Successful content marketing can be an uphill battle – but everyone can get ahead of the game by developing their copywriting abilities. Just as with every marketing practice, you should have a set base of “best practices” for copy development and implementation for your digital assets. In order to write the perfect copy for your website, incorporate these copywriting best practices into your overall online strategy.
1. Avoid Long, Cluttered Sentences
Web sales copy needs to be short.
Not only is it harder to read long sentences on a screen, people won’t give a rambling writer their attention. We can, of course, bring up the oft-referenced Apple writing team, which is famous for their short sentences. And starting sentences with the word “and.”
But when it comes to writing web copy, there’s really no other better rule to follow than the old adage of the K.I.S.S. method of communication.
2. “Keep It Simple, Stupid”
This is a famous saying in the marketing industry and one that never loses its validity. Keeping your sentences short, verbiage uncomplicated and messaging straightforward will assert more influence over the consumer. For example, immediately display product benefits. The consumer is already considering purchasing, they just need a persuasive ‘push’ to make a purchase. Give them that push through simple, persuasive copy.
3. Be a Thief
“Good artists copy. Great artists steal.”
What Pablo means here is that no one should ever copy another person’s work, brush stroke for brush stroke, word for word. Instead, they should apply these ideas, concepts and strategies to their own work in order to push the boundaries of their craft.
With digital content, the same idea applies. In the Internet era, it’s very easy to piece together an article, grabbing ideas from here and there. What’s more difficult (and will be a challenge for the future of the online marketing industry) is writing unique content. Too many content marketers are focused on quantity of production. Everyone needs to start focusing on quality of production. For the consumer’s sake, for humanity’s sake – for goodness sakes – don’t recycle unhelpful content. You’re not helping anyone. Especially yourself.
4. Avoid Cliches, Filler
Which brings us to our next point: avoid overused phrases, buzzwords, cliches and filler in general. We know that the top results for page one results on Google SERPs averages 1,890 words, and that the best blog length for 2018 is more than 2,000 words. But, that doesn’t mean you should add words just for the sake of ranking well. If anything, poorly-produced, rambling content will garner negative pagerank by increasing bounce rate and decreasing time on page.
5. Write for People, AND Search Engines
With digital copywriting, you need to have the intelligence to consider all parties reading content on your website. Writing for you consumer should be your number one priority, but remember that search engines are often what’s going to drive that said consumer to the page in the first place. Keywords and header tags will play a huge role in achieving the attention of Google.
Don’t forget about SEO! Use some of the following tools to get your SEO strategy in line with your content:
6. Knowing SEO Best Practices
With all content marketing, there are SEO marketing best practices to keep in mind as you conduct your strategy.
The following image represents how page titles and meta descriptions show up in search engines:
- Page titles are the lead element of a WordPress page, and immediately inform the search engine crawler of what the page is about. They should:
- Be no more than 65 characters.
- Not include duplicate content.
- Contain a relevant keyword.
- Be URL friendly.
- Page titles are coded as: <h1>Your Page Title Here</h1>.
- Page titles run from <h1> – <h6> with your most important keywords tagged with <h1> – <h3>.
- Meta descriptions are the snippets that show up in the search engine listing. They are a short description of the page and should:
- Entice the searcher to click on the link.
- Fewer than 160 characters.
- Be unique.
- Avoid keyword stuffing (write for humans, not robots!)
- View your pages on the front end to ensure that your content is:
- Relevant, interesting, and READABLE.
- Greater than 300 words.
- Not focused on a keyword that overlaps on another page.
- ALT tags were invented so the blind could operate the Internet with a screen reader. They describe an image so when you hover over your mouse, the text describes the image. This offers great opportunity to insert more keywords into your content, but don’t abuse it. Your ALT tags should…
- Be on every single image
- Be descriptive
- Be relevant
- Be long-tail rather than short-tail.
Check Internal Links
- Internal links are your best friend when trying to gain search engine relevance. The more links pointing to and from your webpages shows that you’re an influencer and Google will reward you. Each page should…
- Include at least three links.
- Point to other influential pages on your site and externally.
- Have relevant anchor text (keyword inclusion a bonus!) for links.
7. Page Titles & Meta Descriptions
Title elements define the title of a web page. Title tags are often used on SERPs to display preview snippets for a given page.
