Tips for Writing Effective Website Copy
These days, the exciting visuals on websites have started to overshadow the meat of the content, the words. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but really, how many words does a dancing monkey or rotating starburst convey to you? How can that bouncing frog in the upper left hand corner of the page tell you what you need to know about, say, lawn care? Not much, though he may be cute to look at.
The website is a new medium in the world of television, newspapers, magazines, and radio. This form of communication is something of a combination of all of those that have come before it. Needless to say, when there’s a new kid in town, new rules apply. But we can’t throw all the old rules out either.
The copy (text) of your website is where the action is. This is where you hold the attention of your audience, and this is where your word choice and grammar are critical. People can think your exploding fireworks graphics are cool, but if you misspell your product caption “cheep fireworks,” they are going to laugh at you and click the back button.
There are several mistakes that should always be avoided when writing your website copy. But if you follow these basic guidelines, and always keep your visitors in mind, you can come up with something that will wow and amaze even the most jaded web surfers.
Tip 1: Please, please, please be careful that your spelling and grammar is correct. If you are writing your copy on your own, you may wish to consult something like the Associated Press Style Guide, Strunk and White’s Elements of Style or another solid grammar guide. They are quick and handy references in case you are unsure if you should use a colon or a semi-colon, and they can help you keep all ten thousand comma rules straight in your head. Also pay attention to your spellchecker. Almost all word processors have them nowadays. Good grammar and spelling is not only expected of you, but it gives your site an air of professionalism that customers deserve.
Tip 2: For Pete’s sake, keep the exclamation marks to a minimum! They sound overly dramatic! They make people antsy! They make you sound like a guy wearing a clown suit on a used-car commercial! It’s annoying! And, bottom line, exclamation marks don’t make your sales pitch more effective.
Tip 3: Keep it simple. While we stress the importance of words, we don’t suggest you use too many of them, either. A customer faced with a wall of words before them may be too bored or too busy to read them all. People have short attention spans in this click-click net navigating world, so keep that in mind. Use simple, concise, easy to understand words and you’ll do much better than if you try to talk your website visitors to death.
Tip 4: Keep it scannable. White space is your friend. It’s hard to read online, so you want to keep eyestrain to a minimum. Be a razor-sharp editor and cut out anything that might be dragging down the rest of your copy. Don’t use run-on sentences. Don’t make your paragraphs too long and bulky. Use big text, descriptive headlines and short paragraphs. Use bold text to help make your copy scannable, but use it judiciously. If you make everything bold, it defeats the purpose.
Tip 5: When it comes to word choice, choose words that are descriptive and helpful. Be specific. Words like “great,” “awesome,” “super,” “new” and “improved” don’t tell you much. But words that explain just why your product is great and improved are much more helpful. For example, if you sell shampoo, and you want to tell everyone that it is now “new and improved,” explain that now it has a cleaner, fresher scent, won’t leave a greasy residue, and won’t spill if you drop it in the shower. Now that’s something that tells me what I want to know!
Tip 6: On a related note, don’t use words that are too flowery or colloquial. Write appropriately for the subject. If you are selling cowboy boots, you can probably throw a few “pardners” and “l’il doggies” in there, but that probably isn’t so impressive if you are writing for your office’s money marketing page. Also, while you may have a well-versed Harvard vocabulary, many of your customers may not. If you are inclined to use words such as “sycophantic” and “pedagogy” or “fungible,” you might consider leaving them out. Also, though you may really want to use the word that means, “to swarm like ants,’ you probably ought to avoid having your visitors read, “The 6th graders formicated all over the playground.” Your site’s readers may not have a dictionary handy.
Tip 7: Organize your information. Start simple, and then get to the details. There’s no need to tell them everything at once. While your homepage is really like the welcome mat to your Internet abode, the rest of your pages are like the rooms. Make sure they are friendly and inviting and organized, not a cluttered, musty mess like at your Uncle Leo’s house. Your homepage should focus on telling your visitors specifically why they want to enter your home. What’s in there for them? On your inner pages, you can go into more detail. A lot of information is good, but break it up into well thought-out, organized pieces that are easy for your visitor to handle. Who wants to tackle a page 10 scrollbars long? But 10 pages, correctly organized, can help your visitor find the information they need and will make them comfortable, happy customers.
Tip 8: Lastly, if you are not fully confident that you can create the exact kind of copy you are looking for, you can always hire an experienced professional copywriter to help you. They may help you see potential for your website you might never have thought of on your own. And they can help stop you from making a fool of yourself if you accidentally say, “all sinners will be vaccinated on Tuesday” when you meant to say “all seniors”.
You can have the greatest layout, the prettiest shade of background color, the easiest navigation bars, but if your copy is messy, hard to read, or uninformative, your website is going to tank.