Maslen on Marketing, Web copywriting

Three performance upgrades for your web copy

More and more of the copy I am asked for now is destined for the web. Banners, buttons, websites or e-zines.

Sometimes the brief specifies a commercial goal for the copy.

It might be to increase trial subscriptions. To generate sales leads. Or – my old favourite – to get orders.

Too often, though, businesses seem content to rely on pretty imagery and animation to do the selling job, leaving the copy almost as an afterthought.

As a result (about the only result they’ll get), the site (or promotion) lacks bite.

Here are three common mistakes you’ll find on hundreds of thousands of web sites – and my suggestions for putting them right.

#1 – Impersonal tone of voice

The web is an informal medium. So why do so many sites sound like stuffed shirts?

Even (especially?) business sites can afford to adopt a personal, human and conversational tone.

Small businesses, who should know better, are often the worst offenders, offering no pictures of the principals, no quotes, no easy way to get in touch.

My suggestion: talk to your visitor one-to-one. Use the second personal singular: ‘you’. Give your business some personality.

#2 – Failure to sell

Brochureware or e-commerce, most business web sites are trying (in theory) to sell something. OK, let’s be softer: trying to persuade the visitor to do business with the company.

So how come so many sites fail to sell?

The site-owner may have fabulous products that could save the visitor money or make them happier.

But they don’t provide any facts or evidence to support their case.

For some reason, this is particularly true of the IT industry. I visited a site as research for a client and after 15 minutes still couldn’t find a single line that explained that they sold computers (which is what they do – very successfully).

Instead, the site was stuffed with management speak and industry jargon – you guessed it, ‘solutions’ made repeated appearances throughout the site.

My suggestion: before writing a word of web copy, figure out what you want your visitor to do as a result of reading each page of your site.

Next, decide which appeal to their self-interest will produce the desired effect.

THEN write your copy.

#3 – Copy that isn’t believable

Too many sites are laced with empty adjectives like authoritative, high-quality, well-respected, unique, exciting, superlative, distinctive and the rest.

That’s not enough in today’s sceptical times. Your visitor wants PROOF. If you genuinely have a unique or exciting service, explain why.

My suggestion: put yourself in your visitor’s shoes. Now answer the following question.

“What would make ME do business with this company?”

The answer should underpin your copy.

And I’m telling you this because?

For many businesses, their web site is their PRIMARY channel of communication with customers and prospects.

It’s critical that every page, every paragraph, every word is weighed for its ability to convince the site visitor to do business with you.

Using other sites as a reference is a hopeless starting point unless you KNOW that they work.

Instead, go back to first principles. Remember Marshall Mcluhan’s famous epithet: “The medium is the message”? Well, forget it. It isn’t. The message is the message.

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