Asking a copywriter if copy is important is like asking your barista if he has an opinion about light vs dark roasts. So it’s probably no surprise to read this here, but:
The words that you use on your site matter.
The order that you put them in matters.
The size, font, and spacing you choose matter.
But when it comes to your website copy, some aspects of copywriting matter more than others.
This post is intended to give you an overview of the key aspects of your web copy that you need to get right.
1. An answer to the question, "Who are you and what am I doing here?"
That’s the question your visitor is going to be asking themselves in the eight seconds (max!) they spend deciding whether or not they want to stay on your page or bounce.
That means that the answer to those questions MUST appear above the fold on your page (i.e. before they have to scroll).
You can answer this question in your logo, in your headline, in a short value proposition below the headline, or make it apparent in your menu.
You should emphasize it with images that reflect either who you are or who you serve.
But your visitors have to be able to answer this question without scrolling around, or you’re going to lose a lot of them-- and hurt your SEO. If your visitor searches for your product or service and they don’t immediately see a reason to stay on your page, they’ll bounce back to Google to find more relevant results. This behaviour is referred to as “pogo-sticking”:
“If users click on many other links after visiting your webpage [...] Google’s algorithm concludes you are causing users to pogo-stick. Your ranking is then negatively affected as you are leaving your users unsatisfied due to ranking for irrelevant keyboards, using confusing webpage design, or providing inadequate amounts of content.”
Imagine the equivalent in a brick-and-mortar business: When I accidentally wander into the maternity section of a clothing store, I don’t think “Hm, maybe these flowy tops will work for me anyway”, I think “Eek-- this is not what I’m looking for”, and I high-tail it back to clothing that feels like it’s made for me.
Your copy, your brand, and your web design all work together to make your ideal customer feel comfortable on your site. They make it clear that your offer is designed especially for them, and that they’re in the right place to find a solution to their problem. So they feel comfortable taking a look around.
The #1 place this matters? Your headline.
2. A headline that joins the conversation going on in your visitor’s head
I’ve gotten really into tapping and EFT lately (thanks to Tapping with Brad). So let’s say I’ve searched for EFT specialists in my area.
What can you infer is on my mind?
I might be in pain, looking to clear mental blocks, or have depression or anxiety.
I might want to use EFT to level-up in my life and create a better mindset.
The fact that I’ve searched for someone in my area suggests that I’m serious about wanting to contact someone; I’m not necessarily looking to learn about EFT or take an online course.
With that in mind, consider the two examples below, which are both from the first page of search results for “EFT specialist Calgary”:
The first page has a headline that reflects who they are (Calgary Healing Hypnosis) and the topic of the page (EFT (or tapping)), with an image of the nearby mountains. Then it goes on to educate visitors about tapping and the scientific evidence there is to support tapping as a form of therapy. In the sidebar, there’s an email and a phone number to contact the EFT practitioner.
In light of the first tip in this article, you might already be able to see how this first example could be improved. The WHAT is clear, but the WHO is left unsaid. Other than that, this page makes one of the most common copy mistakes online businesses make, which is focusing on the WHAT instead of “What’s in it for me?”.
Compare the first example with this one:
The second begins with a question to the reader that’s linked to the benefits of EFT. In keeping with the previous point, it’s clear who this woman is and what she does through her title “Confidence Coach Marlene Cameron”. Just below the fold, she asks:
Are you a professional or business owner who secretly wonders “if I am so smart, talented and capable, why do I feel like an impostor”?
Both of these questions engage her reader in a conversation, and if, as a visitor, my answer is yes, I’m likely to be her ideal customer.
To figure out what conversation is happening inside your ideal customer’s mind, you need to have a deep understanding of the fears and struggles that they’re dealing with around your offer.
They’ve sought you out because they’re experiencing a pain or feeling a deep desire.
The most powerful way that you can join that conversation is by reflecting that pain on your page, whether that’s by presenting your solution to their problem in a context that's familiar to them, or by directly referencing the experience of that pain: how it feels, how it manifests itself, or its impact on their life.
3. Clear and intuitive navigation
One of the things that gets me most riled up - when I visit a website and even more so in person (my husband can tell you stories) - is when businesses make it difficult for their customers to figure out what they’re supposed to do. (Even worse: when they make it hard for me to give them my money. But more on that another time.)
There’s a restaurant at the modern art museum in my city that’s great-- it has a fantastic menu, very nicely designed, it’s a place to see and be seen, etc. We go there for birthday dinners, business meetings, brunches, etc.
But both of the doors leading into this restaurant (from opposite sides of the building) lead you into the middle of two large seating areas with no clear indication of where to go, who to speak to, or what’s going on.
There’s no host or hostess, no “please wait to be seated” sign, no flow.
It turns the beginning of every experience there into a high-anxiety exercise in flagging down a stressed-out server (they suffer from the lack of order too) and trying to figure out where your party is sitting or if they’ve already arrived.
Your home page and top-menu navigation are the equivalent of the entryway to your business.
As I outlined above, what you do and who you serve should be apparent above the fold. This lets your prospect know they’ve arrived in the right place.
Your headline should reflect their pain. This shows them they’re understood, and that you have a solution to their problem.
