Writing for the web.
Back in the Stone Age, when I was working
as a copywriter at an ad agency -- well, let me just think about that
for a moment. No wife, no kids, no mortgage payments or private school
tuitions. Just me, my dog and a two seater red sports car. Where was I?
Oh, yeah. Back when I was a copywriter, I wrote a brochure for a client.
It's not important which client for whom the brochure was written. What's
important is that for any creative product to leave the agency, it had
to ascend the chain of command: from copywriter to group head to creative
director, who in turn heaved it over to the "account side" of
the building. The account team would run it up their flag pole to see
who saluted it, and if there weren't too many changes, the brochure would
make it's way over to the client for approval. It was tough. It was messy.
And as it is with most things, the more people that got involved, the
worse the creative product got to be.
It was tough enough going through the
exercise, but the worst occasion I ever encountered was the day a general
manager's secretary handed me back my copy with all kinds of red ink bleeding
all over it. "What's this?" I asked incredulously. "Oh,
you can't write like this," she announced. "It's grammatically
They were never able to prove the cause
of her death, which is why I'm here today to give you a few pointers about
writing your advertising. And writing for the internet is just as important
as it is in everyday print. Maybe moreso, because advertising on the web
is an especially graphical art form.
Now, I'm no fan of overwriting an ad.
But let's face it. There is a certain amount of information -- mainly
selling information -- that graphics alone just won't cut by themselves.
You do have to write something. But how you write it is what makes all
1. WHO CARES ABOUT GRAMMAR? If you've
talked to any recent college graduate, you know that they don't know the
difference between a gerund and a participle, so why should you care?
Oh, I know it contributes to the decline of Western civilization NOT to
know these things. So if you're writing a college thesis, by all means,
stick to the MLA style sheet and don't end your sentences with prepositions.
But this is advertising. Here, we write what works.
2. DON'T MAKE ME READ YOU; MAKE ME HEAR
YOU. One of the best ways to improve your writing's effectiveness is to
talk to your readers, instead of writing to them. When all is said and
done, your reader should be able to "hear" you as if you were
talking to them. It makes your site -- and what you're saying on it --
a lot more personable. If you want a trick that I teach my students, start
out your sell copy with "Dear Mom". Then write the letter to
your Mom the way you normally would. After that, cut off the "Dear
Mom" part and you'll see what I mean. Nobody ever writes, "Dear
Mom! Finally a way for you to turn 46¢ into $100,000 in your spare
3. DON'T RELY ON AUDIO TECHNOLOGY. Many
web designers make the mistake of thinking that cute little audio plug-ins
are a way around writing text. Forget it. Audio clips are just one more
cute little gimmick that distracts viewers, and more often than not, annoys
them with long download delays.
4. LOOK COUNT, BUT PEOPLE JUDGE YOU BY
THE WAY YOU SPEAK. Remember that beautiful girl/guy you saw across a crowded
room at that party? Remember how your hormones started jumping all over
the place as you approached him/her? Remember how disappointed you were
when you heard how dumb he/she was when it opened its mouth to speak?
Come one, everyone has one of those in their history. And badly written
sites are the same animal. If your site looks great, but is loaded with
badly written text, you'll have undermined your entire marketing effort
right then and there.
5. WHEN IN DOUBT, CUT IT OUT. Keep it
short. To the point. Nobody likes a windbag, and where people can click
away from you in a nanosecond, you want to keep them moving along. Besides,
too much copy can actually talk you OUT of the sale.
6. DON'T TELL THEM EVERYTHING. The trick
to writing copy that turns text into sales is to direct a viewer into
contacting you for more information. If you tell them every little detail
on your site, they don't have any reason to call. In fact, if you tell
them too much, you may give them a reason NOT to contact you. On the other
hand, if your copy directs them into contacting you, you open up the opportunity
of bringing in those fence-sitters who might not otherwise have bought.
One last thing: A lot of people ask me
about one word sentences. They know they're not grammatically correct,
but is it okay to use them?