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Copywriting in an ‘agile’ environment

So, you’re the superstar freelance copywriter who’s been brought in to make the magic happen on a funky new app or other digital product. You’ve been told your copywriting is going to be part of a collaborative process, and it’s going to move fast, to get the job finished on time. Maybe it’s a new micro-site for a well-known brand. Maybe it’s an app for a funky, disruptive start-up. Who knows? But you do know you’ll be copywriting in an agile environment.

Agile what?

For the uninitiated, agile working brings together everyone with an interest in the project, to co-develop it, throughout the process. And not just the other business writers / copywriters and other creatives, also representatives (‘stakeholders’) from all the departments involved.

So, you might have people from marketing, brand, compliance and legal as well as back-end programmers, the business unit lead (whatever it is they do) – and more. Of course, as you’d expect, you’ll also have front-end design, UX and marketing copywriters. And they’ll all be coming together regularly, in the room or on screen, to guide the project.

The idea is that, by meeting frequently, focusing on specific objectives one at a time, they can sign-off or develop work and solve problems together quickly, to keep the project on track. It’s a great way for the copy writer, or anyone else, to stop time being wasted on nonviable ideas or tangents. And it ensures milestones are met. When it works, it’s an effective, positive and energetic environment.

Who’s who and why?

As well a copywriter, there will be lots of other contributors; they split into two types, creatives and those I call ‘co-developers’. The creatives are, as you’d expect are the freelance copywriter (or maybe they’re in-house), UX designers, front-end designers and programmers. They’ll take the brief and create their own first drafts to meet the objective for that part of the project. Before and during this process, the co-developers advise, answer questions and support. Once this process is complete, they’ll be on-hand again, to sign-off copy writing or suggest developments/alternatives.

Ouch! My Toes!!

Whether you’re a London based copywriter offering content writing services or you’re a copywriter based up in Scotland or the States, this might sound like being bothered and having your toes stepped upon. But it’s actually rather helpful. It saves you a lot of time delivering content writing and guarantees the next iteration will be closer to perfect. Co-developers have valuable information and insight around the brand, user, market, competitors etc. They know they need to be available to feed into your work, whether it’s marketing content or anything else, help it develop and, ultimately, sign it off. All of which means you, as an advertising copywriter, can move fast, without wasting time on anything that isn’t going to fly; and almost guarantees there will be no nasty surprises towards the end of the project.

Avoiding the mud

Prepare yourself, there are going to be challenging conversations. The priorities of the legal team for example, will be different to those of the designer, and in turn, different to yours as web content writer. So, you need to listen and compromise, a good copywriter wants get to something everyone is happy with, that meets their needs as well as yours. Remember, digging you heels in is a great way to get stuck in the mud.

Make like Usain Bolt

Agile projects are mapped and run in ‘sprints’. These are short time periods, which everyone (hopefully) agrees are realistic; each with specific objectives for each creative. The overall process is managed by an account manager or ‘scrum master’, who brings everyone (not just the marketing copywriter) together regularly, to keep the objectives for each sprint on track. Big whiteboards and Sharpies are very important. Often, weekly/mid-sprint meetings only involve creatives. Issues or questions for the co-developers are raised here and passed on by the scrum master, or directly by creatives. It’s likely that the co-developers join the meetings periodically, as each sprint is completed. Regular communications and meetings mean if it’s looking like a deadline is going to be missed, everyone who it affects can adjust and the project continues to move smoothly.

As a freelance copywriter I’ve been involved in some fantastic agile working environments and seen amazing results. The key thing is that everyone needs to take responsibility and be up-front about progress, problems etc.

Of course, because my experience is as a copywriter, I’ve put together a few tips for writers on agile projects.

1. Take charge and ask questions

If you’re the lead writer on the project, step up. Don’t expect anyone to spoon-feed you the website content, app content or anything else. You need to start asking questions about what’s needed from your copywriting services. What, if anything, is pre-existing (e.g. tone of voice, content elsewhere you need to reflect)? What are the deadlines? Who needs to sign-off the content work? Make sure they do it early, to avoid delays.

2. Spreadsheets are your friends

You’ll need to do some mapping. Create a big-old copywriting spreadsheet that will connect all those wireframes and/or front-end designs with your content. You’ll need to ask the UX and/or design leads to put annotations on their documents. Use these same notations on your content spreadsheet. This is your master copywriting document. It is vital, as it will allow whoever is uploading the content to know where your content goes. Make sure it all marries up.  If it doesn’t, the wrong copywriting will end up on the wrong page.

