Five tips for writing effective website copy

Five tips for writing effective website copy

Writing for the web is different from any other form of copywriting and needs special attention.

It’s not just a matter of taking your printed promotional material, grafting it onto your website and hoping it will do the job – because it won’t.

And going on at length about what you have to offer and expecting people will read every word will not work either.

Writing for the web
Follow some basic rules and writing for the web gets a lot easier.

Content marketers like to bang on about web copy that is ‘engaging’ and ‘grabs the reader’s attention’, but this is wishful thinking at best.

After all if your customers are on your website you already have their attention: The hard part is keeping it!

How to write website copy that works

So here are five tips to help you make the best of your business website. We’re not intending to cover everything here – just the basics of how to structure and lay out your website content.

1. Make your text easy to understand

Generally, people will arrive at your business website with a task in mind and want to know if you are the people to do it for them.

Also, most people do not sit and read web pages from top to bottom, savouring every word: They scan pages, eyes darting over the words looking for something that matches what they are looking for.

So your writing needs to be clear and concise, without complicated sentences with ambiguous meanings.

You also need to put the most important points at the top: If you keep people waiting to get to the point the chances are they won’t hang around long enough to find out.

Don’t try to be clever and throw in some puns or other ‘witty’ writing. That sort of thing can get old very quickly, but mainly doesn’t help get your message across.

Make it easy for people and they are more likely to stay around long enough to find out if you can help them.

2. Break up your text

Great big blocks of text are hard to scan and therefore hard to read on a website.

Everyone is time poor these days with a thousand different things competing for our attention. This makes us impatient and blocky text will be skipped over rather than read.

So you need to use short, succinct sentences and lots of paragraphs – ideally one sentence – and one idea – to a paragraph.

You’ll be amazed at how much easier a page is to read if it’s been split up properly.

You can also use headings (heading 1, 2, etc, not just bold text and bigger font size) to break things up, and if you use the right, relevant, words these actually help your page get found on search engines.

3. Go easy on the formatting

Another trap that people fall into is to try to emphasise different aspects in their text, but tests have shown the more you try and make something on a web page stand out, the more you end up hiding it!

Bold text, entire words in capital letters and random big text sizes can all be used to add emphasis, but once you start using them it’s difficult to stop.

If you find yourself doing this, then the chances are there is too much irrelevant stuff in your web page and you need to edit the copy down.

Formatting needs to be consistent and sparse. Don’t use italics (hard to read), underlining (easy to confuse with links), stick to a body text size and font and set heading sizes and use bold very, very sparingly.

4. Keep it short and stick to the point

Information overload normally goes hand in hand with trying to squeeze too much into a web page – it’s a very common problem on small business websites.

We often see business owners go into all kinds of detail their potential customers do not need to know. The end result is visitors are bombarded with too much information and end up taking in nothing.

If you want to take your car in to be fixed by a mechanic you don’t want to know what make of spanners he uses, or for that matter anything about his methods. You just need to know that he is competent to do the job and how much it’s likely to cost.

Yet many business websites are marred by the business going on at length about how they do things when potential customers do not need this information.

If you want to make it easy for your website visitors (and that’s the only way they will stay), keep it short, simple and stick to your essential information.

5. Read it – Then cut it! (Then read it again)

If you are expecting others to read your carefully crafted web copy the least you can do is read through it properly before you press the Publish button. Sadly this doesn’t happen.

Everything that goes on your business website should be read by at least two people first, to make sure it makes sense and doesn’t contain grammatical errors. A spell checker is also a must.

If you can’t get someone else to read your copy, then take a break – overnight at least is good – and come back to it with fresh eyes. Sometimes it’s easier to read through copy that has been printed out.

At this point you should be reading with a view to cutting it down by up to a half. And once you’ve cut it you’ll need to read it again.

If this sounds extreme it isn’t – once you get into practice it’s amazing at how much you can lose and every word you remove will be helping to make your copy more concise – and above all more effective.

