Guidelines for writing web content

You’ve heard the phrase about online marketing: “Content is King”. Content usually (though not always) requires writing. Writing for your website is different to other styles of writing. It’s different to writing a brochure or sales catalog. It’s definitely different to writing a book. It’s also very different to writing an essay. So just because someone can write doesn’t mean they can write well for the web. It’s a skill. That’s why there are professional copywriters.

 

Copywriting isn’t just about good spelling and grammar (in fact some copywriters I know aren’t good with such trivialities). It’s about getting your point across clearly, so that readers can easily understand exactly what you offer. Hopefully succinctly.

 

Most importantly, it’s about persuasive, engaging text that makes the reader stick around and follow through.

 

web copy word cloud
Caption this: If Content is King, Copywriting is …?

 

How to Write:

 

Online copy is consumed more quickly than in print media. You only have a matter of seconds to capture someone’s attention when they arrive at your website. Have you heard (or noticed it in your own behaviour) that people scan a webpage in an “F” pattern, paying more attention to the top left corner and down the left hand side of the page? Research suggests that people read less than 30% of words on a webpage.

 

  • Bear that in mind and open with a catchy headline that explains what’s coming.
  • Give them what they want up front. Quick, quick, quick. It’s called the ‘inverted pyramid’. (Think how newspaper articles attract attention and summarise the main point up front, compared to your old school essays which you bulked up with detail and ended with a climactic conclusion.)
  • Keep your paragraphs short. Bite-size pieces of info are easy to digest.
  • Use heading styles, bold highlights and bullet point lists to help them scan for the most important info.
  • Highlight your Call to Action. Make it obvious what they should do next (fill in a form, or click to buy, to contact you, to go to another page…)
  • If you need to convey a lot of information (to that small percentage of readers who want it), you can start with the main points and add a link to “read more…”.

 

You’ve probably also heard, especially for blog-writing, that you should “write as you would speak”. This means using less formal language and even colloquialisms. It doesn’t mean writing jargon. It doesn’t mean you should waffle on and use “um” and “like” to excess (eg. “and I, um, like, couldn’t believe he would say that…”). If it makes it easier for your writing to flow, then write as you would speak – but then go back and edit, edit, edit.

 

What to Write:

 

Write FOR your clients, not AT them. It’s not as simple as telling them what you offer. Your products and/or services need to be framed with WIIFM (What’s In It For Me) in mind – “Me” being your readers.

 

  • Explain the benefits rather than the features, eg. “Get your complete new website in 2 weeks”, instead of “We ensure fast turnaround”. (PS. This is a purely hypothetical example…) Focus on the ones that really matter to your audience.
  • Turn your phrases into questions that your readers might have. Then answer them.
  • Consider what objections they might raise. Then answer them.

 

Tip: Run your text through the “We We” calculator to see how much you’ve focused on your reader.

 

Then tell them what to do next. A Call to Action (or CTA) should be clear – “Sign up now at the early-bird rate of $97. (Price will be $197 after April 30)”

 

Don’t try and cram everything you want to say onto one page (even if your design uses parallax scrolling). Follow the standard conventions for webpages – Products/Services, About, Contact, FAQ. People are used to navigating to these areas for certain information.

 

Think carefully about what to include on each page. Don’t get repetitive, but include internal navigation links where it makes sense to reference information on another page.

 

Who are you writing for?

 

Write for your readers rather than for search engines. Use phrases that they would use when inquiring of their friends (“Do you know someone who can help write my website content?”) It’s always best to write for your ideal clients, using language they would use and understand. That way your copy is likely to match what they type into a search engine anyway. Voila! And when they do find you, they’ll hang around because the writing appeals to them and flows well.

 

You can go back through it a second time and tweak your keywords and phrases, perhaps just by using the objects more often than “its” or “this”.

 

Remember SEO is about “optimising for search engines” rather than “writing for search engines”.

 

Writing in plain English is best for both search and readers. I saw a great example of this lately:

 

No business really likes to say their product is “cheap” and will often use “cost effective” or “affordable” instead. But nobody uses those words when they search! People are looking for a “cheap website”, not a “cost effective website”.

 

Who should do your writing

 

Sure you can write your own copy. And you might do a pretty good job of it. But to take it to another level (like, “wow!” level) you’ll be amazed what a good copywriter can do. Just as you might do your own bookkeeping when you start out, and then outsource it to a professional as you get busier, consider engaging a professional to update and refresh your web copy once your business starts making money.

 

Some web designers (like li’l ol’ me) can write your copy as part of the design process. (I am not a professional copywriter but you can judge for yourself from this blog and my website – be kind!)

 

Even if you choose to employ a copywriter and a web designer, make sure you get them in touch with each other because the copy definitely has an effect on the site design (both the amount, and the structure of the content). You don’t want the design to provide a narrow text column and then find you need to put 400 words in it. It’s better to have the copy before the design, but best of all is a co-creation process with the designer and copywriter working together from the beginning.

 

If you want to DIY, look at skilling up via copyblogger.com or even attend a 1-day session at Sydney Uni (see http://cce.sydney.edu.au/course/EWWB for details).

 

After all, it would be a shame to have a great website design and not back it up with great content.

 

Author: RobynRHD

I’m a small business web design specialist with interests in social media and other online marketing methods. As my blog intro states: “Steering small businesses in the right direction with what I hope is practical, realistic advice and useful tips, amidst the constantly changing noise and hype. I’d like to help you sort out what you really need and how to go about it.”
I’m a proud Aussie, living in Sydney, and an avid fan of Column 8 in the Sydney Morning Herald.

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