This is an excerpt from my soon-to-be-released mini-course on how to write effective copy for your homepage and about page. Make sure to join my email list to be the first to know when it is released.
You’ve set up your website. You’ve registered the perfect domain name. Your web hosting platform is highly rated. You’ve spent a lot of time on your website’s design, carefully choosing the right colors and picking a style that speaks to your brand.
Finally, you’re ready to start writing words for your website homepage.
But…you hit a roadblock.
You’re not sure if the words you’re writing will connect and engage with your audience.
Should you write more? Or less? Or use different words?
How can you be sure you’re making a strong first impression and quickly capturing your website visitor’s attention so they’ll want to learn more about you?
Not to worry!
In today’s blog post, I’m sharing with you my 5-step checklist for writing captivating website copy. This is the same checklist I’ve used to write copy for my web design clients in a wide range of different industries.
Whether you’re writing words for the homepage of your author website or for your business’s about page, this checklist will help you make sure your copy will resonate with your website visitors (and that they actually read it!).
Let’s dive in.
1. Make it all about your reader
This first tip might hurt your ego. But it’s one of the most important principles of copywriting: people really don’t care about you.
They are much more concerned with their own problems and aspirations.
They don’t care about your values, your origin story, how long you’ve been in business, etc. UNLESS those details prove that you can help them solve a problem they’re facing or achieve one of their aspirations.
In How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie writes,
Talk to someone about themselves, and they’ll listen for hours.
In order to capture the attention of your website’s visitors, you need to talk about them, not about yourself. The most powerful copywriting is selfless and focused on the reader.
So before you write a word of website copy:
First, identify your target audience.
Who is your blog for? Who is your ideal client or customer? You need to be specific about who you are seeking to serve.
Seth Godin writes in his book This is Marketing,
Specific is a kind of bravery. Are you hiding behind anyone or everyone? You’ll never be able to serve everyone…Begin instead with the smallest viable market.
I find it helpful to come up with an imaginary profile of a typical person in my target audience. Whenever I’m creating content for my website, I always have that imaginary person in mind.
David Ogilvy observed in his copywriting classic Ogilvy on Advertising,
Do not address your readers as though they are gathered together in a stadium. When people read your copy, they are alone. Pretend you are writing each of them a letter, one human being to another, second person singular.
Second, empathize with your target audience.
Write down their problems, fears, hopes, and dreams in relation to the topic you’re blogging about or the product you sell. What is the main problem that you help them solve? What dream do you help them achieve?
Seth Godin writes,
People don’t want what you make. They want what it will do for them. They want the way it will make them feel. And there aren’t that many feelings to choose from…If you can bring someone belonging, connection, peace of mind, status, or one of the other most desired emotions, you’ve done something worthwhile. The thing you sell is simply a road to achieve those emotions…
Third, as you write words for your website, make sure you keep your target audience in mind by answering the question, “So what?”
Let’s say you’re a wedding photographer and you want to write that you’ve been in business for over ten years. “So what?” your reader asks. Why should they care? Well, because that means you’ve worked with hundreds of different clients in all different kinds of weather and venues. You’re experienced and know exactly what to do to get amazing memories of their special day. Write that on your website.
Or let’s say you’re selling a product. Maybe your product is an online course on how to grow an Instagram following. You write on your website that one of the course features is a collection of fill in the blank templates for Instagram posts. “So what?” your reader asks. You need to tie this feature to a benefit for the reader.
So you write, “This course includes 30 Instagram caption templates so that you can save time and not have to worry about what to post each day.”
Whenever you’re writing words for your website, always keep that question “So what?” in the forefront of your mind. Why are you including this specific piece of information? What is its purpose? How does it help the reader?
Of course, this doesn’t mean that you can’t include fun little details about yourself in your bio, like how you love coffee or have three dogs. The purpose of those details might be to show the reader you’re a human just like them. Maybe they even share some of your interests, and those details create an instant connection.
But the bottom line is not to monologue. First and foremost, talk about your reader and how you help them.
This is Marketing by Seth Godin and Building a Storybrand by Donald Miller are two fantastic books that will help you pinpoint your target audience and develop a marketing message that resonates with them.
2. Write for scanners.
Nope, I don’t mean the machine. I mean people who read quickly. And that applies to almost everyone today, even you and me.
We’re browsing hundreds of websites online. Our time and attention spans are short. So when we land on a website page, we first look at it quickly to see if it’s worth investing our time to explore further. Or we might just be searching for one specific piece of information – a company’s telephone number, for example.
Out of consideration for your website visitor’s valuable time (and to make sure your compelling website copy actually gets read), make your pages scannable.
Here are several ways to do that:
1. Keep your sentences and paragraphs short, especially on your homepage. (I usually write paragraphs that are at most three to four sentences long – sometimes only one sentence long.)
2. Break your website pages up into short digestible sections with headings (make the heading a larger font size than the other text in the section). You can even change the background color of different sections to make them stand out or use borders, etc.
3. Use bullet points and numbered lists.
4. Bold or italicize sentences or words that are important.
5. Use photos to break up the text.
6. Follow the structure of the inverted pyramid when designing your website pages – your most essential information at the top of the page, important details in the middle, and nonessential information at the end.
3. Keep It Simple and Specific
As we saw in step #2, it is best to use short sentences and paragraphs when writing website copy. You want to be as concise as possible so you get your point across quickly and clearly.
