Why front-loading is important when writing online

Your website is probably taking too long to make the points that matter.

Writing for the web should feel as urgent as trying to de-fuse a bomb.

If you can’t get your point across quickly, the reader is going to explode. Or just stop reading.

People scan websites. Eyes flit across the page looking for something that meets their needs. People skim.

They don’t kick back in their arm chairs, light a pipe and soak up your prose.

Eye-tracking research suggests that people typically scan in a vaguely F-shaped pattern (as depicted in my crude illustration below).

Skitch

Front-loading means putting the important details, special information and keywords at the front of sentences, headings, paragraphs, links, list items and calls-to-action.

Put your key details at the front and your readers are more likely to discover the key messages – and less likely to get bored.

Let’s consider a few lines that are NOT front-loaded:

  • Enter our competition and win a new iPad
  • Learn how to train your dragon
  • Download documents to help you sell more cattle
  • Discover how to deal with difficult relationships

I’ve highlighted the key words in each line – these are the words that are likely to cause our reader to respond.

Clearly, it makes no sense to hide the trigger words at the end of a sentence, especially when most readers scan pages in an F-pattern.

Here are those same sentences front-loaded:

  • Win an iPad by entering our competition
  • Dragon training – we show you how
  • Sell cattle with our advice
  • Difficult relationships and how to deal with them

By moving the key words and most pertinent details to the front of a sentence, link or list item you can improve the odds of your reader seeing them.

By front-loading your copy you don’t just improve your chances of success, you improve the user’s experience by helping them find what they’re looking for.

Why I won’t be your grammar pendant*

The Egregious Sin of the Erroneous Apostrophe

Among copywriters you will find plenty of grammar pedants. It’s not surprising that people who work with words take pride in knowing the rules of language.

So you might think that I, as a professional copywriter, would be a total grammar nerd.

But I’m not.

Grammar is important, certainly, but grammar ≠ copywriting.

Copywriters must understand grammar, but it’s important to remember that copywriting is about more than writing correct English.

Copywriting is about writing compelling, interesting, clear, commanding, intriguing sentences that help organisations achieve goals.

Here’s why I prioritise effective copy over grammar:

Copywriting is about selling

Copy is there to sell, persuade, inform and entertain. Your copywriter should use words to help you achieve these goals. Clarity and correct spelling are important, but your copywriter should focus on creating an impact, getting attention, persuading an audience and inciting action.

Language can flex

The English language is an incredible beast, evolving so quickly that our dictionaries struggle to keep up. Copywriters make use of this space between canonical English and current usage – particularly in the more conceptual world of advertising. Slavish commitment to grammar can kill inspiration and leave you with dull, limp copy.

This ain’t your old-school English

Your English teacher might not approve of today’s copy. They may object to sentence fragments, split infinitives, beginning sentences with conjunctions (and, but), ending them with prepositions (about, with, by, in, on) – but these are all rules that copywriters like to break. By breaking these rules copywriters can create active, direct copy that makes a powerful connection with your audience.

Accuracy is still important

Correct grammar and spelling are still vital in all your business communications. Spelling mistakes, typos and mangled sentences can damage your organisations’ reputation. So check and double-check everything your business publishes. Your copywriter should understand grammar and they should be a stickler for the details. If your business is selling anything remotely valuable, or critical, or sensitive, then it’s doubly important that your copy is well written.

But don’t let an obsession with grammar get in the way of great copy.

*deliberate mistake

A tale of two taglines

Slogans are tricky little buggers.

It’s hardly surprising that slogans are tricky to write (and get right) because we expect so much from just a few short words. Slogans may need to sum up a brand, capture the essence of a product, or suggest a transformative experience.

So what makes a good tagline in practice? In this post I look at two slogans in action and consider what they do well and how they fail.

Exhibit A: 

2015-09-08 09.37.24 (3)

 

This tagline, spotted on a van, is rather mysterious: “The Total Coffee Solution”.

Unless you’re familiar with UCC Coffee, this copy doesn’t tell you exactly what the business offers. And I think that’s a missed opportunity. The tagline could have conveyed some details of the products and services offered – or a sense of the quality of those offerings. The tagline is certainly confident and authoritative, but it seems to assume the reader already knows a lot about UCC.

