How a web copywriter creates copy people will read
It’s local election time. How do I know? Well, the placards lining my street are a dead giveaway. And, like the last election, an envelope arrived in my mail box profiling all the possible candidates (Why we can’t vote online is beyond me, but that’s a topic for another blog).
Now, I’m glad to live in a democracy. I understand that I’m lucky to have the right to vote. I know that wars have been fought for the privilege. However, I have to say, when it comes to local politics, engaging in the democratic process takes strength of will.
Why so hard? Well, like everyone else, I’m busy. And, as important as they are, local elections don’t exactly excite me — taking the time to wade through often poorly-written profiles of aspiring politicians isn’t my idea of fun.
Anyway, I bet you’re wondering what all this has to do with copywriting and writing readable web copy. I’ll get to that soon.
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A web copywriter must clearly communicate his/her client’s message — usually relating to selling a product or service. So, the first priority has to be getting the copy read; to ensure nothing gets in the way. In other words, the copy must be easy to read.
You see, people are impatient when online — much more so than when reading a book or a magazine. In fact, most won’t read all the copy, just chunks of it. They’ll scan the page for what they’re looking for; if they can’t find it quickly, the majority will “tune out” and visit another website.
Back to the local elections
Okay, as I said, I’m busy. I know I should take time to decide who to vote for, but it’s so hard. In my part of Auckland, there must be in excess of 30 people hoping to get elected. So, there was no way I was going to read every profile word for word. Instead, like on the web, I scanned them.
Words need room to breathe
Web copy needs space — room to breathe. Actually, the same is true for any copy. Quite frankly, though, anyone with the patience to read through all of the 30-plus profiles that arrived in the mail must have been in real danger of mental “suffocation”. Though, in most cases the relevant information was there, finding it was another matter.
As I said, any copy needs space. Space makes the copy look less intimidating, even inviting. Well-written web copy can be read in chunks and enables the reader to scan for points of interest.
So, how is this done?
As a web copywriter, there are four main techniques that I use, as shown in this infographic.
Headings are essential for good copy. They have two purposes:
- To tell the reader what the following copy is about. So, if a visitor wants to know whether you sell toasters, for example, a heading like “Our magnificent toaster range” would enable them to ignore the other copy on your page and jump straight to the toaster section.
- To break the copy into chunks. Sometimes it doesn’t matter what the heading says. Often it’s a good idea to use one just to break up the copy and make it look less imposing. I often do this where I’ve written a lot of copy on one particular topic.
Like headings, bullet points are effective for breaking up the copy. They are great for summarising important points, like a product’s benefits or, maybe, the different services you offer.
Short sentences are great for leading the reader into the copy. For example, you’ll notice I began this post with It’s local election time. Though it’s important to vary the length of your sentences, I aim to make most of mine as short as possible — if a word isn’t necessary, leave it out. You should keep your paragraphs brief too — remember copy needs space.
Em dashes [— ] are often used instead of brackets [( )]. However, I also use them to break up a long sentence. For example, I used one earlier in this sentence: A web copywriter must clearly communicate his/her client’s message — usually relating to selling a product or service. Again, I did this to create space.
Advice for aspiring politicians
First of all, good on anyone who is willing to run for government in order to improve our society — most of us are too absorbed in our own lives to bother. However, to get your message across clearly, and to make it easier for people to be involved, local politicians might want to start using some of the techniques described.
What do you think? Let me know how you write web copy that people will read.