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Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2007 at 4:31 pm

Writers: The Most Undervalued People Online

By Robert Gorell
November 20th, 2007

Even Robin Williams is silenced...Anyone else enjoy life 3% more when The Daily Show isn’t in reruns? Well, if you think TV’s gotten bad since the writers’ strike, just wait until online copywriters wise up. In fact, copywriters and bloggers should consider picketing right along with the TV & film writers. (Notice I didn’t say “screenwriters.” In today’s media, a screen is a screen is a screen.) This strike isn’t about television or film. It’s about high-profile screenwriters — as high-profile as unknown gets, anyway — insisting that online content has value.

Don’t think copywriters are undervalued? Show me a marketing budget without a serious chunk of cash set aside for Web copy, and I’ll show you a website that doesn’t convert, sell, or even explain why it exists in the first place.

Copyblogger‘s Brian Clark, who decided to follow his script-writing dreams until he realized what an awful gig it can be, makes some great points about “What Web Writers Can Learn from the Writers’ Strike.” Lucky for us, 10 years later, Brian’s selling content online — and he decides which of his content is free; a real advantage over Daily Show writers like this guy:

(If video doesn’t load, click here.)

As you can see, one of the more telling points about about the writers’ strike is that these “traditional media” writers really do know how to leverage the Web. They’re even taking a cue from the “Save Jericho” campaign and mailing boxes of pencils to the media moguls.

For most organizations, copywriting is an afterthought. And surely, the web design community would agree. When businesses don’t take copy seriously, they’re the ones who get fired when the site doesn’t do its job. Consider this recent snapshot of a slide at the Future of Web Design conference:


Businesses can optimize their online content all they like, but stale copy leads to poor sales and limp branding. The good news is that if a company’s text doesn’t persuade in the first place, they’ll never know how much business is being left on the table. But the bad news is that if their text didn’t persuade in the first place, they’d never know how much was left on the table. So unless you’ve invented an iPhone that doubles as a teleporter, and you can show all of that with some press clippings and a Flash demo, you’re better off not being cheap with your words.

It may look rough at the moment, but the floodgates have opened, and the real value of online content has become clear. So if you’re writing for television or film, and want to control what your words are worth, now’s a good time to become a persuasive online copywriter.

[Hat tip to Tim Miles for sharing the "Not the Daily Show" clip.]

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Comments (13)

  1. Hell. Yeah.

  2. Yeah, online copywriters are undervalued. But the worst part is we are undervaluing ourselves too!


    We attach more importance to getting published in print magazines and newspapers. An article gets published on an online mag. Big deal! It gets published in ELLE. Wow!!

    As Robert says, we are prepared to accept lower pay for online copy. A client recently approached my company to write 1000 word articles for 10 dollars each! Obviously, we said no. But we are sure he found another writer to write his articles at that ridiculous price. As long as such writers exist in the online marketplace, online copywriting will remain an unglamorous job.

  3. Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!!! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve felt like the least important person at my company, because “all I have to do is write.” As we’re starting to see with the strike, there’s nothing to film if nothing gets written. Similarly, there’d be nothing to code if I wasn’t there.

    So thanks, you made this underappreciated writer’s day a little brighter!

  4. As the web matures and the space becomes more competitive, I think that the importance of copywriting will rise to the top.

    In the space of information, the design and the technical stuff becomes a commodity, but good content is still hard to produce and valuable.

    Brilliant quote Bronwyn Jones!

  5. Um, thank you!

    The good news is that written content is starting to get the same amount of attention that IA was getting five years ago. The momentum is with us. We just need to keep it that way — and make sure the money comes along for the ride. The next time you hear creative directors, web designers, IAs, or UX folks pontificate about how important they think good writing is, ask them if they have a writing budget. Then listen to the deafening peals of embarrassed silence.

    Do I think web copywriters should be paid as much as web designers? No. But great web copywriters should be paid as much as great web designers. And great web copywriters bring a different skill set to the table than, say, print copywriters or ad copywriters. They bring tech savvy, IA experience, and a holistic view of the user experience. Just like great web designers. Oh, and they can also write really well.

    So, if you want to be a great web copywriter, learn those things. If you want to hire a great copywriter, well, good for you. You’re in the minority. For now.

  6. copy/text content is the one sure thing to get indexed by the search engines. Persuasive and relevant content is the one sure thing to get noticed by the 1 second that we have the users/readers/customers attention. This is true whether we are writing for a blog or copy for a product on an ecommerce web site.

  7. Agreed. Finding a good writer that understands SEO as well as the topic they are writing about can make or break a site in this age of “content is king.”

  8. writers


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  9. Stew: You don’t actually work for the campaign, do you? Did they tell you to copy and paste off-topic, press release-style comments onto blogs, or was that your idea? Seriously, I’d like to know.

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  10. “A client recently approached my company to write 1000 word articles for 10 dollars each! Obviously, we said no. But we are sure he found another writer to write his articles at that ridiculous price. As long as such writers exist in the online marketplace, online copywriting will remain an unglamorous job.”

    Nishi, its not the existence of low fee writers that keep those fees low and unglamorous. Its the client’s inability to discern any value in the higher-priced writer.

    Can you explain the differences to him, in terms that will benefit him?

  11. Chuck, we do, but sometimes price is the most important factor, especially for Small Businesses:(

  12. I thought I’d just start the discussion again.

    Nishi, what you say is still true one year down the line. The online copywriter is still seen as the unglamorous cousin of print and television.

    Chuck, certain clients view content as not something that’ll add value but something that comes into discussion after everything else is settled: “ok, we also need content”

  13. Nishi, what you say is still true one year down the line. The online copywriter is still seen as the unglamorous cousin of print and television…

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