Simple Changes that Will Significantly Improve Your Website Copy
Note: This post first appeared on Cold Box Films blog June 13, 2018, and is reproduced here with permission from Tracey Spaulding. Check out Cold Box at www.ColdBoxFilms.com for their amazing video production skills.
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I had the awesome pleasure of speaking with Tracey Spaulding from Cold Box Films earlier this year. Tracey is a video producer based out of Lansing, MI, and I am constantly in awe of her work. We chatted about how small businesses can make small changes that will improve their website copy today. Easy-peasy stuff. So checkout our chat below and find some great tips you can implement now.
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Having well-written copy on your website is key to communicating your message, expressing your brand, and ultimately turning browsers into buyers. But it’s an area many businesses struggle with.
We recently sat down with copywriting and content strategy wizard, Sarah Spencer of Written House to talk about practical changes you need to make to your copy that will make a dramatic difference!
Cold Box Films: Introduce Yourself! Who are you and what do you do?
Sarah: I’m Sara Spencer! I’m a professional writer behind Written House, a copywriting and content strategy hub for small to medium-sized businesses.
People that want to have their content professionally written trust me to help them come up with a plan of what they want to say and together we start from the bottom up. We figure out who their company is and I write the copy and advertising materials that really tells their story and sells their product or service.
Cold Box Films: How important is the copy on someone’s website? Is it just as important as the design and functionality?
Sarah: The copy is just as important as design and functionality. Of course, as a copywriter… I have to say that! -But it really is!
Your words can persuade, inspire, engage, educate, and move people!
Good design and functionality can give our words even more weight and I think the three work together to create an experience for readers that really shows WHO a company is. And a company to me is a living evolving brand that is really built on the strengths of the human spirit.
Whenever I’m asked a question like this sometimes I say the better question is: “how can we improve the way these elements work together?”
One of the best solutions I’ve seen is when a client has brought the copywriter and the designer into the content strategy phase together. So we're all working from the ground up and, together, we can really give the client the best of each of skillset.
Cold Box Films: What are some stand out elements of awesome-ly written website copy?
Sarah: For me, copy that is consistent and on brand is always very stand-out!
I think keeping it consistent and on brand is really not as difficult as some would think.
Sometimes the phrase “on brand” scares people away. But really what it means is before writing copy, I encourage clients and work with them to define their purpose (or how they want to change the world), define their position (or how they want to be seen in the minds of their consumers), and also define their personality (or what the company is really like).
Then, when copy is written with the company purpose, position, and personality in mind it’s GOING to be consistent and it’s going to be awesome, and you’re going to be able to tell right away that “yes, this is what we want!”
Cold Box Films: What is the first change companies should make to improve their website copy?
Sarah: One of the simplest things companies can do to improve their copy is to make it easy to skim.
Research has shown us over time that people do not stay on websites for very long. Most users don’t even read the copy word-for-word. So you can have a great website with great copy, but if all of the copy is in one paragraph, your visitor isn’t going to bother reading it.
It’s going to come across like a wall of text coming at them and they’re going to click away.
So here’s what I recommend:
- Break up the text using clear headings and secondary headings (or subheadings).
That will help make each section easily identifiable and you want to make sure those are meaningful! Don’t just throw something up there for the sake of breaking things up, you want to be sure you’re writing something purposeful.
- Incorporate numbered or bulleted lists.
- Keep your paragraphs short.
This could even mean having a few potent 1-sentence phrases by themselves. Your goal is to make things short, powerful, and scannable.
Cold Box Films: Why is it important to keep your copy scannable?
Sarah: If the copy is easier to scan, readers are very likely to stay on the site longer which makes them more likely to take an action that you’re trying to get them to take. Whether that be reading your blog post, filling out your contact form, or making a purchase!
And if you’re not sure whether or not your copy is easily skimmable it’s always a good idea to seek a second opinion. Print it out or send the link to someone else and ask them to skim your content and give their immediate impressions. This will give you helpful insight to gauge what changes you can make to improve.
Cold Box Films: What is the second change companies should make to improve their website copy?
