Poor, under-appreciated, underutilized web copy. It more often than not gets the short end of the stick behind design and development. Let’s face it. With just about a minute or so to capture your user’s attention, the first thing he or she is likely to notice and key into is the design. The writing within a website doesn't tend to take the spotlight. Excuse me—a professional with a journalism degree—while I let out a very long sigh. But do not despair. We aren't talking about 100% of the websites out there.
Capturing Your Reader's Attention (The Hook)
Some websites have done an incredible job at creating copy that captivates, whether it is to inform, to entertain or a little swirl of both. These websites usually have something that initially pulls the reader in:
TELL THE READER EXACTLY WHAT THE SITE IS ABOUT--USE A STRONG HEADLINE.
WRITE COPY THAT COMPLIMENTS THE HOMEPAGE DESIGN.
USE A CLEAN LAYOUT AND CLEAR ORGANIZATION.
Keeping Your Reader Engaged (The Line and Sinker)
Just because you have succeeded in catching your reader's eye, you still have the hefty task of keeping them interested. The specifics of how to do this will certainly vary depending on who you talk to, but here are a few good starting points.
APPROPRIATE TO THE INTENDED USER OF THE WEBSITE.
This seems pretty obvious. A website is typically geared towards someone. Make sure you are writing for them. The following example is a blog, and people tend to go to blogs to read them, so there isn't much competition for content here.
But I appreciate that the writers of this blog are showing their real lives and the truthful ups and downs of their projects--which is exactly what their readers are looking for. There is transparency on this website that tends to get lost out there on the internet. The website is professional and organized, and it overflows with great multimedia content even beyond the down-to-earth copy, which further helps those DIYers out there.
TO THE POINT WITHOUT BEING TOO DRY (UNLESS IT IS THE BRITISH HUMOR KIND OF DRY, THEN BY ALL MEANS).
Blocks of text are nobody’s friends. Shorter paragraphs with personality are very popular. The Rethink Stora Enso website does just this. Paragraphs are short and easily followed across this horizontally scrolling site. You get the meat of the information without the boredom.
SO FRESH AND SO…RELEVANT.
Web content can get stale pretty quickly. Keeping up with the times and what is relevant will help copy stand out. CNET is a good example of this--it's obviously a powerhouse of a website, but that doesn't mean you can't take a cue from something they have done well. I have referenced this website on countless occasions, because I know I will usually find the tech-related answer I am looking for. It is reliable and constantly updated. I have come to value the opinions and reviews on this website, which have made me a repeat visitor and an advocate for their brand.
I want to click away from a website I have spent some time on with a greater understanding of the subject, of the answer to a question, of life in general. There is too much junk out there. Write something meaningful. The following website is for Vancouver's YMCA Annual Report. So blah right? Absolutely not. This guy has some great information. I picked up some facts and tips that apply to my community too. I stepped away knowing something useful I previously didn't. (P.S. The actual website has a fun background that the screenshot didn't capture. Check it out.)
SPELLCHECKED. AND GRAMMAR CHECKED.
I am by no means perfect in this category, but there is nothing worse than a great article, blog or web page that is riddled with errors. Not so great. If you know you aren't the best at this, get yourself an editor BFF. There is no shame in asking for help. There is probably some shame in having a poorly edited article, blog, etc. broadcast around the internet.
The website below had so much potential--fun, swoopy headline, elephants in space--I got all excited to read it and then it happened. That typo slapped me in the face. Such an avoidable disappointment.
More Examples of Great Web Copy
Not only is MailChimp a great service, but their website is a charming read. You get an intense amount of information in easy-to-digest amounts, which can make a big difference when you are dealing with those customers who might not be as web savvy. Take notice of their great headline. What does MailChimp do? Oh yeah, easy email newsletters. And as an extra credit bonus, who doesn’t like the fun, random links from Freddie the MailChimp mascot?
Talk about fresh. The whole website oozes freshness; copy being no exception. The product descriptions are what stand out the most to me. The content is consistently presented on all product pages (Birchbox Breakdown, How it Works and How to Use) and focused on the intended reader, staying informative but playful. Furthermore, the copy makes me want to buy things. Checkmate.
Yes, spacey bird website, I would like to learn how to fly. This website for the Italian communications studio, La Piuma, grabs you with that otherworldly question. I want to know what those birds have to say, so I'm going to click on them. There isn't much more copy on this website, but does there need to be? Sometimes the perfect headline does the job, and you have secured the attention of your reader.
THE UNIVERSITY OF THE INCARNATE WORD SENIOR DESIGN SHOW
The copy on this website skips hand-and-hand with the design across every page. If the information you need to get across is limited, working it into the design like they have done here is a great way to get the word out. The design catches the eye, but the playful concept and wording commit it to memory.
So what can we take away from this? A great deal, I hope. Top points--get creative with it, write something worth reading and team up with an editor. Writing for the web can be hard. But it is not impossible. You have to start somewhere. Trials may bring errors, but errors bring lessons. And what happens with lessons? We learn from them. And become better writers for the web.