10 Tips for Creating Compelling Web Copy

By / Dec 10, 2009 / Tips
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You are the most important person in the world. Wow, I got you to read the second sentence. Your interest is now piqued and you want to read more. If you do read this article, you will learn exactly how important it is to create compelling web copy. Between you and me, most readers just scan, but if you find a way to hook them in the first sentence and reel them in on the second sentence, you have a good chance that they will read the third. They may even read the entire article.

Don’t listen to those naysayers who tell you that website visitors only scan headlines and look at cute pictures. It’s a fact that visitors are more interested in what you write than every other aspect on the page. The problem is that most web writing is dreadfully boring, and oddly self-gratifying. Under the premise of helping you, the visitor, the writing is geared more towards establishing the writer as some sort of authority. Most web writing is very didactic, or teacher-student. I’m the first to admit I’m guilty of it, but not anymore. Here are some useful tips in creating words that people will want to read:

1. Be Personal

Stodgy paragraphs written in third person are no longer in fashion. The internet is extremely personal, and getting more personal by the moment. People come to the internet to explore in a relaxed nature, not to feel like they are reading from an encyclopedia. I admit, sometimes Wikipedia is too difficult for me to understand, and that’s okay because I can always find another website that can explain it in simpler terms. You want to have that website where visitors can go to explore without pressure.

Being personal also means revealing your personal side to the visitor. Besides placing your photo on the “About Me” page, your web copy needs to convey your personality. I don’t want to go to your blog or your Twitter page to get a sense of who you are, I’d like to read it directly on your site. Reach users by speaking directly to them. Do you notice how much more invested you are in this article than if I had gone into a third-person point of view?

2. Use Language Yo Mama Would Understand.

Oh, I went there. There’s nothing worst than visiting an authority website as a newbie and not understanding all the different terminology. Accommodate all visitors to your site, and try not to get so academic that you lose potential subscribers.

3. Draw on Common Metaphors or Experiences.

One way that people relate to each other is through shared experiences. For example, when I said earlier that I felt inferior to Wikipedia, I’m sure some of you agree. The point is that by me sharing a painful realization, it creates bonding. Find a way to connect with your readers so that they understand that you are them. You are engaging in a dialogue between friends, and not a lecture.

4. Use Pictures That Compliment Your Composition.

Reiterating what I said earlier, your words are the most important part of your article or blog post, but that’s not to say that pictures are unnecessary. To the contrary, pictures make a big difference in how people will connect to what you write. Think of pictures as a way of conveying a tone to your words. Because words are flat, pictures add an emotional component that’s much needed, and helps move the story along.

5. Read It Out Loud.

This can’t be stressed enough. Reading your words out loud helps you become more personal in your writing. If your writing does not sound like your natural speech, it is way too stodgy for web writing. Even if you prefer a more professional type of writing, your words should always match the rhythm of speech.

6. Don’t Edit Until The End.

A common mistake many writers make is to edit as they go along. Editing before finishing is like cutting hair without looking at the entire head. Only until you see the whole picture should you start removing undesired elements from it. Cut from the whole. By stopping to edit, you potentially sever your tie to creativity.

7. Remember That Sarcasm is Hard to Pull Off.

I know you’re funny, but it’s hard to read sarcasm or humor into web copy. At best, people will think that you’re not funny (which is probably what you’re thinking about me). At worst, people will think that English is not your first language. Only infuse humor when it’s unmistakable. You can still be personal without it.

8. Tidy Up Your Speech.

I know that the internet is free of all sorts of traditional boundaries, and that tip #1 told you to be personal, but there is such a thing as “getting carried away.” Getting too colloquial, or using foul language, only hurts your brand. There is a portion of your visitors who will, without a doubt, be offended at your use of distasteful words.

9. SEO is King.

Keywords are a stupid little brother, but they are a necessary evil. If you want to draw a crowd, you need to enrich your writing with keywords that will draw the right web surfers to your site. Keywords are not difficult. It goes back to being personal. If you were trying to find your site or an article on your site, what words would you use to search online? Perfect, those are the words you need to cram into your article.

10. Be Scannable.

Humans love headings in bold black. We love short bursts of text and a balance of white space. Your web copy should be all of these things so that if a reader is in a pinch, they can scan your information easily. Hopefully, they will encounter a headline that makes them stop and read and maybe double back. To add to the scannability of your text, be sure to bold important points in your article. It is another “stop sign” and compels users to read it.

What do you think of this list? Do you have any other tips to include?

About the Author

Jacqueline is an award winning writer for hire and brand authority. Find her on her website, and follow her updates on Twitter and Google +.

26 Comments

  1. Chris Thurman
    December 10, 2009

    Jacqueline, you compelled me to read the whole article. Many great points here. I think the hardest one for me to execute is waiting to edit until the end. I’ll write and rewrite sentences many times before I move on to the next. You’ve got me motivated to be conscious about this writing flaw. Thanks!

    Reply
  2. Matt Ward
    December 10, 2009

    Nice article! Without good, solid writing, communication on the web just seems to fall apart. I can’t count how many times I’ve just stopped reading an article or post because of awful writing.

    My advice is always that, if writing is not your strong point, then consider partnering with a an editor who can massage your words into something much more readable!

    Reply
  3. Jon Crim
    December 10, 2009

    Hey Jacqueline, I think this is a great article. It’s a lot of work to fit these things in, but if you put the effort in these things become a habit and can make or break a site.

    Lists can also be helpful when writing web copy, however they shouldn’t be too long 4-7 bullets should do the trick!

