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Designed to do much more than merely present information, website content must engage the reader, boost search engine rankings and reinforce a brand…specifically, YOUR brand. Often, in situations such as these, we like to refer to the “KISS Methodology”: Keep it Simple, Stupid. Of course, please don’t get us wrong – we’re not in any way, shape or form calling you stupid; this is just to drive home the fact that simple is usually the best approach to take, even when talking about content writing for websites. We’re going to cover writing website content as well as the basic techniques and finesse that go along with it, before concluding with some tips for writing website content…so make sure you’re comfortable, carve out some spare time and prepare to learn what content writing is all about.
To begin with, it should be understood that the World Wide Web is an “active medium” – in other words, we all use it to achieve things. If your own website fails to grab and hold attention, visitors will merely click their mouse to go elsewhere…indeed, we can tell you that patience is NOT a virtue often seen online, especially given the “goldfish-like” attention span of modern-day audiences. Secondarily, the amount of choice available equates to people behaving differently online than they would at, say, a brick-and-mortar store; they rarely read web pages word-for-word and instead will often scan the page, selecting individual sentences and words.
The Basics Of Content Writing… in a General Sense
Before we get into the nitty gritty of how to write effective website content, let’s cover some basics, the first of which is the ever-important “one chance to impress” notion. Once a visitor has arrived on your website, you will only have a couple of lines – or even words – to ignite their interest…and while it is often tempting to employ clever headlines to achieve this, you should keep in mind that web users are used to scanning, so what you see as clever catchphrases can often cause confusion. In that same vein, “convoluted writing” and complex words are even harder to grasp in an online environment, so it’s best to just ignore jargon and so-called boastful subjective claims (such as “Best Ever”). It pains us to say this, but today’s Internet users are short on attention skills and want to get to the facts as quickly as possible.
Now, do not misunderstand – this doesn’t mean your copy should be lazily written and “boring;” it’s just that shorter and more succinct language tends to make a greater impact.
The statement: “We understand the entire web journey from start to finish, and design our websites with both SEO and user conversion in mind.”
…is not as engaging as: “Our websites convert searchers into visitors, and visitors into customers.”
And yet both essentially say the same thing…
Moving beyond this, you will also, in your website content foray, need to identify and include keywords, alt tags and titles to make sure your content is actually FOUND by “surfers.” Constantly repeating keywords can, however, not only attract the attention of search engine “duplicate content filters,” but can also mean your readers may miss critical facts and figures when merely scanning content. What are we saying here? Like the old moniker goes, it is important not to put all your eggs into one basket.
Ranking number one on Google, while obviously enticing, won’t do much good if your site is considered “confusing” to navigate; to this end, ensure you strike a balance between SEO and content clarity.
Another important aspect to mention is the “form and function” factor. As we have already alluded to, modern website readers will not sit and read through drawn-out paragraphs, so begin your content plan with a headline followed by a short overview highlighting how your product or service will benefit the customer, as opposed to simply stating how it works. Following that, it’s vital to vary the layout with:
- Bulleted Lists
Remember, at its core, web content is a CONVERSATION – people buy from people. Your content, therefore, should appear as a direct dialogue between you and the reader; in an actual verbal conversation, addressing a customer by name is always best, but when this is impossible (such as when you’re writing web copy), the reference to “you” is the next best thing…so use it.
Above all, ensure that your web copy is scannable, objective and concise, presented in simple, convenient layouts to capture attention. What’s more, help your customers trust in you by avoiding overblown or clichéd statements and make sure they can understand what you’re telling them quickly – through the use of straightforward language. Ensuring your web copy gets to the point not only assists you with selling your products/services, it reflects positively on your brand…and can even enhance your Search Engine Optimization rankings by avoiding repetition.
Tips for Writing Effective Website Content
When creating, editing, and designing website content, the goal (if you haven’t picked up on this already) is to get the message across as quickly as possible. To do that, say as little as possible and put the most useful and relevant content first (we will get to this in our first tip), while also speaking plainly and openly, using a tone of voice that’s appropriate given your audience.
1. Put Your Most Important Information First (Front-Loading)
Write as if no one knows your business like you do…in other words, write assertively because in most cases visitors have no idea who you are. What’s most important here, though, is what is known as “front-loading,” or putting the most vital content first. When a page is longer than its window, putting important content first gets it above “the fold,” which in turn aids scanning and helps the user decide quickly whether they’re in the right place or not. When scanning, people take in titles, the beginnings of paragraphs and first words of sentences, and so front-loading also applies to paragraphs and sentences; start paragraphs with the most relevant words so that they work like a header to the paragraph.
