Jan 6 '11
I know that ‘I would say this’ but I’m going to start by nailing my colours to the mast. If you aren’t prepared to invest in good quality website copy then you might as well not bother building your website. Yes, the design and functionality are important… but if you don’t have something worth saying, in a way people want to hear it then it’s rather the same as having a Ferrari and not actually passing your driving test.
Whenever I work with clients on website redesigns I always factor in at least 25% of the overall budget for copywriting. That might seem like a lot but just consider, for a moment, the purpose of the words on your website. What are they there to do? Give people information about you and your business?
Of course, the answer is yes… but that’s only a fraction of their purpose. The words on a website are your chance to demonstrate what makes you different. What makes you better. What makes you…. You! It’s all about brand development, personality and creating an overall impression that leaves people not only saying “yes, they have what I want” but “yes, they have what I want and I’m convinced I want to go to them to buy it”.
So, how do you go about writing compelling and effective (ie. ‘great’) website copy.
First, I would consider whether you can afford, within your budget, to employ a third-party copywriter. Sometimes you are simply too close to the issues to be able to write about them effectively. [Speaking personally I can vouch for this. I write pages of website copy for clients every year but writing the copy for my own website – going live later this month – was the hardest job of the lot… by far.] Having a third-party involved can ensure that you end up with copy that does what you want it to, as assessed by an unbiased reader. They can challenge your content and make sure that it really works for your target audience. Importantly, if they’re a professional, it’s likely to take them far less time to write something that is ‘bang on’… and you need to assess what your time is worth. It may be more cost effective to pay someone else to do the job for you… and you may well be happier with the results.
But, ok… so you can’t afford to do this or you want to do it yourself… how do you proceed? There are really five steps (or golden rules) to follow:
1. Set some objectives – It’s important, before you start, that you really think about what your copy needs to achieve. You need to set some objectives. You should have already done this to plan your new website… but the copy may well have a different set of objectives from the overall website. For example, the website may be there to ‘increase sales by 10% in the next quarter’. The copy will be there to help to do this by ‘establishing a clear personality’ or ‘communicating the business values’. Set out some objectives that can be answered with a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ in terms of whether you have met them. Use these to test your copy.
2. Find some examples – Forget trying to describe your copywriting style. Using words to talk about words is, in the main, utterly subjective and not tremendously constructive when you’re writing your own copy. The best way to work out what you want to ‘sound like’ is to find some examples. Look for examples that are both good and bad. Question why you feel the way you do about them.
3. List some good and not so good words and phrases – Once you’ve found your examples, make a list of the things you like and those you don’t. By this I mean words you might want to use or phrases you most certainly don’t want to. Start to get a feel for the sort of style you want to use.
4. Plan, plan and plan again – This is the ‘measure twice, cut once’ part. Do a spreadsheet that lists out all the copy you’ll need. Paste in anything you already have to work with and key themes for each section – bullet points might help you. Work out your deadlines by working back from your ‘go-live’ date and establish what date you need each section drafted, reviewed and approved by. Make sure you factor in some time to make last minute changes.
5. Ask someone (or something) else to read it – I promise you that there will be typos. Fact. I often paste things into Word to see if the spell-checker can pick up things my eyes have missed. However good you are at proof-reading you will have missed something. It’s also worth giving it to a friend and asking them to take a look. If they’re unconnected with your business they’ll be able to read it as a potential client will… and that could prove constructive.
I think there is one other suggestion that I can make… or perhaps it’s more of a demonstration of empathy… There will be a point where you’re agonising over a sentence and can’t get it to sound right. This is the point to walk away, do something else or (at the very least) make a cup of tea, read the paper and try again later. It happens to us all!