Copywriting for the Web: Copy in the Audience
‘Writing for the Web’ is a guide for website owners, authors, and web designers on writing engaging SEO enhanced copy. My intention is to carve out a quintessential source of information pertaining specifically to online copy. The series is set to unfold over the coming months so sit back and enjoy a compelling tale of copywriting in a virtual age…
The rules of engagement
Let’s set the ball in motion by saying there are no rules – as with any creative venture, the end result should always serve the subject!
Does this mean assuming a Dirty Harry-like system of shooting first and asking questions later? Perhaps not. But instead of talking in absolutes, it’s best to think of writing for the web as an organic process.
So rather than lay down a set of rules, I’ll share with you a set of interchangeable guidelines, tips, and points of contention when tackling web copy.
Where to start
If you’re planning a road-trip this year you might be advised to map-out the route prior to departure. The same applies to web copy. Don’t be lured into putting pen to paper until you’ve developed a firm understanding of how people read online – resist the temptation!
Instead, take a trip into the mind of your reader and learn the ways of web copy. Seeing things from the other side of the fence will help inform all aspects of your project from layout, to content, headings, pictures, and beyond.
So is this really necessary? You betcha it is.
Online reading is a distinct beast that requires a special diet of tailored copy.
When it comes to the internet, for instance, research shows people are prone to scanning content and deterred by heavy-blocks of information. Your copy might be on par with the work of Shakespeare, but if people aren’t willing to give it a chance, then it’s bound to fall short.
Reading on the web is indeed a very particular process and successful copy projects are shaped to suit this need. Consider for a moment: it’s raining outside, crashing wind stimulates an overhanging tree into life, its branch-like tentacles reach forward and rat-a-tat-tat on the window; you’re perched on the couch – a warm cup of coffee in one hand, War of the Roses in the other – you take solace in your surroundings.
Now consider the same scenario sitting upright at your desk, a computer screen burning the back of your eyes – it’s different right?
On a computer, the reader often wants quickly digestible facts, a swat-team style in-and-out approach, whereas with a novel, the reader is prepared to inject a different level of commitment.
Reading on a screen is undoubtedly hard on the eyes, so use the tricks of the trade. Things like short sentences, plain English instead of jargon, paragraph breaks, lists, headings, sub-headings and keywords are integral to the online reading experience.
Make it easy for the reader
Introducing such measures will distill overlong paragraphs into content pleasing to the eye. So avoid drowning the reader in a torrent of words; massage the visual layout of the webpage, and write with a mind to the readers’ perspective.
So therein lies the key message of this post: begin any web copy project by developing a grasp of your readers’ needs and proceed by building them into your content.
And remember, where possible, keep it simple.