Although it may look easy, writing good website content is a very different skill than writing for any other medium. It’s not as casual as a blog or as succinct as the average advertising copy, but it isn’t as long as a book or as specialized as a technical guide. Here a few tips and principles to keep in mind if you’re writing or rewriting content for your small business’s website.
To begin with the basics: the mechanics of your writing have to be correct. It’s not picky or pedantic to pay attention to little details like misplaced punctuation or words with the wrong connotations–it’s just good business practice. A couple of bad sentences in important places can be as unappealing to potential clients as a couple of broken links or malfunctioning graphics. Even if a reader doesn’t consciously notice every slip-up, he or she will probably come away from sloppy content feeling skeptical about the writer’s (and the organization’s) professionalism. So, even if you don’t always have an expert copyeditor on hand, you can save yourself trouble down the line if you take the time to get a second opinion on your site’s text before it goes live.
When you’re offering a great product or service, you have a lot to say about it, and you want to say it all right away. But these days, the direction of most writing–especially on the Internet–is toward brevity. Plus, there’s a lot of online competition for people’s increasingly divided attention. So most good website writers have learned to (a) prioritize information and (b) avoid big blocks of text. First-time visitors are most likely to enter your site through certain pages, like your homepage and pages about your most popular offerings. When they do, you don’t want to send them into information overload. As you’re writing for your top-level page, focus on your highest-priority information; the less important details can go elsewhere on the site. And if you’ve got a lot on one page, it’s usually best to break your points into paragraphs no longer than six or seven lines .
This doesn’t mean that if you’re a specialist, your writing should use terms that are only found in textbooks. Don’t assume that all of your readers share your training and expertise. Instead, consider the kinds of people that you want to reach, and write as if you were one of their peers. This means, for example, taking advantage of the distinct vocabularies used by people in different age groups, fields, regions, and so on. It also means writing in a way that’s easily understood by any layperson, but still gives convincing evidence of your expertise–and yet never seems condescending.
Of course, the main purpose of all writing on a business website is to inform potential clients about that business. But the best websites have content beyond recitations of facts. That’s because their writers know that what they’re selling is the business itself, not numbers and specifications. When you write content for your website, don’t fill every page with nothing but uninterpreted information. Find ways to periodically explain what that information actually means for real clients. After all, people don’t feel loyal to a business just because it meets their expectations; they get attached to the idea or brand that the business represents for them. Remember that’s what you’re selling and what you’re really writing about.
Good writing is a business investment too. Finally, don’t try to just dash off some content for your site like an afterthought. Some designers who have a lot of experience with business websites can actually lend a hand with content too, which is a service worth considering. What a website says is just as important as how it looks, so why work to make everything about it look professional… except the words? A poorly written sentence can sometimes be as costly for a business as a poorly written line of code. Just ask the management of Rogers Communications Inc., which once stood to lose more than $2,000,000 thanks to a misplaced comma in a business contract.