More information

Concise, SCANNABLE and objective: How to Write for the Web – Neilsen Norman Group

How to write for the web: BBC News School Report

If you want to hide it, emphasize it: Gerry McGovern – New Thinking

photo credit: RLHyde via photopin cc

Why online shops fail

Why online shops fail

If your business sells things in the real world, it’s simple enough to set up an online shop and just sit back and watch the money roll in.

That’s the theory but it rarely works out that way. Here are the main reasons why online shops become online flops.

[box type="info"]This post has been updated to reflect changes in UK consumer law introduced in 2014[/box]

We get asked to fix a lot of online shops and nearly always the complaint is the same: No-one’s buying.

Sometimes no-one’s visiting at all, but often when we look at statistics we can see plenty of visitors but few or no sales.

So why does nobody buy?

The answer lies in a combination of factors, assuming you are selling something people want to buy in the first place.

Computer keyboard and credit card
Get it right and the card will come out

Trust and credibility

These days the average web user is afraid of online fraud and needs reassurance. First of all they need to know who you are: They need your address.

It’s surprising how many shops ignore this basic rule but it’s more important than that – it’s the law in the UK.

If you are UK based and selling online, the Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation, and Additional Charges) Regulations 2014 apply to you. These replace the Consumer Protection (Distance Selling) Regulations 2000, and they are tougher.

Put simply, the regulations make up for the fact that online shop customers can’t inspect your products in person. But they are also a good framework for building a shop that people will trust.

Broadly, this means your shop should:

  • Provide clear information about the supplier, the goods or services and the sale in writing
  • Give shoppers the right to 14 working days in which to change their minds and return the product (though there are some exceptions)
  • Be totally clear on everything, from delivery charges and dates to any other charges you may make
  • Provide protection from credit card fraud.

By covering this you are answering questions potential buyers are bound to have, such as:

  • When will I receive my goods?
  • What if they are not the right size or otherwise unsuitable?
  • Am I safe giving my financial information to this shop?

If you are transparent about who you are and provide clear information about delivery, returns and how to contact you then that all helps to build trust. Oh, and it’s mandatory now, though many online shop owners don’t seem to know this.

Of course, the product descriptions must not be misleading!

Another big aspect of trust is the safety in numbers principle – that the shopper will feel safer buying if they know others are. This is sometimes called social proof.

You can help in this way by encouraging customers to review their purchases or write testimonials – but if your shop has a review facility and nobody has reviewed anything then this can have the opposite effect, and draw attention to your lack of customers.

To make this work you will need to give people an incentive to leave reviews or link to you on social media. More about the importance of trust and websites.

Poor promotion and management

Getting the shop right is only part of the job. To get people to buy from you you need to get them to your site.

This means you need to promote your site, whether offline through promotional leaflets and flyers, or online through methods like social media.

Who to target depends on what you sell, just like every shop needs to plan for how to get the visitors and the customers.

But once you have got the customers you need to be able to look after them and that means having the systems in place to staff the shop – answer questions, get the products to the customers and deal with any issues. These things don’t happen by themselves.

In the end your shop is a part of your business, just the same as any other part, and as such it will require some time and effort to run it.

Your shop is hard to use – or doesn’t work at all

If you build a shop, you MUST test it. It’s amazing how many times this is forgotten.

That means doing a test purchase to make sure everything works as it should and that you and the customer will get the right email notifications.

You should also test the contact form to make sure it sends email to the right place. We’ve seen a fair few shops where email enquiries disappear into a black hole – along with potential customers.

Nothing puts customers off faster than a shop with that doesn’t work properly – and that includes broken links.

Nothing except a shop that’s hard to use.

Getting around

Shops are generally big sites, which means it should be as easy as possible to find what you want. Navigation should be clear, simple and consistent and the search should be effective (often it’s not but nobody tests it).

Checkout and payment

Your customer has decided to buy and so you have to make it as easy as possible for them.

The best shops have a single page checkout where customers enter their details, review their shopping cart and proceed to payment: The worst have three or four pages to wade through, and won’t let you buy unless you set up an account first.

You also need to think about how people want to pay and give them as many options as you can.

Payment by cheque only, for example, is likely to lose you customers – who needs to wait for a cheque to clear before they can have their goods when they bought online in the first place to save time?