An optimized page title is between 50-70 characters in length and contains one or more relevant keywords as well as the brand name. Example:
Title of Post or Page (with keyword) | Keyword 2 (optional) | Brand Name
Page titles should be applied consistently across the website. Avoid a high number of duplicate page titles on web pages throughout all sections of your website.
A number of different formats are applied to the site’s page titles. Various page titles use a line bar ( | ), hyphen ( – ) or comma ( , ) as separators. Applying a consistent format will improve the uniformity of your search results and also improve site navigation.
Meta descriptions are HTML attributes that provide concise explanations of web page content. Meta descriptions are commonly used on search engine result pages (SERPs) to display preview snippets for a given page.
An optimized meta description is an engaging description (between 150 and 160 characters) of the web page’s content that includes one or more relevant keywords.
8. Keyword Research: Find Headlines
The art of keyword stuffing has been lost with Google algorithm changes and whatnot. And while, yes you should write your content for humans, you shouldn’t let keyword research fall off the grid. Using Keyword Planner, you can sort and/or filter keyword ideas by competition, search volume and more. Search the keywords you want to rank for within the program’s search box. Sort or filter to find low to medium competitive keywords that have a high number of monthly searches. The keywords relating to your article are perfect for your header tags.
Writing copy for your homepage is incredibly important as well. The headline will be the first thing a visitor reads when they land on your website – whatever it says will make them connect to or repel from your brand. Ensure your words are compelling.
9. Understand Header Tags
If you know a little about SEO, then you should understand what a basic header is. If not, I’ll give you a rundown.
Header tags, or <h1> tags are, simply put, emphasized text on the page. <h1> tags are HTML speak for “Title of the Page”. To present relevant results to searchers, Google determines the subject of the page by crawling your text. They scan for these tags to understand the high-level subject matter. The easier these are for the search crawlers to understand, the more likely you are to rise in results.
Your H1 is the most important – it’s the title of your page. Include a solid keyword to alert search engines within that tag. There are also H2, H3, H4, etc. tags that will be the subheaders of your pages. Use these in conjunction with the importance of page content. Again, using keywords within these tags will help you gain traction in search algorithms.
10. Brand Voice + Tone
Find your brand’s voice, make sure it connects with your desired audience and never stray. Use subversions of your voice – your “tones” – among different marketing materials. For example, company announcements on your website might be a cheerful tone; correspondence with clients might be a professional tone.
11. Active, Not Passive, Voice
Flashback to 10th grade grammar class! Here’s an example of active vs. passive voice:
- Copywriters love Moz – Active
- Moz is loved by copywriters – Passive
With an active voice, the subject is conducting the action within a sentence. With a passive voice, the subject receives the action. The passive style of writing is too wordy, it’s unclear, it’s harder to understand and it’s contradictory to concise copywriting. But, really no one speaks like that — write how you speak. Don’t be afraid to end sentences with prepositions. Most readers on the Internet aren’t professional linguists.
Another related point: Don’t use uncertain language. Here’s an example of certain vs. uncertain language.
- Our digital content writers can find data with the help of a research tool like Moz.
- Our digital content writers find data with the research tool Moz.
See? Can your content writers find data, or will they? The consumer is reassured when you affirm their confidence in buying your product. Even if they’re not directly thinking about the difference between can/will, they’re more likely to choose a company that exudes confidence, and that’s certainly a way to do so.
12. Use Supporting High-Quality Graphics
Unfortunately for writers, humans are more interested in stimulating visual images and visuals. But don’t throw your typewriter out the window just yet. Especially on social, this website design best practice is important for you to grasp.
On social media, videos are shared 120% more than link and text posts combined, while photos are liked twice as much as text updates. It’s not difficult to understand why people are attracted to visual content – it’s easier to digest and produces an immediate emotional response (either positive or negative). To take advantage, find the platforms your audience participates on and contribute. A good headline in conjunction with a compelling visual will see the best results.
To find good images or video, check out our guide:
13. Find Your Platforms
Let’s say you operate a travel discount website, offering up discount tickets to a luxury cruise line. You most likely have a lot of visual content that is great for platforms like Pinterest, Instagram and even Facebook, the more visually-focused social media. It just so happens, a lot of your audience (women) hang out there too. Utilizing this information, the online store should develop a strategy around these three platforms.