2. Write Clear Headlines
A strong, attractive headline at the top of a page can make the difference between the page being read or utterly ignored. Lower-order headings and headlines benefit from boasting large and high contrast elements, so they ultimately attract the human eye; once you’ve gained this attraction, a headline needs “hooks” to catch a reader’s attention. Indeed, using headlines within a document makes it easy to scan the document’s meaning and relevancy, and good journalistic-oriented headings read like a bullet point summary of the document’s contents. So, what are we saying here? You need to be sure your readers can scan down the page, get a quick idea of what’s on the page and decide whether to read in greater detail.
From our own experience here at Multiverse Media Group, we can tell you that most people end up reading our content through web searches or social media connects, and as a result our blogs need to have headlines that are highly clickable – in other words, headlines that make readers understand what the story is about and make them want to read it.
Think of web headlines as the “new media” equivalent of a magazine’s cover lines – the tactics that magazine editors use to distinguish their publication on newsstands (well, where you can find them today) are not so dissimilar from the kinds web editors use online, believe it or not. At any rate, at a “glance” in a Twitter or Facebook stream, would your reader know what your content is about? The headline should be rendered comprehensible to a wide range of people, so avoid lengthy wordplay, puns, mystery or anything that would confuse the reader. Also, it’s a good idea to utilize bullets and break up text as much as you can.
3. Write for Visitor Benefits
Unfortunately, your readers are every bit as selfish as the next guy or gal, so the “what’s in it for me” aspect should drive you to create copy that’s benefit-driven. At its core, writing for the web is a completely different animal than writing an essay or a paper; website visitors behave more like wild animals hunting for information or a product to buy, just as a hungry panther hunts for its next meal. When a panther sniffs a scent trail, it quickly decides: Will this scent lead to a good meal? …and will it be an easy catch?
Your web visitors actually ponder the same possibilities… does your website offer what they’re looking for, and can they find it easily? Like a hungry predator that doesn’t like wasting time to catch a meal, your web visitors don’t want to browse around your site for several long minutes to find the product they’re lusting after…they want to find it quickly.
The bottom line here is to explain the unique benefit you offer, and we’re not referring to products, we’re talking about solutions. Once you have identified the problems your customers encounter, brainstorm ways that your brand fixes them: How can you fix your customers’ “problems” in a way that other brands cannot? That will be the launching pad for visitor benefit-oriented website content.
4. Avoid Being Overtly Wordy
Remember the cute but slightly annoying girl from next door? Whenever you run into her, she’s always rambling on so much you can hardly follow her story…and then there’s the dude who’s always attempting to win a game of “nonsense bingo.” How much nonsense can you listen to?
To be an effective communicator in the realm of website content, you need to focus on your website visitor and be concise without burying your messages under wordy sludge…in other words, content so dense it turns readers away in disgust. Avoid the following types of wordiness, and your message will become simple, precise and clear – and people will listen and follow your advice:
- Sentence Bloat – Make sure each sentence stands on its own and look for your longest sentences to chop in two, all while cutting unnecessary words.
- Indulgence in Complex Words – To keep your language fresh and simple, pay attention to words that sound posh, exaggerated or foreign.
- Paragraph Density – Introduce bullet points, subheadings (as we’re doing here) and even one-sentence paragraphs if applicable to add more “white space.”
- Lack of Clarity – Can you describe your message in one sentence? When you write content, whether it’s a blog post or a sales page, you also need to decide how you want to please your readers.
5. Stay on the Topic of the Page
Visitors usually search in a very specific fashion and become frustrated if forced to sift through a mountain of information to find what they’re looking for. If you are presenting a very broad topic, prepare your content by breaking it down and introducing one topic per paragraph so your readers can find specific information easily. You can also introduce links within your page content to related topics on other pages of your site rather than attempting to include all of your info on one page; this will definitely render your website more “user-friendly.”
6. Quadruple Check for Spelling and Grammar
Misspelled words are simply unacceptable today, and nothing screams “unprofessional” like a website chock full of spelling or grammatical errors. After you have finished your copywriting, take a break from the content, walk away and come back later with a set of fresh eyes to look it over. You may indeed notice errors that might have otherwise been overlooked.
These six tips are a mere part of an almost infinite smattering of content writing suggestions. And while writing copy for websites can be challenging, following these simple tips can help ensure your copy is valuable and engaging to your readers.