It’s not any one thing – it’s everything.

successful web copywriting

So you’re wondering what the secrets of successful web copywriting are? Well, you’ve just discovered one of them – starting with a powerful headline. It works on many levels. First, I’ve used the word secrets. Everybody wants to know a secret, to discover something that is not generally known. We all want shortcuts; if there’s an easy way to get there, we want to know about it. Then, there’s the word successful. You’re not just going to learn about web copywriting, but successful web copywriting. You’re going to find out how to make your words work hard for you. But are you? Well, in a word, yes. But before you write, you need, as ever, to plan. Chances are you’ve got a lot of copy already. Or maybe you have a lot of ideas. You have so much to say, you’re not sure where to start.

Plan, then write

Let’s take an example of a new site. It’s vital to plan before you write. All too often, people devote considerable time and effort – not to mention expense – to creating a web site that looks great, but says very little. Remember, the purpose of a site is to communicate with people: to tell them about your products, services, company, special offers. Web copywriting is key to this, and easily as important as the actual design. Is your site ‘brochureware’ – a site that just duplicates printed material you already have? Many sites are, but they’re not as effective. On the other hand, if they’re just an online backup to offline effort, then brochureware sites are fine. But good web copywriting can do so much more. It can help you build a brand. It can make your company seem larger than it is, and even more professional. Even today, a web site still says ‘this is a serious business’. As Fortune magazine commented back in the mid-90s, ‘if you’re not somebody at something dot com, you’re nobody’. So you know you need to say something, but how are you going to say it? Well first, move away from your computer and get a pen and some paper. You’re going to start drawing pictures. You need to decide what pages you’re going to have and what purpose they’ll serve. You’ll also have to decide on a logical navigation structure – one that makes as much sense as turning the page of a book. And since you’ll probably have way too much to say, you’ll need to start cutting down what you’ve got. Remember, on the web, people are just a mouse-click away from somewhere else. That means you have to grab their attention and keep it. And since attention spans are shorter on the internet than just about anywhere else, you need to make your web copywriting lively and engaging.

Cut it down, make it clear

The key with web copywriting, as with just about every other type of copywriting, is ‘less is more’. If you can cut something down, do it. If you can make the paragraph shorter, do it. Because of the way people read on-screen, you can’t have paragraphs that are as long as on the printed page. So you need to shorten sentences, cut up paragraphs and ‘chunk’ information – break it down into easily-absorbed chunks that won’t have people clicking away. Make the copy easy to read. Use white space liberally. Vary the length of sentences and paragraphs. If you can, bullet-point your information so people can see:
  • what you’re talking about
  • why it’s a good idea
  • what they have to do next
See how it works? Sometimes, it’s good to think of web copy almost as a graphic space. Look at the white, not the black. Does it make nice shapes? Is it visually appealing? Often, the shape of what you say can add to the message.
If you want to emphasise something, how about putting it in a box? You could even have a pull-quote from a customer testimonial. Variety makes copy easier to read.
Lastly, don’t forget fonts. Use as few as possible – one for the body, one for headings. And make sure they’re readable. Lots of perfectly good copy is ruined by hard-to-read fonts. Avoid serif fonts (the ones with squiggles like Times) and stick with either Arial or Verdana. Coming up next week: The secrets of successful web copywriting – Pt 2: Audience, tone of voice, and the K word. See you then.