People who come to your website expect good web copy, and it's important you give them at least that. But amazing web copy can win new customers, and convert existing customers into raving fans. And it's not as hard as you might think.
This article assumes you've mastered the basics and written some pretty good web copy for your site. (If you haven't done that yet, see 10 Quick Tips on Writing Great Web Copy.) Everything is functioning as it should, and your copy is clear and understandable. But there's more. Your copy can be the difference between a new raving fan and a casual click away to your competitor.
How can you take your web copy from good to amazing? It's not rocket science, just do this:
1. Write scannable content
People landing on your web page haven't come to read a novel; they've come to see if you have what they're looking for. They expect scannable content, and you can provide that with clear headings and subheadings, short paragraphs, lots of white space and plenty of quality images. Give them what they want and they will stay longer, and will be more likely to do what you want them to do.
2. Put the most important information first
Write your content in a simple pyramid – much like journalists do when reporting the news. Start with the big facts: who, what, where, when and why. And then follow with supporting and persuasive information.
3. Finish with a CTA
What action do you want your reader to take from here? Don't leave them to mill about like cattle – give them something to do and make it very clear. Want them to sign up to your mailing list? Buy something? Read more? Tell them, and they will be much more likely to do it than if you leave them to guess.
4. Keep it simple, stupid
Write short, simple sentences that get to the point. If you need to provide background, add links to another page. Don't be too clever in your use of language because you will lose people. People don't like to have to think too hard when scanning web pages – they want to be spoon-fed information.
A good base rule is to write like you're writing for a 12 year old. It's also useful to use the words you know people are searching for. These are the words people are familiar and comfortable. If a user is looking for cheap flights, they will be scanning for those words. Don't say ‘cost-effective' or ‘value for money' when ‘cheap' is what people want to see.
5. Know your audience
Who is reading your site? What is their age, job, geographic region, family situation, favourite Dr Who? What are their pain points, and what can you do to alleviate those? The better you know your user, the more able you are to speak directly to them. A targeted message for your demographic will take you a whole lot further than a generic message designed to appeal to everyone. You can speak in a tone they feel comfortable with, you can answer questions you know they will have, you can lead them to actions you know they want to take.
6. Engage your user
It's a fine line you want to walk here. You can't ask your reader to think too hard, or they will click away, but you want to draw your reader in and get them involved in the conversation. Prompt them to think about what you're saying and how it applies to them. Speak in the second person (‘you') so you are speaking straight to them. Ask them questions and talk about how what you're saying will help them in their lives. Take your flat prose and turn it into a conversation between two people.
7. Use active language
Active language is clear and easy to read. Passive language is clunky and cumbersome (and yet governments continue their long love affair with it). The key to using active language is to have your subject doing the verb. For example:
I heard it through the grapevine NOT It was heard by me through the grapevine.
Passive voice isn't always wrong – there can be times when it is the most appropriate choice. But if you notice passive voice creeping into your text, review it and ask yourself if there is a clearer way to present your thoughts.
8. Skip unnecessary words
As moving as your poetic description of your factory floor may be, it's not why anyone is on your site. They want facts and benefits. The more unnecessary words you include, the more likely they are to click away to a competitor who gives them what they want in a clear, concise (but warm) way. Consider whether you need those adjectives and adverbs. Sometimes they add something necessary, but most of the time they don't.
5 words you can often cut without losing meaning are:
9. Build trust
Building trust is key to your reader believing what you say about your business. To build trust:
- ensure you are factual and accurate, and verify claims you make with links to data or quotes by trusted authorities.
- only include data that is relevant
- show your customers how you are protecting their privacy
- keep your content current
- publish your contact details prominently so users know who is behind your site
- spell-check everything
- invite your readers to report errors, and then fix them
- be generous with your knowledge – give it away on your site.
10. Help search engines find your content
There are tweaks you can make to your text that will make it easier for search engines to find your site. These include:
- organising your content so it's easy and logical to navigate
- using hyperlinks to other articles on your website and to other helpful sites
- doing keyword research to determine what keywords people are likely to use to find your content, and then using those keywords, where they are appropriate, within your content – paying particular attention to titles, headings and your lead paragraph
- providing alt text descriptions for your images (it helps Google to understand what those images mean).
Cover off these 10 points and your copy will more engaging, and more likely to win new customers and keep your existing ones.