It’s not what you write, it’s the way that you write it:
Five tips on how to compose “authority” copy
There’s a new book out, called “Nabokov’s favourite word is Mauve.”
Written by Ben Blatt, published by Simon and Schuster, the book highlights some interesting findings derived from a statistical analysis of many famous writers’ words. It got me thinking about the content we use on MedTech websites and news releases. After all, unlike the art of penning a novel, there’s little room for creativity, but plenty of room for description. There’s also little room for hyperbole and no room at all for emotion or entertainment. There’s little pleasure reading a press release for a medical device, and one has to ask why not, if the goal is to engage your audience.
Back to Mr Blatt’s book, starting with a few examples, including Nabokov, with whom I’m sure we’re all familiar(!). It turns out that by combining the incidence of words with their relative rarity elsewhere, Mr Nabokov’s three favourite words are mauve, banal and pun. In contrast (just a bit), E. L. James, of Fifty Shades fame, favours murmurs, hmm, and subconscious.
Aside from words, there are rules too. Like the fact that Jane Austen never used animal similes. So don’t expect any creeping with cat-like stealth when you next bury yourself into Pride and Prejudice. We like this one too: It turns out that Elmore Leonard never used the word suddenly, after having derived this rule for himself in 2001. Tolkein took the opposite road, being number one user of that very word.
Do the same analysis on a slab of MedTech press release and you’ll probably get either randomised, control and trial or safety and efficacy. They might even be length of stay or announced FDA clearance or statistically significant. Certainly no murmurs and little more than dry fact, accompanied of course by a statement from the CEO claiming delight at the news.
Same Old Same Old
Blatt’s book is packed with entertaining examples that will have you grinning with recognition, or surprise. I read it from the perspective of someone who’s been ground down by many years reading and writing copy to describe and promote a medical device or technology. So we thought we’d come up with our own rules to guide the budding copywriter in the medical devices business. While these rules might not deliver sparkling prose and gasps of delight, most importantly they’ll deliver copy that will help you rank highly with search engines. Here are 5 things to consider that might provoke a few thoughts when you’re next faced with a blank page, a few facts and a deadline.
1. Keyword Repetition doesn’t work
The sheer monotony of repetition is such a turn-off that there’s little wonder we rarely get past the headlines. The fact though, is that dry facts and repetition actually work in the same way that boring, tasteless food still fills you up. You don’t have to enjoy it. We’re all conditioned to being coy about making unjustified claims. Consequently MedTech companies steer a careful and rather anodyne course through the minefield. One clumsy trick is the endless repeating of the company or product name: So instead of “Mediwhatever is attending such and such a congress, at which it will be showcasing its Superdooper device,” we get; “Mediwhatever is attending such and such a congress, at which Mediwhatever will be showcasing the Mediwhatever Superdooper device.”
Quite why companies and MedTech copywriters do this parrot routine is beyond me. It’s awkward, unreadable and so obviously self-promoting that any beneficial effect of the constant reminder is replaced by anger that whoever wrote it thinks we’re all stupid. It’s not even as though Google et al like (i.e. favour) this keyword repetition. Once over, companies used to insert ostensibly blank pages into their websites. The white page was, however, covered in one keyword or phrase, in a white font on a white background, because Google searched by keyword/phrase. Not any more. Things have got a lot more sophisticated as Google strives to make sure that the most appropriate pages crop up when you search. After all, it’s in Google’s interest to deliver you of the best content. So, while there still are tricks of the trade, as your spambox full of SEO optimisers will tell you, there’s no substitute for relevant content, presented in the right way.
2. Readability in Device Land
One determinant of how successful you’ll be in getting onto page one of internet searches is the ease of reading. Blatt’s book touches on this by discussing the Flesh-Kincaid readability scoring system. While style and content are key, it’s possible to measure your text according to certain fixed parameters. The Flesch-Kincaid system applies a formula to a text and spits out a grade that describes how readable it is: The more heavy duty the writing, the lower the reading ease score. The lower the score, the better educated you’ll need to be to get much from reading it. In essence it considers the ratio between words and sentences as well as that between syllables and words. Use long words in long sentences and you’ll score low, categorising your hard work as difficult to read. Use short sentences, with words of one syllable and you’ll be categorised as anything up to “Very Easy to Read”. This means it’s easily understood by an average 11 year old student.
Why on earth does this matter, though? Your medical device community is intelligent and expectant that it will be fed big words. Use short words and simple language and you’ll find it hard to look credible in front of someone who uses words like iatrogenic rather than “oops.”
In the real world you really don’t want your sales specialist to talk about the front right side of the patient’s right knee rather than the antero-lateral aspect. Your credibility in the surgeon’s brain would drop markedly, which is bad. You don’t need to understand transactional analysis to know that a degree of matching, or at least speaking the same language, is important. It’s part of how you build a relationship.
It’s equally important on your website or in your blog post, but this is where it gets tricky. Your brain tells you to use the same big words and long sentences. However, search “readability” on Google and you’ll be buried under the weight of companies telling you that good readability correlates with high search engine ranking. So aim for the right balance.
3. Don’t use big words? But this is Medical Stuff! We only use big words!
The conclusion has to be that online language needs to be moderated, freeing it from jargon and trying hard to simplify it, all within reason.
Remember one more thing too. People typically stay on websites for a handful of seconds and about three clicks. You may well have a lot to say about your product, but it seems the world has a shorter attention span than you’d like. You therefore have to adapt your content accordingly. Of course you don’t have to write like a children’s author, but keeping it simple is worth a thought as you launch into your exposition. In fact, it’s a great skill and a useful exercise to edit your flowery copy down to the bare bones. They say your mission statement should be a one line affair: Same principle applies.
4. Less is more, when it comes to the syllable count
So how do you face the tricky task of writing about your complicated concept in a way that gets you more traffic? Google does rank on readability, so how do you stay readable while not dumbing it down in front of your audience? I’d say change your mental approach: Rather than trying to use multi-syllabic words to look clever, you should actively try not to. By all means throw in a few to make the reader see that you know what you’re talking about, but don’t soup it up, just because you can. Also, if you need to use 5 syllable words, which we all do in the medical business, at least don’t use single sentence paragraphs that are five lines deep. Read it out to yourself and if you run out of puff, chop it up.
5. You don’t have to be a slave to simplicity
After all, that’s what you are most likely to write about. And most of these words are unavoidable; some are even relatively short on the syllable count. The structure you use might always follow roughly the same format, but your audience will glean more from it if you focus on reading ease. And that will see you gain online authority status, higher rankings, more traffic, more leads and more customers. Copywriting for online content is undoubtedly a skill, but there are many tools out there to guide you. Develop that skill and you’ll win more friends.
So now you want to generate copy for a press release, a news item, social media use or your website. If you want help from people who speak your language, you could always ask us. At Hill Woods Medical Media Ltd. we combine years of experience of the internet with even more years in the medical device industry.
And before you submit this block of text to your chosen readability indicator, it scores 58.7, which makes it “fairly difficult to read.” That means you must have done quite well at school to have got this far.