Is Your Web Copy Any Good?

If a business has a website, it has web copy. And if a business has web copy, it has a problem.

 

What’s the problem? Simply put: how do you tell if your web copy is any good or not?

 

That’s a good question, and I’m going to answer it. But before I answer that, I’ve got a few other little things I’d like to address.

 

First and foremost: you might be scratching your head right about now and saying, “I’m not sure what web copy is, and at this point I’m too afraid to ask.”

 

It’s very important that we define what we’re talking about from the beginning, so here’s a rough definition: web copy is any written (or typed) communication on your website that’s meant to encourage your visitors to take action.

 

That’s not an official definition. That’s my definition. So if you think it’s a stupid definition, you can go ahead and take it up with yours truly.

 

(Don’t worry: I promise I’m going to get around to telling you how to tell if your copy is any good very soon.)

 

Here’s the thing: copywriting is all about action.

 

You’re not writing for your own personal expression. You’re not writing to tell the world all about your dreams, your hopes, or what you have nightmares about. You’re not writing to tell people what you think of the controversy of the week.

 

You’re not editorializing. You’re copywriting. And copywriting is about action.

 

If you fail to inspire action, you’ve failed at copywriting. Everything in copywriting is geared toward action.

 

Don’t forget that.

 

Kinds of bad web copy.

I know I’ve promised you I’ll tell you how to tell if your copy is any good, but that can wait.

 

First things first: how do you tell if your web copy is really bad? How do you tell if it’s so bad it’s not only failing to make sales, but it’s become a liability to you and your business?

 

I’ve come across three types of spectacularly bad web copy in my time. Let’s talk about them:

 

  1. Boring web copy.

 

This covers anything that doesn’t catch and hold the reader’s attention.

 

There’s a widely-cited statistic that says most visitors to a website only stay there for about 15 seconds. Companies that don’t want to put effort into their copy use that as an excuse for lazy writing.

 

Listen: some people don’t like to read online. That’s the way it is.

 

Write the most sparkling-brilliant web copy you can imagine. Write golden words sprinkled with angel dust. No matter what you do, your copy is never going to sell to people who don’t read.

 

But this is no reason to write bad web copy.

 

Good copy may not grab all the non-readers. But bad copy will alienate all the readers.

 

You’ve got to seduce your reader a little. Show you care. Show you see them. Show you know what they want.

 

Put real effort into your copy, and it’ll come back to you.

 

  1. Pushy web copy.

 

We all know web copy is written because it’s supposed to cause some action.

 

Your readers are smart people. They can tell if you’re trying to sell them something. They can tell if you want something from them. They can tell a lot more than you realize.

 

So there’s no reason to beat your readers’ eardrums by shouting, “Buy my thing!” in every other sentence.

 

They can tell you want something from them. Good copy isn’t about constantly reminding them of that fact. It’s about keeping their interest, inviting them to imagine buying from you, and giving them a positive emotional experience so they won’t resent you when you ask them to do something.

 

You’re going to have to invite them to take action sooner or later. But effective copy is written in such a way that your ideal reader has imagined doing the thing you want them to do long before you actually ask them to do it.

 

Even when we know we’re being guided to a conclusion, we like being allowed to feel like it was our idea all along.

 

  1. Completely nonsensical web copy.

 

The worst web copy—and I’ve seen this on more occasions than I like to admit—is the stuff that reads like it was written in a foreign language and run through Google translate.

 

It’s not only poorly written. It’s not only pushy or heavy-handed. It’s not only keyword-stuffed garbage.

 

It’s prose so awful you expect to read “All your base are belong to us” any minute. It doesn’t make sense, and it doesn’t drive business.

 

It reads like it was written by an experimental computer program. And it drives away customers without as much as a second glance.

 

So that’s the bad stuff. What about the good stuff?

 

Good web copy works beautifully—but what is it?

I’m going to start out by saying something that probably sounds entirely obvious, but if you learn this one thing you’ll have learned the most important thing in all web copywriting.

 

This is central to everything. This is the alpha and omega of copywriting. Without this, you can’t hope to write the good stuff. With this, even a lousy writer can improve over time.

 

This is the North Star of copywriting.

 

This is the one point you can navigate by. In all the chaos and uncertainty of vague ideas, this is how you find your way. Out in the desert of not knowing how to get results, this is how you get results.

 

What is it? What’s the most important thing to know about copywriting?

 

It’s simple: good web copy improves your site’s conversions.

 

Good copy make customers more likely to buy from you. It makes prospects more likely to contact you. It makes visitors more likely to start a conversation with you.

 

Anything that makes it more likely that someone will buy from your company is good copywriting. That means you have to be intentional and experimental about your copywriting.

 

You don’t want your copy to be too short, because short copy doesn’t give enough time to create an effective emotional experience for the reader.

 

Here’s a tip: good copy is as long as it needs to be.

 

If it takes one word to skyrocket your sales, so be it. If it takes 10,000 words to get the same result, that’s just as good.

