How to write great digital copy

How to write great digital copy

Over the last few months I’ve had several enquiries about how to become a digital copywriter, mainly from DM copywriters looking to ‘break in’ to the wonderful world of web writing.

First up: I didn’t train to be a digital copywriter. I did English Literature, History and Philosophy for my degree (not exactly vocational). I’ve never completed a digital copywriting course and have no formal qualifications. I know I’m not exactly selling myself here.

There’s only one copywriting school I recommend and that’s my own 🙂 You can check it out here: The Clever Copywriting School.

Equally, I don’t place great store in books written about the web. They’re obsolete as soon as they are printed. I think that the web moves too fast to be written about in ‘proper books’. If you want to learn about the web, you research on the web.

So here are my recommendations on how to write good digital copy:

Learn about SEO – There’s plenty of information on this very site. You CANNOT separate SEO from content. Every word you write should be written with the SEO strategy and keywords in mind.

Cut your copy – Take whatever you’ve written and cut it. Then cut it again.  On third-level pages you can go into more detail but, generally, online users don’t read copy, so less is more.

Consider the ‘F shape’ – Research claims most users read copy in an ‘F-shaped pattern’ so using the ‘F’ as your pattern will really help readability.

Refresh your understanding of grammar – Just because SMS speak is prevalent, there’s no reason to drop your standards. Yes, you can get away with a dash rather than a colon now and again but generally the same rules of grammar apply on line and off.

Learn to love bullets – In the world of web, bullets are your friend. Easy to digest, they get the information across in nice bite-sized chunks.

Think web like spider web – Remember, it’s called the web because it’s supposed to be an interconnected set of information, linking one site to the next, to the next… ad infinitum. Every page you write should link somewhere (useful or interesting).

Use contextual links – When putting links in your copy, link the ‘actual words’ rather than dumping a daft ‘Read more’ at the end of the paragraph.

NEVER use ‘click here’ – I’m not even going to explain myself here. Just don’t use it. Ever.

Short and sweet – Use short sentences.

Don’t get sucked in by magic solutions – There are lots of books out there that promise to tell you the ‘Secret of digital copywriting, I’ve seen them on the shelves of quite respectable agency creatives. They’re crap.

Emails are a whole different kettle of fish – Writing for email is a skill in itself. Read my article about email copywriting.

Find a good proofer – So many times, I know, copy has been rushed onto the web quickly with the thought that ‘we can always fix it later’. But first impressions count and proofing is vital.

And of course, if all else fails, employ a great copywriter to write it all for you

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  • Contadora

    Your website is outstanding I will have to read it all, thank you for the diversion from my coursework!

  • Very cool site, I really enjoy your stuff.

  • Janet Eden

    Great post! Thanks.

  • Andrew Franklin

    Hi
    I’m really glad you mentioned grammar. So much of what I read online has appalling grammar, making it impossible to read or enjoy.

    I recommend all web writers go out and buy The Penguin Guide to Plain English and Punctuation and The Penguin Dictionary of English Grammar.

    Thanks
    Andrew Franklin
    Copywriter (UK)

    • Hi Andrew
      I have all those books sitting on my bookshelf, but must admit I rarely read them. My grasp of grammar isn’t as good as it should be (Educated in England in the 80s, grammar was very much NOT in vogue). That’s why I use a professional proofer to double check all my work. She’s old school and doesn’t miss a trick.
      Thanks for commenting.

  • Charles Clayton

    Very good….I wish all the UK PR companies would read this and send me some better copy to publish.
    It’s so refreshing to see that at least one other person on the planet understands it. I think PR companies must be too busy twittering to learn about online copy writing. They may have lots of friends but they are doing a lousy job for their clients.

  • Christina

    Hi Kate,

    Thanks for putting this article together, it was very insightful. I am a believer in short, simple and succinct copy, but have also heard from SEO consultants that all webpages must contain 500+ words to do well. I’d consider that to be an overload in many cases. What do you think about this?

    Christina

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