Perhaps you're trying to write Web copy for the first time. Perhaps you're not a writer, but you're charged with developing content. Perhaps you're an interactive pro who's wrestling with difficult, disorganized content—and a committee of reviewers.
Take a minute to review these 10 fundamentals of great copy. How does your Web writing stack up?
1. Connect with readers immediately
Speak to their concerns. Answer their questions. Value their time.
After you write a page, step back and ask yourself, “Do my readers care?” If the answer is “not really,” rewrite the headline to make them care. Or delete the content. Your readers are bright, impatient, ready to move on.
2. Use the tenets of good persuasive writing
Trying to wrestle content into shape? Force yourself to follow these five tenets. (Remember freshman composition?) Yes, it takes work, but you'll be surprised at the improvement in your copy.
- Capture attention. What's the most compelling aspect of your message? Put it first.
- Hold interest. Reward your readers with meaningful, need-to-know information.
- Answer questions. Figure out the questions readers are asking. Answer them!
- Overcome objections. Be persuasive. Provide details. Reassure. You know the objections to whatever it is you're promoting, selling, explaining. Don't avoid addressing them.
- Compel action. What do you want your readers to do? Tell them.
3. Write in the first or second person
You know this. But it never hurts to restate it. Speak directly to your readers, as in these examples:
You have alumni. You have fundraising needs. How do you get results?
What percent of legal research performed by outside counsel is redundant?
Why I donate blood
What's your opinion? Web site? Or website?
And, please, avoid that disembodied, disinterested, third-person voice:
At our company, it has always been our guiding philosophy to provide our valued customers…
4. Find an authentic voice
Your company has a personality. Does your Web site? Capture the essence of your organization in your copy. Use an authentic voice that connects with your readers. It can be persuasive, humorous, warm, reassuring, sassy, informed, explanatory….
Figure out what's appropriate—and work hard at communicating it. Your readers will notice.
5. Use an inverted-pyramid style
Put the most important information first, as in a newspaper article. Then progressively disclose detail. Use architecture and links for secondary depth. Remember, the Web is rarely suitable for sustained narrative. Your readers are skimming, skipping, darting. Catch them with multiple, shorter ideas.
6. Write in self-contained, clearly labeled blocks
Put important information in headlines, subheads and short bulleted or numbered lists. Then assume this is the only content your readers will read. Have they absorbed what's essential?
7. Write so readers can scan
Write short paragraphs without sacrificing depth of content. (Aim for 30-50 words each.) Make every word count! Distill. Edit. Replace weak verbs and vague nouns. If you don't really know what you're trying to say, neither will your readers.
Group your paragraphs into 200-400-word sections. Tip: Adjust your margins in Word so you can see precisely how long a section will be once it's on a Web page. Too long? Edit or further chunk.
8. Apprehend suspicious sentences
Take responsibility for each of your sentences. You know which ones are confusing. Strip out the adjectives, adverbs, prepositional phrases, and dependent clauses. Examine your remaining subject and verb. What, exactly, have you communicated?
Our unique templatized reusable content provides an extensible methodology for communicating key marketing messages consistently and coherently.
Stripped down, this means: Our content provides a methodology…. Don't let this kind of writing anywhere near your site! Replace the vague with the concrete, the tangled with the straightforward.
9. Be consistent
Consistency helps readers navigate. Repetition of key terms is fine. Don't use unnecessary synonyms because you're worried about repeating yourself. If, for instance, you're discussing principles, don't later call them rules. If you're writing about cosmetic dentistry, don't refer to it later as aesthetic dentistry. You risk confusing, irritating or stalling readers.
10. Finished? Read your copy aloud!
Become the voiceover for your copy. Read it with drama and flair. It should have natural, pleasing cadence.
Did you trip over any words or sentences? If so, rewrite.
Are you adding emphasis where none is indicated? Pay attention. You may have buried something important. Rethink the content you are emphasizing as you read aloud. Does it belong in a more prominent position, such as a sidebar, bulleted list or subhead?
Great interactive writing is easy to read, but often hard to write. Here's a closing thought from a master of words, Winston Churchill: “Had I had longer, it would have been shorter.”
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