Blog, Digital marketing

A Brief History of Web Copywriting

Advertising has come a long way since the Mad Men days. However, there are some definite similarities that mean that we aren’t quite free of the shackles of large scale ad agencies just yet. We’ve evolved in a number of ways – and in this short blog post, we look at a very brief history of copywriting for the internet – highlighting some of the major changes within the industry that have meant we’re able to work in the way we do now, driving advertising success, return on investment and profitability for our clients.

Often seen as a bit of dark art, the idea of copywriting for advertising is an innately creative affair – and the main figures through history that have paved their own way are often portrayed as reckless, dogmatic and heavy handed. No matter how close this may be to the truth, it’s often the case with copywriting and advertising that big risks meant big rewards – and through history there have been some defining words written that have changed the way we see and understand marketing. The same is true with copywriting for the web, some major technological shifts in the past couple of decades have changed things immeasurably for people like you and me.

Copywriting through history has evolved rather than dramatically changed – people’s consciousnesses have been altered through some of the most subtle and basic of advertising campaigns. The less is more approach has certainly translated into the internet too – with marketing campaigns now very much focussed on providing the user with the right information, rather than as much of it as possible.

As a brief history – in the early days of the web, content didn’t matter. More appropriately, the amount of content that could be created didn’t matter – so web companies and marketers often produced tens of thousands of articles and pieces of copywriting that essentially worked for Google’s algorithm at the time. This wasn’t the copywriting that we understand today – or that any of the ad men from days gone by would understand – it was writing for greater gains.

In 2005, ‘nofollow’ hit the algorithm – enabling all the copy that was written for no other purpose to essentially be chosen to be disregarded by Google. In the wake of this – thousands of pieces of copywriting were chosen to be nofollowed – they still existed in the ether, but no longer worked for rankings.

In Feb 2011 Google Panda hit the algorithm – demoting poor copy and thin content on people’s websites. As a first indication of where content was heading, companies began taking their copywriting seriously – providing a scaled back offering which looked at providing less in terms of quantity and more quality. The less is more attitude returned to web copywriting – and in many ways it feels like we’ve come full circle – once again puting users and the customer at the forefront of the copywriting experience. We are no longer writing for the sake of marketing – once again we are looking at our audience and trying to understand their needs. Just in the same way 1960s ad men on Madison Avenue would have done.