Sure, you can add new software and explore the latest bells and whistles. But as you do,
also consider the fundamental,
often longer-lasting advantages of adding something else —
— a professional copywriter, one with unique skills and qualities like these:
marketing & corporate communications experience
broad experience with consumers, businesspeople, and technical products.
That's not just me talking. That's advice from professional industry observers.
Of course your team probably already has writing capability . . .
some people write pretty
good copy while they also develop brilliant
marketing plans, elegant Web code or gorgeous
graphics. But, as various observers in Web Week [now called Internet World] have explained,
an experienced writer does more than just get the words out. We're
talking about more than fixing the spelling and shortening sentences here.
A writing specialist is specially suited to help organize the site,
seeing it as others see it and making it easy to use,
while developing distinctive, meaningful content, and keeping your team
from spinning its wheels.
I have the qualifications listed above, but I'm also a little biased on this subject. So
here's how those Web Week folks have described a writer's role on the ideal Web team:
What observers in Web Week had to
say about the ideal Web development team
Here's how Web Week summarized the views of HTML book guru Laura Lemay:
Web Week 6/17/96 (emphasis added to these)
"If Laura Lemay were to
assemble a web site's dream team, she would first
narrow the search down to four types of people: a writer with a journalism background,
a programmer, a designer, and a 'curious person' . . .  'Doing something flashy and
cool is less important than writing good content,' she said."
I agree, of course. After all, I was a reporter and a journalism graduate before becoming
a marketing communications copywriter. As you may know, many other copywriters (Leo Burnett
being a classic example) were journalists, too. We share the ability to
discover and distill reader-relevant information, prioritize it, and present
it in various interesting ways. Or, as Ms. Lemay pointed out, "You have to think
top-down, you have to focus on details and you have to come up with creative sidebars."
Gee -- that basically defines a Web site.
Another angle on this,
Web Week 7/8/96, quoting Charles L. Breuninger, DuPont
"The thought process you go through when you write something -- what's more
important, what's less important, how you structure things -- all that is stuff you've
got to do when you develop a Web site."
How about a technical writer?
Yes, a technical writer (someone who writes how-to user
manuals and such) is often a good choice for site development. And no, I'm not strictly a technical writer.
But I'm continually explaining the benefits and uses of technical products (and occasionally
providing on-line help). I offer much the same aptitude as a technical writer. And more.
Web Week 7/8/96, quoting consultant Ann Rockley
" 'A technical communicator's organizational skills are particularly important
to intranets.' . . .  Writers can help make sure the interface speaks the user's
I've said the same thing in my brochure for years. A site's language should be user-driven.
That's not always easy. In fact, sometimes it's even harder when the product's developers and its
users work for the same company.
Enter the freelance writer. And in my case, with my unusually broad background in many kinds
of communications for virtually all kinds of products, services and companies, I can quickly get up to speed as part
of the team.
To strengthen your capability, value versatility
A strong Web site is not simply a "brochure-on-a-screen,"
but writing for the Web does have a lot in common with
writing a capabilities brochure.
Or a long-copy ad. Or a sales letter. Or a catalog.
Or a roadside billboard. Although
some people think it's heresy to say so, traditional
copy elements are just as important on a New Media page.
For example, consider the importance of writing a
good "blurb" or a headline:
Web Week 6/17/96, Editor's Note "Scoundrel E-mail"
"Take the time to write a compelling subject line."
Robert Hertzberg was talking about e-mail, but his point applies wherever you have to
capture the reader's interest within moments.
We all know about the value of strong topline copy in
stimulating click-through. And the importance of clarity and imagination in
creating effective billboards, whether on the screen or beside a road.
Also, about a site that sells Java applets:
Web Week 7/8/96, quoting Donald DePalma, Sr. Software Analyst, Forrester Research
"Ultimately, unless the developer does a really good job of description, there aren't going to be
a lot of people anxious to run applets on their system."
Amen. A clear, compelling description helps whatever your
client sells -- because it
has to be seen and remembered amid both physical and mental clutter.
In addition, understanding other media helps fit
New Media successfully into the overall marketing mix.
Yeah, like nobody else can do all this?
Obviously, many Web developers are accomplishing these things now, sometimes without a
copy or content specialist on
their teams. I'm a confirmed team player, and -- as I've said -- I know
that the skills of many programmers, designers and
managers cover much of this ground.
But I can add flexibility and let you accomplish these things more easily. The advantages
of my contributions will also survive technological change, and they're relatively inexpensive to implement,
debug, enhance, evolve and maintain.
In addition, with my broad background covering marketing situations in a wide variety of product
and service industries, I can help you blend New Media creative with sound marketing concerns, for companies
of all sizes and personalities ... in your Web sites, your self-promotion, and your
Call or e-mail me now.
If I can help you describe, discover, digest, organize, translate, extend, or whatever,
please call 718-577-0005 or drop me a note. If you like, ask me
to review one of your sites or proposals at an economical rate.
And please continue to browse the rest of my site, to learn about other ways I can enhance the
capabilities of your team.
2019 UPDATE: Why the web development team should include a copywriter, from the start ...
When I wrote the underlying article in 1997, some Web developers
thought "writer" meant only "code writer." That soon changed. Along with
a professional Web copywriter on the team, site producers began including an Information Architect and even
a search engine optimization content specialist. I contended that an experienced copywriter could expertly wear all three hats.
(Close this update to read article)
But is that changing back? With the growth of social media, it seems everyone now considers themselves a writer,
so is a professional copywriter still needed? Can you really write your website yourself, or entrust it solely to a
novice staffer? Heck, there is even software that will "spin" an existing article — even someone else's article —
into dozens more articles for supposed SEO impact.
So is an expert copywriter still necessary?
The answer is still yes. For the
same reasons I detailed 20 years ago. As this page and my search engine
optimization article explain, all three functions can be well served by one
experienced Web-savvy, marketing-savvy copywriter, someone who sees your needs with fresh eyes,
knows how the reader will see it, and
can help you avoid costly mistakes.
I might allow some leeway for blogs. They're often informal, maybe in a "personal" voice. In that case, some awkwardness
can be forgiven. But tone still needs to be consistent, the content strategically on-target, and the writing both clear and succinct.
If the blog writer is not an expert writer, blog content should at least be planned, reviewed and edited with guidance from a content professional.
(Run yours past me.)
In fact, to the original three disciplines, today I would add the issues of usability and content value. User Experience (UX) involves more
than the user interface. UX encompasses the entire user experience. Will your user see content that is helpful and
unique to you, and be persuaded to take the action you most desire? Accomplishing that takes more than a writer. It requires a copywriter
who is experienced at salesmanship and readability.
And, yes, that still includes SEO. As you may know, Search Engine Optimization has itself changed a lot in recent years, and will
change again, as Google launches new algorithms overnight. (Good luck with all that spammy
spinner content!) So a copy generalist can no longer promise all-encompassing expertise with SEO and SEM. But a skilled copywriter
can quickly adapt to a given set of specifications while keeping the text readable and useful. A skilled
copywriter can also efficiently write product and page descriptions to spec, and focus on motivation.
At the very least, simply by writing
strong content that speaks meaningfully to visitors, a good marketing copywriter or content specialist will satisfy virtually all aspects
of organic SEO and motivation, which will always be up-to-date.