Setting aside the design elements – the colours, the fonts, the animated graphics, and the video players – what are websites, really? Pages of text, that’s what. Copy. Large portions of most websites’ real estate are dedicated to words.
The quality of writing on your site, then, is at least as important as the quality of the design. Professionally written, purposeful, honest text that is free from errors should be the minimum standard, but unfortunately, the medium usually gets more attention than the message. Creating copy for a new website should be the first step, not an afterthought.
Effective web copy shares a number of common characteristics; here are six of them:
- It has a purpose. Your website is a powerful marketing tool; in some cases it might be your entire storefront. Visitors decide in seconds whether to move on or stick around, so every page should exist for a reason, and the copy should fulfill or support that reason. Extraneous information and filler have no place on a professional website.
- It is brief. Most people scan the text they find online, only reading maybe a third of what is written. Because of this, writing for the web requires a different skill set than writing for print: web copy must convey a point in as few words as possible. Short, punchy sentences are better than long rambling ones, and white space is your friend.
- It is search engine optimized. Search engines like Google and Bing are becoming increasingly intelligent, their algorithms constantly tweaked to ensure users find the most relevant sites for their query first. While at one time you could plunk a few hot keywords in the body of your text to drive traffic, search engines nowadays look at context and supporting links to find out if a site really walks the walk. Well-written web copy will incorporate appropriate keywords naturally, confirming your legitimacy in the eyes of search engines and helping your potential customers find you.
- It is grammatically correct. It only takes one misuse of “it’s” when you mean “its” to lose some potential clients forever. Whether consciously or subconsciously, people make judgments based on mistakes, so ensure your copy is error free.
- It represents your business. Word choice, degree of formality, sentence length: these things tell readers volumes about a business, and help to build a brand. When Westjet promotes its “care-antee,” and labels its careers section as “Great Jobs,” customers instantly have a window into that company’s culture and priorities. Regardless if you are straight-laced or laid-back, customer-centric or business-oriented, your copy should reflect your company’s reality.
- It is honest. One of the most common traits of unprofessional web copy is puffery, or unsubstantiated claims: “We’re the best in the business,” “Satisfaction guaranteed,” “We don’t rest until you’re happy,” and so on. Not only have these terms become largely meaningless, they can be unethical. Better to let your work speak for itself. Consider testimonials, advertise your best promotions, and if you use the word ‘guarantee’ make the details of that guarantee easy to find.
If your site is written with these traits in mind, it is on its way to attracting more visitors, and keeping them longer, than sites that are not. On the other hand, if your analytics show a high bounce rate, maybe it is time to see if your web copy is supporting your business’ efforts, or hindering them.