What is copywriting?

Written by Dave Collins, SoftwarePromotions Ltd.

What is copywriting? WikiPedia define the word as the process of writing the words that promote a person, business, opinion or idea, which I think is spot on. Their definition also notes that the main purpose of writing such marketing copy is to persuade the reader to act – to buy a product for instance.

So website copywriting is about writing persuasive and promotional text that convinces visitors that your product can solve a problem they have. Really good copywriting will even convince them that they have a problem without having previously been aware of it.

A good copywriter is like a talented salesperson – something that has become increasingly rare nowadays. A good salesperson speaks to you in the right tone, effectively convinces you that you need what they’re selling, and if they’re really good at it, they’ll not only do so without annoying you in the slightest, but they’ll have you thanking them for it.

With this in mind, let’s take a look at some real examples of text that most definitely do not qualify as copywriting. They are all genuine examples, taken from the first paragraph of various websites index pages, but have been slightly altered to protect the identity and dignity of their owners.

“Sound Power is a sound mixing software application for the sound controls that each properly installed and operating sound device should exhibit. Sound Power is also extremely ergonomic and offers extended functionality.”


If you persevere and read it a few times, chances are that you’ll be able to extract and extrapolate the meaning behind the words. But text like this doesn’t exactly encourage you to purchase the product does it? And the important point is that visitors to your website will not extract, interpret and extrapolate. They won’t work hard to understand what you’re trying to say.

“E-Z-X-tract copies CDs, converts audio files from one format to another, and burns audio, MP3, WMA, and regular CDs.”

This isn’t the worst copy I’ve ever come across, but does it inspire you? Does it ignite your interest? Grab your attention? Compel you to read more? Of course not. It’s functional, drab and utterly uninspiring. The only reason you’d reach for your wallet would be to use it as a makeshift pillow.

“This is a tool which lets you make your own screensaver. Simply drag and drop the images you want and you can make your own professional screensaver in seconds.”

Again, dull as a dishrag. I don’t understand why people want screensavers, and I certainly don’t get why they’re prepared to pay for them. But the fact is that they do. Screensavers are all about personal taste; they can be funny, impressive, cool or beautiful. But the key factor is that no-one needs screensavers; they want them. So your copy is going to have to do better than that.

Now for anyone reading this article who doesn’t know me or hasn’t met me, I should point out that I’m British. I’m therefore tempted to carry on ridiculing good examples of bad copywriting until my sarcasm finally dries up. But it isn’t going to get you anywhere, aside from bored or amused depending on your disposition.

So I’ll resist my impulses to point and sneer, and will instead focus on what you can do to improve your website’s copy.

Ultimately, most examples of website copy take the same form. Headline, body, illustration and action items.

The headline is there to fulfil one purpose only. To act as bait, and to catch the attention of the visitor to your website.

It needs to be clear, it needs to grab their attention, it needs to communicate the benefits of what you’re selling, and it needs to be instantly understood.

Common mistakes include using a headline that is too long, focusing on the wrong details, focusing on features over benefits and the most common – simply creating confusion.

On the main page of our own website, we offer two headlines right next to each other:

“ease your workload” and “increase your sales”.

There are no clever word plays, no attempts to convey details, and no padding or waffle. They are short, sharp and brutally clear. And they work. They both get a lot of clicks.

Just like their newspaper counterparts, the most important requirements for an effective headline are that they are instantly visible and clear.

Get it right, and you’ll have your visitors attention. But only briefly. From this point the body, illustrations and action items need to kick in.

One of the more common mistakes that I see is waffle. Maybe it’s the online equivalent of nervous chatter, but some web designers seem afraid to only say what they need to.

Once your visitor has decided that they may be interested in what you’re selling, they won’t initially be looking for your mission statement, your history, where you’re based, your favourite animal or music tastes. They need the bare facts. But even the barest of facts still need to be well written.

Bullet points are often quite effective, but some companies go overboard. I recently saw a website listing more than twenty bullet points at the top of the main page! The problem with too many words is that they dilute what you’re trying to say. Keep it as brief as you can.

Another common mistake is to focus on features instead of benefits. Features are for software sites, over-zealous geeky users and overly-proud developers. Users don’t care about them. They want to know what your software can do for them and why they need it.

They also need quick and easy access to all the information they may be looking for. The product’s price, testimonials, ordering information, contact information and so on. Whatever they need shouldn’t be squeezed into the main page, but there should be clearly visible links to these pages; wherever they are on your website.

And last but not least, a little bit of reassurance goes a long way. Irrespective of who you think you may be selling to, there are always customers who need a little hand-holding when it comes to parting with their cash. Talking to them in a language they understand can not only be reassuring, but can mean the difference between a visitor and a customer.

The language that you use on your website is the online equivalent of your manner and tone. If you come across as pushy, sleazy or inept, your visitors will be gone before you’ve even started to convince them about your product. Come across as professional, trustworthy and informed and they’ll be far more receptive to your sales pitch.

Be seen, be sold.

Written by Dave Collins, SoftwarePromotions Ltd.