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Want to be a better copywriter? Stop being precious about your work

Before I begin, I want to say that this is a note to self. A bit of tough love from me, for me. It’s not a criticism of anyone else.

It’s about a trap that I realised I’d recently fallen into, and what I decided to do about it.

Maybe you’re in the same boat. Maybe you’ve already realised this and I’m late to the party. Or maybe you think I’m talking rubbish.

Anyway, I digress.

Killer content crafters

Recently, I was writing a new page for my website and I’d used the phrase “crafting killer content”. I don’t know who started this, but I see it everywhere. On freelancers’ websites, on agency websites, on all of the websites.

So I thought it should be on my website too.

My partner was looking over my shoulder at the time and snorted out loud at this particular turn of phrase.

I bristled.

“What?”

He said he didn’t know what “crafting killer content” meant, but that it sounded ridiculous.

My first thought was, obviously, what does he know? I’m the professional copywriter, using professional copywriter-y language. He’s just a silly boy.

But then I stopped and actually thought about it.

My partner runs his own business in the construction industry. He doesn’t know a lot about digital marketing. In fact, his business doesn’t even have a website. He relies purely on word of mouth and does very well out of it.

He’s not really my target market, but someone quite similar to him is.

He benefits from a lot of local contacts which someone starting out might not have. Someone just starting out might need a website to market themselves, and they might need a copywriter to write some web copy for them.

They probably don’t know what “crafting killer content” means either. So why would they hire me if I was offering this as a service?

The copywriting echo chamber

I realised I’d just done that thing that I roll my eyes at other people for doing.

In an effort to sound credible, I’d fallen into the trap of using industry jargon. The language that copywriters talk to each other in. We’re all about the “killer content” that “maximises conversions” with its “targeted calls to action”.

We all know – or pretend to know – what each other is on about, but the truth is that it’s not very meaningful to someone outside the copywriting echo chamber.

Do you think someone has, in the whole history of Google, ever searched for “killer content crafters in Scotland”?

Maybe.

I know they’ve definitely searched for “copywriters in Scotland” though.

The power of simplicity

What do I tell my clients when they want to use “facilitate” instead of “make things happen” and “core competencies” instead of “skills”?

I tell them to write in plain English. To use the simplest form of every word. I tell them that complex ideas explained simply are often the most powerful.

I realised that it’s about time I got down from my copywriting high horse and took my own advice.

To assume makes an ass out of me and you

I also realised that it’s about time I stopped being so precious about my work.

Bad copywriting starts with being too concerned about what you want to say, or what you think you should be saying. It ignores the questions people have and the things they want to know.

Good copywriting starts with listening. Listening to what your client wants and to what their audience wants. To the language they use and to their expectations, hopes and dreams.

They say that to assume makes an ass out of me and you, and this should be every copywriter’s motto.

Preconceived notions of how something “should” be can get in the way of a really good idea.

Sometimes, you’ve got to suspend your professional judgement, quell that inner naysayer and roll with the punches.

You never know, you might just hit on something awesome.

Originally published at Felicity Wild.

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