Tag Archives: Copywriting

Ground pepper day

PepperFor those of you who are only satisfied by salacious revelations from my private life, here’s a bombshell. I bought this box of pepper over the weekend.

I was looking for whole peppercorns but I was in a rush so I didn’t read the box properly. I just looked at the picture of whole peppercorns and thought ‘does exactly what it says on the tin.’ Of course it turned out to be ground pepper. Bloody Ronseal.

Which goes to show that readers often pay a lot more attention to the pictures than they do to the words. So make sure your pictures count.

What a difference a word makes

Carphone3

Copywriting is all in the detail. On the carphonewarehouse.com homepage we have a link that takes customers to our help section. Deciding what to call this link didn’t seem like a particularly big deal – we talked about ‘Help’ and ‘Help and Support’ but eventually settled on the former because we thought it was cleaner and more to the point.

As an experiment, we switched it to ‘Help and Support’ last week to see if it would encourage more people to click. It shouldn’t have made much of a difference, but in fact clicks on that link have tripled.

Whether this is because the new link takes up more space and is easier to find, or whether people associate ‘Help and Support’ with a website’s help section more readily is debatable. It’s probably a bit of both. But it does show the difference that one word can make.

Give them what they’re looking for

guide dogs

I was at the front of a very long cashpoint queue the other day. Which means I was trying to get my money and scarper as quickly as possible before the massed tutting turned to grievous bodily harm.

Anyway, having entered my card and PIN I was faced with a list of options. Scanning them quickly I couldn’t find what I was looking for. And because I couldn’t see the ‘Cash’ option I actually assumed for a second that the machine had run out of money. It was only on second inspection that I eventually found what I needed:

Withdrawal without receipt

Obviously it was my own fault for not reading properly the first time. But my behaviour was hardly atypical of someone at a busy cashpoint. And I’m probably a better skim reader than most.

What I was looking for was an option with the word ‘cash’ in it – it’s a cashpoint, I was trying to get cash out, I looked for ‘cash’. But because ‘cash’ wasn’t somewhere in the title, I couldn’t find what I needed quickly.

It’s not a biggie I know. But it’s definitely something to consider. Technical copywriters should never be vain enough to think people will give their work more than a passing glance. Readers use technical copy for information and they’ll search for that information as directly as possible.

So when I’m writing technical copy in the future, I’ll always try and give readers exactly what they’re looking for.

Why maps are quicker

Obviously a picture paints a thousand words. Fact. So an animation with lots of scrolling captions and flashy zoom-ins must paint about a million words.

That’s why Maps of War is my new favourite site. It’s got loads of animated maps which make complex history straight-forward and fun.

As all copywriters know, there are times when it’s easier to present information graphically instead of labouriously writing it out. The religion map above is a good example – it does the work of half an hour’s reading in about 90 seconds.

So down with words, and up with funky graphics. I’m off to the job centre.

What is a copywriter?

Copywriter

You get some weird responses when you tell people you’re a copywriter. Most people have heard of my job but don’t really know what I do. I guess it’s a bit like being an MP (insert your own cymbal noise).

Here are a couple of sample reactions:

Me: “I’m a copywriter.”
Acquaintance one: “So if I can invent something, you can help me out yeah?”
Me: “It’s copywriter with a ‘w’. As in writer, not copyright. And you’d need to talk to someone at the patent office anyway.”

Me: “I’m a copywriter.”
Acquaintance two: “So you do photocopying?”
Me: “Well I’m not qualified yet. But I’ve heard you press the green button.”

I sound very self-important. But I wasn’t really sure what a copywriter did myself a couple of years ago. Basically, copywriters are writers, and the words they write are called ‘copy’. Copy + writer = copywriter. Geddit? For a profession that has one selling-point – being good at choosing words – it’s a very confusing job title.

Of course there are different types of copywriters, who all produce different types of work. I’m a bit of a jack of all trades at the moment – I spend most of my time producing copy for the web but I do a fair amount of technical writing, marketing stuff and journalism as well.

