Every copywriter and marketer faces the challenge of writing web copy that connects with their readers. Engaging copy encourages visitors to find out more, spread the news to colleagues and make return visits.
If you’re looking to go the extra mile for your clients and develop a strong working partnership, some best practice information is just the ticket. So, let’s discuss some pieces of the web copy jigsaw.
Everyone falls into gobbledygook and cliché at some point. The three most common reasons are:
- Time pressure: you have to write without enough time to think it through.
- Laziness: you focus on the product/service NOT your buyers’ needs and desires.
- Ignorance of the gobbledygook and cliché bear-traps that lie in wait.
The gobbledygook trap
Gobbledygook is jargon. It may be English but it’s far from easy to understand. Technical companies excel and appear to naturally talk about products that are ‘next generation’, ‘market leading’, ‘flexible’, ‘scalable’ and ‘cutting-edge’.
There will probably be an offer of some turnkey solution which is ‘mission critical’, ‘easy to use’ and ‘interoperable’.
Mission Statements regularly fall into this trap. The writers may intend to be concise but they frequently end up with meaningless piffle.
“Providing solutions in real-time to meet our customer’s needs.” (Halliburton)
Because most businesses provide solutions of some sort, this could be a mission statement for any company.
The problem arises because most marketers study only what their competitors write and then try to improve it. Invariably, they only succeed in repeating the mistakes.
Look at the copy on any industry related site; you’ll find most of them say the same thing. Some may offer a slight variation on the theme but few will truly stand out from the copy crowd.
The cliché trap
Cliché: an expression or idea so over-used that it’s lost any real meaning.
If you ever feel a burning desire to illustrate a product or service with a light bulb, stop-watch, jigsaw, gog-wheel, egg-timer, eye or tape measure – DON’T! 101Cliche.com has some great examples, if you are ever in doubt.
Confession: Yes, like many others, I have used some of these (more than I care to admit… ) but I have learned a better way. I also work with a great copy-editor to keep me on the straight and narrow.
Telling your reader ‘how proud you are of your expertise’ and the ‘expert care and attention you give to customers’ doesn’t cut the mustard. Sorry! Clichés can be infectious…
Such statements should be self-evident and, therefore, unnecessary. If they are not integral to what you do, why are you in business?
Why gobbledygook and cliché make you invisible
Publish a piece of gobbledygook or cliché and you may as well use invisible ink. Readers’ eyes will glaze over and they’ll swiftly go elsewhere. They’ve seen it hundreds of times before.
If you want to truly differentiate your company or offer, you will fail miserably. When you consider how much time and money is invested in a website, publishing this kind of copy borders on madness.
If you’re starting to twitch a little, take the Gobbledygook Test: Go through your own web copy and substitute your name and product with a competitor’s.
Does it still make sense?
If it does, you’ve discovered one huge reason why you fail to convince buyers that your company is the right choice.
For producers of healthcare products, the mission statement from Johnson & Johnson is a good example:
“The fundamental objective of Johnson & Johnson is to provide scientifically sound, high quality products and services to help heal, cure disease and improve the quality of life”.
Follow some rules
It’s time to train your mind to find different words and expressions.
Because it’s hard to avoid gobbledygook and cliché, you need rules. Here are 3 to get you started:
- Start with your buyer not your product: address problems, issues and needs.
- Imagine they are someone you like who you haven’t seen for a while. Be friendly and courteous and write in a way that’s easy to understand.
- Log the gobbledygook and cliché your competitors use and deliberately avoid it yourself.
This is the way to ‘cut through the clutter’ and get yourself noticed.
Good web copy is worth working at. An average visitor spends 19-27 seconds on a web page. Your payback for better copy is longer visitor retention. So, if you’ve really improved your copy, you should see a commensurate increase in enquiries and sales.
If you too believe that 'sites that work have words that work' you may enjoy my free eBook 'The New Rules of Writing for the Web'.