What Content Providers Need to Know

» How to Talk to Your Copywriter

You have the eye-catching banner, the Flash animation and some very high-end graphic elements there on your home page. Nevertheless, if the text reads like a third grade homework assignment, visitors aren’t going to stick around despite your great looking site. Today, every site not only has to look good — it has to sound good, as well.

Chances are, if you’re like most of us, you wouldn’t recognize a misplaced modifier from non-parallel sentence construction. In this case, hire someone who does know where to place her modifiers. Hire a copywriter to get it right.

Where do I find one of these copywriters?
You can’t swing a dead comma without hitting a copywriter on the Internet. In fact, there are over 8,900 hungry copywriters listed on alone, all just waiting to deliver drop-dead site text. In addition, there are plenty of other sites that list experts in crafting words. And, with all of this competition, you’ll love how low cost good words can be.

Carefully review the work of these service providers (posted on line), and if the site allows buyer feedback, read it over carefully. A copywriter with good feedback and experience in developing site text — that’s who you’re looking for.

Where should I not look to find a copywriter?
Don’t try to save a few bucks by having your spouse, seventh-grader, neighbor or college roommate write your text. First, it’s tough to be honest with loved ones — especially when you’re not paying them. Second, Internet writing is a specialized form of traditional writing, so hire someone who’s had a lot of Internet experience.

What should I do before hiring a writer?
Decide what needs to be written. In addition to the home page, what other pages could use a professional revision? Prepare a Statement of Work (SOW) detailing the assignment. This will ensure that you and the author know what’s expected before you start your collaboration.

What does the copywriter need to know?
Writing is part science, part art. There’s no one right way to present information or to express an opinion. In fact, there’s an infinite number of ways words can be strung together.

To get the most out of you copywriter, here’s what s/he needs to know. Parenthetically, thinking about these aspects of your soon-to-be e-commerce site will bring your business objectives into much clearer focus.

Your On-Line Products and/or Services
If you don’t know it, you can’t sell it. Your copywriter needs to understand what you’re selling on your site — everything from how it works to how it helps your customers or clients.

If it’s a product, make sure the writer has samples. If you’re selling a service, explain it front-to-back and be open to questions and suggestions from someone who writes Internet copy for a living. Also, if you have collateral materials like manuals, brochures, a feature sheet and so on, hand them off to your collaborator for background and reference. Finally, make sure the writer has access to the site and all pages that need content. Some sites require a logon screen name and password. Provide these to the copywriter.

Your Unique Positioning Statement
It will also be extremely helpful if you develop a UPS — a unique positioning statement. A UPS is a list of features and selling points that make your product or service unique. Don’t have one? Here’s what you do.

Visit competitor sites and perform a detailed analysis of each site’s offerings and business terms. Let’s say you sell racing bikes on line. When you check competitor’s sites, you note that each site offers a full, 90-day return policy. So, your 90-day return policy isn’t unique, it’s the norm, so it shouldn’t be part of your UPS. On the other hand, if you’re the only site offering a 120-day return policy…

The Target Audience (Demographic)
Who is going to be reading this text? The text for senior citizens, sweetheart, will read differently from text geared to shredders, dude. Who are you trying to reach? Who is most likely to visit your site? This will enable a good writer to create text that’s relevant and engaging to most of your visitors.

Take a moment to develop a list of the characteristics of your ideal customer or client. Under 30, male, professional, career-oriented, married, parent — who are you trying to reach?

The Tone of the Site Text
Going for the hard sell: BUY BUY BUY NOW!!!, or something a bit more dignified and understated. Some of this will depend on your target audience (see above) but some will also depend on your personal preferences.

Some e-tailers like the hard sell. Check out any site selling a single e-book or software. You scroll through pages and pages of:

Who else wants to make a million $$$
in just 60 minutes?

That’s right, with Dr. Feelgood’s
all-purpose back-support system
you’ll feel like you’re walking on air.
And it’s 100%, absolutely free!!!
That’s right, free!!!

You’ll note the liberal use of exclamation points, indicating unrestrained excitement. This is typical of many get-rich-quick-lose-weight-fast-make-money-after-you’re-dead products and you can’t argue with their success. These hard-sell sites move a lot of product and generate lots of passive income.

What tone best fits the image you want to project to visitors — friendly and engaging, professional and serious, trustworthy and caring, avant-garde. Provide some suggestions to your copywriter, but also allow a little wiggle room. A good writer will expand on your theme to develop the tone you’re looking for.

The Purpose of the Text
The purpose of the homepage text is simple — to get visitors to stick around. It should be compelling, engaging and even intriguing. Anything to get the visitor to spend some time browsing.

In some cases, and on some pages, you’ll want sales copy. On other pages, informational copy, background, motivational text, educational info — each site is different. However, as you develop that SOW, think about the purpose of each page. The text on the home page will read differently from the Contact Us page because the purpose of each page is different.

What about project milestones?
You bet. Before talking to potential authors, determine what you want to pay, when you want to pay it and what the author will do throughout the development process.

A typical ‘work-for-hire’ agreement includes:

  • a start and end date (the deadline)
  • the assignment of intellectual property rights (you own everything)
  • payment schedule tied to project milestones, i.e., 25% upon signing, 25% when the first draft is delivered, 50% when you approve the final text
  • contact information for both parties to the agreement

A word of caution: if you’re reaching for the work-for-hire agreement to check a clause, you already have a problem with your service provider. It’s always better to resolve disputes with writers, programmers, graphic artists and other service providers without resorting to Clause I, sub-para c.4. Don’t think of the agreement as ironclad. It’s more of a guideline for good behavior on both sides.

Feedback — Good Feedback
Even the best copywriter won’t necessarily get it right the first time. That’s where you come in. Review the first draft carefully. Identify specific changes you want and where. Don’t worry about hurting the author’s feelings. Professionals expect revisions and rewrites.

It’s not enough to say, “I’m not sure what’s wrong. Try again.” The writer needs to know specifics about what’s bothering you. Tone wrong? Did the author undersell the product or misrepresent the service? Only you know for sure, so take the time to read over the first draft with care. Think of it as the starting point for further discussion.

With good feedback, a good copywriter should have it nailed on the second or third draft. If you’re working on the fifth or sixth draft, you’ve either hired the wrong writer or you’re not giving specifics in your feedback.

Looks Count
Don’t underestimate the value of well-crafted text. Site text that’s full of typos, grammatical glitches and improper punctuation may not be noticed by every visitor, but you better believe it will be noticed by some. And, these readers may well think that if you’re this careless with your site text, how careful are you going to be with their purchase or the services you provide?

The key to developing the perfect text for your web site is collaboration — working with the copywriter as a team. You know your business. The writer knows the difference between a colon and a semi-colon. Working in tandem will produce the text to attract more visitors more often and with a higher conversion rate.

Words work. Really good words work really well.

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