Show - allow oneself to be seenA couple of weeks ago, we presented a strong case for how a good online presence adds value to your clients and to you. We started to talk about the importance of great website content; but where to begin when it comes to creating well-written copy that people will actually engage with?

We roped in an expert to share her top tips: this week’s guest post is from Eileen MacCallum, a London-based Scottish copywriter who helps businesses of all sizes find the best way to say things, online and off.

Over to Eileen:

I’ll assume right away that you have a presence on the web. Look, you’re here now and I bet you pop up jet skiing on Facebook or making snow angels on Pinterest.

But social media’s one thing and an online business presence is quite another. On work-focused websites and social networking platforms, the written content is key, because you’re not just sharing, you’re selling.

Lots of us (me too) find it hard to write about ourselves and what we do. But there are ways to help make that online patter flow and write easy-to-read content that presents you as the smart, approachable professional you really are.


1. Write Like You Talk

It’s not easy to nail the perfect description of your company, service, project or product in a snappy unforgettable slickly worded paragraph. But I bet you find it easy to tell someone about it in person, because that’s just talking.

Well, most writing is just talking. So try writing like you talk. If you’re struggling to write marketing text, say what you want to say out loud. Keep going until you feel you’ve covered everything.
Scribble some notes or, better still, record yourself.

When you look or listen back you’ll spot some key phrases that can help you get started on paper. My phone’s voice memo recorder is full of random stuff but there’s the odd bit of gold in my ramblings.


2. Know Who You’re Talking To

Know exactly who your target market is and use your home or landing page copy to show them you understand their needs, their wants and any challenges they face.

Picture the clients you want and make it clear you have the solution they’re looking for. Basically, tell them they’ve come to the right place.


3. Start With The Good Stuff

Don’t make readers go hunting – put the key information up front.

Work out what this is by asking yourself: what is the ONE piece of information people would be absolutely delighted to see when they come here? Find the answer to that question and put it at the top of your homepage or the start of your blog post.

You can go into more detail further on, but you only have a few seconds to prove to readers that you’re worth their time.


4.  Break It Up: Readability

Online readers will bounce off your page as fast as they clicked if you don’t hold their attention. Come back!

No matter how sparkling your writing, they just want to be able to scan a page quickly to see if it has the information they need. So make it super-easy for them to do that by breaking up the text visually.

Obviously, your overall design is important, but you can help things along by using:

  • Headlines
  • Sub-headers
  • Questions?
  • And of course bullet points

You can use bold, italics and underlines to emphasise points but be sparing with these, and avoid using too many different fonts.


5. Keep Sentences and Paragraphs Short

Again, this relates to readability. Readers want to process your information RIGHT NOW.

Some say use no more than 25 words in a sentence but I think you can go longer if you balance them with shorter ones. Like this.

The same goes for words. Avoid jargon and try not to use a l-o-n-g word when a shorter one does the job.

Long dense paragraphs are tiring to read so people just… stop. Online paragraphs should ideally be 2 to 3 lines long, leaving lots of lovely white space that allows the reader’s eye to skip through your dazzling prose like a spring lamb.

Exceptions to this work well on blogs, particularly when the writer’s taking a more personal, less businesslike tack.


6. Stay Active

One of my pet hates is when a small company refers to itself in the third person, also known as the passive voice.

I give you:

“Cupcakes ‘R’ Us is known for its excellent service and the company is keen to improve customer care even further in the coming year.”

A teeny bit pompous-sounding maybe?

How much warmer when you swap to the first person (active voice):

“At Cupcakes ‘R’ Us we’re known for our excellent service so we want to make customer care even better this year.”

Using ‘we’ is friendlier and more direct – I’d buy a cake.

When you deal directly with the consumer, as most small companies do, it makes sense to come across as approachable as possible. If you’re the one the customer hears at the end of the phone, not a receptionist, leave the formal stuff to the big enterprises.


7. Take ‘That’ Out

It’s a good idea to make sure your online copy isn’t too loooooong. When word count is tight, one easy way to reduce it is by removing the word ‘that’.

Believe it or not, 90% of the time you don’t need it and your copy reads just as smoothly and clearly without it.


Now, if I’ve done my job well you’ve devoured this entire article in an easy, informative 3 mins 42 seconds. Thanks for reading!

Eileen is usually to be found perched at Thank you Eileen! You’ve given us a lot of food for thought that will be useful in reviewing our respective website’s copy too.

Tracy and Lulu

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