Ten Secrets to Must-Read Copy
If you’re counting on your website to help you grow your business (as well you should be), then you must accomplish three goals:
The myth of web copy
The often-used argument, "no one reads anything" is true, but it’s only half the story.
The fact of the matter is that no one reads anything that doesn’t hold their interest or isn't a pleasure to read.
You have only seconds to make the case for visitors to stay on your site and give you their time and attention. Overcoming the burden of proof that your content is interesting and relevant is a formidable challenge but one that can be conquered, if you know the tricks of the trade.
Here are the 10 secrets to writing copy that demands to be read:
1. Start strong. Grab readers' attention and make the case that what follows is relevant to their interests.
Your headings are your first make-or-break point in determining whether a reader will continue to delve deeper into your site or give up and look elsewhere to find what they need. They must grab attention and make the case that what follows is relevant to their interests.
In this way, your copy should flow like runners in a relay race. A great headline will motivate your readers to continue to the first sentence below. A strong first sentence will keep them hooked as they move to the second sentence and so on.
You must start strong and then maintain sharp, focused writing throughout to lead readers inch-by-inch down the page.
2. Break it up.
If you have only one heading on a page, you have only one opportunity to sell your content to the reader.
Don’t put all your eggs in that basket. Instead, divide your copy into sections by topic and cap them off with subheads. In doing so, you create multiple chances to grab the reader’s attention as they scan the page looking for information that is relevant and interesting.
Each subsection should have a main idea and a distinct purpose. Breaking up your text into bite-sized bits is not a band-aid for lazy writing that doesn’t get right to the point.
Prioritize and make your most important points first to minimize your chances of losing the reader before they reach your key sales message.
3. Keep it short, sweet and scannable.
No matter who your target reader is, you can be sure of one fact: their time is a precious and limited resource. You’ll never have more than a minute to show the goods, make your point, build your case or speak your mind.
The tendency of readers on the Web is to scan down the page to identify interesting information or answers to their questions.
They aren’t likely to read more than a few sentences at a time, so make sure your key points are easily identifiable. Use call outs and sidebars to say, “Hey, you, look at this!”
Bullet points are your friends. So are periods. Short, concise sentences are easier to process while scanning.
Forget what you learned in school about paragraph structure. If a paragraph needs to be one sentence, so be it. It’s better to make sure your most important information doesn’t get overlooked than to please your sixth grade grammar teacher.
4. Choose your words carefully. Every word on the page ticks down the clock on the window of opportunity for you to convert a visitor to a customer.
Naturally, you have great passion for what you do, and you want to share as much information as possible about your product or service with anyone who will listen.
Unfortunately, in today's culture of the Web, you just don't have that luxury.
Every word on the page ticks down the clock on the window of opportunity for you to convert a visitor to a customer.
Channel your enthusiasm for your business into making sure that your content is concise yet powerful. One fantastic sentence that hits the bullseye will serve you better than a mediocre, rambling paragraph any day of the week.
Challenge yourself to pare your text down to only what's absolutely essential. Be ruthless in writing and rewriting to ensure that there are no wasted words.
Edit, edit, edit. And when you think you are done, edit again.
5. Don’t forget to qualify and quantify. Broad statements raise red flags of mistrust for readers.
Brevity is not a license to write in sweeping generalities. Broad statements that aren’t supported with facts or evidence immediately raise red flags of mistrust for readers.
It’s important to be specific. Don’t write excessively flowery prose like you’re describing menu items at a restaurant. Do provide meaningful details.
Statistics and customer testimonials are great assets that add credibility to your key sales messages without wasting words.
6. Write like a human.
When writing for your website, don’t turn into a keyword-spewing robot, and don’t stuff your copy full of jargon and big words to make yourself sound like an expert.
Write like you would naturally talk so that you come across as a real person and not a product brochure from the 1950s. Allow your personality to shine through. It’s better to err on the side of informality than to alienate readers with stiff, lifeless writing.
Don’t think about addressing an audience. Instead, approach your writing as if you were having a conversation with one person. What would you say if they were standing in front of you?
7. Know your audience
Knowing your audience is key to knowing what to leave in and what to leave out. You don’t have to start at A if your readers are already at K.
We’re not just talking demographics here. You must think about the typical person who would land on your website, their level of sophistication with the subject matter and where they are in their decision-making process.
Is the type of product or service you provide something that is already familiar to them? If so, skip the basics. They already know they need what you have to offer, so get down to the business of demonstrating why yours is superior to the other guys’.
Are you bringing something new to the market? Then you’ll need to take a step back and educate your readers about your product (no rambling, please!) as well as why they should trust you.
8. Focus on the reader. Answer the questions that are present in your reader’s mind.
Good writing is not about telling readers what you want them to know.
It’s definitely not about stroking your own ego.
It’s about answering the questions that are present in your reader’s mind:
- Will this solve my problem?
- Will this save me time?
- Will this save me money?
- Is this company trustworthy?
- What if I’m not happy with the product or service I receive?
As you address these concerns, think less about features and more about benefits:
- What value will they receive from your product or service?
- What do they already use or possess, and why is yours better?
- What is not having your product costing them in terms of time, money, efficiency or even happiness and life satisfaction?
Demonstrate how your product or service pays for itself. Anticipate sales objections and address them directly.
9. Don’t answer every question.
You don’t have to introduce yourself, make your pitch and close the sale all on one page. It’s okay to leave them wanting more.
Your job is to start the conversation.
If you can hit the sweet spot between providing just enough information to pique your readers' interest and not putting all your cards on the table at once, you open the door for them to call you, e-mail you or complete a contact form.
10. Bring in the designers.
Wait a minute – I thought this article was about good writing!
Technically, it’s about good content, which goes hand-in-hand with good design. Good content goes hand-in-hand with good design.
It’s classic a chicken-or-the-egg scenario. If your writing is Pulitzer-worthy but your design is lackluster, you’ll turn away customers. If your design is beautiful but your writing is dull and disorganized, you’ll send them heading for the hills just as quickly. You can’t have one and not the other.
Design is the packaging for the delivery your content. If a reader lands on a page and sees nothing but a disorganized sea of text, they’ll be immediately overwhelmed, and they won’t even begin to try to make sense of it.
You need the help of a designer to paint your content on the canvas of your site. By augmenting your text with beautiful photography, illustrations, diagrams, infographics and pull-quotes, you’ll create a wonderful reading experience every time.
While each of these tactics is simple and straightforward in theory, they are challenging to put into practice.
If you are writing your own content, it’s important to sharpen your writing skills and discipline yourself to keep your text brief but powerful.
If you’re not confident that you’re up to the task, don’t hesitate to call in the professionals. Fame Foundry’s copywriters are masters of the art form of crafting your sales message so that it is both comprehensive and to the point, while addressing the key motivations and concerns of your readers.
The investment you make up-front in ensuring that your copy is sharp, concise and well-designed is a drop in the bucket compared to the sales opportunities you’ll be guaranteed to lose as a result of dull, disorganized content that sends visitors running to Google to find a more appealing option.