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Web copywriting a different beast to copywriting

Not everyone knows how to do it. Not everyone can do it well. And just because web copywriting and copywriting have one word in common, doesn't make them the same animal. In truth, they're two different beasts altogether.
Web copywriting a different beast to copywriting

The industry

Companies large and small are devoting more and more of their marketing budgets to online channels, especially in the current economic environment. They're also looking for results. This means that more companies are measuring their conversion rates and insisting that their webpages, emails and enewsletters be written to maximise sales.

The problem

The problem is that web copywriting and print copywriting are not the same thing. Nor is web copywriting simply about long, pitchy sales letters. What companies desperately need is copywriters who can produce informative, well-structured, optimised, search engine-friendly text; in other words, quality content that attracts more business.

However, very few freelance copywriters have been able to study the unique demands of the online environment - so there aren't that many of us out there. But this article intends to give you enough of an overview to this super skill, to handle at least the very basics yourself. And if you get stuck, contact me ().

Basic web copywriting step #1

Write objectively

Surf the web for five minutes and you'll find fluff-filled sites everywhere. Headlines scream, “We're the best!” and “We're the world's largest!” You'll see lots of bolded type, exclamation marks and used-car salesman hype. You'll see tons of big promises and pages of impressive claims. But you won't see anything that will make you want to buy.

This is not good copywriting.

Good copywriting uses facts - not fluff. It doesn't hide the product under the weight of so many words that readers can't see the benefits. Fluffy copy reads horribly, sounds smarmy and people tend to distrust it. What's worse, it increases the reader's cognitive load. And as I always say, he or she has enough stuff to do and to think about.

The experts tell us that promotional language (what we call ‘marketese') places a burden on web users, who must use precious resources, like time and attention, to hack through the exaggeration to get to the facts. In other words, when users read this:

Potchefstroom is filled with internationally recognised tourist attractions!

…their first reaction is “No, it isn't”. This slows them down and distracts them from the rest of the site.

So focus on writing objective copy. It's okay to put ‘power words' in your headlines; research shows that a compelling headline leads to greater conversions. Yes, use benefit statements. If you are the “World's best something” go ahead and say it, if you can back it up. But stay away from fluff. Your readers will thank you.

Basic web copywriting step #2

Use reader copy, not ego copy

How many times have you received an email like this one?

“Thank you for (staying at our hotel, talking to our customer service rep, buying something from us.) We'd like to invite you to fill out a form so we can improve our customer service...”

And how often have you junked it as soon as it hit your inbox?

Chances are, your first thought was, “Why should I spend my time filling out your survey?” And really, why bother? Even if it takes just five minutes, that's five minutes you could spend working, answering email or watching Grey's Anatomy. In short, completing the survey won't benefit you one bit. So why bother?

Even as we laugh at the survey example, how often are we violating the “What's in it for me?” rule in our own writing?
If you think about it, you'll realise that we're often missing the benefit boat. We don't tell our readers what's in it for them. We don't mention how our service will exceed their expectations. We talk about ourselves, our company and our MD's kid's equestrian skills, and then we sit back and hope that our prospects will figure it out.

Think about documents you've created in the past. Do they typically contain more "we” and “our” statements (‘ego copy') than "you" and "your" statements (‘reader copy')? If they do, it's time to translate your ‘ego copy' into ‘reader copy'. Just take each line and turn it into a line that speaks to the reader's interest. For example:

Joe Bloggs & Associates has appointed me as your personal consultant, based on my experience over the last nine years. During this time, I travelled extensively throughout sub-Saharan Africa, and I obtained an in-depth knowledge of the corporate structures, logistics and admin involved in setting up a department like this one.

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You may be interested to know that I have nine years' experience in setting up departments like this one, which is why Joe Bloggs & Associates has appointed me as your personal consultant. You'll have the peace of mind that comes with dealing with a person who has an in-depth knowledge of the relevant structures, logistics and admin.

Basic web copywriting step #3

Tell the reader what you do

One of my biggest irritations when I visit a website for the first time is not being able to figure out what the company does by reading the home page. Some sites are filled with very well-written mission statements, very crafty prose enticing you to buy their product and/or service, bells, whistles and even great graphic design…

But after all that, I still have to ask: “What is it that you do?”

Imagine that someone has arrived at your website and has no idea what you're talking about. Pretend further that this single visitor could make the difference between success and failure for your business. She has no time to waste poking around the site to work out what you're about, so she picks up the phone and demands an explanation.

What do you tell her?

You'd probably explain by giving her the essential information about how the company can help her, and why it perfectly meets her needs, right? And I bet you'd want to explain it in the most compelling way possible, given what's riding on the deal. In a nutshell, that's what Google wants you to do with the content you write for your website.

The bottom line

The sad truth is that most websites need better content, because the general quality of the web copy out there is dismal. But more importantly, your web copy represents you, your product or service and your company, so you simply can't allow it to be poor, mediocre or even just acceptable.

Start by using the three steps above to transform your ideas into objective, reader-focused, informative web content. Spend as much time and energy on it as you can spare - and if you get tangled up, or you need to take things up a notch, email me on .

About Tiffany Markman

I spend 10 hours a day writing - and teaching others to write. I was South Africa's Freelance Copywriter of the Year in 2020 and one of the world's 'Top 50 Female Content Marketers' in 2021.

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