How to write good web copy for your small business website

Having a website for your small business is a necessity, but do you know what to put on it?

Writing good web copy requires a focus on the customer's needs

Good content is vital to website success

Good content is a must when it comes to attracting customers and ranking well with search engines, but good web content isn’t necessarily about your products and services -- it’s about the benefit to the reader. Your web content needs to be engaging and quickly get to the point, because users are scanning your page to see if you have what they need or not. A website homepage is not the place for an in-depth discussion of your expertise -- that can come later when the user decides to learn more by clicking on additional pages or exploring your blog. Web copy must be short, engaging and quickly tell the reader what you have to offer. To do that, you need to follow some basic guidelines.

Know your target audience

This is true of everything you write -- know who you are writing to. When you know your audience, you know their wants and needs and can adjust your copy accordingly. What is most important to them? What problem are they trying to solve? Where do they live? How can your business help them? What do they find appealing? What information are they looking for?

An audience of 18-24 year old females will be looking for a different set of information from a group of males 60 and older. The former might be focused on how quickly they can get it because their friends already convinced them to buy it, while the latter might be looking for detailed product specs before making a final decision.

Who you are selling to makes a big difference in what you should be writing your web copy about. The more you know about them, the better you can target your copy to their needs.

Don’t write about your products, write about what the reader gets out of it

No one likes to read ads, even when they are in the market for a particular product. If someone is looking for something online, it means they have a problem that needs to be solved. Think about search phrases -- how to remove a wine stain from carpet, how to fix a lawnmower that won’t start, how to refinish an antique table -- these are all people who have a problem in search of a solution. The more you can focus your web content on the solution -- or helping them better understand their problem -- the more interest you will draw.

Start by thinking about search phrases that might lead to your business. What problem is the person trying to solve? Focus your copy on helping the person with that problem. What do they need to do? If you explain it the right way, the person will naturally come to see the value of your product or service and how it can help without you having to shout, “Our product is the best!” at them.

Take a consultative approach, not a sales approach. It will make your copy more engaging and help the customer understand the benefits of working with you.

Make your writing concise

Business owners love their products, and they love to talk about them -- usually to a fault.

In an attempt to make sure they don’t lose a tiny percentage of customers that might be most interested in the least appealing aspect of the product, they try to discuss every aspect of the product in great detail, forcing the reader to drink from a firehose of information.

This approach obscures the most appealing aspects of your product to the majority of your customers. Don’t worry about the 5 percent you might lose; instead, focus on the 95 percent you might gain and target your copy at them. Focus on the benefits that are most appealing to the majority of people and sum them up. Use bullet points and subheads to break up the text. Limit your copy to no more than 400 words on a page.

If you want to go into more detail, link to another page. You are better off providing a high-level overview on the homepage (or first product page), and then providing more details, case studies or anything else that could help overcome objections on a secondary page. This will give people a quick idea that you have what they need, then give them an opportunity to learn more details if they choose.

The challenge is if you have several offerings. For example, a home repair company in Lorain might have a number of services, such as roof repair, gutter replacement or painting. The homepage needs to make it clear that the company provides those services while still engaging the customer with their particular problem. Each service can link to its own page, but that first page is going to be crucial to getting users to stick around. In this example, the best strategy is to focus on the convenience factor of only needing one company to make multiple repairs and emphasize making life easy for the customer. If their primary interest is roof repairs, they can click through to that page, which would have a high-level overview of the service, with more details available on a third page.

Just remember to put a call to action on every page, such as “call us today for your free estimate.”

Edit and proofread everything

Go back and read it again, looking for things you can cut out. The first draft of anything often has more information than anyone really needs, so take a break then come back to it before you edit it. You might find there are a number of places you can tighten the copy to make a more succinct message. Fix any errors that you find and move to the next phase -- proofreading.

Proofread means making sure there are no grammatical or spelling errors in the text. Spellcheck is not enough! Have at least two people, with one preferably being a qualified proofreader, read the text you created to look for mistakes. Fix any errors and then read it again, as you might find more fat to cut, but anytime you make changes, have someone proof it again.

The first impression of your business will be made from your homepage and inside web pages. Don’t let that impression be that you are unprofessional and amateurish because you don’t know how to spell.

Good copy helps SEO

We’ve talked a lot about web copy for your small business, but have not mentioned search engine optimization, or SEO. When your pages are optimized, it means they are friendly to search engines and easy to understand what your page is about so it can rank higher in search results.

SEO is a complicated topic, but the biggest thing you can do to boost your SEO is create valuable content. The more people that visit your page, spend time there and link to it, the more weight it will have with Google. There is a lot of information on the Internet about keywords, and there are even people that do nothing but SEO consulting full time, but if you know your customers and what they are looking for, you should be able to guess what most of the keywords are going to be.

If you’re a local business and not looking to sell across the country, make sure you mention your location on your page. You want to be an “Avon Lake plumbing company” not just a “plumbing company” in your copy.

One word of caution: Do not get cute with your plays on words. You and your co-workers may think it’s funny, but Google has no sense of humor. It’s a computer program that analyzes word proximities and a whole host of other data to rank a page, so make sure you are clear on what you are saying.

For example, a headline of “Mower too slow? Call us to make it go!” makes sense to a human, but a better headline for Google would be, “How to fix a riding mower” or “Common causes of riding mower breakdowns” or even “Why is my riding mower going so slow?” The last three are phrases are something someone might type into Google. The first “make it go” slogan belongs on your company van, which is fine, because only people are going to read that one. Google doesn’t have much of a sense of humor.

There’s a lot that goes into web copy, and it’s far more than just telling the world you have a product or service and where you are located. By creating engaging content that tells the reader what they need to know in a succinct fashion, you can start turning web leads into sales.

Todd Shryock is the director of content for Emerge. If you have questions about how your web copy should be structured, contact him at tshryock@EmergeInc.com.

Emerge is an Avon Lake (Lorain County)-based provider of web, mobile and content solutions, and serves the communities of Avon, Avon Lake, Lorain, Elyria, Wellington, Grafton, Sheffield, Sheffield Lake, Amherst and all of the Western Cleveland suburbs.

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