How to write compelling website copy: practical tips for people who cannot write.
You don’t need a fancy vocabulary, flowery language or complicated long sentences. Complicating your writing is the worst trick to pull out of your bag of goodies to impress your readers. Especially, if you want humans to listen to what you have to say.
I can’t stress about this enough. Fancy quotes and phrases, flowery writing, long sentences, these are kryptonite to your writing and relationships with your readers.
In the last twenty plus years at work, I have learnt this single most important lesson over and over again, keep things crisp and simple. The second most important item on my agenda is to simply learn to listen.
When it comes to writing for websites or any content for an audience, fancy language doesn’t help. It takes the focus away from your story instead of helping you connect with people. People start focusing on the words and the flow rather than experiencing the flow and sailing through that journey. They miss out on the experience of the magical world you would like to introduce to them.
By the time you are done reading this article, you will be more than equipped to write much better copy. You will see more interactions on your posts. I assure you that your friends will notice the change too. More than that, your piece will organically rank better on search results.
Why fancy copy doesn’t work? Just let this sink in for a moment. The reason why no one will read your fancy descriptive sentences is because the language does not relate with your reader. If anything, it turns them off and makes you seem distant and disconnected from reality. It’s a different matter when you write greeting cards or poetry.
Let’s get started with the characters.
To set up the scene an enthusiastic lady keys in a search. She’s looking for a hot topic, something that you know and write about.
What you really need here is a headline that will make her stop scrolling and click on your article. What would set you apart from the other 10 headlines on her search results page?
Allow me to explain. Simple, clear, crisp thoughts can help humans understand you a lot better. When people are hooked to what you have to say, they have no reason to leave.
A long time ago, I spent a couple of months working in a call center. It was the rage with teenagers back then. I was hired for outbound sales. One of my mentors, a speech therapist and voice artist coached me during training. As part of the training we would listen to to our top sellers phone calls. I was really impressive to listen to her effortlessly sell credit cards and balance transfers to customers in the U.K. over the phone. As I started to disect her pitch and rewrite my script, I noticed that she used simple straight forward and very clear language. Words that were easy to pronounce and to be understood. For the next few days, I continued to rewrite my script. I made my sentences even shorter. And low and behold I was the top seller for atleast 3 days every week. Half the battle was won when customers could understand me better. I walked in to office the following week and I could hear my calls being played to the new recruits.
Writing or any communication on the web has become very competitive. It’s easy for your articles to get lost in so much of content. Meanwhile, you might notice a lot of really badly edited articles with absolutely no value ranking high on searches and featured by top magazines too.
In this article, I am going to help you write better website copy for your audience. I will give you easy and practical SEO tips so that your content organically ranks better on search results. Most importantly, I will be listing out all the tricks and shortcuts I have learnt. All the way from getting started to creating cheat sheets so that you consistently do better on every article you write from today.
I started web development in 1996. That’s over 20 years ago. You could say that I have been working with content for websites for quite a while now. We created thousands of websites. So you’ll be glad to know that I will be sharing some very sound and practical advice with you that has worked for my clients and my own business too. I have grown and evolved with content. You’re in safe hands. I’ve also had a couple of my articles published on top photography sites.
I regularly write scripts for videos for big brands that reach millions of their viewers. There is so much that one could learn from these big brand custodians about emotions and connecting with their audience through communication. This is how, I’ve had the opportunity to learn from and work with top content creators in the world on how to edit your communication for an online audience.
In my years of experience, I cannot emphasize this one practical piece of advice more: Write for your audience. Write something that they will want to read. Something that they will be so excited about that they will bookmark, save and share with people within and outside their circles.
Honestly, it’s just about writing for your audience, and about your audience, instead of yourself.
You’re probably already a better writer than I am. And I’ll be really honest about it, I’m not a good writer at all. As you read each word of this piece you will see how my perspective on writing changed. Better yet, how you could write better for humans on the web?
When you want to make your content reach more people, the focus should be on those people and your audience.
