Tuesday July 18, 2006

Copy, Right?

All throughout my career I’ve been confronted with bad copy on the web, and I think it’s a shame. Isn’t communication at the heart of business? The vast majority of businesses wouldn’t think twice about hiring a copywriter to script a television commercial, carefully word a brochure or pen crucial press releases. So why does professional (or at the very least, thougtfully produced and decent) copy for the web continue to be something that is categorically overlooked?

“People Don’t Read, They Scan.”

I’ve been exposed to this logic on more than one occasion. It’s true that people scan web pages, but this is an initial behavior. They have arrived looking for something and the first order of business is to find that thing. But this is exactly where professional writing can help. Instead of relegating good copy to the sidelines because “people only scan text,” businesses should be focusing even more intently on creating clear and concise copy that can be easily scanned and digested. Designers are ace at drawing attention to important copy — pulling the eye to that which really weighs heavily in importance. Why not give them intelligently written copy to scan? People can easily pick out lazily composed copy, and it reflects badly on business.

“We Know Our Business Best.”

I’ve heard this argument as well. No one is a more qualified expert on that new piece of technology than the guy who built it. So he should write the copy for it, right? Or at least the rough draft which Suzie in Marketing can “jazz up.” Not likely. Knowledge of a thing does not equal the ability to best communicate a thing. And while it is unquestionably vital for a professional copywriter to do his homework and research the topics he is tasked with writing, that writing is still best left to a writing professional. I have seen, firsthand, how well a skilled writer can take a complex concept and make it simple. You just can’t put a dollar amount on the long-term value of that quality of communication.

“Whoops, Out of Time!”

Many times, even when a business understands that good copy is important, it will assign it a lower priority in relation to more “pressing” roles like Application Development or Visual Design. I can’t speak for other roles, but my visual design work is leaps and bounds more effective when I have great content to work with than when content is lacking (or completely missing).

In Summation

There are surely many more justifications for bad copy on the web, and this is obviously a broad stroke. But I contend that people are always not as forgiving as businesses think. Every bit of professional credibility that a business lets slide is lost ground that has to be reclaimed. Grammar is part of the brand. Tone is part of the brand. Spelling is part of the brand. To many these may seem like little things but I assure you they’re not. Every “little” thing adds up and either enhances or degrades the intangible brand. Every confusing bit of copy that a customer has to read over two or three times is a demerit on that business’ customer service scorecard. Every poorly or hastily-written piece of PR fluff added into a webpage to “take up space,” state the obvious and generally waste a reader’s time is credibility (and possibly trust) lost.

It’s been said so many times, but I’m saying it again: Good copy is just good business.


Wade Winningham » 5542 days ago #

We’ve all heard of some sites as being nothing more than brochure-ware, but I doubt those sites had quite as much attention on writing as a printed brochure.

daniel » 5542 days ago #

didn’t you mean “good bizness”?

Hugh G. » 5541 days ago #

Writing is even more pooped on than design it seems. I think most people don’t see it as a legitimate profession. Which is sad because it’s every bit as important as an effective design.

David Hale » 5541 days ago #

...my visual design work is leaps and bounds more effective when I have great content to work with than when content is lacking (or completely missing).

This has to be one of the more true statements from a design standpoint.
Pretty much leaves you just shaking your head…sigh…

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