Writing Web Site Copy is Different Than Sales Copy

Use this Web Site Copy Checklist

Use this Web Site Copy Checklist

Normally I talk about copywriting, that is, writing sales copy — writing to persuade people to take specific action, but this time I will give you a checklist for writing web site copy; “copy” is just the words on the page.

Writing copy for your Web pages is very different because instead of trying to persuade someone you’re trying to entertain and educate them with highly relevant information. These are very different approaches and require very different writing styles and skills.

I found this checklist from Heather Lloyd-Martin which has a lot of good points on how to tell if you are writing good Web site copy. I include the list here and add my own comments.


1. Is the content based on a customer persona document or readers’ profile?

Heather says, “How do you know how to structure your writing if you don’t know who you’re writing for?

Ask your client or supervisor for a customer persona document that outlines who the target customer is and their specific characteristics.

If the client doesn’t have a customer persona or reader’s profile document, be prepared to spend at least 30 minutes -1 hour asking questions about the intended reader.

This is so true. Basically, it means that you need to understand who your target audience (your ideal customer) is and then talk to them in their “own language”.

You need to write the way they want to hear it.

Do they expect formal, very factual language? Then write like that.

Do they expect a casual manner or an educational one or a “best friend chatting” one?

You will get the best results when you give your prospects what they want the way they want it.

2. Is the copy based on keyword phrase research or based on a trending topic that resonates with your readers?

Heather says, “It’s tempting to blog about whatever strikes your fancy. The problem is – your readers may not care as much as you do.

Base your blog posts and site pages on reliable keyword phrase research. That way, you’re giving your readers they content they want to read.

This shouldn’t be new to you, research (keyword, niche, etc.) is a well discusses topic.

The point is, even if you know it, are you doing it. Personally, I like to focus on 1 or maybe 2 keywords.

3. What is your main per-page keyword phrase focus (focus on two-to-three keyword phrase per page?)

Typing on Computer Screen

Do Keyword Research First!

Heather says, “Don’t make the mistake of conducting keyword phrase research after you’ve written the copy.

Run your research first, and then choose the best keyword phrase for your page.

This is related to number 2, and is a common problem; many people do their research after the fact. This is better than not researching but usually just barely.

So, do your research BEFORE you create your content.

4. Is your main CTA (call to action) clear – and is it easy to take action?

Heather says, “Most sites (even blogs) want readers to take a specific action. In a sales environment, the call to action is purchasing a product. It could also be contacting the company for additional information.

Make sure that you tell your reader what you want them to do – and make it easy for them to take action.

As with number 2, this is something most people know about but frequently don’t do.

So, if you want your readers to do something after they’ve read your article then tell them. For example, I’ve found that putting an opt-in form at the bottom of an article converts better than anywhere else.

5. Do you have a secondary CTA (such as a newsletter signup or downloading a white paper.)

Heather says, “Many sites have a secondary CTA. Many times, the CTA relates to lead generation (signing up for a newsletter.) Other times, it could be a link to related products or blog posts.

Make sure that your secondary call to action is clear and doesn’t take attention away from the main CTA.

Generally, you should never confuse your readers and have a single call to action but, if you do, make sure it’s clear; clarity trumps everything else.

6. Does the page include too many choices?

Heather says, “It’s important to keep your reader focused on your primary and secondary CTA’s.

If your page lists too many choices (for example a large, scrolling page of products or a long list of related blog posts,) consider eliminating all ‘unnecessary’ choices that don’t support your main calls to action. Otherwise, your prospects may overwhelm and not take any action at all.

This is related to number 5, don’t confuse your readers and too many choices can confuse.

7. What internal pages will you link to? What’s the anchor text?

Web Page Links

Be Careful with Your Links

Heather says, “This is especially important if you’re writing a ‘soft-sale’ blog post, where the secondary CTA is to send readers to specific product or services pages.

‘Dead end’ pages (pages that don’t link out to related pages,) don’t encourage further reading/interactions – and can be a cause of higher bounce rates.

This is important both to your site visitors and to the search engines, always link to pages that are related to the topic unless the link anchor text is specific to the destination page.

8. What are the product/services features and benefits (if you’re writing a sales page.)

Heather says, “People make purchase decisions on the benefits of a product – not the features – so this is crucial. Make sure that you tell your reader how your product/service will make their lives better and satisfy a need.

