What's the state of digital copywriting in 2013?

Most marketers would agree by now that effective digital copy is essential for getting your pages found in search, building brand awareness and turning browsers into buyers. But knowing the value of content isn't the same as being able to produce content that's valuable, as our State of Digital Copywriting survey reveals.

We asked 365 content professionals - from both client and agency sides - for their honest opinions about how their organisations handle copy. The resulting report shows fair bit of room for improvement - and lots of frustration with organisational processes in particular...

Print trumps digital
Print content is still considered superior to digital - even among online content professionals. Almost 6 in 10 respondents expect a brand's Facebook updates to be ‘very poorly written', and most expect to find much better quality writing in printed magazines and newspapers than in digital media.

People don't know what good copy looks like
Not only is high-quality online copy hard to come by, but many people wouldn't know it if it was right in front of them. Some 6 in 10 respondents said the biggest challenge in their organisation is getting people to understand what good copy looks like.

‘Copy is seen as nail varnish applied at the end rather than an essential part of a digital project,' as one respondent forlornly puts it.

Stakeholder interference
Business leaders are increasingly identifying effective content as commercially critical - but at the same time they are the biggest obstacle to the creation of effective content. Content professionals overwhelmingly cite senior management as making the biggest dent in web copy quality at sign-off stage. And 30 per cent of respondents say that that their content plan usually gets ‘hijacked by other priorities'.

Respondents have to battle through rounds of stakeholder approvals and amends before they can get their content published. One in 10 respondents has to contend with 5+ rounds of amends, while an unfortunate 5% have to deal with 8 or more stakeholders.

‘The biggest issue is that a stakeholder sign-off group is never fully identified before a project starts', one respondent told us.

Setting up to fail
Businesses are told they have to be publishers with tedious frequency these days, but many lack basic editorial tools and processes - let alone resource.

Great content starts with a plan. But 52% of respondents say they only ‘write copy on demand, in response to business needs'. Only 25% of respondents say they have a formal content strategy in place, and just 1 in 10 content professionals surveyed follows a written content brief.

Securing budget for content is another big headache too. And over 50% of respondents cited ‘finding skilled writers' as a challenge to producing good digital copy.

Absent measures
A surprising proportion of respondents don't measure copy effectiveness at all, even though it can be hard to build a strong business case for greater content investment without some hard data. The metrics that are being used vary in effectiveness too.

Conversion rates are naturally considered the most useful metric by most. But many still measure page views and bounce rates - even though few actually consider these figures of any use.

Action points
There's plenty here to work on here, and plenty of practical steps businesses might consider to help them create effective content on a sustainable basis:

  • Improve the quality control process: A third of respondents say they don't have enough time to check copy.
  • Put in place content metrics: Some hard data showing the difference effective content can make will help build the business case for greater investment in content.
  • Do less content better: As the content marketing bubble continues to expand, it can be tempting to jump on the bandwagon and try and keep up a constant flow of content in every possible channel or platform. But quality will always out - better to spend more time planning fewer, better pieces of content - and making them work harder for you.
  • Manage stakeholders proactively: Senior managers and other non-editorial stakeholders can be trained in what effective digital copy looks like, and the difference it can make.
  • Create some guidelines: Developing some basic editorial tools such as tone of voice guidelines, copy templates and a web-writing checklist can give people a better sense of what you're aiming for - so long as they are communicated and championed across the team as a whole.
  • Invest in skills and resource: If you don't have the editorial skills in-house, is it a false economy to try and make your already overworked marketing department into publishers too?

Join the debate
Comment on the state of digital copy by tweeting @stickycontent


Download State of Digital Copywriting report

Posted by: Dan Fielder, Sticky Content     

Posted in CMA blog
22ndJul 2013

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