On a website, content is king. Good content is clear, concise, and conversational, leading the user through a compelling narrative.
In web design, typography, colors, and images prime the user’s emotional expectations for the content. You can’t design your way out of mediocre content.
Whether you’re building a new website or looking to improve your existing one, prioritize quality content above all else. After supporting clients through the content creation process for 6+ years, we put together this guide to share our best tips and resources to take the stress and confusion out of writing (or rewriting) your website’s copy.
Plan out your content
What actually needs to be on your website?
Probably less than you think.
You don’t need to explain everything you’ve done as an organization in great detail. Focus instead on creating a concise narrative arc through your website that engages the user, makes them feel emotionally connected, answers their questions, and inspires them to take action.
That often means making hard choices, such as discarding nonessential content. The more you cut superfluous content, the better you can focus your audience’s attention on what matters—the things that move the needle. Do the work now—your users will thank you for it.
Review your existing site
You probably have a decent idea of what’s on your current site, but take some time to thoroughly review the site to get a full picture of what is there.
Click through every page, read the content, and ask yourself the following questions:
- Does the overall structure match the priorities of your organization/business?
- Does the navigation menu and site structure make sense? Would users of each target audience be able to easily find what they’re looking for?
- What do we like about the site? What should we keep for the new one?
- What do we not like? What can be discarded? What needs to be done differently?
- Is the text content accurate, concise, and up-to-date? How much of it can be imported to the new site as-is and what needs to be re-written?
- Do the photos, graphics and other design elements capture the feeling we’re going for?
Once everyone on your team has done a review of your existing site, discuss this together and write down your conclusion.
Make a content plan
Content can be overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. Use a spreadsheet to list out all of the pages you need, then use columns to identify what is good to go and what needs to be re-written, tweaked, or added.
Lastly, assign who will be responsible for each page.
Check out our website content plan resource for some helpful guidance!
Understand your task
The best website content is clear, concise, and simple. Being a “good writer” doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be able to write effective website content.
It’s a different style with different purposes and constraints:
- There’s a ton of noise out there. You rarely have a captive audience, so you have to get to the point, be interesting, and don’t waste people’s time.
- Nobody reads on the internet. You don’t read. I don’t read. People skim. Don’t write long text that’s not going to be read. If you have a lot of important information to share, break it up into smaller sections with headings, bullet lists, etc. to make it as easy as possible to skim.
- People’s B.S. detectors are sky-high. There’s so much B.S. out there. No need to add to that mountain of crap by pretending to be something you’re not, pretending to be more important than you are, pretending to be more of an authority on something. The only way to cut through the noise and be a useful presence on the web is if you act like a real human being. Yes, you should put your best foot forward as an organization, but there’s no need to exaggerate.
Tips for writing good website content
Let me give you a couple of quick tips on how to write well so people will read and benefit from what you’re writing.
Write with Purpose
Think of your website as a presentation designed to move a person from where they are to where you want them to be (becoming a customer, donating to your organization, etc.) Each page, and each section within each page, should move them in that direction. Don’t ever write to fill space. Think about specific calls-to-action (CTAs) that are relevant for each page. Put another way, if a reader is persuaded by what you wrote, what are their next steps? Do they get in contact, make a purchase, visit another page, etc.? You might seem obvious to you, but don’t leave your audience guessing. If you want them to do something, make a specific ask.
Find your voice
All websites should have an approachable, human tone in their writing style. But within that, there is tremendous variety in style and formality. If you’re a retirement fund, you should have a different tone than if you’re selling natural deodorant to hipsters. Obviously. Figure out that voice and make sure it’s consistent throughout your content.
Construct an overarching narrative
Don’t think about each page of your website in isolation. Every page should work together to present a cohesive and persuasive narrative to your audience. Try to capture your core message in a sentence or two. Your unique value proposition, your thesis statement, your elevator pitch. For example, I’m a friendly, mission-driven, process nerd with a small team who helps good organizations build and maintain quality websites. Every page on my website will help tell this story from different angles.
Some repetition is good
While it’s good to think of your website as a cohesive narrative, realize that users are not going through the site in any particular order and are not reading all pages on your site. If you have a point to make, you should ensure that point is found throughout your site rather than only on one page they may not visit.
I always recommend writing first drafts of content in a document without considering the eventual layout and design. The layout should be designed around the content, not the other way around.
Stories are key
Facts, numbers and mission statements are necessary, but ultimately not the most memorable. Tell stories instead, as stories tend to stick in people’s minds.
Tell the story of how your business/organization came about and the experiences that shaped your identity. Tell stories of the people you serve and the ways they’ve been impacted. Make sure that all of your individual pieces of micro-content weave together into a compelling story of your organization.
Less is more
Perfection is achieved not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to remove. Nothing should be said in a page that could be said in a paragraph. Nothing should be said in a paragraph that could be said in a sentence.
Every word, sentence, and paragraph has a purpose.
Good content is conversational and warm. Write as if you were talking to real people, using the kinds of words you actually use. Imagine meeting a potential client at a networking event. How do you explain your services? How do you make it relevant to them without being pushy? That’s how you should write.
Avoid 3rd person
Good content should be written in the first and second person only. Try to avoid the third person unless it actually makes sense. “We want to help you succeed” is more appealing to you as the reader than “Spacious helps clients succeed.”
Good content anticipates users’ questions and answers them. What does your audience want to know? At the baseline:
- Who are you?
- What do you do? (Your services, products, programs, etc.)
- How do you do it? (Your approach/process)
- Why do you do it? (Your mission, the problem you’re trying to solve, etc.)
Also, think about the kinds of questions you get on a regular basis. For example:
- How much does it cost?
- Can I cancel?
- What are the first steps?
- Have you done projects like this before?
Make it skimmable
Good content is well-structured and skimmable. It’s organized in a logical fashion. Each section has a heading and has a clear part of the message that you’re trying to deliver. And if somebody skims it, in 10 seconds they can get about 80% of the content, and they can read the details if they care at that point. Bulleted lists can also help here.
Have one person review all content for consistency
It often makes sense to have various people within your organization write content for different pages (i.e. department heads writing about their programs). This is fine, but only for the first draft. The next step is to have a good writer take all of the draft content and make the voice and style consistent throughout.
When to get copywriting help
Figure out if you have staff who can write well. Just because a person is an expert on a topic doesn’t mean they can write about it in a way that is readable and concise.
If you don’t have skilled writers in-house, or there’s nobody with sufficient time to do it well, you should seriously consider hiring a copywriter. Good content is far more important than design. A website with a simple design and high-quality text content is far better than a beautiful site with dense, mediocre content.
We realize it can be a bit intimidating, and if you need it, we can help! Feel free to get in touch if you need copywriting help. You can reach out to us here!