The 11 Commandments of Creating Compelling Web Copy for the Non-Copywriter

11-commandments-writing-pinterest-font2Whether you're creating your first website or revamping your current site, the most critical piece is the copy. It's also the most time consuming, difficult, and frustrating for the average small business owner.

Good web copy is search engine friendly, easy to read or scan, and persuades your visitor to take action. If you've never written copy specifically for the web, we've put together some tips to help your copy be all it can be.

What follows are the 11 Commandments for Writing Copy for the Non-Copywriter.

I. Hire a copywriter.

I know—these are the 11 Commandments for the do-it-yourselfer. So why am I bothering to tell you to hire a copywriter?

I hear it all the time from business owners we work with:

  • No one knows my business like I do.
  • I don't want to spend the money on a copywriter because I know how to write.
  • The copy will write itself.

Let's look at your objections one at a time. 

Yes, it's true no one knows your business like you do, and that may be the problem. You may need someone from outside your industry to translate your offerings into benefits your ideal customer can understand.

Yes, you know how to write. Doubtless you've written thousands of emails, hundreds of proposals and possibly a book or two. But copywriting is a completely different skill, a completely different set of muscles.

Copywriting is all about persuasive writing. Getting someone to take a desired action at your website.

U.S.A. Track and Field would never put their top sprinter in the marathon with hopes of a winning gold medal. It’s a completely different type of race. The same is true of writing copy.

Copywriters are professionals. They know just which words to use to invoke emotions. To identify problems. To clarify needs. To get someone to make a buying decision on your website.

No, the copy won't write itself. If you have a 10 – 12 page website that needs writing, expect to spend 30 – 40 hours on that project. That's a full working week where you won't be making any sales calls. Writing any proposals. Putting out any fires. Paying any bills. Running your business.

You're basically going to take a week's vacation to write the copy on your site.

If you hire a copywriter you not only get that week back, you know that the copy is to going to be written on time, on budget, and will be written to get your site visitor to take a desired action.

And if you hire the right copywriter, she can optimize your content for the search engines. Do you know enough about SEO to make that happen?

Not only that, that copy will continue to attract visitors, market your business, and generate leads for years to come.

If you’d like to hire a professional copywriter flyte can recommend a few. If not, then read on…

II. Keep the focus on your visitors.

Too many Websites have “About Us” content on the home page. Let me be blunt:

No one cares about you or your business. (At least not at first.)

They don’t care about your mission statement, your customer service philosophy, how long you’ve been in business…not even about your products and services! They only care about one thing: themselves.

As the old adage goes, everyone’s tuned into the same radio station: WII-FM. (What’s In It For Me?)

Your visitors are at your website because they have a need or a problem. Talk first about their problems, their needs, their situation. After you’ve addressed these issues, then you can talk about how you can help.

Take the “we-we” test. After you’ve written the home page copy count up the number of times you use “we” words: we, us, our, or your company name, and compare it to the number of times you use “you” words: you, your, etc. The “you’s” should have it.

III. Write to one person.

Although thousands (if not millions!) of visitors will come to your home page, they’ll be filing in one-at-a-time. Don’t try to talk to all of them…instead talk to each of them.

Imagine you’re having a one-on-one conversation with your best prospect or customer and write as you’d talk to her. The people who are most like your best prospect will respond to this message—these are the people most likely to buy, subscribe, or join.

IV. Start every web page with a descriptive page title.

You’re actually writing for at least two audiences: people and search engines. And although search engines will never buy your products or services, they can deliver qualified traffic to your website.

To get the search engines to deliver your ideal customer to your site you'll need to know and use the appropriate keywords that your prospects are using when they search.

How do you know what your effective keywords should be? How can you determine which words will drive qualified traffic to your website and compel people to take action?

You can either guess at what your prospects are searching for, or you can run a Keyword Analysis. A Keyword Analysis will uncover the most effective keywords based on actual search engine results and competition in your niche.

Once you've uncovered the best keywords for you, start by using them in your page titles. Start with descriptive page titles that explain succinctly and specifically what the focus of the page is. Don’t use a generic phrase like “Services” when you can title a page “Holistic Healing in Portland, Maine,” “Consulting for Family Owned Businesses,” or whatever is appropriate for you.