 

Our preconceptions cut our legs out from under us all the time. Don’t let your preconception of how long your web copy “ought” to be torpedo its effectiveness.

 

Good copy is about sales. Never forget that.

 

How do you write good web copy?

You know what you’re aiming for.

 

You’re aiming to make the kind of copy that will have clients with fat wallets drooling to buy from you.

 

You’re aiming to make the kind of copy that will send your business to the next level.

 

You’re aiming to make the kind of copy that will let you retire to your nice mansion in Honolulu where you eat gold flakes for breakfast.

 

Good web copy is a magnet for the green stuff. I hate the phrase “a license to print money,” but good web copy is probably the next best thing.

 

So how do you do it? How do you make your readers desperate to buy from you? How do you raise their buying desire to such a fever pitch that they’re ready to beg you to take their money?

 

It’s not hard. It’s complex, but not hard. With time, patience, and a little old-fashioned effort, you can do it for yourself.

 

Start out by getting to know your ideal customer in detail. You have to be ready to write for this person as confidently and as clearly as if she were sitting across the table from you.

 

You want to know this person. You want to know what they do all day. You want to know what they’re afraid of.

 

But most of all, you want to know what they want.

 

What do they want? What drives them? What is this person’s ultimate fantasy?

 

Are you selling sports equipment to an 18-year-old horndog? Show him all the gorgeous women who will be all over him the instant he buys.

 

Are you selling an investment plan to a woman who loves travel? Show her the canals of Venice or the rising peaks of the Himalayas.

 

Are you selling sandwiches to hungry people? Just show them the sandwich.

 

J.P. Morgan once said, “A man always has two reasons for doing anything: a good reason and the real reason.”

 

When you write convincing, persuasive, seductive copy, it’s your job to know both. You want to entwine the good reason (“I’ll improve my income and be free of what’s holding me back.”) with the real reason (“I love the feeling of having someone go to great lengths to persuade me.”).

 

Good copywriting is all about understanding what motivates people. With a little time and effort, any clever person can learn that.

 

The best way to learn.

I’m not going to hype the best way to learn copywriting. It’s the same as the best way to learn any other kind of writing.

 

The best way to get better at it is to do it. A lot.

 

Start with your website. Then move on to volunteering with some nonprofits. If you do that for a while you’ll build up a nice portfolio with a lot of samples you can show to potential clients.

 

I’ll have plenty of more posts about copywriting in the future—in fact, I’m thinking about writing a whole series of pieces on copywriting methods. But the best teacher for copywriting skills is practice.

 

There are a million techniques I could mention right here. (If you’re clever, I’m sure you’ve noticed a few in this article.) But there’s no substitute for experience.

 

A natural talent for writing is nothing without diligent practice.

 

So if you’re a beginning copywriter, I’d advise practice. Lots and lots of practice.

 

But not only that: it’s also helpful for you to get in touch with some of the freelance writing communities gathered around the internet. If you’re looking for guidance, that’s the place to go.

 

And you could do worse than to let an experienced copywriter take a look at some of your work and critique it. I know some writers are awfully shy about their work, but (sad to say) writing doesn’t work very well if it never meets a reader.

It can be hard to submit your work to criticism. But if you give it to someone knowledgeable and trustworthy, it can be one of the quickest ways to improve your writing technique.

 

Best of luck to you. Copywriting can be an extremely rewarding profession, both personally and professionally. I love it, myself, and I hope I grow a little better at it every day.

 

Let me know if you have any questions or concerns about freelancing. I’m always trying to tailor this blog to your needs, so I’d appreciate the help.

 

And I know some of you don’t like to post publicly, so feel free to contact me by email at geofreycrow@crowcopywriting.com if you’d rather do it that way.

 

Good luck, and good copywriting!

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Where Can You Start Your Freelance Writing Career?

When I started out as a freelance writer, I had no idea what I was doing. I was a wide-eyed dreamer fresh out of college, and I was looking for a way to use my philosophy degree.

 

Let me tell you this: freelance copywriting is a far cry from reading Donne’s poetry on the weekends while writing essays on Heidegger during the week!

 

I’ll admit I was a little out of my element at first. Learning how to find clients, write for an audience, and build my portfolio was a major challenge.

 

(The fact that I was guzzling coffee the way a Hummer guzzles gasoline didn’t do much good for my anxiety in those days…)

 

It was a rough time in my life. If I’d been smarter I would have had a plan for when I got out of college. But I learned my lesson, and now I’ve managed to come through with no harm done.

 

Why am I telling you all this? I’m telling you because I want you to know I started from the bottom. But with help from the right books and the right mentors I learned how to win high-paying clients, run my freelance business, and provide my clients with the persuasive copy they want so badly.

 

But here’s the thing: all that takes time.

 

It Takes Time to Build a Freelance Writing Business

No matter how much experience you’ve got, it can take some time to build up your freelance business from scratch.

