Archive | July, 2012

Feeling ignored? 7 tips to make your copy more readable

22 Jul

This isn’t about nailing a sheet of writing to the forehead of your target audience – it’s about understanding how people read on the web so that you can lay out your copy to make sure your words aren’t ignored – this is called readability.

Why is readability important?

Whether on the web, in brochures, sales letters, newsletters and reports or really anything you want people to read, the way you lay out your copy has an effect on whether your words will actually be read. 

After all, you’ll have put some time and effort into constructing some killer copy.  You may even have all your keywords in your web copy to be found in the search engines.  But if someone is faced with a wall of text they’re likely to groan and leave.  If you’ve got a great sales pitch, want to impart important or interesting information or whatever you want to achieve with the words on your website, it will have little effect if no one reads them.

How do people read on the web?

The short answer is they don’t.  Some people will read every word, but the majority of people in readability tests scan the page.  They look for words that get their interest or relate in some way to what they are looking for.  People are usually looking for fast results, and really only need to get the gist.

What does this mean for your web copy?

Knowing that people scan web pages, here are some quick tips to laying out your copy so that you’re less likely to stop people from reading on:

1. Use headlines to capture attention.

  • Make them distinct from the main text by increasing the font size so it’s larger than the main body of the text
  • Its position should be about a third of the way down the page to meet the eye line
  • Don’t capitalise you headline or place a caplital at the beginning of each word (unless it’s a proper noun) – it stops people from reading fluently and reduces the impact of its meaning.

Headlines is a big subject which will be covered in more detail in later blogs.

2. Break up long text using sub headings so people can jump to what they need to know.

3. Highlight important words in bold or italic. When people scan the page, these words will stand out and tell your reader quickly what the copy is generally about. Also great for SEO.

4. Use bulleted lists – everyone loves a tidy list of bullet points. It quickly imparts information without the added detail, organises key points on the page and is much easier for your reader to digest. Imagine if I had placed all these tips in one long block of text. Would you have read this far?

5. Place copy to the left of picturesAs people scan images from top to bottom, words on the right can be ignored.  Yes, I know I have placed an image on the left, but it’s pointing to the text and as a general rule it should be on the right.

6. Don’t write too much . Web pages are generally no more than 250 words for a normal page depending on how much information your reader needs to know. You only need to write enough to get the message across or people will stop reading.

7. Don’t use justified or centred text.

Justified text is like a newspaper column. It tends to stretch out words to fit the space and adds a hyphen (-) where it splits a word in two as it runs into the next line so it fits the text area.

Centred text is difficult to read. The next line is indented and looks a bit like this. Your reader will have to look for the beginning of the sentence every time they move down a line. People often use it because they think it livens up the look of the page or makes it easier to read the copy, but it actually has the opposite effect.

 Keep your copy left-aligned.

Lamb’s final thought

Although I have written about web copy layout for readability, it really does apply to anything you have written copy for. If you have a sales letter with lots of blocky text, a brochure, for example, with no highlighted words or quotes, a report without subsections, it all prevents people from wanting to read on.


Six steps to killer web copy

7 Jul

For those who aren’t sure, web copy refers to the words on websites that sell things or gives information. 

Let’s start this one off explaining why you need words on your website

  • It’s the words that sell things and get people to take action, not just pictures.  Pictures are important too – they have impact, are entertaining and tell people more about a product, event, place etc.  But you’ll find people look for words to explain things and tell them what to do.
  • It’s great for getting found in the search engines.  Search engines scan text to provide people with useful search results.

For the moment I’m going to leave out the how people read part of writing web copy –  it’s to do with the layout of your web copy to make it easy and more interesting for people to process – but we’ll talk about that in later blogs.

Here we will look at the basic structure of web copy and what you need to cover in order to make the best connection with your reader.  I’m mainly dealing with sales, but this structure applies to anything you want to promote.   

1.  Establish your objective

You should only start thinking about your web copy when you know why you are building a website:

  • What do you want to achieve from your website? 
  • Do you want to get people to buy from the site, call you or sign up to a newsletter? 

Establishing an aim makes it far easier to write the copy.

2.  Know your reader and talk directly to them

Knowing who you’re aiming at is the first step to knowing how to get them to buy from you, sign up to something or do what it is you want them to do using your website.  Before you write a single thing, try to answer the following questions:

  • Why do people buy your products or services?
  • What advantages or benefits does it bring to your customers? That is to say, how has their life changed as a result of getting what you have to offer?
  • What is your unique selling point?  That is, what makes you better or different from your competitors?

