.  Don’t be distracted by tone of voice

The key weakness of tone of voice or brand language is that is doesn’t pay much regard to the message. There are tonal themes that reflect the brand, but these aren’t the same as making an effective point. So it’s easy to write screeds of lovely tonally correct content for websites without landing the killer punch that converts customers. Yes, tone of voice will strengthen the brand feel, but it won’t persuade someone or change their behaviour in the moment. That’s what great copywriting does so well. So next time you’re knee-deep in a chatty piece of content that’s ever so well-branded and well-written, ask yourself: ‘What is this really saying?’ To use tone of voice well, check out our post why your tone of voice isn’t a tone of voice’. 5.  Direct with conviction

Even if the copy is great, the follow through often lacks conviction. Weak directions like ‘find out more’ can undermine all the effort you’ve made to get your customers this far. Paying attention to the small details like good ‘click here’ copy to spur action, will make a big difference to the overall effectiveness of the site. Don’t rely on the main copy to do the work. Encourage, cajole, promise benefits if the reader clicks to the next stage. A simple word can make all the difference. The $300million button story is a case in point. Simply changing an action button from ‘Register’ to ‘Continue’ created a sales increase of 47%. Copywriters often give up at the crucial point of conversion – it’s the least interesting bit to write. But the most important. Explain what the customer will get when they click – e.g. ‘Click here to download a white paper that will transform your business’ Be very, very clear about what the customer needs to do next. And don’t leave it ’til the end. Include the call to action near the beginning. Talk to the designers about making sure the action is visible and easy to use. Easy to forget in these days of scrollable, responsive sites. Do all this and your web copy will be fit for purpose. We look forward to your call.