The goal of web copy is generally to provide information that provokes users to take a specific action – making copy as important to your conversions as any other part of your process.
To streamline your next project, here is a process and tips that will have you writing effective copy in no time.
- Do your Due Diligence
- Provide Structure for Every Page, Post and Product
- Writing for Conversions
- Test your Work
Do Your Due Diligence
Before writing a single line of copy, grasp, at a minimum, the general idea of the product, service, its users and the competition.
Anyone responsible for producing web copy should perform their due diligence on the product or service they are working on – which is much easier for in-house marketers over agencies or consultants, since not everyone has time to in-depth research while juggling multiple clients.
No matter what kind of time table you are holding, you should be able answer the basics. Why do people purchase the product? What are its uses? What are the downfalls? What matters to consumers?
Once you gain an understanding of the topic you plan on writing about, gauge the competition. See how they present their version of the product/service and the claims, calls-to-action and types of media they employ.
Rankings and conversions will both rest on the ability to exceed the competitor’s conversation with the target market. In addition, your business identity should be differentiated from your competition. Even if you have an identical product, your claims and calls-to-action should stand out enough to trigger a visitor into becoming a client.
Provide Structure for Every Page, Post and Product
Every niche is different, so what works for me, may not work for you; however, there are few key elements that will lead to success with any site.
The number 1 element that determines whether someone is going to read more about your post or product, or become part of your bounce rate relies on serving a value proposition immediately. Aim to keep it above the fold.
In short, provide a clear statement that delivers a quantifiable value, differentiates you from competitors and gives relevancy to the search query used to find that page.
When structuring your content, keep the following in mind:
Think of user intent. If you were searching for specific information on a topic, you want to read things that are directly pertaining to said topic.
It may be tempting to write about your favorite dog breed, but if it doesn’t relate to the rest of the site or page topic, leave it out. Visitors to your site want information, and unless the page is information about said dog, they really won’t care, even if it is a good metaphor for what you’re trying to say.
Sentences should be as concise as you can make them. Use only the words you need to get the essential information across. This should apply to most blog posts as well. You want to think readability for the user, which means lists, short paragraphs (2-3 sentences) and clear points.
One thing to help with this can be working toward providing only 1 major point per paragraph. People prefer to scan pages, so short, meaty paragraphs are better than longer rambling ones.
Use Lists or Small Graphics
Lists and graphics are helpful, but don’t overdo it. Lists reaching past five points are close to the point of being too lengthy – unless your goal is a link bait piece with X amount of ways to do something.
Similarly, if your site is covered in graphics, search engines are going to have a difficult time indexing it.
The goal should always be readability and flow, and if lists and graphics aren’t user friendly, then you can be sure conversions will drop.
Avoid Passive Voice
Passive voice is general longer and clumsy, relying on “is” or “are” and “to be,” so write with action words and tell your readers what to do. With active voice, the subject is doing the action. For example:
Passive: Something was happening.
Active: Something happened.
Passive: FHA loans are considered to be a great option by homeowners.
Active: Homeowners consider FHA loans a great option.
Passive: Active-duty military homeowners were protected from foreclosure by SCRA.
Active: SCRA protects active-duty homeowners from foreclosure.
If you are writing website copy, remember, a user wants to find information pertaining to their search query. If they don’t see the information they want quickly, then they will bounce from the page – making scannable, descriptive subheadings a must.
Writing for Conversions
A call to action—whether on your website, email or print material—is meant to prompt a person to perform a specific action. There are several factors that contribute to an effective call to action, including copy, design, and placement.
Within seconds of seeing your call to action (CTA), a visitor should be able to determine exactly why he or she should take action and what they will get in return.
The most effective CTA’s contain action verbs (remember when I said to avoid passive voice?), which we know describe an action or activity. Excluding these powerful words from your copy leaves the reader with little to no direction and often hurts your click-throughs and decreases conversions.
- Get started
- Click here
- Learn more
- Download now
- Find more
Less is always more with a call to action. If someone doesn’t immediately recognize what to do, they aren’t going to sit and decipher it, they are going to leave. So when writing your calls to action, use fewer words that contain a strong, easily recognizable meaning.
Within your content, be sure to internally link other pages that would be useful. Doing this keeps users on your site, as well as flows equity from external links throughout your site.
This also gives you the opportunity to add more calls to action. For example, this subtle call to action keeps users engaged with the site, even if they aren’t ready to purchase a home at that exact moment:
Test Your Work
There are hundreds of platforms that allow you to test your content and conversions, from free models on Google Analytics to paid subscriptions with CrazyEgg, testing is easily available and should be implemented.
For content, common tests are:
Testing readability can be one of the easiest tests. The common formula here is:
- (.39 x #words/#sentences) + (11.8 x #syllables/#words) – 15.59 = grade level.
Or you can be smart and run your content through Microsoft Word by clicking the office button, word options, proofing, checking the box “Check grammar with spelling,” and under “When correcting grammar in word” check the “Show readability statistics.”
Usability tests should be implemented to determine what users do on your site; however, with content, you want to test what they understand, not what they say they understand.
The only way to do this correctly is through focus groups to identify critical issues to users that you may have looked over. Here you want users to paraphrase the content so you can see what they truly understand.
The Cloze test goes hand-in-hand with usability. It is the method of taking out every fifth word of an 125 word sample and asking a user to fill in the blanks.
If 60% or more are correct, then the content is at an appropriate level, 40-59 percent means the content may additional help and less than 40 percent means it is too difficult and should be rewritten.
Testing with focus groups isn’t always the easiest option; however, they may uncover items you initially missed. When using these methods, it’s not uncommon to pay anywhere from $25 to $100 per participant.
As mentioned above, writing great copy is learned just like anything else, but with the tips here, you are on the right track to producing effective writing that keeps users engaged.
What do you do to ensure your content is being read?