If You're Not Doing This, You Shouldn't be Building Websites | Digital Masters

Episode #35

If You’re Not Doing This, You Shouldn’t be Building Websites

writing copy for a website

Let’s talk about building websites for other businesses.

Chances are, you started building websites for one of two reasons – you either like to code and love creating a full project, or you’re a designer who had clients asking for websites.

The thing is, no matter if you’re a web developer who turned to freelance or a graphic designer who creates websites for their clients, you’re doing them a huge disservice if you’re not taking care of this one big thing.

The website copy.

I spend a lot of time reading Facebook group posts, looking at social media, and just listening in to the conversations of website developers and designers. The biggest struggle that they all face?

They don’t know how to handle the copy.

In fact, many of them are relying on their customer to provide that copy and complaining that it takes their customer a long time to get them the copy for their website.

And to that I say – duh! Of course your client doesn’t know how to get you copy for their website. Of course they’re going to struggle to provide that and take a long time to get it to you. They might know their business, but they likely have no idea how to translate that into effective website copy that’s geared for SEO and conversions.

In today’s episode, we’re going to talk about why the copy matters so damn much, how to write copy that sells, and what you can do about it in your own business. Ready? Let’s go!

Why Does Website Copy Matter So Much?

Here’s the thing that most people don’t understand with websites – it’s not about the design, or how it’s built, or really much of anything that feels “fun.” It’s all about the words on the page.

What gets someone to go from questioning to sold? It’s the copy of the website. It’s the ability for the business to showcase that they, in fact, understand their customers’ problems and actually offer a solution to that problem.

Even when you’re shopping on Amazon, how often do you make a purchase just by looking at the picture and not reading at least part of the description?

But especially for smaller businesses that have to build up the trust to make that sale, website copy is what’s driving your browsers to take any action at all.

It’s All About Improving On-Page SEO

SEO, also, is all about improving your on-page SEO. After all, SEO starts with a search engine’s ability to crawl and understand your website. If the words on the page don’t tell Google what a website is about, you’re going to struggle to get ranked at all.

Copy is where your targeted keywords and key phrases get used most. It’s where Google and your customers understand what your website is about and helps to show it up for the correct search results.

Writing website copy is not about writing for Google,  however. Back in the old days (about 13-15 years ago), I definitely worked at companies that wanted me to keyword stuff and include our targeted keyword as much as possible on the page. However, that barely worked then and it certainly doesn’t work now. Website copy is all about writing for your customers. If you’re answering their questions and keeping them moving through your site, Google sees that and rewards you.

Think of it this way – if someone clicks on a search result, barely looks at the page, and hits that Back button straight back to Google, then Google knows that that site did not answer the questions of their searcher. But if they spend time on that page, click around, and maybe even make a purchase or fill out a form? Well then, they then know that their searchers’ questions are getting answered. And really, that’s all Google wants.

Increasing Conversions

Copy, though, is really all about increasing conversions. You can have a beautiful design, a site that loads quickly and works effectively, but if the website doesn’t move the browser to make a purchase or become a lead? Well, then it’s failed. The only way to really move someone through  sales funnels that you’re building is to have the copy that tells them exactly what problem you’re solving and how your solution works for them.

Your copy also defines the purpose of the website and what defines a conversion. As you know, conversions are not always the same kind of sales. For many of my customers, they need to get that phone call or lead form. For others, they want direct eCommerce sales. For some, they just want more people walking through their physical location’s doors.

The design and the code don’t tell a prospect how they can work with your client. They don’t take the prospect through the journey and get them to the destination your client wants. But the copy does. It tells a prospect exactly why they would want to work with your client, what your client can do for them, and how to work with your client. If you’re not answering these questions, you’re going to lose prospects to a competitor’s website.

Website Copy That Sells

OK, so we know the importance of website copy and what it can do for your customers’ businesses, but what makes website copy go from drab to something that actually sells? I’d talked about this in episode 9 in a bit more depth, but let’s break it down a bit.

Define a Website Page’s Purpose

Think back to when you start a new website project. Chances are, you’ve created some kind of sitemap or structure for the website so you know what pages to include in the website. One of the first things you can do is to define the purpose of each page. What are you trying to get a prospect to do when they’re on that page? What’s the main goal you’re trying to get them to accomplish?

You can have a few goals, too. For instance, on many homepages, you’re going to want them to click through to maybe one of three or four services or sign up for a lead capture of some kind. On an individual service page, however, you might want them to fill out a contact form or directly buy a product.

When you know what you want prospects to do on the page they’re on, it becomes easier to focus the copy towards that goal.

Focus on the Problems the Brand Solves, Not its Service/Features

After you’ve decided what that page is supposed to solve, you next want to address what problem you’re solving with that page or service. After all, people don’t really care about what you do, but they do care that you can solve a problem they’re having.

Headlines and the copy throughout the website need to answer the pain point this business solves. Focus on the benefit of working with your client, rather than the features that they offer with their product or service.

For example, most of my clients don’t really care that I build them custom WordPress websites with contact forms, blogs, and 5 main pages. What they do care about is that I build them WordPress websites that they can update themselves without ever touching a line of code. They also care that the website I build them will always deliver their contact forms without issue and can express their main services and parts of their brand story.

Make sure you’re digging deep and asking why and showcasing exactly how the client solves that problem. Why does that problem matter? How does what your client offer help their customers? How does this service or product help them solve that problem?