In the same way, your top-menu navigation should help your visitor know exactly what they’ll find under each link. Some people will go straight to your About page. Some will want to browse the blog. Those who are already primed to work with you might go straight to Contact.
It’s been said by Marie Forleo, Joanna Wiebe, and probably countless others, but I’ll say it again…
Clear over clever, every. single. time.
Do not make your visitor work hard to figure out what you mean in your menu.
Do not make them feel like they don’t know what to do next.
Do not go for different, unique, original epithets here (unless they’re clear AF). Observe the conventions and make your links do what’s on the label.
4. Benefits they can imagine, not that you have to explain
It’s all well and good to say that the benefits of having YOU as my VA, for example, are that you’re organized, reliable, and communicative. On your site, that might look like this:
Hi, I’m Laura, and I’m a tech VA for online course creators.
I’m organized, reliable, and communicative.
If you’d like to work together, click here to set up a call.
But written up in this way, the benefits of working with Laura read like features of her personality.
To turn features into benefits, you always have to be asking yourself, “So what?”
I’m organized. “So what?” So I’ll know exactly what goal you need to reach on any given day.
I’m reliable. “So what?” So I’ll never leave you hanging on a client call, with a customer wondering if this so-called VA really exists.
I’m communicative. “So what?” So you’ll always know what I’m working on and you’ll have a clear overview of what we’ve accomplished at the end of every month.
This are a quick, rough approximation of how you can punch up features into benefits. But your benefits should be as specific to your customers as possible.
Let’s say that Laura’s customers have told her that they love having her help during launches because she knows her way around all kinds of different email service providers, she’s a whiz at Canva, and she takes care of all kinds of customer service problems quickly and professionally.
The same section of her page might then look like this:
Hi, I’m Laura, and I help online course creators launch have successful launches by letting them operate entirely in their zone of genius.
If you want to:
Leave your email marketing platform to a pro and relax in the knowledge that the right people are seeing the right message at the right time
Advertise your course with beautiful, custom images without ever opening Canva
Exceed all your customers’ expectations of what online customer service feels like
… then I’m your woman.
If you’d like to work together, click here to set up a call.
When you’re asking yourself the “So what?” question, rely as much as you can on things your target market has either actually said or that they would actually say. Voice of customer research is key here.
5. One clear goal, One Call to Action
When people submit their pages to me for a free copy review, they’re often already frustrated, overwhelmed, and too deep “in” their writing to see what’s wrong with it.
At one point, they had a clear idea of what they wanted to say... but in the meantime, they’ve thought of a lot of other things they need to express as well, and they’ve had a bunch of other ideas about what their audience needs to know first.
One of the main reasons this happens? They’re putting too much pressure on a single page.
The secret? One page = one goal.
Make it your new mantra... One page, one goal. One page, one goal.
Every time you sit down to write your page, establish your goal for that page at the very beginning.
A few examples could be:
About page → Drives to Services
Services page → Drives to Consult Call
Your FB page → Drives traffic to your site or gets likes for your business page
Your Blog → Sign up for your email list
Each blog post → Download a lead magnet or purchase a tripwire product.
The exception to this is your home page, which is like a travel hub for your visitors. Your home page has the one goal of transporting the right people to the right places, but this means it will likely have more than one CTA.
The choice of goals is unlimited. The number of goals is 1.
6. Scannable takeaways to catch their eye
Remember the 8-second rule we talked about above? (And which I’m sure you’ve seen in some form elsewhere.)
Visitors to your site are making an unbelievably quick decision about whether or not YOU can solve their problem.
Whether you’re the best in your business or a relative newbie, no one - and I repeat, no one - is going to stick around to find out what you offer if it means that they have to read a big ol' block of 10 pt text.
Not only should all of the text on your page be big enough and spaced out enough to easily take in, the most important takeaways should jump out at me, so that I’m intrigued enough to actually stick around and read the rest.
Even though 12 pt font is commonly used in Word docs, there’s no rule that says your “normal” font has to look like a text doc. It does, however, have to be legible-- think sans serif fonts and dark text on a light background rather than the other way around.
People will not necessarily read your words in the order that you write them. So don’t refer to your product by name in a paragraph and then say “it” in a header.
And coming back to our restaurant metaphor... Compare the feeling you get when you see a menu with a million options listed in a tiny font (and throw in multiple languages for extra confusion) to the ease of choosing from a few well-curated meals, with lots of negative space between them, and a clear overview of what’s on offer.
Make the user experience of being on your page and finding what they need as easy and as pleasurable for your visitor as you can.
They want to solve their problem, and it’s easier for them (the search is over!) if you’re the one who can help.
So please-- don’t make it difficult to understand your value.
All of these must-have copy elements boil down to giving your visitor the best possible experience on your page, which is why conversion copy (as part of conversion rate optimization) and user experience are so deeply intertwined. As Karl Gilis (CRO and Usability Expert, AGConsult) puts it in Talia Wolf’s fantastic article on this topic:
“Every aspect of your website and your offering influences the user experience. A bad experience will most likely result in the visitor leaving your website. Moreover, [they] don’t just leave, they leave with a negative feeling about your company and that’s something you want to avoid at all cost.”