And we have yet another example of the word ‘solution’ used to mean just about everything (but telling us nothing). This may be a deliberate play on words because, of course, coffee is literally a solution. But I doubt it.

This company has clearly invested in their branding, but I think they’ve missed an opportunity to communicate something tangible about their business. Sure, we know they do coffee, but what kind of coffee, for what kinds of business? Do they sell beans or machines? Do they sell to cafes or corporations? What’s important to them – and what do their customers love about them?

Exhibit B:

2015-09-08 09.38.23 (2)

This sign is simple and fairly crude. And it doesn’t even include a traditional slogan – just a bald statement of facts.

But it does a good job of conveying a clear message: they offer driving lessons for young people.

The sign makes a clear offer to a well-defined audience. If you’re in the market for driving lessons then you know this might be right for you. You can look at this sign and decide if it’s relevant within 3 seconds.

The author of this sign didn’t spend hours thinking up something witty or evocative. They just wanted to communicate a message.

The verdict

High-quality branding does not guarantee results, especially if nobody can work out what you do. Your evocative or conceptual tagline might give your CEO chills but does it mean anything to the public?

Maybe you don’t care whether your identity makes sense to the uninitiated, but I think you’re wrong.

There are occasions when it’s arguably okay to be more conceptual and evocative. If you’re creating a stand for a trade show, or putting ads in specialist publications, it’s reasonable to assume that your audience already knows something about your services.

But even then you should err on the side of communication, because not everyone is an expert. Remember the grads, the newbies and the passers-by – people who aren’t yet proficient in your industry jargon but who might be future advocates for your business. You can either sell to a broad audience or you can leave these people behind.

Put a price on their head: what’s the value of your next customer?

Project 366 #239: 260812 Stay On Target!

How much are your customers worth? How much does an average customer spend with your business? What’s the average lifetime sales of a customer?

Without knowing the answers to these questions (it’s basically the same question re-worded) you can’t evaluate the effectiveness of your marketing. You might also struggle to decide how much to spend on marketing.

However, if you know that the average lifetime value of a customer (CLV, LV or LTV) is £1,650, you can plainly see that it’s worth spending £500 on marketing each month in order to bring in new customers.

Much of the work I do is about bringing more customers to your door. So let’s put a price on their head. Let’s figure out what each customer is worth so we can decide if it’s worth devoting more – or less – time to content marketing.

In a future blog post I’ll look at ways to calculate the lifetime value of your customers.

Why defining the brief should be your first copywriting milestone

Solid Foundation

Where does a copywriting project start? What comes first? A test page? Tone of voice? Key messages? Brand guidelines? Keywords?

When a client comes to me, particularly if they’re a new client, I usually insist that we build the brief first.

My clients are often in a hurry. Many clients arrive after struggling to produce their own copy. They’re usually close to their deadline and eager to start NOW. And while my accommodating nature inclines me to acquiesce, I’ve been a copywriter for long enough to know that it pays to slow down and build the foundation. Instead of jumping in and writing stuff, I know it’s better to step back and think about the big picture.

By taking a little time to write a brief you can ensure that both client and copywriter have the same vision of the project. Writing a brief can prevent delays, snags and miscommunication. Writing a brief can ensure that the client gets what they want – which means the copywriter gets paid and everyone stays happy.

Briefs often evolve, or they may take the form of a flurry of emails from the client. It can be fruitful to adapt these rough notes and additions into a proper brief, especially if you begin to feel that some of the pointers or direction is conflicting.

So what should go into your copywriting brief? That’s a subject for another blog post. Adieu!

Meetup for Creative and Digital Professionals in Bournemouth and Poole

A funny thing happened on the way to our first DotDorset meetup back in May…

While waiting for people to arrive I overhead a woman asking the bar staff about a meetup group. Thinking she might be looking for DotDorset I introduced myself. Turns out it was Danielle Rose, and she was talking about her own meetup group. Curious! Two meetups in the same pub on the same night at the same time. Curious indeed. And what might the meetup be about? Creative and Digital Professionals? Now THAT is an amusing coincidence.

