Writing good Web site copy: 4 tricks of the trade

You’d think the rapid evolution of the Internet would have brought us to a time when everyone has learned at least the basics of writing good Web site copy. But peruse any random group of Web sites, particularly those for small businesses, and you’ll know how terribly wrong you are to assume people know what works and doesn’t work when it comes to writing for the Web.

With this in mind, I wrote a short e-book entitled “10 Ways to Better Web Copy.” You can download it here. In the meantime, here are four of the most important tips I can give you to help you write effective copy for your business’s Web site.

• Start fresh; what you’ve written for your marketing brochure won’t work on the Web. Writing on the Web needs to be much tighter; 79 percent of people scan instead of actually reading word for word on the Internet, according to Sun Microsystems guide for writing for the Web. Also, because people can enter your Web site at any page, each page has to be independent. This means that you frequently need to repeat information on various pages, something you would never do in a marketing brochure.

• Write with style; establish a Web personality and go with it. People want to know that there are actual people behind a Web site, not just a faceless corporate entity. Include brief bios and photos to make a person-to- person connection. But don’t go overboard with personal info; keep it relevant. For example, if you sell pet products on your site, it would be relevant to mention your pets or perhaps even show photos of them. But unless your pets are somehow directly related to your business, they should not be included. The same goes for children, hobbies and other personal information.

• Web writing is simple writing. Here are six key rules for keeping your copy simple and readable:

– Highlight keywords.

– Use lots of easy-to-understand sub-heads.

– Use bulleted or numbered lists.

– Use one idea per paragraph. Keep paragraphs short, no longer than six sentences.

– Make first sentences descriptive to help users who are skimming.

– Write in the style journalists use, which is called the inverted pyramid style. This means starting with the most important information first and having the least important information at the end, knowing that the majority of people will only read the first few sentences or paragraphs.

– Use half the word count or less than non-Web writing.

• Realize that good writing needn’t be expensive but bad writing is always costly.

Grammatical errors, typos, hype, and lack of clarity are the kiss of death on the Internet. They will ruin your credibility and cause people to not trust your expertise. In the best case scenario, you would hire someone to write the copy for you, but if you can’t afford to do that, at least hire a professional to edit what you write.

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