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How to write better copy for your website – keep it simple, stupid

Writing copy for your website’s really hard. Writing GOOD copy is even harder.

Lots of people fall in to the trap of thinking good copy must be lavish, flowing and full of impressive words, and get scared by the prospect of coming up with something that’s of a high enough standard.

But if you want your copy to be more widely read – by more people and in more detail – you need to simplify it.

So how far do you need to take it? Just how simplified should it be?

Well, you might be surprised to find out that for maximum impact, you need to write as if you’re writing for a nine year old.

Loads of research has been done into this, and it’s been proved that the most popular authors can be read and understood by children at this age level.

“But hang on,” you say “I’m not aiming at children!”

Well, in both 2003 and 2011, surveys showed around 15% of UK adults (that’s 5.1 million people) had the reading level “at or below” that of an 11 year old. Sadly, more recently in 2015, a similar survey found that 16.4% (or 1 in 6) of adults in England have literacy levels at or below Level 1. That’s the equivalent level of 5-7 year olds. What you also need to remember is we tend to “read down” a level when we’re reading online, because we scan text quickly looking for the information we want, and tend to have shorter attention spans. The more complex and heavy-going the text is, the more you need to concentrate and the less likely you are to stick with it.

Believe me, your audience will appreciate you writing like they’re nine years old.

If you still need convincing, here’s three very good reasons why you should care that your writing’s readable:
1. People will stick around to read what you’ve written. If you want to persuade a customer to buy your products, you need to hold their attention and get your message across quickly
2. People are more likely to share your content. Your content gets a wider audience when it’s shared on social media, and writing simply increases the chances of this happening. Readers want information they can digest quickly
3. You can turn more visitors into customers. How often have you given up reading a web page part way through because it was just SUCH HARD WORK? I bet you didn’t hang around to do anything else either, like buy something, or sign up to an email list. I mean, who’s going to sign up to receive EVEN MORE of this stuff?

How to become a better writer

Here are three things you can do to make your writing better:
1. Use shorter sentences. The first thing to do is make your sentences shorter. Much shorter.
2. Change clever words for simpler ones, without impacting negatively on the overall tone.
3. Make your copy more conversational. Try this test – read your current copy out loud (or quietly to yourself if you’re in an open plan office). Do you sound like a robot? Two quick tips; first, the apostrophe is your friend, use it. Second, eliminate unnecessary uses of “that” and “it” where you can take them out without losing the meaning. Not sure what I mean? – Fret not, you can read more here

When it’s NOT ok to dumb down

Finally, a word of caution.

Sometimes it’s not appropriate to simplify.

Be careful if you’re writing a “How to…” guide that your flowing copy doesn’t leave any room for confusion. Nobody will thank you if they flood their house because of a badly used apostrophe.

The same goes for technical pieces for the same reason.

But don’t forget – no matter who your writing is aimed at, everyone appreciates copy that’s as readable as possible.

Writing good copy can make the difference between winning or losing customers.

The Tomango team’s been designing high-performing websites for businesses like yours for over 15 years. We love helping our clients become winners. Copywriting, like photography, is something everyone thinks they can do, but not many are any good at it. It’s also time-consuming and can make your head hurt if you’re not a natural writer.

If you’d like to talk to the experts and have someone write great copy for you, get in touch and find out how we can help.