How to write content for your website that people will read
Anyone can have a website, but not everyone can write good copy.
Writing simple effective copy is much harder than it looks, but it can be learned.
(copy = the words used on your website to describe products, services and content)
That doesn’t mean your copy needs to be short. If you are describing a product or service you will need to make all the statements that need to be made. Make sure you use proper sentences and grammar, but don’t waffle. Waffling is the number 1, 2 and 3 bane of all copy writing. That more than anything else will get your suddenly bored reader hitting the back button so fast they won’t even know they’ve done it.
Keep it Simple
Simple statements often work best. Steve Krug wrote a great book about human-computer interaction and web usability called ‘Don’t Make Me Think’. Even just from the title: don’t try to be too creative or clever as this can require people to think harder than they are prepared to. People using the web are looking for information or entertainment so give them what they want. Don’t make them think too hard.
The thing to be aware of is that nobody actually reads anymore. People scan. They glance. On any given webpage there is a lot of competition for our attention, and patience is not a virtue found online very much. With one click your readers can leave, and the first place they will go is straight to your competitor. They don’t have to read the whole thing you’ve beautifully written, and they don’t. Research suggests that only 16% of people read web pages word-for-word (source: Jakob Nielsen’s Alertbox).
How do you write for scanners?
• Bullet points
• Meaningful sub-headings
• Short sentences and paragraphs
• Stay on point.
Don’t treat your web visitors as if they were academics who routinely read complex text. Write for lazy people by using simple words and phrases. Avoid jargon and repetition.
• “We are
Enthusiastic.” “We are keen.”
• “It’s your
opportunity.” “It’s your time.”
Participate in.” “Try out.”
• “A great
achievement.” “A great win.”
Write a first draft then edit it. Chip away at unnecessary words, and clarify what you’re trying to say. Make it shorter, more engaging and more persuasive.
Visual appeal is very important. Too many blocks of straight text will have people pushing the yawn button. There are a few different ways of going about it, and it depends on the context, but consider having a visual for every 2 paragraphs (like what we have NOT done here). Consider larger font sizes for the most important points and try out bold, italic and CAPITAL text to catch the scanning eye. Adding images or videos can quickly help visitors ensure they are in the right place whilst they scan your copy. Don’t make it too crazy though. There is a fine line.
Know Your Target
Before you write anything, get a sense of who your reader is. Who are you writing for? what is their age, gender, employment, education, income and lifestyle. The more you know the better. If you’re able to visualise your reader your writing will be more persuasive and accessible not just for who you are writing for, but for everyone.
For example, Innocent are a UK based company who make smoothies and juices. Their language style and tone is straightforward and simple.
Their engaging and easy manner begins in their website navigation. ‘Things we make’ is a simplified alternative for ‘Products’.
Focus on the reader and how your service or product can solve their problem. Take each feature of the product and translate it in to a benefit for your reader.
For example, rather than saying “Our product does this and is great”, think more about “For those times when you need a good lift/change/relief, our product can help”. This helps the reader, and gives them what they need. It forces your writing to put the customer first.
Your copy should result in a ‘call to action’. For example, buttons such as ‘read more’, ‘buy now’, ‘call us’, or ‘click here to find out more’ can be the next step in the buying process.
Don’t try to ‘be a writer’. All too often people write as if they are trying to ‘put on airs’. That is: to appear smarter than they really are; to be more sophisticated. Don’t worry about all that. If you write from a genuine and consistent place it will come across.
Lastly, don’t be disappointed when what you write doesn’t come out perfect the first time. It’s an old but true adage that creativity is 10% inspiration, and 90% perspiration. When what you write doesn’t come out exactly right, take a break, then come back and refine it. What’s it lacking? What has it got too much of? Keep doing that until you get the result you’re after. If you persevere, you’ll get there.