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How to write copy for the web

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Wendy Schollum
14-Apr-2011
General Industry News

Writing for the web is a unique skill set that requires not only an excellent grasp of the written word, but also a good understanding of the limitations and rules associated with digital copy. However, many business owners make the mistake of hiring a print writer to construct the copy for their website. While the writer may produce spectacular results in the print medium, you will often find that their copy does not translate well online.

The following outlines the rules of digital copy writing, which you can use to try constructing your own copy or as a quiz for a writer you are considering commissioning:

  1. Users don't read, they scan copy. We read up to 30% slower off a monitor than off a piece of paper, so good web copy will use bullet points, bolded text and/or white space to ensure key information stands out.
      
  2. Users don't scroll. Over 60% of website users will only scan what is immediately visible to them on screen. So, a good web writer will always ensure that the most captivating copy is at the top of the page and not "below the fold" (off the screen).
     
  3. Users can't remember much. Research shows that people can't retain more than 7 items (or points of interest) at once. Good web copy will limit the range of information per page and repeat the 7 most important points about a business throughout the website.
     
  4. Users like to feel smart. Good web copy should avoid marketing-speak, buzzwords and jargon that user may not understand.
     
  5. Users need to be constantly reminded about "what's in it for me?".  Users don't care about your mission statement, self gratifying press releases or how Jane has just had a baby. A good site focuses on how your business can make life/business easier for the user, how you solve a problem they have or how you can save them time, money or make them more productive.
     
  6. Users don't care about you. All copy (whether it is for print or web) should have a 7:1 ratio of "you" and "your" to "we" and "our". Some writers make the mistake of focusing on the business (we and our) rather than on the user (you and your).
     
  7. Users need to be directed. Your web copy should take the user on a journey through your website that strategically ends with a sale, sign-up or direct contact.
     
  8. It's not just humans that your copy needs to impress. How well your website ranks in Search Engines is largely determined by your website copy. Therefore, your copy needs to be keyword rich with placement of your keywords at the beginning of first paragraphs, in titles etc.

A web audience, whether it is humans or Search Engines reading your copy, are ruthless and unforgiving. In an age where information is immediately available en-masse, users want access to concise, punchy and informative copy. Any website that fails to provide this has a lifespan of only 7 seconds, then the user will move on to another website and take their spend with them.

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