It sounds so simple but makes a huge impact on the way you present your content. Everything changes when you look at this way. You’re now, not writing about yourself, instead you’re writing for your reader and about your reader. What does your audience want to hear from you? How do you need to package or craft your ideas so that they will listen?
Let’s face it, most of us are not celebrities oozing with confidence and charisma. We don’t have a massive following in the millions. And People are not hanging to ever word that comes out of our mouth.
When I was a teenager, I remember waking up during the wee hours of the morning to watch the Chicago Bulls. I would start to peer at the tv screen all the way from the press release a day before the game. While many of the popular basketball stars had a lot to say, The eccentric, cross dressing basketball superstar, Dennis Rodman made an appearance. He said “no comment”. A 16 year old me hung on to every word, I gasped “how cool, millions of people watching and all he has to say is no comment!”. I couldn’t wait to meet all my friends at the basketball court that evening. I recreated the entire episode and narrated it to my friends at the court.
So for most of us who do not have that kind of effect on people across the globe, or even in our circles, we need to build relationships with our audience. A no comment might not take us very far. If you mean nothing to your audience, why would they want to hear what you have to say?
Allow me to let you in on a secret. Your audience will start to feel and grow emotions about your ideas only when you start to paint vivid pictures of characters That relate to their lives for them.
I have been influenced by movie directors from the time I have been an impressionable child.
Alfred Hitchcock is most famous for his movie Psycho 1960. He is the most studied and most memorable storyteller of all time. Without going on and on about why I think Hitchcock is one of the greats, let us get to Hitchcock’s greatest piece of narrative advice. This is how Hitchcock broke down filmmaking narrative, it changed my approach to storytelling forever. It’s the best piece of advice that will keep your audience hanging. My writing was never the same after I came across Hitchcock’s secret to filmmaking. If anyone ever knew how to keep an audience at the edge of their seats, it was him.
Alfred Hitchcock broke down narrative into two parts.
In the first scene our protagonist experiences a situation that displaces him from normalcy.
Next, the protagonist then reacts to this situation.
The important twist to Hitchcock’s take on storytelling on the latter was that Hitchcock would tell the second part of the story through the eyes of the protagonist, instead of the narrator.
You might be wondering what does this have to do with your writing? Let’s translate this scenario into to our narrative.
Remember, your audience is your protagonist.
It is not uncommon for others in your position to assume you are the protagonist and the hero of your story. You may think that you need to be saving the day for your audience. But here’s what a little birdy told me, be the bigger person. Talk about your audience instead of yourself. They will love you.
Well, if you were wondering otherwise, here lies the flaw when you make yourself or your product the hero of the story. Your audience doesn’t know you all that well. You’re not a six and a half foot overwhelming basketball star to your viewers. I hate to break it to you, most of us are never close to reaching that amount of influence. All we can do is to change our own perspective.
With that said, what do you do with Hitchcock’s narrative structure?
You could make your story about your audience. It would still be the same story, narrative or features that you’re talking about. But it would be written for your audience with your audience as the hero. You begin to write your story from the point of view of your readers. You talk to them about their pain points and challenges. You focus on what your audience relates to. Show your audience how they should feel and emotionally react to your idea. Will they be relieved and stressed free with your solution or rather satisfied and content once they’ve tried your service out?
If you have read so far you really don’t need to take back anything more from this article. In the light of what I have shared with you, this should be enough for you to get started. You’ll be now able to write copy that readers will care about.
But here’s some good news for you. I want to let you in on all of it. How these three simple concepts help me write better copy for humans. In addition to that, this very same structure and workflow have brought me millions of dollars of business through my video production services. Cracking a story and keeping your clients locked in is an important first step to clenching a deal in my line of work.
How do you write your story keeping your audience in mind?
Write about the most important and pressing situation from a narrator’s perspective that deeply relates to your protagonist.( Remember, your protagonist is your reader.)
Follow that up with the reaction of how the protagonist feels. Rather, how your reader should feel when they experience these situations. This is a very relatable and emotional moment for your reader. So let that sink in.
And in addition to that, it would be a good time to transition into your very unique perspective and solution for that situation.
