Tips for writing good web copy

Does your copy have the winning difference? I promised my clients a compendium of tips for writing good web copy, as an important part of my service is educating them on how to run their WordPress site and make the most of it in order to advertise their business and make the world know about them. And this cannot happen without blogging. So let’s get started.

Tips for writing good web copy #1. The winning difference – or, why should anyone read your blog?

There are 400 million blogs on the web in 2015. Yes, 400 million. Why should anyone read yours?

You might be so lucky as to have a Unique Story Proposition that obviously sets you apart, but if you don’t, take some time to work out what it could be. For instance, my clients Il Punto Merceria are a special kind of haberdashery that mixes recycling and mending with customising and fashion – that’s what sets them apart and that’s what they blog about, and it works.

But not everybody has a winning difference: I don’t, for instance. I write in my blog because I want to build a useful reference library for my clients, as well as myself. I also blog about the things that I know about and about the type of work I would like to get. So having a winning difference or not doesn’t really matter to me – I would write the posts anyway.   But what does matter is that I do know why people should read my blog: they should read it because it gives good advice on useful topics. Or even just because it shows nice videos of beautiful islands.

Ask yourself: would I read my own blog? I would, and I do, when I need to remind myself one of the topics I have covered, or when I want to watch a nice time lapse. So if the answer is yes – you’re on the right track. And forget about the 400 million other bloggers out there – you’re the one that matters.

#2. Make your content useful.

This one is the most important – in my humble opinion. It is also known as ‘Don’t Sell – TEACH’.

Make sure you give people the best of reasons to come back to your blog again and again and again: write useful content that has human value.  Google loves good content – it’s what good SEO is based on – and so do web users. It pays to be generous on the web nowadays. Never write for the sake of writing: always write content that others will find useful. I owe so much to all the wonderful people who have shared their knowledge on the web with me and million others for free, and I feel extremely gratified at the idea that what I write might be useful to others. Do the same: write to help. You will reap the rewards.

#3. Grab your readers by the throat, or the art of writing magnetic headlines.

Huge magnet in scrapyard.
That’s your headline, and those your readers.

According to Copyblogger, 8 out of 10 people will read your headline, but only 2 will actually carry on reading the rest. Each sentence has the task of getting the reader to move on to the next sentence: so make sure that your very first sentence grabs your readers’ attention, just like a magnet would. Your headline is your promise to your readers – it has to clearly communicate what benefit they will gain from reading your copy. So here is a distilled overview of the most effective types of headlines– the ones that I like the most, because they are simple and direct. I personally hate the sly techniques like ‘This Woman was just walking to work one day – you won’t believe what happened later!’ You know the ones I mean. I hate them. I am not going to recommend them.

  • The ‘How to’ headline – there are a few types of this. Very famous example: How to Win Friends and Influence People, or its equally famous opposite How to Lose Friends & Alienate People. The formula is a cause and effect relationship that makes the two benefits appear as related, even though that’s not necessarily the case. Another example: How To Lose Weight and Find a Lover. Slightly different, but equally effective, is using ‘that’: ‘How to Write a Blog Post That Will Get You Clients’; ‘How to
    Or even without ‘that’: ‘How I Changed My Life in One Afternoon’; ‘How a Simple Trick Made Me Lose a Stone in 6 Weeks’…
  • List posts – they are a sure-fire blogosphere hit, as Copyblogger says. Why? They quantify a return on the reading investment. The important thing is to make sure that the content delivers the quality that the title promises. A few examples: ’10 Signs That You Might Be Suffering From IBS’; ‘7 Recipes To Your Bikini Body’;  ‘The 12 Secrets of Super-organised People’, ‘The 10 Cutest Ginger Kittens on the Web’ etc. You know what these are because you find yourself clicking on them every day. More than once.

