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Web Copy That Works: 7 Rules for Success

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What's the fastest and least expensive way to improve the business performance of your web sites, emails and online newsletters? It's not web 2.0, AJAX or social networking. It's better copy.

Persuasive copy writing is the cornerstone of a successful online business presence, yet most organizations continue to treat copy as an afterthought. This white paper addresses the key best practices that will help your team write web copy that gets read and inspires action.

Includes a resource list of helpful books and websites.

Published in: Business, Technology
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Web Copy That Works: 7 Rules for Success

  1. 1. MODUS ASSOCIATES : Do-It-Yourself Series
  2. 2. Web Copy that Works: 7 Rules for SuccessIntroductionWhat’s the fastest and least expensive way to improve the business performance of your web sites,emails and online newsletters? It’s not web 2.0, AJAX or social networking.It’s better copy.Persuasive copywriting is the cornerstone of a successful online business presence, yet mostorganizations continue to treat copy as an afterthought.The purpose of writing for the web is to convince your prospects that your company has somethingto offer them that will solve a problem or fill a need. There are a lot of ways to get them to your site,but once they are there, you want them to take that next step: fill out a form, download a free trial,call you or sign up for your newsletter. Persuasive copywriting makes it happen.Here are seven proven rules for success:Rule #1: Write for Your Readers; Not Your CEOWriting for your readers means speaking to them in their own language about the things that areimportant to them (which are often not the same things that we think are important to them). > It means writing pages with a view to serving the needs of the reader before you serve the needs of your organization > It means having respect for their time, needs, and goals > It means writing clearly, providing readers with the proper amount of information they need at a particular moment > It means focusing on the benefits that your product or service provides, not just the features Opportunity: Why are so many organizations still talking about themselves rather than customer needs? We don’t know, but they’re making it easy for you to stand out.Rule #2: Make it ScannableWeb users rarely read web pages word by word. Instead, they scan the page, picking out individualwords and sentences. Research by the Nielsen Norman Group has found that 79 percent of usersalways scan new pages they come across; while only 16 percent read word-by-word. Web Copy that Works: 7 Rules for Success © Modus Associates, LLC www.modusassociates.com 2
  3. 3. As a result, web sites should employ scannable text, including > highlighted keywords (hypertext links are one form of highlighting; typeface variations and color are others) Writing style impacts profitability > meaningful, clear headlines and sub-heads (not “clever” ones) The easier your writing is to > bulleted or numbered lists understand and the more > one idea per paragraph (readers won’t continue if they’re not captivated credible it is, the more likely by the first few words in a paragraph) customers are to read and > the inverted pyramid style of writing, starting with the conclusion act on your words. > half the word count (or less) of conventional copy writingAvoid redundant platitudes, such as “Welcome to our site, we hope you will find our new andimproved design helpful.” And don’t waste precious words on generic, feel-good material. Yourvisitors only care about solving their problem quickly and moving on.Rule #3: Use Links EffectivelyThe average time new visitors spend on a web page is around 30 seconds. Make the most of thatbrief attention span by writing short, to-the-point pages. Then link to supplemental information onor off your site.However, don’t use links if the information can be succinctly presented on the current page. Usethem to provide supplemental information like definitions of terms and abbreviations, referenceinformation, and background reading.Web usability experts discourage the use of the phrase “click here” for links. Instead use anaccurate description of the linked content worked into a sentence. For example:instead of: “To see our most recent white paper, click here”try: “For more information, see our most recent white paper.”Rule #4: Keep It ObjectiveCredibility is critical for web users, since it is often unclear who is behind information on a website and whether it can be trusted. Credibility can be enhanced by use of high-quality graphics,good writing, and citations or outbound links to additional information.Users are turned off by “marketing speak” and overly-promotional writing styles. They’rebusy, and they want to get the straight facts. Credibility suffers when your site sells too hard orexaggerates. Web Copy that Works: 7 Rules for Success © Modus Associates, LLC www.modusassociates.com 3
  4. 4. Rule #5: Use the Active Voice KEY STATISTICSUsing the active voice is one of the best ways to write more clearly and directly and to avoidsounding dry or bureaucratic. Avoid passive constructions like “Marketing and communications 79 %plans are being developed.” Instead, try “We are developing marketing and communications plans”that make it clear who is performing the activity.Rule #6: Avoid Jargon 79% of users always scan; only 16% read word-by-wordWriting well for the web means taking advantage of the opportunities the web offers while notcalling attention to the web or technology. “Click here,” “follow this link,” and “this web site”are just a few self-referential terms to avoid. Generally, if the words or phrases are specific 25 %to the web, then they are probably words to avoid.Rule #7: Write to Be Found on Search Engines Reading from computer screens is 25% slower than from paperMore than half of web users rely on search engines to find information online. Luckily, follow-ing best practices for web writing will also make your pages more findable by search engines likeGoogle, MSN and Yahoo!. For example: 50 % Highlight keywords throughout the page (keywords are commonly-used search terms that describe the topic of a page) Start each page with a headline and summary Within the copy, try to include all possible search terms that might be used to search for the Web content should be 50% topic of that page. But to keep it focused, only use keywords that describe the main the length of its paper equivalent topic of the page Source: The Nielsen Norman Group Follow the guidelines in Rule #2 above for scannabilityThese guidelines will not only make your pages more findable by the search engines, they will helpyour users to immediately understand how your page relates to their search when theyland on it.Additional ResourcesBooks Killer Web Content: Make the Sale, Deliver the Service, Build the Brand by Gerry McGovern Letting Go of the Words: Writing Web Content that Works, by Janice (Ginny) Redish Writing for the Web (3rd edition), by Crawford Kilian Writing for the Web by Susannah Ross (only available via Amazon UK) Net Words: Creating High-Impact Online Copy, by Nick Usborne Web Copy that Works: 7 Rules for Success © Modus Associates, LLC www.modusassociates.com 4
  5. 5. Web sites Jakob Nielsen’s useit.com: http://www.useit.com/papers/webwriting/ WebsiteTips.com (Excellent listing of books and articles) Dey Alexander Consulting, Web writing resource page: http://www.deyalexander.com.au/ resources/uxd/writing-web.html GoodDocuments.com (Advice on writing for intranets and other utility-oriented sites) Web Copy that Works: 7 Rules for Success © Modus Associates, LLC www.modusassociates.com 5
  6. 6. About Modus AssociatesModus Associates helps global brand leaders and visionary start-ups to more fully harnessthe business potential of the digital age, where customers rule, technology is everywhere, andcreating value for profit and social impact is the name of the game. Clients include NBC Universal,SIRIUS Satellite Radio, Wyndham Hotel Group, Sony Corporation, Coldwell Banker Real EstateCorporation and Comcast. Modus Associates is located in New York City and on the web atwww.modusassociates.com.Contact UsModus Associates37 West 20th Street, Suite 304New York, NY 10011Tel: 212-255-6768Fax: 212-255-6264info@modusassociates.comwww.modusassociates.com Web Copy that Works: 7 Rules for Success © Modus Associates, LLC www.modusassociates.com 6

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