Writing content can be one of the most daunting tasks of a web development project.
We've seen many projects stalled or run into problems because a client is struggling to put together website text.
And it's understandable.
Content writing for the web is a specialist skill. There aren't just professionals dedicated to it, but entire businesses.
But lots of people still want to keep the copywriting in-house, which often means asking someone to step outside of their comfort zone to compile and write website content.
So, how can we make this process simpler?
We're letting you in on a few of our best-kept secrets to help anyone create great website content.
- How to plan your website content
- How to write in snippets
- Why narrative content is best for your website
- Why formal websites don't sound professional
- Quick tips for writing for the web
These copywriting tips won't make you Ernest Hemingway, but they should help you feel confident about producing a great piece of web content, whether that's a case study, a product description, website pages or even if you're looking for blog writing tips.
The content creation process always starts with a plan.
If you're writing for a new website, you'll have identified some key marketing goals during the planning phase, based on your target audience and their motivations.
User lead web design and content creation should go hand in hand. Keep your audience firmly in mind as you write, and remember that you're speaking directly to them with your content, not solely to search engines.
You'll also have been part of an exercise where you and your digital team worked out what content was needed on the site, and organised that into a sitemap.
Often that process is card sorting, which is a great first step to planning out your writing, as you'll have all the key content areas that you want to address, arranged into a page structure and hierarchy.
So all you need to do is flesh out each of those content areas with some nice writing.
If you're extra lucky, you'll even have a wireframe to work from. Some content writers find that even easier, as it gives you an approximate word/character count for each area.
That means you can give your agency a heads-up if the text you're writing is significantly longer or shorter than they expected, and they can amend the design accordingly.
If your site is already up and running, and it's time to write something new, like a blog post or case study, you should still be using this same content strategy.
Think about the type of content you're writing, look at the current site to get an idea of the framework the design gives you (for example, a blog post is usually pretty flexible, but a case study might have a more refined structure).
Often the biggest problem with online writing is actually producing the right amount of content for the page, so by planning this out to start with, you're going to start off on the right foot.
30 words is the ideal paragraph length for website content writing. Not in articles (although you'll see that the majority of these paragraphs are, in fact, around the 30 word mark!), but generally for website content, 30 words is ideal.
And that's because when you're writing website copy, you aren't just thinking about what it says, but also how it looks.
30ish words gives you a paragraph that's long enough to look substantial, but short enough to be easily digested by your user. No-one is ever intimidated, or loses their place with a 30 word paragraph.
The other plus to writing short paragraphs like this, is that it focuses you on your main issues. It's rare that users want to delve into big chunky details. They want short sentences and simple points.
The more you can streamline your text, the easier it's going to be for your audience to understand.
We like to think that people are more motivated by facts than by narratives.
And that's true to a certain extent - having numbers to back up your messages can be really powerful.
But you need the story to start with.
You can often see text that looks a little similar to this:
The fact is there for a good reason, Great Business Limited wants to show their customers that they're an established company.
But by neglecting narrative, they've missed the opportunity for people to feel something about the business.
Let's compare it to this.
Same fact. Better story.
Fundamentally, people are driven by emotion. So to produce really great content, the kind of content that moves people, think beyond the facts to the kind of story you're trying to tell.
This is one of the most common mistakes I see people make with website text, usually from people who aren't confident about writing.
They take refuge in trying to be as "correct" as possible - that's always going to sound more authoritative, more professional, right?
But there's an important line between avoiding typos and being overly fastidious with grammar.
We've had clients get cross about any flexibility with grammar - even for things that are in common usage.
We've had clients with really powerful, emotional stories to tell, hide them behind faux-formality.
We've even had clients refuse to use any contractions on their website, replacing "don't" with "do not" and "it's" with "it is".
Now, we're not suggesting that you use exclamation points and slang in your website text. And of course you'll need a different level of formality if you are a birthday clown or a lawyer, but be aware of going too far.
The best way to get the right tone, is to think of your text as a conversation.
You should speak to users on your website in the exact same way that you'd speak to them in a meeting.
So, if you're meeting a client to pitch for business, to sell them your product or to invite them to an event, how would you actually talk to them? That's how you'll create web copy that sells.
A good test for this is to read your text out loud. If it doesn't sound like what you'd say if you were face to face with your customer, then it's not right.
Those 4 big secrets should keep you on the right path with your online copywriting and content marketing, but if you want a little more information, here are some additional pearls of wisdom that can help you avoid common content writingeasy mistakes when you're writing your text.
- Be a "we". Yes, it's grammatically correct to talk about a company in the singular. But my goodness it's sterile! But if you present your company as a team or a collective, your text immediately feels less formal and more friendly.
- Avoid industry jargon. Just because you all know what "CMS" means, doesn't mean your users do. Use language that doesn't require industry or in-house knowledge.
- Be consistent. If you've called a specific service "Product X", don't then refer to it as "Package Y". It's only going to confuse people.
- Embrace formatting. Bullet points, headings, commas and full stops. A web content writer uses these liberally to break up text and make it more visually appealing.
- Avoid random capitalisation. A word isn't More important when It's capitalised. Keep Capitals for names and headings (if that's Your Style), don't just Litter your text With them.
- US or UK. Some companies, particularly global ones, like to use US spellings - and that's completely fine so long as it's consistent across the site. Make a choice and stick with it.
- Make some tea. When you're struggling to find the words, it can often be helpful to step away for 5 minutes and put your mind to something else entirely. Trust me, it's a great way to give your brain a reboot.
- Proof-read. Or better yet, get someone else to do it for you. Someone else is more likely to see the errors than you - you've been staring at those words for far too long!
- Be active. A passive voice has been used here. I'm using an active voice.
- Use a tool. The Hemingway App is a great way to check if your content is easily readable, if it's active or passive, and if you're using unnecessary adverbs.
- Don't try to be too clever. Website content creation is not a literary effort. You're writing to communicate, not too impress. It's much more important that you are writing with clarity than with artistic flair.
- Don't forget about SEO. Whilst you should always write content for the user, not for search engines, search engine optimisation is certainly something to keep in mind when creating any website content. Try to incoporate your target keywords naturally within your text, headers and meta data.
Content often feels like a big, scary part of the website process, but if you've got a plan in place, and can make sure you stick with your style choices, you'll do fine.
And if you want an agency that's going to help you create amazing content for your new website, you can always have a chat with us - we offer a writing service that can help you out.