How To Write Your Own Website Content
If you like to write, are good at it, and have time to do it, it can be fun and interesting to write content for your website. Here are some tips for doing it well.
(Don't like to write, and don't have time to do it? Contact us to find out about our content writing services!)
How do I come up with ideas for things to write about?
- Look online for ideas. "Content hubs" are websites where writers post articles that others can take and reuse (providing proper credit, of course - you can't pretend that you wrote them yourself). These pre-written articles can be real time-savers and give your website added depth and insight. And they can be great sources of ideas - even if you don't want to use the articles as-is, they can be the spark for an article you write yourself.
- Find your niche. Everyone is an expert about something, and your area of expertise is your business. Whatever niche your business is in, write about that niche. As long as you stay within your niche, you will discover that you are able to speak with authority. If you're not sure what your niche is, think about what you could talk about for half an hour without running out of new, interesting, and informative things to say. That's probably your niche, or one of them.
- Identify your audience. Once you've come up some ideas for what you'd like to write about, figure out who your audience will be, and direct your content to that audience. What are their needs, and what information can you give them that will help them meet those needs?
- Brainstorm. Every niche has endless possibilities when
you start thinking about it. When you first launch your website, have a
brainstorming session (include your employees, too, if it's appropriate). In
the session, think about what you know that will be of value or interest to
your target audience. One way to start off the session is to list
all the questions your customers or prospects have asked you over the past few
months, the holidays or sales promotions that you
focus on during the year, and the areas of your business you'd like to
expand and why your customers should be interested in them. Write down all the ideas that are generated in your brainstorming
session, no matter how silly they may appear. Choose one or two ideas as your
first article topics, and then save the rest of the list for later. Even if you
don't use the ideas on the list, they may spark other ideas later on when you
refer back to it.
Here are some sample article headlines to help you get started:
- "Top Ten Reasons to..."
- "Top Ten Tips About...."
- "Top Ten Mistakes People Make When They..."
- "Top Ten Myths About..."
- "FAQ About..." (or, once every week or month or quarter, you could answer one customer question in more detail)
- "What You Should Do This Month/This Season/This Year To Make Sure That..."
- "Christmas/Hanukah/Kwanzaa/Easter/Passover/Ramadan Is Coming, So..."
- "A New Scientific Study Has Shown That..."
- "A Short Bio of X, Who Uses Our Product Because..."
- "A Short Bio of Y, Who Joined Our Company Recently..."
- "Don't Forget To..."
- "How to Prevent..."
- "Did You Know That..." (some interesting tidbit)
Keep in mind that you may even have some of this content written already, in brochures, instruction guides, or the manuals used by your customer support people. You don't need to reinvent the wheel - borrow freely from what you already have.
What style should I use when I write content for my website?
- Write in your own voice. The style you choose should be your own. You will write most comfortably, confidently, and authoritatively when you write in your own voice. However, don't get sloppy. You're writing, not talking.
- Write simply and clearly. If people of different ages and education levels will visit your site, write for the youngest and least educated of your visitors. A good rule of thumb to use, unless you are writing for a very specific audience, is to write so that a thirteen-year-old can understand you. However, this doesn't mean that you have to write as if that thirteen-year-old is stupid. A good copywriter can write clear, simple text without being patronizing.
- Skip the technical jargon. Tailor your message to the level of knowledge of that a customer will have when approaching you for the very first time. When in doubt, err on the side of explaining things a little too much, rather than too little.
- Write to your perfect prospect. A great technique for overcoming writer's block and finding your voice is to visualize yourself writing a personal letter to your perfect prospect. Thinking about writing to just one person can reduce the "stage fright" you might feel when you imagine that lots of people are going to read what you write.
How do I write content that will get the attention of my website visitors?
There are several rules that apply to copywriting for any sales or marketing piece, no matter what style you use. Here are some:
- Identify and clearly communicate yourUnique Selling Position (USP). Your USP is that special thing or combination of things - quality, service, expertise, talent, speed, skill, efficiency, environmental sensitivity, price - that sets you apart from your competition. Make sure your reader gets your USP right away. It should be expressed in the headline and first sentence of any page or article.
