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by John Waghorn on 9th August 2013
Although this is relevant to any form of content that you create, it’s fundamental when writing effective and engaging website copy.
So what’s the fuss with web copy then? Well if you think about it, you’ve only got a short amount of time to capture your audience’s attention, connect with their emotions and then keep them engaged until they’ve digested and responded to your text. Are you still with me? Good!
This can be difficult to master, especially when it’s not guaranteed that your site visitors will even read the whole of your text, let alone your opening paragraphs.
Creating great copy takes time and practice, whilst experience certainly counts for a lot. Remember that with practice and the right insights, it’s certainly possible to create great copy that connects with your audience and conveys the right message.
In order to make a point, I’m going to call upon former president of the United States, Abraham Lincoln.
President Lincoln was once quoted as saying: “You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time.”
In truth, no one is getting fooled, but a variation of this popular quote is as follows:
“You can please all of the people some of the time, and some of the people all of the time, but you cannot please all of the people all of the time.”
You are probably wondering what exactly has this got to do with copy? Well, essentially even if you think that you have produced the best copy in the world it doesn’t mean to say that you will strike a chord with every single person who views your site pages.
Put simply, copy is an art form which comes down to personal preference and not everyone will take from it what you have initially intended. All you can do is your very best and keep some of the people happy all of the time. Critics are less likely to buy into your products anyway, although a good piece of copy can be the ticket in persuading them to come round to your way of thinking.
So, to help you aim to create effective and engaging copy, let’s take a look at ten top tips.
As mentioned, you’ve only got a minimal amount of time to gain the attention of your readers. Therefore, get straight to the point and make sure you stick to a reasonable word count of around 250-500 words per page (or longer for a blog post like this one). This will keep the search engines happy and protect your site from any potential penalties too.
Short and snappy copy in length that clearly communicates what’s intended will be much easier for your visitors to absorb. Anything over the above amount runs the risk of losing their attention and ultimately losing their custom. Work out what you are trying to convey and hit your readers hard with these specific points in your copy.
The intro of your copy is hugely important. As it’s the first piece of text that your audience will view, it needs to instantly draw them in.
Spend time on getting your introduction right, writing different versions and even coming back to it once the copy is complete to see if it needs to be amended for maximum effect.
Asking a question or creating a scenario relevant to the purpose of the copy are two examples of how to present an opening paragraph. If you draw your audience in, it’s easy to maintain their attention – providing the copy is of a quality standard of course.
Move away from the mindset of a writer and put yourself in the shoes of your target audience. By doing so, you can start to visualise how you would like to read and view the copy for the site you are writing for. This can spark ideas and inspiration in order for you to create a great intro that keeps your readers exactly where you want them.
Speak to your audience directly and make your copy personal to them. After all, the intention of the words you use is to convince and persuade visitors to buy into your products or services, so address them directly. Using third person in your prose is less likely to connect with them. Instead, use ‘you’ as it’s more effective than any other alternative.
Creating copy that’s personal allows you to make it relevant to your reader’s situation and also convey your own personality too. Visitors want to see that your brand or business has a distinctive personality via your site pages, instead of having to discover this on your social profiles. Convey the right message by speaking to your audience in a personal manner.
Where applicable, stay clear of using jargon and industry phrases. Remember, you want to keep your copy clear and to the point. Pages that are too heavy with jargon can cause your visitors to lose interest very quickly, as they will spend more time trying to deconstruct the phrases rather than the actual copy.
In addition, although you might have a clear understanding of what all of these terms mean, this doesn’t mean to say that your audience will. Therefore, keep it simple and write copy in a language that all new visitors will understand.
A great way to make your copy engaging is to present your reader with a problematic situation which they might encounter and then resolve this with a solution.
This will make them connect with the values of your business and make them aware of how you can help. By finding common ground with a scenario that they are likely to face, you are clearly stating why they should invest time and money in you because of the solutions that you can provide.
You could simply just list all of the benefits of your service or product, but this is a much better way to make your reader relate to their own experiences and again make it more personal.
A recent study by Nielsen Norman Group found that when website content helps users to focus on areas of interest, they stop scanning and begin reading. A similar study in 2006 which looked at site viewer behaviour, found that users tend to read web pages in an F-shaped pattern.
To make sure that your audience can find what they are looking for, use subheadings to break up the text. This will make it easier for your readers to locate and identify the specific information they need without having to scan large amounts of text. If they are scanning information in an F shape, it’s also likely that they will pick up on the individual subheadings too and begin reading in more detail.
If your site pages are consistent in using subheadings and result in solid information architecture, this is much more likely to maintain audience engagement.
While your content should be optimised, including keywords where possible, it’s also important to use captivating headings. Your page headings can be just as important as the first couple of sentences of your copy and it’s likely to be the first piece of text that your audience read.
An optimised heading will be favourable for the search engines, but you need to think about your audience too. How can you really gain their attention and entice them to continue reading your copy?
Spend time on your headings and make them reflective of your brand or business goals, as well as ensuring that they are, short, snappy and easy to remember. The role of any heading should be to summarise what each page is about and also incentivise readers to stay on your site pages.
Another way to make your copy easier on the eye and turn a scanning visitor into an active reader is to use bullet points and lists. Again, this won’t apply to every single page of copy that you produce, but where appropriate it can make a real difference.
Bullet points will also break up the flow of your copy and create more white space, making it easier for site visitors to digest the information in front of them.
Research by Nielson Norman Group also found that in general, readers will devote most of their attention to the top of the page.
This being the case, it’s important to include your most valued messages during the start of your web copy, so that it reaches the widest audience possible.
The table below shows the percentage of readers within the Nielson Norman study who looked at each sequential paragraph within the body of a piece of copy:
There is a clear distinction between those who will engage with the first paragraph of copy and those who will do so with the final sections. Therefore, try to make your messages strong at the start so that your visitors can instantly take on board what you’ve intended.
A prominent focus of web copy is to try and create a desired audience reaction. This is why your calls to action are fundamental. Regardless of whether you are creating copy for your home, resources, about us or services page, you need to add these in where appropriate.
You may wish to add smaller and distinct actions along the way, such as ‘buy now’, but it’s worth including a stronger call to action at the end of each page of your copy.
Similar to your word count, don’t overdo it with the amount of calls to action you include. Too many will give the wrong impression and confuse your audience as they will be presented with a number of instructions.
Use active language to clearly tell your readers what you want them to do. Words such as ‘register’, ‘call’ and of course ‘buy’ are ideal in this situation. Also make your call to action simple to view on each page so that it can be easily identified.
So thanks for reading, add your comments today!
Web copy can be extremely powerful, so remember the message that you are trying to convey to your audience at all times.
Write with your audience in mind and see if you can put yourself in their shoes and think about what you would expect to see from the site you are writing for. Remember, effective copy that draws an audience in and maintains engagement has a direct impact on customer relations and conversions.
Thanks for reading. If you’ve got any other ideas for making your website copy more effective and engaging, please add them in the comments section below.