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29 September 2010

SEO Search Engine Optimisation

Why Professional Copywriting is Not the Same As Well-Written English

OK, so you think you have a relatively competent command of the English language. So what's to stop you becoming your own copywriter? I mean, it's the same thing, isn't it?

Not at all! And for so many reasons. Here are just a few.

I have two skill sets. First and foremost, as a journalist, the training for which armed me with the key skills needed to recognise something as being worthy of a place in a newspaper or magazine, to know how to extract the necessary information from the subjects of the story in question, and last, but perhaps more importantly, how to convey this information back to the reader in a way that would inform, educate and entertain them.

Second, I am an experienced copywriter, which enabled me to take my basic journalistic skills and then to fine tune them so that they satisfy the needs of businesses wanting to raise their profile in a variety of different ways, both on- and off-line.

That's not to say these two skill sets are completely separate - the overlaps are pretty obvious. But it's taken a number of years to develop those skills in order to be able to bring the full benefits to you, the client.

1. The first thing which may surprise you is that a number of the techniques which copywriters use would not make us very popular in a school English class. Remember being told never to use split infinitives at school? And remember being told it was wrong to start a sentence with 'and' or 'but.

2. Commercial writing - the material crafted by copywriters to promote businesses, services and products - ignores these rules when it suits. What is important in commercial copywriting isn't how something reads, but how it sounds in the reader's head. And just as important is how it flows, regardless of whether it would have scored a great mark in a GCSE exam. Copywriting is about accurate English, sure, but it's first and foremost about colloquial communication on a level with your customer base.

We also use a number of techniques which you wouldn't know were there simply by reading (what would be the point if you did?). Look to the world of Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) for little-known tricks like hidden commands, and choosing right-brain (emotive) words over left-brain (logical) ones. If copy has been written well, practically every word has been chosen for a reason.

3. Moving slightly off the topic for a second, did you know that, without exception, every business leader, MD and line manager in the world is a fallible, living, breathing human being underneath the starched collar and pinstripe suit. And that means that they are motivated by exactly the same things as ordinary, less powerful folk. Every day, business decisions are made for emotional reasons. Think about the recruitment agent who wants to hit her target so she can afford to take the family away on that holiday she promised. And what about the frazzled finance director who needs to improve his company's environmental credentials to save on energy bills - or face the sack?

So why do so many businesses insist on toeing the archaic line which states that in order to sell something to someone in a suit, you have to hunt around for the dullest, least motivating, jargon-heavy patter possible? FACT: big words and jargon don't impress, they create distance and destroy interest. Do you really think that someone will decide not to buy from you because you used "cash-rich" instead of "generates significant profit"?

4. Another commonly-held misconception is that the briefer your sales message, the more successful you'll be. Ask any copywriter - nothing could be further from the truth! Now, obviously there's a difference between writing your own version of War and Peace on every last detail possible. This isn't something we'd advise, as ever if you don't bore your customer to death, you'll have nothing left up your sleeve when you want to close the deal. But as a rule of thumb, whatever you're thinking of writing about a particular product, double it at least. Why?

Think of something you're really into - it might be a hobby, or a particular clothing or cosmetics brand. Or it could be a monthly specialist trade mag that you actively look forward to receiving. One of my favourites is Victoria Health, a natural health website selling everything from supplements to face serums. If you're interested in natural health, I cannot recommend signing up to their four-page newsletter highly enough. You'll learn so much, fresh from the keyboard of Gill. Because she tries out everything herself, her opinions come straight from first-hand knowledge - and her expertise and passion just shine through in every word. I challenge anyone to read their newsletter and not be tempted to buy something! I digress a little, but my point is this: I absorb every last word because it's a subject I love. The aim of any marketing is to seek out those who are equally switched on to your products or services and then to tell them everything they might want to know. Don't be scared of frightening people off - this will only happen if people don't really have a genuine need for what you're offering - and why do you want to waste time talking to them anyway?

Our flag-flying for copywriting continues with part two next week, including myth-busting on how you should sell your product or service range, the importance of mis-spelling (yes, that's right), and the biggest reason why the majority of companies fail in their marketing"¦

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