How to write web copy that inspires action
by Lucy Seymour on 27 May 2020
Writing great copy for your B2B website isn’t just about finely crafted sentences. The most important thing is to keep customer action front of mind as you’re writing. Do you want them to book a meeting? Browse your products page? Engage with you in a live chat? The copy on your site has to work hard: it must be persuasive, nudging your customer towards action, or a handful of desired actions.
To do this effectively, you need to think about copy in an integrated sense – how will a customer feel when she arrives on your landing page after clicking your Google ad? What will her 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 bot chats?
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:
If you can’t answer these six questions simply and concisely, you may need to do some strategic work before you start thinking about copy or site redesign. 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.
Your website should be your best salesperson. Taking up that analogy, your site copy is their sales patter. Think about the times you’ve bought something and interacted with a salesperson IRL. The bad reps are the ones who rely on a script that sounds like an obvious sales pitch. They might over-use your name (“And I know for you, John, that this is a really important purchase, John..”) and big-up the product or service in a way that feels manipulative and, well, fake. The good sales reps are the ones who treat you like an individual human being. They:
Your copy should do the same.
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.
We recently became Drift partners. Drift is a platform that enables businesses to add conversational marketing chatbots to their sites, with minimal fuss. On Drift’s site, a chatbox message pops up for new visitors that simply says: “Hi, checking me out?” It’s funny, lighthearted and engaging and perfectly chimes with their brand. Although this might be too familiar and jokey for you, it gives you an idea of how playful you can get with bot copy.
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.
Offer your customer something that changes their mind. Content that takes received wisdom and challenges it is likely to pique interest. The same goes for site copy. Making it clear that your product or service offers customers a solution that comes at their problem from a different angle makes your approach as much about education as it is about selling. Positioned in this way, you have something the customer wants: perspective that will help them improve or grow.
Spend some time thinking about what the industry givens are in your market and think about the ways your company, product or service is different. Where do you stand apart and what are your reasons for being different? Spelling this out, in simple terms, will help you create a persuasive pitch. You don’t need to use cliched buzzwords like ‘disruptive’ to make your point. Let your perspective speak for itself.
Ask questions, and use ‘you’ and ‘your company’ in your copy when you’re talking to customers. Copy should feel welcoming, inclusive and human. In the B2C world, it’s always been understood that friendly copy, using “You” to talk to the individual customer, is essential. Even print ads from the 19th century do that.
In the B2C world nowadays, most businesses have followed suit. Those who still haven't got the memo on this are like the stick-in-the-mud great aunts of communication, and whilst some overly ‘matey’ language may grate, consider who has the final say on your site copy. You should run it by a range of readers who match the demographic and of your customer base. Don’t rely on, say, your MD, to have the final say just because she did an English degree 30 years ago. If your customers are millenials, make sure you’re talking to them.
Sticking to active rather than passive verbs as much as possible will help your copy feel clear and confident. The Plain English campaign advises aiming for 90% active verbs. Over-reliance on passive verbs will make your copy seem stuffy. So:
“The company was founded in 2000” becomes more engaging when it’s transformed to “We started trading in 2000...”
“Environmental changes have forced us to create new solutions” has none of the power of the active:
“Our innovative solutions to environmental change include...”
Good copy should cut to the chase. It should be optimistic in tone and it should feel dynamic as you’re reading it. You want your customer to come away with a sense of motivation and momentum, and the impression of a product or service that is relevant, effective and future-proof.
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:
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.
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:
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.