Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Concrete Differences Between Print and Web Copy

There's an 800-pound cinderblock in the middle of conference rooms across the world.

When companies start thinking about what to write about their products - and to whom they're writing - a nagging concern pops up whenever it's inconvenient. Do we change our copy for the Web, or just lift it straight from print?

My readers know I've addressed this issue vehemently in the past. However, I feel the need to do so again. This time, I thought I'd take the "lay it all out" tact.

I'll list out my collected points of clear-cut divergence between print copy and web copy. Some come from me; some come from the books of eminent copywriters like Bob Bly and Nick Usborne.

There are several relative differences between the two, depending on the project type. Sales letters come to mind. But I'm not going to focus on those. (Why? We'd be here all day.) These will only be concrete, definite ways you can tell print and web copy apart.

Print Copy & Web Copy - The Concrete Differences
  • Print - formatted for reading. Web - formatted for scanning.

  • Print copy always moves forward. Web copy can stop.

  • Print must be a complete unit. Web copy is modular, pages linking between subjects.

  • In print, you control the output (nice clean papers). On the Web, you don't.

  • Print is more formal, and is seen as more formal. You wouldn't invite a host of big political donors to a dinner fundraiser via text-only email.

  • It's harder to keep attention online.

  • Use about 20% more subheads on the Web. This goes back to scanning - it's easier to keep customers' attention if you continually put up signposts.

  • What Readers Expect From Print Copy: harder sell, longer paragraphs, less information

  • What Readers Expect From Web Copy: shorter copy chunks, a softer sell, much more information.

  • Hyperlinks and permission marketing are the reasons why the customer is in control on the Web, NOT the seller.

  • Going off the last one, it's much easier to inform those who read on the Web rather than in print. It's due to economics - you don't need more paper to add a feature list to your website.

  • Print and Web copy SHOULD be equally valued, as both are responsible for differentiation, sales strength, and relationship-building. Unfortunately, words are still more valued in print than on the Web.

(Contained within these differences are lots of tips on how to make both kinds of copy stand out in the crowd. Can you spot them?)

I'm going through all of these now, because I see the need to remind people. The question of, "What's the difference?" has come up more frequently in the past few weeks. It's a parallel to a growing acknowledgement among businesspeople - they're realizing the power of online copywriting. I'm very glad for that, but as Newton said, for every action...

In the next few years, the value of writing online will crystallize. Businesses will put more effort into what they say on their sites & campaigns. Web copy may gain the same vaunted position print copy holds in the offline world. When that happens, some of these differences may fade away, or blur into each other's domain. I can't wait.



Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home