Your website is a valuable plot of digital real estate. It is the hub of your marketing efforts — both online and offline. With effective writing, the website copy on your site will attract new clients and help you nurture the ones you have.
Many coaches and other professionals depend on face-to-face meetings. Those personal connections are very good, but your high-quality web writing can supplement your in-person meetings:
- Reaching out beyond your local community
- Giving people a place to find more information
- Making a pitch that goes beyond the minute or two you’re allowed at most networking meetings
- Continuing to make your case when you’re working, vacationing, or sleeping — long after the networking gathering is over
To make the best use of your website, you need to have web writing that attracts, selects, and connects with your ideal client.
Writing website copy that does all those things is different from writing for print, because the web shapes the reading experience, in ways that your writing must take into consideration or fail to make those valuable connections.
Here are 7 major differences in writing content for the web vs writing for print.
1. The Web Is Both Free and Constrained
It’s easy to see what a wide world the world-wide web has become. With over a billion websites, and 2.8 billion web users, it connects people both around the globe and around the block.
As the speed and bandwidth increase around the world, your ability to connect in various media — video, audio, images, and text — increases as well. You can get out your message in any format, taking as long as you like.
And the speed of the web, with 1.2 million terabytes of information stored on the internet and traveling at close to the speed of light, our communications are functionally instantaneous, and we always expect them to go faster yet.
Global Reach and Your Niche
Yes, the web is global, but is your audience everyone everywhere? Obviously not. You choose a slice of the global audience and speak to them in a way that makes them feel a strong connection with you.
You select the audience that you most want to work with, who can best use your services, who can sustain the work you do. You’ll write your website copy to people who fit the demographic profile:
- Family structure
And you’ll look at personal beliefs and attitudes outside the hard data:
- Their urgent problems
- Who they admire
Maybe some of those descriptions don’t matter to your ideal client; probably there will be more. It’s wise to have a description of your perfect client, so that you can craft your web writing to make them feel at home, feel that you truly understand them, that you are part of their community.
The wider the audience, the wider your net. On the other hand, the more narrow the audience, the more they are surprised that you “belong” to them and the more passionate they are.
Your goal is to find the narrowest market that can sustain your work, and build to flow outward from there.
The Limitless Page vs. the Shrinking Attention Span
A page of your website is, for all practical purposes, infinite. You could put War and Peace on one web page and not strain the capacity to display it.
The problem is, no one is going to read War and Peace on one web page. It’s too hard on the eyes. It’s too hard to keep your place. It’s not very portable. There are too many other things — online and off — to do.
Enormous Russian novels aside, there’s a place for long copy (5,000 to 7,000 words) and short copy (100 words — or even 140 characters) on the web.
Chances are, you’ll have a mix of long and short copy on your site from “get to the point” to “expand and explore.” You’ll know when to use which by considering your audience and your goal for the content.
The Speed of Light vs. the Challenge of Keeping Up
The idea of creating content that will feed the hungry internet can be daunting, in spite of the fact that the content lasts forever and reaches around the world. But if a couple of hours of networking a week can be a time investment, the idea of doing a blog post every week can dwarf them in intimidation.
That’s the challenge of keeping up. There are ways of making the work go faster.
- Some people find it less challenging to create video or audio content than written content
- Some people find it easier to dictate a blog post than to write it
- Some people learn to make drafting and editing different processes — a more efficient way to write.
- Some people hire writers and spend their “writing” time making money instead.
The benefit to the speed of the web is your opportunity to “fail upward.” When you launch programs or content, you can easily change the process from “improve, test, ship” — which can have unreliable feedback and takes a long time from idea to profit — to “ship, test, and improve.”
With “ship, test, and improve,” you release your content (whatever it might be) before it’s “perfected” (which it never will be). Use comments and feedback to improve it and then ship again. Repeat the process as you refine your work and raise your price.
2. Writing Website Copy to Cut through the Noise
The web is a beeping, blinking, flashing, distraction machine. Everything conspires to pull your reader away from your content — post or page.
These are simple formatting techniques to make your message easy to take in.
- Use short paragraphs — 1 to 4 lines, 6 at max. (The white space makes it easier to read; and large blocks of text are intimidating on the web)
- Use images to break up the text and relevant illustrations to make your point clearer.
- Use subheadings to break up the text and organize your content.
