8 Quick Tips to Instantly Improve Your Web Copy
By Rochelle Alves on November 11, 2020
You’re at an event having a great business convo with someone you just met.
At the end of the evening, they ask, “Hey, what’s your website?” so you jot it down on a cocktail napkin.
You wake up sweating at 2:00 a.m. with a horrid Naked & Afraid feeling about whether or not they checked your website.
- Spouse: Was that you I just heard deep in prayer that someone doesn’t go to your website?”
- You: “Uuuh…maybe.”
Been there? If not, let’s make sure you never are. Buckle up for a few minutes and digest these copywriting tips to save you from the commonly diagnosed website shame.
- 1. Know Who You’re Talking To
- 2. Research How They Talk
- 3. Talk to One Person
- 4. Focus on Benefits
- 5. Tell Them Where, Who, and What
- 6. Write Like You Talk
- 7. Slow Your Roll with Quotation Marks and Exclamation Points
- 8. Go Ahead, Break the Rules (Please)
1. Know Who You’re Talking To
golden platinum rule for writing any copy is know who you’re talking (or writing) to.
The more you know the wants, needs, and fears of your ideal customer (or client), the more you can customize your copy to speak their language. You gain credibility when a prospect hears, in their words, that you understand their problem.
Let’s see this in action.
My son’s an ocean lifeguard in southern California. He sometimes has to rescue swimmers from a strong current that pulls them out to sea. In the ocean lifeguard world that’s called a rip current; or more specifically, a rip.
As in, “We have four swimmers caught in a rip at Tower 5.”
Not a riptide.
Most people call it a riptide (including ev-a-ree weather reporter in the Western Hemisphere). But if you’re trying to attract, and want respect and credibility from the open-water lifesaving community, you need to know to call it a rip.
If you’ve developed a product that works fantastically for swimmers caught in a rip, call it that when you’re explaining how it works.
When the decision-maker lieutenant is interested and starts to read about the product and the copy says, “Pull swimmers from dangerous riptides” (insert buzzer sound)…you’re toast.
You might as well try to sell arm-floaties to the battalion chief. Cuz it’s not crappenin’ today.
Picture your ideal client or customer:
- How old are they?
- What is their gender?
- Where do they work?
- What is their title?
- What frustrates them at work?
- How much money do they make?
- Do they have kids?
- What do they do on the weekend?
- What do they worry about at 2:00 a.m.?
You have to get into the head of your ideal customer before you map out what your web pages will say. Close your eyes (really, it helps). Picture him. Or picture her. Got it? Ok. Now you can write your web copy and remember you’re talking to that one person.
2. Research How They Talk
Of course you have some idea of how your target audience talks, but you can always add to the arsenal of terms that will resonate with them (yes, keep a file).
Start by looking up your subject in these places:
- Websites - browse around and note industry specific language.
- Books on Amazon - read the review section and note how people talk about your subject.
Trade magazines, journals and newsletters (online and old school, if you’re so inclined).
Marketing a service for dentists? Ask your dentist what trade magazines they subscribe to. Pick up brochures from their office. Note the benefits advertisers highlight for products they’re selling. Swipe those, but put them in your words, customized to your service (or product).
- Facebook groups - read comments and extract their exact wording or phrases. Say their frustrations back to them on your website, and you’re a genius who really gets them.
- YouTube videos - you’ll find good dialog in the videos and the comments section. Move that straight to your copy to better connect with your audience.
Reddit or Quora - more good places people typically write about subjects like they talk.
Ok, so there’s a few boaster windbag sesquipedalians in there, you’ll have to avoid. (I see you googling sesquipedalians. For fun, a five-dollar word in this post. You’re welcome.)
- Forums - on every subject under the sun.
*Review sites like Trip Advisor.
If you want to post your rental property on VRBO and you’re not sure what to emphasize, go to their site and read their reviews. See exactly how previous guests describe what they liked, and what they didn’t.
