Straightforward Web Content

Last week, I wrote about how brands can have hidden messages. This week, I’m writing about a very different challenge: how to do content marketing for a business that has a very simple purpose. In this case, it was a financial business. A business like this has to follow standard procedures when dealing with its clients. The trouble is, all its competitors follow the same procedures. How was I going to write content that would make this business stand out?

How do I write fresh web content for a standard business?

In situations like this, it’s easy to resort to cookie-cutter content, and the business did have a lot of this content at its disposal. But I encouraged them to look at ways of saying things in a fresher, more original way. Here are three of the steps I took to enliven their web content.

1.      Talk to the Business Owners

The business may follow standard procedures, but the people who run the business bring their own individual qualities to it. That’s why I always make sure to talk to them, to get their own version of how they run their business. I strive to capture their enthusiasm, their commitment to their business and their expertise. I can also pay attention to the words they use to describe their business and weave those into the content.

2.      Use of Statistics

In the background content the business gave me, there were a few eye-catching statistics and I placed them in a prominent position, so they would catch the reader’s eye. These statistics demonstrate the expertise of the business and suggest that the business may be able to resolve an issue that a potential client may have.

3.      Speak to Customer Concerns

The Why Us page on a website is a good place to show potential clients that you understand the position they’re in and can offer reassurance to them. In this case, the business wanted clients to know that they could take the headache out of dealing with their financial affairs and leave them financially better off.

If your business is required to follow certain procedures, what do you do to differentiate it from other businesses in your field? If you write web content, how do you create content that makes businesses stand out?

The Hidden Messages of Marketing Content

Sometimes as a copywriter, you have the privilege of working with a company that makes a difference in people’s lives. Over the past few months, I’ve worked with a company which offers hospital beds that don’t look like hospital beds. Their adjustable features make it easy for people who are elderly or have chronic illnesses or disabilities to be cared for at home, and to improve the quality of their sleep.

copywriting image
Marketing content can have many hidden messages.

This was the core message I helped the company identify. The challenge was that customers didn’t want to be reminded of their illness or advancing age, so this core message wasn’t one they wanted to hear. Instead, the company wanted me to focus on how great the beds looked and how comfortable they were.

Core Message of Content

Recently, the company asked me to write two pieces of content, one that plainly outlined the core message, and one with the core message hidden. The first was a questionnaire for a magazine editorial and the second was content for three pages of their website. The differences between the two pieces of content was in the information I gave and the words I chose.

The questionnaire was for a public sector magazine, and I had to provide answers which would then be used for the editorial. The emphasis was on the company’s dealings with the public sector, so the emphasis was on the company’s dealings with health professionals and its ability to provide medical backup. There was a stress on dignity and independence, but I also used the language of the medical world, referring to hospitals, carers and patients. I also made references to specific illnesses that the beds could help people deal with.

Hidden Message of Content

For the website, the word hospital appeared nowhere in the content. I didn’t even mention words like dignity and independence. Instead, I used words like “comfort,” “rest” and “ensure.” The company wanted people to feel it was their choice to buy the beds. In my content, I wrote about what made the beds unique and about how they could help improve the quality of people’s sleep.

I also wrote about how good the company was at looking after their customers. I used the words “care” and “looked after” a lot. In this way, I was able to sneak the company’s core message through the back door. People would know from reading the content that with this company’s beds, they could live happily at home for years to come.

How do you decide what your message is? How do you get that message across in the content you create?

Writing a Story From Start to Finish

This Saturday, the Workshop Express will be going on a longer journey than usual. I’ll be heading to Dublin, a two-hour journey from where I live, to give the next in my series of creative writing workshops at the National Council for the Blind. I’ve been working with this group for quite a while now, and in recent workshops, they’ve been asking me to help them structure a story from start to finish.

