As a web copywriter, I’ve reviewed hundreds of business websites over the course of almost a decade.
Want to know how to improve yours?
I’ll be brutally honest.
You’re probably making the same small but vital errors that I see time and again – mistakes that hold a good site back from being great. Work on these, and you might be surprised at the difference a few tweaks can make to the overall performance of your site.
I understand how time-consuming, frustrating and bewildering building, developing and maintaining a website can be. It’s a full time job – but only a tiny part of what running a small business involves.
When it comes to wording for websites, the vast majority of business owners pad out their pages with copy that does an adequate job. Their site gets a little traffic. This traffic generates a few leads. Box ticked. They move on.
Ask yourself this…does the text on your website genuinely convey the quality of your product or service? Is it engaging, persuasive, informative, packed with personality but most of all CLEAR and EASY TO UNDERSTAND?
If not, don’t you and your business deserve so much more?
Friends, I too have been in website hell.
When you want to improve your website, it’s often hard to know where to start.
Starting out as a freelance copywriter, I put together my own website from scratch. I’d compare the task to wrestling a Vaseline smeared viper whilst riding a unicycle, wearing a carrier bag filled with bees on my head as all my ex- boyfriends jeered from the side lines, pelting me with rotten Ostrich eggs stuffed full of nails.
I desperately needed some simple, honest, actionable advice on how to improve my website. I often felt like I was wading through treacle, endlessly faffing with bits and bobs rather than the focused changes that would make a tangible difference.
This post offers just that – no-frills, no-fuss advice on small but effective changes you can make to improve your website today.
Web copywriting advice – and a little more…
As a web copywriter, I’m uniquely qualified to make suggestions on how to improve your website with compelling copy. In addition to this, I’ve collaborated on enough projects with web designers to have picked up a trick or two in this department as well.
Not all of my suggestions will work for every site – concentrate on the ones that resonate with you and work through them one at a time.
The problem? Too many words.
I have an 85-year old Sicilian neighbour, Philicetta. Every time I see her peering over the garden wall, I duck behind a bush. I know, I’m a terrible person, but Philicetta LOVES to talk.
While I don’t mind a neighbourly catch-up and I’m a sucker for gossip, a chat with Philicetta is more like an endurance test. The conversation is entirely one-sided, conducted in almost incomprehensible, broken English. Even if you feign illness or claim to have left the hob on, the tirade continues, unabated, as you sidle away.
My point? Nobody likes one-sided waffle – whether it’s over a garden wall or on your business website.
Most of the web copy I’m asked to review has way too many words. It’s that simple.
How do I fix it?
Ruthless editing will do wonders to improve your website, my friends.
Look for areas where you’ve said the same thing multiple times in different ways and delete all but one explanation, then hone this to perfection. Been using unnecessary descriptive words? Hit delete. Including information that, while nice to know, isn’t directly relevant to your target audience? Get rid of this too.
I’m going to hit you with a home truth (take a deep breath.) Nobody visits your website for the pleasure of reading your copy or appreciating some pretty design.
Visitors come to your site looking for the answer to a specific problem. It’s your job to reassure them that they’ve arrived at an ideal solution, communicating this in the fewest possible words.
While Google recommends a word count of less than 300 per page, I firmly believe that the most successful web pages deliver relevant information, directly addressed to an identified audience, in as many words as this requires (and no more.) Whether this is 300 or 3000 is less important than whether your copy is clear, concise and controlled.
We’re all pushed for time and need to address niggling problems as quickly as possible. not scroll through someone’s life story, read 67 FAQ’s and wade through a 5000-word brag about how wonderful your company is without a shred of tangible evidence to back any of this up. You’re a wonderful person for rehoming all those tortoises and your yogurt making society sounds like a scream. Please keep this information to yourself and improve your website by keeping copy brief and relevant, backing any claims you make up with social proof.
The problem: The great wall of text
Even after you’ve done some brutal editing (give in to the process – it’s extremely cathartic hacking away that dead wood) you may still find yourself staring at a few intimidating blocks of unbroken text.
Long, dense paragraphs make it difficult for readers to scan your text (we tend to skim read web copy, picking out salient points rather than savouring every sentence, as we would with a great novel.)
If a web visitor is forced to concentrate through huge blocks of information, they’ll soon lose interest (even if your copy is beautifully written.)
