Quick poll: Raise your hand if you’re 100% happy with your website.
Is your hand raised? I didn’t think so.
Because let’s face it, getting your organization's website right is tough. Done right, your website is your #1 salesperson. But done wrong? Your potential audience will click away before you can say "Contact me to learn more."
Of course, there’s a lot more to a compelling website than just the words written on it. But even the most expensive, beautiful, responsive websites are useless unless the content can keep people on the page.
So how do you write web copy that makes your target audience want to click “Contact Us”? Read and learn, my friend.
1. Be clear who the site is for
Your website has one job and one job only: to keep the right people on the page and filter out the rest.
How? By answering the first question every visitor has when visiting a new page: Am I in the right place?
An effective website should be able to answer the question: “Am I in the right place?” in about 20 seconds.
Almost immediately, visitors to your site should know what your site is about and whether or not it’s for them. If they have to read two paragraphs to figure that out, they’re not likely to stick around.
Because remember, people are busy and selfish. And I mean that in the most loving way possible. They simply don’t have the time, energy or inclination to read your life story before knowing whether you have what they want.
I know 20 seconds isn’t a lot of time, so here’s how to do it.
Use compelling headlines.
Show what you’re all about with a strong headline on your home page with either your value proposition or a philosophy a visitor can agree with. That headline is the first (and sometimes only!) impression a new reader will have of you, so make it's clear and bold. It should draw in your target audience and make them want to know more.
Use impactful first sentences
The most important sentence in every paragraph is the first one. Because let’s face it, people skim websites. They rarely read every sentence you write (which, as a copywriter, just crushes my soul), so put the most important sentence first so you can still get your point across to skimmers.
2. Remember it’s not about you
Tough love alert! As much as we obsess about how we present our organizations on our websites, the fact is, it isn’t about us-- it’s about our readers.
Remember, the goal of your website is to keep your target audience on the page by showing them they’re in the right place.
You won’t do that by focusing on how great you are. The only way to keep them engaged is to focus on them: who they are, how you help them and what benefit you bring them.
Focus on your audience
For every sentence you write, ask yourself:
- What is the goal of this sentence?
- Does this help my audience?
- Does this help them understand whether I can help them?
- Why should they care?
If what you're writing doesn't do anything to engage your audience, cut it.
Focus on benefits, not features
The easiest way to make sure you’re writing for your audience, not yourself, is to focus on the benefits of what you offer.
Most people forget this. They’re so close to what they offer that they can only see the features: the process, the technique, the package.
But your audience doesn’t care about all that. They want to know what's in it for them Someone with back pain couldn’t care less about the history of Pilates and how many movements are in each class. They only care about whether Pilates can help them have less pain.
Your audience doesn't need all the backstory. They don’t need to know how the sausage is made. They don’t want to know why it's important to you, they want to know why they should care.
3. Be human
Most of the advice you read about writing better says “Write the way you talk.” It’s good advice and we’ll get back to that, but I’d like to offer something even more powerful:
Write the way they talk
Write down the words and phrases your target audience uses to describe their problem.
Note how they talk about the benefits they want. Note the words they use to describe how they feel about their pain point. And then use those words in your web copy.
This rule will also help you avoid using jargon, which is another copy pitfall. When you use the words your audience uses, they're guaranteed to understand what you're saying.
Sound like a human
This is the whole "write like you speak" thing. Even if you’re a B2B business, you’re still talking to humans-- so write like it. If you wouldn’t say something out loud in a conversation, don’t write it on your website.
If you're having trouble writing like you speak, read it out loud.
Are you tripping over unwieldy words? Having to take a breath in the middle of a long sentence? Getting bored half way through the paragraph?
Then you're not writing like a human.
Use emotional language
Your website’s first job is to keep the right people on the page.
But that’s not its only job.
If you’re running a business or a non-profit, your website’s ultimate goal is to sell-- sell a product, a service, an idea. Even if people can’t actually purchase anything on the site, they can “buy” into your brand. They can subscribe to your newsletter, download your white paper, or hit “contact me” to take the next step.
And if you want them to do any of those things, you need to appeal to their emotions.
Because buying is an emotional decision, not a rational one.
Yes, your value proposition needs to be logical with tangible benefits, but at the end of the day, people buy into the things they want to believe in-- and beliefs are emotional.
Now, that’s not permission to say a bunch of vague, aspirational gobbledegook that doesn’t actually mean anything. It simply means using words that appeal to someone’s emotions. For example:
Develop → create
Difficult→ hard, tough, frustrating
Learn → find out, discover
Refrain from → stop
Not sure whether a word is emotional or logical? Ask yourself: would I use this word if I was upset or excited? If the answer is no, try to find an alternative.
Are you rolling your eyes? I know it’s cliché, but it works.
People are hard-wired to relate to stories. That’s how we learned things as children. It’s how we remember facts. It’s what keeps our attention.
That’s not to say that every page on your website needs to start with, “Once upon a time…” A story doesn’t need to be a novel with a beginning, middle and end. It can be a couple sentences. For example:
“You quit your corporate job to follow your passion-- but running your own business is a lot harder than you thought. You’re trying to figure everything out by yourself and nothing seems to be working. Everyone talks about attracting ‘dream clients,’ but at this point? You’d be happy with any clients.”
That? That’s a story. There’s a hero, a journey, a problem, a struggle.
Your audience can see themselves in the story and will want to know how it ends-- which means they’ll stick around to find out.
4. Simplify and shorten
Unless you’re completely new to the internet (in which case, welcome!), you probably know this already: writing for the web is different than writing a document.
Attention spans are shorter. Eyes are tired from reading on screens. Our lizard brains can't keep still.
Click and scroll, click and scroll.
So if you want any chance of keeping your audience’s attention on your website, here are a few golden rules:
- Short sentences and paragraphs. Use simple sentence structures and keep your paragraphs to 3-4 sentences, max.
- Use white space. The benefit of short paragraphs is a lot of white space, which helps lead your readers’ eyes down the page.
- Highlight key points. Use visual clues like headings, quote boxes, italics, bold and bullets to pull out important or compelling words and sentences.
- Simplify your language. Avoid jargon, technical language and BS phrases that don’t actually mean anything. Ex. “Company X leverages synergies to accelerate the impact of innovative solutions.” ← Seriously, what does that even mean??
- Avoid clichés. Good copy is unexpected. If your reader can guess the next word in the sentence, they’ll disengage.
The last golden rule is so important, it deserves its own paragraph.
5. Edit, edit, edit.
There’s a famous quote along the lines of, “I would have written a shorter letter, but I didn't have the time.” The quote speaks to the fact that clear, concise writing takes far more time and effort than that novel you’re calling an About page.
But if you truly want your website to work for you-- keeping your target audience on the page and getting them to buy into what you’re offering-- you have to be ruthless with your writing.
Cut out anything that doesn’t serve your audience. Read it out loud and change anything that sounds unnatural. Shorten any sentence that requires you to take a breath halfway through it.
Because remember, this isn’t the next Great American Novel. It isn’t a thesis statement. It isn’t your autobiography.
It’s your website. And if it isn’t working for you, it’s working against you.
So let’s make sure it’s doing its job, shall we?
[Not sure is your web copy is up to scratch? Let's chat! Contact me to set up a free consultation.]