The Basics of Writing Web Copy

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.

Establish Goals
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).

Best Practices

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...

Tighten Up 
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.

Be Consistent
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 page. 

Take a Break
Walk away from your work before submitting it. Once you are refreshed, you'll find ways to tighten up the copy.

Request Changes
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.

Embrace Feedback
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.