How to Write Great Website Content
These days, if your business doesn’t have a website, you’re obsolete. And if your website doesn’t grab the attention of visitors in 15 seconds or less (1), it won't do you much good. With such a short period of time to make an impression, it’s essential that your website content captivates quickly. Here’s my advice for creating irresistible website content that does just that.
Visitors to your site will form a first impression in 0.05 seconds (2). I want to make sure you read that right: zero point five seconds. In those precious micro-moments, people won’t have much time to read. That means that the words they do see need to be absolutely on point and as concise as humanly possible. Headlines that are less than 10 words are preferable. Bonus points if you can keep it from three to five.
Once people are hooked by your stellar headline, the rest of your content is responsible for keeping them interested. Again, brevity is key: if your content is too long, no one will read it. Keep that in mind as you work through my 5-step method for creating website content.
By the way, if you need help making your website look as fantastic as it reads, let me know. I’d love to refer you to some truly badass babes in the business.
Step 1: Website Content Strategy
The more time you take on website content strategy, the easier and more efficient the actual writing will be. Start by mapping out the ideal trajectory people will take to go from prospect to customer. What specific steps will they take to get there? Being a visual person, I like to physically sketch this out on paper.
As you outline your customer journey, identify points where you’ll want to communicate specific pieces of information. This might include your mission, pricing, or information on how to reach you. Each of those landmarks are sections or pages that will need compelling copy in order to push people along the funnel. Jot down the information necessary in each section. The better you can direct attention and anticipate the next question visitors will ask, the smoother the experience will be for them.
Once you've identified the landmarks and info to be conveyed at each, BAM: you’ve just created a to do list for website content creation.
Step 2: Bare Bones Website Content
Now it’s time to get to writing. Your first draft will be your bare bones version of content. Focus not on word choice or flow, but on saying everything that’s absolutely essential. If you don’t know how to start, simply take your outline and turn your notes into complete sentences.
I’d recommend working on the nitty gritty details—like pricing and descriptions of offerings—first to get your momentum rolling. Your headlines, taglines, and your homepage blurb (the abbreviated version of your 'about' content) will be the most challenging. It’s incredibly difficult to articulate all of the inspiration behind what you’ve built and the big ideas that make up your brand in a small number of words. If you decide to call in help for anything, those sections are probably where you'll need it.
Again, stick with the idea of an outline: the other sections of your site will provide the bullet points that accumulate into the paragraph on your homepage. Your headlines and taglines are shortened versions of that paragraph.
Keep your CTAs in mind, too. Make sure you have one on every single page directing people where to go next.
Remember to write for the reader, not for yourself. Truth bomb time:
We both know you have an interesting story to tell, but your customers don’t care.
(If you’ve ever looked up a recipe online you know exactly what I’m talking about.) Your customers want to know that you’re an expert and can help them in your field of expertise. If you have a compelling origin story, create an ‘our story’ page and tell it concisely there, but keep the meat of your content focused on the customer.
Step 3: Add Some Personality
This step is where your content goes from functional to fantastic. Once every section is clear and directs people to the next step in the journey, go back and edit for language and tone. Have any branding information on hand. This might include your brand messaging (mission, vision, and values statements), visual branding information, and content guidelines. If you don’t have content guidelines yet, it’s a good idea to develop them as you write.
You'll want to create a couple of lists: one of synonyms for words you use frequently (like 'studio' or 'appointment') and another for words and phrases that convey the feelings you want people to walk away with. Substitute these more customized words and phrases into your bare bones copy.
By inserting expressions that are unique to your brand, you give people a glimpse into who you are. Think about your tone here—are you aiming for something conversational? Formal? Subservient? Whatever you decide, let that dictate which adjectives and verbs you choose.
Step 4: Optimize Your Website Content for SEO
Many people hire a website content writer because the concept of SEO (or search engine optimization) is overwhelming and intimidating. If you want to do it yourself and learn how to write website content for SEO, you’ll need to get good at balancing use of the right terms with creativity. Because let’s face it, most of the search terms you’ll want to rank for aren’t quite poetry.
(Psst, I just did this in the paragraph above. "Website content writer," "SEO," and "how to write website content for SEO" are all search terms. Not bad, eh?)
