Website copywriting is not easy. If you’re a business owner or a company leader who is contemplating a new website, or perhaps realizing the need to rewrite your existing pages, you probably have a lot of questions:
- How do I capture people’s attention?
- How should I organize my ideas?
- How much copy is enough? How much is too much?
- Wouldn’t I feel more creative after a quick nap?
Questions like these, although important, are the reason so many non-writers freeze up in front of a blank screen. There’s no clear place to start, no word count to heed, and (more likely than not) no spare hours in the day to tinker with drafts and outlines.
So this post is dedicated to all the non-writers charged with website copywriting. Consider this your one and only sanctioned detour from the task at hand. When you’re done reading, everyone expects to hear a furious clacking of keys… Are you ready?
STEP ONE: Seek Inspiration
Before you paint your house or retile your bathroom, you probably poke around on Pinterest, right? Maybe you leaf through an issue of Better Homes & Gardens. Website copywriting should start with a similar reconnaissance process.
You’re not the first person to labor over home page copy or fight for something interesting to say on your About Us page. Perusing great copywriting examples will definitely get your creative juices flowing. (Sidenote: If you are redesigning your website versus merely swapping out the copy, it makes sense to pull your designer and web developer in as early as possible. A lot of copy choices hinge on the layout and/or functionality your site has.)
STEP TWO: Get Organized
Good fiction writers always start with some kind of plan, even it’s only in their head. They know what their main characters want, what they’re afraid of, and what is standing in their way. Copywriting for a website is no different. You need to start by defining your buyer personas, and outlining their pain points. Then use buyers’ pain points to develop your site map.
Here’s a very generic map of buyer concerns and corresponding web pages:
We all know minimalism is the trend with websites today. Just a few site pages should be enough to explain what you do and how it helps people. When you’re ready to dig deeper, you can address additional topics in your blog posts, videos, and/or downloadable offers.
STEP THREE: Get Strategic
Use Google AdWords (or a number of other tools) to research what your target buyers are searching for. Bake these terms into your headlines and website copy by following best practices in SEO and keyword strategy. If your site is already built, and you’re getting decent traffic, you can also use Google Analytics to find specific terms and questions people enter into your site’s search field. This is incredibly valuable data that can tip you off to prospects’ terminology and chief concerns. Too often the names and acronyms companies use to describe their offerings are completely misaligned with buyers’ vocabulary. Using too much of your own jargon can hurt you from an SEO perspective, and scare away/put to sleep the few visitors who do find you.
STEP FOUR: Be Relevant
Flat, hollow writing is often the result of a message without clear purpose. But hey, it’s tough to get specific when you’re speaking to 10 different audiences at once. So if your CMS supports context marketing and “smart” content, use this functionality! Even if it’s just for your homepage to start, smart content lets you speak to individual buyer types separately (i.e. B2B buyers versus individual consumers). So instead of fishing for phrases that appeal to everyone, your writing can follow the natural arguments you would make to an actual person sitting in your office.
STEP FIVE: Be Focused
With the exception of your FAQ page, each page of website copy should address one issue, or help your visitors answer one question. If you find there are tangential issues that warrant explanation, it usually makes sense to draft those pages separately, and direct readers to them via internal or external links with optimized anchor text. (Did you see that? Teaching by example!) Wherever possible, internal linking (links to other pages on your own site) helps you optimize each page for a specific term, and it prevents you from dragging all your readers through sidebar conversations that may not interest them.
STEP SIX: Test
If you were the kid in high school who hated submitting multiple drafts of your research paper, you are not going to like this next rule… You have to be prepared to go back and revise—like, forever. Your website is a living, breathing thing. Just like a bakery can’t leave the same six wedding cakes in the storefront window for all eternity, you can’t consider your web copy “done” for the next five years.
There are dozens of web copy elements you can test (headlines, copy length, CTAs, etc.), along with a variety of tools to get the job done. Your best bet is learn the basics of testing web copy, then zero in on site pages with the highest traffic volume. Despite the extra work, the upside is that you’re not on the hook for web copy choices. If the data shows that a bulleted list outperforms three separate paragraphs, you can consider your copy a success.
STEP SEVEN: Get Help
Still struggling? Don’t feel defeated. Great website copywriting takes time (to experiment, revise, survey team member opinions, revise some more…). Most company leaders don’t have big chunks of time. This is why there are so many copywriters out there. Just be careful who you hire. Think about the benefits of hiring an outsourced marketing agency versus a freelance writer. Interview a handful of candidates and check references/portfolios.
If you clicked on this blog post hoping for a crash course in writing, you may be feeling a little disappointed. Don’t be! Effective website copywriting is not about artful flourishes of alliteration or correct comma usage (although you may want to think about a style guide for your brand). Mostly, it’s about sounding like someone who can help your customers. By following the steps above, you’ll find yourself doing so with ease.