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We’re all Website Copywriters … Aren’t We?

Good website copywriting doesn’t grow on trees*

I spent years perfecting the art of making my words reader-friendly, clear and informative.

Then I had children, who went to high school and college, where they were forbidden to write words that are reader-friendly, clear and informative.

This pet peeve of mine is front and center today because I’m writing about website copywriters. And not just any website copywriters – I mean website copywriters who are reading the Mequoda Daily, and ply their craft for publishers and information providers.

If you think website copywriters in our industry can afford to slack off on grammar, punctuation, spelling, and accepted style … if you think the little details don’t matter anymore, and are as irrelevant today as buggy whip technology – like 99% of the people currently reading and writing in the public eye do – maybe you’d be better off writing copy for beauty products or the movie business.

The fact is, the one, the single, the only industry where the boss is likely to recognize untrained, sloppy website copywriting is the one we’re in.

Website copywriters you never want to hire … or be

Here’s a simple example of bad website copywriting. One of the earliest things I learned as a journalist was to write naturally, using style in which most people converse. And the one thing everyone uses in normal, everyday speech is use contractions: I’ll, we’ve, you’re, won’t, it’s. So I write using these contractions because it’s how people talk, and because not using them makes your website copywriting stilted, overly formal and hard to read.

But today, high schools, colleges and journalism schools are assiduously teaching writers not to use contractions because … uh, OK, I have no idea what they’re trying to accomplish.

Bad website copywriting:

It is simple to become a freelance copywriter. All you need to do is enroll in some copywriting courses online so that you can learn the basics of what it takes to land your first gig as a freelance copywriter. It is easy to learn copywriting. You can catch on in no time. − websitecopywriters.com

Good website copywriting:

It’s simple to become a freelance copywriter. … It’s easy to learn copywriting. You’ll catch on in no time.

Aside from the bad information delivered here (stop laughing … I’m talking here!), you can see and “hear” the difference when normal, English language contractions are used.

Website copywriters’ bonus tip #1: A contraction counts as one word instead of two, and if you’ve been reading at Mequoda about SEO website copywriting, you know it’s much easier to hit your keyword density targets when you eliminate excess verbiage!

Website copywriters’ bonus tip #2: Don’t get carried away with contractions. As a rule of thumb, if it’s still two syllables when you contract two one-syllable words, such as it’ll and that’ll, don’t bother. They actually “sound” more awkward than the original two words.

Here’s another easy fix for aspiring website copywriters: In every piece of copy you write, do a search for prepositions that are unnecessary for clarity and comprehension – then hit “delete.”

Bad website copywriting:

All you need to do is enroll in some copywriting courses online so that you can learn the basics …

Good website copywriting:

All you need to do is enroll in some copywriting courses online so that you can learn the basics …

Website copywriters’ bonus tip #3: Smart website copywriters know that words like “that” can needlessly clutter up your copy – and again, mess with your keyword density.

Another problem I see literally everywhere in print is allegedly professional website copywriters who don’t use Associated Press style, the American standard for writing anything for publication. Maybe you 20-something website copywriters haven’t been trained in it and assume it doesn’t matter. I can assure you, your organization’s publisher and editors are old enough to be thoroughly trained in it. Maybe your publication’s audience of financial investors or knitters won’t notice, but why risk letting your employers think you’re not professional?

Website copywriters’ bonus tip #4: That said, neither website copywriters or publishers should assume their audience won’t notice sloppy writing. If your audience is older and well-educated, they’ve had an entirely different writing education than the one offered now, and are probably better trained in writing style than you think, no matter what their profession. Why risk letting your potential customers think your entire publishing organization is unprofessional?

Bad website copywriting:

At Business Plan Consulting, we’ve spent the last ten years …

Good website copywriting:

At Business Plan Consulting, we’ve spent the last 10 years …

Website copywriters’ bonus tip #5: Learn AP style. A one-year online subscription to the stylebook costs $26 – $15 if you opt for auto-renewal – and will make you look more professional than you ever could be without it. Website copywriters must know the basics, including when you should use digits and when you spell out the numbers!

(Website copywriters’ bonus tip #5a: Spell out the numbers from zero to nine, and use digits for 10 and above. Unless you’re using the word “percent” … then you … well, just check your stylebook!)

Contrary to that abominable advice given above by websitecopywriters.com, good website copywriting has always been hard to learn, and it’s twice as hard now that we’re writing for search engines as well as people. For all the advice you’ll find about website copywriters on the Web – how to hire or become one – actually delivering copy that has measurable results is not for the faint-hearted. If you’re engaged in it successfully, congratulations! Keep reading here, post tips of your own, and pat yourself on the back for being dedicated to an underappreciated craft!

*If you sneered at the use of a tired cliché in the subhead, you’re right! Website copywriters’ extra super bonus tip: Avoid clichés like the plague!

Looking for copywriting help? Contact Ann-Marie Sullivan, our member services manager, and she’ll schedule a brief needs calls with Don Nicholas, our CEO and lead consultant.

Posted in Audience Development Strategy

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8 thoughts on “We’re all Website Copywriters … Aren’t We?

  1. Nick Burns says:

    I use the Chicago Manuel of Style…that OK?

  2. Mary says:

    Absolutely — it’s my second go-to reference. Everyone should be using one or the other, but both is even better.

  3. Nick Burns says:

    Thanks, Mary. I got used to the Chicago Manual as a book publisher. One of the most useful, best organized reference books I’ve ever seen. I will get an AP guide too as I’m sure there are some style differences between book publishing and journalism.

  4. Mary says:

    The best thing about the AP guide is the updated online reference, because things do change, especially related to technology words.

  5. Nick Burns says:

    Good point…Web site, website, or Website?

  6. Mary says:

    From the AP stylebook:

    “website: A location on the World Wide Web that maintains one or more pages at a specific address. Also, webcam, webcast and webmaster. But as a short form and in terms with separate words, the Web, Web page and Web feed. See Web in main section of Stylebook.”

  7. Carolyn Lystig says:

    I prefer Chicago Manual of Style, too. One thing they do that differs from AP is insert a comma before and, i.e., red, white, and blue. Mary, I appreciate that you have ONE space after a period! Too many are still using TWO spaces after a period 🙂

  8. Mary says:

    That comma thing is wierd, I never noticed it! And boy do I hear you on the two-spacers. I can see that extra space from, uh, outer space because it drives me nuts. Here’s an interesting explanation of the whole thing:

    http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/technology/2011/01/space_invaders.html

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