Web copywriting best practices – 14 top tips

| September 6, 2013 | 0 Comments

Search engine algorithms evolve with time. All you need to do is take a look at Moz’s list of significant Google updates to realise nothing stands still for long in the digital marketing world. So how on earth do you keep up with web copywriting best practices?

Luckily while search engine algorithms, marketing media and the commercial landscape all change alarmingly quickly and frequently, human behaviour remains much the same. Which means one vital aspect of web copywriting best practice – the way you can expect humans to react – is relatively consistent.

Here are my top 14 tips for web copywriting excellence

1. Put the user first

The best web copywriters put the needs and desires of the target audience first whatever medium they’re creating content for, whether it’s social media, a blog, an email marketing campaign, website, advert or landing page.

Search engines like writers to put users first, too. And a strong consumer focus is also best direct marketing practice. So there’s your first tip for great web copywriting, an easy one: put the user first, every time.

2. Exercise common key term sense

Google is dumb. You need to tell it what your content is about, which means including key terms within your header, subheads and body copy. But there’s no need to go overboard.

These days, because search engine algorithms are clever enough to analyse the context as well as the words themselves, similies and related terms, you can write relatively naturally without the need to stuff key words in at every juncture.

3. Think direct marketing

Want to create web copy that sells? If you think the web is different, think again. It’s just the same as offline media, just another marketing medium. Great web copywriting is the same as great offline copywriting – they’re both an exercise in direct marketing. You need to bear direct response best practice in mind if you want people to respond. A proper web writer is, by nature, shit hot on DM.

4. Tell a story

If you strip commercial writing right down to its undies, it’s just storytelling. All marketing is storytelling. Whatever your medium, products, services, sector, vertical or audience, the best web based copywriting tells a tale. But you need to involve your readers in the story. Which means talking to them directly.

It’s no good going on and on about how brilliant you are. Who cares? People want to know your products, services or whatever are the best choice for them. Less ‘I’ and ‘we’, more ‘you’, ‘your’ and ‘yours’.

5. Lead with the benefits, put features second

Features are all very well. But they’re abstract. So what if your new car features an airbag for every passenger? The benefits of having airbags are much more important from a web copywriting perspective: stuff like physical safety and peace of mind. That’s what sells.

6. Be human

Even if you’re selling your wares B2B you are not selling to business entities. People buy your stuff, and people are human beings no matter how wealthy or clever, influential, posh, or far up the corporate ladder they are.

Humans don’t make rational, common sense buying decisions. We like to think we’re logical, but we’re all over the place. If you want to sell more stuff, you need a web content writer who will bear this in mind and appeal directly to people’s human side, to their emotions.

Just because someone works in business, there’s no excuse for using business-speak to communicate with them. Just because someone works in the legal sector, it doesn’t mean you have to descend into dense legalese to make yourself heard. Steer clear of jargon unless there’s no way to avoid it. If you are forced to use jargon, do readers the courtesy of explaining it. Be plain and clear.

What are the best human traits, the ones most of us admire? There’s niceness, kindness, friendliness, approachability, honesty, honour, reliability, trustworthiness, all that good stuff. Bring them into play in your web copywriting and you’ll hit the right chord. Go cold and inhuman on readers and you risk turning them off.

7. Let yourself be lyrical

It’s easy to write personality-free copy that does the job without the faintest whiff of individuality. But if you can write web copy that makes people smile, empathise with you, understand where you’re coming from or recognise a kindred spirit, you win a marketing edge over the majority who write ‘magnolia’.

8. Enthuse

It’s all very well being cool. But enthusiasm is infectious. Strike the right tone and you’ll inspire people to join you in your enthusiasm, and react the way you want them to.

9. Be positive

Mother Teresa knew it. She refused to support organisations dedicated to fighting against things. She knew that fighting for positive change is much more effective and powerful.

10. Make your message as long as it needs to be

There are no hard and fast rules about how much to write. You might be able to express a simple proposition in a few lines, but it may take a load more copy to put across a complex or revolutionary idea.

There’s more. As a general rule the more expensive the product, the more challenging the sell. You’d have to make much more of a marketing effort to sell a hundred grand Ferrari online than you would a pair of jeans.

11. Stash the fine detail

How to write website content people love to read? As a business owner, it’s tempting to include every tiny,weeny piece of information about your product or service in your marketing materials. But it’s usually counter-productive.

You need to be succinct and straight to the point, providing the information readers need to make a buying decision or respond the way you want them to and putting the rest elsewhere, where the occasional detail-obsessed individual can easily find it.

12. Format copy so it’s easy to read and digest

You can write the most brilliant web copy in the known universe. But if you format it in one big chunk, without breaks, sub headers or breathing space, people won’t read it.

We like to scan information to identify the specific nuggets of knowledge we need, so it’s important to format web copy to make it as easy as possible for people to scan. Use short paras, and break them up with subheads.

13. Be truthful

Every half-decent online writer can make boring things sound exciting. Which is a good thing… as long as you steer clear of porkies. Fibs and exaggerations are huge marketing no-nos, so don’t go there unless you want people to buy from you once, discover you’re a liar and never buy from you again.

Can you be too truthful? Not really. Telling the truth while all those around you are fibbing their heads off puts you in a powerful position. And almost anything can be turned into a positive message. If it genuinely can’t you might want to think twice about the product or service itself – is it actually worth having? Would you buy it?

Caveats and small print are marketing nightmares to be avoided at all costs. Weave them into the body of your copy instead and transform them into positives. Again, if you can’t, it’s probably time to re-think your product or service.

14. Showcase your best bits

Here’s a sad tale. An ex-client of mine has a wonderful product which potential buyers can test-drive online. But the best thing about the product – its ability to automatically generate an all-singing, all-dancing report of everything users have said and done in a session – isn’t available in the test version.  They talk about it in their marketing materials but they don’t let people actually experience it for themselves.

The company’s best marketing efforts have failed because people just don’t ‘get’ it. If they’d included the WOW factor in their free test version, I have absolutely no doubt people would have bought the paid version in droves. As it is their revolutionary meeting software, which is extremely special, doesn’t look special at all.

Their reasoning? They didn’t want to give away the whole story up front to people who might not end up buying. But if you hide your light under a bushel, you can’t expect people to intuitively realise how amazing you are.

Have I missed anything?

What is your top tip for high-performing web copywriting? If you think I’ve missed a trick, let me know!

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Category: copywriting and marketing

By Kate Goldstone - ()

Originally from Middlesbrough, I lived in Brighton for many years before moving to North Devon. I’ve had a passion for words all my life and this is my twelfth year as a freelance writer. In my spare time I draw, paint, sculpt, carve wood and rock, garden, read, write poetry and enjoy long distance hiking. I sing and play the recorder. I collect modernist paintings, vintage rugs and mid-century German art pottery. I’m a member of The Poetry Society. And I am an experienced volunteer shepherd, a ‘Lookerer’.

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