|July 30, 2004
Something Worth Talking About
by Nick Usborne
I recently published a short e-book called 'One Thing I Know About Doing Business
Online'. Seventeen people contributed - including Seth Godin, Jeffrey Zelman, Danny
Sullivan, Jared Spool, Gerry McGovern and your own Ann Handley. But I didn't make a
contribution of my own. So Ann Handley kindly suggested that I do so here.
First, I should say that the rules are a little different for me within this article. I
allowed my contributors only 150 words each. Why? Because I wanted them to think hard,
find that 'one thing' and explain it clearly and briefly.
To be half fair, here's my 150 words or less version:
"Say something worth talking about. Unlike any other medium, the
online experience is linked, networked... through sites, email, newsletters, discussion
lists, forums, weblogs, wikis, cell phones, PDAs and more. If you have products or
services that people actually want, then invest some time in talking about them in an
interesting and different way. Talk about them in a way that stands out, makes your
readers smile, laugh or scream in outrage. Don't be safe. Say it as it is.
Say it loud. Say it in a way that strikes home and is memorable. Do
that, and you'll have done something worth talking about...and the network will reward
Ok, now for the cheating part - where I go on to embellish on what I've said.
I think we can all agree about the online space being networked. It's a beautiful
thing... to have all those prospects and customers connected and just a click or two away
from each other.
It gets a little tougher when we look at the issue of whether you're selling something
that even a small group of these people online actually want. Because if you don't, it
doesn't matter what you say... you'll never have something worth talking about. However
great your copy and text, if the product isn't interesting, nobody is going to talk about
Assuming you have a product or service people truly want, then writing in a way that
really differentiates you from your competition will pay off in spades.
The Web is awash with safe, boring text. Approved, screened and whittled down until it
can offend nobody. You can blame your managers, your company lawyers...blame whoever you
But the trouble with boring text is that it reads just like all the other boring text
on the Web, and you can be absolutely sure that none of your prospects are going to get
excited about it and tell their friends.
With boring or 'ordinary' sales copy and content, you have to invest big bucks in
pushing the message out there. In other words, you have to pay for advertising, in one
form or another, just like you do offline.
But if your sales copy and content is interesting enough, really interesting...then
people will notice it. They'll laugh, smile, be offended or amazed. And remember, they are
networked. And in the same way that people email jokes, cartoons and horoscopes...they'll
also email news of your site. And rave about it in their weblogs, or post a mention in a
discussion list, or tell a friend through instant or short text messaging.
From what I can see, there are three types of copy being written online right now.
- There's the really boring, super-safe corporate stuff that leaves you
scratching your head and wondering what it is they are trying to say.
- There is the super-hard-sell - "You'd be a moron not to buy this
NOW" copy - that seems to come from the desk of some demented Ginsu knife salesman.
- And there is the OK stuff, that is written well and clearly...but
really doesn't get your heart beating or your neurons firing.
But where is the really exciting writing? Where are people writing in
a way that is unexpected and surprising? When did the text on a commercial Web site last
make you smile or laugh?
Sure, it's scary to write that way. But as soon as you do...as soon as you say
something worth talking about...the network will begin to hum and word will spread.
So, truthfully now, are you writing in a way that is really worth talking about? Does
the text on your site and in your newsletters terrify the boss? Have you had to lock the
lawyer in a broom cupboard?
This is the Net - and if the words aren't interesting, they won't spread.
About the Author:
Nick Usborne is an advocate of good writing on the web and the author of Net Words,
the definitive text on copywriting online. He is a writer, consultant and speaker, and
publisher of the Excess Voice newsletter for
(by Nick Usborne) the definitive text on copywriting online. The author
shows how and why personal copy sells better online than in your face marketing. Usborne
contends that online is different than print, but sees how training in one medium can
prepare you for assignments in the other. A definite must read.
The Step By Step Copywriting
Book: (by Karon Thackston) This widely acclaimed ebook by shows you how
to write effective web copy that both sells and ranks high
with the search engines.
The Nitty Gritty of Search
Engine Optimization (by Jill Whalen) This special report in ebook form is
probably the most thorough guide on how to write for the search engines. Making sure
that your main keywords are well represented in your page copy without sacrificing
readibility is not always easy, but this special report shows you how to do it.
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