    Reply
  4. Josh
    December 10, 2009

    What I like about WordPress SEO is that you can define tags for posts. I look at these like keywords, so instead of cramming all the buzzwords into my post, I can put them in there.

    Reply
  5. Rachmat
    December 11, 2009

    Hi Jacqueline! Great article, thanks for sharing! I totally read it from top to bottom, which is something I rarely do so kudos to you. :D

    Reply
  6. Grey
    December 11, 2009

    this is some very comprehensive list, Jacqueline! Thanks for sharing with us, i think it helps me better in writing my blog too. using a more personal language to write for web is definitely more compelling and engaging for most visitors :D

    Reply
  7. Dan
    December 11, 2009

    Thank you thank you thank you. I’ve just been asked to design and copywrite for a friends new site last night, I’m taking these hints and tips and sitting down with a pot of coffee this weekend

    Reply
  8. Cory Chase
    December 11, 2009

    Great article. Like Chris above, I’ve got a real problem with editing as I go. I’m working on letting that go, especially since it makes writing take a lot longer.

    Reply
  9. Cat Johnson
    December 11, 2009

    The toughest one for me is letting myself relax into a friendlier writing style. Years of academic writing have pounded into my head what writing for publication and review look like. I’m slowly unwinding what I’ve learned.

    Thanks for the great post!

    Reply
  10. tony
    December 12, 2009

    I’d say that SEO attracts people to the article, but it doesn’t make it more compelling. In fact, stuffing your text with keyword after keyword after keyword can have the opposite effect.

    Reply
  11. rfbellerose
    December 15, 2009

    Well done. Sending this out as a must read. Thank you.

    Reply
  12. Bruce
    December 15, 2009

    For the title of #4, you mean “complement” and not “compliment”.

    So I suggest that you add this as #11: “Check your grammar and spelling. And then check it again.”

    Bruce

    Reply
    • Will
      July 31, 2011

      I agree. Another spelling and grammar check should be among the final steps.

      Case in point: you lost me in the second paragraph. You hooked me in the first paragraph, making it all about me, after which you hit upon two of my pet peeves: misspelling “Web site” and using the phrase “[i]t’s a fact …” without citing a source of information.

      I’m sure your advice is good, but that paragraph drove me away before I really got into the article.

      Reply
  13. Tessá
    December 27, 2009

    Sometimes readers continue reading just because they are stubborn – and they trust who sent you there – Smashing Magazine, in this case. The first sentence would normally send me away, and I dragged around until reaching topic number 5, and then 6 and 10. Some interesting tips there, thanks. In general, though, playing dumb in your writing to get personal can be very annoying. It was for me. Maybe it’s a cultural thing.

    Reply
  14. MIchael
    December 27, 2009

    You also proved the 11th commandment: things in lists get more readers!

    Reply
  15. Maicon Sobczak
    December 28, 2009

    Useful tips. I started write tutorials and this article taught me the right way. Thanks.

    Reply
  16. Xcellence IT
    January 5, 2010

    Hey, it comes handy as I’m currently writing a content for my site…

    thanks

    Reply
  17. Dr. Hamid Raihan
    January 5, 2010

    Hi Jacqueline,
    I keep reading sites and blogs in depth and wonder why all copywriters mention that readers only scan your pages. Many “GURUS” of copy writing swear by the idea of scanning, yet write 1000 words nested list articles and pitch it to their “Scanning readers”. I agree with you because I not only read, but also bookmark, subscribe and write notes in my google-reader besides the articles which have projected a useful information. Keep up, good work.

    Reply
  18. Steve Shearer
    February 23, 2010

    Found this article right quick. Google: How to write compelling web copy. I’ll be sending people your way – http://webdesignbysteve.com/blog/2010/02/23/how-to-write-compelling-web-copy/

    Reply
  19. Cristina
    February 25, 2010

    Congrats on writing a very interesting and useful article!
    Tip no6 definitely got me thinking – I will try to edit at the end because I also think it’s better that way. Normally, I can’t help but edit along the way.
    Keep up the good work!

    Reply
  20. Melanie
    March 1, 2010

    Great thoughts. As far as “cramming” SEO keywords into web copy, I think we have to be careful. You don’t want to cram too many of them, or search engines will think you’re “keyword stuffing.” You also want to make sure your text is still relevant to human readers. Creating copy that’s both SEO-friendly and engaging is truly an art. Thanks for the article!

    Reply
  21. Nathan
    March 30, 2010

    Great article! Definitely agree on the SEO note, however I like to tell people to remember that they are writing for people not machines and a big mistake a lot of online writers make is trying to “pack” too many keywords in there. All things considered I absolutely love the article! Thanks for writing and helping me think about my writing!

    N.

    Reply
  22. Web Design Maidstone
    March 31, 2010

    The fine balance between SEO and readability… that’s where the skill lies.

    Thanks for an informative article

    Reply
  23. Chris
    January 13, 2012

    This is great! The one I have a hard time with is holding back on the editing until the end. I’m going to use this for a workshop I’m leading on blogging.

    Reply
  24. James
    March 14, 2012

    Great article. I really like tip 4. I think designers often underestimate the influence well placed and contrasted images have on our audience. Composition is something you either have an eye for or don’t so it’s always good to get a second opinion.

    Reply
  25. Barrys Web Design
    July 29, 2013

    so true.. I have seen a local web designer with swearing on his site! I dont get why he did this but I think it makes him look more human. I totally agree with edit after the full draft is in place and ready to edit.. Editing on the go will not only slow you down but will also put you off on tangents that are hard to recover from.

    Good read.

    Reply

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