The internet is a competitive place. With 900 million (and counting) websites in existence, it’s never been trickier to get your web copy to stand out. On a platform where cat videos beckon and dancing hot dogs are a mere click away, what is the secret to web copy that has the ability to capture and hold onto an audience?
In this blog, I reveal my 5 commandments for writing successful web copy – a spot in digital heaven guaranteed.
Thou Shalt Know Thy Audience
Your ideal user should dictate the nature and content of your copywriting. Whether you are out to sell body glitter to millennials or fleeces to pensioners, having a clear image of your user is indispensable when crafting web copy.
Analyzing data to see the key traits of your user is a fantastic place to start. Key factors such as age, gender, and nationality are all important traits that will influence the way in which you speak to your audience.
Nasty Gal is a fantastic example of a brand that understands and caters to its audience. Their use of youthful, witty copy, which is rich with popular culture references, is an ideal way to connect with their teen to mid-twenties audience.
To go a step further, look beyond the base factors that make up your potential users, and go deeper by thinking hard about your users and creating a character. Give your character a name, a personality, and real-world aspirations. You should know what they watch on Netflix, where they like to go on holiday, and who they voted for in the last election – when you have built a realistic person, you can begin to ask what does this person want? And how do we sell to them?
Thou Shalt Master Tone-Of-Voice
Creating a recognizable tone of voice should be high up on your copywriting to-do list. A distinguished voice can be the difference between building a relationship with your user or fading into the sea of online brands.
Think about what makes your product or service different from competitors and build from there. Are you selling bespoke, high-end glassware? Probably not appropriate to open with a joke or a Pulp Fiction reference. Instead, use language that helps to promote a high-end glassware lifestyle, language that conveys elegance and quality.
Selling an online game? You can afford to inject a little humor and familiarity into your copy, language that reflects the nature of the gameplay.
A brand that has thoroughly mastered its tone of voice is Innocent. Their website, social media channels, and products read like a masterclass in consistently reflecting the ethos of your company in your language. It’s fresh, funny, and friendly, it fits with the ideology of the product and takes them above and beyond a simple smoothie company.
Thou Shalt Be Kind To Eyes
User experience has been a hot phrase in the world of web copy and web design for the last few years. Many suggest that to truly engage with successful UX practices, a copy must be funny, creative, and comply beautifully with the web design it is paired with.
While I agree this is valuable advice, in an ideal world all web copy would also soothe our existential crisis and read like a Daniel Clowes graphic novel, for me UX copywriting is more basic. It’s about creating an attractive layout that is kind to the eye.
Create plenty of blank space in your document by optimizing the use of lists and bullet points. Also be generous with paragraph breaks, because who doesn’t live for a good break? Blog experts have found the optimum paragraph length is a mere 55 words, short snappy pieces of information feel more manageable and help your reader absorb your information easily.
Thou Shalt Not Use Jargon
So, you received a word-a-day calendar for your birthday and you’ve been raring to use your latest piece of vocab anywhere you can. But hear this, your web copy is not the place.
While the use of unusual, jargon-filled phrases does nothing for optimizing your search engine results, their biggest crime is alienating and frustrating your users.
Keep language simple, clear, and buzzwood-free. Resist the urge to show off your expansive vocabulary and focus on the intention of your writing; to be read, understood, and enjoyed by your user.
Those working within very specific, complicated industries are often the guiltiest when it comes to using buzzwords and incomprehensive acronyms, but your job as a copywriter is to simplify the complex. Clarifying sophisticated language has the power to broaden audiences and engage with new consumers.
Mailchimp is often hailed as the hero of technical copywriting, and justly so. What could have been a fairly complicated technical resource becomes light and entertaining due to its user-friendly vocabulary.
Thou Shalt Entertain
Against all the odds your website has struggled through thousands of worthy competitors, has slain the dragon of Google algorithms, and has appeared victorious before the eyes of your user.
And how do you celebrate this hard-earned victory? You bore them.
Successful copywriting is ultimately like any successful writing: informational, interesting, and entertaining.
Before you start stuffing your copy with the latest filthy limericks, ( have you heard the one about the boring copywriter from Ealing?) let’s remember there are many ways to entertain.
Take The Natural History Museum’s online shop, an eCommerce site that goes above and beyond in the name of entertaining copy. What could have been any other online shop, with a very dry copy, is an enjoyable, informative read, very aware of its audience.
And why not? With a product range that includes both woolly mammoth tea towels and theatrical beetle-themed jewelry, why not throw in a pun or two? The end result is a very engaging copy, packed with ridiculous dino-centric references.
While humor does help to evolve this copy from a single-celled organism to an award-winning ferocious beast, it is also the active and immediate writing that helps to give the site an entertaining value.
Strong visual storytelling, making the most of the subject matter, and a sense of fun were all integral in elevating the NHM from the run-of-a-mill online store to an engaging shopping experience with a focus on user experience.