Tuesday, April 17, 2007

7 Web Copy Disasters - eBay or Otherwise

This post features a unattributed list of Web copywriting sins. I don’t know where I found this, but I like it, so I thought I should pass it along. If you know where it comes from, please let me know. I’d like to give it proper attribution and congratulate the author on their insights.

Also, if you know anyone else who could use this kind of weekly marketing tune up, please send them here or have them sign up for the weekly newsletter at http://www.qualitywriter.com/blog. Thanks.

Enjoy! - Phil

SEVEN DEADLY WEB COPY MISTAKES

Words on the web are a different animal than words in print. As a copywriter, I watch the trends. And YOU need to be aware of online behavior too. That is IF you want potential clients to read what's on your website. Studies show a full 79% of Internet users SCAN the page rather than read word for word. What does that mean to you? It means whatever they DO read had better be GOOD. Here are 7 web copy mistakes you need to avoid.

Mistake #1: OPENING WITH FLASH

Open with a bang, but not with Flash. If you don't know, Flash is a program by Macromedia that shows mini movies. Graphic artists LOVE Flash animation. They think it's pretty and high tech. Internet cruisers hate it. They can't wait to find the "Skip Intro" link. That's because Flash stands in between them and the information they're hunting for. See, studies show when folks are online they have a need to feel "active." There are millions of pages of information out there. And they aren't so sure yours is the best use of their time. Flash slows them down. So trash the Flash. And go with stronger copy instead. [note from Phil: I use an Anti-Flash plug-in for Firefox, so when flash is on a page I don't see anything but a play button. I think this is gaining popularity -- and causing more problems for designers that rely on Flash.]

Mistake #2: NO COMPELLING HEADLINES OR SUBHEADS

In print, eyes go to the picture first. Not so online. Research shows the first thing web users see is a headline. Now, remember what I said about scanning? Eyes drift down the page looking for easy-to-pick-up words. Well, the headline and subheads should effectively tell scanners what's on the page without having to dig into the real copy... like a quick summary of the entire page! Headlines get the attention. The first subhead identifies the problem of your target audience. The next wows them with the solution - YOU! This way scanners can gloss over the content and get the whole story with the headlines and subheads. Once they're hooked, they can go back and really read your copy.

Mistake #3: OPENING WITH "WELCOME TO MY HOME PAGE"

You're wasting valuable real estate if this is your first phrase. It may be the first and last thing a site visitor reads. Don't forget why web users visit you in the first place. It's all about THEM. Not you. Something THEY need got them to your site. Figure out what it is. Identify the benefits, or emotional buttons in your copy. People WANT to know they're in good hands. OR that they made a smart purchase. Do them a favor. Convince them with benefit-laden copy.

Mistake #4: NOT BUILDING COPY AROUND KEYWORDS AND PHRASES

Quick lesson. Keywords and phrases are what Internet surfers type in to a search engine, like Google. The search engine comes back with a list of related sites. Surfers tend to click over to sites at the top of the list. Search engines put the sites with relevant keywords HIGHER on the list. They find those sites by reading the copy on your web pages. Get it? So figure out what words your target market would type in to find you. Those are your keywords. Now build them into your copy.

Mistake #5: NOT ENOUGH WHITE SPACE

You can guide the eye where you want it to go... if you have a path. Don't clutter up the page with too many confusing options. Or slow-loading graphics. Use strategic white space to pull your reader through your copy from start to finish. Remember, reading on a computer screen is tiring on the eyes. In fact, online reading is 25% slower than reading print. So make it easier. Break up your information into bite-sized pieces. Use short, snappy sentences. Paragraphs with one thought and one thought only. And use bullets liberally. You never know which is the magic one to turn a reader into a customer. Make your copy scan-able.

Mistake #6: BORING THE READER AWAY

Your message has a heck of a lot of competition. People don't have to read your copy unless they want to. YOUR job is to keep them engaged. Let me let you in on a little secret I learned from marketing genius, Joseph Sugarman - the purpose of copy is to get you to read the first sentence. Then that sentence should get you to read the NEXT sentence. And so on. And so on. And so on.

Ever hear of the "Bucket Brigade?" This term comes from the times before fire departments got organized. If there was a fire, villagers lined up down the streets. One end of the line started at the water source. The other end was at the blaze. To put out the fire quickly, they passed buckets of water down the line. Briskly. Without letting up. Without slowing. Imagine that pace when you're writing your copy. Each sentence leading you into the next.

Mistake #7: UNDERESTIMATING THE IMPORTANCE OF COPY

Copy describes what you do and persuades the reader to take some action. But what really makes copy invaluable is its ability to build a lasting relationship with your reader. Whether you're there or not. 24/7. Good copy is friendly. Informative. Establishes rapport. Grows trust and loyalty. It deepens the connection between you and your audience. Once you have that bond, you don't have to bother convincing them how great your product or service is. They're READY to sign up!

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