Begin a new era of web content copywriting
There’s a flood of web content. The more than 1.9 billion websites have a lot of information to consume. And, of course, the active sites are competing for likes, shares, and contact us. Despite these engagement opportunities, B2B marketers say their top priority is “generating more leads.” In The 32 Best Ways to Generate More Leads, 25% of them include content: SEO, landing pages, blogs, webinars, ebooks, white papers, guest posts, and press releases.
Considering 61% of B2B transactions begin online, where’s the disconnect? If website content is vital to generating more traffic and leads, and our top priority is generating more leads, does that mean we’re missing the mark? Are we not doing a thorough job presenting the right information in easily understood language and graphics aligned with the buyer persona’s [target audience’s] primary paint point? If we were doing so, would we be talking about another top priority?
A thought leadership study has insight into these questions. Almost three-quarters [71%] of the nearly 3,600 global management-level professionals who participated in the 2021 B2B Thought Leadership Impact Study report, “…less than half of the thought leadership they consume gives them valuable insights.” Only 15% agree they had consumed “very good or excellent” thought leadership with 30% rating this content "mediocre, poor, or very poor." And, 59% prefer "short, quickly consumed content that makes a strong point..." while 44% prefer "something I can listen to or watch," such as a podcast or video.
"59% prefer 'short, quickly consumed content that makes a strong point...' "
So, if brevity and simplicity are vital standards for thought leadership, general web content, which ranks below thought leadership importance, should be easier to absorb. The reason? This information is often the first time a potential customer is meeting you virtually. Your website is a digital personification of the brand. How do you want the brand to be remembered? The same as most other companies? Or, how about a company that's easy to do business with and that's solving the big issues that matter to the buyer persona?
Unfortunately, many websites leave the opposite impression. Their web content includes long, dense paragraphs that fill the page about their superiority; in other words, this content misses the mark when written from the company's instead of the customer's point of view. On these sites, you have to hunt like an experienced detective for the solution to the pressing pain point.
"...content misses the mark when written from the company's instead of the customer's point of view."
Web content best practices call for a conversational style of delivering information. And, this information must have an immediate value proposition and be presented in compelling layout and design to enhance customer engagement that launches the buyer journey.
Scanned not read
The digital copywriting expert leading the first web-writing class I went to shared invaluable guidance into how people look at a web page. “Because reading on a screen is difficult,” he said, “the primary characteristic of a website visitor is to scan the page.” What? “You mean all of the hours I’ve spent writing long, dense technical copy is wrong?” “Yes,” he said. Writing this technically dense stuff was what we did every day.
He said because a site visitor scans a page from the upper left to the lower right with heat-map examples to prove his point, we should be writing informal, conversational content with short sentences and paragraphs to enable scanning.
"...informal, conversational content with short sentences and paragraphs to enable scanning."
He described the concept of chunking information or one thought per paragraph that forces you to write a few short sentences for each paragraph. And, and as I realized later, applying this content-writing model with value proposition subheads is the most powerful.
I’m grateful to him and my first employer for the training. The guidelines have enabled me to work in strategic content marketing for 25 years. And, the other bit of good luck was the fact that before marketing, I was in radio and TV news that, by their very nature, demand the story be told quickly in 60 seconds or less. Short, conversational sentences are how you hit the mark in the broadcast news business.
So, I thought, I’m back in news reporting, hunting down the 5 Ws and H, the day-one journalism school lesson of who, what, where, when, why, and how, the essential elements required to write a news story. But, in this case, the who, where, and when were unnecessary. What we needed were the what, the why, and the how. What is the buyer persona’s business problem and why is that problem occurring?
And, the page turner, excuse the pun, is the how. The how is the value proposition. How does a company solve the buyer persona’s business problem to increase their revenue? This is the money angle; the reason a potential customer wants to do business with you. Explain everything conversationally and concisely with value proposition subheads to let the buyer persona know you're totally tuned into their business problem while at the same time differentiating your company from competitors.
"...let the buyer persona know you're totally tuned into their business problem..."
