In my role as moderator of the I-Copywriting discussion list, I’m privileged to read the comments of dozens of copywriters who are working in the online industry. From time to time, a number of posts that are apparently unrelated manage to kick off a whole new train of thought. It was through this serendipitous process that the question arose: Can copywriters write newsletters?
In other words, is a copywriter, in the traditional, offline sense of the word, the individual best qualified to write a good online newsletter?
What exactly is a copywriter in the online environment? What separates a copywriter from a content writer or an editorial writer? My simple — and limiting — definition of a copywriter online is this: He or she is the person who writes the words that drive visitor actions. Whether on your home page, on a sign-up page, or for product or service descriptions with a view to making a sale, key blocks of text on a site have to be written with action in mind. Conversion rates throughout your site and, indeed, in your emails and newsletters, depend on actions being taken. The role of the copywriter is to drive those actions.
But is that all that an online copywriter should or can be? Is the job confined simply to being a direct-response writer, a driver of visitor actions?
It would be a shame if that were the case.
Doing business online allows for a wonderful and unique complexity in the relationship between vendor and customer. The Web is an interactive space. The authors of its content comprise not only companies but also millions of ordinary people, a.k.a. customers. Because the space is shared, even the style of commercial writing has to adapt. Through email, chat rooms, and discussion lists, billions of messages authored by those ordinary people have come to influence the style of writing online. “Keyboard rap,” not Madison Avenue, has determined the writing style of online communication.
Keeping this in mind, copywriters need to broaden their skills beyond simply writing text that drives actions — something any decent copywriter can do. A true online copywriter must also come to understand what makes the online experience different. He or she must become an avid reader of how ordinary people write online. So immerse yourself in that style. And no, you shouldn’t simply emulate how people write in chat rooms. But you should get a feel for how your potential customers like to write and read online.
Which brings us back to the issue of copywriters writing newsletters.
Arguably, the very best online newsletters have this in common: They have a personal style, a distinctive voice, an engaging personality. This makes them quite unlike those stodgy offline newsletters that your bank and airline send you. But their more conversational and accessible style is much more in keeping with the free-flow style of writing in personal emails, discussion lists, and the like.
In answer to that original question, then: No, a traditional copywriter who simply focuses on driving visitor actions online is probably not well qualified to write an online newsletter. His or her style will likely be too disciplined, too tight, too goal oriented.
However, an online copywriter who is a student of what makes the online experience so different will hopefully have expanded his or her repertoire to include both action-oriented copy and the more free-flowing, engaging style that makes for a good newsletter.
A good online copywriter should have the range and flexibility to both drive actions and build relationships through online newsletters.