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Web Writing Is Not Copywriting

There are many different types of writing out there – fiction, nonfiction, investigative, opinion pieces, dissertations, legal briefs, scripts, screenplays – and then there’s the whole world of marketing writing. Copywriting is a pretty big catch-all term, but web writing falls into its own category.

 

And not everyone’s good at it. 

 

I have writers on my team who do not write web content. Blog posts, emails, social media posts? Sure thing. And I have writers on my team who only do web content while avoiding other types of writing like the plague.

 

So let’s define the two, shall we?

 

Copywriting includes a range of content

 

Copywriting is simply capturing a message on paper (or more commonly in a Google document). Good copy is clear, gets the message across, and is valuable and relevant to the audience.

 

Copy can be long or short form:

  • Blog posts 
  • Articles
  • Social media posts
  • Video scripts
  • Presentations and pitch decks
  • Direct mail
  • Email newsletter
  • Tagline or slogan
  • Value proposition
  • Print and social ads
  • Ebooks
  • White papers
  • Case studies

 

To do it well, you need excellent grammar, spelling, and punctuation; the ability to string together concepts so ideas flow together and conclude logically; working knowledge of branding and marketing.

 

Big no-no’s for copywriting are liberal use of big, SAT words that require a dictionary to understand; long sentences and paragraphs; and the tendency to repeat yourself.

 

Web writing is a different beast

 

Web writing requires a different skillset. Sure, there’s some overlap with copywriting, but it’s much more technical. It’s kinda like the difference between riding a bicycle versus a motorcycle. Similar fundamentals, but vast divergence beyond that.

 

A good web writer combines the art of writing (see above) with the science of websites. He or she understands:

 

Website design and development

 

I’m not talking about graphic design and coding. I suck at design – but know good design when I see it – and I have very basic coding skills.

 

Instead, I’m talking about how design supports writing (and vice versa), how web designers approach it, when development begins, and how to communicate with a designer/developer.

 

Writing always comes before design. However, when I first start a web writing project, I talk to the designer/developer about the site navigation. How many pages will we have, and how are they organized? If that’s not already in place, I determine this.

 

Once I start writing, I label elements that will require design treatment – headlines, subheads, call-out boxes, buttons, icons, etc. This helps the designer a lot – no guessing as to what needs to be highlighted or how it should appear on the page.

 

Depending on how big the project is, the web designer might start working on the home page and one or two interior pages using early versions of content. If the site is big with multiple sub-pages, he or she will design one level one page, one level two, one level three, etc.

 

Development only begins once the design and copy are final. Along the way, the web writer is in touch with the designer to discuss various layout options, design options, etc. It’s a pretty fun process, and I really enjoy it.

 

Search engine optimization

 

As we all know, search engine optimization (SEO) changes all the time. I keep on top of the basics (using the right keywords in the right places in the right amount), and I know how to properly optimize a web page for search. 

 

Ideally, the web designer/developer knows SEO or the client is working with an SEO expert. As my previous blog post on this topic demonstrates, a lot has changed in a short amount of time!

 

User experience

 

How do people use and navigate around a website? What’s the best way to help them find the right information, quickly? How can we ensure they can engage with us, in the way they want to?

 

That’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to user experience (UX), an in-demand skillset by the way.

 

Home page copy is a great example of how important it is for a web writer to understand UX. Let’s say Client offers products and services for both commercial and residential customers. I want a web visitor to quickly find what they came for based on who they are and what they need.

 

I might create two sections on the home page: one for commercial customers, and one for residential customers. Each section has a headline and value proposition for that customer type.

 

Two boxes appear under each section, one for products and one for services. These sections have a subhead and blurb – what products and services do we offer, and how will they benefit you? A call-to-action button, like “learn more” follows. Once a web visitor clicks, they’ll go to the landing page for, say, “Residential Lawn and Landscaping.”

 

I can always tell when a company doesn’t use a web writer for their site; the home page is usually a mess without a clear and easy way to find the right information quickly.

 

The client’s target market and brand

 

Web writers spend a lot of time on discovery before writing even begins. Sometimes a discovery call is one hour, sometimes it’s five hours spread over three days. In any case, I cannot write anything unless I have a firm grip on:

 

  • Brand differentiators and characteristics
  • Current messaging, especially around what’s working and not working
  • Target market demographics and challenges
  • Competitors

 

A web writer who says they can write website content for without thorough discovery is lying. Either that or you’ll get generic web content that does not distinguish you from your competitors. 

 

What else do you want to know about web writing?

 

I learned all of the above by working with great agencies and web designers and developers over the years. I’m still learning, of course – aren’t we all? – but I’m happy to be a resource for you. I offer one-hour consultations, where you can pepper me with all your questions about web writing, copywriting, or both. 

 

Just shoot me a note here, and we’ll get something on the calendar. 

 

2 Comments
  • Greg Voornas
    Posted at 15:33h, 10 August Reply

    Another wise and insightful take on this crazy thing called copywriting. Well done, maestro!

  • Monika Jansen
    Posted at 15:47h, 10 August Reply

    Blushing over here – thanks Greg!

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