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An Introduction To Copywriting For The Web
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Imagine all salesmen were mimes. Hilarious? Perhaps. Effective? Definitely not. It's nearly impossible to imagine a successful sales pitch without using words. So why is it that copywriting for the web is one of the most frequently overlooked parts of web design?
While images, layout and design form the face of your digital presence, it's the copy that's the voice of your brand. And it has a big job to do.
Copywriting for the web must:
• Engage: capture the attention of the generally distracted digital user.
• Inform: convey the details of your product or service in a simple, easy to digest fashion.
• Direct: lead users to the appropriate pages/sections of information.
• Express: portray the personality of your brand, enhancing public perception of your offering.
• Persuade: create logical or emotional responses that convince users to take a desired action.
• Optimise: create visibility via Search Engine Optimisation.
Reading the above you'll begin to get an idea of why existing promotional copy, designed for print media, is generally not reusable for websites. It all boils down to the way people read and interact with media online.
Why do people read differently online?
The answer to this lies in the basic nature of the internet - vast, full of information and full of rubbish, with the next best thing only a click away.
It's that last bit that's the kicker. If your user isn't immediately engaged, has to work to find what he's looking for, or doesn't identify with your brand, it's on to better things with one click of his mouse. He doesn't have the time, or inclination to delve deeply into long reams of text.
So how do you get your message out without your users losing interest?
• Label it: meaningful headings and subheadings help users identify sections that apply to them, without wading through everything else on the page.
• Break it up: there's nothing so easily skipped over as a long paragraph of unbroken text. Keep your paragraphs (and sentences) short and to the point. One idea per paragraph.
• Highlight the good bits: your user isn't going to read every word, so make sure the important keywords and phrases catch their eye.
• Keep it relevant: there's a time and a place for "padding", but your website isn't it. Keep it lean and to-the-point, and offer clear navigation to more detailed pages if necessary.
Optimisation: SEO and Generating Traffic
Optimisation deserves separate mention, as it's unique to copywriting for the web, and vital to generating traffic. It's all very well writing pithy, persuasive copy, but it's worth nothing if nobody ever finds your site. It's a rare internet user who goes beyond the first page of search results. If you think they're going to find you on page five, you're going to be sorely disappointed.
The Basics of SEO
• Key Phrases: These are groups of two or more words that users are likely to enter into a search engine when they are looking for websites like yours. There are online tools, such as Google AdWords, that can help you define these. Choosing key phrases cleverly is key to successful SEO.
• Optimising Content: How you use your key phrases is equally important. Your primary key phrase should be found in your headings, body, links and image alt text. Secondary and tertiary phrases should be scattered in your copy. Never over-stuff your copy with key phrases - this actually works against you.
• Link it up: The more links to a page, the more relevant and popular its information will appear to search engines. Each link is essentially a vote of confidence for your content, so try to get as many as possible.
It's important to remember that search engines are getting more and more sophisticated all the time. They are extremely good at picking up on when you try to scam the system.
If your content is relevant, engaging, and creates a good user experience, uses pertinent keywords and phrases and has legitimate links, you're well on your way to great optimisation.
Copywriting for the web really is a different beast, so next time a client asks if you can copy-paste their print copy into their Home Page, refer them to this article. If you're the one asking whether it's worth doing a full rewrite, then hopefully we've answered your question.
Writing effective copy for the web requires careful thought and planning. Don't jeopardise the success of your website by ignoring your most powerful tool.
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