How to Start Writing Web Copy
Quick – off the top of your head, what’s the most important part of a website? What came to mind? A super slick layout, a really easy to follow navigation or maybe a nice image right at the top of the homepage with a strong call-to-action? Well, if you thought of any of those elements, you aren’t wrong. Those are all very nice things to have on your website.
I am going to guess one of things which didn’t make your list was the web copy. Unfortunately, people often forget how important writing web copy is to the success of your website.
All the other bells and whistles ring hollow if they aren’t supported by great web copy. People don’t come to a website to be dazzled by cool graphics and animation or a sick web design. Visitors (and most importantly prospects) drop by, and more importantly, stick around for the information provided by your web copy. So, if you want your website to grab their attention (and Google’s) your web copy needs to be on point.
Writing web copy doesn’t need to be daunting.
Often the person in charge of a web project and writing web copy isn’t a great writer or doesn’t have the technical knowledge to provide more in-depth information on the most critical pages. If that sounds like you, you have my sympathies. But, you have also come to the right place.
Writing web copy starts with a solid sitemap
A sitemap is critical as you start a web project. Essentially an outline of your website, your sitemap gives you a precise structural breakdown of your website, listing every page and sub page. This tool is valuable for building the navigation, planning 301 redirects from old content to new, and figuring out what content you will need to fill each page. It can be a simple text document or a spreadsheet if you have a more robust site.
The advantage of having your sitemap handy as you are writing web copy is the ability to look at the entire project at a glance. As you look at the big picture you can begin breaking down the project by answering important questions. How many pages need copy? How much copy is going to need to go there? Where do we need the most work? What pages are in good shape?
Using a sitemap also lets you determine in advance what is going to be in your navigation. Not every single page on your site is going to have (or even need) the same depth or length of content. But, your website’s navigation is going to consist of some of the most important pages on your website, and identifying pages that will be in your navigation helps you determine which pages need to be the most robust and stronger pages on your site.
Taking a look at your sitemap first gives you a chance to take a more calculated approach to your web copy.
Work with what you have
One of the most daunting tasks when approaching writing web copy is the notion that everything you are going to write has to come directly from your brain straight onto the page. Even for the most experienced writer, this is a pretty scary thought.
Fortunately, this is rarely the case with web copy. Even if the subject you are covering isn’t your area of expertise, you can use the resources your business has on hand to help give you the foundation for your web copy. It is likely that you have access to various pamphlets, sell sheets, articles, or other physical marketing and information that have been created for other purposes over the years.
The information in these marketing pieces should be able to give you a good start but will need a little bit of reworking. The copy on your website shouldn’t sound or look like it came from a brochure because the information there is going to be much more truncated. Web copy needs to be longer and more focused. Converting brochure copy into longer form copy also gives you more room to include important keywords that may have been left out.
Find the subject matter experts
Web copy writers aren’t usually subject matter experts. Especially in a very technical field like engineering, the people who really, really know their stuff are likely too busy to take on the lion’s share of writing for the site. You could divvy out responsibility across several departments for their share of the copy, but because of the variety of writers you’ll likely end up with inconsistent copy from page to page in terms of quality, quantity, and style. Besides, depending on how prompt they are with their part of the copy, you can quickly end up behind schedule while you wait on others.
But how can someone without extensive knowledge of a subject expect to do the majority of the writing? Well brochures, pamphlets, and handouts aren’t the only resources at your disposal. While they may not be writing any web content, you can still use your resident subject matter experts as a writing resource. Carve out time to sit down with everyone you need to talk to for a quick 30 minute interview to get the content yourself.
The advantage to this approach is that you are going to get the same content you would have gotten had they written it themselves, but you have the luxury of being able to write it, ensuring that the content that ultimately gets put on the site has one consistent voice and style throughout. This is more efficient than doing the research yourself and you can spend that time instead converting the conversation transcript into a more appropriate form for web copy. Pro tip: Be sure you record the conversation so you can refer to it later.
There is help out there
It used to be that every single piece of information on a website needed its own page, no matter how insignificant or small the page ended up being. Today, the Google algorithm is much more rewarding to sites that prioritize quality of content over quantity of content. What that boils down to this: You need to have great web copy.
Great web copy is going satisfy your two primary audiences: visitors to your website and the Google spiders that crawl through your site and determine how well it is going to rank. The copy on your site needs to be dense in information, balanced with useful and relevant keywords, and optimized with the use of an SEO tool like YOAST or Rank Math. But, getting your web copy perfect is hard. Like, really hard. You can think you’ve done everything right and still have issues with Google ranking and visibility. If you want your web copy to be really great web copy, use the help that is available to you.
I would recommend using free tools like Uber Suggest and Google Search Console to help improve copy and SEO. These services can scrub through your site and identify issues with your page structure and copy that are hurting your site. The recommendations they provide are clear paths to improve your site’s copy whether it is increasing the length, adding keywords, or updating the back end SEO.
What is particularly entertaining about Google Search Console to me is that it is Google, with their constantly changing algorithm, is the one making life difficult for those trying to improve their search position. But, here they are with a free tool that is designed to actually help you! Take advantage of their kindness.
Writing web copy can be intimidating. Use these tips when starting your web project and your site will be well on its way to having rich and informative copy that will keep your visitors engaged. Then maybe we can revisit that conversation about the super sweet graphic flying across the homepage!
want to learn more?
Sam and Lorraine talked about why web copy matters on More Than a Few Words.
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