How do I fix it
Break up your copy.
Using short paragraphs will encourage people to read beyond the header as the information appears more digestible, less intimidating. For this reason, it’s best to make sure that yours are no more than 3-4 lines in total.
Information can also be split up effectively with the use of bullet or numbered points. Readers will also appreciate the use of bold text to highlight key points.
You could also consider presenting information in different formats, using quality images, illustrations, graphs or diagrams to help explain complex details.
The problem: Jargon, complicated language and total bollocks.
The average UK reading age is nine years. While it’s not possible (morally or legally) for us all to borrow a child of this age to check our web copy, you can certainly improve your website my using simple, accessible language that can be understood by the widest possible audience.
Simple language for web copy has many benefits:
- It allows your audience to understand and act upon what they read, the first time they read it.
- It makes it easy for a reader to identify key messages.
- It’s inclusive rather than alienating, as people are comforted by familiar or ‘safe’ language.
- It’s easy to digest and can be read without much effort (and who wants to make extra effort, who ever said ‘gee, I wish my life could be more difficult…)
Keep in mind that reading complex language and navigating complicated sentence structure may feel like trying to understand a foreign language for some readers (and if you stumbled across a site that wasn’t written in your native tongue, you’d navigate away, right?)
How do I fix it?
The trick is to write as you speak.
When many people sit down to create web content, they automatically start using big words in an attempt to sound ‘fancy’ or ‘intelligent.’
The truth is that flowery language is more difficult to write and more difficult to read – a lose / lose situation that can be avoided by using plain English – simple language that reads like speech.
Try looking at your copy and asking yourself
‘Would I say this in real life?’
So, ‘I’m going to facilitate lunch options that work for you.’
Becomes ‘I’m making your favourite sandwich.’
Struggling to write web copy that sounds like real speech? Record yourself talking about your business then play it back, picking out key words and phrases to shape your copy around.
Remember – make easy choices, using the words that come naturally. This isn’t lazy writing or dumbing down, it’s common sense.
Simple language does your reader a favour, it’s unambiguous and helps them avoid making costly mistakes buying product or using services that don’t meet their needs.
It can also save you money. A user guide written in plain English, for example. will result in less calls to your helpline from frustrated customers.
The problem? Vague, uninspiring headlines
Headlines are the first thing a visitor sees on arriving at a web page, so make them count.
The easiest way to make improvements to web copy headlines is to examine them for signs of vagueness and eradicate this immediately.
How do I fix it?
Ready to improve your website with better headlines? Be direct. Be confident. Be specific.
‘Customer satisfaction guaranteed…’
sounds vague and empty. I don’t learn anything about what type of customer is being satisfied, what that satisfaction looks and feels like or how the guarantee is upheld. It’s not a headline that inspires me with confidence and it certainly doesn’t build trust.
Instead of ‘We’re the best/brilliant/amazing.’
‘Our expert SEO advice can double your web traffic, within two weeks.’
The problem? Random sub-header insertion.
Many people believe that they must insert sub-headers into their copy at regular intervals in order to break up the text. This is partially true.
Sub-headings are a great way of splitting up dense blocks of copy, but they’re only helpful if they’re useful, if they allow the reader to make better sense of the copy as a whole.
How do I fix it?
With each sub-heading, ask yourself if removing it would leave the reader confused or lost. If not, it can be deleted.
Take this example (sub-heading in bold):
In this section:
– My services
– My rates
Here, the information would work perfectly well alone, without the sub-header. The reader can clearly see the information in the section, without being told it’s there. While it’s good to guide your reader through the site, too much handholding can be irritating.
The problem – too many, or not enough CTA’s
A CTA is a ‘call to action’ and each page of your website should have one (but only one, asking lots of different things of your reader or sending mixed messages will only confuse and annoy them.)
As a reader comes to the end of the copy on a page, they should know what they’re expected to do next, whether this is to visit another section of the site, click a contact button or sign up for a newsletter, etc.
How do I fix it?
Improve your website by thinking of each page as a map, showing your reader where they need to go and gently guiding them there without any hard selling. 10 CTA’s on a page? Your reader will smell the desperation. One well-placed, helpful CTA that actually offers value and a clear benefit? You’re onto a winner.