Sarah: Write conversationally!
In school, we’re taught to write very formally:
- “Never start a sentence with ‘and!”
- “Avoid contractions!”
- “Don’t use slang!”
But formal writing and marketing writing are not the same! They’re very different.
And to me, that’s great news because conversational writing is more fun to read! And a lot of times it’s more engaging!
You want your copy to be fresh, lively, down to earth, and real. Your potential clients want to feel like their communicating with a real person and not a robot.
Cold Box Films: What’s the advantage of keeping your copy conversational?
Sarah: If your copy is conversational, readers will be able to follow along easier and they’re going to feel like they have a genuine connection to the company because you’re just having a conversation at that point! The talk is easy, it flows, there’s room to relax, and they can relate to it!
Cold Box Films: How do you make your copy more conversational?
Sarah: There are a few simple changes companies can make here:
- Use contractions!
A lot of times in speech, we don’t say “they are” or “it is.” When we say “they’re” or “it’s.” Contractions help sentences flow a bit more naturally.
- Keep your sentences shorter.
Generally, when we speak to one another, there’s a balance between longer and shorter sentences. Shorter sentences can help offset things and aid in the general flow of content.
- Do NOT sprinkle copy with corporate jargon, technical phrases, or tired cliches!
It’s fun to be clever and sound professional, but you don’t have to overdo it or clutter your content with confusing phrases that readers don’t understand anyway.
Cold Box Films: How do you walk the line between casual and professional?
Sarah: This has a lot to do with the brand image you’re trying to project and who you’re trying to reach.
I’ve seen a sock company that takes a lot of liberty with their writing--it’s fun and flirty and definitely walks along the edge. But that’s not necessarily something you’d want an IT company doing, but that doesn’t mean their words have to be stale. You can still achieve a conversational tone by utilizing contractions and keeping things simple.
A great way to gauge this is to read your content out loud. This will help you get a better feel of how things flow and will alert you of any red flags that need further attention.
Another great tool is the Hemingway Editor. It’s an online app (similar to Grammarly) where you write or paste text into it and it will highlight sentences that are too long or hard to read. It will also highlight complex words and suggest alternatives.
Cold Box Films: What is the third change companies should make to improve their website copy?
Sarah: This one I can’t say enough. And I’m sure you’ve heard this before, but I’m going to say it again.
Stop keyword stuffing.
One of the most common things I hear from my clients is “we want to rank higher on Google.” And they give me a list of keywords and say, “put as many of these on each page as possible!”
I love that they get really excited to optimize their site and increasing your ranking is important in terms of gaining more traffic. But while this tactic of keyword stuffing may have worked 10/15-years ago, the algorithm has since become much more sophisticated and tucking keywords into every sentence actually does more harm than good.
Readers are smart! They can tell when you’re catering to a search engine versus writing for them. We also know that search engines actually penalize you for doing so.
Cold Box Films: So what should companies to do so they can A) still rank high on Google and B) have copy that’s effective?
Sarah: Use keywords sparingly. They are still an important part of optimizing your site for the fact of signaling what your content is about. But don't forget that you’re writing for PEOPLE. You’re writing for an audience… not an algorithm.
One of my favorite tools to help gauge whether you’re using too many keywords is SEOptimer. You can type in your URL and it will run a report to show you how many keywords you’re using and how often they appear on your page. The program allows you to easily audit if you’re using too many.
Cold Box Films: What excites you most about your work?
Sarah: I LOVE learning about a company’s story--where they started, where they are, where they want to go, and how I can help them aim higher by writing really great copy.
I think the potential is what excites me the most and being able to mold that into something real, like the copy for their website, is awesome to me!
Cold Box Films: What’s one thing you want readers to take away from this conversation (or start implementing today)?
Sarah: I want readers to remember that writing is difficult! And if you’re struggling with it, you’re not alone.
I encourage people to remember that the copy on your site is a way for you to tell people who you are and you are writing to them.
If you want to start making positive changes today, start by making sure your message is in line with your company purpose, position, and personality and it will only improve from there!