 

Turns out that Creative & Digital Professionals (Bournemouth & Poole) has pretty much the same plan that we did:

“The intention of this group is to provide informal social gatherings for local creatives to meet each other and hang out, whilst hopefully having a lot of fun in the process.”

So I recommend you check out the group and pop along to the next meetup. They meet monthly, usually in Bournemouth.

How freelance copywriters should (not) contact clients

As a freelancer copywriter, making contact with potential clients is easy to screw up. It’s also easy to get a little bit wrong. And it’s very easy to waste your time, and the time of the business you’re approaching.

I have experienced both sides of this equation: I’ve sent emails that get ignored and I also get query emails from fellow copywriters.

So here are a few tips to help you start positive relationships with potential clients and maybe even find work:

1. Address your emails to people individually

I frequently receive emails from copywriters addressed to ‘Sir’ – or they just say ‘Hi’. That’s fine. But it tells me you haven’t bothered to learn my name. If you don’t have the time (or the sense) to find out my name, I don’t have the time to reply.

2. Email one potential client at a time

I’ve had emails from aspiring copywriters that are copied to other agencies. This is a very quick way to besmirch your good name.

3. Tell the client how you can help them

Copywriters sometimes write telling me they want to “expand their client base” or “develop their client portfolio”, and that sounds just wonderful for them, but why would I give two shits about their business goals? Your potential clients are only interested if you can help them achieve their goals. So keep yourself out of it.

4. Send a link to your portfolio

Your potential clients don’t really want an inbox full of your files. Send them a link to your website/portfolio so they can browse your work in their own time. And if you don’t have a portfolio or a website you should really get one.

5. Be friendly and don’t make demands

Emailing people is fine and dandy, but remember that it doesn’t entitle you to a response. Your email is probably unsolicited anyway, so be patient and remember that the recipient doesn’t owe you anything. It’s good to be friendly and conversational in your email, but mind that you don’t become over-familiar, cocky or demanding.

6. Networking is about more than one-off emails

Instead of just sending an email to a potential client, why not follow them on Twitter? Or read their blog posts? If you can make your name pop up in front of them, you have a better chance of being recalled when you’re needed.

7. Remember that direct marketing is okay but it’s even better if they come to you

In my limited experience, contacting potential clients can be effective, but it’s a fairly painful way to make a living. Far better to make yourself discoverable so that the best clients can come looking for you.

You may also like: Finding work as a freelance copywriter (Kendall Copywriting, September 2012)

DotDorset – the new monthly meetup

DotDorset is a new meetup group that’s open to everyone.

The focus is on digital media, technology and arts, but the group’s main purpose is to hang out in pubs, so we’re pretty flexible.

What can you expect from DotDorset?

  • A place to meet other web workers and tech professionals
  • An informal, friendly, welcoming group
  • A group that can offer support, ideas and partners.

 

Details:

Wednesday 20 May 2015 from 19:30

The Goat & Tricycle, Bournemouth

How should a freelance copywriter submit work to their clients?

stack

The short answer is: probably in Word format.

The longer answer: however they want it. And that’s something you should check, just in case they’re expecting you to submit HTML, Pages files or post-it notes.

This question falls within the realm of ‘assumptions’. There are certain things that you might assume about an agreement with a client, such as:

  • file formats
  • delivery dates
  • review process
  • sign-off process.

Instead of assuming that your 100th client will be like the other 99, define the specifics of your project so there are no unexpressed assumptions and no nasty surprises.

WriteClub is 5!

WriteClub, the informal networking group for all kinds of writers, turns 5 today!

If you would like to meet other writers and talk about all kinds of stuff, such as:

  • writing fiction
  • freelancing
  • poetry
  • books
  • publishing
  • copy writing
  • journalism

– and much more, then you should head along to a WriteClub. Absolutely everyone is welcome at WriteClub. We’re all people who either write stuff or think about writing stuff, but there’s no limit on who comes along. For a long while two of our most dedicated members were artists!

WriteClub meets in London and Brighton. Find all the details on WriteClub.net

 

 

Kendall Copywriting is 6!

