What Writing Comedy Has Taught Me About Website Copywriting

Copywriting and marketing lessons for entrepreneurs from standup comedy
Copywriting and marketing lessons for entrepreneurs from standup comedy

A few years ago, I found myself taking a class in sketch comedy writing. I’d achieved some success with improv and standup comedy. I loved performing and could (usually) make people laugh from the stage. So I figured the class would be a breeze. After all, I’m a professional writer.

Alas, my first attempts at writing comedy sketches were more likely to provoke a puzzled frown than a hearty laugh.

When it came time to turn in our first assignment, I knew I wasn’t being funny … but I had no idea how to make my sketch funnier.

What I did bring to the table (literally) was a lifetime of writing. I know that first drafts can be horrific … but if you don’t write that awful first draft, you won’t have a final gem.

I also know that when you’re stuck, the best thing to do is share, talk, and get reactions from other people.

Photo by The Climate Reality Project on Unsplash

Sure enough, my classmates were polite enough to keep a straight face (not always a good thing in a comedy class) when my turn came to present. And they did give me some great ideas for our second assignment — a rewrite. Our instructor — a comedy pro — knows the rule:

Writing is 10% idea and 90% rewriting.And you don’t invest too much of your ego in a first draft.

Writing website copy? Get it out there.

Many of my clients tell me they’re terrified to take the first step to create a website. “It’s got to be just right,” they say. Or, “I know just what I want … “

The truth is, when you need a new website, or when your site shows your business from ten years ago, it’s better to start writing. I’m not suggesting you create a sloppy or ugly website on purpose, but I do know some high-earning professionals who have websites that would make a grown copywriter cry.

Let’s get real: if you’re a time-starved professional (like most of my clients) you squeeze “website makeover” in between seeing clients and prospecting with what you have. You’re wise enough to avoid throwing huge sums of money at the problem.

If you wait till you’re ready for that perfect, mind-blowing, drop-dead gorgeous website, nothing happens.

You miss opportunities, leave money on the table, and feel stressed about one more thing hanging over your To Do list.

You’ve heard this before (but it’s true)

It’s like that advice we get tired of hearing: Half of success is just showing up, dressed to play. When I was a college professor, one of my deans used to say that, over and over. We used to joke about it, but he was right.

When you get a good-enough website out there, you’re showing up. You’ll start to get reactions. In fact, you will look at your own website differently; sometimes you will be inspired to change your offerings or your business model.

Gradually you can build up your site…if you find you need to. A lot of entrepreneurs find they never need anything better.

Follow Seth Godin’s website advice.

Over a dozen years ago, Seth Godin wrote a blog post, “How To Create A Good Enough Website. “ He encouraged everyone to find a website they liked, preferably in a different industry, and then hire someone to use that design as a starting point — not steal, just get inspired.

Today you don’t have to do that. You'll find thousands — possibly millions — of professionally designed templates. No need to worry about intellectual property. You won’t even need to hire a designer if you’ve got the time to DIY.

There’s more than one way to write a website.

Every year some company rolls out a new program to make the process easier or more flexible. These days not everyone needs to use WordPress. However, it’s important to avoid getting locked into a service that’s fine for a stop-gap measure but forces you to start over as you grow.

Start with content, not design. Sketch comedy — like all forms of drama — starts with a script. After your sketch looks good on paper, you start to think about casting. You might get around to props and stage sets. But everything starts with the writing.

Photo by Brooks Leibee on Unsplash

When you move right to design, you handicap your designer. Your designer’s job isn’t to nail your message. He’ll use graphics and images to help your website visitors reach the message and understand it better.

If web design were football, the copywriter would be the quarterback, calling the plays and making sure you get the ball down the field so you can win. The designer resembles the offensive line — making sure nothing happens to stop the quarterback.

When you ignore the roles of the players, you’re playing the wrong game. In the world of websites, copy and “break” designs. Or you end up with a design that has no relation to your message. I’ve written another article about this: http://mycopy.info/c1st

Avoid an “Under Construction” website. When visitors land on an “Under Construction” page, they feel they’ve arrived for a party while the caterer is still setting up. They don’t know what to do and often wander off to another place where they’ll be welcomed and made to feel comfortable.

If you’re too busy to dive into the project with both feet, ask your copywriter to help you develop a stand-alone opt-in landing page and a lead magnet.

Seth Godin made two points which still seem valid today:

1. If you are unable to agree on whether you an existing site, you will spend a lot of time and money trying to agree on a custom one.

2. The process of design and user interaction is best done separately from the process of server speed, database structure, and uptime.

I’d add a third:

3. If you can’t find a template you like — WordPress or otherwise — you will have trouble explaining to a designer exactly what you’re trying to do.

Finding a template can take time, but so does defining a new website from scratch. And with some themes and programs like Divi and LeadPages, you can actually start with a blank canvas.

Working with a quality theme lets you ignore the toughest design challenges.

First, your site automatically will be set up to be responsive, i.e., you’ll look good on a variety of devices, not just a desktop. Back when Seth Godin wrote that piece, these devices weren’t used as commonly as they are now.

Today you must assume your site could be viewed on an iPad or cell phone. Hiring a designer to move things around? Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Second, many templates have been tested. The designers know the layouts and styles that will most likely motivate your visitors to take action. They know what looks professional. Of course, many design-from-scratch experts know this too. But the good ones are priced very, very high.

Your choice of theme and web host will influence server speed, database structure, and uptime.

The process of design needs to be integrated with user interaction and message. I like to say that the copywriter is your quarterback on the team, calling the plays and making sure the “ball” gets to the goal post so you get a win. The web designer is your offensive line, making sure the message gets through to your audience without interference.

Getting ready for a new website or website makeover? I’ve written this short 7-step planning guide to help. It’s a thank you gift to my readers!

Originally published at https://cathygoodwin.com on April 24, 2020.

Helping entrepreneurs and independent professionals grow their businesses one story at a time. http://cathygoodwin.com

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