Written by Mark Williams
Fifteen seconds isn’t very long, is it? But according to research, that’s how long you’ve got before more than half (55 per cent) of visitors will click away from your website. And they have an enormous amount of other options, of course. Worldwide, there now thought to be 1,882,973,460 (and counting) websites (source: Internet Live Stats).
Some “bounce” (ie when a visitor only looks at one page of your website before clicking away or back) is inevitable. There are many reasons why your website could have a high bounce rate, but it’s disastrous if your success depends on visitors clicking through to other pages on your website.
If your landing page just doesn’t meet visitor content expectations, they’ll soon bounce away. Terrible design is also right up there when it comes to key reasons for high bounce rate, because people are put off by poorly chosen colours, images, fonts and other design elements (the same can be said of intrusive pop-up ads, hideous flashing banners, annoying autoplay video or audio).
Really bad copy
Another key reason for high bounce rate is terrible copy – and there’s a lot of it about. Although I’m a professional editor and writer with 25 years’ experience, I also run my own small business, so I understand why people write their own website copy to save money. And despite having no formal training or direct experience, some people make a good job of it. You don’t have to be a professional journalist or copywriter to produce good copy. There, I said it.
So, if you want or need to write your own website copy, what are the key dos and don’ts? Well, don’t write too much, for a kick-off. It can be off-putting, so you must convey your key messages in as few words as possible. Words on a computer screen take about 25 per cent longer to read than on paper, and readers scan-read pages rather than consuming content in a linear way.
Keep it simple
Always write for your target audience or customer. Be guided by their wants and needs when visiting your website. Make sure your tone is human, warm and friendly, but always professional. And as with web copy and most other things, simplicity is hard to achieve, but worth the effort, so keep it simple.
George Orwell’s often-quoted Six Rules for Writing provide useful reminders. To paraphrase the celebrated novelist, essayist and critic: avoid clichéd metaphors and similes; don’t use long words when short words will do; if you can cut a word – always cut it; use active rather passive language; and never use a foreign phrase, scientific word or jargon if there’s an everyday English equivalent. Admittedly, Orwell recommends breaking all of these rules rather than writing anything “outright barbarous”.
Short and sweet
Get to the point quickly and stick to it. Write short, focused, concise sentences that seek to engage readers and tell them what they need to know. Shorter words, sentences and paragraphs (of about four or five sentences) are easier to read and understand.
Keep your language accessible and inclusive, because you want to appeal to as many people as possible (and English might not be their first language). Display your knowledge, experience and belief in your business, but don’t be smug or arrogant.
Your website copy shouldn’t be boring, patronising or confusing. It should be free from spelling or grammatical errors (it just looks unprofessional). Make sure all your content is fair, accurate and factual, and don’t use slang or swearwords (they’re not big or clever). Focus on the benefits of what you sell, rather than mere features. And make good use of bullet points to aid understanding.
The write approach
Use “we”, “us” and “our” when talking about your business and “you” when speaking to readers. Avoid stuffiness and formality. Your website copy should convey your key marketing messages with subtlety and answer all likely visitor questions. Crucially, make it easy for them to buy from you or know what to do to get in touch to find out more.
Make good use of headlines to draw readers into copy and subheadings to engage and aid understanding. Obviously, your website copy should be optimised for Google, so that you achieve good rankings.
In reality, not everyone can write, so, if it really isn’t your bag, paying a professional copywriter to write your website copy could be among your best business decisions. See it as an investment, because there really is no substitute for knowledge and experience. But then again, I would say that, wouldn’t I?
Mark Williams is a freelance editorial consultant, writer and SME content specialist with over 25 years' experience. He contributes to The Guardian Small Business Network and planned and wrote the Start Up Donut website. As well as award-winning magazines and websites, his writing has featured in national newspapers and Sunday supplements.
You can find out more about Mark's work on his website: www.markiwilliams.com