As hard as some web content copywriters try, they always find their writing rejected or sent back for major revision, often multiple times, because the style and substance doesn’t blend well with the client’s existing site. For a copywriter, this is a frustrating (not to mention time-consuming) experience, and there’s a temptation to become unnecessarily resentful.
I spoke with Tiana Smith and Andy Eliason, lead copywriters at SEO.com about their experiences with a variety of client sites, styles, and expectations and how they write website copy that won’t get rejected (or at least has a much lower chance of rejection). They shared some great tips that have resulted in more “blendable” writing and happier clients.
Read Everything – And Don’t Skim
When you try to emulate content already on a site, you skim at your own peril. You should deliberately read every page on the site when possible, unless the site is huge. You’ll be able to tell whether the site was written by a single person or, in most cases, by multiple people. Let the client specify which pages are considered acceptable if the site has multiple writing styles. In a few cases, like one Tiana recently experienced, the client may want not even like his own website copy and want something completely different.
Take Note of Length
How long is the average paragraph? What about sentences? Recognize that you may actually have to resist your urge to write crisp, concise sentences if the existing site content is long-winded. It behooves any decent copywriter to let a client know when the current content is just awful, but you may be dealing with a company owner who wrote it himself and absolutely loves his run-ons.
Look For Recurring Elements – Especially Calls To Action
Are there phrases that are used consistently across multiple pages? Are you familiar with all of the terminology used on the site? Good copywriters must be familiar with client industry terms on a basic level in order to use those terms in appropriate contexts. When looking at the content you’ve written, many clients will subconsciously accept or reject content based on the calls to action. The call to action is the most important promotional element on a page and most reflective of the client’s business and how he wants to be branded, so make a special point to not diverge too far from the norm, unless requested.
What’s On The Black List?
Just as you’d ask a dinner guest beforehand what his food allergies are, you should do the same in asking a client what’s on his “black list” of prohibited words. Many companies have quality control rules about what can and can’t be said on the website. Some businesses refuse to use superlatives, e.g., “the best” or “one of the top companies.” Others are bound by SEC regulations because of their status as a publicly traded company. One client I worked with had terms he avoided because he felt they made him susceptible to potential liability (even though others in his industry used the terms freely on their sites).
The Devil is in the Details
You’d be amazed at how many obscure details add or detract from new content’s ability to mesh well with the old. Don’t forget to look at conjunctions, whether the site uses “won’t” vs. “will not.” Notice the reading level of the text and whether the pages assumes the reader already knows the acronyms and jargon. Determine whether the content is weighted more heavily in favor of SEO and keyword usage or readability (though these don’t have to be mutually exclusive).
Even after preparing with these tips, it’s usually best to send a sample of text that you’ve completed to the client before writing the rest, especially for a big project. You might save yourself a lot of headache. Finally, be prepared for clients who will add their own “finishing touch” to whatever you write. And remember that you’ve never been fully initiated as a copywriter until you’ve experienced the client who rejects all of your work by completely changing his mind after you’ve written everything strictly by his instructions. Consider it a rite of passage.