In this instalment of Words that Bite, I look at how important writing style is for professional service firm websites.
Many professional services firms are good at ensuring that the look of their website reflects their brand. This is obviously important, because it is the look of the website that gives people a glimpse into your firm and how you operate. From that crucial first impression, a potential client makes assumptions about a particular firm, whether it is a firm of accountants, lawyers, engineers or architects. Subconsciously, a client might ask these kinds of questions:
While the style and design of the website are important, an equally important aspect, which often seems to be overlooked when websites are put together, is the style in which the copy is written and the role the written word plays in attracting clients.
Few people realise that the words on a website are as important as how the site looks.
Because it is through the words on the site that potential clients learn about your firm. Yes, it is these little critters made up of letters that propel people into reading more and finding out exactly what you can offer them.
In short, even if your website looks great, you aren’t going to hold a potential client’s interest if your copy is boring or difficult to read. You have eight seconds to attract the attention of anyone who lands on your website. You’ll lose them if you hit them with words that are dull, because you won’t persuade them to read on for further information.
When it comes to copy for any business website, you have two choices:
First, you can hire a copywriter.
Second, you can write the copy yourself.
If you hire a copywriter, I would suggest that you make sure whomever you hire is willing to take the time to do the research and to understand your brand, so that the copy fits in with your firm’s image. You should also be prepared to spend time briefing your copywriter properly.
However, if you are going to write your own copy, here are my tips.
Often, most of the energy needed to create a website goes into the design, and the copy becomes an afterthought.
This is a mistake.
Drafting copy for a website involves an incredible amount of time and effort. In fact, writing copy for a website will probably take you longer than working with your designer/developer on the look and structure of the website. You may need several drafts to produce the best possible copy.
One of the most common problems with website copy is a lack of consistency.
Why is this a problem?
If website copy is written in a range of styles, it dilutes the branding and sends out confused messages to your potential clients. Although they might not be able to put their finger on what is wrong, they will sense that something isn’t quite right and may lose interest.
This often happens if the various sections of the website are written by different people. Therefore, even if the first draft of the copy needs to be written by different people, I suggest you appoint one person to ensure that the copy is consistent in style.
For example, nothing looks more amateurish than a website with the bios for its professional staff written in 200 different styles.
Another problem with website copy for professional services firms is that it tends to be a bit dull.
I know it can be a challenge to make copy interesting when you are selling a firm of lawyers, accountants or engineers, but you need to try to express what you are offering potential clients in a way that makes them want to keep reading. (This can be a little easier for architects because, due to the nature of the profession, there is more room to be creative and even edgy.)
For lawyers, accountants and engineers, the answer lies in focusing on what makes you different from your competitors – that is, you need to explain to your potential clients exactly what you can do for them. A large number of professional services firms spend too much time rabbiting on about themselves. All this does is cause anyone reading their website copy to fall asleep, or click elsewhere in search of something more interesting.
The trick with preparing copy for professional services firms is to make it as interesting and useful as possible without it becoming cheesy. I think most lawyers and accountants would agree that the traditional aggressive tactics that copywriters working in mainstream advertising use don’t necessarily work for professional services firms. However, this means that lots of professional services firms rely on very dull copy.
The way to come up with high-quality copy is to focus on your firm’s unique selling point (USP).
One of the most important but often forgotten things about website copy is that the style in which it is written should match the firm’s brand.
This is a common vice with professional services firms’ websites – the copy on them doesn’t match their brand and the design of the website.
I call it the ‘Cate Blanchett/Andrew Upton syndrome’ and I should preface this analogy with a BIG caveat. Personally, I think that Cate Blanchett and Andrew Upton seem like a lovely couple and am quite convinced that if it weren’t for Andrew, Cate might have been sucked into the vacuous black hole that is Hollywood and currently live her life at the mercy of the paparazzi. I also suspect that if it weren’t for Andrew, Cate wouldn’t have ended up running the Sydney Theatre Company for six years. She has hinted that if it weren’t for the time she spent working in the theatre, she wouldn’t have produced the performance she did in Blue Jasmine. And if she hadn’t produced that performance, she wouldn’t now be in possession of a shiny golden statuette in honour of it. Obviously, the match between Cate and Andrew is a match made in heaven, both personally and professionally.
However, most people would agree that Cate Blanchett’s and Andrew Upton’s personas on the red carpet are very different. While Cate comes across as elegant and the ultimate fashionista, Andrew tends to look a little rumpled and out-of-place. In fact, he disappears into the background (sensible man). Obviously, this is fine on the red carpet because who cares? Also, it is endearing that Andrew would turn up to such an event to support his wife, because I get the impression he’d rather be sitting in a rehearsal room at the Sydney Theatre Company, or working on his latest adaptation of a classic play, than putting on a penguin suit and facing the flashbulbs of 200 photographers desperate to get a shot of his wife.
That said, when it comes to a website, you don’t want yours to look like Cate Blanchett and Andrew Upton on the red carpet. You don’t want the design to overshadow the copy. The two should match – a bit like Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, who look like they were born to walk the red carpet together.
If the copy on a website doesn’t seem to fit the look of the website or the firm’s branding, the site isn’t doing what it should to draw in clients.
For example, if a firm is going for a funky look, the copy should be equally interesting. On the other hand, if the firm is trading on its conservative image, the copy should give a reader the impression that it is a safe pair of hands, with no surprises.
Finally, if you write the copy yourself, make sure you get it professionally copyedited and proofread.
It is amazing what a good copyeditor can do to improve your prose. Not only can they help ensure the style is consistent, they can tighten things so that a paragraph that originally was a bit clunky becomes as smooth as silk.
It is also important to hire a proofreader, who can cast their beady eye across the text. Nothing looks worse than a website with typos and grammatical errors, and it is a fact that it is difficult to see your own mistakes.
If you are running a professional services firm and you’ve decided to write the copy for the firm’s website in-house, make sure you do the following:
Do you need help with your website copy? The Pink Rottweiler likes nothing more than preparing copy that reflects your firm’s brand. If you would like to chat about your firm’s website copy, call the Pink Rottweiler on +61 (0)409 609 903 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.