Writing CTA’s that work is a tough gig – but you can probably improve yours greatly by making them more specific and descriptive. A button with ‘submit’ on it is okay but feels quite distant, saying nothing about the benefit of taking the action. ‘Get in touch and start improving your SEO today’ is much better as it tells the reader what they can expect to happen and when this might take place.
Make sure your CTA’s are also confident, direct and written in the first person.
Other good examples are:
‘Click here to improve your web copy’
‘Enter your email to receive a 10% discount at the checkout’
‘Sign up and be the first to hear about new products, special offers and discounts.’
The problem? Hide and seek sites…
Don’t make people hunt down key information – chances are, they’ll give up and move on to another site.
The most important message on each page should be found in the header and opening paragraph, right where visitors will find it when they come to the site.
I review so many sites that bury the point of a paragraph in the final sentence. It’s great that you have eighteen dogs, trained as a canine behaviourist and have a stall at Crufts each year – but if you sell dog food that’s tailor made to the individual needs of each breed, tell me that first as I probably entered ‘tailor made dog food‘ as a Google search, and am likely to be bored or frustrated by anything else.
Don’t hide your testimonials either. A site that I reviewed recently placed a link to the testimonials page in the footer, under the heading ‘Feedback.’ I almost overlooked it entirely which was a shame as there were some fantastic reviews that built trust and perfectly described the company’s USP.
How do I fix it?
Rather than having a separate testimonials page (which is often rarely visited, check your stats) I suggest that my clients scatter testimonials throughout their sites. These have more impact when in situ, so if you make a claim in your web copy, place a testimonial as close to it as possible.
There’s no issue with editing testimonials if they waffle on a bit (as long as you’re cutting down rather than changing the content.) A great thing to do with longer testimonials is to turn them into case studies and blog posts – get in touch if you’d like some information on how to do this as it’s a service I regularly provide for clients. F
FAQ pages often squirrel away key information that could be scattered throughout the site. I often tell my clients that FAQ’s are becoming redundant, although I’d argue that some sites may still benefit from one, providing it’s brief and well-organised. It’s possible for the copy on each page of your site to answer most if not all of the questions your customers are likely to ask within a certain area, rather than using an FAQ page where they must scroll through many questions to find the right one.
The problem – dead space in the footer
Many people fail to make use of the space in their footer. As it appears on every page, it’s a great place to put information that’s necessary but might provide an unwelcome distraction in your main copy.
How do I fix it?
A simple way to improve your website is by adding items to the footer, making use of what’s often left as dead space on many sites.
Some people choose to place links to external websites and social media profiles on their homepage, but all this does is provide an excuse for visitors to leave your site when you’re working so hard to make them stay.
This type of link can easily lead a visitor away to a world where four hours can easily be lost watching baby monkeys ride on the back of pigs. Wouldn’t your rather this time was spent exploring your site and getting in touch with you?
A footer is also a non-intrusive place to put a blog sign up bar or to publish links to your recent posts.
Don’t break their hearts with broken links
Instantly improve your website by finding and fixing broken links. These look unprofessional and spell trouble for your Google ranking (the bots don’t like them.) It’s also bloody annoying to feel compelled to learn more, only to find a broken link, and doesn’t help build trust with web visitors who may wonder what other bits of your business are broken.
There are lots of websites where you can find broken links for free. Here’s a link to one of them, https://www.brokenlinkcheck.com/, let me know if it’s broken – now that would be ironic, Alanis…
Blogging a dead horse
If your blog has tumbleweed blowing across it (last post, October 2017), consider removing it until you have time to publish regular, good quality content. An unused or neglected blog looks worse than no blog at all, though I’d encourage all businesses to be blogging relentlessly in their field, with a post or two a week being ideal.
A regularly updated blogs says:
‘I’m all over this, I care about my business, I’m an industry expert, I like providing helpful content for my valued customers.’
If you know you’re not going to get around to blogging any time soon, take down your blog tab, or use a ‘coming soon’ holding page – but only if it’s coming soon.
Fancy a mind-blowing business blog? I offer a blog writing service, providing original, well-researched, interesting and entertaining articles in any sector.
Psst: Apply the use it or lose it rule to social media profiles, too. If you’re not regularly using an account, don’t link to it. Visitors want to see commitment – that means regular content. Anything gathering cobwebs must go.