If you do nothing else, at least set up payment by PayPal as it is a trusted brand for online payments and offers some protection – and therefore more trust in your shop.

Other online shop ‘fails’

  • Text that’s too small to read
  • Product images that are too small and/or low quality
  • Not enough information about the products
  • Not focusing on the products – it’s a shop so the products must be front and centre
  • Being so clever or gimmicky that customers can’t use your site

More information:

Jeff Bullas blog: 12 Reasons I won’t buy from your website

The Floating Frog: 13 Reasons why your online shop will fail

E-Commerce Rules: Top 5 reasons Why your online shop will fail

The UK Department for Business Innovation and Skills: Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation, and Additional Charges) Regulations (PDF format)

E-Consultancy: Why does customer service suck online?

Photo credit: Fosforix via photopin cc

The Moghill Way

Moghill signpost

We don’t want to bore you with our mission statement but we do think it’s a good thing to lay out our philosophy from time to time.

And it’s simple: We want to be the best at what we do.

The Moghill WayWe aim to be the best all round web company in Oswestry, in Shropshire, in the border region. After all, there’s nothing wrong with having a goal.

We want to:

  • Be the best for customer service – we love to make our clients happy
  • Be the best for value for money
  • Bring the best results for you and your customers
  • Come up with the best, most innovative yet user-friendly solutions for getting your business onto the web.

Our Promise

Whatever project comes our way, we listen to the needs of our customers and then come up with a unique solution to meet their needs.

You don’t just need a website, you need a website to achieve an aim for your business and we’ll work with you to achieve your aim.

Want to know more?

See our:

NRG Direct Mail – Website overhaul

NRG Direct Mail logo

The Project

NRG Direct Mail had a WordPress website that had been built by another company several years before, but it did not address the needs of the company’s customers or the company itself.

It also emerged that the website was running an out of date – and vulnerable – version of WordPress and all its plug ins were also out of date and the site was not being backed up.

[caption id="attachment_1048" align="alignright" width="450"]NRG Direct Mail's responsive design website built by Moghill Web Services NRG Direct Mail’s new responsive design website[/caption]

The company had been considering running a Search Engine Optimisation campaign but we successfully argued that the same results could be achieved by

  • Targeting the site better towards the needs of customers
  • Making it more concise, focussed and to the point
  • Implementing a new responsive design, which re-sizes itself to display better on mobile phones and tablet PCs, such as iPads.

What Moghill did

We set about overhauling the current website design, content and SEO completely: An illustration of what can be done within WordPress without changing the website platform.

NRG Direct Mail had already implemented Google Analytics statistics on their website, which meant we already had a wealth of statistical information to draw on about how people were using the website and finding it on web searches. This established that most visitors to the site were not new customers.

[caption id="attachment_1051" align="alignright" width="450"]NRG Direct Mail website before Original NRG Direct Mail website homepage[/caption]

We also looked at the major search terms appropriate for the company’s services and the competitors for those terms.

We interviewed staff about the number of enquiries received via the website and general customer response to it.

Finally we looked at the content and structure of the website as was and produced completely new content much better suited to customers and what they would be looking for.

We also added calls to action and quick contact forms which made it easy for customers to get in touch with the company and a new blog.

We were able to build the new version of the site in a test area while the old site ticked along and until the company was happy with it. Then we moved everything across over a weekend when web traffic was at its lightest.

We then handed over the website, providing training on how to use it and on web writing. We now maintain the site software so that Wordpress and plug-in versions remain up to date and secure and run regular back-ups of the site.

View the site at www.nrgdirectmail.co.uk

What the customer said

Nick Chavasse, NRG Direct Mail Managing Director said: “Patrick and Fiona are a great team and have empathy with their clients.

“I liked the fact that they took the trouble to understand our business and then blend the creative aspects and appropriate web text with the Search Engine Optimisation work.

“An excellent result and already on Page One of Google. You cannot ask for more than that!”

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Why your business needs a website

Recession - definition

Okay, so your business mainly deals with local people, so why would you want a website?

You can still use the web to connect your business to new customers locally.