    One of the 10 cutest ginger kittens on the web. Pure click-bait.
    One of the 10 cutest ginger kittens on the web. Pure click-bait.
  • The Secret…Formula. Also a little over-used, but it does work. ‘The Secret of a Perfect Skin’. Don’t tell you wouldn’t like to know that. ‘The Secret to Early Retirement’. ‘The Secret of Successful Stock Trading’. Yes please show me the way! ‘The Secret of Happiness’, and so on. You are enticing your reader with the promise of revealing something that they wouldn’t be able to find out otherwise. They are lucky to have find you.
  • Similar psychology is at work for this other winning headline formula. ‘Little Known Ways to Create an Urban Garden Oasis for Under $100’. ‘Little Known Ways to Get More Followers on Instagram’.
  • The comparison trick. ‘Learn to Draw Like Picasso’. ‘Trade the Stock Market like Gordon Gekko’. ‘Write Blog Copy Like a Pro’.
  • Get to the main benefit, quickly and directly. Think of the main advantage people would get by reading your blog post, the main selling point. ‘Write the Best Possible Copy for the Web in Under 30 Minutes’. ‘Get a Free Image Download for Your Project’. ‘The Most Effective Way to Get Rid of Stomach Flab’.
  • The question formula. ‘Do You Suffer from IBS? Then you must read this post’. ‘Do You Often Wake Up in The Middle of the Night? Read here for the best advice.’
  • The Imperative Command. ‘Start Your New Life NOW.’ ‘Become A Web Designer in under a Year. Click here to Learn from the Best!’ In my experience, if you tell people ‘click HERE’ clearly enough – they will.

#4. Write high quality content based on your audience.

Write good, relevant content, and base your content on your audience. Research keywords and blog posts on your subjects and see what people search for, what they read, what they share when they socialise. Audience-focused content makes Google happy. Make sure that your content is aligned with the people you want to reach. So once you’ve created this high-value content based on what people want, you can use the power of social media to spread it around. This will create authority, and better rankings in a natural way. You are an expert in your field: make your voice heard.

Microphone
You have a voice. Make it heard.

#5. Keep it Simple

The KISS design rule (Keep It Simple, Stupid) definitely applies to web copy, too. First of all, very few people read the web – normally they just scan it (that’s also why pictures of cute kittens help: they keep the reader’s attention alive). So your readers want simple words and concepts that they can easily retain. But don’t take my word for it: take George Orwell’s.

  1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
  2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
  3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
  4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
  5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
  6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

Read this article if you want to know more.

#6. Visual impact.

Please make sure that your content also has visual impact. Using images is good, so do it if you can (but don’t steal them! buy them please. they are cheap). Above all, format your blog posts properly:

  • Use headings rationally, to create semantic hierarchy.
  • Don’t be afraid of white space: it’s your friend, not your enemy. Space your paragraphs out, so that your readers can more easily scan through and identify content.
  • Use bullet points wherever appropriate.
  • Format your test with bold, italics and blockquotes – but do it properly please, and in moderation. Text formatting is actually supposed to help you convey meaning, not creating visual noise.

…and to say it with Leo Burnett:

Make it simple. Make it memorable. Make it inviting to look at. Make it fun to read.

For further excellent advice on this, here is a great article on how to use formatting to get more people to read your copy.

#7. Practice and test.

Write, format, insert your images: then preview the page, read it, re-read it, edit it, re-re-read it, re-edit it. Writing is a skill, and like any other skill it needs constant honing, practicing and dedication. It does get better – like any other skill.

Bakasana, or crow, a challenging yoga pose. Writing, like yoga, is a skill that gets better with time, dedication and practice.
Writing, like yoga, is a skill that gets better with time, dedication and practice.

As regards testing for effectiveness, you should use these tools:

  • Google Analytics. It will give you precious information on which blog posts are more successful, with which demographic, and so on. Use it to interpret your audience’s behaviour and craft your message accordingly.
  • Use keyword research tools. It will help you keep your topics relevant.
  • Use Reddit

#8. Useful resources

This is only a compendium of tips to make your life easier when you write for the web. If you want to go deeper, there are MANY people out there who will do a much better job than me in telling you what to do, and how to do it. Usually, writing for the web is very closely related to content marketing, so you will probably get training in that, too. Here are the copy and content writing and marketing gurus on whose door I knock more often:

Copyhackers
Copyblogger
Hubspot
abc copywriting
Our Story Studio

Above all – try and have fun. Write about what matters to you the most. Do it to the best of your abilities. That’s it.

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