Great web copy is one of those things that most people take for granted. When we visit a website for a person, brand, or product, it’s all too easy to forget that someone had to sit down and write all of that stuff. If you’ve ever tried to write web copy before, you know exactly how difficult this can be.
The unfortunate part of web copy is that it’s often tacked onto a site almost as an afterthought. You spend all your time working on your product/service and developing your site, after which words are quickly thrown together right before the site goes live. This doesn’t really make much sense when you think about it, because the whole point of your website is to create awareness and sell people on something. And what will be a big part of what’ll help accomplish this? Your writing!
Alright, so here’s the bad news: Writing great web copy is hard. Even for people like me who write every day. If you’re someone who isn’t a writer by trade, this is all the more difficult. But remember, if you don’t have a great website, then there won’t be enough people coming in to enable you focus on what you really want to be doing – so give your site’s copy the attention it deserves!
Though there’s no magic potion to make your great web copy suddenly appear, there are some things you can do to help get your creativity flowing and write better. By no means am I claiming to be the best copywriter of all time, but I’ve found a number of techniques over the years that I’ve found to be extremely helpful.
Think about it – if you were learning to play classical guitar, would you just pick up a guitar and try to figure it out on your own? Probably not. You’d likely listen to as much music as you could in order to get a good sense of the style as you begin to learn it.
In order to write great, you need to know what great writing looks like. If you’re not an active reader, make it a point to read more. I like to wake up early and read a book for about 45 minutes every morning. I’ve found that it has really helped to improve my focus and be awake & ready to go by the time I get into the office. By reading more, you’re also exposing yourself to new styles of writing that will find their way into your own work.
In addition to reading more books, also look at other websites. Take note of which have great writing and which are just plain awful. It’ll give you inspiration for what’s possible and, most importantly, what to avoid at all costs.
Find Your Voice
Whether it’s a personal or professional website, your website represents your brand. This is why it’s important to first understand what your brand identity is before you type a single word. Are you serious and authoritative? Silly and irreverent? If you sell water guns, it wouldn’t make sense to write long-form, complex paragraphs that a child would have a hard time understanding.
Try to identify your voice before you start writing in order to establish a style that will carry throughout your site. There are many pages on a website that can take a long time to write, so it’s easy for your style to change during this process. Try writing down a bunch of adjectives that describe your brand and check back from time to time to make sure you’re hitting all of the right notes.
Think Benefits, Not Features
Don’t just describe your offering in technical terms. You can definitely include this in a section for those that want all of the fine details, but don’t make it the only way you describe things. People won’t always make the connection between what you’re offering and how it’ll benefit them, so do it for them. Make it easy for them to picture how things will improve once they have your product. This is a great example of where reading more will come in handy, because you’ll have an easier time becoming a storyteller rather than a feature describer.
As an example, think about what it’s like selling a house. There’s a big difference between “1 block north of Main St.” and “steps away from Main St., stop by your choice of café on your way to work and never forget the milk on your way home!” We understand things much better as stories and when we can visualize ourselves in a scenario, which is why you’ll want to think in these terms as opposed to complex technical language.
Just Write. Edit Later.
Writing can easily consist of taking 1 step forward and 2 steps back. It’s all too tempting to write a sentence and then immediately re-read it to make sure it’s perfect. The problem with this is it makes it hard for your writing to have a good flow, because you’re not allowing yourself the chance to string ideas together. Instead, you have a fragmented structure of isolated sentences that you’ve put too much thought into and don’t sound natural anymore.
Remember, whatever you write at first doesn’t need to be in the final version. Just start writing and see what you come up with. Don’t worry if it sounds perfect or even if it’s grammatically correct. Once you’re done, take a break so you can recharge and avoid exhaustion. When you come back, read everything over again and then begin the editing process. You might think everything is perfect. You might think it’s all garbage and decide to start over. No matter what, at least you’ve done something and you now have a good foundation to work off of.
Forget “Proper” Writing
It can be hard to undo what your English teachers taught you all throughout school, but on the web you don’t need to be grammatically correct all the time. It’s all about effective writing, which isn’t necessarily proper writing. You can use shorter sentences if they sound better. You can even use one word sentences to really drive a point home. Just. Like. This. Or even start sentences with “because.” Because sometimes that’s effective too.
I find that a conversational tone that reads like how a person would speak resonates well with readers. When you speak, you don’t talk in full, poetic sentences with correct grammar and syntax. There’s a reason why no one ever reads the Terms of Service – they’re boring and they’re not written how people normally communicate. If it sounds weird to read what you’ve written out loud, then try again. As another approach, you could even try recording yourself speak and then transcribe your ideas for your web copy.
Less Is More
Here’s the good news: People don’t like huge paragraphs. If you can take a complex idea and condense it to just a few words, then you’ve hit the copywriting jackpot! The problem is that this can be deceptively hard.
I find it helpful to look back at what I’ve written so far and see if there’s anything I can get rid of. Do these sentences basically say the same thing but in different ways? Do I really need that first sentence? Is the final sentence obvious enough based on what came before it? People are much more likely to read one sentence than 5, so try to identify the essentials of what you’re trying to say.
You don’t have to be the best writer in the world. You don’t have to be a professional writer. The only thing you have to do is just write! If you start then you’ll only get better from that point onwards. Try not to overthink it and see what you come up with. Have someone look it over and see what they think (and don’t get too defensive about any criticism). You’ve worked hard on your website, so give your writing the attention it deserves!
What websites do you think have done an amazing job with their writing? Let us know in the comments!