Understanding Web Copy and Why it Will Cost You Big Bucks!

Posted · 8 Comments

It was more than eleven years ago that I started my academic career at the M.Sc.-program for media technology at Linköping Institute of Technology. Way back then, the web was completely different, Google didn’t exist (it was actually founded the same year), and ICQ was the name of the game for communication.

But it wasn’t too long ago that I went to ad school, and now that I think of it, I find a few things about my education there quite strange. While I was there I did a bunch of interesting stuff. Formally, I was a copywriter student at Berghs School of Communication, but in reality I was more into strategy, and I also did one of my internships as an art director at BBH New York (who also have an SEO-questionable big Flash-behemoth as their site by the way). I have always loved trying different things, and this was certainly a great opportunity to do that.

Oh, nostalgia. My desk at BBH New York.

But the copywriting education itself was flawed in one key way – whoever put it together didn’t seem to be aware of something called “the internet”. I never once in two years heard anyone talk about web copy, much less give a lecture on SEO. I’m not sure how it is there today, but if they don’t dedicate time to that, I think it is very strange.

But the problem isn’t just in the schools. I read an article recently in the Swedish advertising magazine Resumé by a young and successful copywriter who said that web copy doesn’t differ very much from traditional copy. This is what he said:

“Jag ställer mig också ibland frågande till definitionen av webbcopy. Skillnaden är inte så stor, det är bara de dramaturgiska förutsättningarna som är lite annorlunda. Men i grunden handlar det om att kunna skriva intresseväckande”.

or in my own humble English translation:

“I sometimes question the definition of web copy. The difference isn’t that big, it’s just the dramaturgical premises that are somewhat different. But basically, it’s all about writing to awaken interest”.

Assuming he was quoted correctly, I find this strange. We can of course have different perspectives on what constitutes a big difference, but I would say that the difference is definitely significant! And more importantly, most copywriters don’t have any knowledge of, or experience from writing for search engines.

Google isn’t like your normal target audience. For one, Google doesn’t read between the lines. Humans understand that a passage like “…the dark mysterious pulse of the the night…” refers to, say, dance or sex, but can Google understand that? Google does, on the other hand, read around the lines, takes context into account, weighs remote links, clusters and evaluates what others have written – stuff that humans have a harder time doing.

I tell copywriters “to write for the hearts of men and the mind of Google”, and that is much harder than just doing one or the other. Good copywriters will need two sets of skills, and will be harder to find, harder to educate, and much more expensive to buy, simply because of the upcoming imbalance between supply and demand of this skill combo.

About the Blog

This blog is written by Walter Naeslund and has been around since 2007. The blog is about the journey of starting an advertising agency and a sneak peek behind the scenes of what goes on at the Honesty HQ in SoFo, Södermalm. It is also a blog about communication & technology. The blog has gathered almost a thousand posts over the years with several longer and shorter breaks. Welcome and enjoy.
Learn More