Your page title is the “big blue link” on the search engine results page, so it's often the first impression prospects have of your business. Make sure this title gives people a compelling reason to click on your link and not the link of your competition.

Make sure that every page gets a unique page title that tells your prospect what they can expect.

V. Support descriptive titles with complementary headers and copy.

It's not enough to have a compelling, keyword rich title. The rest of your copy needs to deliver on the promise of your title.

It's usually considered best practice to work your targeted keyword phrase into the first sentence or two. It should also appear in any headers or subheaders as appropriate. Search engines may read every word on your page but people tend to scan. By using headers and subheaders to break up the page into natural sections, you allow your visitors to quickly find the information that's most valuable to them.

By using the right keywords effectively throughout your pages, you’ll rank higher at the search engines for those phrases…all other things being equal.

VI. Use your keywords in your anchor text.

Anchor text refers to the words that are “hyperlinked” to another page. These words are often underlined and appear in a different color from the rest of the text. Search engines consider these words more important than non-linked words and phrases.

How can you take advantage of this? Instead of creating a link from your home page to your resources page that says “Resources,” be specific: “Public Speaking Resources,” “Resources for Home Schooling,” or “Resources for People Suffering from ADD/ADHD.”

Search engines will now have a better idea of what the linked-to web page is all about and should rank it higher…again, all other things being equal.

And whatever you do, don't use “Click here” or “learn more” if you're looking to help your visitors or the search engines out.

In addition, the descriptive hyperlink is more helpful to your site visitors.

VII. Narrow the focus of each page.

Search engines prefer specialists at the expense of generalists. The search engine results page is Darwinism in action.

Search engines want to provide users with web pages that are most likely to answer their search query. Therefore, the tighter the focus of your page, the more likely it is to answer a specific question.

While it’s true that a narrower focus means the page will come up for fewer searches, your goal is to bring qualified traffic, not just anyone, to your website. Concentrate on the people you are most likely to help.

Your site visitors will appreciate you not wasting their time, as well.

VIII. Keep your copy short and easy-to-read.

Reading words on a web page is difficult. Eyestrain, short-attention spans and our desire for instant gratification all dictate shortened copy.

Use as few words as possible to get your point across. While some search engine experts say that every page should have 300 – 500 words minimum (for search engine optimization purposes) it's most important to use what’s right for you.

If you have longer copy, break up paragraphs into smaller pieces…use headers and sub-headers to give readers an idea of what’s coming and what they may be able to skip over. (Note the big subheaders in the article.)

If your paragraphs still look like dense blocks of text, use extra paragraph breaks, bold and italicized text to stress important ideas—dashes and ellipses as well…they all break up paragraphs nicely. And everyone loves a bulleted list.

Important Note: Never use underlines on the web for emphasis outside of a link. You’ll frustrate visitors who will click on underlined words.

IX. Be specific.

Vague, superlative words have little impact on your prospect. People tune out words like “greatness,” “excellence,” and “quality.” To counter this, give a specific example that helps your visitor visualize the greatness or quality of your product.

As copywriter Jonathan Kranz wrote, “If you want to scare the cloak off Little Red Riding Hood, don’t lecture her about the woods and its perils—put the wolf’s hot breath on her neck.”

What about your product or service has the impact of the wolf’s hot breath?

X. Create calls-to-action.

Buy now. Subscribe to our newsletter. Complete this form. Enter our sweepstakes.

This isn’t creative writing class. The purpose of copy is to sell…to sell your product, your service or your idea.

You need to ask for the “sale” at least once a page. Don’t assume your site visitors know what’s expected of them. At the bottom of every page there should be a call-to-action. What that call-to-action is depends entirely on your business and website goals.

Don’t forget to ask for that sale. For example…

  •  “Download our free report on carcinogens in your home.”
  •  “Enter our drawing for a free iPod.”
  • “Sign our petition to stop late fees at the library.”

XI. Hire a copyeditor.

Yeah, this again.

If you're serious about increasing your online visibility, driving more qualified traffic to your site and converting more of that traffic into leads and sales, you'll hire a copywriter.

Surely, your time can be better spent doing something else, like running your business…right?

Now it's your turn.

Any thoughts on copywriting tactics for the web that I didn't include? Or reasons for or against hiring a copywriter? Let us know in the comments below…and thanks!

Rich Brooks
I'm not a copywriter, but I play one on TV