I think we can both agree that there are a lot of websites, landing pages, and emails out there with sub-standard copy. It’s not because the website owners are careless. It’s because writing your website copy is really, really hard.We’re our own worst enemies when it comes to writing about ourselves.
I’ve been there. This site has gone through a few iterations. It’s easier for me to write a client’s website copy than write my own. That’s why you need a system. More on that in a moment.
First, let’s talk about the big reason why it’s so hard to write your website copy. It’s because you’re too close to it. Being objective is hard. It’s hard to cut and edit, because to you everything is relevant and important. Everything you’ve put into your work is reflected in your organization. If you leave something out, the story isn’t being told properly, and you think your reader won’t get you. It’s a little of what Steven Pressfield calls Resistance.
In Steven Pressfield’s “The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles” he says:
“Resistance is experienced as fear; the degree of fear equates to the strength of Resistance. Therefore the more fear we feel about a specific enterprise, the more certain we can be that that enterprise is important to us and to the growth of our soul. That’s why we feel so much Resistance. If it meant nothing to us, there’d be no Resistance.”
Your work is so important to you that you fear either your website copy won’t be good enough to match your big giant purpose, or you fear that leaving anything out will cause people not to take you seriously enough.
Don’t feel bad that it’s hard to write your own stuff. Your high level of care and investment shows how important your venture is to you. That’s inspiring.
Change who you’re writing for
When you alter the focus of your website copy to your reader and not you, it gets a whole lot easier to write.
“But, obviously my website is for my reader!”
Yeah, of course. But who are you writing for? Often, when I read someone’s website copy, it feels like they’re trying to shove their importance and priorities down the reader’s throat. So, I want you to think of it like this: for each webpage you’re writing list what the top things are that your reader wants to know. Here are some common ones:
- Why you’re the right fit for them.
- What are the benefits for your customer?
- Process—how you’ll work together.
Now, let’s talk about a few other problems that I often see when someone writes their own website copy:
- Leaving out irrelevant details that aren’t quite the right kind of personal information you want to read on a website.
- Overusing words they think are attached to their brand (read more about meaningless words).
- Long-winded and awkward, too-earnest copy.
Let’s dig into these a little deeper.
The devil’s in the details
Do you feel compelled to explain every step and detail of your product, service, and process? It’s easy to overwhelm or confuse a reader by burying the information they’re trying to find in mounds of details. A reader wants to know what you do, what your product or service will do for them, how much it costs, and what kind of results others have experienced from working with you or buying your product. Anything else, such as cute details about how much you love your cats, is unnecessary.
Brevity is your friend. Write out what you want to say and then cut ruthlessly until you’re left with the bare minimum required to get your point across. Web copy isn’t the place to dazzle people with your cleverness and vocabulary…unless your audience values those things.
I see people run into the problem of too many details a lot on especially on their About page. Instead of relating to the audience, there is a long and very detailed description of their life to this point. Your story might be fascinating, but when I’m looking for a product or service I want to know who you are, what kind of experience or authority you have, and what about you can I relate to (which in my mind makes me think we’d work well together). Your traveling tales mean nothing to me unless you can share with me how they impacted your work, which is what I’m considering hiring you for.
Where you can go wrong with brand words
As a writer, I’m particularly sensitive to this. There are days when I say to myself, “if I see another paragraph with the word ‘inspire’, ‘innovate’, or ‘passion’ in it four times, I will lose my freaking mind!”
If you’re having trouble finding ways to express an idea, do one of these things: head to thesaurus.com and look up synonyms for your overused word to help spark creativity; head to Facebook to see how other people express this idea. Read posts and comments. How can you explain the idea in a way that relates to the audience without relying on one word?
Here’s an example. I recently re-wrote someone’s website copy. I was in love with their business because it’s very similar to mine in that they work with socially conscious companies. They’re really passionate about helping people who are passionate about their work. “Passion” was in the copy so much it hurt, because it came off as too-earnest, groveling, and I know this wasn’t intentional. Unfortunately, the word passion has been ruined by terrible cover letter writing (I don’t think anyone is really passionate about data entry…). To add this very noble idea in more subtly, I replaced it with variations of “you care about what you do” and “you want the world to be a better place.” That still means passion, but it doesn’t make your eyes glaze over.
If you’re reusing a word too much, it’s because you feel strongly about it. Getting attached to words is scary territory because it can easily put you in the same-as-everybody-else, or the annoying, category.
Repeat after me: cut, cut, cut
I’m a bit of a hypocrite, because if you get my emails, you know they’re long-winded. It’s a habit I picked up from falling in love with other long-winded emails from authors I follow. I do use formatting to break things up into smaller chunks, though, and that’s what I want you to do if you have trouble with concision.
As I said before, write a long draft, then cut it down until the absolute essentials remain. Longform copy is for blogs and reports. Website pages should be succinct. Give your reader what they need to take the next step, like subscribing to your newsletter or contacting you for a free consultation. You’ll notice that even really long sales pages are broken down into small pieces so that a reader can bounce from one to the other without missing the key points they’re looking for.
Make use of headings, bolding, and bullet points to break your copy up. People typically read website copy in an F-shape, meaning they read the headline, then browse the left side until something catches their eye: the details they need to take the next step.
I know it’s hard to let some things go, to cut things out you think are important. You have to remember: this is a business. If people can’t quickly and easily understand what you offer and whether it’s for them, they’ll click the next tab and will forget you. There are many ways to tell your whole story, such as in your blog, through video and audio, and social media. Let people figure out if they need what you offer first, then take the relationship to the next level.