Good website copy – consider the user’s perspective

It can be an easy thing to forget, but have you looked at your website critically considering the perspective of a new client? I have been asked to look at a couple of websites recently. From this experience and from being a ‘user of websites’ (!) more generally, I thought I would write today about some of the key things to consider when creating your website and, in particular, when writing copy for it to make it ‘user-friendly’.

User/new client perspective

I think the primary problem with a ‘bad website’ is that the creator forgets to view the website from the ‘user perspective’. This influences a number of elements. Firstly, what is logical and interesting to you as the ‘business owner’, ‘knower of all things about your company’ and ‘enthusiastic professional’ is often not logical or as much of a priority to your ‘first time website visitor’, ‘potential client’ and ‘skim reading, 10-second attention span homepage scanner’.

Making information obvious

Don’t just consider what YOU want to tell website visitors/clients, consider what they actually want to know! It does depend a lot on the business you’re in and the service or products that you offer. Take a bit of time to think about a different profession or business. Something you don’t know much about. What would you want to know first?
Taking a bit of an extreme example, imagine if you were visiting a website for a café you have never been to. Imagine what might spring to the owner’s mind when you ask about her café…excitedly she may tell you about:
  1. The ingredients they use and how they are organic
  2. The selection of teas, or milks, or juices they offer
  3. The fancy coffee machine they have just had installed
  4. Information about the beautiful location
These are all wonderfully interesting things…and may have a place on a website (or perhaps even better a social media post)…but what do you as the potential new client want to know?
  1. Location, including a map
  2. Opening times
  3. Menu and prices
  4. …whether it’s dog or child-friendly, perhaps!
If all of these more useful details appeal, well then you may want to read more about the ethos or atmosphere of the café, but it’s about prioritising the information and the way you present it, so that it meets the clients’ needs before your interests.
Consider how you search for information and what you look for. I genuinely visited a website for a café recently and couldn’t find anywhere the address or a map of its location! It seems so obvious but ‘obvious’ information is far too often missed out. I had no idea where the café was and therefore, although the images looked amazing and the menu sounded tempting, I couldn’t visit if I had wanted…or I had to re-search through Google or see if it was on their Facebook page and that just seemed like too much hard work at the time.
This brings me nicely on to my next point…website visitors are lazy!

Signposting

If you are not wedded to a company or have no significant tie, then I bet you will not spend more than 5-10 seconds skimming a company’s website for the information you need. If you can find it, then great, you are likely to be hooked in. But if you can’t, then you’ll hit the ‘back’ button and scroll on to the next search hit.
So, again, consider the user’s perspective of your website – is everything clearly labelled and signposted. Have you offered could linking within your website to all of its pages? Do your menus offer clear headings? Would someone completely new to your business understand all of the headings/wording? Remember, what might be everyday language to you, could be jargon to a potential client.
When I talk about ‘good writing’, I often use the analogy of taking the reader on a journey. They are going somewhere they have never been to before so you need to ‘take the reader by the hand and lead them smoothly along the path’. Give them a sense of where you are going with logical progression and flow. No one likes sudden turns without some warning! Writing for a website is no different. Use headings and subheadings. Use links. Use explanations.
If you are listing a number of products, for example, make sure you use clear headings, so your reader/website visitor knows what to expect. Then think, how have you grouped the products? Are there categories that could apply or would alphabetical be useful? It often makes things much easier to find.
If you are writing about the business or an ‘about me’ style page, is the information you are conveying in a logical order? Consider chronological or use themes, i.e. qualifications, then experience, ‘business start up’ information and then latest news.

Consistency

Finally, consider consistency. This helps the reader to feel comfortable and familiar with your site. If you use first person, i.e. ‘I hope to’, ‘we will’ instead of third person (the company name) e.g. ‘British Gas aims to’, then use it consistently. Don’t swap about.
If you decide to offer explanations for each product or service, then do it in a consistent style. It doesn’t have to be the exact same word count for each but ensure it is close and importantly the level of detail is similar. Psychologically, this sort of things really matters to your website visitor. If I see lots of products described in detail as I scroll through an online shopping site, but then come across one or two products that have only a ‘one-liner’, I can’t help but ask myself ‘why?’. Is this product inferior? Is there simply nothing to say about it? These things are very subtle but they make a difference. Consider consistency across all of your copy in terms of length, style, tone and format of your writing.

Let me take a look…

If you would like me to take a look through your website, let me know. It is so useful to have a complete ‘outsider’ give you feedback on how they regard the information you offer.
It is also useful for gaining ideas for updates and additions to keep those search engine bots happy…but more discussion on that is for another post!

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