As a trained journalist, ClickThrough online copywriter, Martin Boonham, can see a number of comparisons between the world of journalism, and the digital world of content writing. Here he discusses some of the main aspects of journalism that really helped with his switch of disciplines.
Upon starting here at ClickThrough, I was asked why – with my background in journalism – I decided to take up online copywriting. In truth, my interest in writing has always extended beyond the realms of journalism, and I felt that the role just offered me a new canvas in which to splash my verbal artistry upon.
However, as I’ve become more accustomed to the role and with that journalistic training under my belt, I have noticed that there are a number of journalistic skills that are equally useful in the world of online content marketing.
A good headline is just as crucial to online news content as it is to a newspaper article. It draws the reader in and, if crafted correctly, can also boost the news article’s rankings.
Take the recent Google antitrust case for example. In the old days of Fleet Street, we might have written a snappy, God-awful pun and left it at that. Now we have to consider the keywords which are going to bring the best returns.
At the time of writing, the Google AdWords Keyword Tool lists the search term ‘Google’ with 151 million local searches, whilst ‘antitrust’ has 165,000, and ‘FTC’ - the body that led the investigation – has 246,000.
These search volumes dictate the way we approach our headline – we want to get all three keywords in to maximise traffic, so something like ‘FTC finds Google not guilty in antitrust case’ should work well. It says everything it needs to say, in a snappy form, and includes three frequently-searched keywords.
Of course, without being tied to keywords, an old-fashioned print-only newspaper could pun to its heart’s content. But as even the Fleet Street old timers start embracing digital, even the days of fist-bitingly terrible headline puns could be on the way out.
And in online news – just as in print journalism – brevity is the order of the day. We try to keep our headlines under 70 characters so they won’t be truncated in Google searches, so you really need to be on the ball.
This leads me on to my next point.
Short and snappy
As a journalist, a sentence longer than 30 words, or even as little as 20 or less in some instances, is considered akin to writing a tome. It’s a no no.
This is another skill that certainly helps with online content as you are always, at least in theory, engaging the reader, whilst not letting things drag on. A short snappy narrative that answers the six w’s – that’s what, when, where, why, who and how – yes that last one doesn’t begin with w I know – really gives the reader a story that leaves them feeling satisfied, as opposed to seeking answers to questions left unanswered.
Keeping things short and sweet is also great for things like online PR as well.
Know the audience
Whilst technically this is a skill any copywriter trains themselves in quite quickly, it is a skill that is drilled into a journalist from day one.
Putting things into laymen’s terms is the order of the day, and despite many people scoffing at the red tops in regards to their content, the guys writing the stuff have actually honed their skills to perfection – they are popular for a reason, as much as some people may frown upon them.
Copywriters of course, cover all manner of topics, and on a whole plethora of sites. Therefore, they are acutely aware of the need to adapt writing styles to the audience involved.
Combining these first two points together then leads me quite fittingly onto the next point.
Quick knowledge acquirement
Another skill that a bit of journalistic training certainly helps with, is building a knowledge of something quickly, and then imparting it to the world in a much more digestible way. When client work can be based on anything from cars to property, from plumbing to healthcare, you really need to get up to scratch quickly.
Knowing what you can say
Writing as a whole, can be wrought with legal minefields. What you can say or not say is really precarious at the best of times.
Obviously you’re not allowed to call people out and slam their services or products. But, at the same time, a blog, which is clearly an opinion piece, does allow you to be a bit more assertive in criticisms. If it is truly your opinion, then within reason you can write it.
The rise of the ‘citizen journalist’ has certainly had an impact on traditional news outlets, forcing them to adapt to this new democracy of information.
While a journalism background by no means makes me an instant expert in the world of online copywriting then, it has certainly helped make the switch a little smoother.