It’s as simple as asking previous customers, or getting them to leave comments through your site.  If you’re writing for someone else, ask them why people buy from them.

3.  Become an attention seeker!

Now you need to get you reader’s attention so that when they arrive on your site they are too interested to leave.  You do this with a tempting headline that says “You need to read on”.  I’ve devoted an entire step to this one because your headline is very important!

Get your reader’s attention with a great headline – but make sure it relates to the rest of the copy and no using naughty words just for the sake of it, cheeky.

A headline isn’t “Welcome” or the title of the page (boring!).  That’s not enough.  Your intention is to use words that you know will get their interest and make it difficult for them not to read on.  Your headline is likely to be the first bit of text your site visitor will read, so it’s important to make it a good one.  Try questions or suggest a secret will be revealed and always have their desires in mind.

You can find out more about what makes a good headline in later blogs.  It’s an important – if not the most important – part of your web copy and demands further detail.

4.  What’s the problem?

So many people make the mistake of pushing the product or service before the reader has any understanding of why they might need it.  Your reader is much more likely to be interested in what you’re promoting if you can show them where it fits into their life.  You do this by identifying your reader’s problems and remind them they have them before you can offer the solution. 

This shows you have an understanding of your reader’s predicament without stating the patronising turn off, “We know how you feel.” Really?  Do you?  Demonstrate it, rather than giving them the opportunity not to believe you.  It also helps to build up a relationship of trust, which in turn makes it more likely they will buy into what you say. 

Laying out their issues makes up your first (and sometimes also second) paragraph – make it interesting as it’s the one that could stop people from reading on.

Some examples

  • If you feel like you’re living under a pile of paperwork, with endless phone calls and meetings, it can seem like there isn’t enough time in the day. 
  • Whether you’re feeling tired due to over-worked muscles, or simply can’t get a good night’s sleep, having no energy can really get you down.

Hopefully people will read this and go “Yes, that’s me!”. 

When you write your copy, always address your reader directly. It’s much more inclusive as it builds a sense of relationship. That means you shouldn’t talk about yourself using the words “We” or “Our” in sentences. Focus on using”You” and “Your” so that it sounds like you’re speaking to one reader. It’s flattering to be paid interest.

5. Lead them into temptation

It’s widely known that playing on the desires of people gets them to buy things.  People buy what they want, not what they need.  Therefore you need to make them imagine the desirable life they could have if they no longer had the problems you just identified. 

You can even use the word “Imagine”: 

  • Imagine what life would be like if you could take back some time for yourself and re-address your work/life balance.

Or perhaps:

  • Pushing yourself to the limit isn’t good for you.  How much better would you feel if you could take time out to slow down the pace and relax?

You can also show you realise that they may have tried other solutions in the past, but were never satisfied.  It makes your solution sound better. 

So, we’ve demonstrated the problems and given a picture of what life could be like without them.  Now it’s time to introduce your product.

It’s a well known sales tool that if you can make someone imagine already having that product or service, they are more likely to buy it.  Don’t simply tell your reader that they will no longer have those problems:

“You won’t feel tired any more.”

Focus on the useful features of your product and service and what advantages and benefits they will bring your reader.  It’s much more powerful to tell them what they will be able to do as a result:

“You’ll find that after a relaxing day at the Rejuvenation Spa you’ll have more energy to do the things you love and start your working week with a fresh outlook.”

Feature:  The spa is relaxing

Advantage:  You’ll start your working week with a fresh outlook.

Benefit:  You’ll have more energy to do the things you love.

Don’t forget to tell them your unique selling point – the reason why they should buy from you rather than your competitors. 

6.  It’s time to take action!

Now you must close the deal.  This is called your ‘Call to action’ – the point where you get them to do what you want them to do.  That could be to buy a product or service, contact you for more information or sign up to a newsletter or report.

This is your final opportunity to clinch the sale.  Remind them why they should get what you’re selling or promoting and tell them how simple it is to get what they want.  Don’t give them any excuses not to buy.

Make it as easy as possible for them to take the action you have persuaded them to take – place all your contact details at the bottom of your web copy so they don’t have to go looking for it.

Lamb’s final thought

Putting together good web copy takes a lot of practice.  You need to consider language, detail and your reader’s psychology among other aspects.  However, even if you follow these basic building blocks you’ll have the basis of web copy that works.