Whether it’s copy for a landing page or a banner ad, writing
goal-oriented copy can be a daunting task,
even for the most experienced copywriters. Like website design, opinions about
copy are not only subjective, but also plentiful. Likewise, both departments
can benefit from a plan of attack and some best practices.
Schedule a time to chat with stakeholders to clearly define the objectives of
the writing assignment. Is the website copy’s intent to build trust, with
nothing to immediately sell? Or is it to convert visitors into subscribers? If you don’t
know the answer, find out before one word is typed. In the same conversation, find out who your audience is. Gather demographics and any other available site data.
Be the Egg
If the chicken came first, you as the writer, want to be the
egg. By having the designer ‘go first,’ you can use their mock-up to
outline what text is needed from you. While it might be difficult for a
designer to work off a blank page, it’s even more difficult for a writer to
anticipate space restrictions, headers, etc. without seeing what the layout
will be. Often times, it’s counterproductive for the writer to generate content
and lay out the content - with headers and such - when the designer has a
completely different vision in mind. Many times the writer has to tweak their
content based on the design, anyway, so save everyone time and headaches by
just ‘going’ second.
Now that you have a beautiful landing page design, an attention-grabbing advertisement mock-up, or whatever it may be, it’s time for you to
get to work (after all, we’ve put it off long enough).
Just Do It
The most time consuming aspect of writing Web copy is
overanalyzing it. Write like nobody is reading it and just go for it. You can
tweak the content as you go to meet objectives, reach your targeted audience and tighten up copy. Speaking of...
With every writing project there’s always a temptation to
consult a Thesaurus, but use it with caution. Use one to simplify your message,
not pollute it. Stumbling over an awkward word or an unfamiliar one is extremely disrupting for a reader. With Web copy, the simpler
the better. There are different schools of thought on this, but aim for a
fourth to seventh grade reading level as your benchmark.
For Web copy, a better resource than a Thesaurus is a quality
list of active verbs (think words like accelerate, localize, serve). These
are strong, powerful words that will help you elicit action. Another good
resource is a keywords list. If you don’t know what the company’s keywords are,
ask. Don’t force them in, though; chances are you are using them without even
knowing, which is the best way to use them, anyway.
Keep It Short
In the Web game, short is always better. Banner ads should
tell your story in 5-10 words, which includes the call to action. For landing
pages, blogs and other Web content, try to use list format or lots of subtitles
to break up copy.
If there isn’t a company style guide to consult, start one.
It’s likely stakeholders don’t care about choices like website or Web site,
but do care that it's consistent from sentence to sentence and from page to
Take a Break
Walk away from your work before submitting it. Once you are
refreshed, you’ll find ways to tighten up the copy.
Even with countless rewrites, you’ll likely want to make
changes to your copy once you see it embedded in the design. No offense against
word processing documents, but there’s something to say for seeing copy within
its intended design; it will spark a bit more creativity. Don’t be afraid to
ask for changes.
It’s human nature, especially for the creative types, to be
defensive when someone provides criticism. Just know that critique is coming, even
if you’re a site owner, and embrace it. If it’s collaborative feedback, the end
result is usually better.