In this instalment of Words that Bite, I examine how to write website copy.
When businesses create websites, there is one element that is usually neglected or pushed to one side – writing the copy.
Most people focus on how their website will look, rather than what it is going to tell customers or clients. Although the design of the site is important, you can’t afford to neglect the content.
You have eight seconds to grab someone’s attention once they land on your home page. You may seduce them with your design, but they will very probably go elsewhere if they don’t quickly grasp what your business can do for them.
Ultimately, the words you use will determine whether a browser decides to:
Yes, it is the humble written word that is going to push customers and clients through your sales-conversion funnel.
So, if copy is a crucial part of every website, how do you write the kind of copy that is going to shine, and help you sell your product or service?
Here’s my guide to writing copy that will pack a punch.
It sounds obvious, but most people who ring me wanting help with their website copy can’t answer this question:
Most often, they mumble something about the importance of having an online presence.
However, these days a web presence isn’t enough for businesses. You need to ask yourself exactly what your website should be doing for your business.
Knowing your website’s purpose is crucial because this shapes not only the structure of your website, but the tone you use to market your business.
Here’s an example:
If you have a website where you sell cheap, trendy shoes, it will have a completely different flavour, or tone, from that of a website for a small commercial legal practice advising small to medium-sized enterprises on business issues.
The website selling cheap shoes might be loud and splashy and offer lots of specials, while the website for the small commercial legal practice will probably be more understated and talk about the high-quality, yet reasonably priced, services it offers its clients.
The trick is to find the right tone.
One of the problems I often see is websites focusing too much on the ‘us’ factor, rather than the ‘you’ factor.
By this, I mean that there is way too much talk about the business itself and no real explanation of what the business can do for its customers and clients.
Most often, the home page of this sort of website is splattered with a lengthy description of the company, and/or a mission statement. The ‘About’ page contains a lengthy history of the company or firm, or a biography of the founder.
I can understand why businesses fall into this trap. It makes sense to talk about you, and demonstrates that your company or firm is a respectable operation with a solid set of objectives.
However, the problem with this approach is that it ignores what drives a customer or client.
Customers and clients have one overriding concern: What can this product or service do for me?
They are not interested in your business vision. They are interested in what you can do for them.
They want to know whether you are selling them a product or service they want or need.
For this reason, you need to map out exactly what the products or services you sell can do for your customers and clients. You need to state this on your home page, so it is crystal clear at the outset.
Before you start writing the copy for your website, you need to take off your business owner hat and put on your customer/client hat.
This means that you have to stop thinking like someone who knows a vast amount about the product or service you sell, and start thinking like a potential customer.
A useful exercise is to sit down and imagine your typical customer:
If you start writing for this person instead of for yourself, your website copy will have the right focus.
Another useful exercise in getting the right tone for your website copy is to think of your product or service as a ‘character’, rather than as a ‘thing’.
Sometimes it can help to ask yourself the question: if my product or service were a celebrity, who would it be?
I’ve always thought that the ultimate Pink Rottweiler would be the actress Helen Mirren. When you see her, she looks like any attractive Hollywood actress; but when she is interviewed, it is obvious she has a way with words.
When you are overly familiar with a product or service, you can be reluctant to state the obvious because you don’t want to insult your customers or clients. However, when it comes to copywriting, it is very important to work on the assumption that a potential customer or client knows nothing about your product or service.
For this reason, you should state the obvious on your website. Don’t leave that potential customer or client wondering. Again, make everything crystal clear.
Since most business owners fall into the trap of talking about themselves, and assuming that the ‘features’ and ‘benefits’ (to employ the terminology used in the advertising world) of their product or service are clear, they forget to explain what their product or service can do for their customers or clients.
Here I am referring to how purchasing the product or service is going to make a customer feel and, to be honest, we are dealing with some pretty basic emotions:
These are the types of emotions that drive sales.
Failing to identify the ‘benefits’ of a product or service is the single-biggest trap you can fall into when it comes to creating content for a website, and may explain why your website is doing little to boost your sales.
For example, if you are selling cheap, comfortable shoes that are also stylish, tell your customers that these well-priced shoes will not only make them look great, their feet will love them as well. Finally, point out that your customers will save money by buying your shoes.
