On a good website, the words are as important as the design. Beautiful colours, fonts, images, and layout grab our attention. But it’s the words that keep us hooked. And it’s the words that get us there in the first place, via search results or social media headlines.
To get the most from your website, you need to write about the right topics, in the right way, for the right audience.
Write for your perfect customer
If you don’t know your reader, you can’t choose topics that will grab their interest. Nor can you talk about those topics in a way that keeps your customer reading.
You might think this is obvious. “I’m in the flower delivery business. I’ll show people how to arrange flowers.” But is your flower buyer an experienced florist, or an absolute beginner? How much time do they spend on flower arranging? What tools do they have to hand? Get to know your reader intimately, and give them exactly what they need.
Many writers like to create a detailed profile of their ideal reader. If you have more than one type of customer, create several profiles to capture each reader’s specific needs. This article on ByRegina.com walks you through creating an ideal reader profile.
Pay attention to keywords
The right topic is important for search rankings too. Google and other search engines use keywords to work out which pages to show for a specific query. Choose a set of keywords relevant to your business, and incorporate them consistently in web pages and blog posts.
Choose words your customer is likely to use. These might not be the same words you’d use to describe your service. Pay attention to your customers so you can echo their language in your keywords.
Don’t overdo it. You don’t need to repeat your keywords in every paragraph. A few years ago, we used to spend a lot of time writing to please search engines. As Google gets more and more intelligent, writing that performs well in search is getting closer and closer to writing that pleases customers.
Pay a lot of attention to your ideal reader and a little attention to your keywords. Your search results should see the benefit.
Invest in your headline
Once you’ve decided what keywords to focus on, plan how to include those keywords in the title. This matters for all your pages, not just your blog posts.
The special challenge with your blog posts is that the headline needs to be attention-grabbing as well as search-friendly. You probably aren’t aiming to turn every article into clickbait, but you do want readers. CoSchedule’s Headline Analyzer rates your headlines and gives advice on where you could improve things.
Put the important stuff at the beginning
If you have a background in journalism, you’ll know not to ‘bury the lede’. Don’t make the reader wade right to the bottom of the article to find the information they want.
Many of us learned a more academic style of writing at school. We were taught to build our argument over several pages. That doesn’t work for news articles, instruction manuals or brochures. Or web pages. Readers want to get to the point. What’s new? How do I get started? Why should I buy this thing?
Try outlining your page before you begin. Reorder your sections based on how much they matter to the reader not how important they are to you.
Use subheadings so your reader can scan
For blog posts and articles, subheadings allow people to skim read, skipping what doesn’t interest them. I know it’s upsetting to find people don’t read every word you write. But I expect you’d rather they read a summary of your article, then none of it. If they like the summary, they might go back and read the whole thing.
On information pages, subheadings let the reader jump to the information they need. No one wants to read your entire delivery information page: break it up with section headings.
Short sentences. Short paragraphs. Short words. No jargon.
“No one will ever complain because you have made something too easy to understand.” Tim Radford, A manifesto for the simple scribe my 25 commandments for journalists
If you struggle to simplify your writing, try Hemingway. This free tool highlights all the complicated bits to help you make your writing clear and easy to read.
Match your tone of voice to your brand
If you sell professional services, you’ll want to sound grown up and serious. If you sell beauty products, you might want to sound relaxed and informal.
If you’ve not thought about a tone of voice for your brand before, have a look at Finding your tone of voice in Smashing Magazine. You might also like to try A simple tool to guide tone of voice on the GatherContent blog.
Check your spelling and grammar
Sloppy spelling and bad grammar look careless and unprofessional.
If you can find a human to check your writing, that’s great. They will always spot things you missed. But nobody’s perfect, so I suggest you use Grammarly as well. This browser plugin checks your work as you type, highlighting errors and telling you how to fix them.
Adopt a style guide
If you aren’t confident in your writing, a style guide is a useful reference. All media outlets will have one, and many are available to buy. The Economist Style Guide is available online, as is the British Guardian Style Guide.
Find one you like, read it, and refer to it. Using a style guide will keep your writing consistent as well as accurate.
Writing is a craft. It’s about practice, not talent.
Okay talent is part of it. I’m never going to be as good as Jane Austen, however hard I try.
But the more you practice, the better and faster you’ll be at turning out consistently good copy for your website.