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My ad copy was upbeat, informal and used an active voice. Copy on the informational pages was passive, dry and dull. Copy on the privacy, contact and legal pages read like bad legalese. I started thinking about why it looked like three people wrote the copy for the site. I enjoy writing ad copy. Since I enjoyed what I was writing my enjoyment was reflected in the tone. The informational pages were a chore, tedious and time consuming. The privacy, contact and legal pages were simply obligatory copy. I plodded through them and was relieved when I was through.
I ended up with copy that sends a mixed message. I went from upbeat to dull to plodding. I also ignored one of my own rules. Every page has the potential to make or help make a sale. While the reader may not notice the change in tone immediately, they may end up with a nagging feeling, a subliminal message that something just isn't quite right. After all, they met the upbeat, slightly irreverant guy selling them a product, but the guy asking them to send an email sounds like the clerk at the Department of Motor Vehicles. Name, Registration. Cash, check or charge? Thank You.
I know I often write a page or two of copy at a time. After the editing I'm usually happy with the copy and a day later I repeat the process. Until I actually get all the copy written though I can't read it and check the tone and the consistency.
Inconsistent copy creeps in, the active voice lapses into passive, author intrusion finds its way into corners. I'm left with Jekyll and Hyde copy and I have to wonder how that affects the 'ole conversion rate.
How long has it been since you checked your copy for consistency? Does it look like a schizophrenic wrote your site? Are your surfers wondering why the nice guy selling them widgets turns into a dull oaf when he asks them for their credit card? Is it costing you sales?
[edited by: digitalghost at 8:30 am (utc) on April 13, 2003]
Early in our relationship a client can be very insistent that I do only minimal editing. Later they give me more latitude, and even pay me to write copy from raw materials. So a site that I work with often develops an uneven tone, and there almost never seems to be a time to rework older pages unless something just jumps out as very wrong.
Another challenge for me is that I am a bit of a sponge, and we're all surrounded by arid business language. Somewhere along the line, a lot of people got the idea that businesses should sound like lifeless drones, and our environment is filled with that colorless langauge. I need to follow a strong discipline not to lapse into that same stupid swamp.
Oh yeah. Not sure why that happened but it is hard not to fall victim to gray copy. I keep several poetry anthologies by the PC and I try to remember to read three or four poems before I start writing but my discipline needs improvement.
I've been collecting ad copy for years and with the recent P2P developments I've found that I can find lots of old commercials, (yes, I watch commercials and abuse parenthetical statements) and some of those old commercials remind me to add color to my copy.
Consistency requires discipline, especially when the copy is lengthy or spans several pages. Fortunately, I can find copy I wrote 5 years ago for the web and compare it to the copy I write now. Some of the old stuff makes me wince and that helps a bit with discipline. ;)
Of course, if the voice in your head starts telling you to go out and burn things, it's time for a nap!
There are times when I can sit down and write for hours, resulting in consistent and well written pieces. But when it is a subject that I find boring or tedious, that I tend to rush it just to get it over with. Those are the pieces I always need to go back over and edit about a week later, and only then will it result in the same tone as the rest of the articles.
I also find that sometimes when I am writing about a subject that hits close to home that my writing tends to be have a completely different voice and tone. I tend to bring my passion on the subject into the article to a greater extent than if it was on a topic I didn't personally care about. Sometimes these articles can stay in their original form, and they work well this way, but I often find I need to go over these a couple times to be sure that it doesn't sound too over the top.
I guess I rationalized that the client will probably want changes anyhow.
I suppose this will make for an inconsistent user experience for those few people who read LOTS of things on the site. But those folks are few and far between.
I could probably do a better job of pulling everything together in a common voice - and still keep the different objectives of the pages intact.
Now I just need to find the time to go back and crank through it all. :)
I never seem to be able to find time so I have to make time. I've scheduled 6 hours a week for "copy cleaning". My weekly hour total is now 206. ;)
Once you start cleaning up your copy to make it consistent you'll get addicted to the process. You'll also find that you'll keep your copy more consistent as you write.
I think I'm just going to have to pick and choose the worst offending pages and go from there. It will have to evolve, just like everything else on the site. :)
Wish I could do six hours a week of copy. That would go a long way towards making it a truly high-quality site. As it stands, the quality of the copy is fair-to-middlin' at best.
Once you start cleaning up your copy to make it consistent you'll get addicted to the process.
Oh, this is soooo true! For me, the whole process of copywriting is addicting, whether it is writing the original draft, or going back for the polishing and tweaking.