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Writing for the Web - It's all about RESULTS

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How to write copy that gets results for any website. Tips and examples to help you identify your audience,

How to write copy that gets results for any website. Tips and examples to help you identify your audience,

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  • Thank you for inviting me to talk about writing for the web, specifically for websites. A little about me. I have a journalism degree from Auburn University, and I spent several years in community newspapering before coming to the big city of Birmingham to embark on a public relations career. My career has taken many odd turns since then, but writing has always been a part of it. My skill tends to the technical, which is why writing for the web is so interesting for me. So, let’s begin
  • Websites got really flashy (literally) for a while, with so many bells and whistles that the purpose of the site got lost. Now, we’re coming back to making every minute count when you have a prospect on your page. The key is content. Give your viewer, reader, stumbler, something that interests him or her. [Read stats.]
  • People do read copy, if it’s done right. Marketing managers surveyed said content and copywriting were valued design, SEO and even keyword research.
  • OK, the first step is to determine who your audience is. If you are a business or service, you want people who will pay you now, or people who are prospects for your business. Another audience is people who are interested in your topic or industry, who write about it and refer people, who are opinion leaders. The press and media are important. One of the best ways to get publicity is to be an expert. One of the first places a reporter will go, is your website. Your competition, of course, is looking you over. I added the last one for fun, because honestly, if you’re not wikipedia, they probably won’t use your site even if it has better information.
  • The landing page or home page should be geared toward your primary audience. I’m a politics junkie, so I chose two political pages to use for examples. I am not a tea partier, but I do admire their ability to use language to engage their audience. Notice the questions, the key words like disaster, the phrases that imply a conspiracy “now we know.’ It’s designed to appeal to the reptile brain and it works.
  • These guys are a little higher level, and this page is intended more informational than action-oriented. It also works, because it is concise, uses the right buzzwords like “flip-flop”.
  • You also need to know a little about your primary readers. How much education do they have? It’s a delicate balancing act to use precise words without going over someone’s head. How interested are they in your business or service? You want people to think positively of you, but if they are not prospects you don’t want to waste their time. How can you help them? What do you offer that will make their life easier? Keep in mind that there are other audiences. To your competition, you want to come across as reliable and successful. To leaders in the industry, you want to look like one of them. To the press and media, you want to be credible and informative.
  • You have to think like your audience. Put yourself in a typical reader’s shoes. In this example, the typical client is someone who is in financial trouble and in danger of being foreclosed on. They are probably high school educated, and they are under a lot of stress. So the approach I took was to be conversational and personal. Put them at ease, share information with them but not so much that they think they can handle it themselves. Use questions – it engages the reader and it also is how many people use search engines.
  • Think about what you want your reader to do. Do you want them to take immediate action? Remember you for later? Stay in touch? Your copy will lead the reader to a goal.
  • I’m using examples here of places I’m familiar with. This is a beef producer in Georgia whom I met at the Food Blog South conference in January. He markets to retailers, but is also committed to educating people about grass fed beef. He’s even produced a video. This is his FAQ page. It does not do a very good job of educating, in my opinion, because it is hard to read. It should aim toward people who are interested in the subject, reporters, and prospective retail outlets.
  • Here are a couple of examples of how the copy could be strengthened. Keywords are added. Clear statements of the benefit of the product to the consumer.
  • This is where I buy my beef. I could not get a screen cap of the site because they’ve got it built in some weird image-based template. It’s a really interesting place. They sell direct to consumer, mostly at farmers markets or monthly bulk deliveries. The copy here is lacking a benefit statement, links or the kind of keywords that would grab attention.
  • Here’s one example of something that could be changed. On Google, the first part of the first sentence shows up in the results. Change the sentence, and you increase the possibility that someone will be interested. This is more personal in tone.
  • Factual means tangible and specific. Don’t waste your copy with nebulous concepts or meaningless descriptions. Accurate – if you use numbers, back them up. Research. This is the journalist in me. Interesting – use lively prose and tell a story. Your content should establish you as credible and trustworthy.
