The Four Paradoxes of Digital Copywriting

Copywriters and content marketers are at a metaphorical junction. On the one hand there is a need for great copy that is engaging, informative and rooted in ideas and, on the other, there is a need to produce more and more of it in an increasingly faster paced environment, which runs the risk of diluting quality for the sake of quantity. Our digital aspirations and the changing nature of advertising, indeed of business, have adapted the channels through which brands reach audiences, the nature of marketing and the expectations of the audience themselves. So what does this mean for the copy we produce?

Copywriting is an old discipline. For decades, centuries even, brilliant copywriters have been writing copy that has turned heads, persuaded cynics and engaged consumers. The art of using language to generate, broadcast and consolidate ideas has been a crucial part of marketing since marketing began. And it still is.

The question, therefore, is how has an old discipline been adapted to fit the modern world? Has the quality of the content been affected? And what counts as copy in this, the digital age?

The four paradoxes:

Digital copy is anything written to engage an online audience, be that website copy, a blog post or a tweet. This content, situated within its digital context, can be described using four paradoxes:

  • Copy is gone in an instant / copy is there forever
  • We need time to perfect a craft / we must keep up with the trends and the conversation
  • Consumers are engaged and interested / consumers are ‘vessels to throw ideas into’
  • We are talking to human beings / we are talking to machines

At the very crux of each of these is our (relatively new) friend – the internet.

Thanks to this virtual world, it is easier, faster and cheaper to broadcast our ideas and produce copy that can be seen by an audience unlimited by any factor other than internet access. And this means that there is more of it; content reaches further but it also competes for the same (huge) space as millions of other pieces on a constant basis.

Copy is gone in an instant / copy is there forever:

Any busy Twitter feed moves faster than it takes to say ‘read this’. Posts are surrounded by the constant noise of their fellow followees and we are increasingly trying to think of new ways to present our copy in an engaging way that might make the reader stop and read and share that particular piece as opposed to anyone else’s. If we don’t grab attention right away, our brief moment in the limelight will soon be gone and the next piece will arrive.

But, let’s not forget that the internet also represents the largest and most complex filing cabinet in the world. Even if no one clicks on a link or reads an article, there is a machine somewhere that will have indexed it. And it can therefore be found. We can’t go producing shoddy content just because we’re under a time pressure; if anything, we need it to be some of the best we ever made, just in case, in two years’ time it gets dug up by a competitor and used against us!

So – modern copywriters must be masters of the headline, crafters of concise copy and experts at engagement.

More than anything, we need to know about quality.

We need time to perfect a craft / we must keep up with the trends and the conversation:

This brings me nicely to this, the second paradox.

The DMA recently hosted a conversation between two generations of copywriters – the ‘Madmen vs the Mavens’ – who were discussing ‘the state of copywriting in the UK today’. A common theme that ran through this discussion was that of the ‘craft’ of copywriting, its status as an art form and the need to nurture, develop and celebrate talent when it is found.

Despite living in such a fast-moving world as the internet, it is vital that we make time for such mentorship. I argue that this crafted talent is precisely the factor that will push one piece of content up above the rest, hold the attention of an audience, and maintain the quality that is so important.

We will just have to make time.

Consumers are engaged and interested / consumers are ‘vessels’ to throw ideas into:

Content marketing is all about engagement. It is all about creating innovative copy that will present a positive view of a brand and finding new and exciting ways to appeal to an audience and hold their attention. In that breath, therefore, we assume consumers to be engaged and intelligent creatures, looking to be inspired and persuaded of a brand’s value as opposed to simply being told what to do. Yet, with the development of the ‘Internet of Things’, we are increasingly becoming numbers, statistics and faceless ‘vessels’ who either buy things or don’t, engage or don’t, join the mailing list or don’t.

This data cannot be ignored. It provides the core of any digital marketing strategy and, when managed well and responded to, can have an unparalleled positive impact on a brand’s success. The key to success is the sustainability of that impact. Where copy has been written poorly or without clear direction, momentary influxes of data or improvements in search rankings can be short lived. Where copy has been written well, with insight and with a specific (human) audience in mind, it will generate more than a quick win; it will build a following of engaged brand ambassadors.

And they are exactly the kind of ‘statistics’ you want.

We are talking to human beings / we are talking to machines:

Google may be a machine, but it is run by human beings. Those human beings decide how the search is configured, what signals a relevant result and what signals a bad one. Search engine optimisation tactics change with every new algorithm update – and it is important to stay abreast of these developments – but, at the heart of search engine success, is popularity. The more popular a website is, and that means genuinely popular – amongst humans -, the more the people at Google want to favour it and the more it will continue to change its algorithms to call out those who are creating red herrings and feigning their own popularity.

So, let’s keep it simple. Write for a human audience. Stuffing keywords into copy and rearranging sentences such that they only appeal to a robot is unsustainable. With each new update, you will lose search engine ground and may well be penalised, and that’s not to mention how many customers you will lose as they make it to a webpage that is poorly written and which repeats the same words over and over again.

A good copywriter, well trained and observant, will write an engaging piece that is relevant to search terms, references appropriate material and supports a brand.

That’s not writing for a machine, that’s writing well.

Conclusion:

Digital copywriting is in a state of flux. A gap is being bridged between an old discipline founded on an art form and a new, digital industry that demands more information, more frequently and for larger audiences. But the power of words is still strong and good copy (in whatever form) still exists.

The key to copywriting success is simple – fit today’s copy to today’s audience. In 2015, we are a multi-disciplined bunch; we are used to working across multiple platforms and to getting any information we want at the click of a button. We are busy. We are mobile. We say what we want to an audience of our own creation. But above all, we are human.

Learn your craft, be flexible, keep an ear to the virtual ground and engage the audience with high quality copy.

Some things will never change.

 

At Ambergreen, we design content strategies and provide copywriting services for a number of our clients. Click here to find out more.

 

Sarah Osborne

Creative Services Executive

Ambergreen Internet Marketing

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