Who-da thunk you could point to a benefit of being able to park your car right in the front of your property? For free. You took that for granted, but now you see it’s a great feature to note on your website. Check. ✔️ Save that one for the copy.
Also check other travel review companies and hotel websites and note what those customers have to say.
3. Talk to One Person
No one schedules a coffee gathering or a conference room to review your site as a group. Your website copy shouldn’t sound like a corporation talking to a sea of people.
It’s you talking to:
- a mom sitting on her couch who needs a math tutor for her 12 year old.
- a guy with a raging toothache sitting at his kitchen table.
- a help desk manager at her wits end because her company’s outgrown their problem management system. **
Whether you’re B2B or B2C, there’s one person browsing your site and making a decision. Even if that person’s on the 27th floor of a Fortune 500 building, it’s still one person…with a distinct personality, things they wish for, and things they’re concerned about (with whom your words can resonate). Write to that person. (The one you pictured above with the unique qualities you identified.)
That means no “Hey guys”, “What’s up, guys?” or “Welcome to our website, guys!”
(Pssst. Also, just say no to the “Welcome to our website” line. It’s a snoozefest on your Home page, and it doesn’t give your prospect any information.)
4. Focus on Benefits
Your web copy should say you a lot more than it says we. This may sting a little, but customers don’t care about you or the fact that your company was founded in 1978.
If you meet your friend for coffee and she asks, “Hey, did you guys like the contractor who did your patio slab?”
You say, “Yes, we were really happy. They were founded in 1978 by Sammy Samuels.”
Right. You don’t say that. Because you care about whether they did a good job, finished on time, and charged you a fair price; not how great they think they are and how many awards they’ve won.
Customers care 100% about themselves, not you. 😱
It’s ok. It’s nothing personal. They want what they want. Just like you do when you’re looking for a last minute Captain Kangaroo Halloween costume, or a finance wizard to do your taxes.
Historical information and other accolades have a place, once you hold someone’s attention about how you can help them, but it takes up valuable real estate on any web page above the fold. You risk boring your prospect to death, and chasing them away if you share that information too soon.
It’s all about them (and what you do for them).
Imagine you’re looking to open up your home to the outdoors and decide you want folding (accordion) doors installed.
The first website you pull up says this:
- Welcome to Exclusive Folding Doors
- We are the leader in folding doors installation in Rose County
- We offer a wide variety of the highest quality options
- We are expert installers and we will keep your job clean!
- Best of Houzz Service winner 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019
Notice the frequent use of we. It feels more about them than you.
The next website copy says this:
Exclusive Folding Doors
- For homeowners wanting a stunning patio at an affordable price
- Where luxury folding doors turn your home into the indoor/outdoor space you dream about
- Where certified contractors handle every step of your installation
- Your personal project manager walks your job daily to ensure quality craftsmanship and a clean job that’s on schedule*
Here, the company is showing their potential customer how they can help them get what they want, and highlighting the benefits of working with Exclusive Folding Doors.
Do your research and note how features of your service or product will benefit your ideal customer. Write it the way you hear them talk about it to a friend.
A Word About Features vs Benefits
Features of products or services are important, but pale in comparison to the benefits. The benefit is why people buy, and it’s what you must point out in your copy.
Examples to get you thinking on the right track:
|Quick installation||Open your home to the outdoors in time for next weekend’s grad party.|
|Reduce software errors||Finally get a full night’s sleep.|
|Whitens your teeth||Smile at your ex with confidence at your friend’s upcoming wedding.|
|Klaus box spring design||Wake up refreshed, with no backache.|
|Clock and timer||Freshly brewed coffee waiting for you in the morning.|
|Video training session||Present with confidence, woo the crowd, and fill your client calendar.|
For help figuring out benefits, Henneke says to describe the feature, and then say, “So what?”
Feature: Software version control ability
Answer (benefit): Less problem calls after hours
Answer (bigger benefit): You get to see your child make that play at 2nd base, instead of being on a call with the help desk.
