{{ searchResult.published_at | date:'d MMMM yyyy' }}

Loading ...
Loading ...

Enter a search term such as “mobile analytics” or browse our content using the filters above.

No_results

That’s not only a poor Scrabble score but we also couldn’t find any results matching “”.
Check your spelling or try broadening your search.

Logo_distressed

Sorry about this, there is a problem with our search at the moment.
Please try again later.

The A-to-Z of online copywritingOnline copywriting can make all the difference between a website that engages and converts, and one that stagnates. 

Words communicate to your visitors and influence actions (both positively and negatively). Furthermore, good copy is, as far as the search engines are concerned, the food of the Gods. Words are to Google what oxygen is to you and me.

So I thought I’d try to nail an A-to-Z of online copywriting. As ever, these recommendations are guidelines, rather than firm rules. They're broadly applicable to web copywriters and bloggers, as well as journalists who have their work published online. I hope it makes for a handy bookmark-friendly checklist...

A is for Audience. Know your audience (or rather, audiences) before you start writing. You need to know why you’re writing too. Landing pages should provide just enough information to persuade the visitor to proceed along the checkout path. A blog post like this one will hopefully help readers tune into what we do, to become new members, and to share the article to extend our brand reach.

B is for Brevity. In the online world, short very much equals sweet. I try to keep paragraphs to four lines or less. I avoid multi-idea sentences and paragraphs. A sentence can be a paragraph. Get to the point, and move on. Think Chandler, rather than Balzac.

C is for Call To Action. Web pages don’t convert per se, but people certainly do. As such it is up to the copywriter to help encourage readers to take action. Remember to place multiple calls to action on the page. The footer is a strong place for blog articles (sharing tools, Adsense, comments), whereas landing pages need prominent calls to action above and below the fold.

D is for Doh! It’s easy to make a mistake when writing, so after publishing you should always methodically read and re-read your articles, to spot the mistakes that you probably made. Do this even if you have an editor or sub-editor. 

E is for Engagement. Bloggers will want readers to leave comments and share articles (so ask questions, encourage debate and feedback, and listen to opinions). Retailers will want visitors to become customers, and to leave reviews and rate products (so send persuasive post-sale emails asking for feedback). The best copy encourages participation and interaction. And engagement leads to satisfaction...

F is for Formatting. A long page of unformatted left-aligned text with 12-line paragraphs does nothing for me whatsoever. Conversely, I find it easier to read and digest web pages that mix it up a little bit. Use text formatting liberally to help anchor the reader’s eye and to emphasise key points and calls to action. Split up the page with sub-headings. Images help too.

G is for Grammar. No typos, dammit. Lots of full stops please. Don’t misuse the semi-colon, for heaven’s sake. And this is the web, so let’s avoid double spacing. Don’t capitalise headlines (and certainly stay clear of the CAPS LOCK key). A conversational approach to writing online is a good thing, but you still need to avoid the basic grammar mistakes

H is for Headlines. Vitally important for search engines and readers alike, a good headline can make all the difference. Puns and wit are all very well offline, but it’s best to be descriptive online. Use ‘awesome adjectives’ for blog posts. Match landing page headlines to advertising copy (e.g. paid search text). Test your headlines, and experiment. And don’t forget about those keywords.

I is for the Inverted Pyramid. This is a technique journalists will be familiar with. Copywriters can adopt the inverted pyramid too. Simply put, the most important information is placed right at the top of the page, and the least important at the bottom. The key facts and figures are presented in the opening paragraph or two (try to answer a bunch of questions: who, what, where, when, how, why, etc). Cut to the chase. 

J is for Justify. The job of the copywriter is to explain a product or service and then to justify the purchase. That often means justifying the price, and instilling faith in the visitor (a prospective customer) that they will be making the right decision if they proceed to buy. It requires a little persuasion, and a lot of know-how. Justify the offer!

K is for Keywords. If you write for websites and do not pay any attention to keywords then you’re missing a trick. Companies must always undertake some keyword research before launching a blog, or a new website. A clearly-defined keyword hitlist can help you to attract highly targeted traffic. Focus your web pages around a keyword / phrase (but avoid keyword stuffing). Make sure all writers are familiar with keyword goals.

L is for Localisation. Keep it local, right? No doubt my American readers are appalled by my use of ‘s’ rather than ‘z’ in words such as ‘localisation’! It is essential that you write pages for a specific locality. Think globally, write locally. We will be doing more in this space on our own website in the months to come.

M is for Metadata. Readability is important, but findability is essential, otherwise your beautifully crafted web page won’t be seen. Give your web pages and articles appropriate tags to help your readers find them. Google has been known to give love to websites that make use of tags.

N is for Nanocontent. 'Nanocontent' is in this case the first 11 characters of a website’s links and headlines. The first couple of words are essential to helping readers to get the gist of an article, or a link, when it is published elsewhere (e.g. by reading the headline on Twitter, or on a search engine). For example, you should instantly recognise the format of this article as a list by its initial characters in the headline. Front load action and descriptive words, to persuade the reader to read the rest of the headline / link and to click through. Jakob Nielsen’s recent study in this area makes a lot of sense.

