For a business looking to try something new or different on its website, it’s never been easier than right now.
Adding streaming video, real-time social media feeds and attractive design effects can be simple. And users have the bandwidth and savvy to handle it when they land on a more complex site. There’s never been a better time to experiment.
That said, the simplest element of every website has not lost its importance as web pages have gotten more sophisticated. That element is the text.
I’d like to think that the words you publish on your business website are the most important part of the site (although I understand that some photographers and designers might beg to differ). There’s no doubt that the words play a big part in the impression you make on potential customers and clients, not to mention the search engine spiders that crawl and classify your site.
With that in mind, here are four lessons about writing I have learned over the years. Keep them in mind them when you’re writing for your site — whether it’s the text on your homepage, the staff bios on your “About Us” page or posts on your company blog. I think they’ll help you make just the right impression.
1. Write the Way You Talk
This is the foundation of all the writing and editing I have done since high school. I learned it from my mom, who suggested this approach as I worked on a term paper.
This lesson does not mean that all of your writing needs to be conversational — although on the web, less formal often works better than more formal.
What it means is you should read the words you are writing as if they are being spoken, and if they don’t sound like something anyone would ever say, try again. Depending on your audience and your goal, the voice you imagine speaking your words could be casual or formal. But make sure the words match the voice and sound natural.
2. Less Is More
There are very few sentences that cannot be improved by making them shorter. (In fact, the previous sentence is probably better written as “Almost every sentence is better when it’s shorter.” That edit cuts out five words — a 38 percent reduction).
This lesson applies doubly on the web, where attention spans are short and competition for information and entertainment is a click away.
In a way, this lesson conflicts a bit with Lesson 1. When we speak, we often use extraneous words — understandably, since we are turning thoughts and feelings into words on the fly. Perhaps Lesson 1 should be, “Write the Way You Wish You Talked.” That’s only two more words.
3. A Second Set of Eyes Always Helps
Reporters and writers have editors. Entrepreneurs who are writing blog posts about their business don’t always have that luxury.
But if you can get someone — anyone — to read what you’ve written for your site, either before you publish or after it’s live, it can save you headaches and embarrassment.
Whether you realize it or not, you will have blind spots about anything you write yourself. Readers notice the errors, typos and faulty logic that you miss — so why not have the first reader report them back to you?
If you’re in a pinch and can’t get a second set of eyes, I suggest you read your copy in a different way. Print it out and take a red pen to it. Load it on to your tablet (if you wrote on a PC or laptop) and read it there. Read it backwards (really, this works — you’ll pick up spelling errors you would have glossed over going forward).
4. Don’t Believe in Writer’s Block
You have limited time to write for your site or blog. If you stare at a blank page for long, you might convince yourself you have “writer’s block” and it will take too long. You’ll move on to other things — hey, you have a business to run — and you may never come back to the writing.
There’s no such thing as writer’s block. I know, because every time I faced a newspaper deadline, somehow I found a way to get all the words written in time. If you make yourself write, you will write.
If you’re having trouble getting started, I suggest putting yourself on the clock. Tell yourself, “I have to have six paragraphs written in 30 minutes,” or something like that. It will happen.
You can also avoid the mythical “writer’s block” by collecting ideas. Start a notebook or file on one of your devices where you jot down ideas for good material for your business site. Then when it’s time to write, you have a place to start.
So there they are, four lessons that should help you write for your business site. As good content becomes more and more important on the web, I hope these tips help you make the right impression and explain your business to customers and clients.
I’ve written it before — a website can be beautifully designed, SEO-friendly and quick as Usain Bolt, but if the actual words on the page are sloppy, unprofessional or indecipherable, you’re losing readers (and business).
Jon DeNunzio worked in the Washington Post newsroom for nearly 20 years and now runs Squarely Digital, a consulting firm that aims to make the internet a little bit easier and a lot more profitable for your company. Contact him at [email protected].