Web Copywriting 101 – Begin with the End in Mind

Web CopywritingOccasionally a web copywriting “rule” is so deeply ingrained in your subconscious that it becomes second nature, and you forget that not everyone else knows about it. I was reminded of one of these rules the other day when I was having a meeting with a new client.

They had written their own web copy on their first iteration of their website, and were looking for some professional polish to take their marketing efforts to the next level. This client was one of the few that had written pretty strong, benefits-oriented copy all on their own, but they had made one big mistake that was preventing them from getting the response that they wanted.

A Common, Yet Fatal, Mistake

Ironically, the mistake was that they knew exactly what response they wanted, but hadn’t crafted the design or the copy to elicit any response at all. When I asked them what they wanted a client to do after reading their website, they immediately answered “give us a call for more information.”

But there was nowhere on the page that invited to reader to call for more information. In fact, the “Contact Us” page had no phone number listed on it, and the company phone number was actually hiding in very small font in the web footer. No wonder the phone wasn’t ringing off the hook.

Don’t Leave the Reader Hanging

Your web reader is busy and impatient, but also open to suggestion. Every page design needs to work in harmony with the copy on every page to get the reader to do exactly what you want.  And that means that your creative brief needs to spell out exactly what your call to action is so that the designer and the copywriter can work together to make sure you’re getting the response you want.

If you want her to call for more information, you need to make sure that the phone number called out as a separate element on every page and that you invite her to call with a eye-catching call-to-action – preferably both in the body of the copy and above the phone number in your eye-catching call-out box. If you want him to download the latest white paper or sign up for a webinar, you need to do the same.

Need help crafting compelling calls to action for your website?  Give me a call.

TMI – How Much is Too Much for B2B Marketing Collateral?

Marketing CollateralIt’s a fine line. You want to tell your prospects EVERYTHING as soon as you get their attention. They want only enough info to make a quick decision about taking the next step. So how do you keep from scaring them off and / or boring them to death and actually get them more interested in your product?

I could make a lot of comparisons to dating here, which would be totally relevant. But an even easier exercise is to ask yourself this two part question:

  1. What is the next step you can reasonably expect your prospect to take after reading this piece of collateral?
  2. What information will they need in order to take that next step?

Of course, answering these questions is not an easy matter. While you might like every prospect to call you begging to order your latest product from a single banner ad, that’s not very realistic. Unfortunately, a lot of companies expect a whole lot of bang for their buck. But that “bang” may be the sound of them shooting themselves in the foot.

In general, brochures, emails, product sheets, traditional and social media, and even your top level web pages are an invitation to find out more. While each of these are different length and styles, the main goal is to give the prospect just enough information to pique their interest and then provide them with clear instructions on how to find out more.

Case studies, white papers, technical specs and the like are the main course of decision-making. Your prospects will want to dig into as much info as you are willing to give them – and probably forward it and discuss it around the office – before they pick up the phone to talk to a live sales person.

Once they’ve done their own background research, the next step is to call a sales rep for more answers. So make sure your “deeper” collateral has appropriate calls to action and contact information.

If you try to jump the line on any of these steps you run the risk of looking unprofessional or worse – desperate. That can shut the prospect down and send them looking for a competitor who will give them the information they want – when they want it.

Web Copy, White Paper, Case Study, Blog…What I’m Working on Right Now

White papers, web copy, case studies, blogWhenever I get a call from a new client, they are very interested in what type of copywriting projects I usually work on. At cocktail parties (OK I don’t really go to cocktail parties, but you know what I mean) I get asked the same question. But like the weather in New England, the answer can depend on the hour.

Over the course of my 15+ years writing mostly B2B marketing communications, I have worked on just about every type of writing project there is. Of course, what I am working on tends to change with the times; 15 years ago I was less likely to be writing blogs and web copy, while today I am less likely to be writing direct mail pieces and physical sales letters, since these have almost completely morphed into email marketing.

To satisfy the curious, I thought I would share a list of the projects I have worked on this month.  While not totally representative, it should give the curious a peek into what types of copywriting and design I do.

