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It Just Ain't Write: Finding Good Web Copywriters

  |  September 12, 2000   |  Comments

So, you want to hire a web copywriter. Why not throw in web programmer/graphic designer/corporate communications director/marketing wiz as other bullet points to the job description? Surely there are thousands out there who can step up to the plate! Everyone can write, right? Think again.

So, you want to hire a web copywriter. Why not throw in web programmer, graphic designer, corporate communications director, and marketing wiz as other bullet points to the job description? Surely, there are thousands out there who can step up to the plate!

Think again. Would you hire an accountant to also run your direct marketing campaign? Would you hire a salesperson to pitch in and manage human resources? Get the drift? Since starting my column I've heard from countless web copywriters who tell me in varied turns of phrase that web copy stinks because the people who write it usually aren't professional writers, but web programmers, graphic designers, and others with hyphenated job titles. As one frustrated writer says, "Companies don't hire writers because everyone thinks they can write, even when they can't."

So, let's say you're committed to finding a good copywriter. (Believe me, it's worth the effort.) Here are some tips to establishing a great working relationship and getting the results you want:

  1. Work out an equitable method for payment. I'm always one for good negotiation, but remember you get what you pay for. Don't expect to pay a writer $25 per article and get Vladimir Nabokov in return. Although many organizations like to pay by the word ($1 is the going rate), I suggest paying by project. That way the writer doesn't feel compelled to "pad" the piece, and you'll get the crisp copy you want.

  2. Look for well-rounded writers. Great writing is great writing. According to Jim Delulio, president of the public relations talent agency James Communications, some of the best web copywriters have years of experience in print, or even television.

  3. Scour electronic and print media. Look for interesting pieces in print and electronic media, and contact the writer. It's the best way to ensure you'll get the style that best suits your site. Or, my ClickZ colleague, Marcia Yudkin, suggests consulting some of the more respected web sites for finding talent; these include www.content-exchange.com, www.authorlink.com, and www.sunoasis.com. Avoid the more general online talent markets, where you may reach less-experienced writers.

  4. Discuss reprint rights upfront. If you plan to use the writer's piece multiple times, make sure that's clear in your initial negotiations. Writers don't want to see themselves hyperlinked all over the web without their knowledge (and, who knows, it could get messy from a legal standpoint).

  5. Lay out the parameters of the work. This sounds very basic, but you'd be surprised how many assignments get bungled simply because expectations weren't clearly laid out from the beginning.

  6. Don't be afraid to ask for rewrites. If the copy isn't what you want, explain to the writer where changes should be made. No one wants to leave an unsatisfied client, so chances are the writer will be willing to make appropriate changes. And don't (here's where my client-side persona comes through) be intimidated by writers, graphic artists, or any other creative vendor who says your changes "ruin the creative integrity of the piece." My advice is simply to not fight these battles and work with someone who views the project as a team effort.

What else? Take a look at what ClickZ President and Chief Content Officer Ann Handley had to say in her column last week about the importance of a great content editor. Corralling, correcting, retooling, setting the tone, and schmoozing are critical tasks for the job of chief editor. Whether you take on that role yourself or assign it to a more talented literary taskmaster, don't overlook the importance of the assignment. It's the editor that takes the lead that writers will follow. (Hmm... and Ann didn't even promise me a bottle of red zinfandel for writing this!)

One more thing: Would you contact me if you find that talented combination of writer/web site programmer/graphic designer/window washer/childcare provider? I'd pay top dollar for that! In the meantime, I hope this helps you get the sparkling content your web site needs. Email me your thoughts.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Susan Solomon

Susan Solomon is the executive director of marketing and public relations for Memorial Health Services, a five-hospital health system in Southern California. In this capacity, she manages promotional activities for both traditional and new media. Susan is also a marketing communications instructor at the University of California, Irvine; California State University, Fullerton; and the University of California, Los Angeles.

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