  • Use shorter sentences and less text. Shorter paragraphs or bullet points to draw attention. Links to other pages or other sites will highlight keywords. Use a conversational tone – this will keep your reader interested. Use keywords but try to make them as unobtrusive as possible.
  • This is actually my website, and I wrote this copy several years ago before I learned what to do. It reads like a brochure, and it needs to be updated which is next on my list. Some of the things I could do are shorter sentences and bullet points. Links would highlight key words and make it easier for a reader to get information. It’s also a littl wonky and needs to be more personal.
  • The head of Riverkeeper spoke at the Alabama Association of Nonprofits, and this is one of the hardest-working groups around. They do a great job. But their website copy does not do them justice. Here are some ways it could be improved. Shorter paragraphs, of course, and shorter words if possible. Add some headings or bullet points. Don’t dryly describe data points, tell a story or put in a map. Tell your reader why you matter.
  • You’ll see this site later in the SEO section. I found them when I did a search on “business coach birmingham” and they were the first actual coach to show up in the results. Notice how many times the keyword shows up in that first graph. There are crisp sentences, and good non-jargon descriptions.
  • Everyone wants to know about search. I am not an SEO expert but I am the Google queen. Many of my hints here are from experience looking for something. The important thing, of course, is to include keywords and phrases that your prospects would use. However, you have to add something unique to the first couple of paragraphs of each page unless you are in a highly specialized business. It’s OK to repeat yourself in the copy. Use questions. As I mentioned before, they get attention and they also mimic how people might be searching for you.
  • Some keywords are no-brainers, and you have to have them in your copy. But don’t rely on them to draw people to your site. In this search, the 2nd result is a news broadcast. Why? Probably because a tv station site is going to have a lot of page views and a lot of links, so that bumps them up. Notice the actual business coach is on the first page of results, but you have to look.
  • This is one of the first couple of results. It’s a content farm – a page that just packs in keywords in an effort to get up high in the search results. Once I realized what it was, I didn’t go any further, so I am not really sure what its point even is.
  • This content farm is a little more subtle but it still is useless to actually finding a business coach.
  • Use your keywords both in the copy and in your meta copy, like the site description. In this example, the site, which I’ll show you later, is in Flash, so none of the text shows up in search. However, the essential keywords are in the description, so the company can be found.
  • You’re going to have to do a little research. Google around using various words and see what pops up. If you end up with a number of businesses or sites like yours, then you know it’s a good term. But, you can’t rely entirely on those words, you still have to market in other ways. And might I add, I love linked in.
  • In this example, my friend Regina Hudson doesn’t show up for several pages on a generic search. But add her name, and there she is on top. So part of your marketing has to be to give your prospective site visitors something unique so that if they don’t remember your website they can still find you easily.
  • This is the site I referred to earlier. I hate flash sites, they’re hard to read and of course if you have an Iphone you can’t read them at all. But notice that thegoogle search result copy is not on this home page. That’s why your meta copy is important.
  • Add some value to your site by adding information. This also gets you some mojo by encouraging other sites to link to you. Trade associations, news sites, bloggers. Take your FAQs and turn them into a white paper that someone can download. Put it in a searchable PDF format and you’ve expanded your SEO. Blogging is a great way to get attention. The copy rules are the same/
  • Transcript

    • 1. WRITING FOR THE WEB:
      It’s all about results.
      Presentation to Media of Birmingham
      Lisa Harris PR & Communications
      lisaharrispr@bellsouth.net
    • 2. Direct Marketing Magazine verifies: Content Is King
      Eighty-three percent of those surveyed said:
      Content marketing complementsand works in tandem with traditional marketing communications,
      OR
      Content is replacing traditional marketing as the primary selling tool.
    • 3. Yes, people DO still read copy.
      In a survey of marketing managers, the two most valued skills were content marketing and copywriting.
    • 4. Who is your audience?
      Paying customers and clients
      Prospective customers
      Opinion leaders
      Press and media
      Your competition
      Students working on research papers
    • 5. Questions, vivid words, key concepts grab attention
    • 6. Home page copy should be concise.