Now we’re cookin with gas.
5. Tell Them Where, Who, and What
Imagine your site visitor as if they were a customer walking into your brick and mortar store for the first time. They look around to see if they’re in the right place.
Copywriter Laura Belgray expertly recommends when someone lands on your Home page, your web copy should quickly answer 3 questions:
- Where am I?
- Who is this site for?
- What do you want me to do next?
1. Where am I?
Be clear about where they’ve landed. Clear is always better than clever.
If you’re a chef who specializes in a mobile service, don’t have a headline on your Home page that says:
OUR BURRITOS ROLL LIKE WE DO.
Clever maybe. But not 100% clear.
(This could mean they smoke something funny and roll it themselves.)
A confused mind always says no. -Albert Einstein (not really, but the source is unclear)
If you want your potential client to stay interested, come up with a headline that clearly states they get gourmet food prepared at their home or business. Otherwise, confusion equals buh-bye.
- For working professionals who dream about a home-cooked meal…in their own home. We come to you.
- For company event planners who want a gourmet meal…at the office. We come to you.
- Mobile chef service… wherever you are.
- Gourmet meals, prepared by a chef…you pick the location.
Clear is better than clever. Your ideal customer will say, “This is what I want! Where do I pay?”
2. Who is this site for?
What ‘problem’ is your visitor looking to solve? Does your copy quickly answer the questions they have when they land on your site?
Be specific with how you describe “who” you are for. Use the suggestions from Tip #2 to explain their problem like they talk.
- Piano lessons for beginners
- Website development for new real estate agents
- Automated email solutions for marketers whose business has outgrown Mailchimp
Sometimes a problem isn’t a ‘problem’. It’s a feeling someone wants when they buy or experience something they didn’t have; like seeing a movie, a new pair of earrings, tickets to Disneyland, or a new piece of art.
- Hand-hammered earrings to make your day…and night
- BE the international traveller your friends are jealous of
- Watercolors that take your breath away
In the event your visitor isn’t in the right place, they’ll click away. Copy that’s specific will attract your ideal client, but it’ll also turn away those who aren’t (which, by the way, will ultimately save you both from wanting to slam tequila shots on a Monday night).
When your copy provides specific details, you’ll attract more of your ideal clients and the people you want to work with. And then you’re happy and they’re happy and you can all sing Pharrell’s Happy song and dance like penguins together. 🐧🐧🐧 🎶
3. What do you want me to next?
Your Home page (and every page) should always have a CTA (call to action).
A CTA doesn’t always have to be a BUY button.
Your CTA could guide them to:
- check out your ABOUT page
- CALL US
- LEAVE A COMMENT
- TAKE A QUIZ
- Opt-in for a freebie (lead magnet)
Don’t make your visitor porpoise around your page to figure out what to next, because there’s a serious chance they’ll buh-bounce (that’s when they wave buh-bye as they leave your site forever).
6. Write Like You Talk
You’re at a dinner party (moment of covid-silence for the dinner party) and someone says,
“Hey Joe, what do you do?”
You: “Oh, I advance global commerce by providing a critical economic link among business institutions.”
Only NO you don’t say that, because you don’t talk that way, and neither does anyone else.
So why do you put it on your website like that? All formal.
No. No. No.
Say the actual thing you’d say to someone at a party. Say that…errr…write that.
I help people get good interest rates so they can afford things like taking their family on vacation. (Then play with it and come up with a good sentence.)
I help small business owners with financial planning so they can enjoy doing fun things with their family, too. (Getting better…)
Helping small business owners with financial…[fill in the blank] (Keep playing until you get a description of what you do in a conversational tone, and also describe how you help your client.)
Here’s another tip to help you write like you talk (Original source unclear):
The apostrophe is magic at converting your copy from formal and frosty to casual and conversational.
If you write down most things you say, chances are there’ll (see?) be a few contractions.
