Like a good handshake, well-written copy shows professionalism, promotes trust in your brand, and engages the reader on a personal level. When applied to the web, your copy must also be structured in a way that pleases today’s search engine algorithms and social media formats. A professional copywriter writes in such a way that both humans and robots can easily understand, all while conveying a formulated message to the audience.
So how do you write text that appeals to both humans and robots? Some say it’s an artform, others a myth. Many professionals will advise against going it alone, and will recommend sourcing a linguistics expert. In a perfect world, we’d all have professional copywriters on staff churning out fresh content daily… But in reality, most small businesses cannot source a professional copywriter in-house, but still have the need for professionally written website copy.
Fortunately, over the years we have compiled a series of best practices that we use daily in order to produce written copy for our clients. These are proven techniques used across the industry and for the most part, can be used as a blueprint for writing successful, SEO friendly, website copy.
1. Use Active Voice.
When you use active voice, the subject takes action instead of requiring an action to be made. That makes it powerful. Sentences that follow this structure are easier to understand, convey motion, and are naturally more appealing. For example:
“We built our new website to help you work smarter, not harder.” vs. “The new website built by our company can help you work smarter instead of harder.”
See how the first sentence is not only shorter, but easier to digest?
Active voice sentences can also start with a verb, as in a command. For example: “Learn how to market your business smarter, not harder, with our new website.”
Which of these example sentences you use depends on whether you want to emphasize the new website or what your audience will learn with it. But either option is exponentially better than long-winded sentences that draw focus away from the subject and verb.
2. Important Details are Important.
Who, what, when, where, why, and how are critical for all good copywriting, not just journalism. Your readers want them because they make your copy real, concrete, and trustworthy. Outlining your content prior to writing website copy is a must. A written outline will not only allow you to organize your thoughts and points of emphasis, but most importantly, it will make your 5th grade English teacher proud.
3. Write Powerful Headlines, not Clickbait.
All your copy is worthless if your headlines don’t entice visitors to click-through and read further. On the other hand, resorting to misleading, overly dramatic headlines can break trust and push readers away. Our goal here is to have the reader stop in their tracks and ask themselves a question. We accomplish that by using this simple formula:
Trigger – A single word or phrase that gets the reader to stop and focus their attention.
Desired Outcome – What will the reader get?
Time Until Desired Outcome is Achieved – How long will it take?
Alleviate Concerns – Identify common objections, and proactively remove them from the discussion.
Risk Removal – Eliminate fears before they are even realized.
Using the above formula, anyone can piece together a winning headline in no time…
Let’s see what we come up with if we apply this formula, to our Digital Marketing Studio… For example, using A/B split testing and customer research we have learned that business owners and marketing managers want an affordable way to develop a flexible, full-featured website, that is easy to use and helps to grow their business.
Trigger – “Finally!”
Desired Outcome – “an easy and affordable way to develop a feature-rich website
Time Until Desired Outcome is Achieved – “in less than 30 days”
Alleviate Concerns – “that is both user-friendly and secure”
Risk Removal – “Guaranteed!”
Now let’s put that all together…
“Finally, an affordable way to develop a feature-rich website in less than 30 days, that is both user-friendly and secure, guaranteed!”
That’s it! The numbers show that this headline format gets qualified clicks, and who are we to argue with the numbers?
4. Make It Skimmable.
People in general don’t read word for word. Instead, they scan to find what they’re looking for. Making your copy and content easy to skim gives them what they want, keeps their attention, and is easier to read.
Using a variety of formatting techniques that break up the text and draw the reader’s eye down the page. Some of the best ways to make web copy skimmable are:
- Use several headings and subheadings
- Create bulleted and numbered lists
- Format text with bold, italic, underlining, or color
- Include images, video, and other media and captions for each
- Write single-line paragraphs
- Vary sentence and paragraph length
5. Use Short Words.
Simple words communicate better than big words and pompous language. Stick with short uniquely English words instead of more complex Latin-based words. For example:
- show vs. indicate
- get rid of vs. eliminate
- help vs. assist or facilitate
- get vs. obtain
- best vs. superior
7. Avoid Jargon, Hype and Corporate Speak.
In the spirit of using simple words, being concise, and writing in the active voice, avoid these types of pompous language like the plague. They’re difficult to understand, and nobody wants to read them.
8. Incorporate Scarcity.
A powerful copywriting tip is to make something scarce, so prospects have to act quickly or it will be gone. Scarcity doesn’t work for all types of content – blog posts, for example – but you can use scarcity for anything you’re promoting in your content. A webinar or conference may only have so many spots, a special deal will end in a few days, or a popular product could only be available at certain times of the year.
9. Create a Sense of Urgency.
Like scarcity, urgency encourages a prospect to act quickly. Limited-time offers, a 3-day free ebook promotion, and coupon expiration dates are all great examples of urgency.
Newsjacking and writing about trends are also ways to take advantage of urgency.
10. Use Positive Language.
If you use negative words, that’s usually what people remember. Rewrite the sentence to use positive words. For example, “Don’t get left behind” might become “Get ahead of the competition.”
Sometimes negative language is necessary, and sometimes it adds variety to your copy. But overdoing it can leave a negative impression.
11. Balance Text with Images.
This might not seem like a web copywriting tip, but incorporating various media (like photos, videos, infographics, slides, and more) in your content marketing strategy can make a big difference. There’s a reason websites like Pinterest and YouTube are so popular.
12. Put Important Information in Image Captions.
When you see an image in a blog post, do you read the caption below it? So does everybody else. Take advantage of this prime real estate by writing a descriptive, informative caption.
13. Make it Feel like a Conversation.
People don’t want to be sold to. Tone down the hype and write your web copy like you’re talking with your ideal customer face-to-face. Your audience can tell the difference, and will be more likely to participate.
14. Craft a Compelling Call-to-Action.
You could write the most effective, emotional, efficient copy for your printed marketing media, and it wouldn’t amount to anything if a call to action wasn’t clearly defined. In written advertising, a call to action (by definition) is an imperative sentence that instructs the reader to perform a specific task. They’re absolutely crucial because once you’ve hooked your audience on your brand, they need to know what steps to take in order to obtain your product or service. Good call to action phrases act like a trail of breadcrumbs leading potential customers directly to your business.
15. Tell a Story
All the epic content in the world is useless if it doesn’t help visitors become leads and customers. Learn to write powerful calls to action that guide prospects through the sales funnel.
Storytelling is powerful. It draws readers in and engages them. And the honesty and transparency involved in storytelling is one of the top ways you can build your credibility and authority even in your web copywriting.
16. Align Buyer Persona and Buying Cycle.
When you align content, calls to action, emotional triggers, and other elements with the appropriate buyer persona and a specific stage of the buying cycle, prospects are much more likely to consume the content and perform the action. That kind of perfectly matched content is highly personalized, specific, and effective.
17. Include Emotion.
One of the reasons storytelling works is because it often appeals to emotion. If you can make a visitor feel excited that they found you or desperate for your solution, you can draw them further into your site, give them what they’re looking for, and keep them coming back for more.
18. Back up Your Claims.
Logic influences the decisions you want your visitors to make as much as emotion does. Use statistics, research data, case studies, testimonials, and other credible sources to prove what you say.
19. Link to Reputable Sources.
Nothing online exists in a vacuum. Linking out to high-quality websites in your web copywriting helps your visitors and makes you more credible by association.