There is a difference between Web copy and Web content. It is the difference between getting subscribers, clicks and customers – and being ignored. Or worse.
Here is an example that illustrates the point.
A year ago I was searching on LinkedIn for people with SEO expertise. When I went to the top ranked profile I could see why he ranked first.
The keyword “SEO” was stuffed into every content area of the profile. He cleverly created 20 or more jobs in the experience section with only “SEO” copy/pasted into the descriptions hundreds of times.
He won the search battle, but lost the content war. It had absolutely zero value.
This is an extreme example, but it emphasizes the importance of the words on your Web page. Jakob Nielson, author of Designing Web Usability, said, “Better writing is probably the single most important improvement you can make to your site.”
That’s why it is critical for content marketers to know the subtle, but important, distinction between Web content and Web copy.
Web content consists of words (and images) that inform, edify, entertain or otherwise communicate to the reader. It includes items like news, press releases and transcripts.
Web copy is on-page text that persuades and results in new customer acquisition and sales. It includes blog posts, email marketing/newsletters, banner advertising, long-form content (like white papers and ebooks) and social media updates.
Unlike content, which readers passively consume, Web copy motivates action, much like direct response copy.
But writing copy for the Web requires a unique set of skills apart from traditional direct marketing and offline copywriting. There are distinctly different ways consumers behave, react and respond to online sales messages. Effective Web copy uses words and writing structure that appeal to people in the online environment.
Some of the key characteristics of response-driven Web copy are:
- It starts with a clear marketing objective – focus on getting a specific response
- It has a defined target audience – know who you are talking to
- It is formatted to be easily scanned – optimize for Web reading
- It has an editorial writing style – people on the Web are not looking for another ad
- It has a focus on customer benefit, not product feature – speak to a relevant need
- It has a strong emotional appeal – despite evolution, the lizard brain still rules human behavior
Web copy is content marketing
These characteristics help define content marketing. At least as it is defined by Joe Pulizzi of the Content Marketing Institute:
Content marketing is a marketing technique of creating and distributing relevant and valuable content to attract, acquire and engage a clearly defined and understood target audience – with the objective of driving profitable customer action.”
The term ‘content marketing’ as we understand it was introduced in 2001. Yet much of the content published today misses the mark. Why? In large part, it’s because interactive marketers don’t know or haven’t embraced the distinction between Web content and Web copy.
Words are the currency of businesses on the Web. More than any other element of content, they have the power to persuade, influence and alter peoples’ beliefs. Marketers who fail to recognize this and continue to base their content strategy on traditional principles of PR, branding and broadcast copywriting will be edged out by savvy competitors.
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Use the language of your audience
You develop an unbreakable bond with your audience by using attention, empathy, storytelling and mirroring. You get attention with a compelling opening that provides substantive, quality content, and a promise of more if they stick with you.
Stories are the most effective way for people to see themselves in the situation you are talking about. It triggers the natural curiosity in people. The right story is always about the audience.
Mirroring is a technique to demonstrate you are a kindred spirit with the audience, that you’re “all in this together.” David Ogilvy said it best: “If you’re trying to persuade people to do something, or buy something, it seems to me you should use their language, the language they use every day, the language in which they think.”
Content is Currency by Jon Wuebben
Pique their natural curiosity
My most successful ads all used stories. Here is an example of how a story creates human interest that will cause the audience to read your entire message:
When I put on the pair of glasses, what I saw I could not believe.
Nor will you.
By Joseph Sugarman
Len is a friend of mine who know good products. One day he called excited about a pair of sunglasses he owned. “It’s so incredible,” he said. “When you first look through a pair, you won’t believe it.”
“What will I see?” I asked. “What could be so incredible?”
Len continued, “When you put on these glasses, your vision improves. Objects appear sharper, more defined. Everything takes on an enhanced 3-D effect. And it’s not my imagination. I just want you to see for yourself!”
The story continues as I personally look through the sunglasses and learn more from Len. It uses a conversational tone while covering all the important benefits and features of the sunglasses. Here a story is used effectively to build curiosity and cause the reader to read all the copy through to the final sales pitch.
Triggers by Joseph Sugarman
In a study of the most emailed New York Times articles by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania found that readers want to share articles that inspired awe.
What’s more, stories that triggered an emotional response were more likely to be emailed and positive articles were shared more often than negative ones, researchers found. So-called surprising articles, like one about free-range chickens on the streets of New York, were also more likely to be emailed.
But the articles that evoked a response that went beyond surprise to awe, or what the Penn researchers defined as an “emotion of self-transcendence, a feeling of admiration and elevation in the face of something greater than the self,” were among the most shared. “An opening and broadening of the mind” is how one researcher described the effect of such articles.
Content Rules by Ann Handley and C.C. Chapman
Create a sense of community
Customers are thoroughly engaged with companies when they share a context about the brand with others in the community. The rise in customer communities can be explained in part by looking at the work of social psychologist John C. Turner, who defined the term “social identity.”
According to Turner, social identity causes us to act in specific ways when we identify with a group or community. This is how customer communities play their part in social media. People who are following companies and consider themselves fans are part of the collective “us.”
These customers check in frequently on the company’s social channels like Facebook to see what’s happening and try to participate. They become part of the community who understands the context for the brand’s actions. They relate and share experiences that bring them closer.
The Visual Marketing Revolution by Stephanie Diamond
Storytelling is a hot topic right now for content marketers. And it should be. We need to get better at creating content our audience wants to consume. Storytelling techniques can lead the way.
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Every word has an emotion attached to it.
Every reader, regardless of profession or IQ, has an emotional reaction to your words. It is hardwired into the brain.
So when you are writing a blog post or other content for online marketing, your choice of words is important. Need convincing?
Legendary copywriter John Caples made a life study of persuasive writing. Once, he changed the word “repair” to “fix” in an ad and achieved a 20% increase in response. One word!
That illustrates an important rule of word choice for writers: When emotion meets intellect, emotion always wins. Analytical words activate the reader’s analytical brain instead of triggering an emotional response. Here is an example.
How would you respond to getting this email?
YOUR NAME HAS BEEN SELECTED BY COMPUTER TO PARTICIPATE IN A PRIZE-AWARD PROGRAM IN WHICH PRIZES ALREADY HAVE BEEN ALLOCATED. TO RECEIVE YOUR AWARD YOU ARE REQUIRED TO PHONE FOR AN APPOINTMENT BEFORE THE EXPIRATION DATE ABOVE.
It is loaded with intellectual words like “selected,” “allocated,” “receive,” and “required.” I think anybody with a pulse would be left cold by this message.
What if we replaced the intellectual words with emotional words? We might get something like this:
We have great news for you. You’re already a winner.
Here’s how you claim your award …
It is essentially the same information. But the words are far more likely to trigger a response.
Weeding the content garden
Like weeds in a garden, intellectual words can creep into your copy, choking its emotional impact. It is so unnecessary. When you are on the lookout for them, it is easy to shift word choice in favor of emotion. Here is a reference guide to get you started, courtesy of my copywriting hero Herschell Gordon Lewis.
Boring or persuasive? You choose
Every good piece of copy has an emotional outpouring of words. But there is a big difference between writing with emotion and dumbing down your message. It comes down to understanding people.
People make judgments about you, your ideas, or your brand based on emotion. Then they justify their response with logic. It happens in that order.
Your challenge as a blogger is to choose words that arouse their senses and lead them to their logical conclusion. Intellectual words don’t do that. They make you sound smarter. They also make you sound boring.
What would you add to the intellectual/emotional word list?
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