The Rise of the Vagiarist

PushON | January 27th 2014

When writing for the web, the web itself is the first place copywriters go looking for information. This is the case for a number of reasons, the number being two: time and money. Budgets for copywriting are often a tiny part of the marketing effort as a whole. So we’re left with the situation where copywriters are expected to produce 500+ words of site copy in half an hour. There’s only one way to achieve that: I call it vagiarism.

Vagiarism n., the act of trawling the internet to grab a few facts and stats on which to base vague, meaningless articles, devoid of interest, humour and opinion, but stopping short of outright plagiarism.

This situation is not necessarily the fault of the writer or even the web developer or marketing agency. It might not even be directly attributable to the site owners, who can claim ignorance. It’s just where we are right now. And it might have to change.

Quality and relevance have always been the things searchers have demanded, and the search engines have been on a mission to define them and deliver results that fit their definitions. In this way at least, the engines, the users and the digital marketing companies are on a perpetually diverging course. The transparently spammy techniques of yesteryear have all but been eliminated thanks to penalties and a wising up of web users. But this hasn’t meant that the internet is now overbrimming with quality content.

As searchers we might not even notice it, though, because increasingly, results are for high-quality resources. The engines are getting better at finding pages more quickly, posting them as results within hours or seconds of their being published online. They’re also getting better at judging quality content. Whatever sector you work in, you may well find yourself directed to the same few sites when you’re looking for information. And there’s a pretty good chance that if you’re satisfied with the results you get, it’ll be because you’re delivered fresh, novel, entertaining, researched and well-written copy.

You’re already halfway there

There’s a lesson here for anyone who’s at least been convinced that they need to keep their sites updated with copy: any copy won’t do. Here’s a quick copy check list:

  • Use a professional copywriter, who will be able to spin the dullest of source material into readable, quotable copy
  • Use proofreaders and editors to check and polish
  • Invest in making sure the writer understands your business thoroughly
  • Good writing takes time; writers need to self-draft and self-edit, even if they’re passing it on to a third party for editing. If there’s no urgency, let the article sit unread for 24 hours so the writer can read it afresh.
  • Write original articles; if you can find information online, so can anyone else
  • Do interviews and take surveys to get fresh, unique results
  • Tap into the reserves of expertise within your company to give interesting angles to stories; use names of experts (with permission) rather than just their points
  • Don’t be scared of expressing opinions
  • Respond to breaking news, but stay within your sector
  • One good quality article will have a longer tail than ten vague ones
  • Gently publicise each article on social media

The bullets above certainly won’t bring cheaper copy in the first instance, but with the search engines entering new territory when it comes to quality content (read anything on Google’s Hummingbird update), it’s becoming something of a necessity.

Building a relationship with a freelance copywriter or your marketing agency helps enormously. You’ll find they get to grips with what you do remarkably quickly, and can even progress to the stage where they suggest articles based on relevant news stories they’ve heard from “outside the bubble”, which is a great way to make a link with your public.

Be your own source

Start creating quality content and you’ll be treated as an original source rather than a regurgitator of freely available information. People will quote you – and some will link to you – when writing their own articles and blog posts.  That doesn’t mean every page has to aim for nothing less than a Pulitzer Prize nomination – there will always be a need for general, generic, information-giving content on websites. But if at least some of your material shows expertise, attention and warmth, it’ll shine.