What’s the word?

by Patricia Fitzgerald

It’s happened more than once. We land on a website, only to find a page populated with “Lorem ipsum” — placeholder text — instead of content written by humans, for humans. And it pains us. Why, we ask. Why?

The truth is, many businesses place a low priority on copy — the words on their websites and in their marketing materials meant to convince readers to use their services or products. In our experience, clients tend to be more focused on the visuals, color palettes, and whether the logo is large enough. Which makes sense; the pretty pictures are what grabs attention, at least initially. 

But we firmly believe that “nobody reads the copy” is one of the greatest misconceptions in advertising. Somebody, at some point, is going to want to learn more about your company and what you’re selling. They’re going to want to know why they should choose you over your competitors. And they’re going to take the time to read your About Us webpage, your brochure, your direct mailer, your email. If the copy’s no good, they’re going to bounce from your website, delete your email, or throw that beautiful piece you paid to produce right in the trash. 

To write or not to write?

Pretty pictures will only get you so far. You also need compelling content that encourages your audience to linger a while, read on and learn more once the immediate visual impact has dissipated. So if good copy is so important, why do so many businesses neglect it? Let’s dive in.

For many businesses, bad copy comes down to lack of time, resources and expertise. We’ve had many a client hire us to design their website or brochure, with the promise that they’ll provide the content. In around 99% of the cases, the client soon discovers that writing their own copy is much harder than it seems. For starters, writing copy takes time — time that most businesses (especially small ones) simply don’t have. Finding someone on your team to dedicate the hours needed to write content can be a serious challenge. 

When clients do find the time to sit down at a computer and start pushing keys, they’re often unsure how to begin, what to say, or the best way to say it. You may be excellent at what you do and sell. But running a business and writing compelling, effective and succinct marketing copy are two very different things. We’ve had clients with multiple PhDs and decades of professional experience freeze when it comes to stringing together cohesive sentences about what they do and why they do it better than anyone else. It ends up taking them six times as long to write a single page of copy than it would a professional copywriter.

So what ends up happening? Days, weeks, even months go by, and we’re still waiting on content to complete the project. Deadlines gets missed, launch dates get delayed, and money gets wasted. Eight times out of ten, the client ends up asking us to write the copy. And they end up being much happier for it.

Do the write thing.

And now we make the impassioned case for hiring a professional copywriter. Yes, it’s an expense — and good copywriters are not cheap (“you get what you pay for” applies to writers as well). But it will help you avoid fiascos like this. Here are some more good reasons to hire a good copywriter.

You've Got Better Things to Do

What you pay a copywriter, you’ll likely end up saving in time delays, internal resources, and do-overs. A competent, experienced copywriter will get your content written in less time, with less anguish and frustration than doing it yourself. Hire the right copywriter the first time around, and you won’t have to pay someone else to rewrite the stuff the first guy cranked out. We can’t tell you how many times we’ve have to fix bad copy from a “writer” who charged peanuts, and delivered unusable crap.

Get Some Distance

Sometimes we’re not the best ones to tell our own stories. We’re too close to the subject matter, and struggle to get the distance and perspective we need to sell ourselves effectively. You may know more about your business than anyone. But that can actually make it more difficult to explain that business to others. Where do you start? How much should you say? What do you leave out, and what do you keep in?

An experienced, proven copywriter will know how to capture and communicate your most compelling strengths, differentiators and value message in a way that connects with your audience. They have the distance and neutrality — as well as the chops — to tell your story for other outsiders. Just as important as knowing what to say, a good copywriter will know what not to say.

Not All Copy Is Created Equal

A website is different from a brochure. A brochure is different from a direct mail piece. A direct mail piece is different from a print ad. Each communication channel has its own purpose and personality, and content should be adjusted accordingly. 

A good copywriter will know how to adapt your message and story for the medium at hand. They’ll know that website copy should be shorter and more to-the-point, that brochure copy should be organized in a way that guides the reader along, that direct mail should use strong calls to action, and that ads require powerful headlines and a distinctive voice. The more experience a writer has with multiple mediums and their peculiarities, the better.

Know Thy Audience

When clients write their own copy, they often end up writing for an audience of one: themselves. They forget about who’s actually going to be reading their content — hopefully, their future customers.

An experienced copywriter will take the time to understand your target reader — their preferences, proclivities and pain points. Then they’ll craft your messaging so that it appeals directly to that reader in a personal and meaningful way. Whether you’re trying to reach a 60-year-old stock broker or a 16-year-old skateboarder, a skilled copywriter will make it clear you understand your customers’ needs and speak their language.

Why, Not What

Clients who write their own content tend to focus on explaining what they do or sell, instead of why their reader should care. So you’ll end up with a laundry list of features, but no clear message about what those features do for your customers. 

Let’s say you’ve been in business for decades. That’s awesome, but why does that matter to your reader? A good copywriter will translate that particular feature — longevity — into a tangible benefit for your customer, i.e. confidence knowing that you’re a proven company, will do the job right, and aren’t going anywhere. Or let’s say the widget you sell has undergone extensive quality control and testing. Again, great. But so what? A good copywriter will connect the dots for your reader, making it clear that your widget will continue to work the way it’s supposed to after years of use and abuse. Copywriters understand that the why is just as important as the what, and will help you identify and articulate not just your features but the benefits that matter most to your customers.

Readability Is Key

Regardless what type of business you run, services you offer, or products you sell — your copy should be enjoyable and interesting to read. A website for a CPA deserves well-written, readable copy just as much as a website for a cupcakery. 

A competent copywriter will know how to inject personality and voice into your copy to bring it to life. Rather than being constrained by stuffy grammar rules (yes, you can start a sentence with “and”), a good copywriter will make your copy sound human, personable and inviting versus stiff, formal and — worst of all — dull. Because if you don’t want to read it, you can bet your audience won’t either.

Searching for Mr. (or Ms.) Good Copywriter

Hopefully, we’ve convinced you to hire a professional copywriter for your marketing materials, rather than writing them yourself (or asking your overworked office manager to do it). Now comes the task of findingthe right writer. When choosing a copywriter, it’s good to go with your gut. Look at samples of their other writing, and ask yourself whether you like the writer’s style. Do you enjoy reading what they’ve written? Do you think they could do a good job reflecting your business and its brand?

Along with style and personal preferences, there are a few other ways to suss out a good copywriter. 

  • Ask to see samples of their writing across a broad range of mediums and communication channels — online, print, long-form, short-form, creative, technical. Versatile copywriters typically make the best copywriters.
  • Have them tell you their approach or process for writing copy. How will they learn about your business and audience? How will they ensure the copy they create reflects your brand?
  • Don’t limit yourself by insisting that your writer be fluent in your industry. Sometimes writers with little or no industry-related experience can bring a fresh perspective and voice to your content — and avoid the cookie-cutter copy you’ll see with your competitors’ marketing materials.
  • Ask about their revision process. When you come back with changes, how open is the copywriter to making and reflecting those? Avoid divas that give you attitude when you suggest edits. Yes, your copywriter is the expert. But they should also respect and respond to your feedback.
  • Check out their references. Get the contact info of other clients the writer has written for, and follow up with them. Ask about the experience working with the writer, if the writer made an effort to understand the business and audience, whether they responded well to input, and whether they met their deadlines. 

There’s a reason we put the Copy before the & Design. The words on that web page, brochure or ad matter. They can make all the difference between someone picking up the phone to call you, or pointing their mouse elsewhere. If you need something written, we can help. We know good copy when we read it. Even better, we know how to write it.

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