“So the writer who breeds more words than he needs, is making a chore for the reader who reads” – Dr. Seuss
Many people think that writing is a natural talent; it’s god (whichever yours is) given and that you either CAN or you CANNOT write. Granted, some people are just naturally better at it than others, they have an inherent knack for it, but without the right process, thinking pattern and getting it wrong a couple times, no amount of knack is going to do you any good!
The key to writing focused, result driven content for a website is the method behind it. Much like the UCD (User Centred Design) process, it is user focused and even shares similar steps.
The first step is research. Get to know the user, the product and the competition as if you were writing content for your own company website. As in the Discover stage during the UCD process, this can be the most intensive and time consuming, but is the most valuable. Interview users; ask them WHY they use your client’s product/service? What made them choose your client over others in the industry? How would they describe the service / product to others? How does it make their lives easier? This information will help you define the tone and language to use for the copy, ensuring you are speaking directly to the user.
Interview your client; interview their staff, ask them about their processes, projects they were most proud of, company culture. There is no one person whose opinion is more important than anybody else’s. By sourcing content directly from the horse’s mouth, so to speak, you are doubling your chances of effectively capturing your intended audience.
Secondly, write a brief outline of the information that is going to be on each page. Help to define the content strategy by working with the Information Architect, UX Designer and Development team. Collaboration with these resources is vital in ensuring you contribute towards an engaging and effective website. Similar to wireframes generated during the Define stage of User Centred Design, this outline will help you complete the work faster and ensure that you stick to the flow.
When you start writing and filling in the blanks of your outline, remember to base your tone and language on your users. Don’t be overly technical, scientific or vague. Be direct, specific and concise. The point of website copy is to get potential customers to do / purchase something, become a member etc. Users who are looking for a specific service / product on the Internet are already interested, so there’s no need to blast them with unnecessary jargon. They are already halfway there; all you have to do is close the deal. Give the right information, the benefits and why it is better than the competition. Make sure the information is relevant, interesting and unique.
One of the main things you should avoid doing when writing website copy is base it solely around the company. No user wants to know how many cute bunnies you’ve saved; they want to know what you can save for THEM. Also, stay away from listing product features. Instead, talk about WHY the product features would best suit your audience’s needs, for instance why a mini van is more suitable for a soccer mom than for a young, male college student. Obviously, if you are writing copy for a charity that is trying to raise money to help them save the bunnies, or an e-commerce site that is selling various washing machine brands, the above “rules” are malleable. Basically, employ a little bit of logic when necessary, but please, PLEASE do not bore your audience with too much information that is useless to them.
Finally, no first draft is ever perfect. Anyone who tells you any different is lying! Read a lot, write more and never stop asking questions.