If you’re reading this blog post, something had to bring you here as opposed to the other roughly 600 million blogs out there. Perhaps you’re a regular visitor to this site. Maybe you Googled “writing tips for better web copy” and this showed up. Or you might be one of our social media followers and liked the look of this title.
Search engines are a lot smarter than they were ten years ago. Gone are the days when you could “cheat” the system by front-loading your text with a bunch of keywords. Today’s SEO reads for quality of content as well as keywords. But once you’ve got a web user’s attention, you want to keep it — and hopefully encourage them to visit other pages of your site and take whatever actions you want them to take. Again, quality web content is key.
At Chapter Three, we’re not in the business of telling clients how to write. Everybody’s brand voice and tone is unique and as a webmaster you’re the custodian of that voice. That said, we’ve learned a thing or two about writing good web copy over the course of our 17+ years of building websites. Here are 15 tips that should help you attract and keep readers and encourage them to come back for more.
1. Know yourself and your audience
What is your brand voice? What does your audience expect from you? This is where a good content strategy pays off. If you haven’t already done so, it’s a good idea to create some audience personas to help guide your writing — this is generally done as part of the UX design process of a website. If these already exist, it’s a good idea to consult them regularly as part of mapping out your content strategy.
2. Aim for maximum readability
As a general rule, you want to aim for a grade 8 level of readability in your public-facing writing. This is of course easier said than done, as many subject matters possess essential words that will automatically bump up the grade level substantially. But you do want to get that grade level as low as possible by finding simpler ways to say things. Tools like Readable can help you do this by flagging words you might want to change out for something simpler.
3. Make sure your titles are self explanatory
People on the web want to know exactly what to expect when they click on something. Content page titles should state in the clearest possible terms what the content on that page is about. Likewise, blog post titles should be as self explanatory as possible. For blog posts there’s always the temptation to use a clever-sounding title. Save it for magazine articles.
4. Use the active voice wherever possible
There will be times when a bit of passive voice is necessary, but generally speaking web content can be written in active voice. Active voice has the advantage of sounding more authoritative and more concise.
5. Organize your writing using the inverted pyramid method
Wherever possible, organize your information from most to least important and start with your most important information. This applies just as much to sections of writing within a page as it does to the totality of a page. Notice the structure of this paragraph. It starts with the basic point and then gets down to the nitty-gritty details.
6. Keep things short
This applies to both sentences and paragraphs. It’s a well-known fact that people read twice as slowly on a screen than they do on a printed page. This is why optimal web page paragraphs are no more than five lines long. Likewise, short sentences are easier to digest for everyone and will help get your grade level down on Readable. Liberal use of bulleted and numbered lists will help with this as well.
7. Break up your writing with headings and subheadings
Headings and subheadings are like rungs on a ladder for the reader, making it easier for them to digest what you’re trying to communicate. As a general rule, you want a heading for every 150 to 200 words of text. A 500-word blog post should therefore have around three headings. From an accessibility standpoint, make sure your headings are organized correctly, with <h1> for page title, <h2> for main headings, and <h3> for subheadings.
8. Make sure your hyperlinked text makes sense
Nobody wants to click on a hyperlink that just reads “click here”. Hyperlinks should flow naturally within the context of the text while also explaining precisely what the reader can expect from clicking on the link. For example, “Read about why marketing executives should consider decoupled architecture” is good. “For more on decoupled architecture, read here” is not.
9. Maximize the number of internal links
You want people to spend as much time as possible on your website. As such, it is a good strategy to include as many internal links as possible in your content. Of course, said internal links should be appropriate for the content and not included solely for the purpose of being an internal link. If you find you don’t have anything appropriate to link to your content, your content strategy may need revisiting.
10. Use boldface for emphasis rather than all caps or italics
Italics are fine for the printed page but they don’t show up particularly well on a screen and are a poor choice accessibility-wise. As for all caps, we all know that it represents SOMEONE YELLING AT YOU! Always use boldface when you want to emphasize a word or phrase.
11. Learn some basic SEO
If you’ve made it this far in the list, you already have. Internal links are an important component of SEO copywriting, as is the proper use of headings and subheadings. Expert authorship and sourcing as well as proper grammar and spelling are also good SEO practice, which hopefully you have. Including keywords as well as synonyms in your titles and headings also helps. Search Engine Journal’s SEO writing guide offers many useful tips and is worth reading.
12. Whatever you do, don’t plagiarize!
There’s no shortage of blog posts on the web that purport to teach people how to write well for the web. As such, it would be very easy to simply lift text from some other post and plop it into this one. Don’t do it! It’s never been easier to catch plagiarists in the act, and the punishments can range from search engine demotion to legal action. When in doubt, use Grammarly’s Plagiarism Checker to test your content for authenticity.
13. However, AI is your friend
ChatGPT is a game-changer for content creators. You can save yourself a lot of time and anguish when producing lengthy content by leaning on ChatGPT for the bare-bones content and then going over it yourself with a fine-tooth comb to make it your own. In this case, I asked it to write me a blog post about how to write better web copy. The results weren’t too bad and were in fact helpful in generating fresh section ideas.
14. Be sure to end with a call to action
This gets back to step 1 in knowing your audience and what you want them to do. Any reader who has made it to the bottom of a page is probably hungry for more information or something else to do on your site. Give them something in the form of an action they can take.
15. Make sure you edit and proofread
To be clear, there’s a difference between proofreading and editing. Editing is the “macro” level and pertains to the subject matter of the content. Proofreading can also be called “micro-editing” and deals with grammar, spelling et cetera. Particularly with longer pieces of writing, it’s important to split up these tasks, assigning a subject matter expert to the macro-editing and an expert writer/editor to the micro-editing part.
If you’re looking for help with your content strategy, we would love to be part of it. Contact us today and let’s get started optimizing your content for new and expanded audiences.