These are some of my best practical tips that will help you understand how to write for humans. This is where things get important and could seem a little overwhelming as well. Kindly bear with me. I will include a recap towards the end.
Learn to listen to your audience
There’s no point in writing a piece if someone cannot understand it or relate to it. Or even worse, what if they don’t care about what you have to say? What if it’s boring and drab for your readers?
Your job and single focus today is to turn away from featuring yourself in your copy. The idea is to shine attention towards your reader and make your ideas matter in their lives. Make it all about your audience.
The easiest way to do this is to use the word “you”.
Use what you have, you have experience, skill and expertise. All that is left is for you to put them into words to tell your story. Use words.
To get started, here are some of the questions you should ask yourself.
- Who are the type of people that should read your content?
- Who are the people you would like to connect with?
A note of caution: if your answer is “I would like to target everyone”. It might as well be no one.
- Why should someone read your article?
- What does your audience look for and like to consume?
- How will you connect with your audience?
- What can you do in your headline and your first paragraph for them to click and consume your content instead of all the other articles online?
Let me illustrate this for you. I mostly write copy for video production services.
Typically I talk to brand managers who would like to produce a brand video. Maybe she is overwhelmed with so many video production companies in the market. It is a scary world with so many options. She doesn’t want to be responsible for a bad quality video or a failed media campaign. Maybe she has had a bad experience with a local video production guy who made a completely different video from what they had discussed or charged her company too much. She would like to connect with someone more reliable and established. Can I talk about these issues to grab her attention?
Instead of swooping in and being the hero of the day, could I do something a little more different? In addition to that could I turn things around? Focus away from my services and make it about her? Let her know I understand her fears and I am interested to know more about what she needs? I could ease her into the idea that I would be able to help. I could focus on points that I don’t charge too much. But I also have the experience working with big brands and I can give her the same value on her production.
As you read on you’ll see how this workflow helps me write for my character, my hero and protagonist of my story, You. And it will help you too. You’ll be writing better than you did and more important than that, people will remember what you say and they will take action.
Before you start, design a target persona. What kind of things would your audience visualize? What kind of examples will connect with her? And how can I keep making her read further?
To quickly recap:
- Write a narrative from the point of view of a narrator where your protagonist is your reader.
- Express reactions and emotions from the point of view of your reader.
- Follow this up with your unique perspective on the situation.
Let me digress for a moment. Here are a few words to avoid. As you edit your pieces, and you replace these words from your copy, your story will become more relatable and emotional.
Words to avoid when you are writing for real people on the web:
- Stuff, things.
- Them, They.
- Firstly, Secondly, In conclusion.
As you replace these words with, you will notice that you have reclaimed keyword phrases and audience personalization in your sentences. You will be using more “you” and “your” instead of “it”, “their” and “them”. You will be using your featured keyword phrases instead of “it”. And this is how your piece will automatically start ranking better on search result pages.
SEO:Writing content for web pages for both humans and machines.
Search Engine Optimisation is a recommended strategy by Google. Let me be more specific of how SEO works. SEO is process in your workflow that will focus on making your content readable to machines or search engine bots. As you optimise your content for SEO, your articles will start to appear on relevant search result pages.
You may remember that I talked about web design and also that I am quite terrible at writing. One of the reasons for this has been SEO. Back in the day, you could get by with stuffing keywords in your webpage content. Needless to say, I became quite the expert at keyword density and link building strategies. When it came to reading the content, and user experience, my quality was: meh, not so much. Bad habits don’t die easy and if you go through articles on my website https://www.webinteractivefilms.com you will start to see what I’m talking about. The site does great at SEO. The page load speed goes up to a page rank of 99 even. But I am embarrassed to say that the content is still all over the place. Feel free to critique the content on my website, drop me a line with your suggestions. You would be doing me a massive favour.
Without getting too technical, let’s briefly talk about the SEO Process.
- Keyword research: Let me show you an easy method to do keyword research on Google for noobs. Type in your primary topic keyword like “video production” make a note of the auto suggested keywords that appear. Now click on the search button. On the search result page, scroll down and make a note of common search related questions. As you scroll to the bottom of the page. And in addition to that, it is a good time to see what your competition headlines and meta descriptions look like. Meta descriptions or snippets are the first two lines that appear after the headline.
