Marketing copy for the web isn’t the same as with offline materials. The main culprit for the difference is attention: people rarely read in a focused manner online. Instead, they scan like a window shopper inside a store, picking and choosing which parts of the text they’ll pay attention to.
Reading Online Is Harder
According to research, it takes 25 percent longer to read the same document on a screen than on paper. Personally, I think it might even be longer than that. Why? Because it’s harder to look at small text on a backlit screen than it is to look at it on paper. Monitors are hard on the eyes (hence, the poor eyesight associated with using computers for extended periods), paper isn’t. And this isn’t even counting the amount of distractions that usually go on when you’re on a computer — instant messaging, emails, popup messages and all sorts of other stuff.
Adapting to the Medium
Because of the limitations imposed by the format, you need to adapt your marketing copy to what will work in the web. If you write your online copy the way you would compose a brochure, then you’re ignoring one of the most important factors that will define its success — it’s just not the way to generate effective results.
What things can you do differently when writing marketing copy for websites?
1. Use grabbing headlines. Make your headlines stand out not by being clever, but by being descriptive and engaging. Headlines are critical to web copy, as it lays the foundation as to how the reader will react to your writing.
2. Use the inverted pyramid. Do you read news reports? That’s the classic inverted pyramid right there and it works just as well for online copy as it does for newspapers. Why? Because they’re both read by people who aren’t likely to set aside a significant length of time to read your work, so you need to give them as much information as early as possible.
3. Lead strongly. The first sentence, as well as the first paragraph, usually acts as the lead for any piece of writing. Similar to the headline, this part of the material will decide whether the reader stays or leaves, so compose it in a way that hooks and commands the reader’s attention. Elements that generate an emotional reaction are particularly effective for leads.
4. Put the most important information above the fold. Monitors aren’t newspapers so there are no literal folds in web copy. In this case, however, we refer to “fold” in a figurative sense — everything the shows up on the screen when the page first loads is the area “above the fold.” Putting important information there will allow readers to get the meat of the content without needing to scroll down.
5. Avoid extra-long webpages. This is a corollary to #4, advocating keeping as few materials as possible below the fold. Of course, this is a guideline, not a rule. As you’ve probably noticed, long-form sales letters are widely used in online marketing. For the most part, though, marketing copy subscribes to the “shorter is better” rule.
6. Write shorter. Look towards writing shorter sentences inside shorter paragraphs. Big blocks of text are awkward to look at in a computer screen, apart from requiring the reader to keep their eyes locked on the page. While that’s not an issue in printed matter, it’s an entirely different experience in a display monitor, where your eyes will need frequent respite away from the page.
7. Write in the active voice. It’s a well-worn rule in all writing circles and it holds just as true in web marketing copy — always opt for the active voice whenever it’s appropriate. Doing so makes even the most bland writing sound just a whole lot better.
8. Talk to the reader. This is best done by emphasizing the second person pronoun “you” or “your.” Doing this forces you to relate to the reader, making your writing sound warmer and more personal. Done well, it fosters a better relationship between reader and writer even though only words connect them to each other. Be reserved about using first and third person references in marketing copy — only use them when absolutely necessary (e.g. talking about how the company started).
9. Use lists. Bulleted lists and numbered lists make itemized information easier to read. Use them liberally in your writing, as they’ll make it much easier on the eyes (i.e. the reader can look away from the backlit screen after every line).
10. Use a professional but informal tone. This is marketing copy so you need to keep an air of professionalism with everything you write. However, don’t do so at the sake of being conversant. Imagine how you’d talk to a prospect if you met during a business dinner at a country club — write in the same manner you’d converse in that scenario (which is, more likely than not, going to be friendly but dignified and respectful).
11. Provide additional resources at the end. Always provide further sources of information after your copy, especially if you touched on subjects in the material that you weren’t able to discuss in great detail. While some prefer doing this with hyperlinks in the body of the text, it’s usually easier for readers if you just put them at the end. That way, the links don’t end up being a distraction to the actual content of your message.
12. Avoid PDF. I can appreciate just how much more convenient it is to upload marketing copy like press releases as PDF files. Convenient for you, that is. For your readers, on other hand, it’s a whole different story — PDF requires opening a separate software (or, in the case of Chrome, a special feature on a different tab) to open the document, breaking up the continuity of the reading process. Unless it’s something people are better off reading offline (like white papers or product documentation), it’s just more useful to people if you post the text on a regular HTML page.