Wouldn’t it be great if all the content for a Web project came straight from the client, and they knew exactly what they wanted to write?

But this is the real world, and most of us designers and developers know that this might happen perhaps 1% of the time. For the other 99% of jobs, you, Average Joe Developer or Average Jane Designer, are left holding the ball.

But, you’re not a copywriter. You may not particularly care about the site’s written content. But you want to keep your client happy, of course, and that means not only writing the copy, but doing a good job.

That’s why I’ve put together this quick and dirty guide to develop Website content.

What is “Content”?

For a point of clarification, mentions of “content” in this guide will refer to text that conveys information about a business, product, service, etc. You get the picture. We’re basically re-learning how to write.

A Breakdown of Sections

To make this guide easy to read and reference, here’s a rundown of what we’ll cover.

  • The Goals of Content Writing
  • What Do You Need to Know?
  • Spicing It Up
  • Grammar and Spelling
  • Handy Resources
The Goals of Content Writing

The purpose of many online projects, especially those that involve an ecommerce component, is to sell something to the visitor. This can be anything from a toaster oven to a new outlook on life — whatever it is, your job as the site’s content writer is to help sell it. Selling isn’t the easiest profession in the world, though, especially since most people these days have “heard it all” and “seen everything”.

It’s your job to think of the best way to get their attention and get them interested. There are a number of ways you can go about this, most of which focus on one of four primary goals.

Goal Number 1: Education

Education of the consumer is a fairly standard goal, though many companies tend to stray from details to highlight on the glitzy stuff that they think is more appealing.

Take a car, for instance: how many people want to know what it looks like driving down an open road in a beautiful setting if they know they’ll just be driving it down the street to work? What if they have kids and they’re concerned about safety? People buying products like this will want the facts straight up. There’s no need to dazzle the customer with atmospheric copy. The need for quick, accessible information is paramount.

Let’s look at some examples. The product is an automobile; let’s say it’s a family-sized minivan.

Example 1

Ride with style, ride with the wind and leave life behind. That’s what our new minivan feels like with its new dual shock absorbing power that will let you feel like you’re riding on air. Fast, maneuverable, and sleek, it’s no wonder our Coup de Mini is the leading minivan of its class.

(You will never know how hard it is to write ads you don’t believe for a second.)

Example 2

  • Security, versatility, efficiency. Our minivan has all that and more.
  • Our new patented kid-proof locks will let you rest easy about the safety of your passengers.
  • Driving versatility rivals that of any high end vehicle on the market. You have the control you need, anywhere you choose to roam.
  • New, more efficient engines mean you can finally save money on gas.
  • Drive smart. Check out our Coup de Mini today.

Can you guess the target market? That’s right. Minivans tend to be the soccer mom’s primary vehicle and the points covered are things that need to be addressed in the sale of such an automobile. Topics like safety and security are important to her, along with driving control (to avoid accidents) and the gas mileage. These are all huge factors in the sale of automobiles, period. However, these qualities stand out much more in the mind of a mother trying to keep her kids safe while balancing the family checkbook.

Some techniques to consider when writing for educational purposes are:

  • Use clear, concise language. Though it can be a little flowery, you still need to make your point quickly.
  • Use bulleted lists for easy skimming.
  • Define value in terms of the customer by asking yourself what they would want from the product.

Goal Number 2: Convey Emotion and Mental Images

Sometimes, details and facts are boring — they need to be spiced up a bit. But, instead of just dragging out the regular buzz words and so called “Selling Content”, start thinking. Let your imagination go wild for a moment and sit back, taking it all in. I do this every time I have to write content and it’s one of the best techniques I know.

The challenge of this goal is to take those mental images in your head and communicate them to your customers. It’s tricky, but it can be done. Keep to the first person, and highlight the experience for readers. That gets the images moving in their heads and, if you capture their imaginations, you can easily get their hearts to tag along.