I’m sure you’ve heard it over and over, certainly you have on this site, but (for most things) benefits are what turn prospects into buyers.

Benefits touch deeper emotions that the more sterile features and these emotions are what make the sale easy.

9. Do you have vertical-specific testimonials (if you’re writing a sales page?)

Heather says, “General testimonials are fantastic – they offer third-party proof that your product or service is superior.

However, if you are writing a sales page for a specific vertical, always include vertical-specific testimonials (for instance, a real estate agent testimonial on a real estate landing page.) This will help increase your conversion rates.

The closer your testimonials are to your target audience/ideal customer the more impact they will have and the easier it will be to convert them.

10. Is your H1 headline “clickable?” That is, does it convey a benefit statement or otherwise entice the reader to click-through from the search engine results page?

Heather says, “Readers initially quick-scan your content. Benefit-rich headlines tell the reader ‘what’s in it for him/her’ and entices them to keep reading.

Ensuring that your headline is compelling and has a benefit statement is a proven copywriting technique – and too powerful to pass up.

You need to catch the attention and entice your readers to read more with your section heading. Benefit and keyword rich headings are great ways to do that but mix in some that aren’t like that to keep the search engines happy.

Note: the search results show your page Title not any H! headings that appear on the page but the point is very valid for titles and H1 headlines.

11. Does your headline include a keyword phrase?

Heather says, “Searchers are following the ‘search scent’ from the search engine results page.

When they reach the landing page, they are quick-scanning for their search term (or a variation) – so including a keyword phrase in your headline is important. Adding your keyword phrase to your H1 headline is also an excellent way to reinforce keyword phrase relevancy.

This is obviously something that every SEO expert (real and fake) recommends.

Using the primary keyword in your headline or article title helps you visitors know they are in the right place and that they should continue reading; because of that search engines like to see your primary keyword phrase in your headline or title.

12. Did you include keyword phrase-rich subheadlines?

Heather says, “Subheadlines are an excellent way to visually break up your text, making it easy for readers to quick-scan your benefits and information.

Additionally, just like with the H1 headline, adding a keyword phrase to your subheadlines can help reinforce keyword phrase relevancy.

Don’t have more to say than what I’ve said in the last 2 items. Just be sure you don’t over optimize your page and do this too much because the search engines are wise to this and have started penalizing pages that do too much optimization and it’s unnatural for every headline to have keywords in them.

13. Does the content provide the reader valuable information?

Heather says, “Google’s Panda update spanked sites with ‘thin,’ low-quality content that was poorly written. Before you upload your page, ask yourself if the content answers your reader’s questions and is informative.

If you find that you’re focusing more on the keyword phrase usage than the actual content, rewrite the page.

Duh!

People who do this are the sleazy or lazy people who get slapped by Google and struggle to achieve success. They are the people who are building a real business instead of just trying to earn some quick cash.

14. Did you use bullet points where appropriate?

Heather says, “Bullet points help to highlight your content, making it easier for your readers to read. Use bullet points whenever you find yourself writing a list (such as a features-benefits list.)

Heather said it well and concisely but this is also a place where using benefits is valuable because people do tend to read bullet points so your message is more likely to be read.

15. Did you use “too many” keyword phrase?

Heather says, “Remember, there is no such thing as keyword density. If your content sounds “keyword phrase-heavy” and stilted, reduce the keyword phrase usage and focus more on your readers’ experience.

Well, of course, there is such a thing as keyword density as it’s just a mathematical formula but there is some disagreement about how important it is and what percentage is optimal.

It’s a fact that everyone (even Heather) knows that having some percentage of keyword density is very important; just look at the suggestions above (and below) where she tells you to make sure your keyword phrases are part of your content, that’s having some level of keyword density.

However, don’t miss the important point in what she said, that is, don’t make the content sound strange just to cram in keywords.

Provide high quality, valuable content on the subject and your keywords will naturally be in what you write, if it isn’t then the content probably isn’t any good so it won’t matter whether keywords are in it or not.

16. Is the “voice” of the page appropriate?

Red Lips Speaking

Make Sure to Talk Appropriately

Heather says, “Consider if your tone and feel will resonate with your reader.

Your content doesn’t have to sound formal, but it should sound like you talk (or like your sales team would talk to a prospect.)