When creating copy for each page of your website, you should formulate a coherent argument why a potential customer or client should purchase your product or service.
One of the most important tasks of any copywriter is to identify the POD of the product or service they are trying to sell. The POD is crucial because it distinguishes your product from your competitors’.
Once you have identified the POD for your product or service, you need to infuse the words on your website with the qualities that make it different. In fact, you should make sure the distinctiveness of your product or service infuses the entire website – the design, the words and the branding.
Ideally, your website should be a breath of fresh air for anyone who visits it.
At the same time, it shouldn’t be so distinctive that it appears peculiar or eccentric.
Ultimately, you need to do something interesting within the basic rules of websites.
You should never revert to tricks to sell a product. They don’t work. Customers and clients aren’t stupid, so, even if you get away with it once, they won’t come back.
If you can’t find a genuine reason why people would buy your product, perhaps you need to re-think whether you should be selling your product. In short, if you aren’t selling quality, perhaps you should re-think what you are selling.
When you write your website copy, a good rule is to keep it succinct. The web is not the place for flowery language, mainly because people scan web pages rather than read them.
The following rules are a useful guide:
The job of a novelist is to keep people reading to the next page. The objective of any website copywriter is to keep people reading until the next line. It is a tough call, but is an important goal because it can mean the difference between a website that herds people through your sales-conversion funnel and one that is merely an online ornament.
One valuable technique when writing website copy is to break up the text with strong headlines and bullet points. It makes the text easier to read.
You have a better chance of persuading someone to read the body text if the headline grabs their attention.
Since most people scan website copy, bullet points are useful because they make text easily digestible.
In a previous blog entry, I talked about the importance of keywords in any SEO strategy.
However, it is very important to remember when you write copy that you are writing for living, breathing human beings, meaning you need to avoid stuffing your text with keywords. Obviously you should keep them in mind, but your overall concern should be to write copy that:
Ideally, on every page of your website you should tell your customers or clients what they should do if they want your product or service.
If we go back to the example of the retailer selling reasonably priced, funky shoes, then, on each page, there should be a ‘Buy Now’ button or an ‘Add to Shopping Cart’ button, to enable a customer to buy the shoes as quickly and easily as possible.
If you are selling a service, your contact details should be included on each page. You would be amazed at how many sites advertising professional services fail to do this, and, furthermore, bury them in some obscure spot on the website. Trust me, there is nothing more irritating for a potential client than having to dig for your contact details.
It is also helpful to include an ‘offer’ on your website. There is an old law in advertising land that says people are more likely to respond to a good offer than to anything else.
Offers can include:
David Ogilvy, a legend in the world of advertising, came up with a template for the ideal print advertisement:
This is also the ideal template for a web page.
The golden rule is not to cram your website with text. When in doubt, cut, cut, cut.
Most businesses approach a web designer before they have written their website copy. Yes, this makes sense in one way, because all your instincts tell you that it is better to have an outline before you fill in the details.
However, I think this approach is flawed.
Building a website is easier if you prepare your copy before you approach a designer. I also think it makes the designer’s life easier because they can get a real sense from the copy of whatever product or service you are selling. In short, they will get a sense of the tone and flavour of your business before they design your site. Ultimately, this should lead to the creation of a website that provides an accurate reflection of your business.
It is always smart to retain the services of both a copy editor and a proofreader to review any material you intend to publish online. Nothing looks worse than website copy littered with typos and grammatical errors. It’s also important to remember that the Google algorithm can detect quality of the writing on your website. In short, if you care about your Google ranking, then, you should also care about the spelling, punctuation and grammar on your website.
As you build your website, don’t forget about the content. The words you use are crucial in ensuring that your online home isn’t just a shell but a living, breathing sales machine.
While you are writing your copy, follow these basic rules:
That way, you’ll have a better chance of creating a website that isn’t just an ornament but is a working tool that generates sales.
In the next instalment of Words that Bite, I investigate how to write copy for law firm websites.
Are you too busy running your business to write your website content? Would you like someone to write it for you? If so, call the Pink Rottweiler on +61 (0)409 609 903 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.