This month I:

  • Finished up a 12 page web copywriting project for a Cloud-based search portal company
  • Created the design – in Microsoft Publisher – for a case study I wrote last month for a Cloud services vendor
  • Wrote over 100 “ghost blogs” and keyword optimized press releases for various attorneys and law firms across the US
  • Finished up several pieces of sales collateral (brochures, solution briefs, sales sheets) for the world’s largest IT company
  • Started creating a Power Point Presentation on writing copy for the web, which I will share with the marketing department of a billion-dollar corporation
  • Updated a LinkedIn profile and gave some social media tips to a busy executive
  • Wrote email newsletters for a law firm, a school supply company, and an internet sales distribution consultant
  • Met with a financial services client about creating a website for the firm’s new direction
  • Began updating a series of product manuals for a company that manufactures clean-air monitoring devices for materials processing plants worldwide
  • Went to lunch with one of the greatest professional copywriters of all time, Peter Bowerman, who was kind enough to meet some of his fellow professional copywriters for lunch one day during his vacation
  • Completed a few blog posts for www.savvyb2bmarketing.com, a marcom blog I started with 5 other professional marketers about a year ago.

Some months I do more web copy, other times I am totally immersed in creating a white paper, and still others I crank out sales kits and product sheets. But all in all, it was a pretty busy, fairly typical month for me.

If I can help you with a case study, blog, white paper, some web copy, or anything else, please don’t heistate to contact me!

Are people really reading more?

ReadingFor years “they” have been telling us that the next generation is going to heck in a handbasket. This includes a serious decline in the nobler pursuits, including marriage, lifetime careers, and reading.

According to an article in the NY Times, a recent report released by the National Endowment for the Arts  -“Reading on the Rise: A New Chapter in American Literacy” – shows that people are reading more, and not just tweets and texts, either.

The report is based in part on information derived from data gathered by the United States Census Bureauin 2008. The good news for civilization as we know it, is that the percentage of adults who admitted to reading at least one work of fiction in the past twelve months has risen for the first time in nearly thirty years. The greatest gains were made in the 18-24 year old set. This is good news for the publishing industry, which was already struggling when the economic downturn hit last year.

Dana Gioia, chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts was quoted as saying that “in a cultural moment when we are hearing nothing but bad news, we have reassuring evidence that the dumbing down of our culture is not inevitable.” I enjoyed the movie “Idiocracy,” but I am glad that it might not actually happen that way.

What does that mean for us as marketers? Well, when the Millenials become the next generation of C-level execs, they will have the attention span to keep reading white papers, case studies, and all of the other in-depth marketing collateral they need to make good business decisions. MTV who? 

Do you read more now than you used to? Is ten pages still the right length for a white paper? Chime in with a comment!

Before You Hire an Ad Agency

AdvertisingSo maybe you’re a start up with limited funds, or maybe you’re one of the growing number of larger companies with no internal marketing department and a limited marketing budget. Whatever the reason, when you suddenly need a new brochure for the upcoming trade show, a website makeover, or you’re launching a new product and need to update all of your marketing collateral and send out a press release too – who do you call?

The most well-known option is a marketing agency. A full service agency might have anywhere from 3-30 people on staff and can provide the full range of marketing services from branding to concepting right down to putting the finished product in your hands. Of course, all that overhead has to be recaptured somewhere. That is why agencies command a hefty fee for services, and many will only take on clients with an extended monthly retainer contract.

Now let’s say you just don’t have that much need, or you have a one-time project that will require a lot of heavy lifting and not much after that. Or you don’t want to contribute toward the rent on those fancy downtown offices. There are options out there that can give you just what you need for a lower cost AND with more personalized attention. You can hire freelancers to take care of every aspect of your project from start to finish.

I know what you’re thinking but…

Some common misconceptions abound about freelancers:

It is easier to just hire an agency because they will provide all the services and manage the project with one point of contact.

If you want one-stop service from a freelancer, ask. I personally have a network of freelance marketing and branding strategists, designers, photographers, public relations specialists, social marketing consultants and even a packaging designer and printer that I can coordinate for a completely turnkey project. Most freelancers do.

The agency will have better, more experienced talent.

A lot of agencies keep the core staff to just project managers and outsource all the creative to freelancers. I work for several agencies in this capacity. The only difference between hiring me or the agency is that they tack on a 50-100% premium on my regular hourly fee when they send you the bill.

An agency will be more professional, and more accessible:

Freelancers are running their own one-person business. That means they are heavily invested in their relationship with you and highly motivated to give you the best possible results. Even if you would be a small fish for an agency, you are probably a big fish for your freelancer. My biggest clients are around 300 people. My smallest are around 3. All of them are equally important to the success of my business so I make sure they all get great service and attention.

Have you had any experience hiring freelancers in your business? Or do you currently use a marketing agency?

Must-have Marketing Collateral

White paperI do a lot of work with start-ups and so I run into this issue frequently. They either have a limited amount of time, money, or both, but suddenly have a trade show coming up and they need something to give to prospects. Or they simply need to start creating marketing materials, and don’t know where to begin.

