The #1 rule for B2C technology copywriting.

Photo credit: aftab. via VisualHunt.com / CC BY-NC

As an advertising writer, I’ve written content for higher education, technology, manufacturing, health care, municipal government, financial services and other industries. No matter what I’m selling, before I write a single word, I ask myself ‘What does my target reader know about this service or product?’

When I started writing recruiting materials for colleges and universities in my 20s, I didn’t know anything about the business of college student recruitment. I didn’t know a FAFSA from an LSAT. I had no idea how colleges decide who gets in or what makes a 17-year-old from San Jose choose Beloit College over UC Berkeley. I spent five years visiting colleges from coast to coast, interviewing students, professors and admissions staff. And I learned all about it.

You need to know it all, your reader doesn’t.

Once armed with the inside info, it’s tempting for a marketing copywriter to use it in her content. Or rather, it’s hard to keep it out of her content. Beware.

“Priority application” means something to the people who work in a college admissions office, it’s true. But it means nothing to my target reader, the average 17-year-old. And while 100% of colleges want students to deposit early (ie: commit to enrolling by depositing a couple hundred dollars), 0% of prospective students care whether any of the schools they’re considering hit their goals for next fall’s entering class.

Who cares?

Which reminds me of one of the worst email Subject lines of all time (and there’s lots of competition): We want you back. GoDaddy actually used this for a time and it made me wince every time we did.

Think about seeing this Subject line in your inbox. Your response is likely to be “So? Unless you’re the guy with the great hair who broke up with me last week, I don’t care what you want.” Delete.

I can tell you with 100% confidence that no matter what you’re selling or who you’re selling it for, your reader does not care about:

· Your client’s reputation

· Your client’s deadlines or sales goals

· Any award or statistic that can’t be tied to a direct benefit to the reader

Starting to see a pattern?

It’s all about them.

That’s right — our readers care about themselves. Their needs, their frustrations, their dreams. Unless you can quickly convince them that your product can absolutely fill a need or help them reach a goal, they’ll go away.

One of the most important, but largely invisible, parts of good technology copywriting is the part that happens before you start writing — the thinking. Good writers know this, frontloading their creative process with data, then letting the pot bubble on the back burner for a few hours or, when possible, a few days.

You can jump start the creative process by answering these questions:

· Who are your readers and what do they know about your product?

· What need brings them to you?

· How does your product or service fulfill that need better than other available options?

· How do current customers rate your product or service?

Your job as a B2C technology copywriter is to wade through all the data available to you — audience demographics, product demos and specifications, user videos — and answer these questions before you start writing. The goal is to get inside the head of your readers, to think like they do. Only then are you ready to speak to them.

Familiarity breeds weak content.

But it gets harder. Sure, when you first starting writing for gardening suppliers or trucking companies, your content is full of basic how-to detail. But as your knowledge and experience of an industry increases, your ability to think and talk like a newcomer decreases.

This has implications for all advertising writers but for B2C technology copywriters in particular. Technology is a rabbit hole of a particularly convoluted type. Those of us who work in this field for any length of time can easily lose sight of the average person.

Finally, the #1 rule.

Right now I’m one of two writers who produce all the promotional content on GoDaddy.com. If it’s a page that sells something, there’s a 50% chance I wrote it. And the # rule for tech writing is this:

Don’t tell readers anything they don’t need to know.

Sounds easy, right? Yes and no. I’m surrounded by technical people all day, every day. Over the last 10 years, they’ve taught me about keywords and encryption and uptime and smart algorithms. Not to mention a mountain of acronyms. SSL, DNS, FTP, DDoS.

Marketing copywriting is a Zen practice of learning everything you can about your product then “forgetting” it in order to write in a way that’s understandable to the least knowledgeable of readers.

Yes, clarity trumps persuasion. Which means, don’t get so clever that the reader doesn’t understand what the hell you’re saying. Just tell them, straight up.

But don’t tell them about the acrobatics your developer had to do to make their purchase possible. Sure you’re proud, but your reader expects it to be easy and seamless. Don’t tell them the only reason they’re having to complete an extra step is because the registrar who owns this domain wants to make it hard for people to get it from anyone but them. Again, they don’t care.

Just tell them what they need to know to take the next step — click, buy, download — and send them on their way.