I was recently asked for tips for print copywriters interested in writing for digital media. The timing was perfect because I was working concurrently on a direct-mail letter for life insurance, a blog post on veterans' issues and SEO content for an apparel website. As I wrote, I had the chance to stop and think about the similarities and differences across the copy, as well as how much they matter (if at all).
No matter what media you're writing for, it all begins with your audience. You need to recognize what motivates your reader. Being able to attract the reader’s attention is key, and understanding your targets provides you with an easy path for taking action. While the desired action may differ — a phone call, mailed-in application, a click — the ultimate goal is the same.
Here are a some tips to consider when writing your copy:
1. Zero in on the Business Objective
How is success being measured? Are your words responsible for generating leads, closing sales, providing thought leadership, offering solutions to reader problems or some other objective? Everything you write should be created with your audience and business goal in mind. Again, this holds true for all media and all types of marketing messages.
2. Tell Just Enough
This is where it gets tricky. In digital media channels (email, Web pages, Twitter, etc.), your scanner/reader has a very short attention span and can immediately hit delete. That's why emails, banner ads and tweets are often written as short teasers: to encourage scanners to click on a link to become immersed in your brand. Less is usually enough.
With traditional direct-response print, what the reader sees (e.g. direct-mail piece, space ad, etc.) is pretty much what he's going to get, with regards to information — unless you're using QR codes or pushing a URL. Consequently, a one-step sell-by-mail package must provide all the information needed to close a sale, not just tease to attract interest. How much is enough? Test to find out.
3. Make Every Word Count
Edit what you write with the scanner in mind. Today's reader is first a scanner, then (maybe) a reader. Shorter words, sentences and paragraphs are easier to scan, so use them. As you edit, also think about the device on which your words will be read (8 1/2" x 11" sheet of paper, postcard, smartphone, tablet, computer screen, etc.). A sentence that's a line and a half long on an 8 1/2" x 11" sheet can easily become six or seven cascading lines on a mobile device.
4. Construct Copy/Content for Scanners
Information presented in bite-size pieces appears easier to read in both print and digital. Visually compose as you write. Put key message points into bullets, sidebars, captions, callouts and icons to create bite-size bits of info. If you're writing for digital, also use links, buttons and short videos to encourage reader interaction.
5. Use Verbs (Generously)
If you're not a word nerd, you may not have noticed verbs (aka action words) are now ubiquitous! From what I can tell, the trend started in the digital world where headlines, bullets, opening sentences, subject lines, tweets, CTA buttons and a host of other messaging elements start with strong verbs. Why? Verbs command attention and build momentum. Form a strong call-to-action to engage your readers. The same now goes for print. I frequently use verbs as starters for bullet points and lists.
6. Provide Answers, Offer Solutions
One of the biggest differences between writing for print and digital is search engine optimization (SEO). It's a scary term for many writers, but it shouldn't be. If you've never written for SEO and have the opportunity, start by partnering with an SEO strategist. Ask him or her to coach you on what you need to know. Learn about searcher intent — people doing a search are typically looking for the answer to a question or solution to a problem. How can your content help them? Keep current on SEO best practices related to length, links and relevancy. And don't be afraid to ask questions.
7. Make the Most of What You've Got
Print and digital have unique characteristics. Tap into them. For example, direct mail is three-dimensional, tactile and retainable. As a result, it's difficult to ignore and even more difficult to "delete." This means print messages have a longer shelf-life than most digital messages. Use these qualities to your advantage as you create solo mailings, postcards and self-mailers. On the other hand, digital media makes it quick and easy for readers to watch a video, link to valuable resources, share relevant content, network with others of like interest and respond on the spot. Use these differences to your marketing advantage and reader's benefit.