Writing Better Content: The Basics
4th November 2013
SEO & Marketing

Writing Better Content: The Basics

Melbourne is one of those magical cities in this world where there is no end of businesses, large or small. Along with that comes a wealth of web design companies vying to get those businesses online. As a result there is no end of jobs for a company like us, contracted to redesign a website for a company, one looking for a overhaul.

That is all well and good, after all, things change so much online – aesthetics as much as the technology used to display it – and to stay on top, these businesses need to stay up to date.

Unfortunately, there’s a vital statistic that seems to be overlooked; 95% of information on the internet is written information. Visuals are an integral part of a website, in that it will initially capture a potential customer (rather than repel them), but digging into the nitty-gritty of services, products and what sort of company you actually are, is where the real sales are made.

After all, that’s the entire point of a website; you have to make money. Not only to justify the cost of the thing, but they are a tool in order to generate customers in a semi-passive way, like a 24-7 salesman. Lost in translation, however, is an effective way to communicate the intended purpose.

Figure out your purpose

It sounds innocuous, but as a business owner, you have to ask yourself the hardest question of all: why do I need a website?

Sometimes, it can be a hefty investment, and you want to make as much money off it as you can, known as a Return On Investment (ROI). Not only that, but largely, a website’s purpose will be to generate qualified sales leads.

Show, don’t tell

“How do I do that?” I hear you ask. The answer is simple, yet infinitely complicated: show, don’t tell. It’s not only about being visual in your approach, but using your content to paint a picture as well as any graphic ever could.

Most people fail at this, but not for lack of trying. The problem, especially with sole traders, is that they tend to write their website’s content all by themselves. A CMS sure does make it easy to do that, but it doesn’t magically bolster the quality of the copy.

Aside from that, there are many more pitfalls in this arrangement:

  • Compared to running your business, and all the other duties you have, you don’t – or can’t –  invest the right amount of time in writing
  • For many people, the default way of writing is to simply tell exactly what their product or service is. This is boring and will not generate leads.
  • Readers on the web hold a completely different approach in their psychology than when they read something in a newspaper or on a billboard. Not many business owners understand that.
  • Many people tend to overstate their styling, and are of the opinion that bright flashing text or the like will grab and hold attention in place of well written content.
  • Punctuation saves lives. Grammar, spelling and comprehension are paramount, and English is a devil of a language for making it easy to mess up.

Communication is key

Say you were at a friends place, having a beer and a barbie, and your mate from high school – let’s call him Jack – asks you about what you do, what do you say? Do you just roll off the default stanza that you’ve written on your website?

“I service and maintain plumbing systems for commercial and residential buildings.”

Jack nods slowly, eyes glazing over. He passingly mentions that he was thinking of making an upgrade to his plumbing to install a spa in his ensuite. You swear inwardly, not only because Jack is rich enough to afford a spa in his ensuite, but because you’ve just bored him with your droning headline, pulled straight from your website.

He might just be some bloke you met at high school, but it always pays to be wary as a business owner; a potential customer could be around any corner. Suddenly, you remember something you were told on a small website about selling with your content.

“A spa? Most plumbers will probably try and get you to install a second gas heating system when you get one of those. Could cost you an extra few thousand, and you don’t need one at all.”

“Oh really? I’ll keep that in mind,” Jack says, suddenly perking up. He seems a bit more interested and the conversation flows on normally.

It’s all about storytelling

Of course, all that stuff about hot water systems is bollocks. I don’t know the first thing about installing spas, but do you see what I did there? I used a story to explain why it’s better to write content in story form rather than stating the definition, without actually saying “do this instead of that”.

As human beings, storytelling has been a way of communicating effectively for tens of thousands of years. Before the invention of writing, stories passed down from generation to generation were used to communicate wisdom, entertainment and anything else deemed important enough.

A story can take many forms, from long-winded epics to a sentence. When you talk to your friends, in person or through email, when you explain things to your children, and the way we are all entertained every day in movies, books and songs, it’s all in stories.

There’s too much boring and not enough engaging

So why is it that when we get to a website, say the aforementioned plumber’s website, you immediately see the following:

“Gary’s Plumbing service and maintain plumbing systems for commercial and residential buildings.”

“Ugh!” You think, “I already knew he was a plumber from his business name, and his tagline said ‘Commercial and Residential Plumbing’, nothing I am reading here is new!”

So you click to to the next page, hoping to find some information about his expertise. The “About Us” page contains the same regurgitated sentence, this time followed by a wall of text about how he started his business fourteen years ago. You click back, and try to find someone better, someone who can tell you what you want, and without getting you to wade through a boring sea of words, repeating from page to page.

You wouldn’t talk like that to your friends or family; hell, you wouldn’t let a salesman say that sort of stuff!

It’s hard to sell on a website; I know that. You have to do the same job a salesman does, but without the expressions, body language and other subtle indicators humans give off when talking that helps convince someone to buy your product or service.

So what’s the solution then, wise guy?

As with all marketing, the idea is to get inside your ideal customer’s head. When someone comes to your site, what are they looking for? What do they need to see to get what they want? How fast can they reach that information?

Then the idea is to understand the type of person that is. If you make children’s clothing, chances are your largest demographic is young mothers. Don’t write what you do or who you are:

“A manufacturer of professional looking and fun clothes for your children.”

Write for a mother’s interests in their children, or capture their attention by writing about a problem they might have,

“95% of kids overalls have holes in them in as little as three weeks.”

Keep your copy interesting enough for the customer to go from headline to lede, from lede to content, from content to submitting an enquiry. That’s the ultimate goal after all, isn’t it?

That seems simple enough, right?

Sure it does, there’s a few simple steps you can use to get on the way to writing better content:

  • Write for the story: intrigue the user, create problems, then propose solutions; keep them interested with a narrative flow. It’s not about the hard sell, its about keeping someone engaged while giving the information they need.
  • Don’t drown the user in steps: In other words, don’t make it hard to find certain snippets of information. It seems obvious, but many people tend to confuse their customers with pages that link to other pages, that link back and to other pages. Keep a clear structure to your content so that things lead into others naturally
  • Use your headline to effect: You don’t want to cram as much information as possible into the homepage. After all, what would the whole website be for then? Tantalise a potential customer with a snippet – led by your headline – and bring them deeper into your website. Make them want to read what you have to say.
  • Structure your content logically: One huge issue is that most small business owners – bless their busy hearts – even some bigger businesses, tend to just write like they have to fill up a space.

It’s all a hard sell, it’s all drivel and there’s nothing to break the flow. There’s no small paragraphs, no headings or subheadings, just one big wall of text flooded with indiscriminately long sentences. Writing needs rhythm! It needs to be as much a living organism as the customer is.

Do the hard yards

Of course, it takes a lot of work and time invested to implement these to great effect, and it can take some time getting used to the idea of writing this way. It took me forever to learn to write this way, and I still have longer to go than I have gone. It is a hard process, which is why professionals exist, but there’s nothing stopping you from implementing whatever improvements you can right now!

You want your website to sell for you, so ask yourself: “would I buy from myself?” I guarantee there’s always work to be done to improve and implement new ideas; so get started! No time like the present, after all.