I spy with my little eye something beginning with O

Oh shit, there’s another user leaving your website?

Over there? Nope that one left within 5 seconds of arriving

Oi! Don’t leave. Pretty please. Buy you a latte?

Okay. Clearly, any website owner wants to avoid these scenarios. It is not that you want users to camp out and hold a vigil, but both you and the user will want your website to contain useful and relevant content that is quick to find and easy to read. As with most things, there is a cost/value transaction involved between user and content, so your website content has to be valuable.

Transform the way you write copy for the web with the tips in this article and stop wasting your time writing copy that nobody reads.

My mum, my brother and I

Let me tell you about my mum. When I was a child, she was a formidable woman (and still is). For a start, if she knew that I had used an expletive in my opening sentence, she would be washing my mouth out with soap.

As an aside, my brother actually liked the taste of soap after a while, but don’t tell my mum.

She often scolded us for mumbling (speak up), shouting (turn down the volume son) or being too excited (calm down and take a deep breath). There were clear rules of engagement.

If I wanted her attention, I needed to get everything just right, like Goldilocks. If I did then I could give her the low down on how my brother did this and how he was going to blame me for it and how life was unfair. You get the picture.

At this point, she probably would say one of two things, “just get to the point” or “you wait until your dad gets home”.

The truth of the matter is my mum had too much to do and little time to waste on listening to us brats moan about each other.

When you are writing content for the web, write it as if you are talking to your mum. Don’t use two words when one will do, get to the point quickly, add a modicum of emotion and punctuate key words to ensure they get through. It is probably advisable to avoid swearing, unless you also like the taste of soap.

I tackle writing copy for the web by following my MUM rules of engagement:

  1. Manage the situation
  2. Unpack the message
  3. Measure your success

Manage the situation

There’s a lot to navigate here.

Think about why someone may be reading this content. What’s their motivation? Project yourself into their shoes and think how long they will have to read this content. What is the one thing they are likely to want to know if they get to the end of the page?

If you find it difficult to think like your users, then think about how you feel/interact on the websites you visit.

Now, write your content to match these needs, whilst keeping in mind your mum’s words of wisdom and combine them with the following tips…

Unpack the message

Have a plan

At the beginning of the document, compose a section that scopes out the following:

  • Purpose
  • Key message
  • Pain point
  • Narrative
  • Call To Action

For this article, I had written the following:

Purpose

There is a dual purpose to this article:

  1. We can use it for clients who have specifically requested this information to help them create better content for their website.
  2. It would make for good content SEO, like the curly quotes article, and demonstrates our expertise.

Key message

Write better copy for the web.

What’s the pain point

Most people are not very comfortable publishing their words, however, many find themselves in a position being responsible to be authors for content on their websites — primarily due to the fact that they can not afford to hire a copywriter.

This article aims to offer some advice on how to tackle this very difficult task with some simple rules.

What’s different/valuable

MUM methodology

Narrative

There will be a million articles on the same subject matter, so we need an approach that will stand out and also align with our own bold style.

To make the relation between talking to a client’s target audience and most people’s own experience of negotiating with their mothers as a young child. It will resonate strongly with people who read the article and that strong association will mean the advice is likely to sink in.

Call to action

For this article there is none. The expertise shared should be enough.

What is content about?

There are typically two types of content on most websites: sales and information.

With sales literature you need to grab attention to explain your product features. Focus on the benefits to the reader and less on what it does.

The same users may also be interested in technical information for your product or service. Make sure all the marketing spiel is reduced or removed from these pages and that the information is presented clearly and with all the necessary detail.

An article like this is a hybrid between these two styles. It relies on relaying information, whilst having some level of personality.

Just be aware of the message your content is trying to convey.

Writing styles for the web

Make sure the copy you are writing is in keeping with all the other content on your website. This can be difficult if you have multiple authors, so you may find that it is useful to have a team member acting as an Editor. Not everyone feels confident taking on this role, but don’t worry if it is you and your grammar and punctuation is a little rusty. Someone has to take ownership.