The following are “must-have” pieces of marketing collateral:

1. Website: It seems almost too obvious to mention, but the website is the place to start. If you already have a website, you need to look at it critically. Is it customer focused, professionally designed, and easy to navigate – or was it hastily thrown together just to “get something out there?” I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to have an inviting and informative website. After all – you are hoping all those trade show attendees will eagerly check you out after the show – don’t turn them off before they get started.

2. Company and product /service literature: For those on a very tight budget, a two-sided sales slick with an overview of company offerings and a boilerplate about the company can be a suitable amount of information to hand out to overwhelmed trade show attendees. For those with complex offerings and a larger budget, a series of two-sided solution/product briefs tucked into a well-designed folder along with a one page company overview and a business card will do the trick nicely.

3. In-depth research and information: If there’s still time (and budget), the next step on the collateral ladder is creating information-rich documents that take the prospect further down the sales cycle. These include white papers, case studies, and relevant third-party research. Case studies are particularly helpful when prospects might have a hard time envisioning how a solution will be implemented and what they can expect from it. White papers are great tools for establishing thought leadership and providing in-depth information on the benefits of your solution.

Don’t forget your hook

Collateral alone is not enough to make sales. You need to have a strategy for how to use it. What can you offer the prospect that they would deem valuable enough to give you a chance to win their business? What you come up with will depend on your product, your market, and your prospects.

 If you have developed white papers and case studies, don’t just freely hand them out – offer to send them via email to prospects who request it. When you don’t have a white paper to offer, you can get a little more creative. As an example, a client of mine (who didn’t have time to revamp any collateral before the trade show) recently offered green energy show attendees a free initial assessment of whether their property was an appropriate candidate for solar or wind energy. Because they were offering something of real value to the prospect, they had a very high sign-up rate.

What are your must-haves for the trade show? Do you have a no-fail hook you’d like to share?

People aren’t reading your web copy? It’s not them, it’s YOU.

Web copywritingI have been hearing the same complaint for a long time now: people don’t ready anymore.

As a professional writer, I found this information more than a little alarming. So I did a little research and found out what I suspected all along – people do read, but only if they want to. So how do you make them want to?

Understanding how people read web copy

The truth is people DO read web copy. And marketing brochures, and even white papers (12 whole PAGES!?!?!?!?), and they do so eagerly if you make it worth their while. They just don’t read them the same way they read – say – Wuthering Heights, the newspaper, or Tweetdeck.

News flash! When someone lays eyes on your website, they know you are trying to sell them something. The question they immediately try to answer is: Do I want to buy it? Your copy needs to help them answer “maybe” as quickly as possible. (“Yes” comes a bit later.)

If you make it hard for readers to instantly see what’s in it for them to read further – guess what? They won’t.

So what’s the secret to web copy that gets read?

Your website is only the first step in the sales cycle. Try to think of it as getting a date with an attractive stranger you meet at a cocktail party. Try to be something you’re not and they will see right through you. Talk too much and you turn them off. Propose marriage and they run away screaming.

The purpose of the website is to grab their attention, pique their interest, and let them know how to get more if they want it. (You do have links to case studies, press releases, solution briefs, and white paper registration – right?)

Make your heads and subheads work for you – Leave clever word play for journalists, and the suspense-building for novelists. Titles and subtitles are the first things web cruisers read, and they use this information to make a snap decision about whether to read more. Your title needs to lay it all on the line; don’t be subtle. Subheads need to clearly point readers to places in your copy where they will want to stop and stay awhile.

Be clear – PLEASE, I am begging you, do not start out your conversation with your customers by saying “we are dedicated to achieving maximum effectiveness by providing state of the art implementation of IT with leading-edge technology that enables businesses to achieve faster ROI.” What do you do and why do you do it? Tell them.

Keep it short  –  Web copy should be 3-4 short paragraphs. Fewer on the home page. If they want more they will keep digging. Just make sure you have more available (case studies, white papers, solution briefs) when they want it.

For an example, try the following:

Kiss IT downtime goodbye

Stop downtime before it scares off your customers

Today’s customers and employees expect 24/7 access to apps and data. That means you need to avoid downtime at all costs.

Acme IT guarantees 99.999% uptime with widgets and wingnuts that are easy to manage, inexpensive to operate, and do what they’re supposed to do…99.999% of the time.

Ready to learn more?
Find out how great .0001% downtime feels for one of our clients or contact us for a free consultation.

Contact me to discuss your upcoming project.