Creative Scriptwriting and Copywriting

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So, what phone systems do they use in the Rover’s Return?

In copywriting, scriptwriting, search engine optimization (SEO), writing on November 14, 2011 at 5:28 pm

Is Coronation Street about to be ruined by heavy-handed commercialism? The evergreen ITV soap has recently signed its first agreement under new Ofcom rules allowing branded goods to be shown onscreen in exchange for payment. Until now, commercial logos could never be featured prominently in a drama, comedy or non-fiction programme without the broadcaster facing the wrath of the regulator. But in November2011, the UK’s debut product placement in a primetime show will  occur with the installation of a cash machine by the Nationwide Building Society in Dev Alahan’s corner shop (or Reg Holdsworth’s, or Alf Roberts’, depending on how far into history you go). Purists will feel it’s a slippery slope down which the series will plummet until Webster’s Autos becomes an official Hyundai dealership, and Audrey Robert’s hair salon trades exclusively in the L’Oreal range (because, you have to admit, she’s worth it.)

Deeper than that, these guidelines do speak to the issues of artistic or journalistic integrity.

Let’s say I had been hired to write a number of articles about phone systems for this blog, for instance.

It may seem an odd request to make. I could probably scribble everything I know about phone systems on the back of a stamp, and still have enough space for the dialogue from next week’s Corrie omnibus.

But this (and every) website appeals to at least two audiences. There is a tiny, but loyal, audience of humans, who come here to ponder my tortuously considered thoughts on words, wording and the writerly art. And then there are the mysterious Google search robots and their spidery pals, who arrive interested only in the density of certain key phrases, seeing my beautiful language as nothing more than a not-so-randomly arranged sequence of letters. For them, a piece sprinkled over-liberally with references to ‘phone systems’ could in fact be about Weatherfield or Albert Square or Emmerdale or anywhere.

I think it’s sometimes too easy to condemn the commercialisation of commercial media. If the cashpoint in Dev’s store remained unbranded, does that really guarantee a purer, better storytelling experience? And, from my own point of view, hackery is a dirty word, but we’re heading for a double-dip recession and my kids need shoes.

And for the jobbing writer, you could argue that the seamless integration of “phone systems” into your output is a example of writing craft in action – the professional job well done. A skilled and versatile search-engine optimised creator would be looking to bury the keywords (“phone systems”, in this case)  into the text so that the casual reader would barely bat an eyelid, anyhow.

So I guess my feeling is, if you do it in a witty and amusing way, you might just get away with it. Fay Weldon famously wrote a novel about a jewel heist sponsored by Bulgari jewellery to some critical acclaim.  But critics lambasted the turn-of-the-century live-action Thunderbirds movie because it pimped itself out to its sponsors so much that even Lady Penelope’s iconic pink Rolls-Royce was replaced in the film by a Ford. Not sure I can remember what phone systems they used on Tracey Island, though…

Full disclosure: this column was kind-of funded by Telephone Systems Direct


Bah! Humbug!

In copywriting, search engine optimization (SEO), writing on December 14, 2009 at 12:42 am

Jim Carey - kind of - in A Christmas Carol

I’m lucky. My job lets me play with words and language in all kinds of situations and all kinds of voices. I write scripts and I write copy. I write comedy and drama. I even wrote a BBC TV series for teenagers learning German. In German. And I don’t speak German.

But even for a freelance writer who prides himself on being flexible and practical, there’s nothing that deadens the heart more than being asked in a meeting what I know about Search Engine Optimization (SEO). It’s not the writer’s distaste for an unfriendly acronym, or the American “z” spelling. After all, any decent copywriter could come up with a better phrase that describes the search optimisation process in more human terms. (Search-flirting. Google Tease. Something like that.)

No, what grates is the fact that SEO copy is writing that’s designed to be read not by humans, but by computer algorithms. (Or, as we used to call them, robots.) Search Engine Optimization involves writing words that will appeal to search engines like Google and Bing, which makes it invaluable when you’re trying to appear as high as possible in a Google result, but makes it unreadable when you finally click through to the page.

Good writing engages you.

It might be simple and practical, stripped clean of fancy and redundancy to give you precisely what you want to know. It might be poetic and emotional, designed to connect with a memory or a dream. Either way, it communicates with you as a living breathing individual human person, with your own likes and tastes and haircut.

The text that Google likes best is clunky, repetitive and dead. If you run a business, having your homepage Search Engine Optimized can be like having your reception staffed by a CGI motion-captured 3D animation (that’s Jim Carey up there, apparently). Creepy.

Click on an SEO expert like Bruce Clay to see what I mean. As I say, I love reading, and I love words but even I can’t be arsed to plough through all that lot. Can you?

OK, I guess “Bruce” is really good at his job because his is, by all accounts, the No 1 most effective Search Engine Optimized Search Engine Optimization site.

But, come on. AAA111 Taxis might be first in the phone book, but if they turn up with a rusty Vauxhall Vectra and a serial killer smile, you’re better off walking.

So yes, to answer the question, I can write copy that‘s Search Engine Optimized. But no, I am not an expert in it, because I’m not a robot, I’m a writer.

(And, by the way, have I told you how much I like your hair like that?)