Here's a fundamental difference between copywriting offline and copywriting for the web. . .
- Give or take, my job as a copywriter offline was to sell, sell, sell, sell.
- Online, I think, my job is best described as help, help, help, sell.
Because web sites are a pain for buyers and searchers. Much harder to ‘use’ than a physical store or library, a brochure or a catalog. The biggest problem being - no two sites work exactly the same. There are always differences in appearance, architecture, navigation.
The result: Every first-time visitor to your site has to pause, look around and figure out how your site actually ‘works’. Where is stuff? How do I get there? Can I figure out how you have organized everything?
We don't have problems like that with a catalog. Every catalog starts with the front cover, then you turn the page to see what comes next, and so on. Web sites aren't like that. They ‘unfold’ in different ways.
And that's where the ‘help’ comes in.
Before you can think about selling, you first need to help each visitor find what they are looking for, whether that be a product, a service or simply information.
Every headline, subhead, block of short text and link text needs to be helping the visitor. You need to guide them, inform them, direct them. And, of course, at the same time, pre-sell them. Make them feel confident as they click their way through the pages. Make them feel good as you direct and help them forward.
Help them with clear headings, descriptions and links. Keep them feeling confident that they are just a click or two away from finding what they really want.
Once you have done that, once you have been truly helpful. . . you will have achieved a number of things.
First, you will have taken them to where they want to be with the minimum of fuss, confusion and wasted clicks. And that means higher conversion rates.
Second, you will have taken them to that final page in a very positive state of mind. They will be feeling good about your site. Feeling positive about the experience. Feeling delighted that they have found what they wanted so quickly and easily.
And then, and only then. . . . Sell.
Yes, at the end of the day, it's all about selling. But the emphasis, the state of mind you bring to the process, can make a big difference.
Nick Usborne is a copywriter, author, speaker and advocat of good writing. You can access all his archived newsletter articles on copywriting and writing for the web at his Excess Voice site. You'll find more articles and resources on how to make money as a freelance writer at his Freelance Writing Success site.