Sometimes people genuinely don't read. How many times have you pushed vainly away at a door clearly marked 'Pull'?
But it's more often just that they don't read with close attention; if anything, people scan and skim. This is particularly true of anything that is going to be read on a computer screen. It is harder to read from a page that emits light at you than a page that has light bouncing off it. It takes more energy, more concentration. And because it is 25% slower, there is a time issue as well.
Keep it short
So brevity is most important when writing for a website, an email newsletter or a blog article (with some exceptions) rather than, say, a brochure, or a print article. Of all these examples, the only one that may really be wordy is the print article, and even then it depends on the context and the subject. Careful consideration must me made of what you say and how you say it.
Keep it relevant
When we're talking about marketing material, people not only won't have a lot of time or energy to read your copy, they are also unlikely to have a lot of motivation. This is why in writing for and about a business it is crucial, after hooking readers in with the opening line, to consider what is in it for them to continue reading.
When I give my clients a project brief to fill in, I ask all those difficult questions about target markets for a reason. For some reason those are the very questions that are most often left blank. But if you don't know the basics about your target market, you can't expect to be able to consistently interest them in what you have to offer.
Tips for different media
- Use brief sentences, short paragraphs and simple language.
- Use subheadings to break up the text into short, digestible chunks.
- Present your information logically and with the audience firmly in mind. Why are they visiting your website and what are they going to want to know? Make it easy to find what they are looking for.
- Don't give them too many options to choose from. I've been told that no more than eight or nine tabs in the menu. You can have more pages than that, so long as you make sure they are easy/logical to find.
... we found that 79 percent of our test users always scanned any new page they came across; only 16 percent read word-by-word. (Update: a newer study found that users read email newsletters even more abruptly than they read websites.)
We found that credibility is important for Web users, since it is unclear who is behind information on the Web and whether a page can be trusted. Credibility can be increased by high-quality graphics, good writing, and use of outbound hypertext links. Links to other sites show that the authors have done their homework and are not afraid to let readers visit other sites.
Users detested "marketese"; the promotional writing style with boastful subjective claims ("hottest ever") that currently is prevalent on the Web. Web users are busy: they want to get the straight facts. Also, credibility suffers when users clearly see that the site exaggerates.
- Rule number one for a newsletter is: have news to tell! Don't send out boring crap that nobody wants to read.
- Restrict the number of items in your newsletter, and don't have more than two columns (personally, I prefer only one): if it looks too busy, it becomes very difficult to focus on any one thing, so people tend to read less of the content.
- If you're a solo operator, speak (or write) in your own voice: it's more engaging.
- Tell a story. This is the written equivalent of a ten-minute presentation: make it interesting and relevant to your audience.
- Plan the key messages that the brochure should contain, and where they should appear.
- Structure the content in a logical fashion for the physical item: for example a two-fold A4. The front page is attention grabbing; then the opposite flap is the second page, so has introductory information; the internal part contains the main message and the back page has details like your location and contact details.
These are your chance to be more expansive; however you should still ensure everything you write is relevant and important to the whole.
- Online articles should usually be shorter than for print, around 500 words or so is about right. Print articles, particularly features, can be much longer.
- Take an idea and expand on it; use stories, statistics and anything else that will bring the piece to life.
- Use your own voice and opinions: a blog is a personal journal, even when it's a business or marketing tool.
- Posts should be regular, but also interesting: don't just write filler. Train yourself to keep an ear out for a good blog post, so you always have something to write about.
- Although you should never include uneccesary material, some blogs lend themselves to longer articles. A blog is whatever you want it to be.
Before chasing content you have to think what sort of content your customers want and what needs they have ... For example if you are running a website that sells tennis racquets then you should fill your site with quality articles on how to improve your tennis game.
If you can provide valuable free content then your traffic will increase but it's important to make sure it's the right kind of traffic. By providing content that attracts your target market you have the best chance of converting those prospects into customers.
Good writing always trumps bad
Although writing for different media asks for different things, the principles of good writing and writing good marketing copy hold true for any of the things we've looked at.
Everything included should be important to the piece; it should have good, logical structure; and it should be engaging and relevant to the intended audience.
Spelling, grammar, punctuation and syntax are all important: you must take care of the little details, or your audience will wonder what else in your business you can't be bothered to do.
And if it all just seems too difficult, hire a copywriter!