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Digital copy is underappreciated, underrated and - astonishingly - still the poor cousin of the web relaunch process.

The most successful projects we work on at Sticky Content manage to uphold the equal importance of design, technology and text.

They plan their copy requirements early on, invest in a content strategy, information architecture and strong, scannable, usable web copy formats.

Yet still a significant number of clients call us two weeks prior to relaunch and ask us to replace their lorem ipsum with something cobbled together from their old site and any old marketing collateral they happen to have lying around.

To me (and I would say this) the web is a still largely a word-driven medium.

Eye-tracking surveys have shown for yonks how users begin by screening out images, scanning instead for key messages and signposts in headers and links.

Text is fast to fix, usually cheaper than design or technical work and can show immediate ROI.

So why do so many site owners forget about text until the last minute?

To demonstrate the cost-effectiveness of good web copy, I’m currently inviting five site owners to volunteer for text-only fixes.

Clients who want to test the effectiveness of simply changing the text on their website.

While we do optimise copy for organic search, this is not primarily an SEO exercise, so I’m looking for sites which have a clear call to action for customers, where copy changes can be measured through the resulting rise (or fall) in specific customer activities.

If you think you might have a site (or an area of a website) that is ripe for a rewrite, please give me a call on 020 7704 3232. I hope to present the resulting case studies at Internet World in May.

In the meantime, here’s our top six most underrated forms of digital copy. The ones we think warrant far more attention than they often get.

  1. Web forms. The tiny strings of instructional copy that sit around the transactional areas of your website. Pure gold dust. When carefully crafted these can seriously affect your online ROI. So why leave in the legacy copy keyed in by the programmer?
  2. Top level navigation buttons. Q: Why are there so many buttons unhelpfully named ‘Products’ or ‘Services’? A: Because the designer only left an eight character space. Beauty over ‘meaningfulness’? Wouldn’t happen in offline marcoms…
  3. Snippets. Whether these are search snippets or what’s visible in an email viewing pane, these words can make your click-through rates soar or plummet.
  4. Anchor text. Even if you set aside the effect of well-written links on SEO and accessibility, anchor text is still key to usability. It enables users to orientate themselves quickly and encourages the swift pursuit of key calls to action.
  5. Landing pages. You spend all that money driving me here and then there’s no call to action? No attempt to match messages with the traffic drivers? No clear forward path?
  6. Adwords. What is it about SEO that an appearance on the first results page is deemed successful? Not if your copy is so dull, or woolly that no one wants to click on it…

Agree/disagree? Post your own comments on underrated web copy here.

Next week: the six most OVER-rated type of web text, beginning with ‘welcome’ messages…

Catherine Toole

Published 3 March, 2008 by Catherine Toole

Catherine Toole is Founder and Managing Director of Sticky Content, and a contributor to Econsultancy.

10 more posts from this author

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Sam McArthur

Sam McArthur, Director at Forty First Marketing Ltd

The problem is not that writing for the web is underrated but basically any sort of copywriting. It seems to be a problem that particularly affects small business. There are some fundamental reasons for this, for example:
1) Most people know how to put a sentence together so writing isn't seen seen as a specialist skill. You often hear people say 'I can't draw' but how often do hear 'I can't write'?
2) Unfortunately, in marketing and ad agency speak, there's your creatives and your copywriters. Apparently writing isn't as creative as design. It reminds me of the joke amongst classical musicians that there are musicians and then there are singers.
3) Since web design first started, copy has never had a look in. Check out a cross section of web design agency sites and see if copywriting services are mentioned. If it's there at all, it's a throwaway add-on. That's why so many websites reek of typos and crap writing generally.
Good luck with the drive to demonstrate the power of good web copy - the more we speak up for it the better, but I'm not optimistic things will change - the web is indeed a text-based medium, but we live in a world that values literacy less and less.

almost 9 years ago

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Kaya PPC, Internet Marketing Manager at Optimised Media

I'm really surprised that copywiritng isn't given the status it deserves within an on-line world which is essentially text based. Having a great looking website seems to be a priority with small business.

Kaya, www.optimisedmedia.co.uk

almost 9 years ago

Alan Charlesworth

Alan Charlesworth, lecturer / researcher at University of Sunderland

Catherine ... couldn't agree with you more - I've been banging this drum for 12 years,but sadly it is still the case that 'techies' [designers, programmers, engineers etc] still rule web site development. Copywriters - and marketers - often play only bit parts. I hope you let us know the results of your 'text-only fix' experiment.

On the plus side - I think the writers' srtike in Hollywood has brought home to some the importance of words ... maybe that will filter down to web sites?

almost 9 years ago

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Matt Ambrose

I dont know about anyone else but Im finding more clients asking for off site as well as on site SEO i.e. getting useful, insightful articles onto other industry sites to get backlinks. Although this is technically 'content writing' rather than copywriting I still think it's a string writers should be adding to their bows this year. There's plenty for writers to do beyond the landing page.

almost 9 years ago

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Rachel

I'm still amazed at the number of people who say 'we'll do the text ourselves'. To me, that's like cutting your own hair - something best left to the professionals if you don't want to look like a numpty.

almost 9 years ago

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Jason Bridgewater

Rachel, I cut my own hair and i don't look like a numpty!

I think that web design companies don't help the issue. If you are in a web design project i find that very ittle is provided in the initial design stages to encourage copywriting.

For example I have worked on some huge projects and the trend now seems to be to mask poor design with wireframes. Ideally you want to be presented with a simple site map and add actions to various departments to provide you with the relevant copy. It can always be amended to be more SE friendly. This approach will help companies realise the importance of good digital copy.

Many websites have also suffered from having no test system to preview any copy before transition to a live working website and many don't have a good content managemenet system (If any) to allow key users to update copy on a regular basis. If you have to pay each time you want to update copy then it is likely to remain unchanged, dull and unimaginative for quite some time.

over 8 years ago

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Katherine Burke, Content consultant at Kath Burke Ltd

As a copywriter / content writer of course I'm biased - inherently I think that words sell you. And the words are especially important if you're talking to an expert audience. Interestingly if you want to impress an audience of laymen then they're much more swayed by the design. While the experts will go through your text with a fine tooth comb to check for bullshit.

See point six in this 10 steps to web credibility article I wrote....
http://www.kathburke.com/page.php?id=106

It's based on web credibility research by Stanford University.

Really curious to know who took Catherine up on her offer of a free text makeover.

about 8 years ago

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