Your customer persona document can help you find the ‘right’ voice for the page. Here’s more information about working with your page’s tone and feel.

I mentioned this above but she makes a good point that you can get a good idea of the voice and tone from the persona you made.

17. Are your sentences too long?

Heather says, “Vary your sentence structure so you have a combination of longer and shorter sentences. If you find your sentences creeping over 30 or so words, it may be time to edit them down – or turn them into individual sentences.

Long sentences are hard to read so keeping them short is better for your visitors. You also want to vary the sentence length and structure so the search engines are happy.

18. Are your paragraphs too long?

Heather says, “Long paragraphs without much white space are hard to read off a computer monitor – and even harder to read on a mobile device. Whenever possible, make your paragraphs shorter for easier readability.

Yes. Frequently I like to use one sentence paragraphs although I know that tests show it isn’t optimal for reading but for blogs with sidebars one sentence paragraphs look more like the more preferred 2-3 sentence paragraphs.

19. Did you edit your content?

Heather says, “Resist the urge to upload your content as soon as you write it. Put it away and come back to it after a few hours (or even the next day.) Eliminate any spelling/grammatical errors and see what you can do to tighten up the word count.”

Generally, I find coming back and spending 10 minutes the next day editing to be what works best for me.

Experiment until you find your ideal time but don’t just say it doesn’t matter and ignore it; your content will suffer for it.

20. Did you edit it again?

Heather says, “Once is never enough. Review your content at least one more time. It’s amazing what you can find to edit the second (or third!) time around!

The second round catches most of those you missed, many of which will amaze you that you missed them; don’t forget to spell check after this editing pass.

My third pass is read aloud to make sure it reads well.

21. Does your Title contain one (or more) of your main keyword phrases?

Heather says, “Always include your main page keyword phrase in your Title – and work in other keyword phrases if they ‘fit.’

Personally, it’s frequently very hard to fit in more than one keyword phrase into the title so don’t waste time trying it but, every once in a while, it works well.

One of the easiest ways is if there are naturally overlapping phrase. For example, if you have a keyword phrase of “inexpensive wedding” and another of “wedding dress” you can use “inexpensive wedding dress” to get both keyword phrases into the title.

22. Is your Title “clickable” and compelling?

Hand Clicking Mouse

Is Your Title Clickable?

Heather says, “Remember that the search engine results page is your first opportunity for conversion. Consider how you can create an enticing Title that ‘gets the click’ over the other search result listings. Remember, you have about 65 characters (with spaces) to work with, so it’s important to write tight.

The title’s sole purposes are to attract people and to get them to read further, if you aren’t doing that you aren’t doing your titles correctly.

You can try the Headline Analyzer (http://aminstitute.com/headline/index.htm) if you are stuck or want to see how “attractive” your title is.

23. Did you create a meta description?

Heather says, “Your meta description is like a short page summary – and it helps encourage searchers to click-through from the search engine results page. Although Google may not always use your meta description, it’s still important to create one. Don’t forget to weave in your keyword phrases.

I’d never heard that Google doesn’t always use the meta description to display in the search results and it’s always worked when I tried it but Heather’s right, even if they don’t always use it, create a short summary for the times they do.

Make it compelling so that your ideal customer will want to click it after reading it.

24. Does the meta description fit the intent of the page?

Heather says, “If you’re writing an article or blog post, the meta description should be informational rather than sales-y.

Conversely, if you’re creating a meta description for a sales page, your meta description can be more promotional.

This is really important because, if it doesn’t, then when someone comes to your page they will be very disappointed and leave (and probably never come back); I’m not sure I would make it “promotional” but I do make them be like mini-ads where I mention the primary benefit (as related to the keyword) and tell them they’ll learn more about it.

If they come from search engine results it will be noted that they left and your page will lose “points”.

Conclusion

Heather created a handy list and I hope you enjoyed it. As you can see I agreed with most of it and added some additional tips and clarifications.

If you use this checklist when you write your Web site copy (articles, etc.) you’ll be creating content that attracts prospects, back links and the search engines.

But, one additional tip, if addition to using the checklist for writing web site copy, don’t write really short content (at least most of the time) because it’s hard to provide read value in a few hundred words. My recommendation is to aim for, at least, 600-750 words but don’t be afraid to do more.


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