- Keep your text columns narrow enough that they average 8 words or less across. (It can be hard to make the jump back from the end of the line back to the beginning of the next line on a scrolling screen.)
- Make sure your site is mobile-friendly (more people access the web through mobile than desktop, and more web visits are on mobile than on desktop)
These simple accommodations to the physical difficulties of reading on the web will help keep your reader from turning away in frustration at a long block of text.
3. Effective Web Copy Makes Your Ideal Client Feel at Home
You want your web copy to speak directly to your ideal clients — those people you’ve identified as your niche.
A perfect example is a blog post from a few years ago on the website of Steven Pressfield, author of The Legend of Bagger Vance, The War of Art, Killing Rommel, Gates of Fire and many other books of military history. A blogger wrote about a tired editor, comparing her to a soldier after a rough day of battle. It was an illustration targeted directly at his audience. The same post on a mommy blog might have compared the tired editor to a mom with a house full of pre-schoolers.
When you write with your ideal client in mind, everything about your site aims to appeal to them.
4. Good Web Writing Is Easy to Digest
Aside from the physical limitations reading a flashing, scrolling screen, writing website copy has to deal with the fact that readers are on a mission and in a hurry.
If they arrive from a search engine to your site, they’ll give you 5 seconds to come up with the answer. (Some experts dispute the 5 seconds estimate, saying it’s too long.)
If they find something that looks promising, they’ll probably skim it first, to find out if it will reward their time.
If you write to the reality of how people read the web, you increase your likelihood of connecting with them.
- Use straightforward language and simple, declarative sentences. (Even Ph.D.s don’t want to spend any more time reading the web than they have to.)
- Summarize your main idea at the beginning and end of your page or post
- Write your subheads so that someone can get an idea of the article by simply jumping from head to head
- Put the most important idea at the beginning of the paragraph or the beginning of the sentence
- Use bold and italics to highlight key ideas
- Use numbered or bulleted lists so that a reader can easily scan your analysis
- Each page should have a clear and specific call to action
After a quick look, they may come back and read in more depth. They may skate along until they find themselves accidentally fascinated. By accommodating their needs, you will serve them better and make them more likely to come back.
5. Build Information Pathways for Your Buyer’s Journey
There’s a buying process that everyone goes through. The buyer’s journey may be very quick for a cup of coffee or a candy bar. But for a high-ticket, high-stakes item, it can be quite complex and take months or even years.
There are different ways of defining the buyer’s journey, but here’s a summary of the steps many people go through in making a purchase decision:
- Unawareness: They don’t know they have a problem. Your response: Attract them to learn more by describing the problem.
- Awareness: They know they need something, but don’t know what. Your response: Describe an array of solutions with pluses and minuses of each.
- Selection: They’ve chosen a solution; now they need a provider. Your response: Show how you stand out from the crowd and give them the option to buy.
- Follow-up: They’ve gone with your solution. Your response: Make sure they get the best results, and also get testimonials and referrals.
Someone who is unaware of a problem will likely not be ready to buy a solution.
Someone who is ready to buy does not need to have the problem described again.
An effective web strategy will use a combination of social media, newsletter articles, blog posts, and pages to take each web visitor from where they are to the next step and the one after that. Give each piece of content a clear and specific call to action, informing readers what to do next.
6. Web Writing Is like Breathing
Breathe in, breathe out.
Your website is more than just a megaphone. There’s a rhythm to writing website copy that builds trust and attracts sales.
- Listen and speak: Continually collect information about your ideal client. The more you understand, the more you can tailor your message to connect with them. Ask questions, listen on social media, accept their emails, thank them for their critiques.
- Give and receive: Don’t be afraid to give away your best stuff. Just as the trailer of a comedy shows all the best lines and still gets people in the seats, when you give away your best content, people will still buy for the context and the how-to that makes it useful.
- Inform and sell: By being genuinely helpful, you build trust in you, in your care and concern for their welfare. On the other hand, you want to remember to sell also.
Some experts suggest 80 percent pure value to your readers and 20 selling. You may need to test those proportions with your own audience, but it’s a place to start.
7. You Don’t Have to Do It Alone
Building your web presence is a collaborative enterprise. I don’t change the oil in my car or do my own taxes. We all have different gifts and abilities. Even if you can do a certain tasks, it pays to ask whether it’s cost effective to do it yourself.
Everyone will have a different answer to that question. If you want to explore writing website copy, contact me for a free website review.