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David Ogilvy teaches us how to write for the web

Though I never met him, David Ogilvy taught me more about advertising in general, and copywriting in particular, than anyone else. (Drayton Bird comes second, but only by a Rizla paper’s width.)

DO’s wisdom was, for the most part, timeless. He was immune to fads, preferring to concentrate on shifting merchandise. Here are five of his thoughts, and their relevance to web copywriting.

“A good advertisement is one which sells the product without drawing attention to itself.”

Your website, and its copy, should make the product the star.

Which means that pointless flash intros (which we are advised to skip by the site designers – go figure) and dumb “content” optimised for search engines but not, apparently, for customers, are out.

“Don’t bunt. Aim out of the ball park. Aim for the company of immortals.”

Immortals do not mindlessly repeat keywords in the hopes of tricking Google into giving them an improved PageRank.

Nor do they recycle lame corporate brochure copy.

Or use empty adjectives like fantastic, exciting and unique.

“If it doesn’t sell, it isn’t creative.”

I recently received a brief from a client for a website that very sensibly talked about driving visitors to get in touch and do business with them.

The designer had torn that up and instead said they would be creating a site that “oozed creativity”. Not sure where they imagined the client would be finding the money to pay for all this creativity.

“The headline is the ‘ticket on the meat.’ Use it to flag down readers who are prospects for the kind of product you are advertising.”

Web pages have headlines. Sensible copywriters make sure they are given an ‹H1› tag.

Giving the reader a reason to read on is always a good idea online (as it is in print). That means talking about benefits.

And web page headlines do not have to be short. They need to be long enough to do the job – no longer.

“What really decides consumers to buy or not to buy is the content of your advertising, not its form.”

Ah, content. DO didn’t mean content the way web types do – video, audio, animation, social media feeds plus copy of course.

He meant that what you say is more important than how you say it.

And I’m telling you this because

The next time you find yourself commissioned – or asked – to write some web copy, start from this idea: when they finish reading this copy, my visitor will…

Then write whatever you need to to achieve this goal. Forget about style, optimisation, Flash and everything else except getting your reader to take the desired action.

Categories: Maslen on Marketing and Web copywriting.

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