Writing your own website copy - Preparation is all - Part 1

So. You're thinking of having a crack at writing your own website copy?

OK - well, it's your decision!

But hold on just one second. As with any craft worthy of the term, preparation is all. Well, maybe not quite all, but it matters more than you may realise. Ask any craftsman - a chef, a DIY expert, a mechanic, an artist, a fisherman or, yes, a copywriter.  The reply will be the same.  (unapologetic cliché alert)

Fail to prepare.  Prepare to fail.

Fail to step back and consider the fundamentals of your website project before you start, and you’ll be wasting your time.


The three fundamentals -

What is your website for?  What do you want it to achieve?
Who is your website for? - Who’s your reader?
What is your website’s structure to be?  What pages will you include?

In this blog and the two which follow, also about writing web copy, we're going to look closely at these questions.

Let's begin with the first one.


What's your website for?  What do you want it to achieve?

You might reply -

'I want my website visitors to be attracted by what they see.'
'I want them to find on my website what they’re looking for.'

followed by one or more of these -

'I want them to place an order.'

'I want them to get in touch by phone/email/using a ‘chatbot’/completing a submission form.'

'I want them to find the information they were looking for.'

'I want them to sign up for my newsletters.'

'I want them to download an infographic or e-book.'


‘Should I stay or should I go’ - The Clash

Once you’ve settled on your website’s goal, you need to consider the best means towards achieving it.  Where better to start than first impressions?

Number one - you need instant appeal.  No - not ‘need’.  You must have instant appeal.  The one question going through your visitor’s mind when they click to go through to your site is ‘should I stay or should I go’. Without instant appeal, you’ve lost before you started.  If your website fails to instantly click with your visitor, then you might as well go back to spending £500 a month on ads in the local paper.


That first impression - how long does it take?

How many seconds does it take for someone to form their very first impression of your business?  10 seconds?  5? 1?  No - none of these.  Your precious website visitor, on whom your livelihood depends, who will feed your children and pay your golf club fees, will make their first judgement of your site in just under 0.5 seconds.

That’s all it takes for the visual signals to hit the retina, whizz along the optic nerve to the relevant brain cells and be processed by the opinion-forming brain cells.

This early phase of impression-forming will be down to your website’s design: the imagery and the feel of the website.

But the words come a close second.  Here are two more stats.

Website visitors spend an average of 5.59 seconds looking at a website’s written content before disappearing.

88% of visitors never return if, on their first visit,  they’ve endured a bad experience.

These two facts alone should be enough to convince us of the importance of getting those first words right.  How do we do this?

1.       Know what your ideal client is looking for

2.       Communicate it at the earliest opportunity


The proof

When I say that the most important part of your website is the part that tells visitors what you do, this isn’t some kind of guess-work.  I’ve got proof!

A year or two ago, I sent a survey to my client database. 27% responded - not bad.

The survey asked the participants to think about what they’re looking for when they visit at a website with the intention of buying a product or service.  They were given a list of eight types of web page -

1. the Company History
2. the Company Mission Statement, Vision or Ethos
3. the Products or Services the company provides
4. the people who work for the company
5. Background Information on the Products or Services
6. the Testimonials
7. the Client Portfolio or Case Studies
8. the Contact Details

I asked people to re-sort this list, with the most valuable at the top and the least important at the bottom.  Have a go yourself.  Jot down on a piece of paper your preferred order of importance e.g. 61834752


OK - here’s the survey result. 

3. the Products or Services the company provides
5. Background Information on the Products or Services
6. the Testimonials
8. the Contact Details
7. the Client Portfolio or Case Studies
4. the people who work for the company
2. the Company Mission Statement, Vision or Ethos
1. the Company History

How does your re-ordered list compare?
My guess is that you placed number 3 fair and square at the top of your list.  For most people (by a massive majority), it’s the products or service that matter most.  Here’s a question which never ceases to puzzle me.

Given this information and given that we have a miserly 5.59 seconds to communicate to our visitors the that which they want most, why do so many websites fall at this first, critical hurdle?

Have you noticed how websites often seem oblivious to communicating what the customer most wants to know - the products or services on offer?  Instead, you’ll find, for example, right at the top of the page, just below the Home Page banner, a morsel of company history. -

Bletsoe & Blincow was founded in 1981, since when we’re proud to have become the region’s premier blah blah

At best, this information should be tucked away under About Us.

Or maybe you’ve seen Home Pages which open with a mission statement -
Our mission is to make a difference.  We’re committed to changing the way the world thinks about …

Do first-time visitors really want to know about how you're planning to change the world?


What do you do?

The lesson is surely this -
When your potential customers are searching for a product or service, assume they’re in a hurry - that they’re in no mood to hang around on your website for very long.

You have a matter of seconds to grab their attention.

And how are you going to do that?
Tell them about your company history, your ethos or your portfolio?

Our survey clearly shows that, right at the very top of your Home Page, you should be telling your potential client the one thing they want to know, above all else, which is …

… what you do

Nothing more.  The rest, (vision, mission statement, company ethos, company history etc) relatively speaking, is fluff.  OK - ‘fluff’ might be an exaggeration, but compared to your products or services, your other pages are of secondary importance.

Once your web visitor has found out what you do, they’ll soon work out whether this matches what they’re looking for.  In other words, their second question is -

Does ‘what they do’ match ‘what I’m looking for’?

Look out for the next blog, in which we'll cover step 2 of our website copy preparation. We'll be asking that all-important question, 'Who's it to?'


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Jan 26, 2020
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