Ben Davis: Don’t get hung up on ‘writing for the web’

Marketers are advised to follow certain rules when creating digital content but nailing SEO is only half the story.

content marketing

I’m having one of those weeks. Are all the emails and the meetings really worth my time? Shouldn’t I be getting on with crafting something with my bare hands?

Sometimes it’s hard to get to the nub of what you do best, and how best you can help your company succeed. If you’re creatively minded, shouldn’t you be doing everything you can to hone your creative instincts, to find new outlets for your creativity?

This, I think, is central to the argument about creativity that agency land is having at the moment. What should a creative agency do? Should we be worried when too many people are bogged down in bureaucracy? Is there too much delegating and account management? Or a long-winded approval process? Or too much meaningless reporting?

I also see a microcosm of this in ‘content strategy’ and ‘writing for the web’. I’ve put those terms in inverted commas to frame the debate.

These are some of the ideas drummed into me when creating content or writing for the web:

  • Know your audience. What are they looking for? What’s popular with them?
  • Get all the right words in your H1 tag.
  • Front-load your headlines for maximum saliency and impact in search.
  • Get to the point faster. More brevity.
  • Follow George Orwell’s five rules for effective writing.
  • Don’t make the user think.
  • What is the call to action?
  • Short sentences. Full stops.
  • Do gap analysis to find out what topics you should focus on to make the biggest impact in search; ie where are the quick wins? What phrases should we target?
  • A/B test your landing page and see what works best.

Don’t get me wrong, this type of advice is really useful. Once you score a hit in search, with a combination of focused content and some good SEO and PR, you can really catch the bug for content strategy. And once your copywriting and content design is perfected, you can really catch the bug for increasing conversion rates. You might even be using some ‘AI-powered’ software to perfect some of your copy, such as email subject lines.

Lots of this best practice becomes second nature and it helps marketers write better copy and content creators, well, create better content.

But somebody in your organisation or in your marketing team needs to be mindful of the fact that every other marketing team across your sector is doing this, too.

READ MORE: Ben Davis – GDPR is the bible of customer-centricity

As much as how you structure something is important, what social media shows us is that the really successful stuff is written with passion. The most successful columnists for Marketing Week are not the ones that nail the gaps in search, but the ones that write with verve and understandingg, like Mark Ritson (sorry for kissing bum). In other media, people have turned to podcasts over video because it’s a format where the listener can feel the unfiltered passion of the creator. The format is more intimate.

If you can permit me a bit of navel-gazing, I recently looked back at some of the things I wrote five years ago, when I was new to marketing and writing. My first articles (such as ‘A love letter to Tate.org.uk’) break a lot of the rules I listed above, but this lack of restraint makes them stand out (to me at least). They may have been read by a few hundred people instead of a few thousand, but those few hundred will have reacted more strongly.

Web content is proliferating (obviously), so your chances of hitting the top of the search results are, logically, declining. You might just benefit from adopting a ‘Marmite’ strategy. If you’re in B2B, put your most thoughtful and creative people front and centre and let them say what they think. If you’re in B2C, don’t be afraid to use humour or emotion – that doesn’t mean being twee or affected, simply passionate. Nine out of 10 attempts may fizzle out, but that last one could catch fire.

Ben Davis is editor at Marketing Week’s sister title Econsultancy.

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Comments
  • Marie Turner 22 May 2018 at 9:15 am

    “The most successful columnists for Marketing Week are not the ones that nail the gaps in search, but the ones that write with verve and understandinverve and understandingg”

    I’d love to know how I can write with understandinerve and understandingg.

  • Ben Davis 22 May 2018 at 6:54 pm

    It takes years 🙂

  • Bridget Holland 22 May 2018 at 10:22 pm

    Don’t you need a bit of both? Something to get people to your site and something to get them to stay.
    Also the current trend to less content but more quality content may help with differentiated, engaged writing. It’s hard to churn out passion 7 times a week!

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