An Introduction to Copywriting for the Web
As a writer working almost exclusively online, I'm often reluctant to encourage others to try copywriting if they don’t understand the online marketplace. I can’t tell you how often I've been told, "Oh! I love to write – I wrote great essays in English class!"
After a fitful smile, I am forced to let the would-be writer know that writing copy for the web is nothing like writing an essay for English class. In fact, it’s almost the opposite.
English essays are designed to instruct, much like a teacher talks to a child. Web copy is designed to interact with an audience. You create a bond and find shared experiences that a reader can relate to. This personable nature often makes writing less formal and much more engaging.
Print copy, with the exception of feature articles and opinions are often cut and dry. They inform and instruct. Web copy engages, informs and often leads to an ultimate result. There’s no “just the facts” here – the facts serve a purpose, and that purpose works to your advantage.
In addition to the sort of writing you’re doing with web copy, you need to keep in mind how the readers are approaching it. Print appears in newspapers, magazines and books. Online copy is now available through phones, computers and tablets. The way text appears on the screen is different and learning about page breaks and screen size as well as font spacing are all critical in helping visitors actually read what you’ve written online.
If you're going to give copywriting a try, keep a few things in mind.
Copywriting for the Web
Target Your Audience
Writing for the web means you’re writing TO someone. Before you start your project, know who that someone is. Advanced copywriters know how to tailor their approach for different audiences – kids, teens, women, men, retirees, stay-at-home moms, young single men, whomever.
Everything you write is directed at your audience, and they should know you’re talking to them. Use direct, clear language to connect with your audience. Use the word “you” – there is no “one” or “certain individuals” in web copywriting. “You” MUST be there, otherwise how will your audience know you’re talking to them?
Draw in Readers with a Killer Headline
A killer headline can be hard to pull off. You want to write something that is so engaging the reader simply can’t look away. They have to know what you’re talking about and they want to learn more.
See how one Atlanta mom lost thirty-six pounds in three weeks without dieting!
Earn thousands of dollars a month while on unemployment!
Beat the bank! Keep your house and never make another payment.
A great headline targets a particular audience and sucks them in – curiosity simply gets the best of them.
Clear Organization is Vital
Since your reader is almost certainly skimming what you’re writing, you need to help guide the eyes along. Use any number of signals to show your reader what’s really important:
- Bullet points separate ideas into bite-sized chunks.
- Subheadings let you block particular ideas together.
- Short block paragraphs visually break up text.
- Bold words and phrases draw the eye.
- Different sized fonts make words jump out at your reader.
Before you write, plan what you’re going to say. If you think of your subheadings first, you can fill in the details of each category as you write. This keeps you from being repetitive or rambling.
Use Color to Attract Attention
Numerous studies have shown that we notice more and remember things better when they appear in color. If a particular phrase is important to your overall message, make it stand out by using a different font color.
Your goal is to draw the eye and make the message stick in the mind of the reader. What better way to deliver it than in bold color? Black and white is so blasé.
Write Information Backwards
In one regard, a good piece of web copy is like an English paper. You’re going to tell the audience what’s most important first. Tell your reader the main idea in clear language. Then go on and give him the details using bullets and descriptive subheadings. Finally, wrap it up with an action step, like Click here to learn more. or Buy now!
Use Active Language
Your language should be plain and informative, but with personality. Avoid boring, passive language for an active voice. For example, it’s far better to say “Fill out the form below for additional information” than to say "Additional information will be sent following our receipt of the completed form."
Integrate SEO and links smoothly
Always write for your readers – and those are the ones who can discern your nationality through your writing. Your sentences and ideas should be clear, but you should also pay attention to the elephant in the web room – the search engines. If you want readers to find and read your work, you need to incorporate the words they would commonly search for. These are the keywords that you should work into your article beautifully.
Use natural phrasing and work keywords in without any awkward phrasing or abject repetition. While you’re working in keywords naturally, be sure to work in links the same way. When you link out to another website, avoid using the full link or the name of the online publication. Make the link text describe what the linked page is relevant for. For example, in the short paragraph below, we’ll target the keyword “Republican candidates” for SEO purposes and include an authority link as well.
The recent debates have shown the broad field of Republican candidates competing for limelight leading up to the 2012 election. With full-fledged debates starting six months before the first primary election, it’s safe to say Republican candidates mean business, or are trying to look like they do. In fact, the Wall Street Journal recently added to the speculation surrounding the laundry list of Republican candidates by questioning the intent of Texas governor Rick Perry – will he be the next presidential candidate to enter the fray?
Guide Your Reader with Information
Use information to lead your reader to the right conclusion – he should click on the link, or she should feel an overwhelming desire to fill out that form for more information. Your goal will be different depending on the sort of business you’re running through your site.
If you’re trying to sell a high-end service, like ongoing SEO services or websites via a Chicago web design company, you’ll take a very different approach than if you’re trying to sell an e-Book or affiliate product.
Web copy is a visual animal. Readers like to see pictures to spice things, but you have to be careful to use the right pictures. Unless you’re doing a photo journal entry, your pictures should compliment your text – they shouldn’t overpower it. Consider using an image near the top, or “above the break” to draw in reader interest with the visual. Another picture about half way down in the text is another great visual break as well. Just be sure that the image you select is one that complements that portion of the material.
Finally, it’s critical to understand than even the best writer makes mistakes. Always revise your work and make changes to improve your copy. If you aren’t seeing the results you’d like, rework the text. Make it clearer or more directed to your audience. Copy is a living work – it can always change, and often it should.
Copywriting for the web can seem almost overwhelming when you stop and look at all of the tips and tricks necessary to create an impact on your website. If you’re feeling like it’s all too much – don’t worry. Like all forms of art, however, your copywriting skills will develop over time – all it takes is practice and the drive to create something special, every time.