For a variety of reasons, and for writers of all skill sets, writing website copy always seems to take forever. However, with the right focus, templates and a disciplined approach, you can write copy like a pro — even if you’re not one!
One of my favorite writer quotes is “I hate writing, but I love to have written.” As a lifelong writer, I find there is no more honest assessment of writing. The people who say “I love to write” are full of crapola.
But when you’re launching a new website or updating an old one, it absolutely has to be done. Yet for some reason, it’s always the big roadblock. We chatted with James Roloff of Powderkeg on why “writer’s website block” occurs, and how to get your organization through it.
The biggest fear is not fear itself. It’s writing.
Powderkeg is a Madison-based website design and implementation firm. James heads up the business development, and by his tally, the company has produced over 400 websites.
When we asked him what the biggest problems are that customers have with their content and the website, he didn’t hesitate with his answer.
“The biggest fear is writing and publishing work,” he said. “They are terrified of embarrassing themselves.”
You would think people would be happy to share their knowledge, and have no problem unleashing torrents of content upon the world. But I know there is a real truth to what James is saying. When people within an organization are asked to helped write copy, here are the traits that lead to website writing block:
Perfectionist tendencies: A common tendency is to want every word to be perfect, and every fact irrefutable. I’ve had clients agonize over copy for months.
Problems formulating thoughts: Sometimes subject matter experts simply aren’t writers. They have all the knowledge in the world, but they can’t formulate their thoughts effectively into the written word.
Procrastination-o-rama: We all procrastinate, to a point. But if you’re a procrastinator to begin with, the task of writing an entire website can seem insurmountable.
We could go on with a variety of other reasons why people won’t write that copy, but the bottom line is things just aren’t getting done. As the marketing director, your job is to get that site live, so here are a few tips from James (and a few of our own) for making it happen.
1. Plan your workout. James likened writing to working out. You might not be able to get in shape in one workout, so spread it out consistently over a period of time. So set up a plan and a schedule for writing the website. Perhaps one page a day. In 30 days, you’ll have 30 website pages written.
2. Get the first draft done. The first draft is the hardest, so muscle through it. If you can get that sucker done, it’s all downhill for there. So just take it one first draft at a time, and do whatever it takes to get through it.
3. Give yourself a deadline. Akin to planning your workout, James says you should really self-impose a deadline. We all work better when we have deadlines to meet and content that simply needs to be done.
4. Schedule time for writing. This is critical — you have to reserve time to do this. Block out time on your calendar, and then turn off your cell phone, and close your email. Don’t take any calls, don’t allow anyone into your room.
5. Create a customer journey and eliminate pages. Sometimes people produce a site that is simply too big, and has too much detail. Do you really need a monster site with a thousand different pages?
Most likely, no. What you should do is map out a customer journey, in which you create pieces of content for each step of the buying process. These are the critical pieces of content, and you’ll need to focus on these first.
6. Be your favorite teacher. Maybe, as James points out, the key is to forget you’re a writer. Instead, consider yourself a teacher. Think of your favorite teacher, and picture yourself as that person.
How would you explain things? Imagine yourself teaching about each subject, not just describing it on a page. Let your knowledge and enthusiasm for your content area show in how you write.
7. Create a template for each page. A huuuge problem for people writing website content is formulating their thoughts in a cohesive narrative. If you make it formulaic, that takes a ton of pressure off.
James creates Word doc templates for his clients. Here are some templates that we use when we’re writing website copy.
Pro tip: Be sure to also check out this great post on how to overcome writer’s block written by Pete OC for Copyhackers!
Webpage templates: Start with your SEO components
In creating a template for each page, we like to start with a simple table at the beginning of each page. This includes the keyword we are trying to rank for, and any semantic keywords.
Once the writer is ready to begin, we include a table at the top of the page that you need to fill out with the necessary elements. The person posting this can add the elements into the SEO Yoast section of the post.
(Use this as specified in this article by Nate Shivar on how to use SEO Yoast on a page, applicable to WordPress blogs.)
|Blog Categories: Content|
|Focus Keyword: Website Content|
|Title Tag (52 to 70 characters long, and different than your post title):
Writing Website Copy Like a Pro (Even if You’re Not One)
|Meta-Description (make this less than 120 words and include the keyword you’re optimizing for):
Writing website copy can be difficult, even for seasoned writers. For procrastinators to perfectionists, here are some tips and templates to help you get it done.
|Author: Greg Mischio|
In this section, we detail what type of offer or Call-to-Action should be featured with the post.
