A guide to writing excellent copy for your website and a discussion about the importance of providing your readers with engaging text
The importance of writing excellent copy - the text for your website or web app - for a startup or freelancer cannot be understated. When competing against a host of other companies and individuals trying to stand out from the crowd you need to ensure your content is relevant, engaging, accurate and attention-grabbing without appearing frivolous or superficial.
Many companies use humour or puns to grab their reader’s attention; here caution would be advisable. By using frilly language a brand can undermine its authority and respectability on a subject for the sake of a few cheap laughs - which will, more often than not, not translate into a customer conversion. When building your first website you will be producing copy for a variety of different purposes. This content is your single point of contact (outside of direct communication) between yourself and your potential and existing customers so it’s important that you get it right.
Perhaps you’ll be writing a blogpost to keep your readership updated on news from your company and relevant articles covering topics within the field. You will also almost certainly need content for the main site: landing page, about page and so on. Other types of content you might be producing are press releases or guest posts for journalists or other websites and newsletters.
Before you even get down to thinking of the subject you want to write about or even the form it’s going to take, it’s crucial to bear in mind the points outlined below. Creating the right first impression on your audience could make or break your startup; a beautiful website will count for very little if the content on the page is inaccurate, misleading or unprofessional.
1.) Attention to detail Grammar, spelling, typos, sentence structure and punctuation may not seem important in the grand scale of things but make a huge difference to how the company is seen by its audience. As mentioned earlier, how you write on a blog or in newsletters is your single point of communication with the people you are hoping to convince of what a great idea your product is, so it’s vital that you appear professional. This begins with accuracy. If you cannot write accurately in a blog post what kind of message are you sending about the products you are promoting? Sloppy mistakes that can be easily avoided with a simple read-through from another member of your team are unforgivable. Whatever you are writing, if it is going to be seen by the public, these things need to be spot on every time.
2.) Checking and double checking A re-iteration of the previous point, but ideally a final copy should be checked more than two times by the original writer before it is then passed on to another member of the team for a final check-through. This is not part of the editing process, this is after the final copy has been approved by the team working on it. If any major changes are then made it needs to go through the same proof-reading process again. Putting in place an editorial procedure for your team lets everybody know what is expected of them in this process and makes it less likely mistakes will slip through the net.
3.) Check your sources Check that your sources are reliable and that they themselves are accurate by checking a number of other sites to back up what they’re saying. Use trusted websites, journalists, sources. Ask friends or your mentor for advice on where to find great online and offline sources.
So once these basics are covered we can start looking at the difference between well-written and accurate content and good, engaging content that speaks to your key audience.
1. Descriptive titles - tell the reader what they’re going to get Misleading titles are irritating for the reader. Readers want to know from the get-go what’s in it for them. If a reader realises they are reading an article that is different from what they were expecting, they will probably stop reading. This is the exact opposite of what you want. A good title will tell the reader exactly what the piece is about as well as the approach you will be taking when addressing the subject. This is one of the reasons why ‘list posts’ or articles with numbers in the title do so well. Readers have a very clear idea of what they are going to get and how long it will take them to digest the article. With a list post there is the added advantage that the reader knows they can just read the subheadings of each point without engaging with too much copy if they don’t want to. Blogs like Medium even tell the reader how many minutes exactly it will take them to read each article which is addressing this need from the reader directly. Using humour or a pun can be an effective way of attracting a reader’s attention, but it’s important not to be swayed by humour if you are trying to make a serious point; you should always be conscious of your brand’s voice and that you don’t undermine a professional reputation with quips or jokes. Something you also need to be careful of is not to use puns if it means your headline doesn’t clearly state what you are going to say in the article.
2. Direct address Although it’s important to maintain a clear and engaging voice this does not mean you can’t use direct address with your readers. This is one of the huge advantages to having a blog; it is you speaking directly to the people you want to connect with. Depending on your brand, you should be careful not to appear frivolous with a voice that is too colloquial or ‘chatty’ if that does not reflect what your company stands for. To begin with a voice that is a balance between engaging, helpful and approachable, and informative, knowledgeable and unwavering would work well for most brands, but the voice for your startup is really something you need to define for yourself. Who are you trying to attract? What sort of voice would they respond to? Readers certainly don’t want to engage with something that is boring or just informative as they will quickly lose interest, but we the balance must be right and consistently right. The right amount of appropriate humour in the right places can also work well to get a point across.
3. Clear language A website has to speak to a global audience. Unless your website is specifically designed for a certain locality, every website has to address the fact that people will be reading it for whom the language of that site is not their native language. Keeping in mind that English is not everyone’s first language is crucial for you to remain accessible and relevant to every possible potential customer. Steering away from obscure expressions and using simple, plain language that everyone can understand means you are not alienating any group and makes you appear open to questions or discussions from the people looking to engage with you. Throwing in specific examples also helps people whose English might not be perfect. Another tip to make the content more user-friendly is to break it up into subheadings and smaller paragraphs as this makes the text appear alot less daunting to people who speak English as a second language.
Is there anything you would add to the list? How do you write copy for your website? What’s worked for your startup and what hasn’t? Please let us know in the comment box below. Engaging content that relates to its audience is an invaluable resource for any growing startup. Bearing in mind our tips start thinking about what your brand’s voice will be, what message you want to get across and who you are trying to reach - just make sure it’s engaging, accurate and, above all, genuine. Now, get writing!