You’ve hired a web designer, your photos look great, your logo’s ready—now it’s time to tackle your website copy.
In my experience, writing website copy is the most misunderstood (yet, one of the most important!) parts of launching your website. It’s not something you should do in an afternoon without any preparation.
Great website copy sets the tone for your business. Your website is often the first place someone will come into contact with you, and you have only seconds to make a great impression. (Read how important good copy is to design here.)Great writing has your ideal customers screaming, heck yes, this is for me! Click To Tweet
Why don’t many people plan their website copy well? I think most of us underestimate how much work it takes to put it all together. It’s all in your head, right? But, when you start typing things out, nothing seems to fit together, your words make your business sound generic and boring…and what was that catchy phrase you thought of in the shower yesterday?
I’m going to walk you through a simple five-step process for writing your website copy. It’s time to get organized and blow people away with your word power.
“You are a writer when you tell yourself you are. No one else’s opinion matters. Screw them. You are when you say you are.”— Author Steven Pressfield
Step 1: Plan for your website copy to fit with your website layout
Creating a website without first having an idea of what you want to say where can require a lot of editing. If you plan for both the layout and the copy at the same time, you’ll save yourself loads of time (and rewrites) and money.
Work with your website designer on what the ideal layout for your website looks like. You can use elements from your favorite websites as inspiration. For example, you may want a big catchy header image and a program feature block on your homepage.
At this point, you don’t need to know exactly what you’ll write for each piece. You just need to have an idea of how you want everything to flow and fit together. You’ll start to see where you need headlines, approximately how long your introduction text should be, and whether you need little extras like calls-to-action or captions.
In this phase, you want to be specific about what goes where. For example, do your services each get their own landing page or would you like to compare them as packages all on one page?
To keep organized, start a website copy planning document to list all the areas you’ll need copy for and any directions, such as “four-word headline” or “Short description for package number one.” You should also note where you want testimonials, references or other materials you’ll need to pull in later.
Step 2: Write a rough draft
Your copy doesn’t need to be perfect on the first try. The purpose of a rough draft is to get all of your ideas down. It will be messy, and there will be errors and notes. That’s a good thing.
Sometimes starting can be the hardest part.
If you experience writer’s block, I recommend doing one of three things:
- Write your ideas in bullet points.
- Take a 15-minute break and completely remove yourself from the project. Go for a walk outside, stretch, or put dishes away. Don’t do it for any longer than 15 minutes.
- Remind yourself that this is a rough draft. Put aside perfectionism, doubt, and fear. No one but you needs to see this version.
During your rough draft, note how pieces work together. Include comments on where you would like to link to other pages or documents.
Also, write several versions of each headline. Rarely will a writer choose the first headline they create. Play with power words (those memorable emotive ones), different arrangements and tones.
Lastly, if you’ve done your keyword research already, note your priority keywords on each page. You’ll want to write them into your headlines and body copy. Google’s Keyword Planner and Moz are great free tools you can use to research your keywords.
Speaking of research, that’s where step three comes in.
Step Three: Do your research
Don’t forget about research! Once you’ve put together a rough draft, you should see where there are gaps. You may want to cite statistics, quotes, or other materials that need to be looked up and cross-checked. This stage is also where you pull in assets like testimonials.
Always double-check facts if you’re making a specific claim because nothing can be more harmful to customer trust than misleading information. Use reputable online sources to check your information, such as government or popular research center websites. To avoid plagiarism and copyright violations, you will need to cite research using links or footnotes.
If you have brand guidelines, this is also a good time to refer to that to ensure that your writing is “on-brand,” meaning that everything sounds consistent and like you. You can add comments or notes to implement changes during your next editing round.
This is also the stage where you finalize things like pricing and packages. By the end of the research stage your ideas should be fully-formed and anything your write about should be finalized. Things may change in the future, but it can be frustrating to have to make major changes once your copy is already on your website across multiple pages. Consistency is key!
Step Four: Write your final draft
By now, you have all the pieces, and your ideas are well-documented. It’s time to start tightening everything up. At this point, your inner perfectionist can go to work analyzing details like word usage and tone.
Spend an adequate amount of time on this stage. If you try to speed through a final draft, you’ll miss nuances and connections between ideas and content. Try not to skip around sections based on how excited you are to complete them. Try to be methodical to avoid missing things.
At this stage, it’s also time to make important choices. You’ll need to decide what headlines you want to use, how you want to phrase certain key messages, and what calls-to-action you’ll use to grab your readers’ attention.
It helps to have a proofreader, preferably someone who hasn’t been closely involved with this writing project so far. They will be able to offer objective advice, tell you what makes sense and what doesn’t, and find errors that your eyes glazed over (it happens to everyone!).
If you don’t have a proofreader, here are some tips to help you self-check:
- Keep paragraphs short, ideally 2-3 sentences max.
- Keep sentences short and direct. Long sentences can usually be made into two sentences or edited down to the bare essentials.
- Use the active voice as much as possible. Active voice is much more direct. For example, write “You’ll experience unparalleled service” instead of “Our company has provided unparalleled service to our customers.” See how much more interested and engaging the first example is?
- Use first-person as much as possible. This is also more direct and engaging. Use “you” instead of “we” and “I” as much as possible. Often, all you need to do is rewrite your sentence a bit to focus on your customer instead of yourself.
- Make headlines and introductory paragraphs benefit-centric. Your organization exists to serve others in some form or another. People always want to know how what you offer benefits them. Make sure you highlight your unique value proposition.
- Use emotional power words. These kinds of words engage your reader and make them feel something. Sumome has an excellent list of power words. These are especially effective in headlines and calls-to-action.
Step Five: Polish
This is the final stage, where you can nit-pick. Do a thorough read-through of your final draft and tidy up any remaining pieces you weren’t totally happy with in the rough draft phase.
Once that’s done, it’s time to run your copy through an editor or editing software. Grammarly is a great choice, and it’s free to use the limited online version. Grammarly will catch things like overused words, awkward phrasing, and missed commas. It’s much better than spelling and grammar checkers in Microsoft Word or Google Docs.
The Hemingway App is another great tool you can use to understand how readable your copy is. If you’re new to writing this will be a big help. The Hemingway App, also free, analyzes your copy’s readability, meaning how easy it is to read and comprehend. Complex sentences and long paragraphs don’t suit the web, where people are often skim through for highlights.
At first, you might think this process seems like overkill; however, there’s a reason for this! Your website copy is ultra-important because it can help you connect with your readers, convince your prospects, and convert your leads without you having to be there personally.
Even seasoned writers can’t write everything in one go. Give yourself a little extra time, do this right, and you’ll experience measurable benefits from reader statistics to the kinds of queries you receive from prospective customers.
Open up that Word doc now and get to it!