Writing is something we do all day, every day. From the time we wake up to the time we go to sleep, we write all kinds of things, like emails, text messages, articles, reports, etc. With so much practice, you’d think that writing content for your website would be easy-peasy, right? But when you actually get down to it, it can feel overwhelming. Where do I start? What do I write? How should I write it?? Before you start writing (or re-writing) your page content (or copy), here are some useful pointers to consider to help you get on the right track.
1. Identify Your Brand Voice
What is a brand voice, you ask? In short, it is a pre-determined set of rules and guidelines for your company’s written communications. Establishing a brand voice will help you stay consistent and on-brand with your writing. It involves things like your tone, your writing perspective, the words and expressions you use. It even has to do with your brand’s personality. For example, is your company serious and prestigious? Approachable and accessible? Many different elements can come through in your writing style, so you’ll want to reflect on this.
If you’re just getting started with your online presence, it’s a good idea to decide on your brand voice before you start writing. It can be a lot of work to have to re-visit and re-brand all your written content. You can set specific or loose guidelines – how detailed your guidelines are will depend on the size and structure of your company. For example, if you’re a 1- or 2-person company, you may only need a few basic rules to help you stay on track. If you are a larger company with sales reps and a marketing department, you may need a more defined brand voice guide so that everyone is on the same page.
If you’re not sure where to start, here’s a great resource that will help you work through some of the elements to find your brand voice.
2. Identify Your Target Audience
This goes hand-in-hand with your target audience or target market. Ask yourself, “Who are my customers? Who will want my product/service?” You may already have a good idea about this. If not, you might want to do a bit of market research to figure out who you’re trying to attract. Here’s an article that outlines some of the different elements to think about when identifying your target audience. Approach your content strategically, based on what you determine.
This applies not only to your writing style, but also your website’s content. For example, you’re selling camping gear. You can probably get away with a more casual tone, and use terminology familiar to people who enjoy camping and the outdoors. In terms of content, you may want to plan for some useful info like your favourite campgrounds, recipes, camping safety tips, etc. Ask yourself, “What information are my target customers looking for? How can I appeal to them? What do they like / not like?”
3. Identify Keywords
Keywords are a big deal these days, especially with search engine optimization (SEO) being such an important marketing topic. I’m going to give a brief overview of this, but you can find more in-depth explanations. Basically, the words that you use on your website affect how people find you on search engines. There will likely be a variety of different terms and phrases people could use to find your products/service. For each main topic, brainstorm several different terms. Try to include these keywords or key phrases naturally in your writing (don’t create sentences that don’t make sense just to use as many keywords as possible).
For example, let’s say you’re trying to sell a cookbook with gluten-free recipes. People could be searching for this in many different ways: gluten-free cookbook, cookbook for people with Celiac disease, gluten-free recipes, wheat-free cookbook, and so on. Some of these search terms may be more commonly used than others. However, there may also be more competition for these keywords (e.g., lots of other businesses using the same keywords on their websites). It’s a good idea to try and use a variety of terms in your writing. And again – don’t destroy the integrity of your writing by jamming in keywords willy-nilly! Search engines can penalize you for doing this, which will harm your site rather than helping it!
Use a tool like Google Adwords Keyword Planner to help you search for and brainstorm keywords. Google’s tool gives you different ideas for keywords, shows you how often people search for them, and how stiff the competition is. All you need is a Google Adwords Account and you can use the Keyword Planner for free (and without setting up an Adwords campaign). If you need some help, here’s a tutorial on how to use the Keyword Planner.
4. Use Proper Grammar and Spelling
One of my pet peeves is a lack of attention to proper grammar and spelling. Sure, I can be a little over-zealous at times, but there’s more to it than being a perfectionist!
There are two different kinds of “readers” that might notice bad writing:
- real live, human beings
- search engines
To the average person, poorly written content can communicate that you are sloppy, unprofessional, negligent, etc. This doesn’t reflect well on your business. To make a good impression on your human readers, your business communications should at least be free of blatant errors. Here’s an article with some common grammar mistakes you should avoid.
Why do spelling and grammar matter for search engines? The short answer is that search engines have impressions, too! Websites with high-quality content rank higher in search engine results than websites with spelling and grammatical errors. This is because they appear more trustworthy and reputable. While grammar and spelling may not be “direct signals,” they impact your SEO behind the scenes.
If you want your content to be taken seriously by people and search engines, take the time to do a spell check. Grammarly is an online tool you can install on your web browser to help you catch mistakes on the fly. Spell checking tools won’t catch everything, so it’s a good idea to find someone to proof read. Finally, if writing isn’t your forte, you may want to consider hiring someone who is.
