11 Oct Are You Losing Money Writing Your Own Website Copy?
You’re familiar with the warning that accompanies every TV commercial that depicts someone performing a dangerous stunt: Do not attempt yourself! In such situations, the risk to life and limb is – or should be – obvious. However, there is one situation that’s equally perilous for business owners: writing your own website copy.
Your website exists for one reason – to attract leads and convert them to customers. That is, to make money for your business. Any element of your website that fails to do so loses money for your business, and quite possibly sends those who could have been your customers to the better-optimized websites of your competitors.
Unlike almost every other blog post written about this topic by other digital marketing agencies, we are not going to give you tips on how you can do it yourself. You can’t. Like repairing a car or air conditioner, there are some jobs only an experienced pro can perform. And if your business provides either of these services, you’re probably inclined to agree. You’ve undoubtedly seen the serious – and expensive – damage done when non-professionals go the DIY route in a misguided attempt to save money.
“The reality is if you aren’t paying serious attention to the copy on your site, you’re probably leaving a lot of money on the table,” writes marketing expert and copywriter Andy Duchow for Tweak Your Biz. “People are clicking away that otherwise would convert. Buyers are buying from your competitors because they were able to clearly communicate and you weren’t. It could be that people aren’t even finding your site in the first place because your headlines don’t contain the relevant keywords that your prospects are searching for.”
Why SEO is important for website copy
Regular readers of our humble blog recognize that search engine optimization (SEO) is a recurring topic – with good reason. Web copy that follows SEO best practices helps your website rank high in the search engine results pages (SERPs). But knowing and using these best practices is both art and science, as 800-pound search engine Google frequently (and mysteriously) changes its search engine algorithms. Unless your day job involves SEO, you’re not likely to be aware of such updates to incorporate them into your website – which leaves it vulnerable to falling behind in visitors and even some basic functionalities.
Not keeping up with the times can go to extremes. One huge mistake we frequently see is the practice of “keyword stuffing.” This became prevalent during the early days of SEO. As Sozo Copywriting describes it, “Many people … remember ‘the good old days’ of SEO where improving a site’s rankings was supposedly as simple as repeating your target keywords enough times to convince the search engines of yesteryear that your page was relevant to the search terms … Nowadays, though, if you use such tactics, you’ll often find that your page has terrible rankings or has even been filtered out as spam.”
So if your website’s copy reads a little something like this, you’re losing potential customers and risking penalization by Google:
“We are an Orlando, Florida, carpet cleaning company that has been serving Orlando since 1998 with superior service. When you are looking for an Orlando carpet cleaning service, you can end your search here!”
Hopefully, you get the idea. And we’re going to end our hypothetical bad example here, lest Google “thinks” this is actual keyword stuffing and kicks us down the SERPs!
What Google and visitors want is for website copy to be written for people, not web crawlers. Google’s algorithms favor “long-tail” keywords that are terms potential customers are likely to search for, such as, “What are the best noise-canceling headphones?” This is where writing, branding and marketing expertise come into play. Keyword stuffing required no talent or specialized knowledge. The copy your visitors find should show them that they came to the right website.
In addition to body copy, headlines also need to incorporate relevant keywords in the interest of SEO – which DIY web copy practically never does.
Common website copy mistakes
Typical blog posts on this subject cite such mistakes as “making the copy all about you instead of your customers,” “not knowing your customers” or “using jargon.” Yet the issues our content writing team see on a daily basis go much deeper. It’s a matter of being in over your head. It’s like being given a paintbrush, tubes of paint and a canvas, and being told to paint a realistic portrait. Most of us couldn’t do it. We aren’t out to shame anyone. The problem with poor writing is that it affects your bottom line, and could very well negate the investment you’ve made in your website.
That said, here are some of the most-frequently encountered worst practices.
Unfocused, rambling home page copy
The purpose of a website’s home page is to give visitors a summary of your business. Describe what you do, why it matters and why members of your target market should buy from you.
We see too many home pages written in a stream-of-consciousness style covering every event that occurred in the life of the business owner and/or the life of the business. If your business’s history is interesting – for example, you represent the third generation of your family running your restaurant – a professional content writer can use their storytelling talent to write a lively, engaging history, and feature it on the About Us page. An effective home page will prompt visitors to stay awhile and look around.
