Writing for the web: What you need to know

By: Samantha Bane
Date: August, 2014
File under: Articles

People tend to invest a lot of time (not to mention money!) into website design and development. Meanwhile, website copy often gets overlooked.

As a former web copywriter for a large Australian online store, I can tell you the importance of good copy. Good copy is essential when it comes to helping users do whatever they need to do – whether that be buying something, understanding where to click next, or just browsing aimlessly between products.

I believe there are three main components for writing effectively for the web:

  • The look and feel of the words on the page (make it easy to read!)
  • The message that you’re delivering (understand your audience!)
  • Knowing what works and what doesn’t (test, test, test!).

Make it easy to read

When people look at a website, they don’t read the same way they read a book. They don’t pour over every word you’ve written or marvel at the poetic nature of your words. No. When users go to a webpage, they scan it. They skip sentences. Sometimes they even miss out whole paragraphs. All the user is doing is looking for something that will help them accomplish their task (which varies depending upon why they came to the site in the first place).

So, knowing this information, what can you do to make your copy easier to read? Keep it simple. That means:

  • No big words
  • No long sentences
  • Short paragraphs with headings and subheadings
  • Leave at least one line of space between one paragraph and the next (it’s like a mental “holiday” for users to digest what they’ve read)
  • Use bullet points to break up lists or points.

Understand your audience

Understanding your audience is the other half of the equation. People rarely consider this when writing website copy. In short, your copy will not be effective unless you write something that appeals to your audience. If you do not address their interests, users will simply navigate to another website that meets their needs more easily.

To give you an example, my stepmum (who has absolutely no marketing or writing knowledge) tried to setup an online music products store. She wrote the copy for the website herself, using the lines “Buy this now” and “Don’t miss out”. But nobody actually bought anything from her. The problem was that she didn’t have a deep understanding of her target market.
How could my stepmum have improved her approach? Well, other than thorough research, she could’ve asked herself the following questions:

  • Who will buy this? (age, location etc)
  • What will they buy it for? (purpose, product features etc)
  • Why would they want to buy it? (motivations, product benefits etc)

When writing copy for your website, you don’t have to use these exact questions. But the idea is for you to really think about who will be visiting, why they are visiting, how they might like to use your site, and what they expect from your site. Once you’ve figured this out, then you can tailor your copy according to what you’ve discovered about their needs.

Test, test, test

Small changes to wording can sometimes make a big difference – especially when it comes to ecommerce. So it’s worthwhile testing your wording to see what works better for you. For example, you can run A/B split tests on various Calls To Action such as “buy now” or “click to purchase”. Results can be easily retrieved from Google Analytics, if you have that set up on your site. Global company Veeam increased its conversion rate 161.66% by changing ‘Request a quote’ to ‘Request pricing’.

The bottom line is that so many people focus on web design only when copy is an equally important part of the user experience. Just as you test to optimise the user experience of your website design, you should also test different Calls To Action to see how this affects your conversion rates.

Back to articles
Share this

Get in touch

Find us at:

Level 24, 570 Bourke Street,
Melbourne VIC 3000
(03) 9684 3470


Online enquiry