5. Emphasize Value
You probably know from talking with your customers what they appreciate about your company. It could be what you offer or even how you operate. Make these your selling points and incorporate them into your writing! Some questions you can ask yourself are:
- What value does my product/service offer?
- What problems does my product/service solve?
- What need does my product/service fill?
- What makes my company/product/service unique?
- What makes my company/product/service better than the competition?
By answering these questions, you’re demonstrating your value to potential customers. In the end, it’s like creating a win-win scenario for you and your customer!
6. Make Info Easy to Digest
Have you ever picked up a book thinking, “I’ve always wanted to learn more about [random topic], I think I’ll read this book!” …Only to give up after 10 pages because it was murky, unclear, or overly complicated? I know I have… Whatever the reason for it, most people can relate to this behaviour (skimming news headlines, giving up on articles that are too long, etc.). We have become impatient (even lazy) when it comes to websites and technology. We want answers FAST! If it takes too much time or effort, we often give up and move on to something else. It might not happen all the time, but we’re all guilty of this at one point or another…
When your writing is too complex, you run the risk of losing readers. When a reader on your site is a potential customer, losing readers = losing customers = losing money! This also can affect your SEO – search engines like it when your content is relatively easy to read. The best search engines aim to provide people with straightforward answers to their questions, so they will give preference to content that is easier to read.
What does this mean for your writing?
- Use mostly short sentences
- Limit use of technical terms and jargon
- Break up run-on sentences
- Break up long paragraphs
- Use natural language
- Use bullet points
- Use headings and subheadings to make text easier to skim
- Limit use of commas and semi-colons
- Limit use of adverbs
- Use active voice instead of passive voice when possible
The Hemingway Editor is a great tool to help you analyze your writing. It gives you a readability score and highlights complicated sentences, active vs. passive voice, adverbs, and more.
7. Provide Relevant and Useful Information
The information aspect goes hand-in-hand with target audiences and emphasizing value. You want to anticipate what people are looking for when they come to your website. Give them the information they are looking for! You can even go the extra mile and provide extra information, designed specifically to help people instead of selling something. Making yourself a resource will help you look more trustworthy, reputable, and knowledgable. To help identify what content you may need, you can ask yourself these questions:
- What do people need to know about my product or service?
- What are the usual questions from customers?
- How can I reduce potential concerns?
- What other information are my target customers interested in?
- Can I provide free advice to help solve common problems?
This also impacts your SEO. Search engines look at how people are interacting with your website. So if you’re providing great content, people will spend more time with it, create links to it on their websites, and share it with other people (social media, email etc.). All of these are good things when it comes to SEO.
8. Avoid Duplicate Content (Internal and External)
Duplicate content is text that appears elsewhere on the internet. This can include other websites (external) or other pages on your own website (internal).
Here’s an example of external duplication. Let’s say you’re are a retailer that sells brand name clothing. You have an online store and you’ve used the manufacturer’s description on each of your products. In theory, it’s a great idea because it has saved you time, energy, and you’re sticking to the manufacturer’s brand standards. However, you have the exact same content as the manufacturer’s website and any other retailers doing the same thing. This is external duplication. You probably won’t be penalized, but you’re not doing yourself any favours. You’ll likely be outranked by the manufacturer’s website and not show up in the results list at all.
You want to avoid external duplication because:
- search engines won’t show 25 results with the same page content (only the most reputable)
- duplicated content is pretty much ignored (if it doesn’t rank)
- you’re missing an opportunity to create content that stands out on its own
Now for internal duplication. Using the same example as above, let’s pretend you want to post some T-shirts to your website. You have a T-shirt with 12 different options (4 colour options, 3 sizes). Design, style, fit, and care instructions would be the same for all 12 options. The only difference being minor details of colour and size. You can post them separately, group them into colours, or all in one product listing. As soon as you decide to separate it into more than one product listing (or one “page”), you end up with multiple pages featuring very similar content. This is internal duplication.
You want to limit internal duplication because:
- your content ends up competing with itself in search engine rankings
- SEO potential is diluted on each page with similar content
In the case of e-commerce, you have to think about more than search engine rankings. You want to make sure that the customer’s experience from Shop to Checkout is as streamlined as possible. Sometimes grouping things together makes sense in the shopping experience. Sometimes you may want to keep things separate. Look at things from the end-user’s perspective and make your decisions accordingly.