Top 6 Best Practices for Improving Website Copywriting

The Place To Start is Blogging. It Has The Highest ROI of All Marketing and Advertising Tactics.

The Place To Start is Blogging. It Has The Highest ROI of All Marketing and Advertising Tactics.

Website copywriting isn't an entirely new field compared to print copywriting. But it is unique. Before the Web, every bit of printed text had limits that affected reach - paper and ink cost money, whether for sending out a flier to thousands of potential customers or buying advertising space in a major newspaper.

Often, copywriting choices were defined by these physical limitations. A tagline may be memorable, but it also fits easily onto the side of a bus and can be read from a distance, even when the bus is in motion. A twenty-word overview of your product successfully conveys the vital points to your potential consumers, but it also saves money on the purchase of magazine ad space.

With the Web, the physical editorial limits have largely vanished. Adding a 3,000-word description of your product doesn't cost any more to host on your server than a 300-word version. This hasn't made copywriting any easier; if anything, it's put more choices on the table and forced more copywriting teams to choose between brevity and detail, or, better stated, to figure out where the balance lies.

We're going to take a look at six of the best practices for improving copywriting on any site. As we'll note, not all web pages are the same. Different copywriting strategies are best for different pages, or parts of a page. Whether you're reading these ideas for the first time, or it feels more like a refresher course, they're a sure way to avoid complacency, which is a death sentence for any website and the copywriter in charge of developing its content.

1. Start Strong and Grab a Reader's Attention

About those attention spans. They keep getting shorter. This has been a primary reason for less prose across web pages and a more image-rich experience. (If you don't believe us, just compare Web design from year to year, starting in the late 1990s.) Nowhere is this more evident than your homepage, which serves as a sort of lobby for your business. For most of your Web visitors, reaching your homepage is their first experience with your company. This is changing with the increased use of blogging as a marketing tool but for now let's run with it. Visitors are going to—consciously or subconsciously—evaluate your design and key messages instantly, determining whether your company is trustworthy, hip, modern, or any number of other variables.

If you're not meeting their expectations, or providing an intriguing piece of content, you're liable to lose them immediately as they bounce back to a search results page or their Twitter feed. The best way to avoid the bounce is to have a clear header (or, if you have a “sliding” header, multiple headers) that assures visitors they've arrived at the right place. The headline text in your header should address potential pain points or hit on the reasons visitors might come to your website—because of product ABC or service XYZ.

Add an introduction below your header that gives a concise overview, in just a sentence or two, about the challenges your company addresses for your consumer. No one wants to read a list of awards or achievements, especially when most of those awards are unintelligible to anyone outside the industry. Your visitors want to know that coming to your website is going to solve a problem or make them happy. An excellent way to do this is to write directly to your consumer, using “you” to describe all the benefits they're about to enjoy. Show them the value of your product or service rather than telling them about it.

Landing pages represent an entirely unique category of web pages. They're not simply any page a visitor may “land” on. They are single, targeted web pages designed to get a visitor to fill out and submit a form, crossing the threshold from anonymous visitor to known lead. The critical element to remember with landing pages is your goal: conversion.

Landing pages should feature highly limited options for the visitor. After all, this is not the time to explain every product in your catalog but to use every piece of text to push them toward conversion. Your headline is the starting point for landing page engagement with a prospective client. Make sure your headline connects directly with the keywords your visitor will have used to arrive at your page. Any disconnect between expectations and your landing page virtually guarantees a quick bounce and no conversion.

Tailored landing pages should be specific to client needs, and headlines must focus on that same need. Landing pages are no place for wordplay or a witty turn of phrase. The goal is simply to reassure the visitor that, if they were looking for “Free Guide To Buying Furniture,” your landing page offers a free Furniture Guide.

With any headline or introduction, remember to ask yourself this question: Is the headline compelling enough to get your visitor to read it? And after reading the headline, will they read on? Anywhere that momentum slows or stops is a place to refine your copy.