3. Control the content process

Check if anyone has done any app or website content planning. They may well have, but it’s likely you, as a professional writer, will need to take control of the content writing process and take full responsibility for delivery of all copywriting. Make sure you find out all the different content elements needed for the project (e.g. app page content, app notifications, emails triggered by buying, FAQs etc.). Have any been forgotten? What else might it need? Check copywriting priorities with the scrum master. They may already have a plan for what the copywriter needs to do when. If not, make one.

4. Build relationships early

Work out who the copywriter will need to lean on and reach out to them. For example, if it’s a financial project, you’ll need the compliance and legal teams to sign off the SEO copywriting, content and all the other copywriting. So get to know them, find out how strict the compliance team is. Let them get to know you, as a person as well as a freelance copywriter. This way you’ll get quick answers from them, and they’ll trust you understand what they need.

Getting to know people will really help. Fist bumping is optional.

5. Think in sprints

Start thinking early about how fast you work, how much copywriting you are likely to get done in the upcoming sprint and estimate carefully. Remember, it’s always better to under promise and over deliver on the marketing materials you’ll deliver, than the other way around. Factor in things like meetings, research time and how long it takes people to feed back; these can eat up your time.

6. Set deadlines for what you need

If your first draft of content is reliant on others delivering things (e.g. wireframes, facts from the product team) establish a time frame for when you will receive these. Make sure the person supplying them is aware – make this part of copywriting spreadsheet. You can’t be sitting around twiddling thumbs and blaming others – you have to be in charge of the copywriting process. Always set deadlines for feedback.

7. UX and other people’s shoes

The UX (user experience) team is crucial to creating something that people actually use. Every professional writer knows that the best copy in the world is worthless if people can’t (or won’t want to) find it. So, work with UX to help create copywriting that people understand and want to use. One of your key skills as a freelance copywriter should be putting yourself in other people’s shoes; consider the end user. If the wireframes you’re looking at don’t make sense or follow a logical path for the target audience, say so; be confident and willing to push back. But always suggest an alternative.

8. Design is beautiful

How the app/site looks has a huge impact on whether people actually use it and whether they bother to read the creative copywriting you’ve worked so hard on. So, engage with the process. Feed in, offer an opinion, make sure that what’s on screen feels right for the product, the user and what you’re all trying to achieve. Ask the front-end designer to put your copy in situ on the screen. You’ll be amazed at how different it can look and how little space you have. The earlier you can do this the better. Plus, if co-developers can view copy in situ it’s easier for them to sign it off or offer useful suggestions.

9. Communicate; NOW

If your freelance writing is going to take longer than expected, let the team know early (there will be ample opportunities at progress meetings). Agile projects rely on everyone being honest – it’s fine to change direction, to need longer or want more information, but tell everyone immediately, so they can respond appropriately.

10. There go the goalposts

Let’s face it; clients have a habit of changing their minds and making surprising decisions. And that’s true here as everywhere. When the goal posts shift, your job as a professional writer is to be crystal clear about how the change will impact your project objectives, especially in terms of time and hitting deadlines.

So, there you have it, some (hopefully) useful tips to help you make a success of your agile project.

Good luck!

Top Tips for Super-Sticky Landing Pages

If you’re using pay-per-click advertising, there’s not much more important than your landing page. And it needs to be that’s less trampoline and more like super glue. That is to say, it needs to avoid bounce (i.e. users clicking away) and keep people on the site, moving through to purchase. As copywriters we’re often asked, how do you do that? Well, there’s no magic wand (sorry). But, like everything, there are some must-haves that will make a big difference.

Please don’t use glue on your screen. This is NOT what we mean by super-sticky landing pages.

Any good freelance copywriter knows you’ve got to consider both design and copy, and how they work together. Have a look around at successful competitors; how do their pages look? How simple/complex are they? What are they doing right? How frequent are their calls to action (buttons with where to go next etc.)?

Research is key but the most important thing is to get your offer right and communicate it effectively. Easy for me to say as a professional copywriter, I know. So, here are our top tips, to help avoid common pitfalls and create something that can turn clicks into customers…

Plan your content
Be strategic about what you include – but keep it simple. Use one main message and back it up with a few evidence bullets – these are your reasons to believe. How will you move users through? Is it clear and logical? As with all copywriting, you must be clear on what your product/service is – and who it’s for. Does the user know what to do ‘next’ and feel a sense of urgency? Consider your calls to action; make sure they’re right there after your most persuasive points.

