Dear StartupNation : Sure, a better Web site might boost my sales. But I’m no whiz at writing promotional text of any kind, let alone Web site copy. Nor can I afford high-powered help. Is writing copy for the internet really much different from other sales writing? Where can I get low-cost advice on doing it right myself?
We've heard this from plenty of Web entrepreneurs. With millions of Web sites competing for attention, attracting visitors is hard enough. But once you get them there, the real test is convincing them to buy. Site builders often turn to flashy graphics, sound and other fancy features.
While those devices may draw visitors, it’s what you say and how you say it that makes the sale. Establishing credibility is key. Customers expect the world and are suspicious of almost everything. The content on your site must be crisp and intelligent. What you say should grab a visitor’s attention, pique their interest and motivate them to action.
“Don’t make your Web site look like an ad” is rule number one of Web copywriting, says Maria Veloso, director of Web Copywriting University . We are all bombarded by ad images daily, and the last thing we want to see on a site is another ad.
Yet many small business Web sites seem specifically designed to look like billboards. Avoid this trap. “People go online for information,” Veloso says. “That’s why they call it the information superhighway.” Your site should provide help, not hype, with the feel of editorial, not advertising.
Nick Usborne, an e-commerce veteran and author of several books on copywriting, says Internet copywriting requires a different approach, a different voice and a different attitude from the offline world. Don’t view your Web site as just another marketing channel. It’s more than that, Usborne says. Web site visitors consider themselves active participants in a shared online experience.
Here are 10 Web site writing tips to help get you started:
- Address people directly as “you.” This personalizes your message and involves readers directly. Too many small business sites say “we” this and “we” that, never bothering to involve the customer.
- Write like you talk. Be friendly. Use contractions and expressions, just as people use in everyday speech. Use anecdotes. In other words, don’t be boring.
- Let your passion about your product or service come through in your online voice. Show that you believe in what you are doing.
- Testimonials are a powerful credibility tool for most small business Web sites. Feature them prominently. Place two or three of your best testimonial quotes or anecdotes up front. Sprinkle others throughout the site. Use them to reinforce specific points of your sales pitch.
- Keep your writing simple. Avoid jargon and overly technical explanations, “corporate-speak” and excessive use of capital letters (boldface is better) or exclamation points. Clarity is key. Keep sentences and paragraphs short to conform to the short time you have a visitor's attention.
- Write tight. Cut unnecessary words. If you mean to say, “If there’s a problem,” don’t write “In the event of an unsatisfactory experience.”
- Talk benefits, not features — age-old copywriting advice that applies equally to the Web. Will your product or service save me time? Make me money? Entertain me or make me feel better?
- Don’t plop a mission statement on your homepage. Most are boring and repetitive. Visitors don’t care.
- Build credibility with a guarantee or free trial. Show a small photo of yourself, and perhaps your place of business.
- Proofread everything at least three times. Spelling, factual and grammatical goofs cramp your credibility.
In short, our message to Web entrepreneurs is to really focus your message when writing for your small business site – ditch the long prose and flowery language, and quickly deliver the vital information you want to convey and your customers want to see.