Write in the Target Market’s Language

This one seems logical, but it’s incredibly hard to do, even for me. Remember that the target market speaks a different version of English than your client does. They have terms that they use for the problems they have and your client’s technical jargon probably doesn’t align with that.

Do some research on Google, social media, message boards, and communities and see how their target audience is talking about what their pain points are. You can actually use keyword research tools and plug in a competitor’s website to get you started. Google will provide a list of keywords it feels are being targeted, and then you can dive deeper from there.

Remember, your customer is the expert in the service they’re providing their client. Sometimes that means they’ve gotten a little deep into their own world and forgotten how their target audience actually talks. As an outsider, it’s even easier for you to break down those differences and help your client understand their target audience even better. Doing the research can even help them change up they write and speak to their target audience, and suddenly they’re able to connect better with them. This part of the copy phase can be invaluable to  your client’s social strategy, email marketing, paid ads strategy, content strategy, and more, so don’t discount how important it is to help them with it.

Make the Copy Easy to Read

No one wants to land on a website and read a novel. You need to make your copy easy to read, easy to scan, and easy to get the point of what your client is saying without someone having to read every. single. word on the page.

How do you do that? You introduce sections with clear, concise headlines, keep paragraphs short, include bullet points and lists to break up text, and add sections of bolded text (scroll up, you’ll see I bolded all over this article) to make the important pieces stand out.

Think of website copy like a college textbook. No one is going to read every single line of that thing. They’re going to skim. Just make sure that when they skim, they get the important pieces.

What to Do About the Problem of Copy

Chances are you already feel a bit more comfortable with tackling website copy now, but that doesn’t mean that you know exactly how to handle it in your business.

The answer, though, is to never hand the website copy off to a client and wait for them to give it back to you. (Unless of course your client is a professional SEO or website copywriter themselves.)

There are, of course, a few ways that you can approach handling website copy and they don’t all include you having to learn a whole new skillset.

Writing It Yourself

Of course, the easiest answer to this is to write it yourself. Listen to this episode and take notes, go back and listen to episode 9, get comfortable doing some keyword research, and practice.

The key with writing it yourself is following a process each time. That can help you to make this a lot easier of a task than you’re thinking. You also always want to start with the copy, before you ever get to design or development.

When I write website copy for my clients, I have done a kick-off call with them where we discuss the goals and long-term vision of the website and then I’ve created a sitemap. Once I have that sitemap, I create their copy document.

It’s nothing fancy – I’m literally just creating a document in Google Docs – but this document is separated out into the individual pages of my sitemap. I include the Title of the page, the meta title & description, URL, and then I start writing. Google Docs allows you to format for Headings 1, 2, 3, and more, which makes it super easy to translate to the designer later.

I often start with the client’s current website and pull what I can from there and start editing. Then, we have an interview where I dig into their business, how they sell their services and products now, and what they feel like is working and not working. Starting writing before the interview lets me know what questions I already have, which honestly speeds up the whole process.

We usually go through a couple rounds of revisions with the client making comments before we’ve got everything approved to move on to design.

Hiring a Copywriter

Ok, so that sounds easy but I’m realistic and understand that I’ve always been a writer (I did, after all, get my degrees in Literature). If writing just isn’t your thing or you simply don’t want to devote the time to it, I highly suggest finding a skilled website copywriter to partner with on projects.

You can still run the interviews and all the communication with the client, but they’ll be able to bring it all to life for you. Plus, when you’re hiring a professional copywriter, you’ve added a huge benefit to your business. That means you’re increasing the value to your customer and you can charge for that additional value accordingly.

One thing to keep in mind if you do hire a copywriter? You need to bring them on at the very beginning of the project. Don’t hire someone when you have a design done and a website mostly built. Chances are the best copy won’t fit in those spots you’ve filled in with Lorem Ipsum. Bringing a copywriter on at the beginning will help you design the website around the lead-generating copy, which will increase your conversions. Besides, a professional copywriter will often have ideas that you might not be thinking of. Get your money’s worth and bring them in as soon as a website contract is signed.

Helping Your Client Write It

While this isn’t my favorite method, it can be effective if the client doesn’t have the budget for a professional copywriter.

Start by creating the sitemap and getting the pages approved. Then, you want to create that Google Doc and fill it with the copy your client already has on their existing website, if they have one, or put in dummy headings. You can give them notes throughout the document, asking for their benefits, how they solve a problem, why they’re unique, etc and let them answer.

The key here is you’ll need to edit it to make it more concise and ensure they’re not using technical jargon, but it can certainly relieve some pressure on you writing the whole copy document from scratch and let your client feel involved in the process.

Always Provide the Copy

Why do I say that if you’re not writing copy for your client that you shouldn’t be building websites?

Honestly, because they’re not the expert. They’re not going to know what to give you to create copy that’s both suited for on-page SEO and that’s going to increase conversions. Since 99% of business owners want their websites to be 1) found on Google and 2) increase their revenue in some way, well, if they’re writing the copy that’s not likely going to happen.

You, however, are the expert in websites. Even if you’re “just” a developer or “just” a designer, chances are you know way more about websites and can learn much easier than they can to fill in those gaps.

Don’t shortchange your clients by just building them a pretty website. Build them a website that will get them somewhere.

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