7 tips for writing great website copy
by Anna Kaine on 20 May 2020
Your website should be your best salesperson. The copy on your site should be clear, communicating quickly and effectively what your business does and how this solves a problem your customer has.
This sounds simple, but it’s harder than it looks. Great writing is concise and has an effortless feel about it. The copy on your site must grab your customers’ attention without shouting. Industry jargon should be kept to a minimum, and your business proposition should be crystal clear. The idea is to strike a balance between professionalism and personality. There are some cardinal rules to bear in mind along with some insider hacks that’ll help you craft compelling copy. Here goes:
You need to think like your target customer to create a site that is engaging for them. Do in-depth research on customer-personas and identify the specific problems your customers will be looking to you to solve. Make sure you have an elevator-pitch, or proposition that you can articulate quickly and simply in plain English. This will help you define your value-add for customers.
Often, in coming up with straplines and propositions to define a business, the starting point is to look at what competitors are saying and rule that out. The problem with this is that in wanting to stand-out and stand apart, your copy can end up being vague, off-message or gimmicky. Try not to pore over what other people have said about themselves and focus instead on what it is you have to say.
Nobody ‘reads’ a website like they read a book or a magazine article. They skim it, looking for key phrases, features and benefits. So, break it up with lots of headlines. Research shows that 55% of all online page views are fleeting. Using click-through rate as a meaningful metric is problematic - it’s lasting attention that counts. In other words, you have a few seconds, at most, to grab a visitor’s attention, and keep them there. The best way to do this is with cleverly crafted subheads and CTA buttons that clearly state the customer benefit, or describe an action. Think: “Double Your Qualified Leads'' or: “Free Performance Review”.
Working with an agency who is experienced in optimised website design helps, too. At ESM Inbound, we’re able to ensure the design of your site makes the hardest-working bits of copy jump out at your customers.
“The only kind of writing is rewriting” is a truism so often-revisited in blogs of this kind, it could be dismissed as a cliché. But Hemmingway’s wisdom is worth remembering. Getting copy right takes time. Don’t expect to dash it off. Often, rewriting involves paring back, simplifying. Brevity is the thing. Check out HubSpot’s list of sites with great copy for inspiration.
As you’re re-writing, scan what you’ve written to ensure there’s no ambiguity, to make sure each sentence is as tight as possible. The language you use should be spare - you want it to work hard for you. Write in short sentences and aim for a tone that has the quality of speech, rather than writing.
Lay it out for your customers upfront. State the benefits of your products and services immediately, then use the rest of the copy to unpack them further. But keep it brief. Avoid lengthy preambles or generic lead-ins about the market. Get to the point whilst you’ve got their attention. You only have one chance.
One common mistake relates to over-personalising copy and content. Sharing personal information on your About Us page, for example (Sam’s alt-folk band, Neil’s semi-professional cycling, Geeta’s sourdough) can feel like oversharing. Think about all your communications from the point of view of your customers. What will they want to see and hear? Most important of all, what questions might they have, and how can you answer them as clearly and concisely as possible?
Sadly, great copy sometimes gets sabotaged. This can happen when senior leaders in an organisation rewrite it at the last minute. Without meaning to, client-side senior managers will pack carefully crafted copy with jargon, business waffle, extraneous detail and worse.
Often, people have ‘hobby-horse’ phrases, favourite clichés that they are wedded to. If you feel yourself tempted to add more words, ask yourself honestly: what is behind the urge? Over-explaining and over-selling are warning signs, and will dilute a punchy message. And writing for business is a skill — one you’re paying an agency for. Consider this: subliminally, a baggy or jargon-packed sentence communicates something to your customer: lack of confidence. This has the opposite effect to the aim of your copy — to establish yourself as a thought leader in your industry and help prospective customers to make a buying decision with confidence.