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Writing Web Content That Stops Speed Readers

Most of the same rules apply as for advertising copy: web content needs to be brief, clear and persuasive, as always. But there are many extra things you need to be aware of.

People behave very differently when reading copy online. Reading words from a monitor isn't pleasant, the body sits bolt upright and the atmosphere is generally one of haste and distraction.

You have to work hard to keep your visitor at your website.

Your offer/reasons to stay have to be great; your copy needs to be extra brief. You only have to think about how impatient you are when you visit a website: the slightest bit of delay or waffle and you're out of there. One click of the mouse is all it takes.

Three or four short paragraphs per web page is what you should aim for. If visitors have to scroll down, many will leave. Lazy? Impatient? Time-pressured? There are a lot of reasons to leave.

Some handy tips to bear in mind:

Get the visitor's attention immediately, get straight to the point, expect an impatient reader looking for answers, ready to leave (usually in well under a minute of entering your site)

  • Use killer headlines to attract attention and readers

  • Remember who you're talking to: picture your ideal prospect, write to him or her; don't write to a crowd: this isn't Shakespeare

  • Stay focused: don't stray from the key message you want to communicate

  • Don't hype, exaggerate, boast: you'll sound desperate and unbelievable; people come to your website for helpful relevant information

  • Use extra short paragraphs, to encourage impatient skimmers to stay and read

  • Use lots of sub-heads to slow down speed-readers and skimmers and pull them into the copy

  • Use the KISS principle as never before

  • Remember Who, What, When, Where, Why, How

  • Focus on product benefits not features: how does your product solve a problem, make their life easier or better?

  • Use plenty of bullet points to hold speed-readers

  • Consider highlighting really important words but don't overdo it

  • No jargon or technical BS: impatience reduces attention spans (and the effective level of IQ a reader will give your website)

  • Make sure your website copy is 'all killer, no filler'...if it's not worth the visitor's time, they're outa there!

What you're up against

People read a web page differently than they do a book a brochure or a paper. It's all a mad rush.

They scan the site, not reading in an orderly fashion.

They click, scroll, scan, expecting the information to satisfy them immediately.

They won't read huge blocks of unbroken copy, expect to see subheads and other visual prompts and guides to the next bit of info.

Just think how little time this gives you to make the right impression to keep them right there with you.

If ever first impressions counted, it's on a website.

If your website is in the least bit uninviting or difficult to navigate, they'll click off.

So keep it simple, keep it clear. make it easy for your visitors to get the info they want, find details, get prices, enquire, engage and buy.

As with all your copywriting, put yourself in your prospects' shoes. What do they want? Why should they prefer you?

What's in it for them if they choose you, not the competition?

Keywords and keyphrases

Keep the keywords and keyphrases coming (prepare a list beforehand, preferably using the Google AdWords Keyword Tool) but slip them into the copy naturally so their presence isn't forced.

But don't go into keyword 'overload' which invites penalties.

Keywords and keyphrases need to be completely relevant so search engines will find them.

Some keywords mean trouble

These obviously include obscene or otherwise crude words,

Keyword stuffing is another no-no. Simple over-use of keywords is easily detected by search engines.

It's important to get the right density and you may need specialised help for this. Commonsense is a good guide too: if the copy looks 'overloaded' to you it probably will to everyone else.

Minimise the use of filter and stop words

These words are common conjunctions and prepositions... 'connector' words that most search engines ignore.

If your web headlines contain too many, your search engine rankings can suffer considerably. Typical examples include:

  • a

  • about

  • an

  • and

  • are

  • as

  • at

  • be

  • by

  • from

  • how

  • I

  • in

  • is

  • it

  • of

  • on

  • or

  • that

  • the

  • this

  • to

  • was

  • we

  • what

  • when

  • which

  • with

If you use too many of these, you run the risk of exceeding the number of letters (character count) that search engines permit for page titles and other elements like meta tags.

You're here to sell, not just inform or entertain

Remember that you're writing sales copy, not just describing your product. Every word must give your prospect another reason to buy, to go to the response or order page.

Otherwise the copy just takes up space, doesn't pay its way.

