The Internet is an exceptional medium, where traditional marketing techniques are ineffective. Unfortunately, many marketers who transitioned don't realise that in the Web other rules apply. They remain indifferent to the need for tailoring the approach to the imposed expectations online. Despite offline and online advertising being heavily driven by the persuasive copy, studies show what works in the print hardly performs when translated into the digital form. So how to write the website copy that sells? Do you need to be a wordsmith, have a degree in psychology or just follow a hunch?
It’s that and more.
Let’s assume you have all the research and planning behind you. What’s the next step?
It’s not the design.
But if you thought of “the copy”, you’re going in the right direction.
Even though we’ve phrased it as the egg and chicken problem, it’s not the same.
Without a shadow of a doubt, copy and design are both incredibly important. One complements the other but a wrong approach to copywriting will hinder the design and vice versa.
It’s the copy that sells. If you put your writers in a “box”, they’ll focus on staying within a pre-designed container, rather than writing their best copy.
A similar issue exists with website metadata. The length of the page title or the meta description on Google is limited by the design. If you’ve ever tried writing one, you’ll know what we mean. And if you never did, try searching for something you need at the moment and answer one quick question: could you think of a better, more natural way to word it if there was more space?
Many old SEO tips claim that you should make your description as long as the container. This approach forces sub-optimal copywriting. You wouldn’t want that for your web copy, would you?
While the idea of using up all the “digital estate” in Google search results sounds logical and appealing, more rarely means better.
Now that we’ve established how to approach a website build, let’s dive into the details and practical tips.
In 2020, there’s no such thing as “search engine optimised copy”. Last year, for the first time ever, keywords lost their #1 spot on the list of most important SEO factors. Stuffing the phrases you want to rank for in the text and code won’t help you anymore. It doesn’t work for sophisticated algorithms of search engines, and it surely doesn’t work for your visitors either.
Last year, for the first time ever, keywords lost their #1 spot on the list of most important SEO factors.
Natural copy wins.
For the best user experience and highest rankings in Google, you have to write for the people, not the machines. And preferably, for one user persona at a time.
But your audience will likely consist of multiple personas, so how should you proceed?
Even though they’ll have the same goal, their motivations will be much different. The core pages of your website will need to sell to the general audience, but as you go deeper – or consider different entry points – you’ll have to appeal to very specific requirements.
Talk about one thing, to one person.
You can do it by navigating them to the right page or utilising landing pages for your paid advertising campaigns.
You know who you’re writing for, now find out what is their goal.
How will the copy get your visitor from point A to point B?
If the journey includes multiple pages, what is the purpose of the individual pages? The core pages of your website aren’t independent entities – they need to create a cohesive experience.
Interactions are invaluable. Your visitors will be hesitant to go to a new page. They want you to solve their problem right then and there. They need to know that they’re visiting a new page for a good reason. After they land on that page, they need to be reminded why they got there.
The human attention span is low so make sure your website helps people keep their goal in mind.
Landing pages are one exception to this rule. They’re almost separate websites, just living under the same domain. Each of them has one goal and a very specific audience from paid advertising campaigns. The copy of your landing page can be somewhat disconnected from the core pages.
People judge a website within seconds of seeing it. How much text can you read in a second or two?
Not much, that’s for sure.
Your copy needs a good structure to attract the visitor, but being short and to-the-point is perhaps the most important aspect.
Your paragraph doesn’t have to be lengthy. It can be just a sentence or two.
Your product/service has the best features and we understand you’d like to talk about them at length. But on the Internet, nobody wants to spend 20 minutes reading about their next phone or lawyer.
Whether you sell a product or a service, ensure you can quickly communicate your value proposition.
You’ll soon learn the psychological and linguistic aspects of writing web copy that sells, but for now, remember to keep it short.
“Less is more” is a phrase that gets thrown around frequently in all areas of design, including web design. But do we really understand it? Do you know why less is more? We take a closer look at the theory behind this statement and analyse how you should reflect it in the design of your website.
To double-down on the amount of time we have to capture the visitor’s attention, ensure reading your copy is seamless. Use simple language and once again, keep it short.
We use the Flesch Reading Ease score to determine whether the copy is simple enough. The algorithm grades your text on a scale from 0 to 100, with 100 being the easiest to read. A good readability score for web content is between 60 and 70. That score is similar to the readability of Harry Potter books and is easy to understand for students aged 13 to 15.
The Flesch Reading Ease score of this article is 70.2.
“But my audience is exclusively university graduates, they can easily understand copy that scores below 30.”
Even if you can say it with 99% confidence, the short answer is: it doesn’t matter.
Yes, they will understand. But will it be the most efficient way to convey your message? Probably not. Sometimes you will have to use a more complex language, or even include a more complex paragraph within a copy that scores great. Regardless of the education of your audience, they’re all looking to do things better and faster on your website. They will still read 70-rated copy faster than the one that matches their education. In general, you want to make it as easy to read as possible.
It’s bad to write long sentences. Or…
Long sentences are bad.
The second option reads better, doesn’t it?
This isn’t a golden rule. Sometimes you’ll need to use a specific structure, which will mean using the “worse” option. But on top of the example above, we can give you one tip that many people aren’t aware of:
Place the verb at the beginning of your sentence more often.
Instead of Short sentences, fewer adverbs, and less passive voice will improve the readability,
use Improve the readability by using short sentences, fewer adverbs, and less passive voice.
In the first example, by the time you get to the point, the reader will likely forget some of the things that cause the issue.
How many times have we said that short sentences are good?
