Rocket Skates or Running Shoes, Just Make It Interesting

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Sometimes writing website content on a subject you a) know little about or b) have limited experience with is like willing yourself to teleport to France – you can sit there and try for a few hours, but you’ll end up sweaty and frustrated and feeling like a big idiot when you stop.

I came across the late Paul McHenry Roberts’ essay “How to Say Nothing in 500 Words,” floating around Copyblogger. A professor of college English and author of a number of books on linguistics, Roberts told his students to get to the point already.

Editor’s Note: The link above to Roberts’ essay is no longer active. Here is a link to an archived version.

Here are a few things to remember for your next copywriting assignment to help avoid the urge to smash your keyboard to pieces.

1. Dig Up Some Facts

Do a little work. Fill your content with useful information, not what Roberts calls ‘the obvious padding.’ Instead of saying ‘driving fast is dangerous‘ in four or five different ways, show the reader why it’s dangerous; give them broken glass, emergency rooms, and sedans wrapped around telephone poles.

At times, copywriters avoid the meat and potatoes of a subject; they become lazy and opt out of creating tangible writing for writing that’s general and unspecific. Uncovering and sharing useful facts can help when you run out of things to say.

2. The Dreaded Word Count

Why let a number torture you? Why strive to constantly cram the neat, one-word holes you’ve dug with useless ten word phrases? Sure, you’re a little closer to your mark, but so what? Your ultimate goal is for the click-through. If your writing doesn’t generate conversions, that means the content you’ve created is sloppy and essentially worthless filler.

For example:

If you are absolutely in need of the most advanced and up-to-date booby traps anywhere in the entire world, then you have certainly found it here at the original, the national leader of booby trap making and specializing in innovative booby trapping technologies to bring our customers the highest quality booby traps anywhere.

Can be simplified to:

Welcome to, the national leader in high quality booby trap design and booby trap technologies.

Granted, a little marketing copy is sometimes needed with the advertising style of writing, but even the most susceptible coyote doesn’t want to wade through a lot of useless words to get to his Acme Jet Propelled Pogo Stick or Giant Mouse Traps.

3. Topical Paradise

Any topic can come a website copywriter’s way; running shoes, beachfront property, booby traps – an endless parade of topics ranging from the most entertaining to the least. Topics or clients can change, but the principle is the same. Roberts throws down this gauntlet:

The subject is one on which you have few convictions and little information. Can you be expected to make a dull subject interesting? As a matter of fact, this is precisely what you are expected to do.

Try a new approach, new language, new anything to engage your website visitor/reader in an interesting way, to get them impassioned about your products or services.

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