Making Web Copywriting Pay Dividends: Part 1, Introduction

Websites are often the first impression the public has of your business. And everyone knows first impressions are important, right? The very first impression will usually be the visual appearance of your site. I'm assuming your site is the epitome of beautiful design. What comes next though, as visitors grow accustomed to the design and focus on the actual content, is crucial: the writing. It's very difficult to strike the balance between warmly welcoming visitors and obviously selling to them. If the balance is right, the customer is not pressured into a sale, but rather makes the decision themselves. The key is making it near-impossible for them to make the decision to leave. With this in mind, let's see how you might go about employing high-quality writing on your website and reap the rewards.

Say Hello

It might seem obvious, but many sites neglect this first step. Technology can be somewhat impersonal, but if you make your website step up straight away with an outstretched hand, you've got them halfway through the door already. A simple 'Welcome' will do, or, if you're feeling extra friendly, a more exuberant 'Hi there!' Visitors are guests at your website, and as host, it's your duty to make them feel at home.

You & Me

Calvin: 'What's a pronoun?'
Hobbes: 'A noun that's lost its amateur status' -- Bill Watterson, Calvin & Hobbes

Following on from the greeting, it's imperative you keep the conversation going. Use of 'you', 'us' and 'we' brings your ever customer closer to you. The latter two are especially powerful pronouns, capable of uniting you and your customer under one two-letter umbrella: 'We all know times are hard'; 'Just between us, these are our lowest prices on equipment since the Luddite revolution'. As with real life, however, there is always the issue of personal space to be careful of. If the customer feels like they're being sucked in, they'll feel trapped: again, it's about striking a balance. A bit of casual 'you' and 'I' won't hurt, just to distinguish the customer from the business.

You got style

This part is up to you. What style are you going for? Picture your website in conversation. Is it a well-dressed, smooth talking professional delivering a presentation, or a teenager decked out in ripped jeans and skate hoodie? You'll know what voice is appropriate for your audience, but it's a fine line to tread; swinging either way -- too casual or too formal or technical -- leads to hackneyed, alienating prose. Take the stereotype you're going for, then tone it down a notch or two.

Average length

If websites read spam, many would be amazed at all the emails advertising enlargement products: it is all too easy to put too much text on your website, much harder to whittle it down to the essentials while retaining an engaging and personal voice. A general guide is to simply read it back yourself, on the website itself. If you find yourself looking at a block of text and thinking 'ugh...' then it's probably too long. If it looks like there isn't enough there, then there probably isn't. Helpful, huh? It's a classic problem, and a very subjective one. The key is just to keep at it, and as ever, strike the balance.

Did I say 'Balance'?

It really is a high-wire act, writing for the web. It's the hovering between the twin poles of either alienating your customers by sounding disinterested or making them feel like they're being hoodwinked by being over-stylistic. Get it wrong, and you could be losing out on a sizeable chunk of custom; get it right and you'll definitely feel the results. The ride through your website should be a smooth one, with your (seemingly) effortless voice a reassuring guide.