by Justin Difazzio
We’ve written a ton of copy for our clients and for ourselves, but we don’t often write ABOUT copy. We think it’s time we shared some of our writerly wisdom with you. Here are six tips you can use to be sure people aren’t rolling their eyes at your website or marketing material.
1. Know Your Audience and Message Before You Begin
Nothing feels worse as a reader than floundering through some copy wondering whether it’s meant for you and what, exactly, is the point of it. That’s why it’s important to determine your audience and your message before you start. Tailor your copy to the audience you want to reach, and be sure to let them know in the copy. This can be as easy as asking a question like, “Do you find yourself running out of energy in the middle of the day?” The average reader is going to know that what follows will address them and offer solutions to that problem. Get creative!
2. Cover the Basics
It’s sort of hilarious (and sort of sad) how many times we see websites and even event fliers that are missing basic information like addresses, phone numbers, dates, and other relevant information. It could help to read your drafted copy as if you’re someone approaching a situation for the first time. If it’s too hard to distance yourself from what you’ve created, get an actual human who isn’t familiar with what you’re doing and see if they can answer the who, what, where, when, why, and how about your event or mission. If they come up short, you might want to revisit that draft with a keener eye for detail.
3. Skip the Buzzwords and Jargon
When you’re trying to reach an audience, don’t assume that everyone who reads it is going to know inside terms. We don’t know about you, but the quickest way to get us to stop reading is to throw a bunch of acronyms at us without explaining what they mean. Some readers aren’t going to know their ROI (return on investment) from their SCUBA (self-contained, underwater breathing apparatus), and those acronyms are going to turn them off, make them feel alienated, and convince them that what you have to offer is outside of their interest. Stick to words everyone is comfortable with, and if there are industry terms you just have to use, explain them in context or outright. Having an outsider read your copy is a good way to be aware of obstacles to understanding.
4. Concise is Best
When possible, keep it short.
5. Make it Skimmable
Chances are good that readers will not hang on every word you put out there. If you want to get your point across, use headings that explain the gist of your writing. Make titles relevant. Consider using drop quotes for important quotes. Call out lists in a way that makes them obvious. Use bold typeface sparingly. There’s an urge to bold everything you think is important in a text. Please resist this urge. A few terms in bold is fine, but making every other sentence a proclamation in bold is showing that you can’t determine what is important in your own writing. Keep it simple to convey the relevant information to readers who don’t have the time to commit to a whole article, or they’ll go somewhere else for their information.
It might seem like the most obvious point in this list, but we’ve seen enough embarrassing mistakes in prominent places (please proofread your titles and subtitles for consistency and clarity) to feel like this point was worth making. Go beyond spell check. Make sure the words you’ve used mean what you think they do and are the words you intend. Spellcheck will miss it if you use an “and” instead of an “an.” One expert level tip we can offer is to have someone else look at it. You’ve read it. You may have written it. Distance from the text is your friend when proofreading. A fresh pair of eyes can find mistakes you have overlooked ten times before, so make a proofing buddy and keep them close!
If your website or marketing copy needs help, we hope you find these tips useful. Don’t forget to budget a few hours in your projects for copyediting, as a beautifully designed ad or home page won’t draw attention away from copy that doesn’t shine. Looking for a refresh on your copy but don’t have time to tackle it? OC Creative is here to help you out.