Most small businesses face the same shocking realisation at one time or another. They decide to get their first website and then discover that their web developer doesn’t write the words for their website for them.
In fact, the developer expects the small business owner to suddenly become JK Rowling and weave some magic with their words for their new website.
At that point, many of the owners feel they have more in common with “Game of Thrones” George R R Martin – and wish a red wedding like scene would suddenly happen to the poor web developer.
Of course, you could just hire a web copywriter to do it for you (… the writing bit – not the red wedding bit). But, if you are keen for a bit of DIY writing, here are a few tips to get you started.
Start With Your Goals
I am not going to go all Tony Robbins on you here, but before the first pixel is posted and the first word tentatively inked, you need to work out what you want your website to do for you.
Some questions to get you started:
- What actually does your business do? (Don’t laugh. This is the hardest question for any business owner to answer.)
- What makes people call your business?
- What common questions do they ask?
- What issues do they bring to your business that they want fixed?
- How are they feeling when they contact your business?
- Are your best customers young/old; male/female/gender other; in your location/worldwide.
- What do you hope people will do when they get to your website?
Check Out the Competition
Next, put on your Sherlock hat and go exploring through your competitor’s websites across the first three pages of Google. (I also check out competitors in other geographic areas just in case they have better ideas than the locals do.)
Some things to look out for:
- What have your competitors included on their websites and to what depth?
- How have they structured their pages? What is included on each page?
- What sort of images and design have they used?
- What are the word and topic themes they have used across their site?
- Do they offer downloads or other incentives to get people to join their mailing lists?
Run Some Numbers
Next, it’s numbers time. We often are caught up with our whizz -bang services and the funky industry words that we use to talk about our business. In our minds, we imagine the average punter knows exactly what we are talking about, and that everybody uses the same words we do.
Pop over to Google and type in the words you think people are looking for when they think of your business. Check out the listings. Do they look about right or slightly “off”?
I had one client that swore black and blue that his industry words were right. We did a quick check and found that most people using those words were referring to something that we don’t talk about in polite society … and definitely not in front of the children.
If you want to go a bit deeper with your numbers, you can also get a bit fancy and take the Google Adwords keyword planner for a test drive. See what else comes up around those words – and how popular the terms are. It’s not great to hold the top spot in Google for a term that only has two people a year looking for it.
Bottom line is if every person and their Labrador dog calls something related to your business Zot, and they type in Zot when they go looking for you, then by golly you’d better be talking about Zot.
Figure out the words that the common people use – and use them. Don’t try to be all posh, corporate or flowery in your word choices.
Get Your Site Structure Right
Once you have the lingo out of the way, one of the most important things you can do for your clients is to make it easy for them to find things on your site.
Think for a moment about the pile of papers in your in-tray – all fighting for attention and jumbled together. You may know where everything is, but if you ask your admin person or your dearly beloved to find something, they will have to go through every single document trying to track it down (usually muttering under their breath while they are doing it).
Don’t be that person on your website!
Work out what things logically go together. Which topic areas relate to each other and which ones need to stay apart?
I like to do this with a post-it note sort. Stick all the different topics/themes on post it notes and then shuffle them around on a wall until it makes sense.
Then do a reality check. Ask friends, family and tame passers-by “If you were looking for XYZ, would you look under widgets or wodgets?”
Did you notice that we haven’t even got to the writing bit yet?
By now, you should know what you do and the words people use to find it. You should know how your competitors are tackling the same issue. And more importantly, you should know what actions you want people to take when they hit a page on your site.
Now we finally get to the website copy part
Web copywriting has a lot in common with school homework. Remember when your teacher gave out assignments with “I want a 500 word essay on the circulatory system due Friday”? That’s pretty much what you are doing when you are writing web copy.
Here are 7 Tips on How to Write Great Web Copy
- Short sentences & paragraphs.
- Conversational words.
- Correct grammar & spelling.
- Use headlines and sub headlines for readability.
- Write about the reader and not you.
- Have a logical flow of ideas.
- End with an action.
Why the difference? Online people read differently than if they are reading a book or if something is written on paper.
People Don’t Read – They Scan
When people land on your website, they have their radar up, looking to see if you can solve their problem.
They do a quick glance around your site, and unless the thing they are looking for is not only glaring them in the face, it is surrounded by spotlights and a herd of dancing wildebeest, then they hit the back button and disappear into the distance.
People generally give your website copy the once over and then flick back to read key bits that grab their eye in depth.
This means your layout is just as important as your words, which is why you need to:
- Break up text with headlines and sub-headlines.
- Use bullet points.
- Add in visual elements such as photos, lines, arrows etc. to break up the text. (Yes, writing for the web is as much about the visual bits as the word bits).
People Hate Jargon
Most people have a pet hate for big, pompous words and heaps of jargon. Go for everyday English and lose the jargon and technical speak. If you wouldn’t hear the words being used in everyday conversation on the bus, don’t use it in your writing (but use some discretion over the four letter words).
When in doubt, try reading the words out loud. If you stumble over the words or find the words all run together, then take a red pen to the sentence.
While we are on things that make you stumble, leaping from idea to idea with no apparent logic like a two year old on a “Why” kick, is not the way to win clients.
Start with your big idea (just so people know they are in the right place), and then build your thoughts piece by piece to a nice logical conclusion.
Finally, even if you are writing for a convention of psychics, you need to help your readers know what happens next. Make it clear what action you want them to take. The clearer you are, the more likely they will act on it.
Writing for the web is all about making it easy for your potential clients to find you and to understand what you do. Remove anything that is a barrier or clunky in your words and you will increase your calls and conversions.