Google: copywriter’s friend or foe?

30 October 2009

Following a glut of journalist booboos featuring ‘facts’ gleaned mainly from Wikipedia, the whole idea of the web as a research tool has had its own bad press recently. And it’s not just Wikis. It seems that some of the most compelling arguments for the UK and US entering the war in Iraq were actually plagiarised from a thesis by Ibrahim al-Marashi, a postgraduate student from Monterey in California. A quick Google search by No. 10 speechwriters?

For a UK Copywriter who was at it long before the phenomenon of the Net, let alone Google, you won’t find anything but god-given thanks for the power, intensity and speed that Google brings to our world.

Here’s my top 10 Google uses from a copywriter perspective:

1.    Headline ideas. Got an idea based round a popular saying? Chuck it into Google and see the most commonly used versions instantly. Use Google images for a quick reference for possible visuals, Google Shopping for price points. Google News for topicality.

2.    Copy hooks. As a copywriter, you’re often looking for strange facts to launch body copy. Oscar Wilde was the first person to… Did you know that hamsters are more likely to… Google gives you a hint at possibilities and allows you to follow lateral trains of thought, killing ideas, or adding depth in minutes.

3.    Destination research. We write a lot of travel guides and hotel web copy. Research around a place or the hotels own website often give a far better feel than any briefing notes.

4.    Fact checking. Got a possibly dubious product fact in a brief from an over enthusiastic client? A quick search will normally corroborate or undermine claims in seconds. Wiki’s? Handle with care, but still extremely useful.

5.    Competitor positioning. It can take just a few clicks to get an idea of what clients’ competitors are leading on, helping us to concentrate copywriting on unique differentiation.

6.    SEO keywords for SEO copy. The Google search tool offers hours of free fun, following unlikely strands to establish new keywords to include in SEO copy.

7.    Contact details. It’s amazing how often numbers in address or telephone numbers get transposed in briefings. It takes seconds to check, but can save thousands of pounds in advertising, media, or print costs.

8.    Country facts. Working with Save the Children on international briefings, you can find any number of widely differing facts on GDP per capita, infant mortality etc. We use the CIA World Fact Book, which applies a consistent interpretation of government data across all developing countries and is regularly updated. No spy passwords required.

9.    Spellings. Whilst I always work with a real dictionary to hand (I favour the OED), a quick check on Google for US/UK derivatives can be a useful indication.

10. Keeping up with the dire results of Brighton & Hove Albion. Well you’ve got to take the odd break, no matter how depressing the results might be.


Categories: Top 10 tips, General ruminations