Words matter. Which words does your website need?
Of course, that’s an impossible question to answer. Every website has a different story to tell, and needs a multitude of different words to do it.
And every business has a unique tone of voice. Ideally everything – from the welcome message to your terms and conditions – should sound like you. But while the voice needs to be consistent, there has to be flexibility within it. Just as we choose different words depending on the situation and who we’re speaking to, good websites favour different flavours of words in different areas.
Whether you’re planning a new website for your business, or assessing how to move your current website forward, paying attention to the words will make a BIG difference to how well it engages.
Website words fall into categories and types. Understanding these categories makes it easier to write your website content, or to commission a writer to help you.
Let’s start with your home page. As a general rule, home page copy is short and to the point. If people land here, they’ll be making a quick assessment – ‘Am I in the right place? Do I like the look of this? Do I feel at home here?’
The job of the words on the home page is immediate clarity – setting the tone, and inspiring readers to dive in deeper. Making sure these short messages are customer focused is the way to engage readers.
From the hero copy (the brief customer focused description of your offer which are the first words you see when you land on a well-designed website), to the calls to action, these words need to work really hard. The help of a good content copywriter can really help you make this short copy sing.
The words’ job
Engage, inspire, reassure
Dr Seuss. If there’s a shorter word, use it. For extra flair, consider the sound and look of the words too. Make them melodically memorable for increased likeability.
“For the writer who breeds more words than he needs is making a chore for the reader who reads.” ~ Dr Seuss
About Us page
Likely to be one of the most visited areas of your website, so this is key copy. The job here is to tell your reader how your products and services can help them, to demonstrate your expertise, to help them get to know you, and encourage them to get in touch.
Why, who, how, what, when and why us is a good format to follow for your About Us page. You’ve got more words to play with than on your home page, but that doesn’t mean you should switch to long stodgy copy.
Keep the tone light and conversational – if you start with what’s in it for your reader you’ll get off on the right foot. Words-wise, short and simple is still better than long and complicated. Use the words you’d use if you met face to face. Write as if you’re talking to your ideal customer, not addressing a large conference room of strangers – it will make the copy warmer and more engaging.
The words’ job
Empathise, engage, draw the right people closer, build trust
Your customers’ own words. Try writing an About You page to alongside About Us. Describe your ideal customer and her challenges in her own words. Add this to the site to really make your website feel like home to the people you want to engage most of all.
If people are reading your product or services pages they’ll be weighing up what you can do for them. They’ll give you a bit more time, and expect more than a soundbite when they land here.
Timescale, money, costs, return on investment, project management – all the how and what details of working with you live on your services pages. Your reader is looking for concrete proof of how, exactly, investing in your service will help them. Be as clear and as specific as you can. Make it easy to buy from you.
While your service pages are your purest sales content – setting out the features and benefits of working with you – they also need to be customer focused. Reiterate the customer’s challenge at the heart of these pages, make your services look irresistibly helpful to your ideal client. Link to case studies and add testimonials to add colour and credibility, and to show, not tell, just how you operate.
The words’ job
Sell, clarify, explain, build trust
Not QVC channel ‘only £19.99 for this unique, quartzoid horoscope necklace delivered in a special presentation box’. Not a long list of benefits with no mention of the customer challenge. State why, what’s in it for them?
Projects/Case Studies/Success Stories
‘Show, don’t tell’ comes to life across your case study section. It’s good to have a basic structure for these pages as consistency adds to the credibility of your process. Most people work to a challenge/solution/results format, which is fine, but don’t tie yourself down too much, or write them too much at arm’s length.
The real value of these pages is when you can add story and colour to bring to life these real life examples of what it’s like to work with you. And share lessons they can learn from too.
The words’ job
Show your process and expertise, help people imagine working with you, demonstrate your value
Channel the best travel writers. Their articles are never just a list of start and end points, but a compelling evocation of the journey. (And they make you want to go there too!)
If you’re bigger than a one man band, it’s likely that your blog will have more than one author, and it’s great to have a mix of voices contributing to a company blog. It demonstrates the breadth of experience and specialisms that exist in your organisation.
You don’t want every blog article to sound the same, the unique voices of each contributor should shine through. But despite the range of voices and perspectives, it should feel consistent with the rest of the website. So how do you manage that?
Give everyone some writing guidelines and/or writing training. Create a basic tone of voice guide for your organisation, and share it with all the contributors. Get the whole team involved in content planning, so they’ll understand where their blog fits with the rest of the content on the site and be clear on the objectives.
The words’ job
Help, teach, empathise, engage, explore, delight, strengthen trust, entertain – not all of these in every blog post, but a scattering across your blog posts is good.
Think of your blog writers as the individual instrumentalists in the orchestra. While they all sound very different on their own, they’re all playing parts of the same symphony. If you’re in charge of blog content, channel Gareth Malone. Bring out the best in everyone!
Your heavyweight section, where you share your most valuable thought leadership type content. That doesn’t mean it needs to be dull, but it does mean that you have more of your reader’s time and attention. You can play with formats here – Slideshares, e-books, infographics, papers, reports.
The words’ job
Same as for the blog. Help, teach, empathise, engage, explore, delight, strengthen trust, entertain, plus anything else that is of interest to your clients and useful for your business. Your words can challenge and disrupt or soothe and reassure. Write the change you want to help your customers’ make.
The entire section of a book shop devoted to your key area of expertise. You at your most valuable and helpful, sharing your knowledge in a variety of ways to help and enrich the lives of your customers.
Check out a website that gets the words right
Our current favourite for tone of voice and general word love is Blurt – a charity devoted to increasing understanding and awareness of depression.
Their website is empathetic and warm, but also serious and credible. It’s got the most open and honest team biographies on the About Us page you’ll ever read (sharing this level of personal detail is relevant here, and it serves a real purpose). Everything about this website says ‘You’re not alone.’
What else do we like? The Buddy Box is genius. The blog is helpful and warmly written. Even the calls to action are lovely. Who wouldn’t want to sign up for “freebies and kindness”?
Blurt’s is an empowering website; bright, warm and thoroughly life-affirming.
[You’ll find more superbly written websites amongst our Valuable Content Award Winners.]
Pay attention to the words on your website
Words are beautifully versatile building blocks for your site. You can use them to construct stories that draw your ideal customers closer to you, and build deep relationships that strengthen your business. So if you want your website to connect with the right people, taking a good look at the words you’re using is a great place to start.
If you’re planning to tackle the website writing yourself, a good first step is a spot of research. Notice the difference, between websites that pay attention to the words and sites that don’t. (NB the sites that don’t work are the hard-to-read ones you find yourself switching off from.)
If you’re not a writer, then working with a good copywriter to get the words right is a sound move. The words on your website are going to work hard for you, and great website copy will repay the investment.
You might also like:
- How to make your writing conversational so your readers stick with you
- How to write diamond studded metaphors that make your writing sparkle
- And for fantastic writing advice check out Henneke Duistermaat’s website and courses.