The essence of online copywriting.
After hundreds of columns, this is my last piece for ClickZ.
So, faced with a last few hundred words, what would I say? What small nugget of advice would I pass on as a final contribution?
Given only one thing to say, I'd urge you to treat your readers with respect.
Respect for site users or email and newsletter recipients is not a way of writing, it's a state of mind. It's the belief everyone should be treated decently, be told the truth. It's a genuine discomfort with even the idea of treating people as if they were suckers to be taken advantage of.
Writing with respect is about being honest, with both your audience and yourself.
But that's not the end of it.
Respect for your readers also means having respect for their time, needs, and goals.
It means writing pages with a view to serving the needs of the reader before you serve the needs of the organization or yourself.
It means writing clearly, providing readers with the proper amount of information they need at a particular moment.
Respect for your readers ultimately translates into writing in such a way you give them what they want and need.
Sometimes that means providing objective information on a particular product or service.
Sometimes it means writing active, enthusiastic text to encourage your readers to move forward to the next page, to get closer to their goal.
And sometimes it means writing to close the sale, providing the final push to secure that final click.
People have sometimes asked me whether I see a basic conflict between writing honestly and pushing to close a sale. I don't.
I believe you can treat people with respect and still be a salesperson. Your task is not to sell something to someone if she really doesn't want it. Your task is to close the sale for those people who do want to make the purchase. And it is that second group who responds so well to an honest, respectful approach.
At the risk of sounding like I've been smoking something I shouldn't, there is something very liberating about writing with honesty.
It frees you from the confusion and complexity of writing half-truths and exaggerations. It frees you to focus on the reader and to write with clarity and simplicity.
And when you help that reader through the site and help her make that purchase, you acquire a new customer free of regret and thankful for having found a site that really seems to care about the customer.
Writing with honesty and respect makes for good copy and happy customers.
And that's it.
If you'd like to keep in touch, it would be great to see you participate in the I-Copywriting discussion list, which I moderate.
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Nick Usborne speaks, writes, and consults on strategic copy issues for business online. For Web sites, e-mails and newsletters, he crafts messages that drive results. He is the author of the critically acclaimed bookNet Words - Creating High-Impact Online Copy.
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