Updates. Ideas. Rants. Techniques. Opinions. Blog.

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A Great Website is a Russian Doll of Messages

For the past few weeks, I’ve been working on a beast of a website.

With dozens of pages and very little existing copy to speak of, it’s a been a big undertaking. I was reluctant.

“It’s okay, we’ve planned the messaging,” said the client. “We’ve gone through and decided what you need to say on every page. So it shouldn’t take too long.”

Alarm bells, right?

If you’re a copywriter, you know that deciding what to say is where the magic happens. For all your stylish execution, if the messaging isn’t on point, you’re screwed.

And that’s exactly where so many website projects seem to go wrong.

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Being Contrarian about the Copywriting Conference

Well, there’s a blog title that seems remarkably on brand…

In this unpredictable new normal where we’re all in it together but staying apart, I’m literally writing this blog post at a copywriting conference. It’s virtual, which makes it a bit like the longest webinar you’ve ever attended.

But it’s also prompting some interesting ideas, even where I don’t 100% agree with the speakers.

For a while now, I’ve been banging the drum of ‘Nobody knows anything’. I apply that to copywriters sharing career advice on social media, so-called ‘best practice’ and the tools clients try to use to assess and analyse copy. We’re all out here making educated guesses.

But, as freelance copywriters or their in-house counterparts, we all have opinions.

So I thought it’d be fun to share my conflicting thoughts as we progress through the day.

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5 Quick Things That Will Probably Make Your Website Better

I don’t know you. I don’t know your website. But, over the years, I’ve seen the same pitfalls come up time and time again – and applied the same quick fixes to make them better.

Yes, a website that performs is the combination of a huge number of different things. The right user experience. The right tone of voice. The right messaging underneath it all, based on a deep, true understanding of what your audience cares about.

But all of that is pointless if the execution holds you back.

So, if you’re reviewing your website and wondering what’s wrong, here are five prime suspects to get you started – not hard-and-fast rules, but things to consider.

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Let’s Stop Being Negative About Being Negative

I was talking to a client the other day about negativity in copywriting. We discussed the notion that you should never use a negative word, like ‘don’t’ or ‘frustrating’ or ‘painful’.

And, reader, it was painful indeed.

It’s another of these nonsensical copywriting ‘rules’ – usually the product of:

  • A copywriter who needed to find a topic for a blog post
  • A client who trusted that blog post to be well-researched and informative
  • An understandable desperation to make copywriting a one-size-fits-all science – something that’s easy to do and judge for quality

In reality, copywriting is a creative balancing act. The skill of using the most appropriate techniques for a given moment.

So, for the sake of balance, here’s when I think negativity is a positive for the task at hand.

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Why These Tone of Voice Guidelines Are Taking Ages

I’m writing some tone of voice guidelines and, honestly, they are taking forever.

I know what you’re thinking. How long does it take to write ‘friendly and honest’ in a nice font? We have the idea of guidelines as instructive and, providing the actual development has been done, summing it all up should be simple.

But, actually, it’s not the guidelines themselves that are taking a long time. It’s everything that comes before them.

Telling people how to write is the easy part. The catch is in telling them why.

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The One Thing You Should Know About Your Customers

Whether you’re putting an email together or building a brand from the ground up, audience is everything. The golden rule of branding and copywriting is that you need to understand your customers – their motivations, their interests, their desires.

That’s why the first step in a big new copy project is often a customer survey – a look at perceptions and preferences that you can use to underpin your decision making. Things like where you’re most likely to reach people, or what’s most likely to convince them.

But there’s one thing I see that’s overlooked again and again. A single finding that affects everything.

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A Copywriter Doesn’t Always Sell Things

It’s here again. It’s almost Christmas. And there are things everywhere.

Things to eat. Things to do. Things to wrap. 

As you’d imagine, I’ve written copy to sell a huge range of things over the course of the year – from cars to milk.

But many of my most memorable projects in 2017 haven’t been about selling things at all.

They’ve been about selling ideas.

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How To Use YNAB for your Small Business

Stephen Marsh and Seth Rowden are two copywriters with one thing in common; they both swear by using You Need a Budget (YNAB) for managing their finances.

Here, they swap notes and talk about why freelancers and businesses should use a zero dollar budget, including:

  • Coping with irregular income
  • Why tracking every pound doesn’t have to be a pain
  • How a strong budget solves the biggest problems freelancers and small businesses face around their finances
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