Onsite content: how to write copy that converts users
Your website’s copy has to read nicely if you want to stand any chance of engaging visitors. Spelling, grammar, punctuation and syntax all need to be spot-on. Just one “you’re” when you actually meant “your” is all it takes to make a visitor question your credibility, so there’s no room for mistakes.
But, as crucial as it is, faultless English is not the only ingredient for good commercial copy – and, more to the point, it is not what converts visitors into customers.
So how do you write copy that actually converts users? Tough question, but here are five pieces of basic advice:
1. Talk to your customers, not about them
This is rule number one.
If you walked into a camera shop and a grinning employee looked you in the eye and said, “Hi there – we help our customers find the best cameras for their budgets,” that would be a bit weird, wouldn’t it? You’d wonder why that grinning employee didn’t just address you directly.
Yet, online, we see this happen all the time. “We provide our customers with” this, “we give our clients” that, “we pride ourselves on our high standards of customer service” – and so on. All of which leaves most readers thinking:
And unsurprisingly so.
Your website is not supposed to be an online shrine to yourself; it exists solely to attract more customers or clients. More, every visitor is most interested in what your products or services will do for them as an individual – so tell them.
Second-person address is how you’ll do that:
“We can help you find the best camera for your budget.”
This reads as though you are addressing one single visitor, and that’s how it should be.
What about business-to-business (B2B) onsite copy? Does that still need to address the audience directly?
Yes it does. Even when you’re selling to businesses, it’s individuals you need to convince.
Let’s pretend your company is called Sylvester & Sons Office Supplies, and on your website you have a page specifically for stationery items. Consider these two opening gambits:
- “As we are a long-established leader in the UK office supplies market, we are able to provide our stationery items to thousands of companies around the country – and at cost-effective prices.”
- “Every office needs a number of essential stationery items in order to operate day in and day out – even in this largely digital modern age. As a long-established leader in the UK office supplies market, we can offer you these items at cost-effective prices that will help you maximise your budget.”
The first one is totally self-centred and refers to the reader as though they aren’t even present. The second one, on the other hand, immediately acknowledges the needs and concerns of the reader (who in this scenario is probably a small-business owner or a procurement pro) and then addresses them directly, explaining the benefits of buying from Sylvester & Sons.
The second type is always the one to go for – even on your website’s “About Us” page(s).
2. Use simple, everyday English
Formal prose and a bucketful of fancy synonyms do not result in ‘professional’-sounding copy. Although you might mean well, this approach could very easily make you seem pompous and out-of-touch.
Everyone likes an easy read, so just write the way you’d talk in polite company. Here’s the acid test: If you can’t imagine saying it, don’t write it.
This should apply to all businesses now – whether you’re an independent online clothes shop or a decades-old law firm with a strong reputation to uphold. If a customer or client came into your physical clothes shop or physical office, you’d talk to them in fairly simple and conversational terms, wouldn’t you? Of course. So the same on your website.
Let’s say I wanted to start my own online clothes shop and I needed a lawyer’s advice on copyright or something like that. I’d want that lawyer to explain everything to me in language I can instantly understand, regardless of how legally complex the matter actually is on their end.
Now, to find that lawyer in the first place, I’d look online – and guess how I’d decide on which one (out of the dozens of firms out there) to call? By finding the website with the most readable, down-to-earth copy.
If anything, your readers will appreciate simplicity, not sneer at it.
3. Don’t worry about word-counts
The copy on a landing page should be however long it needs to be. As long as you provide enough information to enlighten prospective customers and answer some of their key questions, it doesn’t really matter how many words you use.
Don’t forget: the primary purpose of a landing page is to turn visitors into customers – not to teach them everything there is to know about the topic at hand (you’ll do that elsewhere anyway, on your blog and in your guest posts).
Some of your landing pages might need 800 words; others may only need about 200. That’s just how it is.
If you’re Sylvester & Sons Office Supplies and you have a category page for your range of map-pins (as in, the pins you stick into maps), how much is there to say, really? (Very little, probably.) For that page, write some introductory copy by all means, but worry much more about the wording of your meta title and meta description – because that’s how you’ll entice users to click through from search results.
You can always tell when writing has been pumped full of words and phrases just to boost the word-count, and it never reads well.
4. Break the text up
Nothing sends a user to the ‘back’ button faster than a massive wall of text that should obviously have been broken down into smaller sections – even if the writing is wonderful in every other way.
It’s all about digestibility.
One reader might want to take their time with your copy and slowly absorb its information; another reader might want to read your copy quickly because they’re in a rush. Careful and considerate paragraphing accommodates for both types of reader, and will allow either to make sense of everything the first time round.
Of course, paragraphing is just one way to break text up into digestible chunks. Here are three more:
- Subheadings – they give the copy a general skeleton (and they aid search engine readability)
- Bullet-pointed lists – they help you present particularly important information clearly and succinctly
- Images – they’re not directly writing-related but they are crucial nonetheless, because users are far more likely to engage with online content that contains images
5. Use the ‘active’ voice in your calls-to-action
As the name suggests, a call-to-action (CTA) is supposed to encourage your visitors to take some sort of ‘action’ after they’ve read your copy. This desired action could be to browse your products, fill in your contact form, subscribe to your newsletter, call you on the phone, or anything else that might result in a full conversion further down the line.
To encourage action, you need to employ the ‘active’ voice (as opposed to the ‘passive’ voice).
To illustrate, here’s a CTA written in the active voice:
“You can purchase our office stationery online or in any of our stores.”
Now here’s the same CTA written in the passive voice:
“Our office stationery can be purchased online or in any of our stores.”
The active-voice CTA gives an instruction (“purchase our office stationery”), conveys confidence and addresses the reader, whereas the passive one just states a fact (and timidly at that).
Strunk & White’s book The Elements of Style gives a full explanation of why the active voice is almost always preferable to the passive voice – there are plenty of cheap used copies on Amazon.
So those are our top five tips on how to write copy that converts; now take a look at how to make sure your CTAs are effective.
Avoid sloppy copy and start writing content your customers will love
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