Copywriting can be a funny business. Fundamentally, it’s all about wordcraft, but the skills involved in producing great copy can be put to use in drastically different ways depending on the project.
Take medium form content, for instance. Typically ranging from 800 – 1,200 words per article, this kind of copywriting requires the ability to present an idea, argument or story in a clear, concise manner. You want some detail and reference to wider reading and/or research, so it’s clear you know what you’re talking about. But this is no deep-dive. Keeping the reader’s attention is crucial, so this kind of article should be treated as more of an introduction to the wider topic.
Articles of this length have long proven to be some of the most impactful, and are now so commonplace you’d be hard pressed to find a copywriter who isn’t well-versed in producing content like this.
For anyone with some existing knowledge of the sector or topic they are covering, to a degree the writing takes care of itself. There’s no need to pad out the core message, but nor does every word carry any substantial weight to it, either. Put simply, it’s a comfortable medium.
Less means more
However, if we venture further down the word count spectrum to short form web copy, things get a little trickier. Space – and attention – is at a premium. So is the need to cut through the noise and differentiate yourself from the competition.
This is where tone of voice guidelines can come into their own, while others also employ what Eddie Shleyner’s “Cross-Out-Test” as a way to ensure copy isn’t generic. But whichever way you look at it, when it comes to standard copy for websites, some serious thought needs to go into what you say and how you say it.
And if medium to long form content is sometimes priced up on the number of words (although I wholeheartedly disagree with this approach), the opposite is true when you reduce the required number of words even further.
The more exact, the more precise the copy needs to be the harder it is to get right. Every word is weighted. The sound of each consonant a conscious choice as it plays and interacts with others. Could a play on a familiar saying work? Would it be too obvious? It’s a world where the omission or addition of punctuation can elevate a few simple words into something more rarefied (see below).
But make no mistakes: we’re fully into head-scratching, hair-pulling territory for copywriters. I know all-too-well the feeling of agonising for hours over a combination of ten words or less.
Unlike longer form content where you can add another reference or sentence to fully flesh out an argument, short form copy is a minimalist sculpture.
So next time you ask a copywriter to produce a snappy catchphrase or slogan for your brand, remember: fewer words means more time, because killing your darlings is no mean feat. Budget accordingly. If you can hold your nerve and allow for a copywriter’s thinking time, you’re far more likely to get the results you’re hoping for than if you rush to get over the line in the name of saving a few quid.
Ramblings on a freelance mindset from yours truly.