Home page – writing your value proposition
Most websites consist of a home page and a series of interior pages. Design is critical at the home page, as your ideal approach is to segment visitors and make it easier for them to get where they want, as fast as they want.
Your copy on this page should be minimal, and include your “value proposition.” This is where you succinctly state what your company does, how it differentiates itself from the competition, and most importantly, how it will improve your customers’ lives.
The value proposition is usually a block of text (a headline, sub-headline and one paragraph of text) with a visual (photo, hero shot, graphics).
There is no one right way to go about it, but I suggest you start with the following formula, which is detailed in this great post by Conversion XL:
- Headline. What is the end-benefit you’re offering, in one short sentence. Can mention the product and/or the customer. Attention grabber.
- Sub-headline or a 2-3 sentence paragraph. A specific explanation of what you do/offer, for whom, and why it is useful.
- Three bullet points. List the key benefits or features.
- Visual. Images communicate much faster than words. Show the product, the hero shot or an image reinforcing your main message.
Interior pages – take a Neuromarketing approach
Your interior pages are no different than any landing page. Your goal is to sell.
Your page should be optimized for a specific keyword or keyphrase, and the rest of the page should support it with semantic keyphrases. This is work you’ll need to do with your keyword research team, but let’s focus on how the content should flow.
As Joanna Wiebe of Contenthackers.com has pointed out, you always want to lead with the pain. What is the pain point for the visitor, and how does this page solve their problem?
According to neuromarketing, your brain has essentially evolved into two parts. The “new brain” processes information and can rationally make logical decisions. The “old brain” is geared more to a “fight versus flight” survival mode. It is emotional and makes decisions largely based on fear.
The old brain tends to overrule the new brain, so appeal to the old brain’s fear factor to write your copy. The format thus follows, based on this approach detailed by SalesBrain:
Short intro paragraph:
BLAM — in as short a paragraph as possible, summarize the pain and show what the company’s true value is for the client.
Section 1: DIAGNOSE THE PAIN
In this section, illustrate the true pain that occurs for the client. Focus on what is really the ultimate issue and detail it thoroughly. Fear is the key factor.
Section 2: DIFFERENTIATE THE CLAIM
How is what we do different than not taking action? You have to clearly compare the benefits of taking an action and doing something versus staying with the status quo.
Section 3: DEMONSTRATE THE GAIN
Now it’s time to tangibly show what we will do for you. Be as specific as possible and detail how the client’s life will improve as a result.
Section 4: APPEAL TO THE OLD BRAIN
The old brain is scared of making the wrong decision. Use testimonials, reassuring pictures, and certifications to assure this is the right thing to do.
More tips – from headlines to content style
Ok, now let’s take a look at some other tips for writing the components of a webpage.
Your headlines generally focus on fear/problems of the client, and the article should solve it. Headlines can also be straightforward solution issues (how-tos).
We recommend writing 2-3 headline options, and then letting someone other than the writer choose the headline that immediately grabs them.
Pro tip: Use this great headline writing tool from Co-Schedule!
- Paragraphs should only be 1-3 lines in length. A guideline, not a rule, but try to follow it. You are writing for skimmers.
- Use paragraph subheads to break up the writing. Every 200-300 words, or where appropriate. Don’t be afraid to use semantic keywords, but don’t push the issue. Make these subheads lively.
- Integrate graphics throughout the post. Ideally, every time you scroll to a new page, a graphic should appear so you don’t hit the reader with a wall of text.
- Use bullets and numbered lists as often as possible.
- Your bullet headers need to be in parallel form. For example, if a bullet is one word, the next bullet can’t be a sentence. It has to be one word. I think it’s better to go with short sentences that describe the paragraph, as people tend to skim.
- Make the writing lively. If you’re bored with it, your client will be bored. They are counting on us to be creative and engaging. We must shine with our content.
- Let the article sit overnight when you’re done with the initial draft. Then look at it the next day and make any changes. Guaranteed to improve your writing.
Now get that team writing!
Ok, you’ve got the strategy, the template and hopefully the team in place. Whether you’re a pro or just getting started, you’ve got the tools and the approach to get that website written. So get started — TODAY!
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