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Six steps to great web writing

A funny thing comes over some businesses when they start putting together their web copy. Rather like having a posh ‘telephone voice’, they write about themselves in an artificially ‘proper’ way.

Instead of saying ‘we run coaching workshops for new businesses’, they’ll write ‘we facilitate training sessions to leverage success for business.’ It’s a bit like having Hyacinth Bouquet answering your office phone. More than a little off putting.

When I’m writing web copy, I imagine I’m telling someone in the same room. My tone is conversational. I use the same words to explain something that I’d use if you were sitting next to me. Good web copy makes a connection with its reader. Lacing your sentences with unnecessarily long words puts your readers at a distance, and that’s not where you want them.

Sometimes I think it’s a confidence thing. People don’t feel they’ll be taken seriously if they talk in everyday language. Big words are good for hiding behind. My advice would be to take a deep breath, and just tell it how it is.

Top six web writing tips

1. Be clear. Say it out loud before you write it down.
2. Use short sentences. They’re easier to understand.
3. Keep technical language to a minimum. Of course some pages demand it – especially if your offer is a technical one. But your Home page and About Us copy should certainly be straightforward.
4. Be accurate. A conversational tone doesn’t mean you can forget your grammar. Good grammar makes your writing make sense.
5. Get to the point. There’s no room for rambling digressions in web copy. Users want information fast, so cut anything superfluous and give important stuff room to breathe.
6. Be yourself. Connect with your reader.

Untangling difficult messages

picture of ball of tangled wool

So your project is crucial, but it’s not straightforward. People glaze over when you try and explain it to them. Not good.

Perhaps you’re too close to it. Maybe you’ve fallen into that dark place we call the jargon trap. The place where words get tangled, jargon creeps in, and meaning evaporates.

Jargon is like mumbling. Sorry, what did you say?
It stops people from understanding you.

Even the most complicated business message can be written in beautiful plain English. It’s the opposite of dumbing down.

I can help you untangle your message,
and write it in the appropriate language for your audience. Speak loudly and clearly.

Five Ways to get your business voice right

The case for promoting your business with clear compelling copy is already won. No one would argue that it’s good to be waffly and confusing. Likewise the need for accuracy. Spelling and punctuation matter, because getting them wrong makes your communications look unprofessional and this reflects badly on your brand. You know that already.

But how do you do it?

Here’s my top five tips for creating a clear business voice.

1. Short sentences are better than long ones. Really, they are. For example, if you’re reading this hoping to discover the reasoning behind my implication that the length of both word and sentence impacts upon the readability of said article, or web page, then by this point you might be becoming a little weary of it, wondering aloud to yourself, maybe quietly, maybe not, when, oh when, will it ever reach a conclusion, and I might say to you, maybe quietly too, or I might shout it, or even sing it as an operatic soprano might, in top C, that it’s not going to.

So, short and sweet is better. Cut sentences down. Be ruthless. Don’t be frightened of full stops, they’re your friends, so use them.

2. And it’s the same with words. Don’t say ‘facilitate’ when you mean ‘help.’

I’m not saying limit your vocabulary, English is full of beautiful words, but if there’s a simpler way to say it, then use it. Your aim is to be clear and easily understood. Get potential clients from A to B without losing them on the way in a maze of confusing words and meandering sentences.

Twitter is great for getting you to cut down on the waffle, and it’s good to keep that discipline in mind when writing other copy too.

3. Create a team. Your voice should reflect your brand. If you’re more than a one-man band use ‘we’ when you’re talking about what you do. We help our customers like this. ‘We’ is inclusive and engaging, and can put you on a level with your potential client. But… read on…

4. Look lively. Get some energy into that copy to engage potential clients. A good trick for creating a compelling business voice is to look at the first words in each of your sentences and make sure they’re different. Long lines of ‘we’s are dull; ‘we do this,’ ‘we do that,’ yawn, yawn. Throw in some new ones. Shake it up a bit.

5. But our business is different. What we do is highly technical and specialized. There’s no way round the jargon.

Potential customers need to see how you solve problems for people like them. Expertise can be a stumbling block if you just dump it in somebody’s path. Take a step back and get some perspective on what you do. Ask your clients what they like about you, and I guarantee it won’t just be your technical know-how. If you’re good, it will be your problem solving abilities, the fact you keep your promises, the way you use your skills to make their businesses run more smoothly. A powerful business voice communicates these qualities first, and lets the expertise speak for itself.

Writing for new business start ups

cutting the ribbon on a new venture

Sometimes you can be too close to a great idea to see how to market it. Your unique selling point can become buried under everything else that goes with starting out on a new venture.

It’s all about communication. Expressing your idea in language that speaks to your potential clients.

Often less is more. One great image can often say more than a page of explanation. Like distilling, branding concentrates the essence of your proposition into something truly potent.

I can help you define your offer, and capture it in compelling marketing material, sales letters, web copy and brochures.

Creating case studies that sell

Case Studies

Packing your site with valuable content is the best way to showcase your operation – and case studies are the kings of valuable content. Demonstrating how you add value, case studies bring your website to life, and will always be clicked on by prospective buyers.

There’s an art to creating good ones – here are my tips for case studies that sell.

Do your homework.
Set aside proper time to interview the client at a time that suits them. Set the agenda. Have your questions ready. Record the conversation so you have time to listen properly without scribbling like a maniac. Give the client time to say other things that might not be on your agenda. Keep asking ‘why?’ It’s a hugely valuable process, and you can learn a lot about what it’s like to work with you.

(If the idea of this makes you uncomfortable, ask someone else to conduct the interview for you. People often find it easier to talk to a third party, so this approach has other advantages too.)
Headlines matter.
Case studies are the heavy weight evidence proof of your expertise, but don’t treat them too reverentially. You want people to read them. So apply the usual rules of smart business writing and grab attention with a headline – Don’t say ‘Monetizing the Web Operations of AN Company: A Case Study.’ Say ‘Profits doubled in three months – here’s how.’

Make the challenge clear.
Your case study is your chance to show precisely how you add value, so explain it in lovely plain language.

Streamline the process.
In the real world, projects can be fairly rambling affairs. The parameters change, people change jobs and roles, life happens. The project had a bit of a hiccup in the third month when Jane from HR went on maternity leave…..But for the purposes of the case study, keep to the brief. Your aim is to show how you moved your client from A to B. Show your focus.

Use direct speech.
Use your client’s words. It’s partly a style thing, speech lifts a piece of writing and makes it much lighter to read. More importantly, it adds real credibility. It’s show not tell. An advantage of getting someone else to write your case studies is it makes that harvesting of this kind of valuable information much easier. Tell me again, how great am I?

Break it up.
As well as using speech, use bullet points to highlight your targets, list your objectives. Keep the busy web reader in mind and make it really easy for people to read.

Results.
Make it clear and unambiguous. How your help raised the bottom line. It’s the most important bit. Don’t let your case study dribble away at the end. End on a high.

And finally.
Put your case studies up at the front of your website. Too often companies stack them at the back of their site, like dusty old volumes at the top shelf of a library. Make them grabby and glossy and stick them in the waiting room. Think Grazia*, not the Encylopedia Brittanica.

*insert magazine of your choice here.