On the other hand, if you’re a niche tech company offering management software, you’ll most likely be on platforms like LinkedIn and Twitter. These are the best platforms for reaching professionals interested in the specialty industry. Searching for groups, the CEO of this digital store would be wise to answer customer complaints and provide supplemental content to draw visitors to his site.
Perhaps your audience isn’t on social at all. In that case, it might be smart to find specialists in your industry and reach out to them for some assistance.
14. Get Some Guests
Guest posting isn’t dead, and will never hurt your digital marketing strategy. Reaching out to industry professionals for a guest blog post is a great way to make some headway in a particular niche industry.
If you’re an established business, create an entire marketing plan around a celebrity popular with your audience. Throw a contest such as the National Pork Board did with celebrity chef, Guy Fieri in the “Search for the Next Pork Personality” contest. By submitting a video on National Pork Board’s website, three lucky finalists get to meet Guy and compete for $5,000 dollars in a cook-off. Also, they launched in Des Moines, IA (Iowa provides 28% of America’s pork), so they obviously had done their demographic research.
15. Localize your Work
This especially important for small business owners. When developing online content, you may be writing articles geared toward a particular region (car engine block heaters=Russia), or you could be selling a product the entire world consumes (coffee=everywhere). While your store is most likely in between those two, there’s most likely an opportunity to gain fans right in your own backyard, no matter where you are.
Localize your writing – insert your targeted city/state into articles and HTML elements like meta descriptions and title tags, or write specifically about the region you sell to. With this, you are giving your Internet business a physical location, boosting trust among the consumer and boosting authority by giving the search engines geographic location to reference in Google Maps, rich snippets and directory listings.
16. A/B Test
The best way to see if your content strategy is working is to conduct A/B tests. A/B tests compare two different versions of any part of a website.
For example, if you want to test two different messages against one another, all you need to do is develop two landing pages, each with its designated content. Split website traffic between the two landing pages and see which one performs better. Examine elements like lower bounce rate, contact form submissions or length of time spent on page in your analytics account. Post whichever one is driving higher-quality traffic.
17. QA All Work
Last but not least, have everyone possible QA every piece of content produced. If you’re fortunate enough to have a marketing team on your side, pass it around to each member for quality assurance. Have them read through every sentence, click every link to ensure high-quality user experience. If you don’t have a team on your side, there are tons of third-party editing companies you can reach out to. TextBroker and WriterAccess are among several content platforms providing unique content services to websites.
18. Content Strategy for Inbound Marketing
When you produce and publish great content, you’re more likely to draw visitors from organic search, link sharing and social media, among other inbound-driven tactics. This lets an audience find you, instead of you seeking out an audience.
A content strategy is important, especially if you have multiple writers on your staff. Having everyone on the same page is imperative in organizing your group. The content strategy starts with a brainstorm where every idea is thrown out, nothing isn’t accepted. Refine the huge list of content ideas you and your team have come up with, giving priority to the strongest ones. Develop a six-month calendar and assign your writers content.
Make sure to keep this checklist handy when implementing content marketing for your online business.
- Find out who will care about your content.
- And why they will listen.
- Make sure you have a clear focus around a strategy.
- Offer unique information.
- Distribute your content appropriately.
- Determine the value visitors will receive.
- Analyze your data and conduct testing.
19. Understand the Online Sales Funnel
The goal of the online sales funnel is to understand where the consumer is in their path to purchase. Consumers behave much differently at the top of the funnel than at the bottom – thus your content should behave differently as well. The higher in the funnel they are, the more informative your content should be. Provide useful information to help them make an educated decision about their purchase. The more they find out, the more you can start to push product at them. Towards the end of the funnel, if you’ve done it correctly, they will reward a brand that has assisted them in making the best and most convenient choice possible.
20. Effectively Communicate Your Brand’s USP/UVPs
Often, writers just hop into a project without finding the true value of a brand. So your business sells security systems? “Our alarms the loudest in the industry!” seems like it might be valuable, but what are they really selling? They’re selling peace of mind that comes with having a valuable alarm system. Talking with brand advocates, management or C-level employees will yield useful information when developing a UVP list.
