The point here is not that it is wrong to invest resources in UX and development. Not at all. Competition for digital services is fierce, and we often contend for mere seconds of the users' attention. But text and copy are part of this - especially of the user experience. Which is why it is important to pay attention to the text as part of a digital project right from the start, and let it come into being together with the other parts of the project. As a talented copywriter here at the office put it, “text is form and form is text” – toss function into this delicate equation, and you quickly realise that it is more than reasonable to expect all these elements to dovetail.
Don't treat copywriting like icing on the cake
Part of the problem is that copywriting is often seen as the icing on the cake. The final touch that can raise your digital project to the next level and give it some extra verve. There is a great deal of truth to the latter claim, but the whole icing on the cake analogy messes it up. It gives the impression that copywriting is something you can toss in at the end if you want to “pamper” your project – and not something you need to worry about every time. Wrong.
It's more accurate to compare the textual element to the cream in a masterful sauce. The journey begins in the shop. You browse the for your digital sauce, picking out a couple of UXers here, a few developers there and a project manager or two to keep the ingredients from separating. When you're standing in the checkout line you remember: oh yeah, the cream! After dwelling on it for a moment you remember that you have a splash of semi-skimmed milk in the refrigerator at home, so you take the easy way out. It doesn't feel worth it to walk all the way back for a little cream.
Back in the kitchen you regret your choice. The sauce doesn't turn out right. No matter how much you stir and whisk, the best you get to is “OK”. You can probably tell where we're going with this – every sauce is better with cream. Above all, you can't just add a dash at the end and expect that to work. It needs to be stirred in and blended with all the other ingredients, then left to simmer for a while. And preferably tasted while it's on the stove. Once it's done, it can help uplift an entire meal, making all the difference between good and great. Simply put: a sauce worthy of a master chef. Copywriting is a bit like this: hiring someone who will devote themselves to the content wholeheartedly makes a big difference. And for things to turn out really well, the copy needs to emerge alongside form and function – without veering from the overall strategy.
For things to turn out really well, the copy needs to emerge alongside form and function – without veering from the overall strategy
So what is it that distinguishes good web copy from bad web copy? Or from great web copy, for that matter? You should always hire someone who masters the written word – someone able to compose texts that engage, affect and touch the audience. But writing in the digital arena also brings a host of new requirements, pitfalls and of course also opportunities that are not found in “analogue” writing.
Google has a fairly important role to play here. In addition to their Analytics and SEO tools, they have set the rules governing how we search for and find things on the Internet (frequently using text, incidentally). Google's search ranking algorithms – Panda and Penguin – are constantly evolving to ever-increasing levels of sophistication. A few years ago it was enough to stuff a sloppily written text full of the right keywords, but now Google is imposing more and more stringent requirements regarding good writing, thankfully. You know, the types of texts where relevant keywords occur at reasonable intervals, in the right context and with reliable sources. About a year ago, Google even released its “Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines” for use by the public. This document is a 150-page SEO Bible discussing how Google assesses the quality of content on the web. If you don't feel like reading the entire thing, Expresswriters has written a good summary. What this also means is that, in addition to its ultra-sophisticated algorithms, there are people at Google – human beings – who read and evaluate our texts with reference to this document. Yet another reason for the person composing your text to be a pro.
As a lover of words, it is nice to realise that literal translations, poor grammar and badly written webpages appear to be a dying breed. But if your team is guilty of using Google Translate to translate your web content, you should probably consider your next step.
By refining, clarifying and bringing out the message conveyed by a little word, we have helped several of our clients boost their conversion rates overnight.
Incidentally, the little details of what buttons, menus and other “calls to action” should say are another dimension that figures in the digital copywriter’s universe. By refining, clarifying and bringing out the message conveyed by a little word, we have helped several of our clients boost their conversion rates overnight. We’ll have more to say about microcopy in another post, in the meantime check out littlebigdetails which has collected some great examples of this.
Don't make things complicated, write the way people Google
One final thing about Google, as we’re already on the subject. When companies want to introduce themselves and explain who they are on the web, it's pretty common for them to resort to coming up with their own flashy but vague terms to describe what they do. To return to the example of the sauce, a typical phrase might be something like “We are in the business of sauce optimisation”. True, but how well does that resonate with the company's customers? And if the customers want to find someone in the business of sauce optimisation, how likely is it that they will use that particular phrase? Not very. It's better to adapt your language to the way people go about Googling. For example: “how do I make the world's best sauce?” or “awesome sauce”. Of course, this is a little bit simplistic, but it is highly relevant if we want to reach our customers through digital channels. Create content that makes it easy for your customers to find you and learn what you do. Otherwise your content may go over their heads, in which case it doesn't matter how neat or well-built your digital service is.
Five tips on copywriting in digital projects:
- Look at copywriting as a natural part of your digital project, not an option.
- Bring copywriting on board at an early stage so that it can be synced with design, function and strategy.
- All words are important, even (especially!) those on buttons and menus.
- Write content that is easy for your users to take in.
- Keep it simple and don't use loads of difficult words.
That's how we try to approach text and copywriting at Valtech. It's easy to stare yourself blind looking at ones and zeros in digital projects, but with the looming competition out there, it's important to keep track of the letters too. It's becoming more and more important to think about text quantity, keywords and how we talk to our customers on the web. That's why our goal is for copywriting to be a natural part of our digital offering.