Some tips on writing web content

Years and years ago, in the distant pre-internet days, nobody was writing for the web. Because, well, there was no web. 

That meant that a copywriter like me would generally be writing for print, TV or radio. And each of those disciplines had its own writing nuances which you had to learn and perfect if you were going to go anywhere as a copywriter.

But then came the Web and we all had to learn a different way to write for this new monster that gobbled up zillions and zillions of words (what we now call web content).

There was a lot of trial and error in those early days both in layout and word count. But we’ve reached a stage now where there is a general consensus on how to write effective web content for your business site.

At this stage I’ll point out that – obviously – the best way to write copy for your website is to hire a copywriter (Ahem, Ahem). But if you really must go it alone, I’ve gathered together some quick tips for writing copy for websites. 

First up, know your subject

On the web, there’s nowhere to hide. If you don’t know your subject inside out, would-be customers will soon go somewhere else and find someone who does. So please – make sure you know your onions. (Or, final plug – you could hire a copywriter whose job it is to know all sorts of stuff).

Put the really important information first

Fact: people only read 20% of the words on a web page. And the chances are that they’re the first words in your masterpiece. After that they

…scan…

…the…

…rest… of… the… copy.

So you should stick to the principle of newspaper writing – get the important stuff into the first couple of sentences in such an enticing and engaging way that the reader will want to continue. 

And – just like newspaper writing – keep your paragraphs short and to the point: two or three sentences per para is plenty. And use subheads as well, again the way that newspapers do.

That way, if people just scan your web copy, they’ll still get the gist of what you’re saying.

Put keywords in your headlines and subheads

Whatever business you’re in, there’ll be a lot of associated phrases and specialised words – ‘keywords’ – associated with it. For example, if you’re a pub owner in Northern Ireland, you’ll want to include keywords like Guinness, Craic, Best bar, pub grub, traditional music – and maybe ‘Gee, my ancestors came from Ireland’.

Simple English, no unnecessary jargon

Maybe you’re a whizz at English and have aspirations to write romantic poetry by candlelight. Fine. But don’t adopt that style when writing for the web. Simple is key, but without dumbing down. Short uncomplicated sentences. Informative. Pacy. Without any unnecessary jargon, or glib and meaningless marketing buzzwords. (And please never write the word ‘impactful’. Good dictionaries don’t even list it as a word. So there.) 

Remember that Spiders and Robots like lists

OK, you’re writing content for your website because you ultimately want some humans to read your copy and do some business with you. But humans aren’t the only ones checking your website. 

Those spiders or robots that scan your website and pick out the keywords and other information that they use to rank your site – they have a curious appetite. Among the things they like to gorge on are lists:

  • Bullet-pointed lists
  • Numbered lists
  • Because lists stand out on a page
  • They’re easy to read too
  • And ultimately, that’s good for your website’s Google ranking

How many words should you write in your website copy?

Well, there’s no rule. Except these rules: convention says that Google will favour web pages with at least 300 words (but that doesn’t mean you should write 3,000!); convention also says that as reading on a screen is slower than reading off a page, you should aim at shorter articles online than you might have in your printed materials. So basically – not too short, not too long. That’s the precise kind of information I love!

Check your spelling. And Grammar. Constantly.

You might have the best product in the world, on the grooviest website in the universe, but if you constantly make simple and avoidable mistakes in your web content, you will very quickly lose your credibility. 

Keep checking, and get someone else to check if you don’t trust yourself with all those crazy apostrophes. Or should that be apostrophe’s? Or maybe apostrophes’? “Helllpppp!”

Link the pages on your website

Just like robots love lists, all those crazy Google spiders also love your pages to be linked to each other in a meaningful way. I’ll confess, though, that I don’t know the full ins-and-outs of it – because I’m a copywriter, not an algorithmnist (see, I’ve even just invented a word). But the bottom line is that you should always connect your pages sparingly – just think of the old song: ‘The knee bone is connected to the thigh bone, the thigh bone is connected to the hip bone…”

Think you’re finished? Actually, you’re not

Just when you thought it was safe to hit the ‘Publish’ button, it’s time to realise that what you’ve just written is merely a first draft. That means that it’s now time to go back and go over it all again. 

Check the spelling and the grammar. Check any facts you used. Check that it reads well. Check where you’re going to put those internal links. Check that you’ve used the right keywords, especially in headings and subheads. Check the length – could it be shorter, punchier? Check there’s no jargon or buzzwords. Check you haven’t used the word ‘impactful’.

And finally, check out your friendly neighbourhood copywriter and maybe ask if he’ll do it all for you next time around.

Life’s easier that way.