The Untaught PR Task: Writing Effective Website Copy

Image from Wisegeek.com

Image from Wisegeek.com

As an aspiring public relations professional, I can attest that we are taught the basics of PR writing in the university classroom — we are drilled on AP Style from the first communications class we take until we graduate, and we spend four years mastering how to write the perfect press release, effective pitch email and engaging social media content. However, the one writing-focused task of a PR professional that is often not explored in the classroom is drafting effective website copy.

Potential customers often interact with a business for the very first time via its website; therefore, each layout decision made and word chosen are fundamental to a business’ success. This semester, I have learned extensively from my colleagues at RLF about how to write effective website copy for various clients at the agency. Writing website copy is both fun and challenging, and can be vastly improved upon by utilizing the following strategies:

Headlines and Navigation are Key
The first step in writing valuable website copy is to develop an extensive site map to determine the navigation of the website and the basic content on each page. If the navigation of a website is not user-friendly, viewers will leave the page in search of alternative sources where information is easier to access. Headlines that guide a user should not be viewed as areas for PR pros to showcase their creativity. Instead, users are looking for recognizable headlines, such as “Contact Us,” “Our History” and “About Us,” that will easily guide them to the page they are seeking. In order to facilitate easy navigation, headlines should be short, simple and recognizable.

Less is More
Would you have chosen to read this post if I hadn’t broken up the text into headings with minimal text under each one? Probably not. As Internet users, we rarely read content word for word. According to Neilsen Norman Group, readers scan each website page and then pick out individual sentences and key words. Thus, we should:
1. Keep the word count at half or less than with conventional writing
2. Utilize numbered lists and bullet points
3. Highlight keywords
4. Use infographics

Optimize Your Copy
Marketing company Hubspot found that 75 percent of Internet users never scroll further than the initial page of results when using a search engine. This is a testament to the power of utilizing Search Engine Optimization (SEO) tactics to improve a website’s rankings on search engines and ultimately drive more users to the site. Two simple ways to improve your SEO when writing website copy include:
1. Using keywords. For example, instead of using words like “fresh-baked bread” to describe products in a bakery, employ a specific, key phrase like “gluten-free bread” or “seeded marble rye.”
2. Providing links to other articles. Just as I’ve done in this post, providing links to other articles helps to maximize SEO by adding another layer of depth and expertise to your site.

Utilize a Call to Action
Website copy isn’t effective unless it actually encourages viewers to do something. For some companies that might mean buying a product, while for others it might mean donating to a cause. No matter what the action is, persuading readers to act should be paramount in your website copy. According to HubSpot, utilizing verbs and numbers are most effective in a call to action. For example, the phrase “click here for 50% off” will prove more successful than simply saying “now on sale.”

While writing website copy may not be taught in the classroom, it is an essential skill for all PR pros. It may seem overwhelming at first, but writing web copy is something we all can master because we are constantly exposed to a variety of different websites, and we can easily identify an effective, user-friendly website. Use your natural instinct and the four strategies I suggested in your next website copy project, and you will be well on your way to success!

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