Why writing for the web is like driving a car in traffic.

Driving in trafficYou’re driving downtown, in three lanes of traffic, during rush hour on a Friday afternoon.

Your foot is jumping between the accelerator and the brake. Your eyes are looking out front, but also frequently checking the rear-view mirror.

And you’re in the middle lane, so you’re watching your wing mirrors and turning your head to check the blind spots.

In short, you’re moving forward, but constantly aware of everything that is happening around you, and adjusting how you drive accordingly.

And then…every now and again you’ll end up behind one of those annoying drivers who does none of these things, other than staring straight ahead. These bad drivers act as if they are completely alone on the road, without any regard to anything that is happening around them, with the exception of what’s right in front of their noses.

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Being “on-message” is the worst thing you can do.

rob ford on messageIf you want to engage your readers, earn their trust and turn them into customers, the worst thing you can do is write content and sales copy that is “on-message”.

Online content and copy that is on-message has about as much power as a politician who has been overly trained by his or her media trainers and speech writers.

The outcome lacks all authenticity. It’s BS, and we know it.

I recently returned from a trip to the UK where the country had just voted to choose their representatives for the European parliament.

What usually happens is a win by the Conservatives or the Labour Party, with the Lib Dems taking third place.

This time, the winner was a new, upstart party called Ukip.

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Copywriters: Learn your craft like a cabinetmaker.

Learn copywriting like a cabinetmakerI know plenty of beginner copywriters who are constantly taking courses, reading books, following blogs, watching videos and finding as many ways as possible to learn more about the craft of copywriting.

That’s a lot of time and money being invested.

And why not? As a copywriter you can make as much money as a lawyer or a doctor. And even if you buy every course and program out there, you’ll still be paying less for your training than those other professionals.

But…here’s a funny thing.

Back in the late 1970s, when I got started as a copywriter in London, I don’t think there were any copywriting courses. I certainly never took any. And during my first ten years as a copywriter I think I read just one book on the subject – The craft of copywriting by Alastair Crompton. It’s a good book.

So how did I learn my craft?

That’s easy. I learned by DOING.

I just wrote and wrote and wrote.

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What I hate about web content. And how to make it better.

most web content is noise, not signalI hate the race…the pressure to add more and more pages of content at an ever-increasing rate.

A few years ago millions of rubbish pages were being uploaded to the web every day. Then Google put a big dent in that approach with its Panda updates.

Unfortunately, the race is still being run, but with a slightly improved quality of content.

It’s still a race.

And I hate that.

I want to publish content according to my own calendar, not because I feel I have to compete with everyone else.

And I want to publish content that has a purpose, not simply because “more content is good”.

And that’s the nub of it. It drives me nuts when companies and individuals upload content simply because “more is good”, and “fresher is better than older”. There is an element of truth to both of those reasons, but the downside is that everyone gets into a race to upload truck loads of content that is just “good enough”, and created simply to satisfy the call for “more content”.

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Copywriters: You can’t bully your prospects into saying Yes.

copywriters shouldn't bullyAs a copywriter you are placed in an adversarial position with your readers.

This happens whether you like it or not.

The relationship is adversarial because you are trying to get your reader to change in some way. Change their brand of toothpaste. Change their diet. Change the software they use. Change the coffee they drink. And so on.

It is our job as copywriters to drive a change in behavior. Or, if you are writing to existing customers, it’s our job to prevent change from happening.

Either way, there is an adversarial element to the relationship.

If you don’t think there is anything adversarial about trying to persuade someone to change a behavior, pause for a moment and think about the last time you tried to make your spouse or one of your kids change their behavior.

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Make your online sales copy LOOK like it’s easy to read.

easy to read copywritingThe best copywriting in the world won’t work if people don’t read it.

And people won’t read your copy if it looks “hard” to read.

In other words, the structure and visual design of your copy can make it or break it.

Often when I look at an online sales page the headline is too long, or the opening paragraph is too long. Or the first three paragraphs are all too long.

The outcome? The page looks like hard work. The appearance of the first screen of text signals that the reader is going to have to take a deep breath and really concentrate. They are going to have to commit to working their way through the text. Like reading a text book at school.

Bad move.

Sales pages that look like hard work are created by people who misunderstand the nature of people’s attention online.

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