Using tools like Grammarly and Word to check your spelling can be a great aid.

In addition, we recommend creating and sharing a document that contains the ‘house writing style’ providing guidance on punctuation, sentence structure and things like explaining acronyms and initialisms. A quick search on Google for ‘house writing style’ will probably provide a good starting point. Some simple guidance for the team will really help.

Once upon a time there was an angry kid who swore at his mother

Who didn’t love their mum or dad reading a bedtime story out aloud? A great story engages the imagination — young or old.

If you are not writing formal content, then try to give your content a narrative. Make it interesting for the user and they will typically see it out to the end.

Unexpected headings attract attention and increase curiosity for users who are prone to scan the page’s content before they commit to giving up their time. They may have read the same subject matter elsewhere and are blind to standard headings, however, a quirky headline will stop them in their tracks because it is a different take.

By the way, there was no happy ending to this story. You only make that mistake once.

Did you know that there is such a thing as an inverted pyramid?

Sorry. We’re not talking about the Pyramids of Giza.

A useful technique often adopted by journalists is to use the inverted pyramid for copy. Unlike academic writing where the reader has to read the entire article to understand the detail and get to the conclusion, the inverted pyramid places the ‘need to knows’ first, with the ‘nice to knows’ at the end.

This caters for the impatient user (that’s you by the way) who skim reads content allowing them to ascertain if the content is likely to answer their question within the first couple of paragraphs.

Try these techniques next time you write some copy:

  1. List the messages you want to share and rank them in order of importance
  2. Identify one piece of information that will be the key fact you want your readers to know, even if they only read a single paragraph or sentence on the page. This belongs at the beginning of your article
  3. Segment the other content into bitesize chunks, removing any unnecessary information. Add an interesting heading and get to the point quickly. This content should be of interest to the broadest audience
  4. Use devices like bulleted lists to attract attention and use images to intersperse long pages, however, only use images if they are relevant and add value to the message. Whatever you do, don’t add a tacky royalty-free image for the sake of it. Less is more
  5. The first sentence of every paragraph should be the most important
  6. Either summarise the article with a bulleted list at the end of the document or add a call to action if this is appropriate

Match search terms

From an SEO perspective, Google and other search engines will rank content if they think it is relevant to the search phrase (not just words) the user has added.

Therefore, try to think of the different search phrases you would use to find the content and include them in your copy. Add relevant keywords, but do not overuse them. Keyword stuffing is a known technique and is likely to do you more harm than good.

For example, in this article we have included:

  • A guide about writing for the web
  • Writing styles for the web
  • Advice for writing content for the web
  • Writing for the web

There will be other mini phrases and keywords that naturally occur in this article that will contribute to the contextually relevance Google is looking for in its algorithms.

Measure your success

The final component of our MUM acronym is Measurement.

Pre-publishing

Once you have crafted your content you need to know if it will work before you publish it. Start by reading it aloud. Does it makes sense? Does it answer the key questions? Would your mum understand it?

Focus on your core message and honestly ask yourself ‘does it packs a punch?’

For this article, I changed:

In this article we will take a look about some useful techniques for writing copy for the web, so you end up with overjoyed users. By the way, that’s what I spied with my little eye.

It was trying to hard, so I decided this was more direct:

Transform the way you write copy for the web with the tips in this article and stop wasting your time writing copy that nobody reads.

Once you have taken it as far as you can, share it with someone. Ask them to review it and ask what is the one thing they remember from the article.

Writing for the web should improve engagement. If the feedback you get is ‘it’s okay’, ‘it is a bit dry’, ‘I didn’t read it to the end’ then you know you need to rethink the content.

Post-publishing

For critical content, time yourself reading it and ask your reviewers to do the same. Log the mean time somewhere and review your website statistics. If the statistics show an average of 5 seconds and the content should take 3 minutes, then something isn’t chiming with your audience and you will need to rethink your copy.

We hope the pointers shared in this article are going to help you when creating content for your own website. If not, then at the very least, you’ve learnt that I am still very scared of my mum.