Writing for the web – killer tips for creating great copy
When it comes to website development copywriting is something that often gets overlooked, probably because everyone knows how to write while web design is a far more specialised skill.
Even though anyone with a reasonable grasp of the English language will be able to write perfectly OK copy for their site, it takes an experienced eye to craft really great copy.
People read visual content instantly, in as little as 13 milliseconds according to MIT, but words take a bit longer to digest. With only a few seconds to impress a website visitor and convince them to stay, getting your point across in as few words as possible is essential.
For websites great copy embodies the ethos and character of a business, while communicating its message as efficiently as possible.
Here are a few key tips on how to create great copy, from getting your thoughts down on paper to proof reading what you've written.
The blank page
The most daunting part of writing copy is the blank page, and the easiest way to overcome this problem is to just start writing and not worry about how good it is. This first stage is all about getting your ideas down in a document. Even just adding a title, and subtitles to mark out different sections and pages, helps to get the ball rolling.
If the words don't start coming for your first paragraph jot down some key points in a bullet-pointed list, or even just write a list of keywords, and start to build around this.
Out of order
Once you've started writing don't worry about the order. If you start writing the copy for the home page and get stuck after the first paragraph, jump to the middle, or even the ending. Often the ending of a page, or section, will be a clear call to action – something that should already have been decided.
In short if you're stuck just write the thing that's most clear in your head first, no matter where it sits in the document. It could be a paragraph, a line, or a simple phrase. Even if it's just the seed of an idea plant it in the copy and it will help the rest to grow.
Keep it short
For general website copy a good rule thumb is to keep things as short as possible. Unless you're telling a story, like in an about page for example, or writing a long blog post, the word count for a webpage worth of copy should never be more than a few hundred words. In copy longer than 300 words key points will start to get lost and the reader's attention will start to wander.
To help improve readability for any piece of text keep paragraphs short and break up sections with subheadings.
Get a dictionary
It's often the case that there can be multiple different spellings of a word, all of which are correct, and in order to maintain consistency it's a good idea to pick a specific online dictionary (or even buy a paper one) and stick to its spelling. Consistency looks more professional and prevents the reader from wondering whether you've made a mistake. Oxford Dictionaries is good choice, and also features plenty of entertaining and distracting blog content.
Proof reading is the most important part of creating great copy, and it doesn't just mean spellchecking. Proof reading is everything from finding and correcting typos to sense-checking the text to ensure everything is as clear as can be. While a large part of proof reading is getting on with it, rereading, editing and rereading until all the problems have been wheedled out, there are a few ways to make it easier.
One of the most effective ways of proof reading is proof speaking. Reading the copy you've written out loud will not only make typos more obvious, but highlight areas where sentences don't flow very well or are too long. You'll soon know about the latter as you'll find yourself getting out of breath if sentences run on. Although this step can be a little embarrassing locking yourself in a quiet room and doing this a few times is a really efficient way of fine-tuning text.
Another top tip is to read the paragraphs in reverse order (though not the words) as this will help you to focus the words themselves, and prevent you from reading through the text on autopilot.
Give it a day
It's amazing what a difference a day can make, and how many missed typos can be discovered when looking at a piece of copy with fresh eyes. Letting something rest for 24 hours (or longer if possible) is a sure fire way of putting some mental distance between you and your text and regaining some objectivity.
Read after posting
Even after your copy has been signed off, put in the backend of your website, and published typos and spelling errors can still slip through – sometimes they appear as if by magic. Don't worry if this is the case as the wonderful thing about the internet is you can easily update and change mistakes. While the flexibility of digital publishing shouldn't be abused and used as an excuse not to properly craft your copy, it does mean it's not the end of the world if corrections still need to be made.
By keeping the above in mind while writing for the web you'll be well on your to creating engaging copy. Good copywriting is a craft and shouldn't be taken for granted, but with a bit of time and thought anyone can improve what they write for the web.