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How to write compelling website copy

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People don’t read website copy on a screen the same way they read a book or magazine. Your readers’ eyes skip about a web page like a child skipping on hot sand, according to eye-tracking data. At most, they’ll read about a quarter of the words on the page.

Worse, they’ll only spend between ten and 20 seconds on your website. They’re one click away from leaving and going elsewhere.

Better website copy starts here

It’s a brutal environment for copy, and only the fittest survives, so the only reliable way to make people read what you have to say online is to inject a little fizz and ginger into your ailing website copy:

  • Lead with the writing. Plan and budget writing for the site as if it were the most important thing, not a last-minute extra. The best SEO tool is well-written, persona-driven website copy. No lorem ipsum here.
  • Get subject matter experts. You don’t get a plumber to do your wiring, so why get a design firm or a marcomms agency to write you website? Find a specialist copywriting agency to do the job right.
  • Write less. Put your copy on a diet. Aim for a 50 percent cut and make the text bigger and easier to read.
  • Use shorter words. Big words don’t make you sound big and clever at all. Actually, the opposite is true, according to Stanford research. Short words are best.
  • Verbs not adjectives. Saying your product or service ‘saves you $15 dollars a month’ is much more persuasive than saying that it’s ‘cost-effective’. Actions speak louder than adjectives.
  • Make your text scannable. A website is not like a box of chocolates; you should know exactly what you’re gonna get. Use headings, subheads, links, pull quotes, and a bit of bold or italic text to highlight key points and give signposts for the reader.
  • Be direct. Don’t feel awkward talking about price and prompting people to sign up to something. Being up front and specific tells visitors what’s on offer and exactly how to get it. Skirting around the issue just looks suspicious.
  • Keep the punctuation to a minimum. We’re fans of lean punctuation. Cut out acronyms, abbreviations and excessive capitalisation too, if you want people to read easily.

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Be human, be approachable

  • Keep it human. Use readability tools and common sense to make your website copy as readable as you can. Avoid jargon, obscure acronyms, excessive punctuation, etc – they’re all speed bumps for the reader. Even if you want professors to read your site, write for schoolchildren. It’ll be easier on all of them.
  • Be conversational. Don’t be afraid of being yourself. Use ‘you’ and ‘we’, rather than the third person, speak directly to the reader and have a sense of humour.
  • Cut the hype. People are bombarded with advertising and spin. They have pretty good BS detectors. So, if you want to be trusted, don’t sound like an advert. Be specific, avoid hype and hyperbole and don’t state the obvious.
  • Use images. Use photos and diagrams to add colour, flavour and emotion to your copy. Stock libraries and public domain images can leaven the copy on any web page.
  • Mix it up. Run A/B tests to work out what sort of copy best fuels website conversions. Try ‘sign up for your 30-day free trial’ rather than ‘sign up for a free trial’. Alternate long copy and short copy on landing pages and see which works best.

Remember, bad writing costs real money. If your customers can’t find what they are looking for, can’t understand it when they do, or are so confused or bored they don’t read it, you lose.

The copy on your website is what your ideal buyers are there to read so make it worth their time.
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Matthew Stibbe

Matthew is founder and CEO of Articulate Marketing.