Words that will improve your site

I have wanted do a piece about copywriting for the web, for a while. Not because I read a lot of bad writing online, but because I'm starting to see more and more websites that are getting it right.

Three reasons why web-specific copy is good for your business.

I have wanted do a piece about copywriting for the web, for a while. Not because I read a lot of bad writing online, but because I'm starting to see more and more websites that are getting it right.

"Just drop in the copy from the brochure"

Luckily, smart businesses are starting to realise that this doesn't wash with their customers. The days of using brochure copy in the website are thankfully coming to an end.

Aside from the terrible laziness of that approach, forcing customers who've read the brochure to wade through the same words on the website (or vice versa) is just not good business.

It's not good business because a website is not the same as a brochure.

So, here are my three reasons why crafting your copy to suit the web makes good business sense.

1. Hello. Who are you?

It seems sometimes, that online businesses can be wilfully distant from their visitors; a sort of defence against negative customer comment.

Using the internet is an inherently impersonal experience. Confronting visitors with corporate puffery and marketing rhetoric just pushes them further away.

Remember, people buy from people; so you're losing business if you're not getting personal. Online, we have found that you need to try even harder to engage on a personal level.

The explosion of social networking and user-generated content facilities have changed the web from an information delivery mechanism into a true communications platform. The result is that people are demanding an ever more honest, personal dialogue more similar to a phone conversation than a brochure. Just think of the number of businesses putting honest customer reviews of their own product on their sites. It's pretty brave, but it works. Many retailers that have implemented customer reviews on their sites report that products with bad reviews sell better than ones without any reviews.

In this environment, brands must think about the written tone they adopt online. How informal can you get? For example, can you replace the corporate 'We' with the personal 'I'? And how can you engage in an honest, authentic conversation with your customers?

2. So many webpages so little time

People have become very good at working out whether the webpage they're looking at contains the information they're looking for. There are a lot of pages out there after all.

As a result, they only need, on average, 47 seconds (Neilsen/NetRatings May 2008) to work out if it's what they are looking for.

To determine the relevance of a page, a webuser will spend a few moments scanning the content. If it doesn't hook them with the words they are looking for, they will leave. It's as simple as that.

They don't scan every part of the page; just the bits most likely to give away its purpose. This means titles, subtitles, pull-outs, buttons and the first words of each paragraph are really important. By breaking up the copy into small paragraphs with more subheadings, you can give the scanning visitor more chance of finding something that engages them.

3. Your reader isn't reading for the sake of it.

When did you last go online just for the heck of it? I'm hoping the voice in your head just said "Hmmm, not sureā€¦ let me think." The fact is that most people go online with a specific goal in mind. When they arrive on any site they are hoping it will fulfil that goal.

Copy for any given page must therefore be crafted to marry the visitor's goal with the page's objective.

If every page has an objective then it must also have a desired action. So if you begin by understanding these three critical factors:

  • Customer goal
  • Page objective
  • Desired action

then you can write copy that engages the visitor and takes them on a journey to the desired action.

If you've read this far, then I've done my job!

I hope that having read this, you can put some of these thoughts into practice. I know that doing so will make your websites more enjoyable for your visitors and more effective for your business.

On the subject of web copywriting, this is really the tip of the iceberg - I didn't mention 'form design' or 'managing customer relationships'. But hey, you definitely wouldn't have read this far if I had. For now, these are the three important things to aim for:

  1. Create an informal personality for your brand and enter an honest, authentic conversation with your customers.

  2. Use titles, subheads, pull-outs, buttons and paragraph starters to make pages easy to scan

  3. Make sure you set an objective and action for every page and craft copy around them.

So let's burn the brochure and start a new, more personal, more effective conversation.