    • 7. Identify your target audience
      Education level
      Interest in your business or service
      How can you help them?
      Other audiences besides customers/clients:
      Competition
      Industry leaders
      Press and media
    • 8. “Your buyer persona is should drive the content you're creating.”
      “The title should be keyword rich. You want to use keywords that your personas would be searching for.”
      “Optimizing Your Site for Maximum Lead Flow” webinar Tim Ash, President and CEO of SiteTuners.com, and Mike Volpe, VP of Marketing at HubSpot.
    • 9. Think like your audience. This site is aimed at the “little guy” who is in financial trouble.
      More personal approach – use “You” to speak directly to reader.
      Ask questions. This engages the reader and also mimics how they might search for you.
    • 10. “Write clear headlines, just a few bullet points and don’t wrap them. Keep your thoughts concise and tight. Less is more. Cut down on the amount of text and increase readability and recall.”
      “Optimizing Your Site for Maximum Lead Flow” webinar Tim Ash, President and CEO of SiteTuners.com, and Mike Volpe, VP of Marketing at HubSpot.
    • 11. What do you want them to do?
      Buy something
      Order something
      Ask for more information
      Join your email list
      Engage with you on social media
      Call you if they need a quote or a story idea
    • 12. This business markets to retailers. An FAQ page is useful for media inquiries and to answer questions retailers might have. This page could be improved with short sentences, keywords, targeted copy and links to technical information.
      1. What's the difference between grassfed and other types of beef?
      Conventional - I believe that the conventional grassfed beef that is available to consumers today is a safe product as described by today's sense of the word. There is a large market for this product. However, conventional grassfed beef is generally a commodity and has typically lost the identity of the animals from which it is made. The product commonly contains: Imported beef trimmings from Australia or New Zealand Dairy animals that are frequently given hormone injections to increase their milk production. High fat trimmings from feedlot cattle that have had the higher value cuts marketed separately. Beef from cattle that have had growth promoting hormones utilized or given antibiotics.
      Natural – This product is derived from source verified cattle that have not been exposed to added hormones or antibiotics. Preservatives, additives, or irradiation are not used. The cattle typically have been fattened in a feedlot on a high grain diet and their higher value cuts are marketed separately. 
      Organic - The cattle that go into this product are raised with a protocol of pesticide free farming practices. No preservatives, additives, or irradiation is used. The use of supplemental hormones and antibiotics is prohibited. However, these cattle may be fattened in a feedlot on a high grain concentrate diet and their higher value cuts are marketed separately. 
      White Oak Pastures All Natural Grassfed Beef – We put all of the steak, roasts, and other high value cuts into this product. None of the higher value cuts are robbed off to increase our profitability at the cost of lowering the quality of our grassfed beef. The animals are grassfed. This means that the beef is healthier than conventional, natural, or organic beef as described in the next pages. No preservatives, no additives, nor irradiation is used. Grassfed beef is naturally lower in risk of carrying e-coli because the animals do not have the acidic rumen that is commonly found in feedlot cattle that are fed a high grain concentrate diet. These cattle are raised, fed, and humanely handled in accordance with White Oak Pastures "all natural protocol".
      The colored box indicates the protocol that is used in raising the cattle that go into the beef types listed.
      2. Your label says that your cattle are raised without antibiotics, what if a cow gets sick?
      If antibiotics are necessary to save an animal's life, we administer them. However, this animal is tagged and dropped from the all natural program. We almost never have to administer antibiotics because:
      Our herd has been closed to outside animals for many years. It is difficult for disease causing pathogens to infect our animals because we don't bring these problems onto the farm.
      We have a stringent biosecurity program that closely monitors our herd health.
      We have a very aggressive preventative vaccination program that keeps the disease resistance of individual animals at a very high level.
      We have had each of our cattle screened to eliminate "persistently infected animals" [carriers] for the most troubling diseases.