All good websites make use of high-quality images to help tell their story. That doesn’t mean grabbing a generic picture from Google images or shoving some clip art into your copy in random places – hell to the no.
Visitors hate stock images and mocked up pictures (you know the kind I mean, people in suits stood awkwardly posing to shake hands or pour each other a glass of water.
Consider investing in some professional photos of you and your team – doing what they normally do, wearing what they normally wear, not gazing off into the distance pointing at object that aren’t there. If this is out of budget, take some pictures yourself. DIY is better than Google images – web visitors prefer authenticity over anything else.
If you’re a freelancer, a great headshot on your homepage is a MUST. Seeing the person behind the words is instrumental in building trust with potential customers. However convincing your copy, believing the claims of some faceless ‘Great and Powerful OZ’ figure is a big ask.
Navigation errors that detract from great copy
Hiring a professional web designer to improve your website is a great idea. Just as I wouldn’t advocate for my clients to write their own copy, I’d suggest working with a web designer in order to ensure that their sites handle like a dream along with reading well.
Sometimes, budget just doesn’t allow and we have to figure these things out for ourselves
If this is the case with your website, here’s a few tips to help with smooth navigation and a sleek, uncluttered website.
There are several points to consider when designing your menu bar.
- Choose a horizontal rather than vertical version as web visitors, who are familiar with reading from left to right, will feel most comfortable navigating this (horizontal bars are the most popular choice for sites in all sectors.)
- Less is more when it comes to menu tabs, so choose between three and seven options in order to hold your reader’s attention.
- Label your menu tabs with short, recognisable places – this isn’t the place to be clever as the outcome is more likely to be confusing. Stick with names like ‘Home / About / Portfolio / Contact’ that readers will be familiar with. Trying to figure out what a menu section might contain is an additional headache that your visitors don’t need.
- Ditch dropdown menus. If it’s important, it needs its own page. If it’s less important, it can be included on another page. Dropdown menus are fiddly and force web visitors to make difficult choices that they don’t have time for.
Carousels and moving slides on a website are annoying, moving too fast or too slow, skipping forwards and backwards, crashing and, most importantly, distracting the readers attention away from key messages. Publish testimonials and work examples in static format, spacing testimonials out throughout your site rather than clumping them together in one place.
Audio / video
Get rid of any music or video that plays automatically when your site is opened. This is a major bugbear for me, as sound blaring out unexpectedly from my laptop might wake up my kids (I wouldn’t want to be you if your site was responsible for this.) It’s also a dead giveaway that you’re up to no good at the office and besides, it’s intrusive and annoying. There’s nothing wrong with video on a site. Just make sure your visitors can select whether and when to play it.
Limit external links on your main pages
Internal and external links are great for SEO purposes, but avoid having too many on the key pages of your website, as these can distract visitors, leading them away from your site when you’re working hard to make them stick around. It may be tempting to link to a great You Tube video you made about your services from your home page, but this could lead a visitor into a murky social media world where it’s possible to lose four hours watching baby monkey’s ride on pigs.
Using links within blog posts is fine as long as these are relevant and useful (for instance, leading to published research that backs up claims you’ve made.)
If all this sounds too much like hard work, or much too time-consuming, hiring a professional copywriter and / or web designer is the most obvious way to completely overhaul your business website.
As a freelance copywriter, I can carefully and creatively craft copy that truly reflects your business – the value of which cannot be underestimated. My most recent web copywriting client had to take on two new members of staff within two weeks of his copy going live – it makes a huge difference.
If you’d like to improve your website, but don’t know where to start, or if you’re not sure whether your web copy is up to standard, try this simple test.
Show your homepage to a stranger for five seconds before covering the screen.
What do you remember about the page?
Can you describe what my business does and for whom?
The feedback received should give you some idea whether you’re on the right track, or if a complete rewrite of your web copy is in order.
Another quick and easy way to improve your web copy is by booking a free web content review with yours truly. Get in touch and I’ll spend a couple of hours combing through your site before providing a written report that highlights areas that need improvement. There’s no obligation to use my copywriting services – you can make all of the changes yourself – but I’ll also include a quote for the work, should you fancy treating yourself to the Rolls Royce of websites.