2. Make A Connection with Your Audience

Selling products or services isn't always about the product itself, at least its technical specifications or comparative features. More often, selling a product or service is about connecting with your audience on an emotional level. This means copywriting is often most effective when focusing on the emotional benefits or associations, rather than a dry recitation of features. (Those, of course, should be included at some point, but they may not be the primary drivers of the sale.)

Take, for example, the J. Peterman Catalog, or "Owners Manual". People buy items that are stand-ins or representative of their personality. They are not just buying a well-made garment or accessory. They've chosen a lifestyle or two quotes a J. Peterman example... "This is what Howard Hughes wore the day he bought a restaurant and returned to fire a waiter who had been rude. A linen suit is a different message on different days. But it is always in the same accent."Focus on the quality of the lining, the stitching process or the source for the linen first and you will lose to those copywriters that have the ability to evoke emotion and inspire imagination. 

Let's use something as innocuous as tomato sauce as another example, no one cares about the cans used to preserve those flavor-packed pasta sauces. However, we have seen plenty of marinara sauce commercials set in the Italian countryside, with some quintessential Italian grandmother joyfully stirring a simmering pot of homemade tomato sauce. More often than not, these ads end with a piping hot bowl of spaghetti being placed in front of an excited family, linking a brand of canned tomato sauce with the loving care of your spouse and children.

Understanding the pain points for your customers, no matter what you sell, will help you find the copywriting angles that will connect with your potential buyers on an emotional level. Focus on the problems your business eliminates, not the methods it uses to do so. If you've captured the imagination or tugged on the heartstrings of your prospective buyers, you'll still have their attention later on when you go through the nuts and bolts of the product. Rarely does that strategy work in the opposite direction.

Tonally, liberate you're copywriting from corporate stiffness or technical jargon. Use a conversational tone that will speak directly to your clients and invite them to have personal interaction with your business. Techno-babble may convince them that you're knowledgeable, but it will do little to make them more willing to deal with your company.

Also, especially in the case of landing pages, remember that your visitors arrived with the idea of solving a particular problem. When explaining your offer, focus on words like “get,” “learn,” and “save” that will connect with client expectations.

One of the most neglected locations for high-quality copywriting is the “About Us” page. Most often, it becomes nothing more than a dry company biography or a litany of achievements. In short, it's nothing any consumer wants to read. Visitors may have indeed clicked the “About Us” link to learn more about your company, but they want something more specific—they want to find out more about how your company can help them.

The aforementioned casual tone is a great starting point to make your “About Us” page more welcoming. (Many suggest you ditch the “About Us” terminology entirely.) Demand effective copywriting from every sentence on the page, mixing in a few details about your business in clauses and other asides, while focusing on talking about how your company can help solve the problems of its clients. If you can package all of that in an engaging narrative, great. But don't go too far—no matter how compelling, every reader has a limited interest.

Personal biographies often fill the “About Us” content of service businesses such as architectural firms and interior design companies. Like an interesting company profile, we encourage you to think outside the box and include details about yourself that will help customers better understand who you are. Indeed, you can connect your hobby of, say, hiking, to your preference for a natural color palette. You can also throw in a few sentences or phrases about your core degrees or certifications. But any time you can get a visitor to read your biography and think, “She loves that? Me, too! ” you've just pinched yourself closer to the sale.

Lastly, remember that there is no substitute for listening. The more you listen to particular needs or complaints or interests of your customers, the better you'll be able to develop copy that connects with them. Maybe it means you need to spend more time on your company's Facebook page or Twitter feed to see what they're writing about; maybe it means making a trip to your customer service personnel to find out what most callers are talking about. Regardless, there are plenty of ways to find out what your customers think, and you ignore them at your peril.

 3. Focus on the Goal of the Article and the Goals for Your Business

Nowhere is this next point more applicable than your landing pages. Copywriting for landing pages can easily lose focus, but there has been and always will be only one goal for landing pages: conversion. To get to that point of conversion, we've already noted the importance of a focused headline and targeting of what the visitor will receive in exchange for parting with some personal information. Now, let's go a bit deeper.

