The Accidental Writer: Great Web Copy for Everyone

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Great copy is critical to the effectiveness of nearly every website. Yet often, a business owner, designer, or developer, perhaps pressured by budget and time limitations, will write the copy him- or herself. This session will tell you when that's a good idea, and when it's not. For those times when it's okay to be the "accidental writer," you'll learn quick tips for crafting effective web copy. For those times when you really need to bring in a pro, you'll learn how to work with a web writer to get the best copy for your website, as quickly and cheaply as possible.

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  • \n
  • Hi everyone. First, I want to introduce myself. My name’s Melanie. I’m a word junkie.\n\n
  • How many of you are designers? developers? website/store owners?\n\nIf you’re a designer who builds websites, your client may ask you to write content. Or, maybe you want to add copywriting to your portfolio of services. \n\nIf you’re a developer, you may be expected to write text for your app.\n\nIf you’re a website owner, you might not have the budget or time to hire a copywriter, so you’re tempted to write your site yourself.\n\nWe’ll talk about whether that’s a good idea.\n\n
  • Should you write the copy for your project? \nMaybe!\n
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  • Do you value writing? Are you ready to work hard?\n
  • First, here are some things you need to consider about your writing ability.\n
  • Are you a native speaker in the same language as the site’s visitors?\n\nIf not, that doesn’t rule you out automatically. But being a native speaker has huge benefits. \n
  • More than just avoiding common idiomatic errors, being a native speaker/writer will ensure that you:\n- use language familiar to customers - think about navigation, metadata, and, for apps, form fields\n- which makes his writing more compelling, potentially increasing conversions and\n- helps your navigation make sense. \n
  • Reading is a great indicator, and determiner, of writing ability.\n\nDo you read voraciously?\n- Do you have an RSS reader set up?\n- Do you read and comment on blog posts?\n- Do you read at least one book a month?\n\nIf you answered yes to all these questions, that’s a good sign.\n
  • Do you write regularly?\n\nWriting regularly is a huge indicator of whether your writing is going to be understandable to others. \n\nIf so, do others like the way you put things, explains things, and don’t correct your logic and grammar too much?\n
  • Do you write regularly?\n\nWriting regularly is a huge indicator of whether your writing is going to be understandable to others. \n\nIf so, do others like the way you put things, explains things, and don’t correct your logic and grammar too much?\n
  • Do you write regularly?\n\nWriting regularly is a huge indicator of whether your writing is going to be understandable to others. \n\nIf so, do others like the way you put things, explains things, and don’t correct your logic and grammar too much?\n
  • Do you write regularly?\n\nWriting regularly is a huge indicator of whether your writing is going to be understandable to others. \n\nIf so, do others like the way you put things, explains things, and don’t correct your logic and grammar too much?\n
  • The project has some variables that will determine whether you should write it.\n
  • Do you understand your audience?\n\nThis works best if you actually are a member of the group you’re targeting. But really understanding your audience works well too (think about freelancer portfolio sites. You know your customers, you’ve worked with them repeatedly.)\n
  • What’s the scope of your content project? If it’s a 3-4 page brochure site, you’ll probably do fine.\n\nIf you need to write over 10 pages, you should definitely bring in a pro, unless you’re an experienced writer or content strategist.\n
  • What’s content strategy, you say? Well, you’re in the right place to find out...\n
  • How important is SEO to the project? If it’s an application, or your own portfolio, perhaps SEO isn’t your biggest concern.\n\nOnline stores and product sites usually want to rank high in search engines. This requires targeting the right keywords and properly optimizing title tags, headlines, copy, links, and other page elements. This is best left to a professional copywriter familiar with SEO.\n
  • Good prospects for projects that don’t require a professional writer: \nYour own site: you may have a great idea, or want to give readers an idea of how you think or work. \nSmall sites that don’t require a high search engine ranking. (These include sites you plan to get traffic from referrals, and low pagerank sites you’re using to gauge keyword availability.)\n\nIf you want to be a copywriter, these are great projects to cut your teeth on.\n
  • Okay, so you’ve decided you’re a writer! \n\nHow should you write your project?\n
  • Don’t just describe.\n
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  • Web copy, and text in web apps, needs to be actionable. Use verbs.\n
