Writing Web Copy For An Industry I Don't Understand
When I look at job adverts for writing jobs, it is common for one of the Requirements to include “Experience” in the desired industry, however I am a firm believer that whilst experience is a huge advantage, it is not always necessary. That’s why I have put together this post about my experiences writing web copy for an industry I don’t understand.
In August 2014, I was hired as an Online Copywriter and Administrator for the soon-to-be-launched website for Howarth Timber & Building Supplies Ltd and their sister website; Howarth at Home.
At the time, my knowledge of the industry was the odd bit of DIY work that I had done in rental properties, that my Dad had promptly had to for me. To say that it was an industry I didn’t understand, was a complete understatement. I ended up working in the industry for just over 5 years.
The biggest benefit I have found from writing about products that I don’t have a huge knowledge of, is being able to come in with the attitude of:
“If I don’t know how this works, then how will a potential customer?”
The customer-base for Howarth is divided into two categories:
The Industry Experts. This includes the plumbers, the builders, the contractors who work within the industry and will have an extensive knowledge about the products they are purchasing. For this reason, they are not the type of audience I am referring to here because they are more likely to know exactly what they are looking for, and don’t – generally speaking – need more information beyond the specifications and reliance that we know what we are talking about as a business; this is particularly true for gaining businesses that may never have dealt with Howarth before.
The Retail Customers. This include people who may have some knowledge, but it is advisable to go back to basics for, to ensure that they can make an informed decision before they make a purchase. They need to know:
What the product does
If it will suit their individual needs
What alternative options there are
What benefits the product will offer them
How to use the product
As the Copywriter, it is my job to answer these questions, but how do I do that when I don’t understand the product myself? Yes, it helps me to put myself in the Retail Customers shoes, but how do I answer these questions. More importantly, how do I ensure that the information I am offering is correct so that the Professional Customers trust us as a company to make a purchase.
A huge part of the Copywriting process – that is often forgotten about by non-Copywriters – is the amount of research that needs to go into writing anything. Whether I am working on a blog post, an article, a product description, category copy or anything else, research is probably the lengthiest task; often taking more time that the actual writing.
Personally, I love the research side of Copywriting. I love to learn and delve into discovering how things work. It’s fun figuring out the right questions to ask.
But what if I can’t figure out which questions to ask? There are several directions to go in, although depending on various factors I very rarely needed all of them, and I gradually learnt which direction to go in, depending on the type of product:
The Supplier – Suppliers are incredibly hit-and-miss from my experience. Some are incredibly useful, whilst others…well, let’s just say I’m not sure they really want to sell their products and make you run around in circles trying to figure things out.
The Competition – Many competitors in the building industry didn’t have a great deal of web copy, but I could often scrape the basic information needed. This could also be used to my advantage, because if competitors don’t have good SEO, well it kinda makes me job a lot easier.
Co-Workers – This could be someone in the Buying Department or on the shop floor.
Some might question why I didn’t start by speaking to co-workers, but the problem is that I feel I need to fully understand a product before I can write about it. Therefore, doing research through the suppliers and competitors helped to understand what questions I needed to ask of the right people within our business. The point is putting my feet in the shoes of the customers, so I needed some basic understanding before I would be able to ask someone in a sales role particularly, the type of questions retail customers might need to know.
Another issue with approaching the branches first, goes back to the two types of customers the industry has:
Quite often the sales assistants have more experience dealing with Industry Experts who have very different needs to Retail. This is because professionals are more likely to come in branches than retail. because the business has changed a great deal over the years; expanding from primarily timber goods to a wide range of products that are more retail oriented.
I honestly believe that it is possible to write about – almost – anything, as long as you have the right information in front of you. Making sure to ask the right people, the right questions and doing your research before so you are certain that you are asking the right questions.
Of course there are some topics that I probably couldn’t write about, because they are better written by experts (think Doctors etc), but I do believe that experience in a specific subject area isn’t always the most important factor that should be considered.
Instead, you should look at:
Their ability to write well
Their research skills
Their ability to ask the right questions (indeed, their ability to ask questions at all…however, it’s important to note that some writers – myself included – tend to ask questions once they are working on something)
Need help with a writing project that you are planning? Does your website need sprucing up? Drop me a message and let’s work together.