To get your visitors closer to conversion, center your landing page copy on the offer—the exchange between you and your soon-to-be-lead. Make sure the offer is clear and honest; trickery has no long-term benefits, even in small forms such as upselling or cross-selling. Don't fear a bit of redundancy as your headline, subheads, supporting text, and even “submit” button may all reference the offer. For instance, instead of merely saying, “submit,” your button could remind the visitor of the offer with “Get my free ebook.” (Using “my” instead of “your” has proven an effective tactic.)

Whatever offer you do make, include a picture of it, or something representative, on your landing page—but not too many pictures, which can slow download times and increase the number of page bounces. (One or two is enough.) Add a caption that, in a single sentence, includes the entirety of your offer. Many people will immediately go to the photo and caption, so it needs to be short but thorough.

You'll also want to mix the big ideas with narrowly defined benefits. Allow your clients to get inspired with action verbs like “conquer,” “imagine,” or “achieve,” but also refocus them on the narrow, tangible benefit they'll receive. If implementing strategies from your ebook has been shown to save accountants 10 percent of the time they usually spend preparing financial statements, include that particular number. (Claims like this are best supported by objective proof or legitimate internal research studies, whenever possible.)

As for the form itself, shorter is usually better. More Succinct generates more leads by reducing the friction between your visitors and their “prize.” Remember, once you have their email address, you can always follow up to gain more consumer information as they work their way down the sales funnel. Unless you need added pieces of qualifying information, stick to what will get the most leads.

4. Be Open, Honest and Accurate

While some marketers may suggest that your best bet is to push the boundary of the claims you can make about your company or product, we'd like to argue otherwise—strongly. Your best bet, at every stage and on every page, is to meet your visitor, lead, or client expectations. Every time you stretch a phrase to reach a bit too far, you're setting up your client for disappointment.

That disappointment may come in the form of the ebook download if you've advertised it as the best information in the marketplace, but it turns out to be nothing more than thin content scraped from existing sites and repackaged into a short digital booklet. It could also come even earlier—if you're advertising a free trial, make sure it is, in fact, a free trial and not one that has hidden fees or starts charging the customer if they forget to cancel.

None of this is far from the golden rule: Treat others how you'd like to be treated. Put another way, don't use the same Web copywriting practices that annoy and disappoint you on other sites.

Avoid hyperbole. If your business isn't yet an industry leader, don't claim to be one. If your technology isn't exactly cutting edge, don't advertise it as such. That said, you can let your customers know about your accomplishments. Just make sure you connect them to reasons that will interest your customer. If you've gone to great lengths to secure customer data, don't just write about your security procedures—assure customers that any information they provide will be kept safe and sound.

There are several effective ways to tout your achievements. Professional certifications or awards are the most traditional route, although many of these are communicated best through small, shiny logos rather than written out in your company description or another piece of copy. Placing those logos strategically throughout your site—including on your landing pages—is an efficient and visually interesting way to provide peace of mind to customers without cluttering the page with additional text.

Two newer methods center on social media. One idea is to include, often on a landing page, phrases like “Join the more than 2,000 interior designers...” Your social media presence can provide instant credibility whether it's part of an effort to encourage conversion on a landing page, or simply a display of social media icons and total followers posted to your homepage. Crowdsourcing has never had a higher market value, and it's a great way to show the impact of your services with a detailed figure, not unsubstantiated claims.

A second option is to seek out testimonials from your clients on Facebook or Twitter. Your interactions there can pay huge dividends for your business. Whether you post a stream of positive comments on your site or use a happy tweeter's post for landing page assurance, you'll reap the benefits of connecting with your customers on social media. Perhaps best of all, social media formats generate short responses that are perfect to cut and paste for inclusion on your site, without becoming too much of a burden to your readers.

