This guide is for you if:
In this guide, we want to help you with writing for the Web.
You won’t find the obvious (and quite frankly, useless) calls to “know your audience”. I cover some of the basics in the guide, sure. They’re crucial to your success and it’s the basics that get overlooked the most.
I’ve gathered the tips because we want to make the Web a better place, and understanding the rules of writing good copy for a website is just one piece of the puzzle.Heads up
Our intention with this article is to give you tangible, practical tips on how to improve your copywriting. You won’t find the generic tips telling you to “know your audience” or “use your brand voice” (duh!) here. Instead of generic, theoretical exercises that leave you none the wiser, we’ll share techniques and tools that you can implement straight after reading the article. So let’s dive in!
Content Marketing Institute reports that 35% of B2B organisations don’t have a single full-time content marketing person. In the B2C sphere, 75% of companies outsource content creation.
While the latter makes sense considering consumer content can be significantly easier to write than B2B content, it also shows a lack of commitment to writing across the organisation. As an employee or even an owner, you are the best person to talk about your products or services. We hope that with this guide we can promote content marketing in more organisations.
Content and design work in tandem. One complements the other – but a wrong approach to copywriting will hinder the design and vice versa. It’s a common mistake to cram copy into existing components, designing before copywriting.
But it’s the copy that tells your story.
Because of that, content writing always precedes web design. If you put your writers in a “box”, they’ll focus on staying within a pre-designed container, rather than making your story shine.
A similar issue exists with website metadata. The length of the page title or the meta description on Google is limited by the design.
Many SEO tips claim that you should write long descriptions. This approach forces sub-optimal copywriting.
We’ve always been advocates for a content-first approach to web design and that’s the bottom line here.
Your copy comes first.
Just like the traditional SEO tips don’t want you to “waste” the precious space in search results, they also advise against longer descriptions and titles. But we’d like you to try using meta titles that are too long on purpose.
Keep in mind to always include your keywords in the visible bit, and as early as possible, but end it with the cliffhanger that will convince people to click just to learn more.
As an example, a meta title for this article could read “The unpretentious guide to writing website coontent – how to write web copy that works for your online audience.”
The search result for that page would truncate it to say:
“The unpretentious guide to writing website copy – how to write web copy that…”
Wouldn’t you be curious about what comes after “that”?
Now that we’ve established how to approach a website build, let’s dive into the details and practical content writing tips. Let’s stay on the topic of SEO for a while.
There’s no such thing as “search engine optimised copy”. In 2019, for the first time ever, keywords lost their #1 spot on the list of most important SEO factors. Simply stuffing the phrases in the text and code won’t help you anymore. It doesn’t work for sophisticated algorithms, and it surely doesn’t work for your visitors.
Last year, for the first time ever, keywords lost their #1 spot on the list of most important SEO factors.
Natural copy wins. If you use voice search on smart devices, have you noticed how different are your search phrases compared to the written ones? We don’t search like robots, and the robots that rank websites seem to understand that better than we do. So let’s do the right thing.
For the best user experience and highest rankings in Google, you have to write for the people, not the machines.
The SEO bits should be covered by optimising your meta title and description and optimising the internal links on each page.
Accessible websites benefit everyone. We need to ditch the attitude that making a site accessible is just for the 1%. Everyone will struggle reading text with a poor contrast ratio, and the same applies to reading ease.
You know who you’re writing for and what’s 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. Remember our mention of interlinking above? You shouldn’t be surprised there’s a pattern here. Helping users will always boost your organic rankings.
Interactions are invaluable. Your visitors will be hesitant to go to a new page. The human attention span is low so respect their time.
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.
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 specific audience for paid advertising campaigns. The copy of your landing page can be somewhat disconnected from the core pages.
Their approach is all about the user and brand perception. The Dropbox website doesn’t hide key information in “fancy” features like sliders and tabs. They give visitors everything they need to understand their product.
And it’s all down to the writing culture at Dropbox.
We covered that and more in Webabunga!, where we expose the secrets of B2B websites to inspire your team.
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 text faster than the one that matches their education level. In general, you want to write simple content.
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. Losing context is not fun!
How many times have we said that short sentences are good?
Oops, we did it again – that was about the 100th time in this article.
Your English teacher wouldn’t like it, but on the Internet, repetition is good.
If you have an important point, 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 – repeat 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.
At the same time, we’ve mentioned that people scan websites. They’re likely to miss details. The key information should be visually highlighted in several places. After all, you can’t possibly account for all the entry points to your website, and all the different ways your audience consumes content.
There’s a good chance you’d learn most of the concepts in the article by just scanning it. And while we encourage you 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 bit about you before landing on your site, so they’ll only look for new information. Your goal is to simplify their search.
Headings are perfect for testing. Your website is a neverending, iterative project. Is your article or page not living up to its expectations? Try new things! Use some of our tips from this article to test variations of headings. And if you want to take it a step further, discover A/B testing.
You probably know why supermarkets show you expensive products as you enter the shop, or why there are chocolate bars and snacks by the tills.
It’s all a play on our subconscious decisions, and it’s just as widespread on websites – you’re just less likely to know it.
Some examples include:
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.
Is that the case in your marketing strategy? Let me know in the comments.
“How To Write Your Website Content” is a 92-page ebook that aims to help you hit the ground running. We’ve compiled our 20+ years of content and copywriting experience and included our bespoke Website Messaging Workshop framework as a bonus.
“About” pages are something we often refer to as branded content. More often than not, you won’t have a keyword to rank for. Instead, an “About Us” page is your personal space to express your brand or to introduce the people behind it.
With that in mind, you can double down on customer-centric copywriting on your “About” page.
To keep it short, structure your Home page content to lead people to the most important bits of information.
When it comes to SEO, your Home page can be a branded page, your main keyword page, or a mix of both. For single-page websites, you’ll need it to rank for non-branded phrases. You won’t get any visibility otherwise.
In the case of more complex websites, it becomes a branded page with a sprinkle of defining your niche. As an example, our Home page targets the “web design agency”, not the broader “web design“.
Originally published Jun 06, 2022 4:36:12 PM, updated November 27 2023.