From character development to character counts, I’d argue that it’s both.
Well-written copy, like a fine portrait, creates a visual impression for the viewer. A skilled copywriter tells a story, weaving in details that paint a complete picture. Through careful placement of words, the writer can evoke emotion. In advertising/marketing, the writer spurs the audience to buy a product, to buy in to a concept or to want more details.
The art of copywriting is the same whether you’re writing for print or the web. However, writing digital content has become more of a science.
This is nothing new. Online writing is simply direct marketing via a different channel. The direct-response industry has it down to a science. There’s a proven formula, if you will, and it works. Every piece of a DM kit — from the envelope teaser to the letter and brochure to the response card — is written to certain specifications. Even the DM letter itself is dissected into the headline, the Johnson box, the body and the postscript.
Online copywriting takes copy-fitting concepts from the world of print to a whole new level, with not only word counts but character counts as well. Twitter, with its 140-character Tweet limit, is king of the character count. However, if you’re sticking to 140 characters, you’re selling yourself short (or is that long?). Tweets should be 100-120 characters, to allow for retweeting.
If Twitter is king, email marketing is probably the queen. Email subject line length is a topic that has been hotly debated throughout the industry. I think the jury’s still out on this. According to an article on the DMA Email Marketing Council Blog, subject line lengths can be categorized as short: <25 characters, medium: 25-50 characters and long: >50 characters. For mobile, subject lines should be 30 characters or less.
As with any marketing channel, you’ve got to test so you can determine what works best for your audiences. Since we’re talking subject lines, the open rate is the metric you should be looking at. When conducting your testing, try to keep all the other aspects (day/time sent, tone, segmentation, etc.) constant so as not to skew your results.
SEO is another area that puts the science into copywriting. Luckily for us copywriters, keyword density is an outdated SEO technique. Keywords as a whole are being downplayed these days. That doesn’t mean, however, that we can ignore keywords and keyword phrases altogether. It does mean that we can’t resort to keyword stuffing. It’s been said before and I’ll say it again: You must write for people, not the search engines. Write your content first, then go back and tweak it by inserting keywords where they would naturally occur.
Some SEO experts recommend a minimum of 300 words on web pages for Google indexing and ranking. Truth is, Google has no minimum word count. Google wants relevant, quality content. Period. You can write your little heart out, but if the content is not up to snuff, Google will snub you.
When it comes to page title tags and page descriptions, however, size matters. In Google search results, most title tags will be cut off around 42 to 68 characters. I know, that’s a huge range. According to The Moz Blog, 55 characters is a safe bet, but it pays to test. The same goes for page descriptions.
Social media also has hopped on the character count bandwagon. For Facebook ads, the headline is limited to 25 characters and the body to 90 characters. For posts, a study by Jeff Bullas revealed that brand posts of 40 characters had the highest levels of engagement.
What about Google+? A study by Copyblogger shows that 60 characters is the suggested max for headlines. Google+ posts average 156 characters, according to Qunitly Research.
The rule of thumb for blog posts is that they should be a minimum of 1500-1600 words. That’s if your goal is to boost search engine traffic. Personally, I don’t have the time or patience to read posts that long. I’d rather that someone actually read my post, and get something out of it, than to start reading it and become disengaged. And, according to a Kissmetrics post, since headlines usually are scanned by readers they are most effective when they’re six words or less. (Phew! And, if you’re wondering, I already had written the headline for this post before I got to this part of my research.)
Let’s not forget the role of data in all of this. Findings based on data analysis must be incorporated into content to optimize conversions. While the data collection and analysis is the scientific part, it definitely impacts the content.
In short, copy cannot be written in a silo. It must take into account the audience, analytics, the goal, the channel and other factors. A writer cannot simply wax poetic and expect results.
I rest my case. Copywriting is both an art and a science.
Darcy Grabenstein is senior copywriter at Annodyne.
photo credit: cwangdom via photopin cc