Article by Guest Poster
This article was written by a guest contributor. The author's views below are entirely his or her own and may not reflect the views of WHSR.
You have amazing business skills, you’re offering a fabulous product, you can negotiate your way into or out of anything, yet customers aren’t exactly knocking down your door.
Most of the time, you’ll find the problem is staring you in the face: it’s your website – more specifically, your web copy. This component of your business can be easily overlooked; after all, client meetings, networking and developing your products and services is what’s going to bring in the profit, right?
Well, no. None of that matters if you don’t have stimulating, professional and attention-grabbing copy, because this is the first part of your business that most prospective clients see. It represents you, your brand and your product, and it can make or break a prospective buyer’s interpretation of what you’re offering.
Perhaps this is resonating with you. If so, your first reaction might be to lament the unaffordable prices of professional copywriters (and wonder whether you should have taken those creative writing evening classes after all).
The good news is that you don’t need to hire a copywriter if you don’t want to, and you don’t need to become a professional writer yourself. Usually, all it takes is a few tweaks to turn dull, lifeless copy into words that represent you and your business in a way that fills you with pride.
You don’t have a lot of time to spend writing your business’ web copy, and your readers won’t have a lot of time to read it. Help yourself, and them, but using simple formats that are quick to write, easy to scan, but still provide valuable information for your audience. Time-tested favorites include numbered lists (“5 Ways to Turn ‘No’ into ‘Yes’”), bullet points, how-to articles (“How to Change the World in One Easy Step”) and compilation posts (“5 Blogs every Business-Owner Should Read”).
Your web copy doesn’t have to be pages long. In fact, this is a bad idea, as only a fraction of people visiting your website will take the time to read it. Your challenge is to only include what is absolutely necessary and say it in as few words as possible. Condensing your web copy into clear, concise and expressive writing will show potential clients that you know what your business is about, and that you respect their time.
Every business solves a problem or meets an unmet need. If you’re a dog groomer, you’re solving the problem of hairy, foul-smelling pooches. If you’re a gluten-free raw foods chef, you’re meeting an unmet need among people with certain dietary preferences or restrictions for being able to eat out once in a while.
Sometimes, it might seem obvious to you what problem you’re solving – after all, it’s your business – but this isn’t necessarily true for your readers. You need to spell it out for them. Even if it feels like you’re treating them like two-year-olds, explain exactly what you do, why you do it, and how. They won’t mind – in fact, they’ll thank you for it.
Finding the demographic that will desire and use your product or service is the first step in any marketing plan. Once you have this information, use it for your copy. To gauge what kind of tone, content and style your ideal readership might enjoy and expect, find other websites and publications that target a similar audience. Even if their subject matter is different than yours, it will give you a starting point from which you can develop a style that is more appropriate to your target audience.
You have a format, you know what problem you’re solving and you’ve researched your target audience. Now, it’s time to deal with the nuts and bolts of writing web copy like a pro, and this starts with spelling and grammar.
Word processing software is your friend for the former, but it won’t help with hononyms (words that sound the same but have different meanings, e.g. see and sea), or grammatical mistakes. There is no quick-fix solution for this: you need to learn it. Plenty of resources are available online, such as Grammar Girl and Daily Grammar. Your spelling and grammar don’t have to be perfect – the content is more important – however, spending a bit of time on these aspects of your writing will add a professional sheen to your web copy.
Readers are unmerciful, and if your first sentence doesn’t grab them hook, line and sinker, they are unlikely to keep reading. First sentence techniques you can use include mystery, empathy, controversy. The type of opening sentence you use will depend on your brand and your target reader.
Examples of mysterious first sentences include: “I remember the night she died like it was yesterday”, and “After the second time, I swore to myself it would never happen again”. These immediately raise questions: Who died? What happened? People are curious, if not a little nosy, and opening with an unanswered question – as long as it’s relevant to the rest of the writing – will catch their interest.
Other ways of involving your readers from the first sentence include starting with a statement that demonstrates you know exactly how your reader feels: “You’re excited by the idea of a career change, but also scared about the effects it might have on your personal life”. You can also make an inflammatory or potentially controversial statement, like “Social media is dead”.
Just as “Quality, not quantity” refers to the information within the blog post, it applies to your use of keywords too. After the SEO craze that resulted in reams of web pages filled with gobbledegook copy designed to rank well on Google, experts now unanimously agree that the information contained within web copy is just as important as the keyword density. Social media has influenced this, and now carries weight of its own. Creating quality, informative and useful copy with a few choice keywords makes readers more likely to share your content, and will be far more beneficial to your reputation.
Evergreen copy is writing that is always up-to-date. It isn’t connected to a certain time, therefore is more likely to be relevant to future readers, as well as those who are visiting your website now.
The easiest way to create evergreen copy is to avoid adding information that will date your writing. Of course, you can talk about the year your business started, however saying that you set up “five years ago in 2005” will immediately demonstrate that the copy or blog post in question was written in 2010, and that you haven’t updated it since then.
Whatever your previous writing experience, creating solid, professional web copy isn’t just the domain of professional copywriters. Follow these tips, practise your writing skills, and you’ll soon find that you can’t tell the difference.