[Updated] 7+ tips for writing great website copy

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:

1. Get telepathic

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.

2. Be wary of being dictated to by the opposition

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.

3. Create headline hooks

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.

4. Remember less is more

“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.

5. Be bold with your content

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.

6. Don’t over-personalise

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?

7. Don’t let egos edit!

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.

Moreover, editing isn’t just about grammar and spelling. And nowadays, apps like Grammarly do most of that for you. The editing process is essential to help you hone your messaging, making sure that you communicate as clearly as possible, inspire customer action, and create an identity for your brand through your copy. As you edit you should:

  • Check for ambiguity: Is your point crystal clear or could a customer misinterpret something?
  • Check for irritation: Are you creating a frustrating experience for customers by refusing to answer their questions?
  • Do a tick test to check any facts or jargon. Comb your copy slowly, ‘ticking off’ each check as you work through it.

Updated for 2021 🎉

We've updated this blog post for 2021 with bonus tips for creating great website copy!

8. Align your ad copy with your website copy and vice versa

To do this effectively, you need to think about copy in an integrated sense – how will a customer feel when they arrive on your landing page after clicking your Google ad? What will their first experience of your ‘shop window’ be, and does your landing page deliver the ad’s promise? Is the personality of your business communicated consistently across your ads, content, site copy, social media and chatbots?

9. Brand identity includes your writing style 

Before you begin to think about the copy on your site, you need to be sure of your brand. In particular, you should be able to answer these questions:

  • What is your core proposition?
  • What is your brand vision?
  • What are your brand values?
  • What is your brand personality?
  • Why should the customer buy your product or service?
  • Why should your customer believe what you have to say?

If you can’t answer these six questions simply and concisely, you may need to do some strategic work before you start thinking about website copy or site redesign. If you can’t articulate your brand to yourselves, how will you do so to your customers? 

At ESM Inbound, we often find that clients need a few initial coaching and strategy sessions before the brief for the site redesign and copy is finalised.

10. Engage your customers directly using chatbots 

Give your customer a reason to respond or interact now, not later. If you have bots and live chat on your site (and at ESM Inbound, we’re convinced you really should), make sure you have them optimised on the right pages. Think about the tone of voice your bot uses, and how this reflects the tone of voice of your site copy. It doesn’t need to be the same, it is fine to make it chattier, for example, but it should be in keeping.

Craft a simple, helpful message to get the chat started, and check the bot messages (whether automated, or live chat) are in keeping with your brand. Some training for your sales team may be important to ensure that any live chatting they do with customers is (broadly) in keeping with your tone of voice guidelines.

11. Try two or three copy ‘routes’

When a business engages a professional copywriter, or copywriting agency, they will take a brief and create two or three ‘routes’ the copy can take. This is the most creative phase of the process and helps copywriters litmus test their ideas. They will create some test copy sometimes called a ‘messaging hierarchy’.

This is usually a mixture of headlines, straplines, and body copy which they will then run by their client to see which route feels right. Sometimes an agency may help the client test the different routes with customers.

Three ‘routes’ are common and are likely to include:

  • The safe route: Likely to be closest to the existing site copy if the client doesn’t want a radical change.
  • The fresh route: This is likely to be the agency’s preferred route, which factors in current trends in B2B copywriting across the board (considering your site in context of competitor copy). It may be bolder than the safe option, with more of a playful or personality-led concept.
  • The wildcard: This may be a strong-creative route that pushes the boundaries more. It is unusual for companies to go for this, but there may be some key elements of the language and style of the wildcard route that could be incorporated into the safe or fresh route.

For some businesses who need to appeal to radically different customer personas, adopting a combination approach may work, where existing customers, or investors get one set of messaging and prospects get another, for example. Once you have decided the direction you feel is right for your business, the copywriter or agency will work up the rest of the site copy based on your preference.

And finally...

Before you publish any content, always ensure it has been proof-read by at least one person who hasn't been involved in the process of creating it. Having a fresh pair of eyes on your copy is the surest way to ensure you will catch any typos or clumsy bits of copy — when you're working on a piece of content, you can become blind to these errors.

Most importantly, having someone read your copy objectively is crucial to ensuring that it is bang-on message: the reader should be able to tell you exactly what the desired action is. And if they can't, it may be time to go back to the drawing board.