To illustrate, here’s a snippet I recently wrote for a photography site:

Remember a moment in your life. Now capture it in your mind. Relive the sights, sounds, and smells of that moment. Now take it with you. Go and show that moment to all of your friends and family. Stroll down memory lane with a great tour guide pointing out all the highlights and the times that you laughed, cried and changed your life. A photo is more than the paper it’s printed on. A photo is a moment in time, where the sands of the hourglass stopped and everything was as it should be. With that in mind, shouldn’t your photographs be of the highest quality? We think so.

Goal Number 3: The Other Approach

If you’re working on a personal project or a site for a small business, play a bit with the writing to see what works best. In other words: go wild, see what happens. You might end up with some interesting realizations about the project and these can influence the direction of the content you’re writing.

Set your mind free; let it soar like a dove, twisting and turning, reading the clouds as it passes. Let your mind wander to distant lands then lose itself where it stands. Get lost in ancient libraries and watch ancient battles. Highlight the essence of the moment and watch were it goes. Follow that essence over the rainbow and begin writing the right words in droves.

Goal Number 4: Don’t Sound Like Anybody Else

As a Web designer, I browse oodles of Websites every day as a part of my job. Half that time is usually spent admiring the graphics and layout; the rest I spend cringing at the redundancy of what everyone is saying. Don’t be redundant: say something different that will catch people’s attention.

Find the defining point of what you’re trying to sell. If it’s great customer service, convey that concept through writing that is friendly, non-patronizing, and inviting. If your client has the easiest-to-use service, make that known through each piece of content, keeping concise yet friendly tones, and highlighting the ways in which the service is easier for customers to use.

Some techniques to consider when writing for educational purposes are:

  • Use clear, concise language. Though it can be a little flowery, you still need to make your point quickly.
  • Use bulleted lists for easy skimming.
  • Define value in terms of the customer by asking yourself what they would want from the product.

Goal Number 2: Convey Emotion and Mental Images

Sometimes, details and facts are boring — they need to be spiced up a bit. But, instead of just dragging out the regular buzz words and so called “Selling Content”, start thinking. Let your imagination go wild for a moment and sit back, taking it all in. I do this every time I have to write content and it’s one of the best techniques I know.

The challenge of this goal is to take those mental images in your head and communicate them to your customers. It’s tricky, but it can be done. Keep to the first person, and highlight the experience for readers. That gets the images moving in their heads and, if you capture their imaginations, you can easily get their hearts to tag along.

To illustrate, here’s a snippet I recently wrote for a photography site:

Remember a moment in your life. Now capture it in your mind. Relive the sights, sounds, and smells of that moment. Now take it with you. Go and show that moment to all of your friends and family. Stroll down memory lane with a great tour guide pointing out all the highlights and the times that you laughed, cried and changed your life. A photo is more than the paper it’s printed on. A photo is a moment in time, where the sands of the hourglass stopped and everything was as it should be. With that in mind, shouldn’t your photographs be of the highest quality? We think so.

Goal Number 3: The Other Approach

If you’re working on a personal project or a site for a small business, play a bit with the writing to see what works best. In other words: go wild, see what happens. You might end up with some interesting realizations about the project and these can influence the direction of the content you’re writing.

Set your mind free; let it soar like a dove, twisting and turning, reading the clouds as it passes. Let your mind wander to distant lands then lose itself where it stands. Get lost in ancient libraries and watch ancient battles. Highlight the essence of the moment and watch were it goes. Follow that essence over the rainbow and begin writing the right words in droves.

Goal Number 4: Don’t Sound Like Anybody Else

As a Web designer, I browse oodles of Websites every day as a part of my job. Half that time is usually spent admiring the graphics and layout; the rest I spend cringing at the redundancy of what everyone is saying. Don’t be redundant: say something different that will catch people’s attention.

Find the defining point of what you’re trying to sell. If it’s great customer service, convey that concept through writing that is friendly, non-patronizing, and inviting. If your client has the easiest-to-use service, make that known through each piece of content, keeping concise yet friendly tones, and highlighting the ways in which the service is easier for customers to use.

By

Matthew Gowdy