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How to Write Copy for a Website

It can be a daunting task to write copy for your website.  You have known your business so well for so long that it is completely ingrained in you.  Everything there is to say just sort of goes without saying.  It can be difficult to remove yourself and figure out what actually needs to be said.  Below I have listed five steps that will hopefully be helpful when you write copy for a website ... or anything else for that matter.

Step 1: Bore Yourself

(Think through copious amounts of information)

The first step isn't brainstorming.  That comes next.  Before you brainstorm, you've got to do your research.  You've got to gather your material and potential material.  You want to think through way more information about yourself, your company and your industry than you would ever actually say.  Seriously, if there's not information on the proverbial cutting room floor, you've not thought through enough.  This step is about more than making sure you don't leave out important information; it's about knowing where you're going.  It's getting a bird's eye view before drawing the map.

Think through EVERYTHING!  Think through so much that it bores you.  Once you've gathered copious amounts of information, you are ready to move on.

Step 2: Sit in Your User's Chair

(Think through the questions a user would have)

A guy I know once told me a story that he thought was hilarious.  A friend of his was instructing his wife on how to fax something from his home office.  What he thought was so funny was that the first instruction his friend gave was, "OK, sit in my chair."  He laughed heartily.  "Like she wouldn't know to sit down!" he jeered.

Well, I never quite saw the humor in it.  Sitting in someone else's chair is an important step.  When writing copy for a site, you can't write it for you.  You have to write it for your audience.  You have to think through what they want to know.  Who is going to come to this site?  What questions would they have?  How might they best understand?  Why are they really here?  In order to appropriately answer these questions, you have to look at all of that copious amounts of information with fresh eyes.  To do that, you have to "to climb into someone's skin and walk around in it" as Atticus Finch would say.  You have to sit in your user's chair.

Step 3: Play Chess

(Think three moves ahead)

Now that you've taken all of the information you've gathered and thought through how your audience will see it, you are almost ready to actually write something.  However, there's one more thing to keep in mind.  You know more than your audience does.  You know answers to the questions they don't even know to ask.  So, in addition to thinking through how they will see the site, carve out a path for them to follow even if they don't yet know that's where they need to go.

I liken it to playing chess.  I love chess, but I'm awful at it.  My problem is I can never play offense.  I'm a defense guy.  It will take you hours to beat me at a game of chess, but you'll never be in any danger of losing.  The great chess players can think three moves ahead and know how their opponent with respond.  While writing copy for a website, you should think three moves ahead as well.  Think through not only what your clients will want to know but what they need to know even though they don't know they need to know it.

Step 4: Tell a Story

(Make it interesting)

Now it's time to write.  Yes, this is all about educating your client, but the way to do that is to tell a story.  We are all about telling stories, and we do it with the site itself.  But that doesn't mean you can just phone it in when it comes to the copy.  Tell a story, and whenever you can, make it interesting.  We've talked in the past about a lot of things you can do to keep the copy from being too dull.

However, if you've got loads of information prioritized by what you're clients want and need to know, it should be no problem telling the story of your company.

Step 5: Be the Search Engine

(Don't forget keywords)

The words we use are important.  Certain words mean certain things, and sometimes they convey far more than they ever mean.  I have a friend who got into some trouble because he said his wife's pancakes were gritty.  What he meant was they were hearty.  Words carry weight!

In the same way, some words carry different weight for search engines.  It is helpful to a search engine to see keywords.  These are words that indicate your subject.  As I've said before, a good keyword is a word that is often used in your industry and seldom used outside of it.  When choosing synonyms, lean toward those that are more specific to your industry.  


Next time you sit down to write something follow these simple steps.  Think through all the information available to you.  Prioritize it by what your clients want to know, but don't forget to include what they need to know.  Use that information to tell a story while using words that are specific to your line of work, and you will be on your way.  One more thing: it's usually a good idea to end your copy by emphasizing the most important point.  ;)