Scan the average web page at the code level and you will see an endless amount of tags and coding language you will likely not understand without some advanced training. Yet the average web user does not see any of this. What he or she sees is an interpretation of the code in a graphical display that makes it possible to access the information needed. This information is what we call content. Moreover, it is the content of any web page that has the greatest influence on conversion.
What is conversion? It is the act of convincing a casual website visitor to become a paying customer. In the world of search engine optimisation (SEO), there are certain methodologies and tools used to increase the percentage of conversions among website visitors. This is called conversion optimisation. At its most basic level, conversion optimisation relies almost entirely on content development. If a small business owner wants the highest conversion rates possible, he or she must present website visitors with effective content created by proven copywriters.
Copywriting and Content
Before discussing effective content generation, it is important to define the difference between copywriting and content in general. The term ‘content’ is a broad term used to describe all of the user-facing information on a given web page. Copy is a very specific kind of content. Therefore, copywriting is a specific skill.
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Web page copy is targeted content in the form of the written word. It tends to focus on information needed to make a purchase decision. For example, text written to describe the features of a new product and the advantages of purchasing it would be considered copy. So would promotional writing designed to introduce a new product or service. Blog posts are an example of content that is not technically considered copy.
Having said that, distinguishing between the two is not necessary for the experienced writer capable of producing any kind of content. Many of the same principles for effective content creation apply to both copy and general content.
Page Titles and Headlines
The title of a web page plays an important role in search engine optimisation. Likewise, the headline of any piece of web copy plays an important role in encouraging visitors to read. If users have no compelling reason to read web copy, they will likely not do so. Moreover, if they are not reading the content being presented, they are less likely to become paying customers. Headlines should therefore be crafted to be compelling.
Some writers prefer to complete the body of a piece prior to choosing a headline. Others prefer to work in the other direction. As to which is better, there’s no right or wrong. The one thing that must be observed under either model is that the headline and body match. In other words, readers will assume to understand what they are about to read from the information gleaned from the headline. If the body of the text does not match the headline, readers may be left confused, ambivalent or completely turned off.
Inverted Pyramid Approach
When constructing web content, skilled writers prefer to use a journalistic approach known as the Inverted Pyramid. It takes its name from the fact that it is directly opposite to the classic pyramid approach to writing taught in universities. Under this classic approach, writing begins by laying a foundation and then gradually building on it until a conclusion is reached. The journalistic approach is exactly the opposite.
The inverted pyramid model requires writers to put all of the most important information at the beginning of a piece and then gradually scale down from there. This is just what journalists do. They provide all of the facts first, and then they go through and explain in detail some additional points readers might want to know. The reason for this is simple: most readers are just interested in the facts. They can get all of the information they need within the first one or two paragraphs. Those who want more can then proceed to the details in subsequent paragraphs.
One of the realities of the Internet age is that people are less likely to read in depth. Indeed, people tend to scan Web content looking for highlights rather than actually reading entirely from start to finish. The inverted pyramid approach to writing takes advantage of this tendency to provide all of the most important information up front.
Less Is More
The principle of the inverted pyramid is a juxtaposition that, at times, can drive copywriters insane. What is this juxtaposition? It is the idea that less is more.
Writers are individuals who love to express their thoughts and ideas with as much text as possible. Brevity, while essential for effective copywriting, is usually a discipline that must be learned by the average writer. At the same time, writers are often tasked with creating content that meets a minimum word requirement for SEO purposes. Here’s an example:
A client orders a 750-word piece to be used as a blog post on a gardening site. The word requirement is a necessary part of the developer’s SEO strategy for establishing content relevance and keyword density. At the same time, the disciplined writer knows that an article containing 75% fluff may meet minimum word requirements without giving readers anything of value. Therefore, he or she must pack the article with as much relevant information as possible without undermining the inverted pyramid principle.
This is a skill that not every web copywriter possesses. It is a skill that requires writing in a manner that is clear, concise and, for the purposes of conversion, convincing.
When a consumer shops for tangible goods, he or she is typically looking at two things: price and value. It turns out that value is the more important of the two factors in that it determines whether money is spent wisely or not. In other words, consumers want to get the most for their money regardless of how much they spend. The same principle can be applied to copywriting and web content.
