Copywriting for the Web, Part 1

by Sr. Susan Wolf, SND on September 11, 2012

in blog, website

Hands typing on laptopAlthough many people seem to think that writing effective copy for the web is easy, it isn’t. So if you want to ensure that your readers and your visitors understand how your website works and what it can do for them, you need to produce good copywriting for it.

In this series, we will look at the basics of producing good copywriting for the web. But before we start there are a number of things that you should remember.

First, people do not read a website in the same way that they would read printed material. In fact, there are three characteristics which affect how a web user will react to the online content of a site. Your writing needs to be directed to the visitor. It must be easy to read. It must be clear and concise.

Web users are active, not passive. So if they cannot find a reason for staying on a site, then they will leave it. Sometimes a person will leave 15 seconds after they have actually gotten there. If your text is too long, they are less likely to read it. And if they have to think too much to understand it, they won’t bother to stay or come back.

What is most important of all when looking at copywriting for the web is not to underestimate the importance of the basics in writing. If you just jump straight into it you may find yourself in trouble, and your site not being as effective as it could be.

Copy for the Web is Different

One of the most important reasons why copywriting for the web is different is that the mindset of those who are going to be reading it is different.

More often than not, most web pages will be found via a search engine. This is very significant, as it means that the person reading your site has been looking either for you or someone like you. So that puts them in control. They will be focused on finding a particular program, service or piece of information.

Anyone visiting your site for the first time using a search engine will have a few questions in mind. “Have I come to the right place?” and/or “Will I find what I’m looking for at this page or site?”

What do visitors to parish sites want to know? Often, they want to know the Mass schedule. So why do so many parishes either not have that on their home page or disguise it under “Worship?” Please, for the sake of your visitors, post the “Mass Times.” (This is one of my pet peeves.)

My other pet peeve is when I cannot find contact information for the organization that owns the site.  I want to talk to someone, but they do not provide a phone number anywhere on the website that I can find. This is very frustrating!

What do the visitors to your website want to know? Can they easily find it on your home page or not more than two clicks away? When writing copy for the web, always write to reassure any visitors that they are in the right place and that they should continue to read on.

Have you ever visited a website which omits or hides information from you? What was your reaction?

Photo from Free Digital Photos

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Meannie Svoboda, SND September 11, 2012 at 8:55 am

Thanks for the tips, Susan. I give talks at various parishes, schools, and retreat centers. One of my “pet peeves” is not finding the mailing address for the place on the home page. Sometimes I need to mail them something or get a map so I can drive there, so I need that address.

I also agree with you about keeping things short. I learned long ago in my writing career that “short sells.” If I write a 1,000 word article, I often try to cut it down to 750 words. Editorial space is precious. Reader’s time is precious too. Shorter is usually better too!

Renae September 11, 2012 at 9:29 am

I, too, have visited a dozen or so parish websites that do not make Mass times explicit. It would be helpful if all websites, including businesses, would make their contact info, hours and address readily available. I recently visited one business’s website that didn’t list hours but offered a phone number. I called it and all the message said was that it was closed for the day.

Jeanne September 11, 2012 at 10:36 am

We are in the process of adding some new initatives to our diocesan website – so this is very helpful. I am passing this on to people here. Thank you.

Sr. Susan Wolf, SND September 11, 2012 at 4:50 pm

Melannie, Renae and Jeanne,

Thanks for your comments. I have also received some emails sharing frustrations experienced when looking for basic information.

Thank you, too, to those who have shared this article via Twitter and Facebook. We need to educate our fellow ministers about these web good practices.

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