Oops, we did it again – that was about the 7th time in this article.
Your English teacher wouldn’t like it, but on the Internet, repetition is good.
If you have an important point, make sure to highlight it multiple times. That’s because we scan web content, we don’t read it. Mentioning it once or even twice might not be enough – but it depends on the type of copy you’re writing and the structure of your website.
The latter is directly related to our second tip about planning the user journey ahead. Your repetitions aren’t limited to a single page. You can – and often should – highlight the same information on multiple steps of the journey.
Imagine this article without headings and formatting. There’s a good chance you’d be put off right away. You came here for knowledge, but not to read a wall of text.
That’s why it’s vital to include key phrases in the headings and highlight important information.
There’s a good chance you’d learn most of the concepts in the article by just scanning it. And while we encourage to read it thoroughly to get the most value, it won’t be the most effective choice for some people.
Some visitors will know a few of the concepts we (or you) are explaining, so they’ll only look for new information. Our goal is to make it easy for them to find what they need.
Headings are perfect for testing. Your website is a neverending, iterative project. Is your article or a page not living up to its expectations? Try new things! Use some of our tips from this article to test variations of headings.
Marketing has always been about psychology. You don’t get a buy one get one free offer because the store is feeling generous. It’s a data-driven choice that maximises their profit. Digital marketing brought several fresh tactics to the table. Here’s how you can use them to your advantage.
Repetition is good – so we’re going to reiterate that you’re writing for your audience.
This has several implications, and one of them might be controversial, but people aren’t looking for your product or your services.
They are looking to solve their problems. Address those first.
If you’re selling cars, attributes like the max speed and Miles Per Gallon are crucial. But you need to communicate the benefits directly. You need to solve the problem.
Low MPG means savings – so assign a monetary value to that attribute.
How much will you save?
That’s just one example on how to approach it.
It’s not so different from traditional marketing, but being on the Internet makes it much more important. People use your website to speed up the purchase process. They’re doing it from the comfort of their home, or the discomfort of a morning/afternoon commute. Make their purchase process better! Showcase benefits before features.
The MPG example has other obvious ways to make the raw data more compelling but we’re deliberately leaving it out for now. You’ll see them in some of the next methods.
We’ve said that people come to your site to solve a problem, but what about those who don’t have a problem? Or rather, what if they don’t know they have a problem?
You’ll need to look deeper into their requirements, analyse their user persona and find their unknown need. After you’ve done that, proceed like with any other problem – highlight it, and then explain how your solution helps with it.
And biggest doesn’t have to mean the most important, nor the most valuable, nor the most tempting. Just biggest.
People tend to remember the first bit of information they see. They get heavily attached to it so use it to your advantage. One study has concluded that you’re likely to score a higher salary if you’re the first one to mention a big wage during your interview – even if you do it as a joke!
A good example of using this technique are pricing pages, which use one of the two approaches:
It’s an old direct marketing technique. When you’re selling something, you introduce a concern. You don’t wait for the prospect to do it. That way you can be a step ahead and address their pain points first.
Your website should do the same. Customers have a problem, you have the solution, but they will doubt you can help them. You can address these doubts using social proof, which we describe later, or use a completely different method. But make sure the visitor is left with little to no concerns after scanning your website.
Of course, not exclusively. But we feel stronger about a potential loss than we do about a potential gain.
The most obvious use case is monetary value. Gaining £100 isn’t as persuasive as a potential loss of £100. But you can apply the concept to anything.
A notable mention here is the negative headline technique. Next time you’re writing website copy or a blog post, consider adding a negative headline here and there.
Turn How to convert more leads into How to avoid losing leads.
Do you still remember our Miles Per Gallon example? It’s making a return with loss aversion. Spending less on petrol is a strong benefit but it’s a theoretical exercise. If they can afford the use of their current car, raw savings won’t influence them as much.
You want to tell the customer they are currently spending too much on petrol. In short, they’re losing. Not only does it introduce loss aversion, but you’re also addressing an unknown need/problem.
Scarcity is directly connected to loss aversion.
If your offer is limited, make that fact stand out. Only 10 left makes your offer exclusive and signals a potential loss. “If I don’t take advantage now, I’ll lose my chance!”
Whether it’s a limited quantity or a time constraint, it will give your customers a sense of urgency.
That’s right, social proof. You can showcase it using:
…and more. Even raw data works as social proof. Do you have 11,521 newsletter subscriptions? That’s social proof right there!
You can get really creative with social proof – highlighting a sold-out product works as well, and it also takes advantage of the scarcity and loss aversion techniques.
Triggers can be visual, such as the call to action buttons, remarketing campaigns, etc. But we’re talking about the copy – and we’re sure you’ve been a “victim” of social triggers.
Two popular examples would be the future of children and more recently, the greener environment.
What will have a bigger impact when you buy life insurance, the attractive price or a guarantee that the future of your kids is safer? Now that we’ve called it out you might pick the logical option but subconsciously, most people would pick the internal trigger which is the safety of the children.
We haven’t mentioned it directly, but some aspects of web copy boil down to simplicity – short sentences, easy words, and so on.
And that translates to the design. Good design makes your copy great and we’re firm believers that simplicity is crucial for modern web design.
Your website copy will sell but your design will engage the audience – and engagement is one of the most important criteria on Google.
Make sure you’re not overdoing the design. Your copy will stand on its own, but the design won’t. They need to complement each other, but as we’ve established in the beginning, it’s not the chicken and egg problem.
Copy comes first.
Originally published Mar 05, 2020 11:41:49 AM, updated August 17 2021.