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February 21, 2017

Cindy Penchina, President


“I’ll throw something together for the website.”

It’s one of the worst moves you can make.

Neglecting your copy is a common enough mistake. And it’s easy to see why; you’re so worried about other things: running your day-to-day, or the look and feel of the website, or any number of other distractions. Web copy often isn’t even something people think about until they look at the buckets of filler text and realize “oh snap, I need to put something here.”

But copy isn’t just text, and it’s not just there to look pretty. It has a very important job – and it’s one you neglect at your peril.

What is Your Website For?

Your website copy is something you need to think through strategically in relation to what you want your website to accomplish, and nine times out of ten, that’s to quickly, effectively, and efficiently communicate your value to your visitors.

That’s a really specific task, and it means that you need to make sure you’ve got high-value web copy that’s easy to read, memorable, consistent with your brand message, clear about your benefits, and appealing to your target audience.

And the truth is, that’s actually a pretty tall order, and something as important as a homepage headline can take hours – or longer – to think up.

Your homepage headline – more than your design, more than your color scheme, more than anything else other than load time – is where you really make your first impression. You’re only given about five seconds to tell your visitors that they’ve come to the right place at all, and maybe another ten after that to convince them that they want to spend more time here. The wrong message, if it’s not hitting their pain points or appealing to the right audience, just drives them away.

That's right: bad web copy can kill your business.

So let’s help make sure that never happens.

1. Know your goal

From your homepage to your service offerings, every webpage has a goal. But that goal isn’t always what you think it is. Think through what your audience wants to do on each page, and what they want to learn – and then provide that.

Your service offerings are a common place for websites to run off the rails. This is a marketing tool, not an informational hub, so think: what  information do I need to include here? Don’t go into copious detail about each offering; instead, focus on how each offering can provide a solution to a problem, and offer specifics where they reinforce your point. “We utilize the XG7000 system for maximum waste reduction” is far less compelling than “You can improve your operational efficiency by as much as 70% overnight.”

Your goal changes on every page, so keep aware of what you need to achieve on each page – and make sure you succeed. Map out the plan ahead of time so that you have content for each potential customer type and for each stage of their buyer journey.

2. Know your audience

Who are you talking to and why?

Keeping an eye on your audience is important anytime you’re trying to communicate with someone. In performance, it’s called “reading the room,” but it’s really just the simple matter of making sure you’re reaching the people you’re trying to reach by being aware of their concerns, needs, and desires.

Pay attention to who you do business with. What are they like? What do they need? What keeps them up at night? Knowing who you’re talking to can tell you how to talk to them; if your business caters to serious business people, maybe making your messaging corny and fun isn’t the best way to go. If you’re trying to reach hip twenty-somethings, don’t talk like a law firm.

3. Keep it short

Simple enough, right? Stick to the important points, and make sure you don’t get too verbose. Nobody is there to read a novel; they’re there to learn. Don’t put too many barriers between them and their goal by going on and on and on and on in mind-numbing detail.

Keep it short. Keep it snappy.

3. Talk about your reader, not yourself

Everyone hates that guy at a party who just talks about himself. Most people are not visiting your website to learn about you; they’re there because they need a problem solved and you seem to have a solution. They’re there to evaluate your offering, to see if it does what they need it to do. And while talking about yourself is necessary to a degree, you only want to do it to the extent that it reinforces your value to the client. They probably don’t want to hear about your recent trip to Bermuda.

You’d think I wouldn’t have to say that, but you’d be wrong.

4. Write for the medium

Writing for the internet isn’t the same thing as writing a term paper. People tend mostly to skim online, so you want to make a point of keeping your paragraphs short and the important information at the top. Use bullets to communicate vital information, and put the most important information at the top of the page, and less important information as we move down the page. That means your readers are more likely to get the information they really need before they lose interest or get distracted.

5. Write like a human

Once upon a time, SEO meant jamming keywords into a website as often as possible. Don’t do that. Google prioritizes well-written, human content that doesn’t read like it was produced by a robot. If you can’t produce anything other than stilted, off-putting copy, get someone else to write it. You want to satisfy the search engines and provide a pleasant experience for your reader.

6. Be helpful

Your reader comes first. As mentioned above, that means you need to focus on solving their problem, not telling them all about yourself. And that can extend to flat out offering them something of value for free, like an ebook, informational seminar, or blog post. You’re there to help, not to sell; by focusing on meeting their needs, you make them more likely to trust you in the long run.

So keep your copy client-focused and oriented toward helping people solve their problems and your visitors will be more likely to be engaged and more likely to engage with you.