We’ve all seen those websites with the mind-numbing, boring recitation of company history and services. Life-less lists of facts do not make for the type of winning website copy that sparks the interest and desire of your readers.
If your intention is to use your website to spark interest and begin a relationship with your new visitor that will quickly or eventually lead to new business then you’ve got to do a lot better than this.
You don’t have to be a Madison Avenue whiz kid to write website copy that connects the facts of your business to the needs of your customer. What you do need is an awareness of the key building blocks of effective copy: persuasive writing, the customer persona, and buying journey.
The Who, What, and How of Winning Website Copy
As with any good communication exchange or conversation, which is essentially what is happening when a viewer lands on your website, there is a sender and receiver. In this situation, you or your business is represented by the website copy and visual content on the page. You are always the sender and it is your job to see that the message is appropriately organized and worded to create a connection with the receiver/your website visitor.
You might consider
- WHO you are trying to connect with.
- WHAT needs to be said in order to effectively connect.
- HOW can you organize and express your message(s) to build trust and interest.
THE WHO OF WEBSITE COPY
Who are you writing for? One of the first stumbling blocks in writing website copy is to write everything to satisfy yourself. This is a particular hazard if you are writing copy for your own business website.
Business owners, entrepreneurs, and service professionals often try to include as much information as possible to thoroughly explain everything they offer and the credentials and qualities that make what they provide the best on the market. All of this and the kitchen sink conveyed in a style that suits the business owner’s personal taste.
Does the person who lands on your website from an organic search really want to face this onslaught of detail and content all at once? Maybe yes, maybe no. You really have to think this through by starting with understanding your market and your prospective customers.
Is your offering easily understood or does it take more explanation to build trust?
If the service or product you provide is commonly understood and at a lower price point there are fewer obstacles to gaining trust and action. For example, if the business is a hair salon or barber shop offering standard services, your market is fairly broad. Everyone needs a haircut and many must find the bargains. Your viewers will rely on price, location, and reputation (testimonials, reviews). It is unlikely that they will care to learn more about your business in depth. This represents a shorter trust curve. A website visitor very well might schedule an appointment to try you out after the first visit.
However, if you are a high-end salon offering luxury services at luxury prices, then you will want to appeal to a variety of special interests. You will attract clients by focusing on the benefits of investing more in style and beauty. More information about the benefits your specialities, products and extended services entices your website visitor to imagine how these could enhance his or her life. There is a longer trust curve here and you need to write your copy with this in mind.
When you face a longer trust curve and a complex sales cycle or buyer’s journey, you will want to dig into understanding your buyer personas or as some call them, avatars. A buyer persona is a semi-fictional representation of your ideal customer based on market research and real data about your existing customers. You may have more than one ideal buyer type. The buyer persona profile can include customer demographics, behavior patterns, motivations, and goals. The more detailed you are, the better.
Once you know WHO you are writing for, then you can tackle WHAT you will want your website copy to convey.
THE WHAT of WEBSITE COPY
The best advice I’ve heard is to always remember that your website visitor is reading your copy on a mission. She has clicked through to your site with a question in her mind. She might be looking for something very specific—in which case you hope that her keyword search takes them right to the pertinent copy on your site if it is well-optimized.
The second best piece of advice is there is one question that is ALWAYS in your website visitor’s mind: What’s In It For Me? WIIFM. What is being offered and how will I benefit from it?
From there, your job is to think through the questions that you know your clients ask. What are their most frequently asked questions? Start there.
Here are some generic questions that tend to work in all circumstances.
- How have others benefited?
- What makes this company/person uniquely qualified to provide this product/service?
- Can I trust them? What do other people have to say about them?
- What can I expect from working with them? The experience, process, timeline, etc.
- If I’m interested, what is the next step?
THE HOW of WEBSITE COPY
The flow and placement of copy and all other content on your website brings in the arts of website taxonomy and user experience. Once you have collected or written all the WHATs of your website copy, then it needs to be organized in a manner that feels intuitive for the reader.
If you look back at the generic questions in the previous section you will see that they are in a logical order, more or less. After you have answered the WHAT you provide in the form of how it benefits your client, then you proceed to how others benefit and so on.
The art is to organize what you have to say so that your website visitor does not need to hunt for the answer to the next question. A website’s navigation is a collection of user interface components. Well-organized and labeled header navigation, repeated in the footer, and reinforced through internal links on the page is a great way to start.
Now we begin to address how you write the copy and it begins with the matter of style and voice. If you or your business has a distinct brand personality, this is where you can have some fun writing in a way that has a unique voice. Is this voice formal and strictly professional? Is it authoritative? Or is it just a little more casual as if speaking to an acquaintance who needs your service or product?
The most distinctive voices could magically convert visitors to fans just by being funny, dramatic, snarky, punkish, smooth-talking, wise-guy, or you name it. But then, you want to make sure that this voice and personality is going to resonate with YOUR buyer personas.
Writing in Active Voice vs. Passive Voice
Anyone teaching writing skills will urge you to use the active voice whenever possible. They are punchy, direct, and more powerful. Passive voice sentences, on the other hand, often use more words, can be vague, and can lead to a tangle of prepositional phrases.
Active Voice: the subject of the sentence performs the action.
The dog bit the man.
Passive Voice: the subject receives the action.
The man was bitten by the dog.
Not only will your copy be more interesting to the reader, but search engines are actually sensitive to active vs passive voice and they prefer active voice, too!
If you use the Yoast plugin it will automatically measure the percentage of active vs passive voice sentences. If you need to increase the active voice try these tips for converting your sentences from passive to active.
Look for a “by” phrase (e.g., “by the dog” in the example above). If you find one, the sentence may be in the passive voice. Rewrite the sentence so that the subject buried in the “by” clause is closer to the beginning of the sentence.
If the subject of the sentence is somewhat anonymous, see if you can use a general term, such as “individuals,” or “the product,” or “experts in this field.”
Word Choices Make Your Website Copy Compelling
The best advice for improving your copywriting is to seek ways to be more descriptive and specific. Throughout the copy on your website look for ways to add descriptive details and evoke the senses. Consider how to place your reader into the happy scenario of using and benefiting from what you offer. Speak in specifics, not generalities.
Specific word choice opens the door to power words. Power words arouse your reader’s emotion and instills a surge of curiosity. Power words placed in headers, subheads and calls to action have been shown to increase conversion rates. Want a list of power words and more ideas? I like this post on Sumo.com. https://sumo.com/stories/power-words
Finally, the actual proper use of the English Language
Unfortunately, we are living in a time when almost everyone seems to be playing fast and loose with proper use of English grammar and punctuation. OK, everyone is human and maybe our schooling failed us, but is this really a big deal?
Just imagine this one scenario. You are looking for a financial advisor to help you with your investments or an attorney to represent you. You want a professional who is competent, intelligent, and show the ability to care for the details of your account. Then you land on his website and you see typos on the home page.
First impressions count. If he can’t proofread the text on the home page how well is he going to handle your files?
Even the auto repair shop has a dinged reputation after you see misspelled words and noun-verb disagreement.
Bottom line: these things matter. Proof your copy.
Hopefully, you will be looking at website copy in a whole new light now. Less than compelling copy will jump out at you as you browse on the Internet and you will want to fix it!
As for your own website, even incremental improvements in any of these areas we’ve discussed will shoot your website past half the competition online. My suggestion is to take these suggestions as far as you can go in the first round of creating your website copy. The beautiful thing about websites is that you can circle back around to tighten your language and finetune your aim.