When writing website copy, with so many different elements to consider, it can be challenging to know where to start.
That’s why we’ve put together this comprehensive guide on everything you need to know about writing killer web copy.
We’ve included 12 rules that every User Experience researcher, writer, and designer follows so that you can create content that converts visitors into customers and increases customer engagement.
So if you’re ready to learn how to write website copy that gets results, keep reading!
The first step is understanding how copy and design work together on a website to optimize user engagement.
How Visitors Engage Your Website
User Experience (UX) researchers have found that people read web pages in an F-shaped pattern: they scan the top and left side of the page for headlines and critical points and then move down the page, reading in a shorter horizontal band.
Given this F-shaped pattern, keeping your most important information at the top of the page where people will see it is essential.
Website copy should be concise and to the point, so readers can quickly find what they’re looking for.
Use Design & Digital Storytelling
The best websites use an interplay of content and design to make the copy dynamic and engaging.
That’s why designers play an essential role in how users interact with website copy. The layout, font choice, and whitespace use can influence how easily people read and understand the content on a page.
When writing web copy, work with designers to help break up the content:
– Use short sentences and paragraphs
– Make use of headings and subheadings
– Use bullet points or lists where appropriate
– Use solid keywords and calls to action
– Use images, illustrations, infographics, and videos to break up the text
Now that you have the basic foundation of how copy and designs work together to create engaging user experiences, let’s review 12 UX rules to help you create killer web copy.
Rule #1: Assist users in achieving their goals.
Aside from providing helpful information, web copy should help users achieve their goals. So instead of trying to appeal to customers with marketing copy, think about your website visitors’ goals when they come to your website.
- What are they trying to achieve?
- How can you help them?
- What actions are most important to them?
UX writers guide users on apps and digital products, making it as natural as possible to accomplish the task at hand and reduce friction. So when you develop your website copy, think like a UX writer.
- Is the flow of information structured logically and straightforward?
- Is your website intuitively easy to navigate?
Web copy that considers user experience can be more effective than web copy written without the user experience in mind.
Rule #2: Speak the user’s language.
UX writers rely on customer personas to communicate messages effectively. Using customer personas to inform messaging across channels (email, web, social media) is a good rule of thumb.
Some may wonder, “How do I find out the exact language of my users?” One answer is social media. If you have a list of potential buyers or key decision-makers, conduct a Google Search and review your results. (If you still need to create a prospecting list, use an existing list of customers).
If you’re in the B2B space, your decision-makers are likely on LinkedIn. If so, go to their profiles and check out their posts. Look at:
- How do they write?
- What things do they like/share/comment on?
- Do they write articles on LinkedIn or Medium, perhaps?
- Have they been interviewed on podcasts?
Discover where your audience hangs out and be curious about their behavior:
- What topics do they engage in?
- How do they engage with content?
- What emotions do they express?
- Who do they follow? (Influencers and Thought Leaders)
- What content do they share?
- What do they write in the comments of other people’s posts?
This data should give you some initial insights into your users’ behaviors, what they value, and the language they use.
Rule #3: Expect users to scan.
Users can decide in as little as five seconds whether your site is helpful to them. As we discovered earlier, users often scan pages in an F pattern focusing on the top left side of the page, headings, and the first few words of a sentence or list.
On average, users only read the first two words on each line.
Here are some facts to consider when writing web content:
- In a 2008 study, based on an analysis of 45,237 page views, Neilson and Morkes found that web users only read about 18% of what’s on the page.
- The users’ reading percentage goes down as the number of words on a page increases.
- To get users to read half of your words, limit your page to 110 words or fewer.
While the information presented in a whitepaper or blog is helpful, it needs to be in a suitable format for the web.
Remember, people scan web pages and only read about 18 percent of what’s on the page. You may want to cut whatever you have in print form by 50 percent!
According to Government Guidelines, good web content uses:
- The inverted pyramid style:
Begin with the shortest and most straightforward statement you can make about your topic. Put the most critical information at the top and the background at the bottom.
- Chunked content:
Don’t try to pack everything into long paragraphs—split topics up into logical sections separated by informative headings.
- Only necessary information:
Use only the information your users need to achieve their top tasks. Omit unnecessary information.
Your content is not clear unless your users can:
- Find what they need
- Understand what they find
- Use what they find to meet their needs
Think – conciseness, intuitiveness, and brevity.
Rule #4: Don’t overcomplicate your vocabulary.
Try to avoid using complicated words, jargon, and filler words. Here are some examples of what to remove from your web copy.
According to Avery Blank, Senior Contributor for Forbes, here are some common words powerful people avoid:
“Just” (protector words)
The word “just” diminishes the content that follows this word.
“Very,” “Absolutely,” and “Totally” (drama words)
Words such as “very,” “absolutely,” or “totally” do not add value to the noun you want to describe or highlight.
“I think…” or “Arguably” (protector words)
Every thought you put out there is your opinion. You do not need to preface your ideas with “I think.”
“Actually” and “Obviously” (superior words)
Words such as “actually” and “obviously” can rub people the wrong way. These words suggest that the other person does not understand the issue or circumstance (and that you are right) or understands something (when they may not).
Rule #5: Humor, think twice before you use it!
It might be funny once, but saying the same joke over and over becomes tiresome and even frustrating for users. Choose humor carefully.
Rule #6: Avoid long blocks of text.
Help visitors navigate your website by writing it in short, scannable blocks—chunk text into shorter sentences and paragraphs. Keep the most crucial text up front and then ruthlessly edit what comes after it.
Write short and then cut it into half.
Rule #7: Avoid double negatives.
Double negatives increase cognitive load, making users spend extra time deciphering the message.
Don’t: I do not want to unsubscribe
Do: I want to unsubscribe
Rule #8: Begin with the objective.
When a sentence describes an objective and the action needed to achieve it, start the sentence with the objective.
Don’t: Tap on food to see its ingredients.
Do: To see the food’s ingredients, tap on it.
Rule #9: Make the copy consistent
Inconsistency creates confusion. One example of inconsistency is replacing a word with a synonym in a different part of the website.
For example, if you decide to call the process of arranging a meeting “Scheduling” on one part of your website, do not call it a “Booking” on another page.
Another common mistake is addressing your users in both first and second-person interchangeably on your website.
Don’t refer to the user in the second person and the first person within the same phrase.
Don’t: Change your preferences in My Booking
Do: Change your preferences in Your Booking
Rule #10: Write in the present tense
Avoid using the future tense to describe the action.
Don’t: Image has been downloaded.
Do: Image downloaded.
Rule #11: Write in the active voice
The passive voice makes readers yawn. Compare this sentence in both voices:
Don’t: The Buy button should be clicked when you are ready to purchase a product.
Do: Click the Buy button to purchase a product.
Rule #12: Use numerals
Use numerals in place of words for numbers.
Don’t: You have two missed calls.
Do: You have 2 missed calls.
Source: Nich Babich, a product designer & editor-in-chief of UX Planet.
There you have it, folks! 12 Rules for writing killer web copy.
And if you scanned this article, here’s an abbreviated version of the list:
- Rule 1: Assist users in achieving their goals.
- Rule 2: Speak the user’s language.
- Rule 3: Expect users to scan.
- Rule 4: Don’t overcomplicate your vocabulary.
- Rule 5: Humor, think twice before you use it!
- Rule 6: Avoid long blocks of text.
- Rule 7: Avoid double negatives.
- Rule 8: Begin with the objective.
- Rule 9: Make your copy consistent.
- Rule 10: Write in the present tense.
- Rule 11: Write in the active voice.
- Rule 12: Use numerals.