(originally published in The
Jerusalem Post, January 2004)
Content is King: Writing Good Web Copy
“Our company authoritatively fosters progressive intellectual
capital to meet our customer's needs. Our challenge is to
professionally initiate progressive paradigms to allow us
to enthusiastically disseminate error-free resources because
that is what the customer expects…”
Careful reading of the paragraph above can produce one of
two reactions -- “Huh?” or “Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz” --
followed by clicking to a different site.
Although this particular passage was created by the “Mission
Statement Generator” at Dilbert.com, many corporate
Web sites feature copy that is all too similar.
We’ve previously discussed writing Web text that’s
friendly to search engines. But ensure
also friendly to human visitors! Your site’s primary
obligation is to communicate effectively with your target
audience. Consider some of the following points:
Tone of voice. Write as if
you were speaking to a typical member of your target audience.
A site selling
luxury cars will have a radically different tone from a
site advertising tattooing and body piercing services or
offering gardening advice. Vocabulary, grammar, the brevity
or expansiveness of your text -- all should be appropriate
to the visitors you want to attract.
Focus on the visitor. Make
it readily apparent what visitors stand to gain from your
site/company. Address their needs
and concerns, rather than just giving a spiel about your
company or organization.
Don’t use language that
sounds like advertising jargon. Your readers are already at your site; now
them reasons to remain, and to contact you directly. Give
the sort of solid, objective information that fosters credibility
and that is of real service to your visitors.
Organize the content. As in
traditional writing, structure your text for easy readability.
Use “topic sentences” and
one main point per paragraph. It also helps to adopt the “pyramid
style” used by journalists: Present the conclusion
first, then provide background and details. Follow up
with a summary.
Be concise. This does
not necessarily mean, “Be brief”.
Lengthy, persuasive content can be valuable for some
involved readers. But prune repetition, passive construction,
Format. Although you should
write as carefully as if visitors are going to read and
memorize every word -- the fact is
most people surfing the Web skim more than they actually
read. Long, dense paragraphs are intimidating, so break
them up by adopting some of the following aids: drop caps on opening
paragraphs; headers that are visually distinct from the
content; text lines limited to 10-12 words; bulleted lists; intelligent
use of white space; a reasonable amount of “eye candy” (graphics).
Hyperlinks. Help readers navigate
your site by suggesting an order in which they should read,
and what other sites
they should consult. But practice restraint. Peppering
the text with too many links can mean that the reader jumps
from one page to the next without fully absorbing anything.
Proofread! This is crucial.
And no, it doesn’t contradict
the fact that people scan more than they read. They do
read some of the text. And nothing can kill
than incorrect grammar and misspelling. A variation of
Law states: “If your 5-paragraph Web page contains
only one poorly-written sentence, that’s the
sentence people will read.”
Does all of this sound too daunting and time-consuming?
No problem! Here’s the simplest, fastest, and possibly
most cost-efficient one-step method of producing readable
Hire a marketing expert with copywriting expertise.
If you don’t have the time and experience to write
credible content, hire someone who does. Particularly if
you’ve invested in a professional design, don’t
undermine it with poorly written content.
Effective sites contain clear text presented within an attractive
page that is designed to appeal to a specific target audience.
Do you have any questions? Contact
me and I'll try to answer them in upcoming articles. Also,
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