Would you love to improve your website, but don’t know where to start? York’s own Helen Reynolds of Ink Gardener Copywriting shares some insights to make your website content shine.
Here she expands on her recent ‘How to wow with your web content’ presentation for Make It York’s Connect Over Coffee online meet-up.
The power of words
Hi! I’m Helen and I love words. Before going freelance, I was the web editor for First Choice Holidays and the Lake District National Park. With 20+ years’ experience of websites, I’ve a pretty good idea of what works best.
A swishy website is a like a picture frame. You need the right words inside it, known as ‘copy’, to attract customers and Google’s search robots.
Your 24/7 shop window
Keeping your business website up-to-date may be the last thing on your To Do list. But I guarantee Googling you is one of the first things a prospective customer does.
Websites are as much a part of your ‘digital footprint’ as social media.
If you cringe when someone says “I’ll look at your website” you need to sort it out NOW.
Feel the fear and do it anyway
Many people get nervous about changing web content. But websites are meant to be updated.
Your website should be set up so that you can’t break the design or layout. It’s like putting a new photo in a frame. You don’t pry it open with a screwdriver and re-glue it. You just update what’s inside. The same happens when you use a content management system like WordPress.
Worried about making a typo? You can correct it more easily on a website than a printed brochure. Plus Google ranks websites more highly that are updated more often. So it’s a win-win!
How to communicate clearly
Messages – be they on papyrus, carrier pigeon or on a web page – are just words. However the best ones:
- keep the target audience in mind
- use the right tone for that audience
- are clear and concise
Good content makes people more likely to listen to what you have to say and feel positive about you.
Tip: Keep asking the question “So what?” or “What’s in it for me?” as if you were a customer to check you’re on the right track.
Your website isn’t for you
As the expert, you already know it all. Your task as a web content writer is to answer what your audience wants to know, not what you want to tell them.
Tip: Start by answering the questions you get asked every day. A FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) page is a great spot to address tricky issues. For example there might not be free parking outside your premises, but you deliver for free within a 10-mile radius. Try to follow every negative with a positive.
But who is your audience?
In an ideal world, you’d now turn to your business plan’s target audience section. But in reality, how often does this get updated?
Instead I recommend imagining four ideal customers and making up a question or issue for them.
For example, someone investigating wine bars might ask “What sort of non-alcoholic drinks do you offer?”
Of course you should list these on the menu and make sure they sound appetising. But why is the person asking? Could they be the designated driver for a night out? If so, they’d welcome a list of the nearest car parks and handy drop-off points too.
The big school teacher in the sky
If someone doesn’t understand something, it makes them feel stupid. And people don’t buy from people who make them feel stupid.
But the idea of impressing teacher somehow still haunts us in our working lives. You don’t get extra marks for using jargon or longer words on the web. In fact it’s highly likely Google marks you down for them. Find out more about the Flesch-Kincaid scale.
Just write how you’d speak to someone on the phone, rather than in a PhD dissertation.
Jumping around the lily pads
Once upon a time we read books and newspaper articles from the beginning to the end. But then along came computer screens, and then mobiles. Mobiles with screens the width of a newspaper column.
Do you print things out when you want to check it? That’s because our attention span improves by 25% reading paper rather than on screen.
On a screen we scan the headline, flit to the side, then scan down to the next header. Our eyes skip around a screen in a F or E shape. That’s why short and sweet works best.
Be a copycat
This article has lots of headers. And lists. Sometimes I ask a question. Or start a sentence with an And, But or So. This is the friendly, conversational style that works well on the web.
What to look out for: a checklist
Keep sentences short
Google marks down websites which use long sentences. Try to use sentences of 15 words or fewer. Avoid semi-colons. Check your testimonials, and split sentences if necessary.
Use active verbs
Passive verbs describe something happening to someone/thing – “The project was delivered by Make It York”. Active verbs sound more energetic – so “Make It York delivered the project”.
Use a question as a header followed by an answer
Whatever follows “I’d wish people would stop asking” is what you need to answer.
Break up blocks of text with subheadings and bullet points
Remember the lily pad!
Reduce the jargon
Always explain acronyms in brackets, for example YCC (York City Council)
Write as if you’re talking to someone on the phone
You don’t get extra marks for longer words and can sound pompous. Swap them for friendlier terms, for example:
- prior to > swap to: before
- commence > start or begin
- the particulars > the details
- in order to > to
- in the event of > if
- regarding > about
- on receipt of > when we get or when you get
- in excess of > more than
Use ‘We’ and ‘our’
It sounds friendlier than using your company name all the time.
Don’t embolden or italicise whole paragraphs
This makes text harder to read for people with visual impairments such as dyslexia.
Keep capitalisation to a minimum
Capitalising Every Letter Can Look Old-Fashioned.
Never use ‘Click here’ for links
Always underline a relevant word for a link. That way, read-out-loud software will say ‘Links: rooms, gallery…’ rather than ‘Links: click here, click here…’ Google likes this too.
Call to action
Put your call to action – a link or what you want your reader to do – at the end of a sentence.
Make a start
At the end of the day, your customer wants to know:
- You know what you’re doing
- You’re not going to run off with their money
Just start with one paragraph, then the next and soon you’ll be wowing with your web content. Good luck!
More about Ink Gardener Copywriting
Contact Helen at firstname.lastname@example.org or 07929 948 743.