Maybe you’ve been writing copy for various outlets for many years, so you’re sure there won’t be any problems turning out website copy. You could be wrong! Although writing copy of any type has some basic rules, writing copy for a print publication is much different than composing content for a website.
Before you sharpen your virtual pen and dive in, here are some proven tips for writing quality site-ready copy and avoiding major pitfalls in the process.
Make it Short and Sweet
When it comes to writing website copy, shorter is better. That doesn’t mean you give up quality in the process, however. The goal is to produce website content that is clear, concise, and relatable. Gone are the days when writing long-winded sentences and winding narratives would catch a reader’s eye.
Online, a reader’s attention is hard to catch and even more difficult to hold. Make your web copy short, sweet, and packed with information. Get to the point, and get to it quickly. Web audiences won’t wade through pages of boring introductions or tedious purple prose. Instead, aim for copy that gets to the main point quickly, with little fanfare.
Watch Your Word Count
This advice dovetails with the previous rule of keeping your website copy short and sweet. Not only should you keep your word count pared down when writing for websites, but you should use words that are easy to read and digest.
Trim your sentences so they’re brief, yet powerful in effect, and watch for run-on sentences. In addition, break your writing into smaller segments instead of a single presentation that isn’t segmented into paragraphs or sections. When readers see a huge block of text, many of them will check out. Give them smaller bites to chew on. Remember: Shorter copy IS better!
Not sure what’s meant by short and sweet? WebProNews has listed length guidelines that are worthwhile to follow. For example, your headlines should be no more than eight words, if possible. Keep sentences to no more than 20 words – fewer if possible. In addition, shoot for paragraphs that have between 40 and 70 words, but no more. Finally, website pages shouldn’t run more than 250 words – unless you intend to scare readers away.
Mind Your Headings
Online readers are scanners, so that means the first thing that will attract their attention is the heading of an article. If the heading is confusing, dull, or vague, readers will move on and not bother reading the article at all. Your mission, first and foremost, is to make sure your heading is unique enough to grab readers’ attention and pull them into the rest of the article.
To write a heading that will capture your reader’s attention, shoot for strong verbs and nouns, using words that are vibrant and active. Craft a hook within your heading that will draw in your audience and make them want to read more, such as “10 Ways You’re Ruining Your Marriage.” Attempt to elicit an emotional response from them in some way. In the previous example, pairing the words “ruining” and “marriage” definitely evokes an emotional response for some readers.
Write to Your Audience’s Comprehension Level
While you may have an impressive grasp of the English language and an unrivaled mastery of vocabulary, website copy is not the place to tout your prowess. Readers need copy that is easy to read and understand. That means long, unwieldy words (also known as 50-cent words) do not have a place in online copy that’s intended to draw in an audience and keep them there. Avoid confusing references or phrases, and forget about writing at a post-graduate level – unless that’s the reading audience you’re trying to reach.
To check the level of your writing, activate the Fleisch-Kincaid reading comprehension feature in Microsoft Word. Then copy/paste your writing into the program to determine at what grade level your website copy scores. You can also paste your writing into the window at Readability-Score.com to test your statistics.
Remember, the average reading comprehension level in the United States is at a ninth-grade level, so keep that in mind as you’re writing for your site. If you write below that level, you’ll bore readers. If you write above that level, you’ll confound them.
In the end, writing website copy isn’t rocket science. However, it is a process that takes time, skill, and knowledge to master. Make it a point to compare various online sites to determine which ones work for you as a reader, and which ones don’t. Make a note of the things that stood out for you as a reader, both good and bad. Once you have this information in hand, as well as the knowledge gleaned from the suggestions above, you will be armed with everything you need to become your own expert at churning out website copy that keeps readers coming back again and again.