Anyone can write copy, right?

I saw a great graphic doing the rounds on Facebook yesterday which visualised the different search terms Google’s autofill might select, depending on whether you started your search with ‘how can u…’ or ‘how can an individual…’. Both phrases have the same meaning and yet Google associated the abbreviated ‘u’ with searches for rather unpleasant health complaints while the use of ‘individual’ generated links to curing world poverty and how to impact the course of history.

My point isn’t so much about Google’s autofill technology; it’s about how such a subtle change in the language we use can affect the outcome so significantly. And just as Google cleverly tuned in to the mindset of its audience, so businesses should do the same when it comes to their copy.

Great copy comes from an intrinsic understanding of the product or service, its value to the customer, and who that customer is. Of course, it should sell, but it can’t begin to do that if it doesn’t resonate first. I’ve come across a few small businesses who don’t want to spend money on a copywriter believing they can do the job themselves. After all, they can write a letter, what’s so hard about a few pages of web copy? (The penny usually drops when they’re sat in front of a blank sheet of paper.)

Writing from one’s own perspective is natural; your tone of voice is instinctive so you don’t have to think too hard about your phrasing or choice of vocabulary. But try and write a letter the way your mother might, or your best friend, and make it sound convincing. That’s one of the challenges good copywriters are faced with every day writing for their clients.

David Ogilvy once said, “If you have all the research, all the ground rules, all the directives, all the data — it doesn’t mean the ad is written. Then you’ve got to close the door and write something — that is the moment of truth which we all try to postpone as long as possible.”