Internet users invest a certain amount of time and energy visiting web pages. If they are going to invest their time reading a blog, for example, they want their investment to pay off with some sort of intrinsic value. From a conversion standpoint, content value is one of the most important factors in convincing casual visitors to become paying customers.
Creating content with value means writing web copy, blog posts, etc. that provide tangible information the reader can use. The thing to understand is that value is found in detail. Writing that deals only in generalities is writing that is low in value, while writing rich in detail is highly valuable. For this reason, it is wise to give writers specific topics to write on along with specific goals the customer wants to achieve with that copy.
High-value content that effectively increases conversions includes the following components:
- Central Premise – Just as with academic writing and journalism, web content must establish a central premise if it is to have any value. Readers must be presented with an idea that requires them to make a decision, one way or the other. Without a central premise, there is no way to encourage conversion.
- Credible Facts – Statistics show that the best customers are those who do their research before making purchase decisions. These types of readers require credible facts to back up ideas expressed in web content. The facts should be presented along with references that readers can check for verification, if they so choose. There are obvious exceptions to this rule, a product description being one of them.
- Realistic Arguments – Convincing a casual website visitor to become a paying customer requires presenting arguments that demonstrate his or her need for a particular product or service. Arguments need to be based in realistic application rather than philosophy. For example, the customer needs to purchase the XYZ gardening product if he wants maximum protection for his plants during the winter months.
- Calls to Action – Web copy that is effective for conversion almost always include some sort of call to action. Sometimes it is blatantly overt, other times it is subtle. In either case, the writer should give readers an opportunity to act on what they read.
How these components are employed depends on the type of copy being presented. In some cases, not every component is present. The skilled writer is competent in applying each component to a piece of copy in a way that best supports conversion.
Believe it or not, content structure is just as important as content value. How written content is structured plays a significant role in whether or not readers take the time to absorb all the information in order to make a decision.
As previously mentioned, the average web user is more apt to scan a piece of content looking for relevant information rather than read it entirely. Therefore, the first principle of content structure is to make content easily scannable. We do this in several ways. First, the skilled writer uses short paragraphs of no more than three or four sentences. Longer paragraphs tend to scare away readers.
Second, the skilled writer breaks up content to make it easier to scan. Breaking up content is easier on the eyes, easier on the brain and less intimidating to readers. Content is broken up using:
- bulleted lists
- headings and subheadings
- block quotes
- embedded graphics.
The concept of using headings and subheadings is one of breaking information up into smaller, bite sized chunks. The effective use of these elements makes it possible for a writer to convey all of the most important information with a limited number of words and sentences. This guide is a good example.
Had you chosen to scan this guide rather than reading it in its entirety, you could get a general idea of what it contains simply by reading the headings and the first few lines of each section. That is because we have followed the inverted pyramid approach of presenting the important information first, followed by an explanation of the details.
One final concept of effective website content creation is that of relational writing. In simple terms, it is all about tone. Think of it in terms of the difference between engaging in a conversation and being lectured. When an employee is being lectured by his or her boss, the spoken words often go in one ear and out the other. Nevertheless, when the two engage in an open and rational discussion, the conversation produces results. Web copy is very similar.
The successful writer needs to know his audience so that he can write appropriately. He needs to write in a tone that establishes a relationship consisting of meaningful dialogue rather than the written equivalent of a lecture. And above all, he must use language appropriate to his audience.
Unfortunately, there are some web developers and small business owners who tend to be fixated on industry language and jargon because they believe using such verbiage establishes them as industry authorities. That may be appropriate when communicating with other professionals in the same line of work, but it is inappropriate for reaching customers. Customers need content written in everyday language, using words and phrases they understand. This is key to relational writing. The idea is to write for people, not for customers.
Effective writing for website conversion is a skill that not a lot of people possess. As you probably know from your own web surfing activities, there are plenty of writers out there who string together words and phrases without actually creating any value to convert casual visitors to paying customers. So when you find a writer capable of achieving the results you are looking for, do whatever you can to retain him or her. As good content is the key to conversion, a good writer is key to good content.