And, as we're about to cover, few things are more important that getting your point across quickly.

5. Stay Succinct

It's time to return to our initial dilemma—that ever-shortening attention span. As a copywriter, it demands more efficiency than ever in how you craft your prose. No matter how concise you become, there's a good chance that many of your Web visitors will still skim your site for the interesting or eye-catching elements they find. The good news is that you're not at the mercy of skimmers. You can actively design your page and your copy to lead their eye to the most important parts of your prose.

What catches your eye when you glance at your homepage? Odds are, it's more likely to be a contrasting color or a large font than a particular word or piece of information. Our eyes and minds are led first to non-verbal cues, and you'll want to make sure you house your copy accordingly. This is a task best suited for collaboration between your Web designers and your copywriting team. (Unless, of course, they're one in the same.)

One of the best ways to lead the eye is the absence of content and color—white space. Increasing the white space on your page is an excellent way to limit the options for your visitor and focus them on what you want them to see. If your first try at writing your homepage introduction reaches fifty words, see if you can cut that number in half. After that, see if you can get it down to fifteen words. Shorter isn't always better, but what you'll find is that there are plenty of unnecessary words in your text, and you need every word to have an essential and focused intention.

Bullet points are one strategy to cut down on the total number of words and help focus your visitor. (This is especially true with landing pages, where you want to keep your visitor focused on the offer but also might benefit from hitting the key reasons for conversion.) Immediately, your reader knows how many points you plan to make and can glance through them quickly. Interviews are another great way to cut out large chunks of text and replace them with easily digestible formats. The same can be said for any question-and-answer format, including frequently asked questions sections.

Videos have become a popular way to replace long-form text, and they have their place. Still, there are a few best practices. First, make sure the videos, like any text you add, are short and to the point. People aren't willing to spend much more time watching a video than they are reading about your business. And second, please don't set your videos to play automatically. Neither you nor your customers enjoy that burst of loud sound, on any website.

6. Push Your Topics Further and Use Specific Long Tail Keyword Phrases

No matter what your experience copywriting—or where your company is in its Web development journey—challenging yourself to improve and refine your Web copywriting always pays dividends. Even if you think you've already incorporated many of these tips, you'll still need to rework portions of your website over time to keep the content from becoming stale.

If you have the luxury of a fully developed and well-written site, now's the time to figure out what risks you may be able to take to push your Web copy even further. What new angle can you take on your business that none of your competitors have explored? Could you become the first architectural firm with a decidedly informal and personal touch to connect on a deeper level with visitors? What about an interior design company that's willing to demystify how color and the Kelvin temperature of light work together, and invite consumers to understand a product better on terms a layman could understand?

More than ever, your potential customers are coming into contact first with your Web presence, long before they see a print or television ad—if they ever do. They're looking for immediate solutions to their problems, which places the added burden on copywriters to develop content that, from headlines to calls to action to introductions to product information, keeps clients engaged and reading. All the while, you're trying to tighten that compelling content into more concise and powerful words and phrases.

But, unlike earlier eras, this task isn't just to save on purchased ad space or make your copy more functional for a highway billboard. The best practices for Web copywriting are changing because it's what consumers demand. Given an infinite universe of content, they need an extremely editorial eye toward copywriting, one that taps into their pain points and offers comprehensive but honest solutions—all within a handful of words.

It's an exciting challenge. We know you're up for it. That's why we put together a list of six (and not sixty) great ideas to get you started. You'll learn to write with more power. Your site will have more impact. And, if all goes right, your business will create more happy customers.

About Michael Conway and Means-of-Production

My firm builds Squarespace websites, Houzz profiles, and content marketing and advertising solutions for architects, interior designers, design-build contractors and landscape design firms. Our all-in-one tactics attract the right clients with exceptional architectural photography and brand messaging that sets you apart from the competition. Contact me for a free-of-charge consultation and marketing review. It takes about 40 minutes and you'll be provided a list of actionable improvements designed to solve your specific marketing problems.

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