      3. Why is your beef more expensive than other beef?
      Our cattle are raised under the "White Oak Pastures all natural protocol". This production system was not designed to deliver the cheapest beef possible. It was designed to produce a healthy, nutritious, and better tasting product. Further, it requires management practices that are good for the environment [land, water, and air]. These practices also ensure the humane treatment of the cattle. This is a farm; we will not operate it as though it were a factory.
      Cheap industrial food is cheap only because the real costs of producing it are not reflected in the price at the checkout. Rather, those costs are charged to the environment, in the form of soil depletion and pollution (industrial agriculture is now our biggest polluter); to the public purse, in the form of subsidies to conventional commodity farmers; to the public health, in the form of an epidemic of diabetes and obesity that is expected to cost the economy more than $100 billion per year; and to the welfare of the farm- and food-factory workers, not to mention the well-being of the animals we eat. As Wendell Berry once wrote, the motto of our conventional food system should be: Cheap at any price!
    • 13. Why is grassfed beef better that other types?
      Keywords
      Benefit statement
      Grassfed beef is rich in healthy Omega-3s. The meat is naturally leaner because the animals spend their days in pastures outside.
      1. What's the difference between grassfed and other types of beef?
      Conventional - I believe that the conventional grassfed beef that is available to consumers today is a safe product as described by today's sense of the word. There is a large market for this product. However, conventional grassfed beef is generally a commodity and has typically lost the identity of the animals from which it is made. The product commonly contains: Imported beef trimmings from Australia or New Zealand Dairy animals that are frequently given hormone injections to increase their milk production. High fat trimmings from feedlot cattle that have had the higher value cuts marketed separately. Beef from cattle that have had growth promoting hormones utilized or given antibiotics.
      Natural – This product is derived from source verified cattle that have not been exposed to added hormones or antibiotics. Preservatives, additives, or irradiation are not used. The cattle typically have been fattened in a feedlot on a high grain diet and their higher value cuts are marketed separately. 
      Organic - The cattle that go into this product are raised with a protocol of pesticide free farming practices. No preservatives, additives, or irradiation is used. The use of supplemental hormones and antibiotics is prohibited. However, these cattle may be fattened in a feedlot on a high grain concentrate diet and their higher value cuts are marketed separately. 
      White Oak Pastures All Natural Grassfed Beef – We put all of the steak, roasts, and other high value cuts into this product. None of the higher value cuts are robbed off to increase our profitability at the cost of lowering the quality of our grassfed beef. The animals are grassfed. This means that the beef is healthier than conventional, natural, or organic beef as described in the next pages. No preservatives, no additives, nor irradiation is used. Grassfed beef is naturally lower in risk of carrying e-coli because the animals do not have the acidic rumen that is commonly found in feedlot cattle that are fed a high grain concentrate diet. These cattle are raised, fed, and humanely handled in accordance with White Oak Pastures "all natural protocol".
      The colored box indicates the protocol that is used in raising the cattle that go into the beef types listed.
      2. Your label says that your cattle are raised without antibiotics, what if a cow gets sick?
      If antibiotics are necessary to save an animal's life, we administer them. However, this animal is tagged and dropped from the all natural program. We almost never have to administer antibiotics because:
      Our herd has been closed to outside animals for many years. It is difficult for disease causing pathogens to infect our animals because we don't bring these problems onto the farm.
      We have a stringent biosecurity program that closely monitors our herd health.
      We have a very aggressive preventative vaccination program that keeps the disease resistance of individual animals at a very high level.
      We have had each of our cattle screened to eliminate "persistently infected animals" [carriers] for the most troubling diseases.
      3. Why is your beef more expensive than other beef?
      Our cattle are raised under the "White Oak Pastures all natural protocol". This production system was not designed to deliver the cheapest beef possible. It was designed to produce a healthy, nutritious, and better tasting product. Further, it requires management practices that are good for the environment [land, water, and air]. These practices also ensure the humane treatment of the cattle. This is a farm; we will not operate it as though it were a factory.
