Effective web writing

By Renata Mathewson, Maple Marketing

To make the most of your website as a sales and marketing tool, your site must be both easy to find and easy to use by prospects and customers as well as having key components that improve your search engine optimisation. There are three key things that contribute to this: design, development and text.

Companies often hire web designers or developers to look after the first two – design and development – and often write the content or copy themselves. The text used on your site, however, plays a pivotal role in making your site easy to find and use and should be worked on by someone skilled in writing for the web.

When we look at effective web copy, we take into account the text layout and the language both on the pages themselves as well as in the meta tags (part of the site’s HTML coding). It is not enough to simply upload copy from your company brochures or other marketing collateral.

We don’t read – we skim and scan

When we read content online, we generally decide within 10 seconds of landing on a web page whether we have found the right site that has the information or answers we are seeking. Web pages, then, must be easy to skim and scan. We don’t read content on a web page like we do a printed piece of collateral.

Eye-tracking studies show that we scan along the top and left-hand side of web pages, along an “F” shape. So the first thing you can do is look at the text on your pages from a distance (just look at the pages, rather than reading them) and see if the text layout makes use of this prime real estate.

Things you can do to make your web pages easy to scan include using headlines and subheads (search engines like keywords in headings), breaking up text into digestible chunks, arranging copy in lists or bullet points wherever appropriate, and making use of sidebars.

Speak the language of your customer

When it comes to the specific language you use in your web copy, there are some key things to do. First, before you do any writing, make a list of words or phrases that people use when searching for a company that provides what you do. Remember to use the language of the customer, not industry jargon. A good start to compiling this list is the Google Keyword Tool (part of Google Adwords) which shows what keywords and phrases are being used in searches and ranks them by popularity and search volume. This then becomes your list of keywords that you would consider incorporating into the text on your site as well as your meta tags to improve your search engine optimisation.

Next, make a list of the top three questions that people ask about your business when they first make contact with you. What is it that they need to know before progressing down the sales conversion path? Make sure your website either answers these queries or entices the reader enough to get in contact with you for the answers. Make sure your web copy includes a call to action wherever possible if you want people to do business with you. Don’t be too shy to tell them what they need to do next.

Lastly, get someone who is not familiar with your industry to read your copy to see if it is written in plain English, not overridden with jargon and acronyms.

Take into consideration the fact that visitors to your site will not read your content in any predictable or chronological order. Pages, then, must make sense as stand-alone documents. This is particularly important if you have external links that direct people to different pages of your site.

Make use of your links

There are certain things that search engines look for when finding and ranking pages, two of these being inbound links to your site from other websites as well as hyperlinks within your site text. Text that appears in a hyperlink is not only more noticeable than plain text when you first scan a page, but it is also considered more important than plain text by search engines. Use hyperlinks for your call to action and to help people navigate through your site, and whenever possible, use descriptive links that include some of your keywords (more than just “click here”).

Remember, your website is not just an online brochure. It should be an interactive sales and marketing tool that you use to direct prospects and customers to do business with you. Search engines also like sites that have content that changes. So keep the customer’s perspective in mind and keep it fresh, up-to-date and informative.