I’m another year older and a tiny bit wiser. Kendall Copywriting has now been trading for six years.

It’s been another good year packed full of copywriting. I’ve written web pages, brochures, tweets, Facebook updates, blog posts, presentations, posters and white papers for:

  • PowerVote
  • Acas
  • WWF
  • Maggie’s Cancer Caring Centres
  • GS1
  • Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust
  • MBA & Company
  • TBSCG
  • Allianz
  • Mercedes Benz
  • smart (cars)

– and many more!

 

It’s official: hype is a turn off

I’ve always encouraged my clients to use copy that is positive without being hyperbolic and promotional without being desperate.

To me, it seems intuitive that audiences are turned off by companies that over-sell themselves or litter their copy with bombastic language. Hype and superlatives might sound great to you, but to many of your potential customers those words sound like empty promises. Instead of inviting a reader into your world, those empty words create a barrier that your business can hide behind, leaving readers to wonder what else you’re hiding.

A recent study of branded content found that a significant majority of people trusted branded content, but their trust evaporates in the face of blatant self-promotion.

Factors which are guaranteed to turn off your readers include:

* Not being honest about the brand behind the content.

* Talking down to readers.

* Ignoring other arguments or viewpoints.

Thanks to Contently for writing the original article which inspired this post.

So you’ve got a website. Now the work starts.

Building (or buying) a website is really just the first step. The work doesn’t end there.

Assuming that you want to be found online, you have a lot of work to do.

So, what should you be doing to ensure that your website is found by your potential customers?

1: Update your content. Look at your website regularly. Is it up-to-date and accurate?

2: Blog. If you have a blog, make sure you have a plan for updating it. Who is in charge of creating your blog content?

3: Be sociable. Share your blog posts online and join discussions with your professional community.

4: Plan for future content. What kind of information do you want to share online? How does this content support your brand or your business objectives?

5: Review and remix. Websites are easy to change, so if you discover that you need a portfolio, or case studies, or staff bios, don’t hesitate to add them. Your website can do an amazing job of reassuring your potential customers, but only if you add the right content in the right places.

Leif Kendall / Kendall Copywriting does not use Elance…

My name has been used to defraud freelance writers on Elance, and I would like to make it clear that I do not use Elance and anyone receiving a message purporting to be me (on Elance) should report the activity to the Elance administrators.

On Friday evening (30 May 2014) I received an email from a freelance writer based somewhere in the USA who was angrily demanding money from me. I’d never heard of her, her project (descriptions for fancy dress costumes) or the intermediary she was engaged through.

Following this email I received messages on my blog, on Twitter, on a scam website and via a freelance group that I belong to (The Farm), all from people claiming that I was refusing to pay them.

Gradually it became clear that someone was claiming to be me and recruiting a variety of freelance writers (all on Elance) to do various projects. So now there are 3 or 4 writers who believe that I have defrauded them.

The truth is that I know nothing about any of this, and have never even used Elance (I may have registered once…).

I have since referred this matter to the police in the UK via their Action Fraud service. I have a crime reference number which anyone affected by this matter should also use.

I do not use Elance, or any other online freelance marketplace. If you receive a message via any site other than this domain, please ignore it or report it to your authorities.

I’m currently speaking to Elance about this matter and am hoping that they can bar anyone from using my name on their website again.

 

You should divide your web budget between design, development and content

When you plan your website, how much of your budget do you assign to the content?

Too many organisations spend thousands of pounds on the design and development of their website, but fail to budget for content creation and management.

But what is the point of having a great-looking and easily-navigable website if the content is weak, or wrong, or off-message?

It’s hard to attribute a value to quality content, but it’s easy to see that while great design can impress potential customers, the design can’t tell people what you do, or what makes you unique. Nor can great design answer the questions that your potential customer have.

Great design is an essential component of a successful website, but without well-planned and well-executed content you have a pretty brochure that says nothing about your business.

If you want a website that is more than a costly but beautiful artefact, spinning in space, you need to think carefully about your content. 

And if your budget is tight, why not consider spending less on the design and functionality, and spending more on the content?

Let’s chat about your projectContact us