This isn’t the way I usually work. Usually I give a prompt and the story takes off from there. In other words, it’s a more instinctive process. But I’d like to help these people get over the line and complete a story. They’ve been loyal attendees and it’s only fair that I give them what they want. I sought the advice of writers in the Facebook writers’ group that I run and got some brilliant suggestions. This helped me put together a plan for this Saturday’s workshop and I’m hugely grateful to them for that.

Here’s a flavour of how the plan will be put into action on the day.

Getting the Story Started

The other challenge on the day is that as well as the loyal followers, there’ll be a few people who haven’t done workshops with me before. To bond everyone and bring them to the same level, we’ll do a few spoken-word exercises to start off with. The Chinese Whispers exercise is always popular. I’ll start a story with a sentence, the next person will add a sentence and so on until everyone has contributed. This will demonstrate the importance of getting on with telling a story.

Exploring Plot

We will then look at different ways of plotting stories. One of the resources the Facebook Writers pointed to was an article outlining the Three Act Structure, the classic beginning-middle-end structure that has been used since the time of the Ancient Greeks. We’ll then brainstorm to come up with events they could write about. The story they write will be a slice-of-life tale, revealing the magic that can be found in the most ordinary lives.

The Three-Act Structure. Pic from The Writer Practise

Gathering the Details

Once they’ve identified the story they want to write, they’ll answer a 5 Ws questionnaire, that will help them to decide what they will include in the story. They will decide what happened, why it happened, where and when it happened and who was involved. To flesh out the story, we’ll do character and setting exercises to help them describe their characters, and the places where the story happens, more vividly.

After all that has been done, they will write as much of the story as time allows and get feedback on what they have written so far.


How do you handle the structuring of stories, as a writer and as a creative writing tutor?

Where Writing and Editing Meet

This week, I’ve taken on a job where the lines between writing and editing meet. In other words, it’s a copywriting job which has an element of editing to it. The copy has already been written, but it needs to be rewritten to meet the needs of the audience, so I have the enjoyable task of manipulating the text to make it easier to read. I’ve written before that editing is like clearing the dead wood to allow the flowers to bloom. That’s what I’m aiming to do in this job.

I’ve been asked to cut the content in a training manual in half so that designs and illustrations can be added to the content. I’ll be doing this by removing academic references and overly wordy language and by breaking up into smaller, manageable chunks. I also need to change the look of the text, so that people can absorb its message more easily.

When you’re doing a multi-stranded job like this, it’s best to concentrate on making one change at a time, rather than trying to do them all at once. So here’s the step-by-step process I’ll be taking.

  1. Cut the Text Down to Size

At this stage, I take a wrecking ball to the text. Cutting text in half can’t be done without making radical changes. I take out everything that doesn’t need to be there and anything that obscures the point the content is trying to make. In this case it’s academic references that won’t make sense to the ordinary reader. Clients find this difficult. They’re attached to their words and think they need to include all of them. My job is to show them that by cutting down the copy, I’m making it easier to read, and that the message they want to convey is still there. It’s just expressed more concisely.

  1. In-Paragraph Cutting

At this stage in the process, I exchange the wrecking ball for a scalpel.

Good editors wield a scalpel.

I’ve been asked to make sure that the paragraphs are no longer than 60 words, so I turn my attention to the sentences themselves. I find I can shorten some of them and combine others. I also get rid of excess adjectives and repeated phrases. We all repeat more than we realise when we write, so I find the phrase that makes its point most concisely and get rid of the rest. This approach can get rid of a surprising amount of dead weight.

  1. Making the Text Pretty

Now I’ve fixed the words, I turn my attention to the layout. I come up with headings for each paragraph, summarising what’s contained in that paragraph. Some paragraphs lend themselves to being converted into lists with bullet points. I’ve been asked to include at least two of these per page. I also suggest breakout quotes, interesting quotes which the designer can place alongside the text to entice people to read it.

What do you do to rejuvenate your content and make it easier to read? How do you make sure it retains its original message?