It’s hard to write for the web. Don’t let anybody tell you it isn’t. I’ve been a writer for close to 20 years, and I still struggle with it every day.
But I’ll let you in on a little secret — the basics are pretty easy. You can get your own website copy to the point where it’s pretty good by paying attention to just a few things. I’ve compiled a list of the four biggest web copy mistakes I see.
What did you think when you read the title of this post?
If you’re like most web pros, you asked yourself “What mistakes?” Then you kept reading because you were suddenly worried you were making them.
A good headline can do that — draw readers into a page and compel them to read more. A bad one, of course, can do the opposite. That’s why you need to use strong headlines on your pages.
(Hat tip to Maxwell Sackheim, whose early-20th-century headline “Do you make these mistakes in English?” helped sell more than 150,000 copies of a grammar course. As you’ve learned, the formula still works.)
Weak: Welcome to Our Website!
Strong: Who Else Wants a Website that Attracts Customers?
Pick any random prospect. He or she is coming to you with a problem. Maybe it’s “I’m not getting enough leads.” Maybe it’s “Our website makes us look like clowns.”
Whatever. Neither of those problems can be solved simply by the fact that you’ve been in business for 12 years or that you’re a Drupal expert. Yet I’ve seen web pro after web pro who thinks their website needs to read like a history of the company.
I call this way of writing “we-itis.” It’s a crippling disease, the cure for which involves forcible removal of your head from… uh, another part of your anatomy.
People get we-itis all the time because—hey!—it’s flat-out easier and more comfortable to talk about yourself than it is to try to understand what others are feeling and to speak to that.
But writing good website copy demands that you get out of your own head and into the minds of your potential clients. It’s that simple.
We-focused: “We’re RandomWeb — Podunk, Iowa’s oldest web company. We’ve been building websites since 1998 and we want to build one for you.”
Prospect-focused: “At RandomWeb, we help businesses like yours achieve their online marketing goals. If you’re struggling to attract more visitors, convert more of them to leads, and close more sales, we can help.”
It’s easy to get caught up in how cool your service offering is and forget that other people might not share the same enthusiasm—or even understand what you’re talking about. (But seriously… I mean, WebGL… Sooooo wicked, bro, amiright?)
Try to remember that you build websites all the time… Your prospect doesn’t.
That means the odds are good that the last time Joe Prospect had his site done, his biggest tech concern was that it looked nice in Netscape.
All he knew then is the same thing he knows now—he just wants a website that works.
So a misguided focus on features can actually keep you from connecting with him. Instead, you need to concentrate on the benefits of what you can do.
Feature-driven: We build sites on the Bootstrap framework, a mobile-first front-end that enables scaling on phones, tablets, and desktops.
Benefit-driven: Your new website will be fully mobile-ready, so the next time someone visits your site with a phone you’ll have a better chance of making them a customer.
Finally, you absolutely need to move away from “Contact us to get started” and toward systematically asking visitors to start a low-commitment relationship with you.
Why? Because if you put 100 random prospects in a room, you’ll find maybe three of them want a website right then — and the other 97 aren’t ready yet.
That’s why overt sales pitches like, “Call to see if we should work together” won’t work. When a prospect doesn’t really want to buy, they’re afraid of being sold… So anything that smells sales-y will be ignored.
Let go of the idea that you need to use your calls to action to ask for the business, and instead ask for one or more appropriately small actions — for example, “Download our ebook,” or “Sign up for this email series.”
Anything will work, so long as you’re not asking prospects to commit to a multi-thousand dollar website project before they know, like, and trust you. The important thing is to grab that prospect’s email address so that a) you know they’re interested in websites, and b) you can gently help them realize they should work with you.
High-commitment: “Contact us for a one-hour meeting where we’ll determine your website needs and decide how to move forward.”
Low-commitment: “Download our ebook today and learn 11 ways to avoid making a mistake with your website redesign.”
I’ve said it here before — you can handle writing website copy on your own. Whether it’s in your best interests to take the time to do it is up to you, but you can definitely get it done.
If you decide to go for it, though, promise me you’ll give it everything you’ve got. No half-measures—you owe it to your prospects and to yourself to get better at the four things I’ve talked about here.
Weak headlines, we-itis, feature-focus, and inappropriate calls to action—improve these and you’ll see the difference in sales.
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