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  • This web app is a great example. What if it had said, “This is taskboard 10k. We’ve built this web app to help you manage your tasks. You can grab a new card from the deck at the left. You can also use tags to organize your tasks...” \n\nInstead, the copy is imperative and actionable. Notice how revealing it bit by bit makes it more engaging. You’re curious what it’ll say next.\n
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  • Please, for the love of all that is pure, do not use cliches. No “got x?” or “we mean business” or anything like that.\n\nIt’s okay to put a twist on puns and cliches, but please don’t just use them without putting some type of original twist. That’s just lame.\n
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  • You go from a 25-word sentence to 2 sentences of 9 and 10 words each.\n
  • You go from a 25-word sentence to 2 sentences of 9 and 10 words each.\n
  • You go from a 25-word sentence to 2 sentences of 9 and 10 words each.\n
  • Please don’t skip this step! Even experienced writers ... and tattoo artists ... make typos.\n
  • Please don’t skip this step! Even experienced writers ... and tattoo artists ... make typos.\n
  • Please don’t skip this step! Even experienced writers ... and tattoo artists ... make typos.\n
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  • Now let’s look at some examples of sites written by designers.\n\nThis site does a great job of helping you understand Shanna’s niche, personality, and style.\n
  • The steps are easy to understand and the calls to action are clear.\n
  • Quirky Bird uses fun, irreverent copy to get your attention. She just seems like a cool, laid-back person to work with.\n
  • Quirky Bird uses fun, irreverent copy to get your attention. She just seems like a cool, laid-back person to work with.\n
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  • If you can answer these questions before your writer even asks, you can save yourself time, which can save you money. \n\nIf you don’t know the answers to these questions, stop. Proceeding before you understand can cost you lots of money.\n
  • If you can answer these questions before your writer even asks, you can save yourself time, which can save you money. \n\nIf you don’t know the answers to these questions, stop. Proceeding before you understand can cost you lots of money.\n
  • If you can answer these questions before your writer even asks, you can save yourself time, which can save you money. \n\nIf you don’t know the answers to these questions, stop. Proceeding before you understand can cost you lots of money.\n
  • Tiffani Jones Brown also writes about the value of writing. Do not work with a writer just because someone told you to, or someone else is, or because everyone is talking about content on the Internet. Hire a writer only if you understand the value of writing. If you don’t, it’ll be a hassle for you AND the writer. If you want to understand more about the value of writing, read Steve Krug, copyblogger.com, A List Apart, and others. \n
  • Be available and ready to answer questions. Your writer will probably have some! The quicker you can answer, the more you can collaborate, the quicker they can finish.\n\n\n
  • Make sure you attend these content panels to learn more.\nBloomstein: Monday at 11 am\nHay: Sat at 11 am\nContent Rules: Sat at 11:30\n
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  • The Accidental Writer: Great Web Copy for Everyone

    1. 1. The Accidental Writer Great Web Copy for Everyone Melanie Seibert SXSW Interactive | March 11, 2011 #accwriter
    2. 2. Hi. I’m Melanie.I like: • Web writing • Technical writing • Content strategy • You • Taco trucks
    3. 3. Flickr: jjpacres
    4. 4. Flickr: visionello
    5. 5. It depends on:• You: Do you have the traits of an effective writer? Do you understand how much time and effort you need to spend? Are you willing to spend it?• The project: Is the project suited to be your first DIY copywriting effort?
    6. 6. Flickr: Picture Perfect Pose
    7. 7. Content is NOT cheap.There’s...• The cost of writing it.• The cost of maintaining it.• The cost of NOT writing or maintaining it properly.
    8. 8. “Writing is easy: All you do is sitstaring at a blank sheet of paperuntil drops of blood form on yourforehead.”  — Gene Fowler
    9. 9. First, let’s talkabout your skills.
    10. 10. Are you a native speaker? Flickr: nicasaurusrex
    11. 11. Are you a reader? Flickr: boooooooomblastandruin
    12. 12. Do you write regularly?
    13. 13. Do you write regularly? Blog posts
    14. 14. Do you write regularly? Blog posts Articles
    15. 15. Do you write regularly? Blog posts Articles Emails, newsletters
    16. 16. Do you write regularly? Blog posts Articles Emails, newsletters Reports, briefs
    17. 17. Now, let’s lookat the project.
    18. 18. Who is the audience for the project? Flickr: adactio
    19. 19. Scope: Flickr: doviende
    20. 20. Scope:How muchcontent doyou need? Flickr: doviende
    21. 21. Say what?
    22. 22. Say what? Content strategy: “the practice of planning for content creation, delivery, and governance.” — Kristina Halvorson
    23. 23. Search: Flickr: Jeffrey Beall
    24. 24. HowSearch: important is it? Flickr: Jeffrey Beall
    25. 25. Promising projectsfor new writers• Your own portfolio/site• Small sites• Very simple apps• Sites that don’t need high search engine rankings
    26. 26. How to write good.
