Five Ways to Improve Your Web Copy
Identifying excellent web copy isn't difficult when you find it: you find yourself drawn in and still clicking and reading without really noticing how much time has passed. You'll often find yourself reading on topics beyond what you first started searching for now that you are interested and engaged. Keeping your readers engaged is essential no matter what your business is. From plumbing to accounting, roofing to legal advice, every business needs content that keeps readers interested.
Yes, even plumbers. If someone lands on your site because they have a leaky faucet, once they've read your article 5 Ways to Stop a Leaky Faucet maybe they will stick around and read 5 Ways to Prevent a Leaky Faucet and then 5 New Faucet Styles to Update Your Kitchen. So far, you haven't gained a job fixing that faucet, but they'll think of you when they realize they have no idea how to fix or replace a faucet.
So what was it about 5 Ways to Prevent a Leaky Faucet that drew the reader in? How can what appears to be a snooze of a topic keep a potential customer on a plumbing website for an extra five minutes? There are several qualities that all great examples share, and incorporating these qualities into each article and blog post you have will help you keep readers on the page.
1. Make it Skimmable
You may think that expanded and detailed text will keep readers on the page longer because it takes longer to get through. In fact, the opposite is true: web users read about 20% of the words during an average visit. Online, people like to skim quickly for what they are looking for and stop only to read something that seems very important to see if it matches their expectations. Only then will they consider going back to the top to read the entire page.
What makes a web page skimmable?
Subheadings are the most important element as they allow the reader to skip great chunks of cumbersome text to see what the big picture is while making it easy to zero in their attention when they need it. Here are a few more tips:
Paragraphs need to be kept short – even a one-line paragraph here and there to add interest.
Bullet points and numbered lists must be used to break up lists.
Use stylized and indented text to draw attention to certain ideas
Use graphics to break up the page.
2. Make it Natural and Engaging
Most people like to read things that feel like the writer is talking to them. No cumbersome jargon, no condescending simplicity, just natural language that feels right. The trouble is that the reader will vary widely from one situation to another so there is no “right” way to write everything. There are, however, a few things to avoid in every case:
Errors. Misspelled and misused words, poor punctuation, and factual errors will send your credibility to the tank and probably cause the reader to click the “back” button. Unless you're running an editing service, nobody will leave your page because you use the Oxford comma and they prefer it left out, but every word on every page must be spelled correctly.
Keyword Stuffing. Even the most casual reader knows when a word is out of place or when a sentence or idea seems like it was forced in there just to get those exact words on the page. It stinks of being advertised to and nobody likes that.
Overly Formal. There is a time and a place for high-formal writing. The internet is not it. That doesn't mean you must use a bunch of slang and contemporary jargon. You should still maintain a level of professionalism; leave out anything that is too stiff or formal.
3. Match Your Audience
Take the time to identify your reader. You want every page to speak to a particular reader in a voice and tone that they feel comfortable with and the only way to do that is to know who you're talking to. You still need to match the tone and style of your audience, but the best web copy will use the language that the reader prefers, not the writer.
4. Write Good Headlines
It's not as easy as it sounds. A catchy headline needs to catch the reader's attention while still accurately setting their expectations so they're not disappointed when they click through. It can take some practice to write good headlines, but you can start by thinking about the ones that YOU click. What grabs your attention? What makes you roll your eyes and keep scrolling?
People like to read lists so “5 Ways to ____” or “5 Reasons to ______” or “The Top 5 _____ of the Year” are all likely to be winners. Shorter is better than longer, and when you have a complex idea that you think needs to be in the title, the colon can be your best friend. “Gift Ideas: 5 Items She Can't Live Without” or “Kids and Candy: How Much is Too Much?” Click around and see what you like and see if you can rework some of the ones you think are lacking to hone your own skills.
5. Have a Call to Action
Never, ever forget the Call to Action. Never. It is absolutely essential as it is the entire point of having any words on the page at all. Yes, it was nice to read about how to fix my leaky faucet; now I'll go check Facebook. Or, right at the bottom of the page, put a colorful box that points to related articles. Have a link in the sidebar to your eBook, “Keep it Flushing: The Homeowners Guide to Maintaining Your Plumbing.” No matter what it is, the best web copy will have something there to keep the reader moving along, and the best web sites will have a planned path that they're hoping the reader will follow that ends in a sale.
Call to Action? Here's mine: