Writing content for your website

Copiam describendi facere

This Latin instruction gave permission to transcribe a document, and the use of the word copywriting for creating text content seems to stem from it. Not that we are suggesting that the words you or your copywriter come up with would be copied from someone else...

The word copy now tends to mean original content usually with an advertising slant.

What are you trying to do with your copy?

In essence, getting a message across to two audiences:

  • first and foremost, your website visitors
  • secondly to tell the search engines what you do

Website visitors

Effective copy should address the needs of the kind of visitors you’re going to be getting. This implies you need to work out what kind of visitors you will be getting so you can address their needs.

Perhaps your visitor has set themselves a specific task to find something, or they may be browsing leisurely. They could be looking for a future purchase, or looking out for deals and special offers.

For task-driven visitors, being brief and to the point is a good idea. Even if they leave your site quickly because you are not providing what they want this time, they may thank you for not holding them up.

For the more leisurely visitor who may not have specific objectives, then prompts, ideas and suggestions may be a really good idea because your website, or part of it, is more of a showroom.

You will get both task-driven and leisurely visitors to your website so you have to cater for both.

Thus far we’ve talked about broadcasting to a wide, general audience. What if you operate in a niche market? You may need to do things differently because you are narrowcasting. In some ways, this makes life easier.

Search engines

Traditionally it’s been suggested that being long-winded to get a high density of words associated with your product or service is a good way to tell search engines what you do. Word density is a measure used by search engines but there may be other ways of doing this, for example using microformats.

Google, in particular, are looking for shareable content and this isn’t just links from another websites. Google reads Gmail – and there are over 400 million Gmail users. Google also provides free public DNS services which also give them a vast insight into what pages people are browsing.

Privacy issues aside, to get people to engage sufficiently with your content to want to tell others about it is a smart idea.

Presenting your copy

Sloppy copy with repeated spelling and grammar mistakes will be off-putting to a sizeable chunk of your audience. Using a copywriter should get round this and hopefully bring added spark to your copy. If that's not an option, at least get what you write checked by someone outside your business. Content management systems seem like a good idea, until you re-read your prose live on the screen.

Writing for the web means thinking about how you read websites yourself. People have a different approach when they are skimming through (and want short, sharp pointers) as opposed to when they find something in which they are really interested (and couldn't care less how it looks as long as it is readable).

Write about things that interest your visitors

The corollary of that is don’t write about things that are of limited interest to them – eg no need to go on about your new website, for instance, not least because they may not have visited your last one and so can’t tell the difference. Remind yourself it’s all about them, not you, and how you are going to meet their expectations, desires and wants.

Revisit your content

Frequently when you return to one of your web pages, maybe months later, you will find that you haven’t quite conveyed the sense you wanted to, you want to shift the bias of meaning or maybe your business has had a change of direction.

The decision now is whether you should remove, archive or rewrite the content.

If you decide to move or remove a piece, then read our article on redirections. Failing to deal with redirections is mostly a visitor issue – it’s not good for their perception of your operation. Search engines may not penalise you directly for pages that aren’t found but they will be noting errors as part of their overall assessment of your website.