- Get your readers' attention with a compelling
headline is the "ad for the ad". It should generate curiosity, or promise an
attractive benefit. It should get people excited about reading more. To make
sure that you have a great headline, write a bunch of different headlines
and ask other people to help you choose between them. If you
end up with more than one good one, you can use the best as the headline and
others as subheadings throughout the article.
To give you an idea of what we mean, which headline would you choose?
"Federal Tax Credits for Energy Efficiency"
"Get Up to $1,500 in Tax Credits for Installing a New High-Efficiency Furnace"
However, don't do a "bait and switch" with your headlines - your headlines need to get people excited about what you actually can do for them, not raise unfounded expectations about something that you don't deliver.
- Start with a slam-bang opening. Is your opening interesting/provocative/arresting? Does it make the reader stop for a moment and really pay attention? Each line of your ad copy must serve to "sell" the reader on continued reading, especially at the beginning. You need to build up enough interest and momentum to carry the reader through the rest of the article. If you are selling the product, you need to make the reader's desire for the product greater than the price. Generally, the more expensive the product, the more words you need to do that.
- Focus on a main theme. Whatever you talk about in your opening should be what you talk about in the rest of the copy. Don't dilute your message by talking about too many different things.
- Leave the reader with a clear "take-away" message and call to action. Before you start writing, figure out what you'd like your piece to accomplish, and end on that note. If you're writing a purely informational piece, wrap it up by giving the reader a clear message and call to action: "Contact us today to schedule an appointment!"
- Strike a balance between logic and emotion. Different readers think about purchases in different ways, and some readers will have more than one reason for wanting to buy. So when you paint a picture in your reader's mind, it should have both analytical and emotional elements. "Next winter, you can snuggle up in front of your new wood stove on a snowy Saturday evening, knowing that you're heating your home with inexpensive, renewable energy."
- Make it positive, enthusiastic, and upbeat. Focus on the positive aspects of what you're selling, rather than on the negative aspects of the competition's products. (If you want to draw a comparison, say that it is "better" than something else, rather than that something else is "worse" than what you're offering.) Try to avoid "no" and "not", within reason.
- You should say "YOU" a lot. Whenever you say "you", your reader will automatically translate to "Me" and "Mine", and he or she will feel personally involved. When you're discussing your product, focus primarily on the benefits rather than the features. ("You will feel warm and comfortable all winter!" vs. "The furnace has an AFUE of 95"). You'll need to mention the features, of course, to satisfy the analytical thinkers, but the emotional arguments should be personally addressed to the reader. A particularly good way to get your customers involved is to ask them questions. "Is doing all that work by hand costing you time and money?" "Do you need a better solution for X?" Questions build interest and desire and prime readers to be excited about your solution when you describe it.
- Offer proof. Testimonials and guarantees are essential. They demonstrate your personal belief in what you're selling, and build confidence by showing that your products have been useful to other people.
- Always review your facts. Double-check them. Triple-check them. Back up your claims with statistics, and make sure those statistics are reliable. (Remember, on the web you can link directly to your sources so that people can easily verify your claims.) Having information on your website will make you seem like an expert - unless it's wrong. Having wrong information is worse for your reputation than having no information at all.
- Prufread, proofreed, proofread! Always proofread your content three times, and have someone else check it too if at all possible. Bad spelling makes your whole company seem sloppy and amateurish.
- Put your content aside for a day before you post it. That way, you'll have a fresh perspective on it when you make your final revisions.
- Get someone else to read what you've written to make sure it flows well. You should do this no matter how good a writer you are. Even Pulitzer Prize winners have editors!
- Avoid "advertorial" and repetitive copy, especially in blog posts. You know those long letters you get from charities that go on and on about why they need your money? I throw them away, but apparently they are effective. But that style doesn't fit the informal atmosphere of blogs, where readers expect a personal, honest approach without a lot of sales BS. Make your point and then wrap it up.
