Writing Copy for your Website

Introduction

We’ll level with you. If there’s one thing years of working on website projects has taught the folk of Azure Design it’s that website copy writing is a massive pain in the bum (even super-cool website projects like ours for a better class of client!).

If any one element is going to delay a project, you can bet your bottom dollar it’s producing the copy. In an ideal world, clients would make budget available for a professional copy-writer, but back in the real world it’s rare for budgets to stretch that far.

How can you ensure that your website is attractive to human beings and search engine robots alike? Azure Design have put together a series of top tips for people landed with the task of website copy-writing and, because we’re all round caring, sharing individuals, we thought you might find it useful…

Website copy-writing tip #1: don’t panic!

Most websites require a quite a lot of information on nearly every page and we know from experience that not everyone feels particularly comfortable writing it.

It may seem daunting to write all of your website copy up front, so break it up into chunks. Even if you only do a page a day, it’s amazing how quickly you’ll get through it.

#2: Know your audience (and what you want them to do)

Before you write anything at all, it’s vital that you stop and think about who will be reading that page and what next action you would like them to take. The structure of the page, language used and information it contains should always be designed with user experience in mind.

Sometimes a page might target more than one user group, in which case it could be appropriate to write separate content for each – the most effective pages are those that are tailored towards the expectations and needs of their visitors.

If you can highlight a clear next step action – a phone number to ring or a form to fill in, do so – a good web designer will flag that up straight away and make sure it forms a key element in the design of the page.

#3: Don’t let the best be the enemy of the better

If you get stuck on a particular page, start running out of time or are in other ways struggling, remember: in most cases your initial copy need not be completely perfect.

Most sites these days come with a content management system or CMS (you can test-drive Azure’s CMS here), which means that you can edit, change and fiddle about with your website copy to your heart’s content later on.

If you’re struggling, write a bullet point list of the key information you need on the page along with any instructions or next step actions you want your visitors to take and pass these to your web designer. That way you won’t hold the project up and the page will at least show something until you have the time or the inspiration to go in and beautify it.

#4: People don’t like reading websites

According to useability expert Jakob Nielsen, the vast majority of website visitors – 79% – don’t read web pages they scan them, picking out individual words and sentences. Only 16% of visitors typically read a page word for word.

As a result, the most read websites employ a number of techniques to help visitors scan text, including, according to Nielsen:

  • highlighted keywords (hypertext links serve as one form of highlighting; typeface variations and color are others)
  • meaningful sub-headings (not “clever” ones)
  • bulleted lists
  • one idea per paragraph (users will skip over any additional ideas if they are not caught by the first few words in the paragraph)

#5: Write it, half it and half it again

It’s the old adage when it comes to writing copy and where it comes to text for websites it’s worth it’s weight in gold.

We already know that people don’t like wading through text, so when you’re writing yours, think if there’s a better way of getting your message across. Would an info-graphic, a photo of a product or a downloadable document be a better way of getting your information across? If so, let your designer know and save everyone some trouble!

For most pages we tend to suggest that around 250 words is more than enough for humans and search engines alike.

#6: Start at the end

Users only spend an average of 33 seconds on a web page so you don’t have very long to grab their attention.

Clearly, an informative and pithy title and subtile lets a user know if he or she is in the right place, but after that your best bet is to start with your conclusion.

Tell visitors what information the page is going to give them up top and then provide the detail for those that are interested.

#7: Search engines – how many key phrases should a page target?

When you’re writing the copy for a page, have a think about what phrase a user might type into Google if they were searching for the product, service or piece of information you are offering – what “key phrase(s)” you’re targeting.

It is usually a good idea for each individual page of your website to repeat the phrase(s) as much as possible in the text on that page. The more often a particular phrase appears on apage, the higher that page will rank in the search engines when people type it in.

The fewer key phrases you target per page, the more effective your search engine ranking will be, so giving one or two phrases priority on each page can often be a wise strategy.

When you supply your copy to your web designer, don’t forget to include a list of the key phrases you’re targeting?for each page so everyone is clear from the outset.

#8: Search engines – what makes a good key phrase?

According to research from SEO Researcher, the top three spaces on Google receive 79% of click-through traffic, highlighting the importance of your site being listed towards the top when internet users type your phrase into the search box.

Your primary phrase should be something that normal people are likely to type into a search engine, and it should also be descriptive of your page’s content (so that you can repeat it often in the text).

Smaller websites will generally see better results when their pages are optimised for more specific “niche” terms, rather than highly competitive terms that lots of people are trying to rank for – it can be much more effective to choose a creative two to five word key phrase rather than a single keyword with a lot of competition (“tips for website copy writing” rather than “website copy” for example).

#9: People first, search engines second

Don’t get too hung up on repeating key phrases, key phrase density and the ever-changing murky world of the search engines, this is only part of the story

If you write useful, interesting, informative or particularly hilarious website content, people will talk about it, recommend it to others, link to it on their websites and?Google, Yahoo, Bing, Ask et al will follow.

Not every page lends itself to optimisation – contact pages, for example, contain so little text it’s almost impossible to get them to rank for anything other than your organisation’s name, address or phone number.

Additionally, you might prefer it if certain pages weren’t optimised – when a potential client finds you on the world wide web, do you really want their first impression of your company to be your returns?policy and complaints procedure page, for example?

#10: You’re human, write like one

When you walk into a shop or an office you can make assumptions about the business behind it based on the decor, how the staff dress or how friendly they are. People don’t have the same luxury on a website.

Websites can be cold, faceless, impersonal places. Including photos or video of real people can appeal to the human animal in all of us, and where it’s not appropriate to look like a human, remember to write like one.

The language of the world wide web is less formal than traditional media like brochures or letters – embrace that; writing for websites allows much more scope for you to stamp your character or brand values on a site or share a joke. If you know your customers you’ll be aware of the things that push their buttons so make sure your copy is mindful of that.

Website visitors these days are extremely savvy, they hate jargon, marketing speak, bland corporate language and being patronised. Address potential customers on a level and be yourself. You might even find that you quite enjoy it!

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