21. Understand Your Target Audience with Personas
You need to dig deep to understand your target audience and develop personas of your individual audience segments. Conduct user interviews to narrow down your search. You obviously have an inherent audience in mind with the type of product you sell (wheelchairs – elderly audience; kids’ toys – child audience; cologne – male audience). But when you drill down into that inherent audience, what you find may surprise you. Let’s use the previous examples.
- Wheelchairs are used by the elderly, but who is most likely buying the product? The younger caretaker.
- Kids’ toys are used by children, but who is most likely buying the product? The parents.
- Cologne is used by men, but who is most likely buying the product? The significant other of the man.
While yes this is a generalization, it’s true that you will not – and cannot – know who to market to without drilling down and conducting audience research. And if you don’t know who to market the product to, you can’t begin to understand what words and phrases will motivate them to make a purchase.
22. Avoid Duplicate Content
Duplicate content is content that appears on the Internet in more than one place. To provide the best search experience, search engines will rarely show multiple duplicate pieces of content and are therefore forced to choose which version is most likely the original—or best. Eliminating duplicate content issues will prevent your site from being penalized. In order to determine what content on your website is duplicate use the following resources:
23. Avoid Thin Content
To search engines, content with thin or low word count is associated with poor quality. To demonstrate the value of your website’s content, we recommend providing sufficient content on your web pages.
Thin content is perhaps the greatest hindrance a website’s visibility in organic search results. Not only does it limit keyword targeting, but also internal linking opportunities.
If your pages don’t contain more than 250 words of body copy, you’re going to get docked by Google and your pages won’t rank as high. For reference, SerpIQ analyzed the content length of top 10 results and found that depth is rewarded at around 2,250 words.
Granted, this takes into account extremely content-heavy resources, like Wikipedia, but it illustrates that greater depth is needed for web pages to achieve and maintain high rankings.
For any page that you wish to rank favorably for relevant search terms, you should shoot for a body copy word count of 750 to 2500+ words. It could be very likely that this copy already exists in printed media, like brochures or information packets, it simply needs to be reflected online.
24. Creating a Creative Brief
A creative brief is a high-level overview of the necessities and desires of a project. It’s created by the account manager or the person closest to the brand and then distributed among the creatives – writers, designers, developers, strategists – in order for them to have a cohesive grasp on the project requirements. If you haven’t developed a creative brief, here’s one you can employ at your marketing agency:
Brief Version 1 | Project Number XXX
Project: Content updates, SEO services, Social Media updates Budget: $$$
Client Point of Contact: Phone/Email: XXX.XXX.XXXX
Design (Devs, etc.): WordPress Admin Information:
Due Date: XX/XX/XX
Brand Promise … What does the brand promise to its customers? Usually found in the mission statement. Keeps us focused on connecting our ideas back to the brand.
Brand Personality … How does the brand want to portray itself? Keeps us in character with the ideas we formulate
Business Opportunity … What’s the problem this company solves? Frame it as an opportunity.
Stand out idea … What is a singular thought that brings meaning and inspiration to this brand? Have fun with this, but consider the preceding information.
What’s the ask?
- What does our client want us to do for them, what services do they expect us to do and how do they want them done?
- What is our objective for this client?
- How is our client performing? List any numbers, facts or figures that make them look good.
- Beyond demographics and marketing speak, who are the people we’re trying to reach? what is their current relationship with their perceived target? What professions might they take on?
- What information can our client give us that is absolutely necessary for the consumer to understand when buying a product or service from said client.
Considerations / Perceptions
- Any barriers in place that discourages consumers from purchasing client’s product/service? Any brand, product or service benefits should be listed.
- How will we know that we’ve been successful? What does the client need to show success internally?
25. Have Fun!
Your content assets should never be boring – even in a boring industry! Sometimes, those industries that are seemingly “dry” (i.e. financial company websites, manufacturing, B2B or niche markets) can have some of the best content opportunities. No content is boring if it is educational, valuable and helpful to those people who show true interest in the topic. No content is boring to those whose questions it answers. No content is boring to those who need additional helpful resources. No content is boring if it appeals to your target audience. People search for and consume content to further their education and entertain themselves – the only limit is your creativity.
To kickstart your creativity, check out our post: 23 Awesome Resources for Web Design Inspiration.
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