The more relevant content there is on your site, the more chance there is that a person will find your site after making a search query, and then remain there until you get a meaningful enquiry or sale.

Briefing yourself

As with anything, you need to be aware of what you're writing and why.

Who, exactly, is your website talking to? Picture the person — one ideal person — who you want to do business with.

Why does the website exist: to provide info, bring in sales, pull in enquiries?

What's the key attraction/reason for buying your product at your price

What do you offer that competitors can't/don't? Be very clear and specific:

  • Extra value for money?

  • Superior quality?

  • Better service?

  • Understanding of what customers want?

  • More experience?

  • What do we want the website visitor to get out of the site?

  • How do you want them to respond? Request more info? Place an order?

What's the answer to the question, 'Buy ours not the competition's because...'

What's in it for the customer when they choose you over the competition?

Keywords and keyphrases

Make sure you build in as many keywords as possible while retaining meaning and allowing the copy to read well: they're the words a search engine like Google looks for.

Prepare yourself by completing this matrix:

 

Major keywords and key phrases

2nd tier keywords and key phrases

Greeting/welcome page

 

 

 

Home page

 

 

 

About us page

 

 

 

Other pages

(Specify)

 

 

 

Web copy hints summarised

Most of what you've read here applies to all media in that you need to reward your visitors/readers/audience for their time.

One major difference with web copy is that web visitors are impatient, expect immediate and useful information — and dislike hype and being 'sold at'.

Certainly, when writing web copy, your job is to persuade. But you have to pull back a little, be more straightforward, imagine you're talking to your prospect face to face.

When you write web copy, here are some points worth bearing in mind:

  • Visitors regard the web as an information medium first and a sales venue second

  • They want credible solutions to their needs or problems: value will often be more important than cost

  • If you inform them about the benefits of your product that's legit — and appreciated

  • If you push too hard with hype or obvious sales techniques, you risk their abrupt departure

  • You can still persuade, educate, focus on benefits, be passionate about you product — just make sure your writing behaves itself with the manners of an invited guest

  • Don't sit at your keyboard 'composing prose'; write like you talk

  • Use plenty of keyworded headlines and subheads; make it easy for your visitors to scan your copy...and stay

  • Whatever you do, don't waffle: ever

  • Website copy is about substance and value

  • When you create great content, you'll have more success with search engines

  • Focus on your visitor and their needs...not your own

  • Don't try to push your visitors to the purchase click-through or shopping cart...they'll go there themselves if your info/offer is good enough

  • Include articles about your area of expertise; these will become a valued information source that helps attract visitors

  • Always write to your preferred visitor, your perfect customer — clearly visualised in your mind as a real person; this will keep your copy grounded and in a face-to-face tone

  • Focus on benefits, not features; all your prospects want to know is what you can do for them

  • Make sure every word you write works towards your required objective: enquiry, purchase, the beginning of a relationship that will lead to purchase

  • Remember that it's much harder on the eyes to read from a computer screen: use a lot of white space and leave some air between sections and paragraphs

  • Build a relationship: at least offer a subscription to a newsletter or e-zine for permission-based e-mails; maybe include some free downloads of useful/relevant information

  • Ruthlessly eliminate everything that doesn't work towards your objective: including unnecessary Flash animations, distracting graphics, pop-ups and pics to keep page loading times down

There's obviously much more to putting together the right website than just the copy, as important as it is.

There are also the minefields of design, search engine optimisation and more, best tackled with expert, specialist help.

Site engine optimisation used to be simple but is now increasingly complex.

Gaining the highest Google rankings is an art form in itself, having progressed well beyond the stage where peppering your copy with keywords (the ones people type into the Google subject line) was enough.

Extracted from 'YES! You can write your own copy' by Andy Otes, freelance copywriter for over 25 years. During this time he has been an award-winning Creative Director at major industries, working on accounts large and small, international and local. He has a particular empathy with entrepreneurs, small businesses, network marketers, writing their ads, brochures and website. Details at copywriter.andyotes.com.

Republication of Invisible Partnership articles are permitted, given the original link and author are referenced. High resolution photos can be provided upon request.

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