I've been wading through a lot of new website content lately. That, as well as the process of building a site for someone recently, has me thinking about the role of writing when it comes to our websites.
To use a musical analogy, just like songs are made up of two main components - music and lyrics - most websites consists of graphics and text. We often pour our best energy into the visuals, making sure our images are professional and crisp, and that the layout of our site is intuitive and easily navigable.
But what about the copy? Or in plain English, the words. What you say and how you say it is just as important as the visual image you are portraying. A beautiful, slick looking site starts to disappoint when riddled with incomplete sentences, poor grammar, and a myriad spelling mistakes. I thought I'd put together a few thoughts on how to put your best foot forward when it comes to web copy. And don't worry, you don't have to be a professional writer to be able to make these tips work for you.
1. Consider Your Tone
The tone, or 'voice' you use when it comes to language choice should match what you have on offer. If, for example, you have an inspirational fitness brand, but use defeatist language, that's quite obviously not a good fit.
If you're appealing to professional business men, but the language you're using is fun, quirky and girly - again, its probably not going to be taken seriously. Try to match the type of language you use with the way you want your brand to be received.
Ask yourself, is my brand:
- formal or informal?
- fun or serious?
- professional or personal?
- emotional or rational?
- detailed or to-the-point?
- technical or broad-strokes?
If you haven't already gone through a thorough branding process, grab a piece of paper now and answer this question:
2. Check Your Spelling
There are so many tools out there to help with those of us who struggle with spelling. Rather than writing your web copy straight onto your site, work with a google or word doc to take advantage of the spell-check feature, then copy and paste the edited text onto your site. At least that will help alert you to any glaring errors. If you're part of an online network or Facebook group, why not call in a favour and ask someone to take a look at your site before introduce it to the world. Don't be afraid to be specific about needing help with spelling if you know that is a weak area.
3. Group Like Information Together
We're all aware that our sites, blogs and online spaces need to be responsive - working best for whatever device the reader is using, whether it be mobile, tablet, or desktop. But have you taken into consideration that the way you lay out your text (and not just your images) can also be helpful or distracting? Try to avoid long horizontal lines of text, but rather group related text together in small chunks. Our eyes tend to move toward bite-sized bits of information to digest them, and we're instantly put off by long meandering sections. Here's a rather silly example, just to help you visualise what I mean...
All the information about this one thing can be found here, preferably under a heading.
Here's a short bit of information about the same point, all related to the topic.
And here's another short, punchy point which will make you take notice.
4. Use Visual Cues
In addition to bunching your text into neat sections (see point three above), there are other ways you can help your reader's eye jump to important information on your pages. Most site builders allow you to specify at least two or three headings in addition to normal type, bold, italics and quote formatting.
Make use of a range of these features.
When you're thinking about how your copy is going to be laid out on your site, factor in the use of:
- bulleted/numbered lists, and
- stand out quotes.
It really makes for more interesting reading, and helps your reader judge which information is primary, and which information is secondary. Of course, as with most things in life, don't get carried away and use so many differing formats that you confuse your reader!
5. Be Consistent
Another thing to think about when it comes to writing style is consistency. You've probably taken the time, energy and money to consider your brand colours, specific shades and hues, accents, design elements and the type of imagery you'll incorporate into your site. A lot of what pulls your brand together causing it to be identified as yours is consistency - consistency in colour palette, tones, image choice, and layout. Now apply that concept to your copy. If you're going to use a dark grey main heading in caps, with a lighter grey font for your typical blog posts, then do that every time. If you're going to use a personal, one-on-one tone that draws your reader in to your life, then use that consistently. There is obviously room for breaking out of the box and now again, but make sure you aren't throwing your readers off with the way you write, the way you format your writing, or the tone you use.
5. Declutter Your Writing
I often find that my first draft is my most wordy. I say too many things, in too many ways. Watch out for saying something one way, and then for just for the sake of it, saying the same thing another way. What I mean is you should watch out for repetition. Oh, and don't go on and on about the same thing in slightly different words just to fill up the space. (You get my point/lame joke).
By all means, in your writing, be friendly, personal, and warm. But unless you've very deliberately taken the super chatty approach, I think that most people value writing that gets to the point without being rude or abrupt.
6. Review Your Work
The time to publish what you're been working on is probably NOT directly after you've written it. As you write, you inevitably get so involved in what is right in front of you that you lose the ability to be objective. The best way around this is to give your writing some time and space. Once you're worked on your blog post, media piece, site blurbs or product copy, don't post it immediately. Rather pop it into draft mode and sleep on it. Then come back the next day to review what you've written. You may find that you have something fresh to bring to it, or that you've repeated yourself, or that it would make sense to reorder your points. Or you might spot that troublesome typo you just couldn't see the evening before.
In summary, even if you're not a 'professional' writer, you can vastly improve your online presence through your writing by:
- Considering your tone
- Checking your spelling
- Grouping like information together
- Using visual clues
- Being consistent
- Decluttering your writing, and
- Reviewing your work