In order to be concise, you’ll need to use simple and specific language. As George Orwell observes in his six rules for writing,
Never use a long word where a short one will do. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out…Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
One way to make sure you’re using clear and simple language is to edit your copy with this question in mind: “Are these the exact words my reader/client/customer would use?”
If you’re a life coach, would potential clients come to you saying they want to “lean into their strengths” and find their “zone of genius”? Or would they instead use words like “skill set ” and “expertise”?
If you’re an SEO expert, would your clients say they want to “optimize their website”? Or would they instead say that they want to “get more search traffic”?
I wrote more about how to avoid confusing jargon words and write in the language of your target audience in my article here.
Here are two free website applications that can also help you to write simply and clearly:
Readable helps you improve your writing by measuring the readability of your text. A readability score tells you roughly what level of education someone would need in order to read your piece of text easily.
The Hemingway Editor evaluates a piece of writing for clarity and simplicity. It calculates readability and highlights adverbs, passive voice, and dull, complicated words.
If you have a WordPress website, this plugin helps you optimize your content for search engines and also evaluates your web copy against the Flesch–Kincaid readability test.
4. Follow the Purple Cow Principle
Imagine you’re searching for a product online, but nearly every website you land on uses the exact same copy. Each company’s product is “cutting edge.” Each company is the “leader” in their field. Each company “puts their customers first”.
Pretty boring, right? You probably begin to doubt these words are sincere since everyone is saying the exact same thing.
But what if you land on a website that’s different? This company shares the story of how their founder discovered a process that now helps them design a better product. They’ve written up a “code of conduct” with five rules for how they treat customers.
Their copy doesn’t blend in with all the rest. It’s unique and unforgettable.
That’s what you want to do with your copy too.
Seth Godin coined the term “purple cow” to describe this principle. In a 2003 TED talk, he explained,
…My parable here is you’re driving down the road and you see a cow, and you keep driving because you’ve seen cows before. Cows are invisible. Cows are boring. Who’s going to stop and pull over and say — ‘Oh, look, a cow.’ Nobody.
But if the cow was purple…you’d notice it for a while. I mean, if all cows were purple you’d get bored with those, too. The thing that’s going to decide what gets talked about, what gets done, what gets changed, what gets purchased, what gets built, is: ‘Is it remarkable?’ And ‘remarkable’ is a really cool word, because we think it just means ‘neat,’ but it also means ‘worth making a remark about.’
When you write your copy, consider how you can make it remarkable.
Maybe that means looking for ways that you can infuse personality and emotion into your copy. It might mean writing more conversationally or including jokes or gifs or emojis (if that aligns with your brand).
It might mean writing in the first person rather than third. It might mean discarding overused, empty phrases like “putting customers first” and, instead, explaining in detail how you put customers first.
In this article, I showed how I used the purple cow principle to update the copy on my email subscribe form. I realized that people probably see hundreds of email subscribe forms every day. We’re getting bombarded with all kinds of freebies when we visit websites. How could I make mine stand out?
In order for my new pop-up to be unlike most pop-ups you see on the web, I decided to try injecting a little warmth and personality. My goal was for it not to look like an ad.
So instead of writing, “Get the Free eBook”, I wrote, “Hey there! Can I send you a gift?” The latter sentence creates a much more human connection with my visitors.
Ultimately, when you use the purple cow principle in your marketing, you attract the people who truly resonate with your personality, writing style, and message while filtering out those who don’t.
Now, don’t try to be so clever that you end up confusing people. There are places on your website where it’s best to be simple and straightforward. For example, in your navigation menu, it’s usually best to use the standard terms: Home, About, Contact, FAQ, etc.
But where you can infuse your personality and write remarkable copy, do so.
5. Test, Test, Test
Have you written amazing website copy that speaks directly to your target audience, empathizes with them, and explains exactly how you help them but…
…they’re still not buying your product or service or signing up to your email list?
Ugh, what did you do wrong?
The truth is you don’t know how your copy will perform until you publish it on your website, and you start testing.
Even the most experienced copywriters sometimes write sales pages that perform poorly. But they figure out what part of the sales page isn’t resonating with their audience, and they tweak that copy so that it gets results.
If your copy isn’t performing well, maybe you need to run it by a customer or client or one of your blog readers and get their feedback. You’re not a mind reader, after all. It’s a smart move to get their input.
On the other hand, if your copy is performing well, maybe you can tweak it so it will perform even better.
Some website builders and email forms will let you run A/B tests on your copy. That means they’ll show version A of your copy to 50% of your website visitors and version B to the other 50%.
For example, in version A, you might write, “Subscribe to my email list.” In version B, you write, “Get my free eBook.” The test reveals that more people sign up to your email list when they read version B. Since version B is the clear winner, you can scrap version A.
You can also run a type of A/B test when you reach out to your customers or blog readers for feedback. Give them two different versions of your copy and ask which one resonates with them more.
Ultimately, the most important rule to writing website copy is to step into your reader’s shoes. Think about their concerns. Think about the language they would use to describe their hopes and fears. Think about the frame of mind they’re in when they visit your website.
As you craft your website copy, keep the words of the famous adman Leo Burnett in mind,
Make it simple. Make it memorable. Make it inviting to look at. Make it fun to read.
Then you will truly be on your way to writing words that will delight and captivate your audience.
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