 

There are a million little problems you’ll run into along the way, ranging from obviously important stuff like “How am I going to get enough business that I won’t end up on the street?” to less obviously important stuff like “How am I going to motivate and manage myself when I don’t have a boss to do it for me?”

 

(The flipside of being your own boss is that you have to be your own boss.)

 

I don’t want to scare you off by making these problems seem insurmountable. You’re not going to have to do anything you can’t do. Running your freelance writing business means you’ll have to stretch yourself, but if you want to do it, it’s just a matter of time and diligence.

 

But again: it takes time. Let me take a minute to show you a few of the ways building your freelance writing business is going to take time.

 

First off: it takes time to learn how to work with yourself.

 

Maybe it’s just me, but a lot of the time life feels like a constant battle between the part of me that’s gung-ho and wants to take over the world and the part of me that wants to sleep 20 hours a day and go for months between showers.

 

The bright-eyed, bushy-tailed part of me that’s always motivated and the part of me that wants to fling boogers at the wall all day long.

 

The thing about freelance writing is that you have to bring those two halves of yourself into balance. It takes some time to figure out how to do that.

 

Second: it takes time to learn how to get clients. (And it takes even longer to figure out how to win well-paying clients.)

 

You have to figure out your way of promoting yourself—and yes, you have to promote yourself.

 

Even when you’re a mega-successful freelance copywriter making gazillions a week typing up copy from your yacht in Honolulu, you’re going to have to promote yourself.

 

If you’re uncomfortable with the idea of self-promotion: get over it or get out.

 

Third: it takes time to develop a method and a feel for each type of project. I’ll get into more detail about types of projects in a later post, but the point is that you need to have procedures together for how to handle each type of project.

 

Does the client want content marketing? You need to nail down your methods.

 

Does the client want direct response copy? You need to be able to tell them what to expect when they work with you.

 

Does the client want you to do a case study? You need to have procedures in place for doing your interviews and getting the material together.

 

To sum it all up: at this point, you’re like Christopher Columbus right after he landed on the coast of San Salvador.

 

Freelance writing is a vast landscape full of brilliant opportunities and unknown dangers. It’s a great, dark, empty space on your map.

 

Before you can make the most of freelance writing, you have to learn all you can about what’s on that map.

 

Let’s take our first few steps.

 

Start With the Job Boards

If you want to get your feet wet in freelance writing, the job boards are a good place to start.

 

The job boards are the Caribbean Islands of the freelance world. You don’t want to stay there forever, but it’s a good place for the new explorer to start.

 

(Note: there are problems with the job boards. I’ll tell you about them a little later, but for now keep in mind that even though they’re a good place to learn what you’re doing, you don’t want to stay there forever.)

 

There are many, many job boards full of opportunities for freelance writers. Maybe you’ve heard of a few of them. You could try out Upwork, ProBlogger, or FreelanceWritingGigs if you’re interested in starting out that way.

 

(Technically, Upwork isn’t a job board, but it’s enough like one that it might as well be.)

 

The companies you’ll find on these sites are already looking for writers. They know what they want, and they already know what they expect from you. This gives you the chance to practice selling your services in an environment where your prospects are already in the market for your writing.

 

With the online job boards, the work comes to you.

 

You develop a feel for the process of selling your freelance writing services.

 

You learn how to manage the different types of freelance writing projects.

 

Most importantly, you get a life raft you can use to learn how freelancing works while you’re hunting for bigger and better jobs.

 

Why You Don’t Want to Stick With the Job Boards Long-Term

You’ll never hear me say a word against the job boards. They’re a brilliant way for a beginning freelance writer to learn the ropes and build up a portfolio.

 

That being said: you don’t want to depend on the job boards in the long term.

 

Think about it: businesses that are already looking for writers go to the job boards because they know there are hundreds or thousands of writers there, looking for work.

 

That means the average writer’s odds of getting picked for a specific job are pretty low.

 

It also means the average writer isn’t going to be able to command a good price.

 

I don’t want to say that all of the companies you’ll find on the job boards are looking to get low-quality work done on the cheap, but many of them are.

 

And the ones who are looking for the best work are still drowning in applications.

 

Perhaps the best reason to avoid the job boards: lack of respect.

 

In the eyes of the companies who hire you, you’re just another employee.

 

You’re not a skilled professional offering a valuable service. You’re just another shlub who found the way into a stack of applications.

 

If you became a freelancer because you wanted to be your own boss, don’t spend more time in the job boards than you have to.

 

As a way for learning the ropes and doing your time, the job boards are great. But they still won’t beat finding an experienced mentor who can guide you through the process.

 

Let me know if you have any questions or concerns about freelancing. I’m always trying to tailor this blog to your needs, so I’d appreciate the help.

 

And I know some of you don’t like to post publicly, so feel free to contact me by email at geofreycrow@crowcopywriting.com if you’d rather do it that way.

 

Good luck, and good copywriting!

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