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SXSW Interactive: Day 1

Today was simply easing into the South by Southwest Interactive conference. I started the afternoon much like last year – by eating Mellow Mushroom pizza and missing the first (2:00) panel.

I made it to the next panel I wanted to see: The Accidental Writer – Great Web Copy for Everyone. While it was slightly more directed toward people who don’t write (developers, UI people, etc.), it still contained a lot of helpful tips that bear repeating for even the most seasoned writer.

But before the speaker (a tech writer and content strategist by trade) got to the tips, she stressed the importance of having good, well-written content, that’s not shoved into the end of a project budget as an afterthought.

So what tips are there for people who may not be writers by trade?
1. Don’t just describe things.

If all you do is describe what your business or website is about, it’s probably going to be a boring description.

2. Break up text.

If your readers see a long, continuous block of text, they’re probably not going to read it.

3. Give people something to do… use action words.

You have to use actionable language that has some punch behind it.

4. Web copy needs to integrate with design, design around the content

This goes back to the idea that quality content should never be an afterthought. It should complement your site design, not just supplement it.

5. Tell a story

Using narrative to tell a story of how your business, service, or website works is far more effective than a boring paragraph about what you can do for your customers.

6. Don’t overuse memes, no cliches

Got milk won’t work for you.

7. Get rid of half the words on the page then get rid of half of what’s left

People aren’t paying to read your eloquence. They’re trying to figure out if what you’re offering helps them. If they can’t figure out a yes or no answer to that question in the first few seconds of reading, they’re going to stop reading.

8. Don’t be afraid to write a horrible first draft

I fall into this trap, but I’m getting more comfortable with letting the first draft go, and then editing afterwards.

9. Make copy scannable

People should be able to get the idea of what you’re all about just by scanning the page. This is impossible unless you use bold text or bullets or some other visual scanning queue.

10. No passive voice

A basic of journalistic editing.

11. Revise and proof

No one writes a perfect first draft. You have to revise each draft and proofread the final one. Typos and misspellings show laziness.

12. Fun, friendly copy

The speaker mentioned both Groupon and W00t as examples of great, engaging web copy. Since Groupon turned me down for a freelance writing position after round 4 of the vetting process, I’ll use woot as an example. If you’re known for your engaging and quirky content, people will keep visiting just for that reason.

There’ll be a lot more tomorrow!

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