      Cheap industrial food is cheap only because the real costs of producing it are not reflected in the price at the checkout. Rather, those costs are charged to the environment, in the form of soil depletion and pollution (industrial agriculture is now our biggest polluter); to the public purse, in the form of subsidies to conventional commodity farmers; to the public health, in the form of an epidemic of diabetes and obesity that is expected to cost the economy more than $100 billion per year; and to the welfare of the farm- and food-factory workers, not to mention the well-being of the animals we eat. As Wendell Berry once wrote, the motto of our conventional food system should be: Cheap at any price!
      Our meat comes from cattle that are verified to not be exposed to added hormones or antibiotics. Our organic beef farming practices mean no pesticides, preservatives or additives.
    • 14. Sequatchie Cove Farms sells meat and other products direct to consumers. The copy is interesting, but needs a benefit statement to engage readers, and more links & keywords for search engine results.
      Sequatchie Cove Farm is a diversified farm of 300 acres nestled in the shadows of the Cumberland Plateau, located 35 minutes northwest of downtown Chattanooga. The farm is bordered by the Little Sequatchie River and is surrounded by thousands of acres of pristine Tennessee wilderness. The farm is run by Bill and Miriam Keener, their children Ann, Kelsey and Ashley Keener, Miriam’s parents Jim and Emily Wright, Nathan and Padgett Arnold and an assortment of seasonal helpers from our community and beyond.
      The health of the land, water, air, livestock, ourselves are all linked inextricably. We make decisions and work with this basic philosophy close to our hands and our heart. You can be sure that all of our products arrive at your door with this level of integrity in mind.
      How we raise our animals is very important to us. Our animals spend their entire lives grazing in open pastures. They graze, scratch, root, and roam the way the animals were designed to. We use no pesticides, herbicides, chemical fertilizers, antibiotics or growth promoting hormones, just earth, water, compost, and careful management.
      We raise healthy, content animals in order to provide a product healthy for our consumption, our environment, and our whole human ecology. Each day we learn a bit more about what each animal needs to live stress-free and productive. If an animal is stressed, the whole farm, including the farmer, is stressed. They know us, we know them and we treat them with respect.
      What We Produce : Sequatchie Cove Farm/Westmoreland Beef »
      In partnership with Westmoreland Farm, we raise beef on the pastures of east Tennessee. Our beef cows are able to roam freely, eating healthy grass and enjoying fresh air and sunshine.
    • 15. Sequatchie Cove Farm is a diversified farm of 300 acres nestled in the shadows of the Cumberland Plateau, located 35 minutes northwest of downtown Chattanooga. The farm is bordered by the Little Sequatchie River and is surrounded by thousands of acres of pristine Tennessee wilderness. The farm is run by Bill and Miriam Keener, their children Ann, Kelsey and Ashley Keener, Miriam’s parents Jim and Emily Wright, Nathan and Padgett Arnold and an assortment of seasonal helpers from our community and beyond.
      The health of the land, water, air, livestock, ourselves are all linked inextricably. We make decisions and work with this basic philosophy close to our hands and our heart. You can be sure that all of our products arrive at your door with this level of integrity in mind.
      How we raise our animals is very important to us. Our animals spend their entire lives grazing in open pastures. They graze, scratch, root, and roam the way the animals were designed to. We use no pesticides, herbicides, chemical fertilizers, antibiotics or growth promoting hormones, just earth, water, compost, and careful management.
      We raise healthy, content animals in order to provide a product healthy for our consumption, our environment, and our whole human ecology. Each day we learn a bit more about what each animal needs to live stress-free and productive. If an animal is stressed, the whole farm, including the farmer, is stressed. They know us, we know them and we treat them with respect.
      What We Produce : Sequatchie Cove Farm/Westmoreland Beef »
      In partnership with Westmoreland Farm, we raise beef on the pastures of east Tennessee. Our beef cows are able to roam freely, eating healthy grass and enjoying fresh air and sunshine.