And, with that formula, I earned a promotion [somewhat] to be the lead web content editor for the company’s website redesign. Writing and editing web content have been a part of every role I’ve had since that first one.
Short sentences, short paragraphs
Writing doesn’t have to be as difficult as the general impressions seems to hold. There’s no reason to stare at a flashing cursor. Actually, that’s the worst thing to do. Instead, take a deep breath, and think about how you would explain the subject to a colleague, for example. Or, think about how you present information with a slide deck. Writing for the web is no different.
What is the easiest way to figure that out? Shut your office door, if you’re in the office, and say what you want to explain. Speak what you want to write. You won’t describe a solution in 250 words. Likely, you’ll speak in the active tense although for some weird reason the passive tense is becoming more common.
Example: “A discussion needs to be had.” This is the passive tense with the object of the sentence at the beginning and the subject buried if there is an understandable subject that, in the example sentence, is difficult to identify. This example has what’s known as an implied subject, we.
So, if you’re writing a sentence with an implied subject, please keep reading. The active tense of the previous example requires the subject to be known. Example: We need to talk. The subject, We, begins the sentence forcing the verb, need, to follow in a conversational style. Or, my favorite active-versus-passive-tense example that I include in writing presentations: The dog chased the ball: subject = dog. verb = chased. object = ball. These are the basic sentence elements: subject, verb, object.
"The dog chased the ball": subject = dog. verb = chased.
object = ball. These are the basic sentence elements: subject, verb, object.
Compare this active tense with the passive tense of this sentence: "The ball was chased by the dog." The passive tense is stilted, or formal and stiff, as in the first passive tense example two paragraphs above, “A discussion needs to be had.” because they’re not conversational, the easiest form of writing to read or scan.
Secondly, in this passive-tense sentence about the dog, there are seven words or 40% more words than the five in the active-tense sentence. Seven words versus five words may not seem like much in this case, but when you write in stilted language to describe a product or service or technology, the word count will soar. Not ideal for a website visitor who will scan the content from the upper left to the lower right of the screen.
So, we apply “The dog chased the ball” active-tense formula to web content copywriting. Example: “Our patented technology reduces risk and improves efficiency in real time.” The next sentence would explain how the technology reduces risk and improves efficiency.
Or, we could add a prepositional phrase to the end of the sentence: "by letting you know virtually when the pressure is increasing."
You can also use pronouns—you, we, our—because pronouns are conversational. If you want to get really conversational, include contractions.
"...pronouns are conversational."
With these shorter sentences, the paragraphs will be shorter also, especially with one primary thought or message per paragraph, as we mentioned, so we end up with 2 to 3 sentences of 25 words each and paragraphs of 50 to 75 words. Add a few more paragraphs if you’d like to. You can even include a short success story to prove up the solution.
"...2 to 3 sentences of 25 words each and paragraphs of
50 to 75 words."
This word count could look short in draft form. But, on your site, the word count will be fine, especially when designed with strong value proposition subheads. And, as far as word count and SEO, the Content Marketing Institute has an interesting take on the current thinking that only word count matters.
A new era of web content
Let’s embrace a new era of web content with short conversational sentences and paragraphs instead of the traditional paragraphs of 125 to 150 words or more. Forego long, dense copy appropriate for a technical paper. Which site would you be more willing to engage with?
Your potential customer is like you: We want to consume information that’s easy on our eyes and mind, as the thought leadership impact study found and because reading on a screen is difficult, while explaining how the company solves our pain point.
"We want to consume information that's easy on our eyes and mind..."
Conversational content in an absorbing layout, based on the value proposition to align with the buyer persona and differentiate your company from competitors, is the foundation of high-energy marketing messages. These messages cultivate greater understanding and recall for enhanced customer engagement that launch the buyer journey.
We’re very appreciative of your interest in our web content guidelines. Thank you.
If you have a quick writing or editing question or if you’d like to talk about creating a web content style guide for your team, please get in touch by filling out the Let’s collaborate form on our website.
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