[caption id="attachment_917" align="alignright" width="350"]Recession - definition A good website can help you fight the effects of the recession[/caption]

The simple answer is, if you’ve ever advertised – in a local paper or Yellow Pages perhaps – or put flyers through letter boxes then you need a website.

Your website is where you get the chance to tell your potential customers about your business.

You can say more than you’ll ever fit in an advert – and that’s just for a start.

Your customers can find out about what you can do for them without them having to ask you directly.

You can show them examples of your work, tell them how to get in touch with you and of course sell your products and services – and the beauty of it is that once it’s set up anyone can access it, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. You don’t have to do a thing.

More business

A well set up, professional website can bring in new business and raise your profile more than any amount of advertising.

Get it right and a good website can help your business be a success, even more so if tied in with a well used presence on social media, such as Facebook.

After all we’re in the 21st century now and people expect businesses to be online these days.

Often people looking for a service will look on the internet first and if you’re not on the web you’re not taking advantage of the best low cost advertising space there is.

This is only going to become more important as a generation of young people brought up on computers grow to maturity.

While you may be doing okay with your current customers, your future customers will be looking for you on the web – make sure they can find you!

Mind how you go….

Many small businesses build their own sites with varying results – but wouldn’t you rather concentrate on what you do best and leave your website to a professional?

If you don’t know what you’re getting into some of the do it yourself options can look attractive, but if you’re not careful you can end up wasting so much time learning to do basic things that it would have been cheaper to pay someone to do it.

And don’t fall into the trap of having a mate do your site as a favour – at Moghill we’ve never seen that type of arrangement work out well.

Do yourself a favour and concentrate on what you’re good at – running your business – and bring in a professional to take care of your site.

Your route to web success

If your website is to be a success it needs to be done properly otherwise you won’t get your message across.

Your website creates an impression about your business and if you want to look like you mean business you need a professional looking website.

And if you don’t get a professional to build your site the chances are your customers won’t even be able to find it.

Choosing a web design company

Building websites in his bedroom every now and again

There’s a massive choice of web design companies out there – so how do you spot the diamonds and avoid the duds?

One of the problems with web design is that anyone can do it – to an extent. But you should exercise the same caution when looking at web design companies as you would if you were hiring a builder.

[caption id="attachment_921" align="alignright" width="350"]Building websites in his bedroom every now and again Building websites in his bedroom every now and again[/caption]

Steer clear of companies who offer web design as an add on to their main business – common among IT and telecoms companies, as well as public relations and marketing companies. They often lack the skills to give you a decent website.

They may be able to have a go at giving you a site, but it will probably cost you more money and hassle in the long run.

And in the end you will probably have to go to a proper web design company!

The perils of amateurs

These days anyone with a computer can set themselves up as a web designer and this amateurism can make hiring a web designer a nightmare.

They may have flashy websites of their own, but there’s a lot more to building a professional website than the ability to make it look  nice.

The geeks

There are also web companies who want to sell you all sorts of complicated web solutions – but at a price. Often these web agencies are more biased towards the technical side of things.

Sure – you’ll get a website, but you may well pay through the nose for a solution that uses a sledgehammer to crack a nut.

We’ve seen clients charged large amounts by these companies only to be left on their own once the site has been built.

On the other hand, some may charge very little and only deal with you via e-mail. Always be suspicious of someone who will not speak on the phone or meet in person. And be wary of people claiming to supply ‘cheap’ websites – it will always cost you more in the end.

Long term relationship

Even if you only have a three page simple website you are still entering into a long term business relationship with the company who builds it. So you should treat your website as you would any other long term partnership.

Any company worth its salt should have a portfolio of websites they have produced for other clients. The company should be happy for prospective clients to contact its customers.

You are looking for a broader range of skills, not just an expert in IT, public relations or graphic design.

Those skills include:

  • Writing and editing – specifically writing for websites
  • Photography and design
  • The necessary technical skills
  • In depth understanding of web user behaviour and how to present information
  • Web marketing skills, including search engine optimisation
  • Project management skills and a proven ability to deliver

But above all else they must have good customer service skills. You must be able to build a rapport with your web provider.