Write Better: Tips For Effective Online Copywriting
Write Better: Tips For Effective Online Copywriting
Everyone thinks they can write.
And it’s true – everyone can write. But not everyone writes well.
The potential of online copy shouldn’t be overlooked. It engages readers, helps them move around your site and convert.
So, how do you make your writing better? Slip in rhetorical questions to set you up to introduce your topic? Sometimes.
These are my tips for effective online copywriting.
A bit about online readers
Before you write anything, you need to know who you’re writing for.
Google Analytics tells you about your audience’s age, gender, interests and the device they’re using – but there’s something else you need to know about the online reader.
The human attention span is now just 8 seconds.
People simply can’t be bothered with things that don’t hold their attention. They know they can find something more engaging or insightful elsewhere, at the touch of a button.
Avoid long sentences, chunky paragraphs and complex language. Online readers want bite-sized tips and instructions. They want to find information easily, whether it’s product spec, breaking news or instructions.
Thick paragraphs are daunting to those who only searched ‘how to cook steak’. They don’t need to know you discovered your favourite spice on a trip to Sri Lanka in the summer of 1999.
Use headings to break up information and give each tip or theme its own paragraph. This makes it simple for users to navigate.
Q&As and bullet points are ideal for highlighting key product features and explaining your brand or service.
Place key information at the top of the page so users know what to expect. Then, give them the information they need in as few words as possible.
Your bounce rates will thank you.
Keep it chatty
Have you ever noticed your mouth moves when you read? Your lips and internal muscles in the tongue and larynx twitch as we scan text.
This tells us our writing needs to replicate speech. Readers are ‘talking through’ our writing, so it needs to sound natural. They don’t want to trip over clunky sentences and jargon.
Writing needs to have rhythm and sound chatty. Vary sentence length to replicate how you speak. And be flexible with what you learned at school. If starting a sentence with a conjunction like ‘and’ or ‘but’ sounds natural, go with it.
Don’t use words you wouldn’t say when speaking to someone. With online writing, you’re not trying to impress a teacher. You wouldn’t say ‘in addition’ or ‘moreover’ out loud, so don’t use them in writing.
Contractions (‘can’t’, ‘won’t’, ‘doesn’t’ etc) help build the rhythm of natural speech and sound friendly and conversational compared with their longer forms.
The power of words
A respected copywriter said, “writing for the sake of words is copywriting death” (Jack Prouse, 2020).
We know readers have short attention spans, so why waste our brief chance to engage them on words that add no value?
The biggest offender is adverbs. Words like ‘very’ and ‘fairly’ offer little extra meaning.
“This is a very important message”. Well, it’s not going to be slightly important, is it?
Adjectives have their place – especially in product descriptions and fiction writing – but ask yourself, are they giving the reader something they don’t already know?
I once read the following:
“London has seen a major explosion in the number of vegan restaurants this past year.”
A major explosion? What explosion isn’t major? The word ‘explosion’ speaks for itself.
Leave unnecessary adjectives out of your writing.
No one’s scoring the writing on your website. You don’t get marks for punctuation.
This doesn’t mean you should be intentionally breaking grammar rules but having freedom with punctuation can break up text and create a conversational tone.
For example, readers may be intimidated by semi-colons – I know it sounds silly but they’re formal and can interrupt the flow of the reader’s natural rhythm.
Swapping semi-colons for hyphens creates important white space on the page and allows for natural pauses in speech to emphasise each part of the sentence.
Break text up into short 1-2 sentence blocks. This is appealing to online readers as it’s digestible and helps them quickly locate the information they’re after.
Big it up
If you’re showing off your brand or a client, big them up. Don’t pull punches. Sell them.
The future tense construction – ‘will + verb’ – dilutes the power of your statement.
Take a look at the following sentences:
“The Screaming Frog SEO Spider website crawler will help you improve onsite SEO by…”
“The Screaming Frog SEO Spider website crawler helps you improve onsite SEO by…”
It’s only a small change but it makes the sentence bold and authoritative. There’s no possibility about your product or service, it just works.
Avoid modal verbs, too. Words like ‘can’, ‘should’ and ‘may’ dampen the impact of statements.
A key consideration
For your writing to be seen, it has to rank on search engines. So, it needs to answer common user questions and target popular queries around your topic.
Tools like Google Ads Keyword Planner provide topical search terms and their volume. But remember, this research needs to be done before writing. Keywords must inform copy, not get stuffed into existing pages as an afterthought.
Cover key search terms naturally by using them as a guide to structuring pages. If these are popular search terms, what does it suggest the user is looking for?
If they’re asking a question, answer it directly and concisely. If they’re looking to buy something, break down key product information in bullet points. If they’re looking for advice, provide actionable and chronological instructions.
Only work keywords into your writing where they read naturally. ‘Keyword stuffing’ (deliberately placing keywords into pages in the hope of ranking) is unhelpful for users and encourages them to bounce from your site. At worst, it can even be penalised by search engines.
Naturally fitting keywords into subheadings using a Q&A structure, for example, is a natural and helpful way to target terms – helping users quickly find the information they’re after.
We all need a little help sometimes. These free tools keep your writing at its best:
Grammarly – Grammarly is your personal proof-reader. The tool spots mistakes you missed in proofing, like absent words or misspellings. It also offers tips to make your writing more concise.
Hemingway Editor – Hemingway Editor scores your writing on its readability and offers suggestions to make it clearer and more engaging.
SMOG – The SMOG calculator gives you an idea of the reading ability a user needs to understand your writing. It’s ideal for those writing for different publications and audiences, to check their tone is suitable.
As with all writing, the most important things to consider are where it’s published and who’s reading it. Some of these tips may not be relevant when writing a whitepaper for business leaders, for example.
But the most effective online copywriting is simple, natural and recognisable. So, put these tips to use next time you’re crafting copy and let us know your go-to copywriting tips in the comments below.