Copy, copy, copy. Not a Labour Party election slogan but an ode to the all important words that help elevate your website above the masses and improve on-page engagement and conversion.
Website copy plays a crucial role in informing your visitors, presenting your values and directing people to take actions, not to mention giving a boost to your SEO efforts.
But what is good copy? Is it copy that raises your search engine visibility? Or words that extol your virtues as the next laureate?
In my latest attempt to open myself to professional and personal slaughter, this blog explores the qualities of good web copy, linking to useful articles written by respected copywriters. I don't claim it to be definitive but the intention is to open a discussion about what good copy really is.
Copy isn’t built in a day
First, I want to set expectations. Writing copy is not a one-off exercise, for several reasons. Firstly, your business and customer base will evolve over time, so your copy needs to adapt to reflect this. Secondly, life is not static and news needs to be communicated, so you will need to build your content layers to cater for the demands of a heterogeneous audience. Thirdly, not every bit of copy you write will be read and loved instantly; you will need to use your analytics to find out which pages drive high bounce rates and test alternative versions to increase customer engagement.
Oh and fourthly, something called SEO, the much talked about, often maligned and source of heated debate.
The qualities of good copy (those I consider most important)
Why are you writing this copy? Good copy has an end goal. Without a purpose, copy is not targeted and you have no way of measuring its impact.
Before you write anything, decide what you want to write, why you want to write it, who it is for and how you will measure its impact.
Make sure all new copy supports the content strategy for the website because you need to ensure consistency of tone and language. Copy is a verbal signpost for your customers, so make sure that you have a clear tone and personality that is used to write content across the site. If one page is conversational, and the next formal, it can create uncertainty and put people off.
If you have multiple contributors, whilst allowing them to have their own voice, ensure the way they present your brand and company is aligned. You need to avoid giving customers conflicting messages.
Copy that is strewn with spelling mstikes (see what I did...) and grammatical errors; looks clumsy, lazy and makes it harder for the customer to reed. It sends the wrong message about your brand.
if you can’t be bothered to write good quality content and check it before it's published, how effective is the rest of your customer service? Fingers crossed now that I've not made any schoolboy errors in this post.
You can find straight forward advice on minimising copywriting errors from Emily Cagle, an experienced communications specialist with years of copywriting experience.
You’ve got a reason to write the copy but how does it appeal to your customers? Make sure you think through what your customers would want to read and how it can help them make decisions during the buying cycle. Poorly written pages drive customers away, which also adversely affects your SEO efforts for that page.
Running a quick customer poll or survey is a good way to identify opportunities for new content, as is reviewing analytics data and finding pages with high bounce rates.
Nick Usborne provides a neat summary of the importance of getting down to a personal level is his blog.
Informative / interesting
The more interesting the content, the more likely your customers will read it and absorb it. Use subtle techniques to keep people engaged with the content, such as using questions in the copy to increase engagement e.g. “Did you know that by using leather protector you extend the life of your leather furniture by at least 12 months?” and then following up with hard hitting copy and strong calls to action.
Break the copy up with images, break-out text, bullet points etc. The visual presentation of the page is as important as the content itself because the eye needs to be able to follow the page.
The aim of making copy informative and interesting is that it mimics (as much as is possible online) a face-to-face conversation where there is interaction and not just one person talking. There’s a useful summary article written by Tom Albrighton on the ABC Copywriting blog.
Make it easy for people to take relevant actions. Use strong visual signposts for key calls to action and ensure these are always visible above the fold; perhaps a floating content zone that is always in the customer’s eyeline.
Within the content, text link to appropriate action pages and deep link the customers to the most relevant follow-on page. For example, retailers should link to products where possible to encourage product viewing and adding to basket.
If the content is for information purposes only and has no relevant link to products and services, consider the value of offering social bookmarking and send-to-friend tools. The greater the reach of your content, the better.
Let’s not forget the search engines; after all we want to get you relevant traffic. Whilst your customer facing content must be written to appeal to customers, it should also be optimised in line with the keyword strategy for that page.
Keyword research (using tools like the Google Keyword Estimator) will help you identify the most relevant keywords for a particular page. Your goal is to inject these keywords without compromising the quality or context of the copy. Where relevant link to other pages on your website using optimised anchor text.
As a word of caution, don’t hijack beautiful copy by keyword spamming, just ensure that the most popular keywords are used to help you increase visibility in search engine results.
Give customers the tools to share your content across their social networks; not only will these help drive incremental traffic and brand exposure, it will benefit your SEO program by increasing inbound traffic to your pages.
The value of fresh copy
SEOs will tell you that fresh, relevant copy plays an important role in driving website optimisation – search engines love indexing new content. New content, from static pages to blogs and campaign landing pages, can be keyword optimised to support your SEO strategy.
However, equally important in my experience is the impact fresh copy has on customer experience and repeat visits/customer loyalty. There is a portion of any website audience that always wants more. This is your most engaged customer, the person who devours your content and has a high propensity to share it across their social networks if you give them the right tools.
For this type of online shopper, relevant fresh content is highly valued. It gives them a reason to come back to the website. Once on the site, you can then use that content as part of the ongoing sales cycle, deep linking to product and service pages to encourage repeat sales. You can also use sharing tools like social bookmarking to increase advocacy. Content is one tool that you can use to engage with customer outside their buying cycle to keep your brand and website front of mind.
How to produce fresh copy continuously
Don’t over-commit. Don’t start something that you can’t maintain or the tumble weed will set-in. A deserted blog, like a passive social media profile, will damage your brand because readers will think you don’t take it and them seriously.
An email that repeats the same messages over and over again will increase your unsubscribe rate and harm the impact of future campaigns.
So focus resource on what you can contribute to regularly. A few ideas:
- Write a blog every week or month, varying the content from product news to stories relevant to your brand – put the blog on a folder on your main domain to support your SEO (e.g. www.mysite.com/blog).
- Add content that supports your key products, such as care tips and buying guides - the likes of Argos and B&Q do this very well.
No matter what the copy is, always remember:
- Make it easy to read and understand for the reader – it needs to be engaging and relevant.
- Optimise the copy by using relevant keywords and phrases.
- Maximise the internal links to relevant pages on your website using keyword rich anchor text.
- Ensure the new pages are added to your sitemaps and refreshed so that search engines can see them.
- Advertise the new content and where relevant across your communications channels e.g. tweet about the new page, include it as a “news snippet” is your customer newsletter.
- Don’t be frightened to bin content pages that just don’t work, as long as you ensure you don’t leave behind nasty 404 error pages as a result of a dead-end.