One website encountered in our travels featured facts and statistics about the business’s town on its home page. We had to double-check the URL to make sure we hadn’t clicked on the local chamber of commerce’s website.
Long blocks of text
Closely related to the issue above, this is both a design and content problem that results in a webpage looking more like a book page – and a boring book, at that. The business owner is trying to put out everything at once, unable to determine the information that visitors really want. Visitors don’t want to read long, gray blocks of text – they want to know what you offer, and how it will help them. That’s it. The websites that are most successful at converting visitors to customers have just enough copy to do the job.
Poor allocation of information
This mistake is closely related to poor website design. A well-designed website has a menu typically consisting of Home, About Us, Services/Products, Contact Us. Sites that lack these basic categories tend to take the all-over-the-place approach cited under unfocused, rambling home page copy.
Irrelevant information and information that raises unanswered questions
Depending upon your business, adding a personal touch is a good tactic. However – for example – if you don’t own a bakery or other food-related venue, don’t include a pecan sandies recipe on your website. An extreme example, to be sure, yet not too far removed from some we’ve actually seen.
Regarding the second part of this category, we visited a website for a home cleaning-related service. While the copy was not professionally written, the site provided information that positioned it as a solid business. But then the owners went into detail about their other business in a completely unrelated field.
So instead of making visitors feel confident that this was a solid, reliable business, this piece of information inadvertently called its credibility into question. Why did the owners start this particular business? Are they dedicated to this business, or is it more of a way to make extra money on the side? Do they use industry-standard equipment and cleaning products, and keep up on industry best practices? If something goes wrong, do they have the ability to make things right with the customer? Potential customers need assurance that the business for which they found your website is your complete focus. Bad content can sabotage this objective.
Poor grammar (including sentence fragments), spelling and punctuation
Again, not everyone has an English degree, and as we’ll soon cover, even those who do can’t necessarily write good web copy. But no matter how small or humble your business, bad grammar and misspelled words distract visitors and create an unprofessional impression. The difference between “you’re” (you are) and “your” (belonging to the person or group you’re addressing) is important. Yet we often see such sentences as “Your invited to learn more about our services.”
The same holds true for writing in incomplete sentences, capitalizing words that shouldn’t be capitalized (we’re not going into textbook matters, but there’s a tendency to capitalize random words for emphasis) and poor punctuation. Some people fall in love with the ampersand, which should only be used in the name of a business that uses it – not as a substitute for the word “and.” A web page full of “&” will boost your bounce rate, which is the one rate you don’t want boosted, as it indicates a visitor who left your website without visiting other pages – which usually occurs after just a few seconds.
Add typos to this list, which tank any claims you make about paying attention to details and quality.
Writing in a too-formal style
As mentioned earlier, even those who have a degree in English, journalism or communications, and write as part of their job aren’t necessarily qualified to write web copy. The formal style of academia isn’t suited for marketing, which a website basically is.
Self-described digital transformation expert Paul Boag relates his experience with such writers.
“Just because you can write well, does not mean you can write good web copy … You may be a journalist, academic or write incredible sales copy, but that doesn’t mean you can write for the web. In fact often it is more of a handicap than a help.”
Applying the style of a study or essay is guaranteed to quickly send visitors to the next company’s website – even if your business is selling instructional materials and/or online educational programs. Content writing for digital marketing – especially websites – is a specialized discipline.
Avoid the hidden costs of DIY web copy
The sad part is, the companies we’ve cited as bad examples seem committed to providing excellent service or a good product. But if visitors are put off by endless blocks of copy, poor grammar, irrelevant information or can’t immediately find what they’re looking for because it’s “hidden,” they’ll most likely never call. That’s assuming they’re able to find your website in the first place due to poor SEO.
You won’t know how much money you’re losing by writing copy for your website yourself. And if you’re anticipating our blatant self-promotion, the time has come! Virtual Stacks Systems provides experienced web content writing, along with our web design, website redesign and SEO services. Contact us to learn more and leave it to our pros! We’re ready to be your partner in success!