O is for Over-Optimisation. Don’t for one minute think that you’re going to get one over the search engines by cramming as many keywords into your article as possible. That’s so 2002. Keyword stuffing doesn’t work, doesn't work, doesn't work, doesn't work...

P is for Persuasion. It could have been for ‘Psychology’ though the two are inherently linked. Your copy, especially your sales copy, should persuade the reader to take action. Landing page copy needs to gently help the visitor towards the checkout. Blog articles should convince readers to engage, either by commenting or sharing your article. 

Q is for Quality. Quality (of visitor) always beats quantity. In most circumstances you do not want to attract millions of unqualified visitors. Untargeted traffic can cost you money, and it does nothing for your conversion rates. Focus, focus, focus.

R is for Repetition. Leave readers in no doubt about the meaning of your page, or opinion. Have a point. Ram that message home. 

S is for Skim Reading. Web users skim pages, rather than methodically reading them as you might a page in a book. As such the use of bold, links, indents, bullet points and sub-headings are all excellent ideas when writing online. In the words of Patti Smith: “Break it up”.

T is for Testing. There’s no better way of optimising your web pages than to test, tweak, monitor and repeat. This applies to everything from your landing page headers, to the explanatory text on your homepage. It is particularly vital in the checkout, and especially on your product pages. 

U is for Under Beats Over. In print there are always word counts to be wary of, but online it doesn’t much matter, since a webpage can be as long as your arm. That’s not to say it should be. Remember George Orwell’s six tips for writing, notably: “If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.”

V is for Voice. Make sure you have one. A distinct tone of voice can help you stand out from the crowd. Some companies may choose to adhere to a corporate style of writing, but in the last decade or so many ties have been slackened or removed entirely. Loosen up!

W is for Write To Be Read. By looking at an Amazon research tool Steve Berlin Johnson found that shorter sentences appear to help readers to digest ideas more easily. Is there a correlation between readability and sales? It certainly looks that way. Make yourself understood for maximum impact. 

X is for X-Rated. It’s probably best to avoid the word ‘shithead’ in headlines and email copy. You know, spam filters, and all that...

Y is for You. In my view, there’s not much wrong with adopting a personal approach for web writing, particularly with blogging. From this article you’ve discovered that I’m a Patti Smith fan. No biggie, but this kind of thing can help forge bonds with readers, as well as helping them remember something about you / your article. Adding a little character is more than a little ok.

Z is for Zumbooruk. No, I have no clue either. But since I was struggling with the ‘z’ in this list I thought I’d make the point that it’s always vital to use plain English (or whatever language you choose to write in). They tell journalists to “write for an intelligent 11 year old”. I think that can encourage dumbing down, but the point is that you must write with clarity and without pretentiousness. Why use a big word when a small one will do? At any rate, and I know you're desperate to know this: a zumbooruk is a small cannon fired from the back of a camel.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

So what did I miss? Do let me know below. And if you enjoyed this article then be sure to say so by retweeting it on Twitter!

[Image by DeclanTM via Flickr, various rights reserved]

Chris Lake

Published 27 July, 2009 by Chris Lake

Chris Lake is CEO at EmpiricalProof, and former Director of Content at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter, Google+ or connect via Linkedin.

582 more posts from this author

Comments (20)

Comment
No-profile-pic
Save or Cancel
Avatar-blank-50x50

malcolm coles

Keyword stuffing: has anyone told the daily mail?

Their explore section is full of intros like this:

  • Frank Bruno: From the latest news about or mentioning Frank Bruno to older articles from the MailOnline archive, discover more about Frank Bruno here...
  • Automotive Industry: Interested in Automotive Industry? You can find all our articles about Automotive Industry here...

about 7 years ago

Chris Lake

Chris Lake, CEO at Empirical Proof

LOL. I suspect they're drinking from the duplicate content cup too, but that's a whole other story...

about 7 years ago

Avatar-blank-50x50

Fancy Dress

R is perhaps the most important one.
Thank you for the advice

about 7 years ago

Avatar-blank-50x50

Jim

OK, but...

G is for Grammar?

There's a mistake in the first par.

"Words are to Google what oxygen is to you and I" should be "Words are to Google what oxygen is to you and me."

I guess, though, these kinds of mistakes are inevitable in this frictionless, sub-less, online world of copy.

about 7 years ago

Chris Lake

Chris Lake, CEO at Empirical Proof

Hey Jim,

Quite right, thanks (now fixed up). Crowdsourced sub-editors are easier to come by when writing this kind of article ;  )

Cheers,

c.

about 7 years ago

Avatar-blank-50x50

sree

Great informations..

thanks

Sree

http://www.liveyourdreamsindia.com

about 7 years ago

Avatar-blank-50x50

Hollister Creative

Wow. That really took some effort. Thanks.