- Add bonuses to make your offer irresistable. Bonuses for immediate action can create a nice sense of urgency and close the sale. Remember to focus on how that bonus will benefit the reader.
- Add a P.S. People pay special attention to a P.S. We think it's
because a P.S. is usually short and snappy and set apart from other text, which
makes it easy to read. Also, people read it for the same reason they skip to
the end of a novel they're not quite sure about: they want to see where your
arguments/sales pitch is going to end up. If they like where you're going, then
they'll go back and check out the things you said along the way. So, make your P.S. a winner! This is where you can add that special
bonus offer for immediate action, or remind people of the most important
benefit they'll receive by using your product or working with your
P.S. Don't do a hard sell in your P.S. - focus on the benefits you can offer the customer.
Are there any special considerations when writing for the web?
The web is not like other media - it offers unique opportunities and presents unique challenges. If you keep these in mind, your web copy will be much stronger.
Opportunity: The web makes it possible for the reader to respond instantly. With TV, radio, and newspaper ads, there is a gap between being exposed to the ad and taking action on it. The customer always has to take an intermediate step: go to a store, pick up the phone, or visit a website.
With an online ad or sales message, in contrast, the viewer of the ad can take action immediately simply by clicking a button. This is why the Internet is such a powerful sales tool!
To entice your customers respond instantly to your website, ask yourself these three questions as you write copy for your site:
- What do I want the visitor to do on this page? Tell the visitor, as clearly as possible. Highlight it visually, if you want.
- What does the visitor need to be persuaded to do the action? Give him the reasons, evidence, or (gentle) emotional push he needs.
- What does the visitor need in order to actually do the action? Make sure you provide it, and make it as easy to find and use it as possible.
Challenge: The computer screen makes reading uncomfortable. If you're like most people, you probably print out long documents, rather than reading them onscreen. This is because reading on a computer screen is slightly uncomfortable. The image on your computer screen is not constant - it's actually "cycling" and renewing itself rapidly. This is hard on the eyes. Also, because it's so easy to scroll up and down on a computer screen, it's harder for the reader to keep track of what line of text he or she is on.
You should compensate for this discomfort by making your website as easy to read as possible.
Recently, some great studies on "eye tracking" - the way people move their eyes when they read - have offered some valuable insight into how to do this. These studies found that users tend to scan content in an "F" pattern. Most readers of websites skip top navigation altogether, and then sweep their gaze across the page headline. They then stick close to the left margin of the page, scanning downwards. Occasionally they will sweep their gaze across a line again, if they are interested in it.
The findings of the eye tracking study also have implications for the way you should lay out your content:
- Your readers will see your headline first and pay the most attention to it. It should draw the reader in and sum up what the page is about.
- The first line of text should convey your primary message, in case the reader only scans the rest of the article. Some people refer to this as the "inverted pyramid" method - you front-load your writing with the most important idea first, and then end with the least important idea.
- Use easy-to-understand language and short sentences. Short words and short sentences mean that the reader's eye doesn't have to "wrap around" to the next line mid-thought. Avoid "filler" phrases such as "as you can see", "in other words", "those of you who...", etc. There are more direct ways to say all those things.
- Paragraphs should be brief (1-4 sentences). You shouldn't have long blocks of text, because your rapidly-scanning reader will lose her place in them.
- Use bulleted lists whenever possible. They take advantage of your visitors' tendency to keep their eyes to the left.
- Break up longer pages with subheadings; make sure they are interesting and accurately reflect the content of the page. Again, this helps the reader stay oriented - and if he is skimming the page, subheadings will guide him to the area of greatest interest for him.
- Highlight important ideas in bold. Readers like this, and search engines do too - it helps both to quickly understand what you're trying to say.
The bonus: Following all these suggestions will not only make it easier for your customers to read and remember your content - it will also make your content more search engine friendly!
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John J Ortman -AACTIONAIR