If you don’t have an SEO expert on hand, make sure you’re doing in-depth keyword research yourself. There are several free tools available online and plenty available for a low subscription cost. Think about what you want to rank for, meaning what you want people to search when they come across your site. Make a list of those terms and others like it and incorporate them into your website content. In Step 3, you replaced your bare bones adjectives and verbs with ones that better describe your brand. Now you’ll want to do something similar with the words that describe what you offer.
If you start with your bare bones content, you’re less likely to be a culprit of “keyword stuffing,” aka packing your keywords in your content as many times as possible to the point where it reads terribly. By replacing the words in your bare bones content with keywords, you've got a better chance of keeping it sounding natural.
Use headings to communicate to Google which words are most important on your site. Try and make each heading (text that’s in an H1, H2, or H3 font) contain a keyword or phrase.
Step 5: Website Content Creation Tips
Here’s some general advice I’d recommend to make your website content sound relatable and professional.
For 95% of clients, I recommend contractions: they’re more conversational and less formal. Take two versions of this sentence for example.
“You will enjoy the benefits of our knowledgeable staff. We are excited you will be joining us in the studio!”
“You’ll enjoy the benefits of our knowledgeable staff. We’re excited you’ll be joining us in the studio!”
In my opinion, the first version sounds stilted and overly formal for the context. By keeping spaces between several small words, we're slowing the reader down and creating a barrier between us.
The second version is warmer, more welcoming. It sounds like something a friend would say as opposed to a robocall.
Plus, contractions have the added benefit of shortening sentences.
There’s nothing worse than searching the internet to get help with something you don’t understand...only to find websites you don’t understand. Complete an empathy map so you can really tune into how your customers think and feel. They may not search using the same terms you would use to describe your company. When in doubt, defer to what your customers would say.
For example, a fitness studio may offer somatic, functional movement classes, but it’s unlikely someone will search for that. The studio would be better off mentioning that their classes can help you reduce pain and increase flexibility.
Focus on those benefits in your content and use common words so potential clients don’t feel isolated. If you know some people will want the technical stuff, put it on a page that's a click or two deep into your site. The clients that are looking for the information will find it, but the ones that are relying on a gut feeling won't immediately feel over their heads.
Use active voice
By framing things in active voice rather than passive, you’re demonstrating how clients will benefit from your products / services. Passive voice almost makes it sound like an accident.
Passive voice: “Your balance will be improved.”
Active voice: “You’ll improve your balance.”
The second version—the one in active voice—makes a clear connection between your offerings and the benefit people will receive. It also communicates that you’ll give people the opportunity to empower themselves. People want help, certainly, but they also want to feel like they’ve accomplished something. Active voice makes this clearer.
Bonus: this is another sentence shortener.
Avoid using the same word in two or more sentences in a row. Your list of alternatives (see Step 3) and your content guidelines will come in handy here.
Try not to start several sentences in one section with the same word. In website content, it’s especially to do this with "we." Get out of the habit by keeping your content client-focused. You can also easily modify sentence structure by changing the order of phrases. Take the previous sentence for example.
OG version: You can also easily modify sentence structure by changing the order of phrases.
Alternatives with the same meaning:
Change the order of phrases in a sentence to modify the structure.
When you change the order of phrases in a sentence, you modify the structure.
To modify sentence structure, change the order of phrases.
By changing the order of phrases in a sentence, you can easily modify its structure.
Easily modify sentence structure by changing the order of phrases.
Finally, Cut Yourself Some Slack
If this process is harder than you expected, don’t beat yourself up. Website content creation is deceptively difficult! This is especially true if you’re the person who founded your company and came up with all of the brilliant ideas behind the brand. This business is your baby, and to you, every detail is worth mentioning because it all contributes to the whole. It’s hard to look at something objectively when you’re so close to it.
Cut yourself some slack and step away for a couple days. If you’re still having trouble, you might want to hand this work off to a website content writer. It’s not that you can’t come up with something awesome—in fact, I’m certain that you could. But it’s possible it would cost you more time, energy, and frustration than it’s worth. Website content writing services exist to take this task off of your plate and free you up to focus on other things.
If you're stuck or need some advice, drop me a line. I’d be happy to talk things through, give feedback on what you have so far, or take over entirely.
Now let’s get crackin’!