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How to write copy for the web

23/03/2021

Good copy has an unlimited shelf life. Unlike many other aspects of a web page that will change over time, great copy can provide long-lasting benefit, both to customers that engage with it, but also in terms of your wider marketing strategy and Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) efforts. This month we take a look at some best practices around the structure and substance of website copy, and how this in turn could impact the overall performance of your website. 

Define the page's purpose

It may sound rudimentary, but if you haven't clearly defined the purpose of a page you're writing copy for, there's a good chance your copy might not make full use of the opportunity it has. Each page on your website should have a unique and clearly identifiable purpose; whether you're explaining a product or service, capturing a company history, or addressing issues you think your customers are passionate about, the copy you write should be crafted in a way that helps a page to achieve its primary purpose.

To use some basic examples, if you were writing copy for a product page on an e-commerce website, the purpose of your page may be to adequately expound the benefits of the product and position it to the customers you think will be most interested in it. In contrast, writing copy for a hair salon's home page might centre around convincing your audience that your salon has the kind of creativity, experience, and expertise that customers can put their trust in.

When writing copy is hard, or you find yourself meandering off on tangents, it may well signify you don't have a clear and specific enough vision for what the page is trying to achieve. Poor copy can be damaging on a number of levels: it might not only be uninteresting to the user, but it could even confuse them and reduce their opinion of your brand, as well as reducing your authority in the eye's of search engines. Editing your copy can be time-consuming, but it will pay dividends for your end-users if you try to communicate in the most succinct and elegant way and avoid complex jargon. 

Do:

  • Clearly identify what each page's purpose is.
  • Keep your copy as succinct and impactful as possible.
  • Anticipate what information or questions the user has and try to address them directly.

Don’t:

  • Go off on tangents.
  • Fill the pages with unnecessary information.

Solve the user's problem

Often users will visit a website for a specific purpose or with a problem they want to solve. Understanding what motivates visitors to your website can be incredibly useful in both defining your pages' purposes and also in making sure you adequately solve users' problems. 

A simple example of this might be a customer that needs to purchase their first lawnmower but doesn't know what type of lawnmower is appropriate for them. In this example, it's likely that the customer already has most, if not all, the information required to make a purchase decision, but they need help reaching a conclusion they feel confident in – especially since this would constitute a fairly significant purchase. In this scenario, the user's problem is that they want to feel sure they're buying the right piece of equipment for their needs; as a result, your website structure, as well as the copy and content throughout it, should be tailored around holding the customer's hand at every step of the journey and giving them not just the information they need, but also the reassurance and confidence in your recommendations and service.

Copy on each of your category pages should clearly explain what and who each separate group of products is designed for. Copy on your product pages should clearly identify the scenario a specific product is going to thrive in and whether it's right for the user or not. For example, "This model offers the widest cutting deck of all our ranges, as well as the largest capacity grass box – ideal for individuals looking to cover large lawns as quickly as possible."

Another useful technique when it comes to honing and testing the value of your copy is to anticipate how customers may react to it. For example, you may have explained that a mower features stainless steel blades, but so what? What problem is that feature solving for the customer? In this instance, it could mean that the blades will both last longer before they need to be sharpened and are more resistant to rust. Therefore, you could adapt this to say "Rust-resistant, high-quality stainless steel blades, for a longer-lasting sharp edge". As well as providing more value to the customer in your copy, you will also naturally provide search engines with additional keywords to associate with your website.

Do:

  • Explain how your product or service addresses different problems customers may have.
  • Provide detail about why your products or services are unique and the scenarios they are most beneficial in.

Don’t:

  • Be vague.
  • Try to answer every possible question about your product or service, just the ones you feel are most relevant.

Use layout effectively

The way you lay out copy (and content in general) is one of the most important variables in determining how easy it is for a user to digest. Having fantastic copy can be pointless if it is presented to the user in a way that's not easy to read, or overwhelms them. 

Using headings, sub-headings, well-structured paragraphs and other formatting can help users scan a section of copy to ascertain if it's relevant to them or not, and can help them find the part of the copy they are specifically interested in. Remember that users have limited attention spans and are susceptible to attention fatigue, so helping them scan-read your copy quickly, and also navigate through it can be vitally important in keeping them engaged.

If you need to present the user with a lot of information, be creative in the way you lay this out so they can digest it in bite size chunks. You could for example use a bulleted list, or accompany technical information with a graphic that helps to reinforce your points. 

Do:

  • Lay out the copy clearly and concisely.
  • Use appropriate formatting to ensure your blocks of copy are easy to scan read.

Don’t:

  • Group large amounts of text and information together.
  • Write bloated paragraphs of text or combine too many points into one paragraph. 

Think about SEO

Thinking about the way search engines will scan and interpret your web pages should complement the tips we've already suggested above and naturally help to keep you on topic. It shouldn't encourage you to distort the natural rhythm of the copy you write, nor become the primary focus when working on your compositions. Search engines are too intelligent nowadays to overlook 'spammy' copy and you can actually end up doing yourself more harm than good if you overcompensate. Use natural language, but be mindful of the best keywords and phrases that will help users find your content, including a mix of 'long-tail' keywords (very specific things, e.g. "buy large all-terrain, self-propelled lawn mowers") and regular keywords (e.g. "lawnmowers").

The longer users spend on your site and the more you're able to engage their attention will also benefit you in the eyes' of the search engines. Reducing your 'bounce rate' – the amount of times users hit a single page of your website and navigate away without making a further interaction – will help to convince search engines that users find your content useful. So, put yourself in your audience's shoes and think about how they might have found their way to your website, and what's going to be of interest to them in their journey. 

Do:

  • Include your keywords naturally in the copy.
  • Think about who your audience is in-depth.

Don't:

  • Stuff keywords into the copy unnecessarily.
  • Don't deviate from the points you are trying to make.

If you'd like advice on writing copy for your website, contact us to have a chat about your needs.

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