Writing for your website is different to writing for print because people read differently online.
Imagine website copy as a conversation, rather than a lecture.
Website copy has to look different and work differently because visitors scan rather than read from top to bottom. Their eyes jump around from headline to headline, while they scroll, hover and click.
All your website copy needs to let your visitor learn something or do something.
Attention span can be as little as two seconds when someone first lands on a page, so your copy has to engage straight away.
Follow these 10 tips to improve your own website copy.
1 Find a consistent voice.
If you are running your own small business, a full-blown style guide might not be necessary. Mailchimp has a great Content Style Guide, which is written for their own employees but contains lots of useful pointers for writing website copy in general.
A simple alternative is to write a list of qualities that represent your brand, and include the opposite qualities. Mailchimp’s voice is:
- Fun but not silly
- Confident but not cocky
- Smart but not stodgy
- Informal but not sloppy
- Helpful but not overbearing
- Expert but not bossy
- Weird but not inappropriate
If you’ve already developed a consistent voice on your social media channels, continue this tone in your website copy. Use a friendly tone of voice, but don’t use that as an excuse for sloppiness – see No. 10 below.
And use exclamation marks only very, very occasionally. And emojis on your website? Never.
2 Focus on how you help, not what you do
As I said at the beginning, visitors will almost always come to your website to find out something or to do something.
Instead of focusing on yourself and how brilliant your products or services are, paint a picture that lets your audience see how their life will improve with what you offer.
Identify a problem – in my case, it’s writing website copy because it’s what our clients struggle with most. Then help solve it.
3 Have a conversation in your content.
Website copy is all about having a conversation, not giving a lecture.
- Use the active voice, rather than the passive voice, because it’s less formal. To spot the passive voice, look out for any “to be” words (am, is, are, etc) or “by” towards the end of your sentence – “The shoe was chewed by the dog” is with a passive voice, whereas “The dog chewed the shoe” is with an active voice.
- Use the first person (I or we), not the third person (s/he or they). If there is only one of you, don’t be afraid to use “I” – you are your business’s best selling point, so make sure people know that it is you, and only you, who they will be lucky enough to get.
- Use the present tense wherever possible – it might not be what you were taught at school, but it makes your copy more natural.
(If you’re a bit of a grammar geek (like me), read this wonderful article that goes into the active and passive voice in more detail.)
4 Include the most relevant information at the top of your content.
This applies to the whole page and to separate sections or paragraphs.
Use an H2 headline to describe the content in your page, and an H3 headline to describe the content in your paragraph or section. The clearer the information in your heading, the more likely your visitor will read on.
5 Break up your website copy.
Aim for a maximum of four sentences, or 50 words, for a paragraph, and use bold text to highlight phrases within a paragraph. Use bullet points or numbered lists to make longer sections of text easier to digest.
Try mixing up your sentence styles:
- Can you break your single sentence into two sentences?
- Can you move the words at the end to the front?
- Could you add another thought that would lengthen your short sentence?
6 Ditch the jargon.
Educate your audience, but don’t make your audience feel ignorant or patronised.
Unless you are specifically targeting industry experts, get rid of industry jargon and unfamiliar words.
If you have to use acronyms, use the full phrase with the acronym in brackets first. For example, when we first mention the WordPress Content Management System (CMS), we spell it out, and then use the abbreviation CMS further on in the content.
7 And then ditch the cliché.
Just as important as ditching the jargon, watch out for those phrases that have become meaningless from over use. No more:
- “Thinking outside the box” – do it, don’t write it
- “Being professional” – let’s take that for granted
- “We do things differently” – really? how? are you cheaper? Say so.
- “Welcome to my website” – we know, it’s exciting when you launch your first website. But.
8 Include keywords, naturally.
Keywords are not a substitute for good quality copy. Just as your visitors will appreciate focussed, informational content, so do search engines.
Use keywords carefully to enhance your Search Engine Optimisation, or SEO, and include them in your meta data too. Don’t use so many that your content loses it’s fluency.
Think about the phrases that your target audience might type into Google. Include these in your both headings and paragraphs, but make sure the content still reads naturally. The keyword phrase I am working with here is “website copy”, so I have included it in the title, two headings, and several paragraphs.
9 Include at least one Call to Action.
Include at least one action for your visitor to do next on every page, as I demonstrate here:
- check out our range of packages
- read about how to design a logo for free
- subscribe to our newsletter
- get in touch
Use this as an opportunity to persuade, too – go for the more powerful “Get your 10% discount code” rather than the dull “Find out more”.
10 Cut the fluff.
Being friendly doesn’t mean waffling on.
When you have written your copy, go through every sentence with a (metaphorical) pen, and strike out every unnecessary word. Saying something in three different ways dilutes rather than persuades, so remove repetition.
Repeat. (Irony noted.)
Use these tips to start you on your way. Every tip is here to guide you, not dictate to you. Above all else, write for humans.
Sign up for our Website Wisdom newsletter if you want more insight in to confidently launching a website worthy of your business.