Writing for the Web: Content & Copywriting Tips

Writing for the Web: Content & Copywriting Tips

I love to write. In my third grade composition book (which I still have), there are countless ghost stories written a la Stephen King. In high school, I took a journalism class and got published on the front page of our school newspaper (big deal, right?). I was an English major in undergrad, having to read a slew of Shakespeare in order to craft meaningful and contemporary analyses of his work. I even love different forms of “writing”. In grad school, my entire thesis paper was about how I use photography to construct visual narratives.

On top of that, I’ve spent the past 12 years of my professional career being employed in roles where written communication was my primary responsibility: 10 years in marketing and now project management.

With that being said, I find writing to be really, really difficult. Well, because it is! It’s time intensive. It requires organization, consideration, and discipline. . .a lot of it.

I’m not alone. As a project manager, I work with many clients who have an incredible product or service but have struggled to convey in written form all that is wonderful about what they do. Part of my role is to help them get their message across on their websites in the most effective way possible.

What I’ve realized works with website design is to take at all the components of a web page—text, pictures, graphics, typography, structure—and make them work as a team to help deliver your online message. Below, I share a few recommendations on how to do that with the hopes that you’ll find writing to be less of a painful chore and more of a fun, creative activity that ultimately delivers you results online.

Speak to an Audience

Before you begin typing on a keyboard, ask yourself, “Who is my audience?” The word choice, tone, and style of an email you write to your boss is vastly different than the one you’d write to your best friend.

Perhaps your customer base is comprised of teachers seeking educational materials for the classroom. Then your writing style might lean more toward instructional and professional then irreverent and funny. Not saying teachers don’t have a sense of humor or appreciate references to pop culture. But there is a time and place for that style of writing, and your customer base isn’t expecting slang, incomplete sentences, or animated GIFs, when looking for pre-calculus workbooks.

Below is taken from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. The language used is short, succinct, and professional.

Screen grab of Houghton Mifflin website on precalculus books

Use Great Typography

We now live in a day and age where the options to jazz up your page with beautiful typography that is actually text and not text saved as graphics are unlimited.

Use large headings to call attention to different areas of your page or to break up large amounts of copy. Pair a Serif font with a Sans Serif font and perhaps throw in a script font (why not?) for your Call to Action.

It looks great and according to Behance, it’s on trend right now for 2016.

Screen grab from Behance website on typography

The example below is taken from Ewket and it’s another lovely representation of leveraging great typography to make a fair amount of copy enticing to read.

Screen grab of EWKET website

Balance Features with Benefits

Okay, Marketing 101.

Features address the facts about the product or service being provided.

Features based writing ex: We design and develop websites using WordPress.

Benefits address the value a product or service provides. It’s ultimately what sells your product, service, brand, etc., because they define, “Why should I care?”

Benefits based writing ex: We design websites that are modular, scalable, load lightning fast, and feature user-friendly admin, enabling our clients to easily add, edit, and remove content on the fly.

Maintain a good balance between the two of these on your website. Features are still necessary for Search Engine Optimization and for describing your product from a technical standpoint. Just know that not everyone will interpret your Features list in the same way. Use benefits to help paint the picture for how your company is going to change their lives.

Complement Words with Compelling Imagery

Yes, we’ve all heard the cliché: “A picture is worth a thousand words.” But seriously. I’m saying it again. Pictures, whether still or moving, make all the difference in communicating an idea. Hire a photographer, buy stock images, shoot a video—whatever it takes, but get great imagery onto your website. Now.

This example is taken from Stowe Mountain Lodge, right here in Vermont. On the left is a video of a beautiful stroll through the Vermont countryside. Next to that is a woman looking exceptionally relaxed with copy on top that says “Unwind in the Mountains.” I want to be her. I want to go there. Right. Now.

Screen grab of Stowe Mountain Lodge website

Optimize for Search

Search Engine Optimization is a whole topic in and of itself. I can barely scratch the surface with what I’m about to mention here. However, what I will say is make sure SEO is guiding your content decisions. A few quick tips:

  • Create unique content that people want to read.
  • Write naturally and don’t bloat your text with lots of redundant phrases or unnecessary keywords.
  • Use proper semantics and structure. Think of a textbook and how it’s laid out. Your page should follow a similar logic. If you want the technical terms and instructions for this, click here for a full de-briefing on semantics. Ultimately, don’t use headings to simply make text bigger or smaller. They have a purpose and that’s providing a logical structure to a page.
  • Write custom Meta Titles and Descriptions. Think of these as condensed summaries of your pages that Google uses when serving up your site in Search Results. Need an easy way to do that? If you’re on WordPress, I recommend installing Yoast SEO as a plugin.
    Screen Shot 2016-05-13 at 1.25.53 PM

Have questions, comments? Agree, disagree? Share them with me below. For help with your next website design or development project, be sure to contact Burlington Bytes online or by phone at 802-448-4001.

Thanks for reading!

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