Who are you? What do you do? How can I find you? Do I trust you?
You call them words, we call it copy. Whatever you call it, writing a website in a way that makes people engage with your product or service can be harder than it seems.
But worry not.
Even if you find it difficult to hit the high notes, the following will at least make your website sound in tune. And it will help ensure your audience is more likely to listen.
A picture tells a thousand words
Great websites generally have great imagery. But alongside taking a few classic snaps, there are some key points worth keeping in mind:
- Ensure your visuals are consistent and appropriate for your brand
- Be sure you have the right to share the images on your website
- Use a professional photographer if possible – even if it’s just for your main shots
- And make sure you’ve got the right metadata connected to your images – this means attaching key words behind them to get them working hard so Google and other search engines can find you.
But pictures don’t tell the whole story…
Read all about it!
Headlines. Use them.
Website users scan text rather than read thoroughly. So headings need to be effective as they are the first thing they’ll notice. Make sure you include some of your key words – it’s important for Search Engine Optimisation (SEO).
They need to catch people’s eye and give a hint as to what comes next. If they’re funny and/or clever then all the better – but be sure they’re not so obscure that only you and an intimate few can understand them.
And keep them short. And snappy.
Rules are there to be broken
In this age of mass multi-media communication, many of the language rules we learnt at school have gone out of the window.
Now, this don’t mean badly writings’ or; adding in – random bits of! Punctuation.
But, it does mean you can start paragraphs with but. And you can begin sentences with and.
Use the language to your advantage. It works when you break up text or create visual interest by using short sentences or one word paragraphs.
What you mustn’t do is forget the rules that form the bedrock of good writing. Things like the correct usage of possessive apostrophes* or that classic of modern writing… the three dots.
It’s three. Not four. Or ten. Just three.
It’s not what you say, it’s the way that you say it
Your tone of voice (TOV) represents the personality of your brand/company through words.
One way to approach how to write is to think what your business would sound like if it was a person. How we express ourselves in words speaks volumes about us. If you met your brand at a party would you want to talk to them again?
Think about your competitors. What is their TOV like? Warm and chatty or rather formal? Decide which approach appeals to you and apply it consistently. It forms part of your brand.
Obviously you will vary your TOV depending on who you’re talking to and the medium you’re using, but a single personality should still be coming through.
Finding the right voice gives all your communications their own distinct flavour and demonstrates congruence. Congruence is when how you behave and look matches what you say. Looking the part is only half the story. Your website needs to look the part and sound the part. That’s congruence and it helps customers trust you.
We often use brand values to help clients develop their distinct TOV. This is fine as far as it goes. But saying you’re ‘approachable’ and an ‘expert’ in your field isn’t enough. What makes you sound approachable and expert is about a subtle mix of your use of register, vocabulary and grammar.
Compare Newsround with News at 10.
They’re both seen as trusted experts. They both share the same news stories. But how they do it… that’s the difference.
Take the following example from a food company. One of their brand values is ‘delicious’.
To express this they use language like: mouth-watering, satisfying, indulge, fabulous, enjoy, lovely, ripe, juicy.
So… ‘A lettuce, tomato and cucumber salad’ becomes… ‘Crisp lettuce and cucumber salad with juicy tomato.’
One sounds plain and drab, the other fresh and appetising.
For the web it’s crucial to remember that TOV mustn’t get in the way of writing good web-friendly copy. Usability and SEO rule the roost – but really good web copy manages to combine them all.
So you’ve got some good headlines and have decided how you want to come across. The next bit is the hardest of all. The stuff that comes under the headlines and explains the detail. The stuff you want people to read.
It’s a bit like doing the high jump at school. If you’ve seen the Fosbury Flop then you should be able to do it. But we all know how hard it really is to clear the bar. And the odds are there will be people who are better at it than you are.
Luckily there are some tricks you can learn to help you jump higher. And it’s the same for good web copy too.
Here are our top twelve web copy tips:
- Get people’s attention. And keep it. Keep your text short and to the point. Optimum word count per page is around 250. Obviously this can vary but if you’re worried it’s too long it probably is.
- Structure and format are crucial. Make it easy on the eye using distinct paragraphs with headings and bullets. People read websites in an F pattern. Make your key points clear and don’t lose them on the bottom right on the page.
- Do sweat the small stuff – make sure paragraphs and images are all aligned correctly and don’t use random capitals or suddenly change fonts, colours or text size.
- Think about sentence length. Try to keep sentences under 15 words, and no more than 20.
- Paragraphs – again keep them short and to the point with 1 idea in each. Show don’t tell.
- Research the key words people are using and weave this into your copy.
- Look at what your competitors are doing. What do you like? What don’t you like?
- Make the reader feel like you are talking to them – use ‘you’.
- It’s crucial to be honest. Don’t try and be something you’re not.
- Always think of your audience. Getting their attention is one thing. Keeping it another. Are you indulging yourself or engaging them? Remember that as humans we’re programmed to love a good story. You’ve got to sell the story. Stories sell.
- Use the active rather than the passive voice to make things personal. [See comment about using ‘You’ above.]
- Update your site often to keep content fresh for visitors. Google also likes this. One of the best ways of doing this is through a blog.
Of course you are.
That’s why you’re building a business and developing your brand. But even you can’t do everything. It’s always good to get a trusted friend (ideally several) to read through your site. Listen to them – without forgetting your opinion is finally what counts!
Or get a professional in. You can get someone to write the whole thing from scratch or just cast an eye over your finished piece and give it a light edit. Neither needs to cost the earth but it could really help you express yourself the way you want to sound.
And, finally, be your own best critical friend. Plan it. Write it. Review it. Cut it down. Tear it up. Have another think. Start again. And cut out anything that’s not absolutely necessary.
As Blaise Pascal said: “I have made this letter longer than usual, only because I haven’t had the time to make it shorter.”