- Use your primary keyword phrase in your headline and first paragraph of your content piece. Continue to sprinkle your primary keyword phrase and related keywords where relevant throughout your article. See where it fits in organically.
- The questions could be interesting QnA sections in your content that will relate to what your audience wants to know. Incredible isn’t it.
Keyword research and including related search terms is only a part of SEO. In addition to this remember to back your content piece up with sharing or link building. Connect with your friends to share your content across the web. Backlinks play a massive role in ranking content.
Copy every good thing:
That’s what Quentin Tarantino says. But seriously, if you don’t know where to start, copy.
I wonder why they call it “copy writing”.
If there was a reason, it should be this. More important than that, there is a method to the madness. Copying is the best way to start writing better. Plagiarism however, will get you nowhere on consumption or search engine ranking. Copying bits and pieces from different references is not a good strategy either, just a hot mess. The industry calls it “cut and paste”. And you don’t want to waste your time and tarnish your credibility by plagiarizing content.
Can you really afford not to copy from the best?
Here is where what you have learnt till this point comes in handy.
As you may have noticed, it is best to have one reference article to refer to, instead of many.
Correspondingly, here is the list of points to take into account when you are creating you content.
A note of caution: You are better off taking reference from a beautiful popular piece of work that is not related to your content topic. As you read further I will tell you why this works best.
- Consider the structure and length of the reference article.
- Look at your reference article and observe number of words in the headlines, article word count, sentence length and paragraph length.
- Start to rewrite paragraph by paragraph. Retain the same structure and approximate word count but shift the perspective. To illustrate this idea better, suppose the article I am referencing is written for copywriters and I am writing for video production. I will talk about challenges my video production audience face and use language that my video production audience uses. I won’t be talking to people writing copy. The reference article only helps me structure my thoughts better. It helps me approach the content with a better perspective on the structure. And over time you will be able to pick up many subtle strategies that help you connect and interact with your readers.
Grow a repository of templates for your content writing.
Save templates, quotes and transitional phrases.
When I started web design, I was learning. In 1996, internet was expensive, not easily accessible. Web design and usability was rather new. What I would do is take screenshots of every good website or design I came across. There was always something new I wanted to try out on my next project. The result was that my designs were above client expectations. It was truly fantastic to get referrals and more business from them. It’s the same with content.
Collect a glossary of terms. Something sounds good and it impressed you, jot it down. Create a list of transitional words or phrases such as “likewise” and ”moreover”. Collate a list of reaction phrases “it felt awesome” or “Now, you can slap a big S on your chest”. Keeping these references open help you glide through and transition easily through your articles.
Let me drop another quick tip. Create a new email address and subscribe to newsletters on all the topics you love. Newsletters are superb resources to learn and refer. Especially when you plan to write for your audience.
Feedback. I have always learnt so much by sharing my unfinished edits with friends. It’s not only interesting to know what content caught their attention. But they will also be critical and help you cut out the fat from your writing. Share your article draft with your friends. Take their feedback and edit your work. Do more of what they find interesting in your work.
Let me quickly recap what we have discussed.
When it comes to writing copy for humans, here is a quick cheat-sheet below:
- Research your audience and readers thoroughly.
- Follow a narrative structure where your audience is the hero of your story.
- Express your audiences emotional reactions to situations they care about.
- Do your keyword research, most searched questions and related keywords for your topic.
- Refer popular well written piece from another topic for structure, word count, sentence and paragraph length.
- Collate references, useful transitional phrases, quotes and words to help you while writing your piece.
- Share your draft with your friends and ask for feedback.
- And that’s not all, once you publish your article, have your friends and family share, comment and talk about your article.
Make no mistake about it, this is all you need to get your content out.
Act now, stop reading about writing, and write.
That’s all folks. This is how you could quickly get started with writing for humans on the web. Do your research. Design a prompt to write and get started.
I’d love to see what you come up with. if you’d like my feedback, drop send your article to [email protected] I would love to take a look.