Without them, your voice sounds very proper, so unless your goal is attracting the Duke of Edinburgh, use contractions in your web copy.
There is no reason you should sound like you are talking to the Terminator.
There’s no reason you should sound like you’re talking to the Terminator.
See what I mean?
We have not scheduled the course, because the WiFi is not stable.
We haven’t scheduled the course, because the WiFi isn’t stable.
7. Slow Your Roll with Quotation Marks and Exclamation Points
Whenever possible resist these two seductive pieces of punctuation. Oh, they are nasty little biotches beckoning both of your pinkies. Don’t. Do. It. You must first question whether it’s necessary.
There’s knowledge for decades out there on punctuation, but these two specific marks deserve special attention. Overused, they have the power to make you look…well, like a novice.
Let’s look at quotation marks first.
In some cases they’re necessary (also required) like when you’re writing dialog or quoting somebody (obvs). I’m talking about when you add them for emphasis.
Let’s say your travel company website has 3 behemoth words on the top of its Home page (in front of a hero image with sun-tanned beautiful people).
Someone hits your site and it says:
“FRESH OFF MAUI”
Just say no to the quotation marks here. Because not necessary. It looks cluttered. They take away the power of the three words and scream to be cleaned up. In fact, they look a little amateur. And YOU are no amateur.
Instead someone hits your site and it says:
FRESH OFF MAUI
Yes. It’s bold. It’s strong. It stands there all confident like a 4-year old in a Batman t-shirt. It does its job well, sans quotation marks.
Quotation marks are used far too often for emphasis when it’s unnecessary. Instead use bold, or italics, or caps, or a stronger word or phrase.
Now how ‘bout those exclamation points?
Consider this all too familiar example:
Hey, Girl!! How’s it going?!!! It was so good to see you yesterday!! I can’t believe you’re already celebrating your fifth anniversary!!!!! And Brandon!! He’s gotten so big!!! Wow!!! He’ll be graduating before you know it!!!
This person is so excited she’s gonna need oxygen if she keeps going.
Now take a look at that last sentence. It could have ended with an exclamation point. Like this:
This person is so excited she’s gonna need oxygen if she keeps going!
It wouldn’t be the end of the world, given the excited word, but it’s stronger without it. It’s a dry and confident point, and that makes it funny.
There’s plenty of cases to use quotes and exclamation points, but exercise restraint. Treat those little puppies like the mini Reese’s peanut butter cups of writing they are. They’re delicious, but in moderation. With too much,
your butt gets big it weakens your writing.
8. Go Ahead, Break the Rules (Please)
Here’s your permission to chillax about all the stuffy grammar rules you learned as gospel. You don’t have to write that way for the rest of your life. Starting now.
Sorry, Mrs. Roth (7th grade English teacher), but we’re so happy to give the proverbial bird to those rules. (I know she’s proud I just used proverbial in a sentence, though.)
You surely learned not to end a sentence in a preposition. But look at the first sentence in Tip #1 of this post:
The platinum rule of any copy is know who you’re writing to.
(This is technically incorrect grammar because “to” is a preposition.)
Do you want to say it in the correct form?:
The platinum rule of any copy is know to whom you’re writing.
Because then you sound all stuffy and unrelatable.
Breaking this rule hurts. My ego wants people to know I know the difference. But if you write in a formal manner, it’s not conversational. You’ll bore people. In the words of a famous fire reporter, “Ain’t nobody got time for that”.
Use your judgement on breaking the rules. (You may have noticed a few other violators in this article.) Breaking these rules here and there can make your copy more relatable, and fun to read.
But for cryin out love-of-the-English-language loud, never ev-aaaaah say irregardless. Regardless is a word. Irrespective is a word. Irregardless: Not. A. Word. (There should be t-shirts, I tell you. T-shirts.)
Now, go stalk your copy like a hound dog and retrieve and replace its offenders.Back to the blog