To the uninitiated, the difference between “web content” and “brochure copy” is probably academic. It’s all just words, right?
Well, no, actually. Not at all. We’ve been in the content/copy game for approximately 18 years now and if there’s one thing we know for sure, it’s that writing successful web content requires a totally different approach.
Research shows that you have approximately 10 seconds to impress a web visitor. (Source: SWEOR) Eye tracking studies also show that people reading online are much more prone to skim-reading web content; picking out important information at their own pace instead of trawling through every paragraph like they would in a traditional magazine article or press release. (Source: StayOnSearch)
In short, web users are selective, discerning and reading at pace, which means that web content writers need to fine-tune their approach.
Try to write a web page like you’d write a flyer, leaflet or instruction manual and you’ll find that your hard-won visitors bounce straight off the page; bored by your overly informative tone and disappointed by the pace of your content.
Try to write one like one of those overly-promotional car ads from the 1960’s and your reader’s eyes will roll so hard that the sound will track at the underwater listening stations tasked with listening to icebergs crack in the arctic circle.
The art lies in finding the perfect middle ground – in understanding what web visitors expect to find when they open a web page and learning to write something that:
- Emphasises benefits over features (people don’t want to read about you!)
- Strikes the right tone (studies show that most people prefer conversational web copy)
- Contains plenty of statistics, quotes and original data
- Avoids jargon
- Facilitates skim reading (think nice clear subheadings)
- Provides clear next steps for your readers
It’s also worth noting that web content often serves a very specific purpose. A brochure may be wearing many hats; providing an overview of your company’s capabilities, outlining some top-performing products and letting people know a bit about the history of your brand.
But web pages tend to have a singular purpose. You want them to outline a specific product or service; drive an enquiry or prompt someone to download an eBook. Achieving these goals means writing a page that’s laser-focused – and creates a clearly-delineated journey for your users.
You’ll need to pay attention to the micro copy used on buttons or forms, the way you outline different sections of a document using headings, and the way you structure your paragraphs and sentences.
It’s a unique skill set, and it’s key to making sure your web pages do what they’re meant to.
Why Should I Care About The Quality Of My Web Content?
First things first, let’s explore the benefits of well-written and engaging web content. According to the Content Marketing Institute (CMI), 72% of marketers say that focusing on high quality web content improves their engagement metrics. (Source: CMI)
More importantly, studies show that businesses who invest in high quality content get 6x more leads than businesses that don’t prioritise content. (Source: Aberdeen) If you’re looking to grow, nailing your web content has to be a top priority.
What Makes Good Web Content?
There’s no “go-to” formula for successful web content, but there are some basic guidelines that have helped us to fine-tune our content writing services.
Structuring Your Content For The Web
Given that people are going to skim read your content, it makes sense to adopt a reverse pyramid structure: Putting the most important information right at the top of the page so your audience can’t miss it.
It also makes sense to start with some headline statistics or quotes. These features jump out at the reader; drawing them into the article and reducing the risk of web users bouncing straight off your page.
It’s worth noting that the web is a noisy place. While a brochure or article can be read in isolation, there’s a good chance that readers are coming to your website after reading a bunch of related articles or web pages on another domain so you have to think about ways of making your content cut through the noise.
It’s also worth thinking about multimedia content and imagery here. While not strictly part of the writing process, knowing that you’re going to include a video or image that illustrates a point can help you structure your writing and cut out unnecessary waffle.
To summarise, keep it simple, well structured and easy to read, because your audience won’t hang about to read something overly complicated.
Emphasising Features Over Benefits
Brochures and other marketing materials are often self-promotional by design. They use the word “we” in every sentence and they spend a lot of time outlining all the wonderful things your company has learnt to do.
But web copy needs to focus on the customer. People are inherently selfish and when they’re rushing through websites, they’re much more interested in how a given product, service or company can help them.
Instead of talking about how many miles your brand-new electric car can travel on a single charge, you want to talk about how your car makes driving a fun and stress free experience.
Try to hone in on what people want to hear by thinking about why people are reading your page and focusing on your ability to help them solve irritating problems and above all, try to avoid writing content designed to blow smoke up your own proverbial.
Making Good Use Of Statistics, Quotes and Data
Trust is a real issue on the web. Anyone can throw up a site that claims to be the authority on a given subject, and this makes a lot of web users rightly sceptical of what they’re reading. We’ve written a fairly detailed guide to establishing trust on the web, but the key takeaways bear repeating here:
Use quotes and testimonials wherever possible. Studies show that customer testimonials carry as much weight as a recommendation from a trusted friend, (Source: HubSpot) and web content really benefits from that level of authentication.
Statistics also help to build credibility, especially if the stats are drawn from your own work or research and if you can’t find stats or quotes, getting a video or pictures of your staff on the page can really help.
Adopting A Conversational Tone
Research shows that web users have very little patience for stuffy, condescending or overly-technical writing. (Source: Nielsen Norman Group)
There’s an obvious and unavoidable need to demonstrate that you have the experience and knowledge required to provide a given service, but you can do that in a way that keeps people engaged and avoids the convoluted, jumbled or archaic phrases that send audiences packing.
We’ve actually written a detailed piece on the benefits of writing in plain english and we’d strongly recommend giving it a read.
How’s Your Web Content?
Not sure whether your web content cuts the mustard? You’re not alone. A study published by the Content Marketing Institute shows that approximately 70% of marketing managers and business owners struggle to tell whether their content is effective. (Source: CMI)
We provide (affordable) content audits for B2B brands that are looking to improve their site and grow their business. We also offer field-proven content strategy and writing services to clients all over the world so we’re well positioned to help you pen copy that engages your audience and grows your brand.
And if you're not in the place to engage our services, you could try downloading our content marketing ebook instead. Written for c-suite executives with an interest in content marketing, it's packed with useful tips that'll help you move the dial.