    27. 27. XHow to write good.
    28. 28. Flickr: s.alt
    29. 29. Charlie says:Don’t lead with your needs. livethesheendream.com
    30. 30. Give people something to do. Flickr: jaycoxfilm
    31. 31. • Buy• Join• Give• Go• Save• Find
    32. 32. Tell a story Flickr: Sugar Pond
    33. 33. awaionline.com
    34. 34. groupon.com
    35. 35. woot.com
    36. 36. got originality? * * I stole this quote from @gunsandtacos!
    37. 37. Be clear and concise. “Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts.” — Strunk & White, The Elements of Style
    38. 38. “Get rid of half the words on the page, then get ridof half of what’s left.” — Steve Krug, Don’t Make Me Think
    39. 39. Make copy scannable. Flickr: Ryan Christopher VanWilliams - NYC
    40. 40. Bold key terms.
    41. 41. Use bullets.
    42. 42. http://www.rtcmagazine.com: “XMC: Enhanced Connector Design Solves Insertion/Removal Stress”
    43. 43. The testing resulted in a recommendedchange to the host board connector, whichwas agreed upon by the working group and incorporated into the specification.http://www.rtcmagazine.com: “XMC: Enhanced Connector Design Solves Insertion/Removal Stress”
    44. 44. Don’t use passive voice. Do use short sentences. The testing resulted in a recommended change to the host board connector, which was agreed upon by the working group and incorporated into the specification. http://www.rtcmagazine.com: “XMC: Enhanced Connector Design Solves Insertion/Removal Stress”
    45. 45. Don’t use passive voice. Do use short sentences. The testing resulted in a recommended change to the host board connector, which was agreed upon by the working group and incorporated into the specification. http://www.rtcmagazine.com: “XMC: Enhanced Connector Design Solves Insertion/Removal Stress” We recommended a change to the host board connector. The working group agreed and incorporated it into the specification.
    46. 46. Revise and proof.
    47. 47. Revise and proof. huffingtonpost.com
    48. 48. Revise and proof. huffingtonpost.com huffingtonpost.com
    49. 49. Revise and proof. huffingtonpost.com huffingtonpost.com typobuddy.com
    50. 50. Recommended Reading Letting Go of the Words Ginny Redish The Elements of Style Strunk & White The Copywriter’s Handbook Bob Bly seocopywriting.com/trainingHeather Lloyd-Martin’s SEO copywriting certification course
    51. 51. Examples
    52. 52. Examples Cool sites written bydesigners and business owners.
    53. 53. sitesquared.com
    54. 54. houstonapartmenthelp.com
    55. 55. Example quirky-bird.com
    56. 56. Example quirky-bird.com
    57. 57. Example quirky-bird.com
    58. 58. How to hire a writer without wasting time or money
    59. 59. Flickr: sjcockell
    60. 60. Flickr: tillwe
    61. 61. Understand your business. “Know your goals and business, first... No amount of copy, design, or organization will save you from a bad business model, a poor understanding of your business and audience or lack of a web strategy. “...If you need someone to help you figure out what your business model is (aka, what kinds of things you offer or what your brand attributes are), it’s not time to hire a writer yet.” — Tiffani Jones Brown http://thingsthatarebrown.com/blog/2010/02/before-you-hire-a-writer/
    62. 62. What do you offer that’s unique?
    63. 63. What do you offer that’s unique? Who are your competitors?
    64. 64. What do you offer that’s unique? Who are your competitors? Who is your audience?
    65. 65. What do you offer that’s unique? Who are your competitors? Who is your audience? What do they need?
    66. 66. Value writing. Flickr: heartlover1717
    67. 67. Answer questions. Flickr: alexanderdrachmann
    68. 68. Learn more A few SXSW content panels Not my job: the ultimate content strategy smackdown Kristina Halvorson Intrigue me: writing compelling, credible content Stephanie Hay Creation, curation, and the ethics of content strategy Margot Bloomstein Content rules Ann Handley & CC Chapman
    69. 69. Thanks!Special kudos to:Tiffani Jones Brown — @ticjonesShanna Cote — @shanBarbara Aquino — @islandchick78Staci Brillhart — @imaquirkybirdLindsey White — http://hopscotchhaiku.comMolly Rodriguez — @mollyjoon
    70. 70. Chat me up! prosekiln.com @melanie_seibert

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