My personal favorite is B. Our sound bite culture demands brevity. Oh, R is pretty important too... Actually, if I thought about it long enough I may recite the entire alphabet...

almost 7 years ago

Avatar-blank-50x50

Alan

Excellent list. A couple a bit subjective, but nothing wrong with that - copywriting is not a science.

Small point on the 's' / 'z' thing. Apparently us [we?] English folk used the 'z' in days of yore - and having taught them the language, when those upstart Americans revolted we took umbrage  Style Definitions */ p.MsoNormal, li.MsoNormal, div.MsoNormal {mso-style-parent:""; margin:0cm; margin-bottom:.0001pt; text-align:justify; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:12.0pt; mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt; font-family:Arial; mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman";} @page Section1 {size:612.0pt 792.0pt; margin:72.0pt 90.0pt 72.0pt 90.0pt; mso-header-margin:36.0pt; mso-footer-margin:36.0pt; mso-paper-source:0;} div.Section1 {page:Section1;} --> and started using 's' instead. English dictionaries actually have the 'z' as the first listing (eg organzation) with the  's' (organisation) as the option.

almost 7 years ago

Avatar-blank-50x50

Alan

Excellent list. A couple a bit subjective, but nothing wrong with that - copywriting is not a science.

Small point on the 's' / 'z' thing. Apparently us [we?] English folk used the 'z' in days of yore - and having taught them the language, when those upstart Americans revolted we took umbrage and started using 's' instead. English dictionaries actually have the 'z' as the first listing (eg organzation) with the  's' (organisation) as the option.

almost 7 years ago

Avatar-blank-50x50

Sara Kmiecik

Good list. It provides a really good balance between the important elements of marketing and copywriting essentials. I will definitely recommend this list to other writers.

almost 7 years ago

Tony Thornby

Tony Thornby, Senior Internet Consultant at Living Streams (Internet) Consultancy

Hi Chris,

I'd go for Zany as the zed. 

You need to stand out - nothing wrong with a bit of good old (English) eccentricity and individualism.  It's a double edged sword, but you were never going to win all of the market anyway and a character / culture match is always a good differentator and client retention factor.

Best regards

Tony (aka Coffeemate49)

Living Streams
The Digital Business Consultancy
for SMEs
www.living-streams.co.uk

almost 7 years ago

Avatar-blank-50x50

Dennis Smith

Great stuff. You might consider that Q is for Question. Using questions really engages readers and make your copy stand out from the rest - especially in headlines.

almost 7 years ago

Avatar-blank-50x50

Marie Brandt

Some great tips and reminders for marketing and PR.   Thanks!

Marie Brandt

motionPHR, A Personal Health Record

motionPHR.com

tweeter.com/BenneMarie

almost 7 years ago

Avatar-blank-50x50

Helen Trendell

Great A-Z, will be sharing this!

It reminds me of the online copywriting model we use at SiteVisibility to help remember the key points quickly when creating a new piece of content:

K - Keyword (choose the best SEO keyword term)

O - Optimise (ensure the content is optimised for the online reader)

A - Action (add a call to action or two)

L - Link internally (link to the new page from other internal pages)

A - Approach others (find relevant audiences who will link to and share the content)

almost 7 years ago

Avatar-blank-50x50

phillippa

I am attending an interview and in the job description it mentions 'Online Copywriting skills' - This has helped me understand the meaning and what it entails. Thank you :-)

almost 7 years ago

Avatar-blank-50x50

Sarah

Nicely summarise. One will take a long time to truly master all of these. Practice makes perfect, I guess.

almost 7 years ago

Avatar-blank-50x50

Fancy Dress Costumes

hmmmm loads of information here! This is going to be well worth reading twice as sooo much of this information applies to the everyday content that people write. Many thanks!

over 6 years ago

Avatar-blank-50x50

The Baldchemist

I bought a pair of Pele football boots once in te belief that I would instantly become a world class player.

The sole came off after about 20 minutes and i never played again.

You can give a mug all the help and advice in the World but without the talent it's wasted.

Tell 'em immediately what it is you are pitching and how they benefit. Then you can almost get away with murder.

Thanks for the article. You got me! Nice one.

over 6 years ago

Avatar-blank-50x50

Stig

This is the second post that I've read that I've found very interesting of yours.

Tweeted.

over 6 years ago

Avatar-blank-50x50

Michael Morrison

Wow! Very much what they should've taught us at copywriting school. 'Y' is particularly pertinent to me as I find alot of copy to be technically good, but lacking in character. When first meeting clients I tend to get across that, as a copywriter, I have a style that works and even though I write for a variety of sectors, it's still ME writing, and it always seems to work. I hate the idea of copywriters not having a style and instead just writing safe, but ultimately boring, words.

about 6 years ago

Comment
No-profile-pic
Save or Cancel
Daily_pulse_signup_wide

Enjoying this article?

Get more just like this, delivered to your inbox.

Keep up to date with the latest analysis, inspiration and learning from the Econsultancy blog with our free Daily Pulse newsletter. Each weekday, you ll receive a hand-picked digest of the latest and greatest articles, as well as snippets of new market data, best practice guides and trends research.