How long do you have to impress a new visitor to your website?
It’s not long, is it?
But are you thinking …
I’ve got a shiny new website, that’s all I need right?
Well, whether your audience is brain surgeons, bus drivers or baristas you’ve also got to be understood. Otherwise, they’ll go elsewhere.
Research by the Norman Nielsen Group identified 3 key factors that impact how well online copy works:
Here are some tips on how to improve your website copy for customers.
Yes, it’s your website for your company.
But your website is aimed at your customers or potential customers.
These are the people you want to inform, educate and persuade about what you do, how you do it and why you can help them.
The start point for your copy is your customers.
You’ve met, spoken to or engaged with many if not all of your customers.
Maybe you already have an image of a real customer that you can describe in detail.
Why do they come to you? What do they need from you? What are the things that matter most to them?
When you put yourself in the mind of your customers you have the right approach for your copy.
Your focus should be on your customers’ problems.
What is it that they want that they don’t have?
Your copy should show that you emphasise with their situation and the challenges they have. Show that you’re on their side.
At this stage, it’s not that you know best, but that you know what they’re going through.
This puts you in a better place to suggest how to tackle their problems. And the difference your product or service can make.
The flip side to your customer’s problems is how you can benefit them.
Benefits are the difference you’ll make to your customers’ life or their business.
Avoid the trap of solely focusing on the features that you offer. Features are the facts that describe your product but they’re not what matters most to your customers.
What’s in it for me?
That’s the question going through the head of your customer when they read your website. Showing the benefits of your product will answer how it can help them.
Benefits will hold the attention of the customer, whereas features alone may bore them.
Nothing turns people off more than a page of words they don’t understand.
You want your customers to understand what you’re saying.
New words or unfamiliar phrases that are explained and in context are fine. However, a page of text that causes you to stop and reread it is a bad sign.
You want your readers to feel that they’re gliding through your website, rather than stumbling and tripping over words they’ve never heard of.
You may be thinking …
But my type of business uses particular words or terms that show my expertise.
That’s fine if they’re words which your customers will understand or which you can explain.
However, never underestimate the potential for people to get confused about words which you think are common knowledge.
Writing for websites has a different style to other forms of writing. Online copy is more personal and informal.
What does this mean?
Well, focus on writing for a single customer. Imagine you’re writing directly to them, rather than to a faceless website visitor!
Use the words ‘you’ and ‘your’ to talk to your reader. You can also refer to yourself as ‘I’ or ‘me’.
Remember to keep the balance though – it’s better to spend more time talking about the customer (you) than it is to talk about the writer (me).
The other parts of a personal tone are contractions.
These sound like a painful medical condition. But they’re the writing shortcuts that bring two words together by omitting letters and sounds.
Examples are ‘you’re’ rather than ‘you are’. Or ‘you’ve’ instead of ‘you have’.
Are you thinking that you have to write in a certain way because your readers are educated?
A common writing mistake is to assume that you readers have more reading comprehension than they do.
Whatever audience you’re writing for – school leavers or graduates, retail customers or business clients – there’ll be a wide range of reading abilities within that target group.
You’ll want to avoid losing readers because they’re can’t understand what you’ve written. So you’re better off aiming for a lower reading level.
Research by the Norman Nielsen Group recommends writing for 13-14 year olds if writing for a general consumer audience.
Even where you’re writing for a specific educated or business reader “still target a reading level several steps below the audience’s formal-education level.”
You can check the reading level of your writing with free online tools. They’ll give you a score for readability using Flesch Kincaid and other methods. (This blog post scores 77.3 on Flesch Reading Ease)
It’s worth remembering the Albert Einstein quote:
“The definition of genius is taking the complex and making it simple.”
When I write a first draft of copy my words and sentences are always far too long.
But a simple way to improve the readability of your copy is with short words. And short sentences.
How do you achieve that?
Take your time to read and re-read your draft copy. See which words you can substitute. Or which words you can remove.
As a result, your writing will be more concise. And more readable.
But I was told never to write a sentence like this.
Or like this.
We were all taught rules in school about never starting a sentence with certain words.
But, I’ll let you in on a secret … you’re not in school now!
Words like ‘And’, ‘But’, ‘Or’ etc are perfect to slide a reader from one sentence to the next.
One size doesn’t fit all.
When you’re writing a volume of text you’ll want to sound human.
You change the tone and pitch when you speak. So it makes sense to do that with your writing voice too.
Vary the words you use. Introduce some humour, if appropriate.
Your website copy is the sound of your business online. So let your customers hear the sound of a helpful person.
A quick quiz for you …
How many headlines are there in this blogpost?
1, 4 or 19?
Well, the correct answer is 19.
A headline isn’t just the title of a page or a blog post. It’s a way to break up text and provide a signpost to the reader of what’s underneath.
Only 16% of people read every word on a new web page they visit. Most people scan pages for what they want.
Effective websites use headings to break up text and highlight key points. This allows your message to be understood even by the scanners.
Whether you’re writing for your Services page, your About page or a blog post headlines will make it more readable.
You can make specific words or phrases stand out on your website.
Bold, italics, bullet points or quote marks are great ways to do this.
You can use them to emphasise particular points or style certain parts of the text, for example, external quotes.
Also, they help your customers make sense of the text without reading the whole sentence or paragraph.
White space gives your words room to breath.
Reading on a screen is very different to reading from paper – especially when people reading in a hurry or on a small screen.
Your website will be read on smartphones and other mobile devices. So you need to include space around your words to help them be digested.
You can introduce white space through a larger font, line spaces as well as spaces between each paragraph.
Your website is the heart of your business online. But it’s only as good as its content.
For it to work well you have to adopt the mindset of your customer. Understand what matters to them. And use your website content to show that you speak their language.
Rob Beadle Copywriting
3M Buckley Innovation Centre
Firth Street, Huddersfield
West Yorkshire, HD1 3BD