Simply having a website is rarely enough. To make the most of your web presence, you need to ensure the content is fresh, relevant and accurate. Emma Allen finds out how to produce effective web copy
If you want to attract new customers as well as keeping your old clients, your website needs to send out the right message. From product information and news, to client testimonials and blogs, you need to think through carefully what content to include and how to write and present it online.
"The number one rule is to meet your customers' needs," stresses Graham Smith, managing director of Effective Website Design. "Website copy is the meat of all business websites, but you've got to tell people what you can do for them rather than simply how great you are. It's no good having rambling mission statements or visions of the future - make sure your copy really helps the visitor."
You should be addressing your customers and their needs rather than talking about yourself. It's less about the "I" and "We", and more about "You".
Smith recommends you start by considering all of the questions people might have about your business and writing down the answers in straightforward language. "Put yourself in your customers' shoes," he advises. "They'll be thinking 'Is this company reputable? Who else have they worked with? What is the standard of their work like? Will I get value for money?' Answer their questions and you're more likely to convert a visit into a sale.
"Always avoid jargon and be descriptive," he adds. "Try writing your own descriptions of products, rather than relying on supplier notes, for instance."
Don't forget the information that guides people through registration, sign-ups or purchases. Many websites suffer drop-outs at this point simply through a lack of clear information or over-complicated processes. Tell people exactly what they need to do at each step, and ensure your online forms - such as registration or order forms - are simple and require the minimum amount of information.
When it comes to structuring your content, bear in mind that people tend to scan websites rather than read them, so break up chunks of text with headings, subheadings and lists.
"Repeat key information on each page," suggests Smith. "Because customers can land anywhere on your site, make sure that each page can stand alone.
"Try to organise the content in a logical manner, and if it's a long article, try writing a summary, and provide a separate link to more information so visitors don't get bogged down," he says.
To keep things fresh, update your site regularly, particularly date-sensitive blogs and news announcements, but think carefully about removing old copy. "You can do some tweaking if the information is out of date, but once the page is in a search engine index, you could lose your ranking if you fiddle too much," explains Smith.
You could hire a professional copywriter to help tidy up your content. They will also proof read it to prevent basic errors from slipping in. "Either way you should always get somebody to read through the site to check for any spelling and grammar errors, as these can make your site - and you - look unprofessional," Smith says.
"However, you can create a lot of trust by writing from the heart rather than relying on professional copy," he adds.
Lastly, make sure you include keywords to improve your search engine optimisation, but avoid focusing only on certain words. "More and more people search by asking questions or using multiple words, so you could lose customers with specific requirements," warns Smith.