The core of your user experience. Way ahead of look and feel. Making sure you have well written web content is the single most important element in making your site perform for you.
Your written web content drives your SEO.
It has to hold people on your site when they first arrive, preventing them ‘bouncing’.
It has to engage them, reassure them, inform them, befriend them, persuade them and, ultimately close them.
So here are my Dozen ‘Do’s to help you. Whatever kind of site you’re writing, these should help.
But before you get into these, let’s take a minute and look at 3 big web copywriting mistakes to avoid.
3 big web content writing mistakes to avoid.
For me (and I write web content for 100 or so sites every year) the three big mistake to avoid are:
- Cramming too much copy into your pages. Don’t. Search engines like 300 plus. But a page should be as long as it needs to be, Sometimes it really is all over after two sentences. As a rule of thumb, though, I think of a short page as being around 80 words, an average one as being 300, and a long one as 700 or so.
- Not thinking properly about the elements that make up the page, and what the individual roles of these are and how the copy for each should work.
- Getting the tone of voice wrong – too stuffy, too corporate, too formal, too informal, too pompous, too vague, not professional enough.
Keep clear of these, and your web copy will be off to a great start.
My 12 tips for writing good web content.
So here are my Dozen ‘Do’s.
- Be clear about what each page is about. At the planning stage, for every page in the site, pre-compile a carefully thought through list of bullet points that detail what that page’s main copy section will cover.
- Think about how the page templates work. A page isn’t just the main copy block. It has other elements that will help you get across everything you want to say, and take people to where you want them to go. They may or may not be unique to the page you’re writing, but you need to think about all of them carefully.
- Be clear on page purpose. Some pages are there to inform. Some to build trust. Some to sell. Some to entertain. Decide what the job of the copy is and then write for that purpose.
- Underestimate your reader. People aren’t usually upset to have what they already know confirmed. But they get lost when a subject is written about in a way that they can’t understand. It’s better to underestimate how much your reader might know about the particular subject.
- Don’t compromise your expertise. The greatest expert on a subject can and will explain it in simple terms, and that’s good. But simple doesn’t mean inaccurate. If you are writing B2B, or for expert consumers, make sure you use the language and glossary used by the profession, or by people with that interest. Otherwise your copy will make those readers feel the site lacks expertise and so credibility.
- Break the copy into short, interesting chunks. Break the subject into a few chunks with a separate heading – and perhaps graphic treatment – for each. A page of 500 words of copy, even with subheads, can look quite offputting. Four chunks of 100-150 words each is far more inviting.
- Write simply. It’s not only readers that read your content. It’s search engines, too. Both like short sentences, built using simple words in everyday use. Avoid complex subclauses. Things aren’t more valuable, of higher value or more ‘professional’ because you use unnecessarily complex language to describe them.
- Keep your writing natural and informal. If you have brand guidelines, read them once then forget them. Take a common sense approach to the brand, but mainly just write in written English that echoes spoken English. And in short, single sentence paragraphs.
- Don’t obsess on outmoded SEO ideas. Don’t try to write guessed keyterms into the copy. Write about the subject of the page naturally and informatively. Where you can include likely – or, even better, properly researched – search terms naturally only, do so.
- Have headlines, not just page titles. A site isn’t a card index. Write bold, confident and helpful headlines for each page, rather than just the two word title of the subject that was used on the sitemap. The headline is a piece of communication between the site and the reader. The page ‘Title’ (e.g. About Us or Our Services) is a piece of navigation info to help people (and search robots) find their way around.
- Remember the calls to action. Don’t be embarrassed to urge people to ‘Call now’ or ‘Get in touch’. It’s not pushy and it’s not ‘desperate’. But also write calls to action into the copy where they seem relevant, so they are a natural part of the content.
- Read and edit once it’s live. Copy feels totally different in a live site to how it feels on a copy draft. Make sure you have access via a CMS (or through developers so you can go back and edit once your copy is in the site.
So. Get to it and good luck.
And remember that the copy is never final! Go back and look at it whenever you have an opportunity and edit, update, improve. It’s the way.