Many of us rely on clients to deliver content for the websites we build. However, we provide them with little advice on how to create quality copy for their sites.
One of our favourite hobbies as digital professionals is to moan about the quality of copy that our clients and colleagues put online. Obviously, in an ideal world, clients would hire a professional to write their copy. Everybody thinks they can write decent copy, but a good copywriter will do so much more. Therefore, I would encourage you always to have a good copywriter you can suggest to clients.
However, despite our best efforts, all too often clients decide to ‘have a go’ themselves. What we should not do in such situations is to abandon the client to their folly. If we do, not only will the quality be poor, they are also extremely likely to deliver content late, when they discover just how hard it is to write web content.
Instead, take the time to give them some straightforward guidelines that will help them improve the quality of what they produce.
Here is the essential advice I tend to offer my clients in such situations.
Focus on Questions and Objections
Clients often start from the wrong premise when writing web copy. They begin by asking themselves what they want to say, rather than what the user wants to know.
The result is in-depth information on company history and an utter failure to answer basic questions that users might have.
Encourage your clients to start by writing a list of the questions and objections users might have when coming to their website. Suggest they use that as the basis for their copy.
They can take those questions and bullet point out some answers, before grouping them into pages. Once they have done all of that, they will find they have a reasonable basis for writing their final copy.
Not only will that help ensure the content is relevant, but it will also help the client overcome the blank page syndrome which often leads to them delivering late.
Write in a Conversational Tone
Another common mistake I see from people who are not professional website copywriters is that they write far too formally.
The copy becomes impersonal, cold and full of jargon. The writer refers to their organisation and the reader in the third person.
By way of an example, look at this copy from the University of Essex website before I rewrote it:
As well as ensuring students make the most of their potential through their academic studies, the University of Essex also provides an environment which caters for all of the needs of its students through providing a range of accommodation, catering facilities, an active Students’ Union, sport and the arts.
Notice how it refers to the University of Essex and not us. It also refers to students, not you.
Encourage your clients to talk directly to the reader in a warm, friendly and personal tone. If it helps, encourage them to say it out loud to a friend or colleague. If it feels like the kind of thing they would say in natural conversation then they are probably heading in the right direction.
So, using our example above, we could rewrite it to read:
We believe student life is about more than studying. We will support you with everything you’ll be looking for: from accommodation and catering through to an active Students’ Union, excellent sports facilities and an engaging art programme.
Create Scannable Content
Finally, I would recommend encouraging your clients to create content that is easy to scan.
According to the Nielsen Norman Group, users generally read about 28% of a webpage. That is because they scan the content, looking for the elements that are relevant to them.
As a result, clients need to consider scannability when creating copy, using lots of images, headings, lists and pull out quotes.
They also need to watch how they write the copy itself. With that in mind, I tend to give the following advice:
- Use plain language. The kinds of words we use in everyday conversation.
- Use numbers like 1 and 2 instead of writing the numbers out – like one or two.
- Write in short sentences. Include only one idea in every sentence.
- Use active language. For example, write, “John loves Mary” not “Mary is loved by John”.
- Other than full stops use the smallest amount of punctuation possible.
- Use bullet points to break up difficult information. But keep your bullet points simple.
- Do not use jargon.
- Do not use abbreviations like “don’t”. Instead, write “do not”.
- Do not write too much. Think about what your reader must know.
I encourage them to think about the hierarchy of their content. Start pages and sections with what people need to know. Only then move on to supporting information. Also, make sure headings and subheadings summarise the section they are in.
A Good Start
There is so much more to writing good copy than the three pieces of advice above.
However, if you can get your clients to adopt those three rules, you will find that the quality of the copy you receive back will be considerably better and the final site is much more likely to succeed.
Image by TeroVesalainen from Pixabay