Guest post by Nick Usborne -

This is a tricky question.

Ask print direct response copywriters if they are held accountable, and they'll say yes. That was my own life for 15 years. I wrote direct mail packages and was judged not on my past reputation, but on the performance of each piece I wrote, one mailing at a time.

And with the direct mail clients I was working with, I didn't have a problem with that.

I'll tell you why.

Because I always worked with professional direct response designers.

I always worked with companies which knew their audience.

I always worked with companies which knew which lists to use, buy or rent.

I always worked with companies which know how to test, and understood the difference between valid data and invalid data.

In other words, I was working in a mature industry, as part of a sophisticated, knowledgeable direct marketing team.

But what about writers and copywriters online?

Things start to get fuzzy online.

I have written copy for clients, and then seen my copy completely compromised by a design that gets in the way of the message.

I have written landing pages based on a particular pay per click campaign, aligned with particular keywords and ads, and then found out that traffic was being sent to the site from a completely different source.

I have seen marketing decisions being made on the basis of a level of traffic that is far too low to provide statistically valid data.

Whining? Not really.

Maybe I whine sometimes. And sometimes I am quite willing to accept that the copy I wrote didn't, in fact, outperform what was there before. No copywriter can deliver a winner every single time.

But when it comes to being held responsible for conversion rates from a web page or sequence of pages I have written, I do take a close look at other factors which may have influenced the results.

Still on the path to maturity.

When I was writing direct mail, I was confident in the fact that the list, the offer, the design, the format and the copy were all optimized and aligned with each other.

In the online world, I don't think we have reached that level of sophistication or maturity yet. Some companies have, but many have not.

I still see pages where the copy is great, but the design works against them. And vice versa.

I also come across instances where pages have been designed and written without a clear understanding of the people who will visit.

And of course, a great landing page can deliver hot prospects to a sequence of poorly designed shopping cart pages which then butcher final conversion rates.

In other words, when it comes to online conversion rates and page performance, many companies are still relatively unsophisticated.

And when so many variables exist outside of my own control, as a copywriter, I study results very carefully before jumping to conclusions about my own performance.

I certainly make myself accountable for the quality of my writing. But when it comes to final conversion rates, I also know there are other factors over which I have little or no control.

Nick Usborne is a copywriter, author and speaker. You can access all his newsletter articles on writing for the web at You'll find additional articles and resources on his separate site for freelance copywriters,

Discuss this article in the Small Business Ideas forum.
November 28, 2006

Jennifer Laycock is the Editor of Search Engine Guide, the Social Media Faculty Chair for MarketMotive and offers small business social media strategy & consulting. Jennifer enjoys the challenge of finding unique and creative ways to connect with consumers without spending a fortune in marketing dollars. Though she now prefers to work with small businesses, Jennifer’s clients have included companies like Verizon, American Greetings and Highlights for Children.

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