      Farm raised, grass fed beef and pork is healthier for your family and your environment. Our beef cows roam freely, eating healthy grass and enjoying the fresh air and sunshine. Our organic family farm is managed without pesticides, herbicides, chemical fertilizers, antibiotics or added hormones.
      Keywords, personal. First sentence shows up on search results.
    • 16. Creating Content
      Factual
      Accurate
      Interesting
      Establishes credibility and trust
    • 17. Readability
      Shorter sentences
      Shorter paragraphs
      Links to other pages
      Highlight keywords with link or typeface
      Conversational tone
      Try to make keyword use as unobtrusive as possible
    • 18. This copy might be suitable for a brochure, but for a website it needs…
      Shorter sentences
      Links! Maybe to Orange Beach or a photo site.
      More “You” statements or questions.
      Bullet points or call-outs.
    • 19. What can be changed to improve this copy?
      Break up copy into two or three graphs
      Don’t recite statistics – create a picture in your reader’s mind
      Create headings or bullet points, like “We stop polluters.”
    • 20. What are some examples of good copywriting on this website?
      Use of keywords
      Good descriptive words without “buzzwords”
    • 21. Search Engine Optimization (SEO): help people find you
      Keywords and phrases
      Add something unique
      How would your ideal client or customer try to find you?
      It’s OK to repeat yourself.
      Bullet points are a good way to add keywords
      Questions grab attention and reflect the way people search
      SEO is important, but it is only part of the picture.
    • 22. How Google & Bing Keep Spam Out of SearchMarch 10, 2011 Mashable.com by Jolie O'Dell
      Bing:
      “Bing is able to easily detect pages consisting of machine-generated spam, keyword stuffing, redirect spam or malware [and] effectively remove such sites from results…. Bing has also developed several ranking signals to help weed out spam results and better understand the intent of the searcher.”
    • 23. How Google & Bing Keep Spam Out of SearchMarch 10, 2011 Mashable.com by Jolie O'Dell
      Google:
      “You can expect sites with shallow or poorly written content, content that’s copied from other websites, or information that people….don’t find that useful will be demoted as a result of our recent algorithm changes…. [H]igh quality pages — pages with original content and information such as research, in depth reports or thoughtful analysis — will get a boost.”
    • 24. Make sure keywords are on your page, but do not rely on them for search results.
      Only one ACTUAL business coach on first page of search results. The rest are either content farms or rank high for some other reason.
    • 25. Example of a “content farm” designed to “game” search results.
    • 26. Another example of a “content farm” designed to look like legitimate site.
    • 27. Use keywords in descriptions and meta copy
      Note paid results and content farms
      Keywords are in description, not on home page which is in Flash.
    • 28. Do your own searches to see what keywords are most effective.
      You cannot rely entirely on SEO – your prospects need a little more data, like a name.
      LinkedIn rocks!
    • 29. Unless you are in a unique line of work, you will have to do some old-fashioned prospecting.
      “business coach birminghamalabama” had only one good result. Add a name, and you come in first.
    • 30. Tech and design tips
      Avoid semicolons. This will keep your sentences short.
      Use basic punctuation. Some browsers do not render ‘ or & or –.
      Flash sites are on their way out. If you must work with one, be sure to put keywords in your meta copy.
      Keep your pages simple.
      Include a response mechanism on each page: contact us, sign up here, click here to order
    • 31. Copy on flash website might not be found by search engines. Meta copy is important.
    • 32. Throwing a wide ‘net’
      Blogging
      White Papers
      Free guides
      Make sure they are searchable! PDF is a good format.
    • 33. Make sure the website is communicating to your prospects and clients as effectively as it possibly can. How do you get more page views and keep visitors on the website longer?
      Blogging is earned marketing. You are earning the respect of your target audience and building followers. Blogs are a great way to improve your search engine optimization rankings as well maintaining a dialogue with your market.
      Truth or Dare: Discovering the Secrets behind Better Lead Generation, by Nancy Pekala
    • 34. Presentation to Media of Birmingham
      Lisa Harris PR & Communications
      lisaharrispr@bellsouth.net