Order… ORDER!
A professional copywriter will always check that everything is in the right order. You should do the same. Consider your hierarchy of information. Are you starting with your main offer? Does the flow of information lead users through the offer? Does it direct them to calls to action?

Check your layout
Look at your page. Is it clean, clear and simple? Whether they’re a London-based copywriter or a copywriter working from Goa, a professional writer always tries to cut page clutter. Confused people aren’t patient, and competitors are just a click away. Does your make it easy and reassure the user that they’ve arrived in the right place? You can do this through consistent branding and echoing a statement/offer from the advert that sent them to the page.

Punchy Headline
Is yours big and clear? Does it explain the product/service? Does it let the user know how it helps them? Headlines (and images) are the vital attention-grabbing elements of the page. Any creative copywriter will tell you that without a strong headline the rest of the content is irrelevant because people just won’t read it.

Are you reflecting user needs?
Has the copy pinpointed what users need? Your page must mirror what readers want/need. If it’s not doing that, it’s not doing its job. Highlight a user problem and show you can solve it! And once you’ve done that, don’t forget to tell them where to click next.

Questions and answers
As a professional copywriter we always ask whether the copy is answering all the user’s concerns. The landing page must pre-empt any questions the reader has about the product/service. This helps them to feel you know them, understand them and can help. And don’t forget your call to action, once you’ve given your answers.

Benefit-driven copy
Is your copy focused on what your product/service does for the user? A good professional writer will talk less about its features and more about how it helps the reader. Think about the practical and emotional benefits, these will sell your offer.

Consider customer objections
What are the reasons people might not buy? Freelance copywriters specialise in putting themselves into their audiences’ shoes. You can do the same. Make sure you address objections in your copy. Your benefits must be powerful enough to overcome them. The persuasiveness of your content plays a big part here.

Powerful imagery
Much as any freelance copywriter loves words, they also know the value of images. Make sure you use eye-catching images. They should back up your offer and re-enforce your messaging. They must always be relevant. They’re not just there to look nice – although that’s important. Images (and headlines) are the most important attention-grabbing elements on the page.

Ready, steady, TEST!
A/B testing is a great way to check what’s working and what’s less effective. Create two versions of your page and on one, change something you’re not sure about, maybe the main headline, maybe a key image, maybe the information hierarchy. Testing is a powerful, low-cost way of making your page work better.

Apply all of these tips and you’ll be on track for a super-sticky landing page that adds real value to your site.

The world is changing. Keep up to stay connected to your audience.

Male? Female? Or…?
I was shopping at the weekend. My wife was in the changing room. So, my 4-year-old daughter and I were outside entertaining the shop assistant, ‘Raz’ who was (of course), far younger and cooler than me. About 6 feet tall, with a broad, typically masculine figure, long dark hair and purple nail varnish, so not someone easy to place as male or female. I don’t know. I didn’t ask, it was and is after all, not my business. But I was about to get involved, like it or not.

Grabbing the baton
I was away for a few minutes and on my return I took over a story my wife had started, to entertain our little one. It was about a monster and a brave warrior who, my daughter had decided, should be our new friend Raz. Usually that’s a fun situation for a copywriter that doesn’t take too much effort. But this time it was different.

Our star and extra audience member was listening and possibly wondering what they might end up doing. As a professional writer I felt an added responsibility in how I described Raz. If they were non-binary (didn’t identify as one particular gender), what I say might make them feel validated and acknowledged or potentially ignored and hurt. And of course, everything you do as a parent is lesson to your child. No pressure, then!

Making grey matter, matter
So, I engaged my freelance copywriter brain and made small changes throughout the story. Just tiny things really, saying ‘they’ and ‘their’, rather than ‘he/she’ and his/her’. “As Raz mounted their horse, they felt ready to take on the monster.” That sort of thing. It’s slightly tricky at first but you get used to it quickly. I think that’s always the way with something new. But it’s amazing how fast it becomes second nature, especially when you’re offering copywriting services.

George Washington never said ‘OMG!’
As society evolves, so does language (just ask someone from 1925 what a ‘selfie’ is). So, we can choose to ignore it, because change can feel hard (even when it’s not) or we can adapt, to communicate more successfully. I think it’s a simple choice.

As freelance copywriters, my team and I spend every day working hard to make people click, swipe, buy and, sometimes, even think differently. We know how hard it is to pick the right words, whether that’s for blogging, website content or script writing. But we also know that doing so means we’ll continue to be mindful, empathise and stay connected to our audience; whoever ‘they’ are.