2 Simple Steps to Writing Effective Web Copy
Here’s an often-debated question: are people starting to read more like computers? Or, is it the other way around?
With people all over the world showing shorter attention spans and a growing preference for video, it’s no wonder so many marketers have begun to think of their users as purely visual consumers.
It’s a refrain we hear all the time:
“Nobody reads anymore.”
This, however, is nothing more than pure truthiness: although it seems like something that’s true, that doesn’t mean it actually is.
As much as we may talk about people reading less, it’s actually the opposite: people spend more of their day reading, every day—it’s just broken into smaller, more digestible chunks.
And, to top it all off, there’s one massive reader who is still very much engaged in what you have to write: Google itself.
That’s why, when it comes to writing copy for the web, it’s crucial to keep these points in mind. Otherwise, you might just find yourself typing for nobody in particular.
At the end of the day, strong content is still the single most important thing for the success of any website… but only if it’s written effectively, and for your particular audience.
Here’s a look at some of our top strategies for making sure your copy is web-ready. That way, your best writing can actually make an impact.
Writing For the Web… For Dummies.
Here’s a fact: the average attention span for a web user in the U.S. has, over the past two decades, decreased by about 33%—from 12 seconds on average, to about 8 seconds.
If your content is taking longer than that 8 seconds to make a strong point, you’re going to lose your audience. It’s as simple as that.
But today, that’s actually part of the problem: there is so much content out there that people switch from one thing to another at lightning speed. That means that in order to keep people on your website and engaged, your content needs to really kick butt.
And just to make things even more confusing: when it comes to SEO, content truly is king again. Before you can even deal with the challenge of short attention spans, you need to actually get your content in front of readers—and that means making sure Google knows what you’re trying to say, and who needs to see it most.
With those caveats in mind, here’s a breakdown of how to meet these two interrelated challenges with effective, concise, and authoritative web content.
Writing For SEO (AKA, Making Your Content Unmissable By Google)
While there certainly are a wide array of technical and semantic elements that are important to SEO, the single greatest determiner of success in SEO right now is the quality of your content.
Speak The Same Language As Your Users
If you want your audience to actually pay attention to what you have to say, you first need to make sure you’re both speaking the same language… literally.
That means making sure you’re actually speaking to the same content they’re looking for.
- Think about your keywords, and don’t hesitate to branch out into new avenues. Exploring related keywords and keyword phrases can be a quick and easy way to expand your efforts into avenues you may not have thought of originally.
- Once you’ve found your groove, hammer away. Don’t let weeks go by without publishing content—keep things moving, keep getting out high-quality content, and keep your audience engaged time and time again.
- Cultivate multiple avenues to your site, and don’t forget to crosslink. Your older content still has quite a bit of juice left in it; anywhere you can find a place to give it a boost, you should do so.
Go Ahead, Take A Look (But Make It Your Own)
Some of the best advice I’ve seen about SEO lately may simultaneously be the simplest advice that is the hardest to execute, and it goes something like this: Find one to three competitors who are ranking higher than you for a high-value keyword, read their content, and figure out how you can create better content for yourself.
It seems astonishingly simple, but to actually pull it off you need to think about how you are producing your content.
Get The Attention of Real People (By Answering These Questions)
When it comes to effective writing, you have to answer two questions.
That’s it. Seriously. Just two.
If you answer these two questions in every piece of content you produce, your audience will connect and appreciate what you bring to the table.
Question #1: So What?
The first question you have to answer is ‘So what?’ How often have you gotten to the end of a story or article on the web and wondered why you bothered reading it?
People have a finite amount of time. Irrelevant of whether they spend 5 minutes on the web each day or 5 hours, people value their time. If you waste that time, you’ve lost that user.
Every piece of content you produce should answer the ‘So what?’ question. Why should the user care? What can they take from all the words you just put on the page? Why does it matter? What does it mean for them? These secondary questions all ladder up to answering that one main question - So what?
Question #2: What Now?
Once you’ve explained to the user why they should care about what you have to say, you need to give them some insight into what they can do with that information now that they have it.
This is actually a crucial point, and one that a lot of marketers, in the busy mix of creating and publishing, often miss: people lose interest in reading if the information isn't actionable.
After all, even the best advice in the world doesn’t mean much if it doesn’t make an impact in the lives of your audience members.
Give the user some practical ideas of how to apply the knowledge they’ve gained and it contributes true value to their day - they’ve gotten something constructive out of the time they invested into reading, watching, or listening to your content.
Don’t Just Sit There - Write Something
Look, this is a huge topic—and we could dive into this much further, and break down both of those questions into twenty further questions.
But, at the end of the day, creating quality content really comes down to hitting these two major points: make your content relevant, and make it actionable.
The next time you’re writing a blog post for your corporate blog, or sending that email to a client, or writing the script for your next podcast - before you go to production or hit ‘Publish’ - make sure you’ve answered those two questions and see how your users respond when every piece of content you produce contributes real value to them.