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I get calls all the time from entrepreneurs starting their own business. They’re looking for guidance on writing their company’s website, usually as their first and primary marketing tool. They don’t know where to begin or what pitfalls to avoid. So I’ve compiled below a list of 10 questions I’m often asked about web copywriting that I thought might prove helpful to entrepreneurs.
In its most basic form, good web copywriting accomplishes two goals: 1) It attracts visitors to the website via search engine ranking, and 2) It motivates those visitors to take action, such as make a purchase, subscribe, become a member, place a call, or request an appointment.
Many websites are impersonal and unfriendly. They’re written almost like a high school term paper or an encyclopedia entry. They have no passion. They don’t convey enthusiasm. Or they lack clarity. And for all those reasons, they fail to connect with their visitors.
I’ve seen many websites use corporate-speak. They say things like “We provide good quality at a fair price.” And, “We’re committed to our customer.” Those are all admirable qualities, albeit cliches, but they don’t tell the customer what you do and why you’re a better choice than the competition. In fact, those exact words could go as easily on a manufacturer’s website as on a clothing retailer’s, so how can you possibly think the customer can get to know you from those types of blase statements?
Another mistake I often see is the site lacks a call to action. The whole purpose of having a website is to persuade the visitor to make a purchase or take some other type of action. It’s all well and good to be informative in the copy, but ultimately, to be effective from a marketing standpoint, you need to tell the visitor what you want them to do next, what action you want them to take, whether it’s fill out a form, request more information or make a purchase.
Ideally, it should provide both. The features describe the product or service, what it is and how it works. The benefits describe how the product or service is good for the customer.
For example, if I were selling a lawnmower, (Keep in mind I know nothing about lawnmowers, so this is purely hypothetical), the features might be that it has 40 horsepower, three stainless steel blades, and a quick-start ignition.
The benefits would then be that this mower is so fast that you will cut your grass in half the usual time. It’s so powerful that even a child could push the mower. The three blades do such a precise job of cutting each blade of grass, that your lawn will look like a Florida golf course. The quick-start feature means you’ll power the mower on the first try every time; no more back-wrenching pulls and false-starts.
See the difference? The features are the descriptive facts. But the benefits are the reasons you reach for your wallet to buy this product.
Write your marketing copy for humans first. After all, they’re the ones who will buy your product or service. Then when you’ve crafted compelling text aimed at your target prospect, look for opportunities to incorporate your main keywords for that page, a technique known as search engine optimization, which helps your website’s ranking in search engine results.
It’s worth mentioning too, that search engines have become far more sophisticated over the years. Consequently, you don’t have to repeat the same keywords over and over in your copy to have them grab the search engine’s attention. You can use related phrases and synonyms, a practice known as latent semantic indexing. The search engines will be able to discern the focus of your content and your visitors will find your copy to be a more interesting read. A skilled copywriter knows how to incorporate your keywords along with your key messages to effectively convey your meaning.
I know my high school English teacher is going to hate my answer, but I believe formal writing is boring. Informal writing, aka copywriting, is more persuasive. You should be conversational in your copy, even friendly. There’s no reason to use a big word when a smaller or simpler one will do. Find “your voice” and the copy will sound natural. Think of it as a casual but enthusiastic chat you’re having with a buddy.
Ideally, you want to sound like you’re befriending the visitor and helping him to make a sound decision as to whether to buy your product or service. That may mean breaking some basic punctuation rules or writing some colloquial phrases and even injecting humor, but all those elements are bound to be more readable than copy written like a term paper (yawn).
Good copy should reflect your marketing plan, so you need to have given thought to your brand strategy before you begin writing. Everyone has his or her own approach. For me, I think of four basic questions that I need to answer before I can begin writing:
Of course, as a copywriter, I’m biased. I like to think the copy is crucial. But in reality, good copywriting and good web design go hand-in-hand. If either one is lacking, your site won’t be effective.
I’ve seen clients put all their money into an elaborate design, and then either use minimal or poorly written copy. The result is a website that doesn’t work, doesn’t meet the objectives its owners wanted.
Copy is substance. It’s the facts that allow the prospect to believe your product or service is the solution to their problem. If you don’t offer compelling content, you’re passing up a significant opportunity to win over your prospect and make a sale.
I vote for a large, detailed website but with one caveat; it must have good, intuitive navigation. That means the visitor must be able to quickly and easily find the information he or she is seeking.
When people search on the web, they are looking for information. If your site provides a lot of information, it will be better in meeting your visitors’ needs. And it will likely rank higher in the search engines than a smaller, less informative site. But, once again, the information must be well-organized, well-written and directly relevant to your subject matter.
With regard to length, every page should be as long as is necessary to communicate your message, and no longer. Find the intersection of informational and interesting. And apply the best practice of “word economy,” which means carefully choosing each word for maximum impact.
Ideally, you want to dedicate a page to each main topic. Let’s say, for example, that your website is promoting your jewelry business, and you have four main products: necklaces, bracelets, earrings and rings. Devote a page to each product, providing all the relevant details and photos.
In writing a page for your website, you want to be sure it’s easy to read. Make the copy visually scannable for visitors. How? Keep paragraphs short, no more than five lines each. Break up the copy with subheads. Insert bullets. Include relevant photos or graphics that illustrate the text. And don’t forget captions, which tend to get high readership.
Be sure to include some sort of call-to-action at the end of most of your pages, whether it’s to buy your product, sign up for more information or click to another page. If you can make that call-to-action stand out visually with color or a graphic such as a brightly colored, clickable button, as opposed to looking like just another sentence in the body copy, it will likely be more effective.
Finally, while I understand budgets may be tight or you’ve always been a DIY type, you may want to consider hiring a professional web designer. Talented designers can turn a ho-hum page into a stellar presentation that builds your brand and transforms your website into a lead-generating machine!
Check your results regularly. Is your site accomplishing your objectives, such as generating leads or sales?
Look at your site’s analytics to see whether people are finding your page and how long they’re spending on it before leaving.
Speak with your customers. What do they like or dislike about your website and its copywriting?
To fine-tune some of your most important pages, try split testing. Write two versions of the page in which you change one key variable, such as the headline or the call-to-action, and see which one delivers the best results.
You should also keep an eye on your competition. What techniques are they using? What do their web pages say? How you can you make yours sound and look better?
Think of your website is a work in progress. Update it regularly and constantly be improving it. Keep your site fresh with by writing captivating sales copy and you’ll reap the benefits of marketing success.