If you want to learn more about what different copywriters do, here’s my quick guide:

Advertising copywriters:

If they’re at an agency they’re often called creatives. These are the people who write the words for all the print, internet, TV and radio adverts you see. Their work ranges from 500-word brochures to Tesco’s “Every little helps” slogan. They’re what most people are talking about when they refer to copywriters.

Direct mail copywriters:

Similar to advertising writers, they send out all those sales letters and emails. They seem to spend the rest of the time writing blogs about how they can triple your sales.

Technical copywriters:

Technical writing is about presenting information as clearly and logically as possible. These guys write all the user guides, manuals and other technical documents you see. Not as easy as it sounds.

Web copywriters:

Writers who specialise in the web tend to have a good understanding of how people use web pages and tailor their copy for their specific audience. This generally involves writing for people with short attention spans and making sure copy attracts the attention of search engines.

SEO copywriters:

SEO stands for search engine optimization. Very basically, it means making sure web copy is picked up by Google by stuffing it with lots of key search phrases. For example, this piece of writing is full of the word ‘copywriter,’ which hopefully means Google will suggest this site whenever anyone searches for a copywriter.

Journalists:

Not strictly copywriters. But they write copy for newspapers, magazines and websites.

Ghost writers:

They write copy in the ‘voice’ of other people – most sports autobiographies are an example of this. They also write R.L. Stine books.

How to fit your Tweets into 140 characters

twitter

There are plenty of blogs about how to use fewer characters and fit more into your Tweets. But I’ve not come across many guides that deal with this problem from a copywriting perspective. Here are a few simple tricks that can help you write more concisely and cram more of your brilliance into each Tweet. And to show you how easy it to fit an idea into a Tweet, each tip is less than 140 characters long.

1. Keep yourself out of it

Don’t say ‘my’ or ‘I am’. If you’re writing a tweet it’s a fairly safe bet you’re talking about yourself. So don’t reiterate.

2. Hyphens – are quicker

Use hyphens to skip to another idea mid-sentence – you’ll save words as you don’t have to finish the sentence formally.

3. Keep superlatives short

When using superlatives, save space by only writing the superlative. Awesome. In a short tweet it’s obvious what you’re praising. Fantastic.

4. Make common phrases shorter

Turn longer phrases into shorter ones: ‘In order to’ > ‘to’. ‘Because’ > ‘as’. ‘At the moment’ > ‘now’. ‘Unable to’ > ‘Can’t’.

5. Get rid of ‘that’

You’ll usually find that you can get rid of ‘that’. Read the last sentence again without the first ‘that’. See – you can. So eliminate ‘that’.

6. Save words with descriptive verbs

Use descriptive verbs to paint a picture with one word. So ‘stormed’ instead of ‘walked quickly’, ‘promote’ instead of ‘tell people’.

A man of letters

untitled-1We’ve been re-writing a lot of the standard letters we send to customers recently. Finding the right tone is vital when you’re talking to customers, and having looked through all our old templates I’ve come up with a list of phrases I really don’t like:

Kindly… 
As in “kindly do this.” People use kindly when they need to tell customers to do something and they don’t want to sound rude. But nobody says “kindly” when they talk. “Please” is a much better option.

I’m delighted to tell you…
Customers who get a letter from a big company are never going to believe that someone who answers 30 letters a day is “delighted” to tell them something. You might get away with telling a customer you’re “pleased.” Or you could just tell them and leave your own feelings out of it.

We deeply regret…
Apologies are very difficult to write without seeming fawning or false. But a plain ‘we’re sorry” usually does the trick.

Unfortunately, I can’t…
I hate it when I get a letter saying a company are “unable to do something.” Companies can do anything if they want to, and it’s frustrating to pretend otherwise. If you’re not going to do something because it’s against company policy then say so. But don’t pretend it’s not possible.