Copywriting – writing in an effective way – is a skill, one developed through experience. There’s a huge difference between writing something for yourself, perhaps in a report or a blog, and writing for a larger audience. It’s not just a question of writing in a way that is easy to read.
There’s a real art in writing in a way that engages people and makes them want to read on. And then buy something, whether that’s buying into your idea or purchasing your product.
But there are other reasons…
Why shouldn’t I do it myself?
It’s important to look professional, efficient and trustworthy when you’re in business.
People are forgiving about grammatical errors and typos when they’re reading something personal. They’ll even make allowances for errors in written material produced for work – as long as the audience is internal.
There’s much less leeway once something goes out into the wider world. It’s not just about looking professional, making sure everything is spelled correctly and that you’ve got the punctuation right (though correct grammar and spelling are important for SEO).
Even the most unconventional website, one which breaks all the design rules, is meticulous about spelling, grammar and punctuation. That’s because getting it wrong would get in the way of their message: lease cars from us and nobody else because we really know what we’re doing.
Finally: spellcheckers don’t pick up everything. They can’t distinguish, for example, between ‘Howard Carter peeing into Tutankhamun’s tomb’ and him peering into it. Oops – you still need humans.
The perils of the unintended error.
Everyone loves a laugh. Once upon a time, if you were a politician and did something daft which was picked up by the press, you could say that the story would be ‘tomorrow’s chip wrapper’. That’s no longer the case: the photograph of you in your paisley pyjamas lives forever online, and can be seen by people all over the world.
So if you write something like ‘solar systems have gone down in price’ on your website you might find yourself all over Twitter, #solarsystemsonsale, with tweeters asking about prices for galaxies and Douglas Adams fans adding #slartibartfast. That won’t help your sales of solar panels. It is possible to pull this sort of marketing off, but it needs to be done carefully – not accidentally.
You know what you know, but your customers do not…
When you edit your own work, or ask a friend to have a look, it’s very difficult to spot what is obvious to someone from outside. You know how something works, so your mind fills in the gaps, all the logical leaps. You don’t notice that they’re missing. This can make instructions, for instance, impossible for anyone else to follow.
Sometimes the gaps can be directly damaging.
One website wasn’t generating any business, although there were plenty of visitors. The owner of the business had designed and built the site himself. It looked inviting – straightforward and clean – and he had carefully inserted PayPal ‘add to cart’ buttons.
But there were no prices. Not one. They were visible when you clicked the PayPal button, but there was no way of knowing how much something was before you decided to buy it. Potential customers were shopping elsewhere.
His family had checked the site, but they knew how much his tools were and had mentally filled in the gaps. All his effort had been wasted.
Can’t I just copy and paste stuff from the web?
If you’re selling something like cheese, why reinvent the wheel? Why not just copy something about the history of cheese making?
There are many reasons why not (copyright laws, the fact that most sites protect their content like tigers, that plagiarism-spotting software exists and is in use, as are ferocious lawyers), but the most important one is that someone else’s copy won’t work for you.
It won’t work because it won’t sound right. To get technical, perhaps the tenses differ, or the words you’ve copied are in the third person plural rather than the second person singular which is used on your own site. Then there’s the tone, the feel. Inevitably, that will not be the same.
Also, it won’t work because whoever wrote that text doesn’t know your business. There will be no enthusiasm, no individuality and no engagement. Good copywriters transmit all of those to readers through conversations with their clients. Text written by somebody you’ve never met for someone else won’t be true to you or to your business.
There’s another risk to copying, quite apart from finding US lawyers breathing down your neck – and that is that some of your competitors may well have given in to the cut-and-paste temptation. You don’t want to spend money on developing an online presence to find that every other cheese maker in the country has lifted exactly the same slabs of text from Wikipedia, and that your artisan cheese looks about as individual as a Kraft Cheese Slice.