The Secret to Spotting Great Web Copy

great web copyI totally get it. One day you decide to hire a freelance writer to freshen up your web copy or even to put together your website for the first time.

Then you realize, horror of horrors, that you now have to go shopping for the blasted copywriter. You have no idea what to look for. You know what you like, but you don’t know what good copy looks like. You ask for samples because you kind of feel like you should…but that doesn’t accomplish too much because you’re left staring at a bunch of samples, wondering which ones are effective and why.

You know that it should sound like the writer actually speaks English. You know the words should be spelled right. The grammar shouldn’t be atrocious.

What else makes great web copy?

Great web copy is customer focused.

Customers don’t have time to read about your blah blah blah inception in the year whatever whereupon you became the best thing since sliced bread.

What they want to read about is pain. Specifically, they want to read about their pain. And they want to read about what you’re going to do in order to fix that pain.

I recently wrote some web copy for a networking and cybersecurity company.  I was willing to bet that most business owners don’t go around saying, “I’m going to buy some system and identity management today!”

Most business owners don’t even know what the heck that is.

No, most business owners are thinking things like: “Am I going to get sued if someone steals my customer data? Crap. I’d better make sure nobody gets that data.” They are in pain, because they don’t want to get sued. Good web copy is going to go right for that problem’s jugular.

Great web copy has a great headline.

Great headlines are customer-focused and attention grabbing. They make you want to read more.

For the security company, I used: Your Network is Plotting Against You…

Good headlines apply to home page copy in particular. They also apply to blog posts, since every blog post serves as a kind of advertisement for your business.

You’ve seen my headline: Feed the Content Beast.

Headlines tell a little story all on their own, don’t they? They issue promises, tease, tantalize, and say almost nothing about the business at all. No, it’s all about “you, you, you.”

Headlines need to put you on the fast track to the “What’s In It For Me” station.

Great web copy gets to the point.

There are toddlers with attention spans better than the attention spans of people who read websites. That is because there is absolutely nobody who has time for anything these days.

So it doesn’t hurt to keep sentences short, sweet, and to the point. It doesn’t hurt to put salient points in bold. Subheads don’t hurt either.

Great web copy keeps answering the unspoken question.

What is the unspoken question?

The unspoken question is “so what?”

For example, it’s not enough for me to tell you, “I’ve been freelancing since 2009 and I’ve never missed a deadline.”

Your response, on some level, is “so what?”

Fortunately, I’ve got the answer to that. 🙂 “Because it means I’m not a giant flake who is going to leave you in the lurch. There are an awful lot of giant flakes out there, Mr. Client. You don’t have time for all that.”

You can tell people awesome things about your business. Tell them your story–absolutely! Just make sure you include the “so what.” So what is the moral of the story and the punchline of the joke.

Great web copy tells people what the heck to do next.

That means you’re going to find a call to action somewhere. Usually it’s at the bottom of the page.

Don’t make your customers infer that they’re supposed to call you. For some reason that never happens. I think it’s because our brains are in a more passive mode while we’re reading websites.

A call to action doesn’t have to be a pressure-filled hype. “Call me today” is sufficient.

Great web copy thinks keywords.

This is near the bottom because the last thing I want you to do is get focused on those freaking keywords at the expense of awesome web copy that speaks to real live human beings.

Google’s algorithm has come a long way, baby, and you don’t have to type out exact keywords anymore. Thank god, because some keywords made good grammar truly impossible. You can have key phrases and keywords that are just near one another.

But it still helps to be aware of the keywords that customers are searching for. This is especially true if you’re trying to target local keywords. If you’re a dentist in Lansing, MI, for example, all three of those words should appear on the web copy. Not 40 times, mind you. But enough times for Google’s robots to figure out what your site is actually all about.

You simply cannot do any kind of marketing in the digital age without at least a nod to all the robots and algorithms that help people find you. It would be nice if you could. But you can’t.

What do you think?

Would you be looking for anything else as you evaluate all these writing samples? Is there something I missed? Let me know in the comments below!