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When writing copy for their websites, many businesses err on the side of caution. They’d rather go with the corporate headline that feels “safe” rather than the clever headline that might actually bring in sales leads. Because they aren’t sure what makes for good copywriting, they feel like they’re taking a big risk, when the real risk lies in the sterile, generic copy they currently have.
Happily, identifying good copywriting doesn’t have to be as mystifying as you might think. Whether you’re trying to judge your own copy or the quality of someone else’s, here are some basic guidelines to help you separate the wheat from the chaff.
This is an axiom from Strunk & White’s classic writing guide, The Elements of Style, and it is one of the keys to good copywriting. There’s a temptation when writing copy to keep writing with the belief that somehow more words are better. After all, words are quantifiable: you can count how many someone has written. And this can give you the sense that if someone delivers fewer words, you’ve been shortchanged.
It doesn’t help that there’s a long history of paying writers by the word. This gives writers an incentive to write more words, rather than better words. However, writing good copy is about what you don’t include as much as what you do. You want to craft a tight, pithy narrative with your copy and not waste the reader’s time.
While some specific copy pieces (a blog post, for instance) can include a word count range, you want to pay for time rather than volume, and focus on quality over quantity.
Copy should have a point. Most of your users aren’t on your website searching for poetic prose: they’re trying to fill a need. The copy on your website should fill that need in the most enjoyable way possible, but if it doesn’t fill the need at all, it’s failed its purpose.
Cut any copy on your site that isn’t serving a purpose. That could mean re-arranging it till it’s in a more logical place, or deleting it entirely. Either way, you should not treat your website as a dump for all the information you can possibly think to include. Tailor your copy to fit its purpose, and leave everything else on the cutting floor.
Is your copy full of jargon? Long, highly-technical phrases that make sense within the context of your business, but which are disorienting and alienating to your readers? How long does it take visitors on your site to understand what you do?
Copy which isn’t readable will hurt you in two ways. First, it confuses your readers and provides a bad user experience. If they don’t know what you’re saying, they will leave your site with a negative impression of your brand. And second, because your poor, bewildered visitors exit your site quickly and without understanding your content, you end up with a higher bounce rate which leads to poorer SEO. Google won’t send visitors to your site if it notices them leaving en masse, so make sure your copy isn’t letting you down.
Readers engage with writing which has style. When thinking about your brand, you probably think of it as having a certain character. You can probably name an ideal customer type for your business as well. Your copy should speak to that person in a way that represents your brand. Whether you’re an edgy fashion line or an innovative technology startup, your copy should inspire excitement in your readers.
Decide on a tone for your copy that represents your brand. Allow it to read as concise, witty, or sincere. Have a voice, and speak up.
As a rule of thumb, you should like your copy. If you cringe when you read it, or if it doesn’t inspire any strong reaction at all, then it’s bad copy.
Good copy inspires. It makes you feel proud of your business. It informs and empowers the reader and lets them know they’ve come to the right place.
If your copy doesn’t do that, replace it.