How to Create Effective Online Content
Here’s what we will be covering:
- Website content
- Headlines and titles
- Effective email subject lines
- Content for blog posts and articles
1. Website Content
Your brand’s voice should shout out loud and clear in every bit of your online copy. It's time to put on your company overalls and get into the mindset of your brand.
Focus and prepare your thoughts on how your brand can attract your customer. Remember your business has one aim – to deliver a profit.
Your website content should work towards your main business aims. In this section we're going to look at this and provide you with practical guidance in the following areas:
- Targeting your audience
- Tone of voice
- Selling benefits
- Clear calls to action
- General web pages
Targeting Your Audience
How can you write copy which is going to attract customers, get people to buy your products / services and keep them coming back for more?
Firstly think about your target audience and start to build up a picture of who they might be. What age group are they, are they high earners, what are their likes, dislikes, are there any related problems you can solve or address? If so, how do these fit into your company brand?
Secondly, start to build up a picture of your potential customer. For example, a beautician might sell sports massages to women aged between 20 – 30 or age-reducing facials to women aged between 40 – 60. The two services are addressing different needs and are likely to have a different price range. One age group might shop more online while the other mainly on the high street.
With a bit of research you’ll uncover a whole raft of differing needs. This can help you to communicate and target your product / service in a way which will be beneficial to your customers and help you to increase sales.
What do customers want from your website copy?
- To be able to scan your website text and grab something which will benefit them in a fast, efficient manner
- Relevant and customer-focused titles and headings to help them navigate through your site and find what they’re looking for
- To be impressed with your brand
- Gauge what your website is about - will it address their needs?
- Feel satisfied that your company is trustworthy
- Feel special and part of the brand
- Have the opportunity to ask questions
- Be kept up to date on what is beneficial to them, but never to be bombarded with info via email
- For each web page to be unique and customer-focused
- To be offered relevant, benefits-driven information in the form of blogs / articles
- Free from jargon and speaking to them in a clear language
Tone of Voice
Whatever the content is, it has to be appropriate for your company brand and totally relevant to your target audience. Using a clear, informed and interesting tone is a good approach.
Here are a couple of examples of how website copy communicates with its audience.
The Government website is formal in its tone, yet still addresses its users as real people by using ‘you’ and ‘your’ . It’s certainly not scary and doesn't use jargon; headings are relevant, clear and informative, it’s easy to find what you’re looking for. With a search box in a prominent place it goes a long way to cater for its users.
By contrast Ellas’ organic baby food company uses a very informal tone. Its clever use of inforgraphics and calls to action gets their message across.
Let’s take a closer look at what it does well:
- Language – It speaks to the user in clear, easy language. In some instances their use of language mirrors that of the simple communication between a parent and child, yet it’s not patronising, it’s comforting and doesn't use any jargon
- Tone - Reassuring, understanding, informative. They relate to the parent and their baby’s needs
- Content – Gives plenty of opportunity for users to ask for help: for example, free books and a weaning guide
- Voice – Gains trust from their users by showing they understand their needs by providing lots of informative information
- Encourages the user to be part of their brand – Makes customers feel special by offering them friendship in the form of a user-friendly sign up
- Allows interaction – Encourages users to ask questions about their product
- Social currency – It shows it’s being ethical – they promote recycling of their packaging and provide info and facts to back this up
Practical Guidance – Tone of Voice
- Research your competitors – What tone of voice do they use, what can you learn from them, what can you do better?
- How do your audience speak – what do your target audience want, what are they talking about on social media, who do they recommend, what companies do they follow?
- Don’t use jargon – People want to be spoken to in plain English: target the copy for your audience
- Be consistent in your tone -Communicating with your audience’s wants, needs and expectations: this approach should shape every piece of your page content
- Develop a content style plan for you and / or your team – It’s important to keep the tone of voice the same across your web pages, company news, blogs post, articles and social media platforms so that your brand stays consistent
- Involve the reader in your copy – address them with ‘you’ and ‘yours’
- Make your message confident, interesting and reassuring– use real life stories and testimonials to demonstrate this
- Consider and check your content – Grammar, punctuation and formatting should be perfect
- Stay in tune – Your audience is ever-changing so keep abreast of their interests, behaviours and activities. This will help dictate your tone: use social media to help with this
Selling Benefits Not Features
A feature is a description of what your product or service does. It might be how it was designed, how it works or what it looks like. This type of information is rational and it makes perfect sense to use it on pages of your website, such as, information pages. Describing features won’t sell your product or service, the benefits will.
That’s because a benefit is an emotional response to something. Look at how great reviews on Trip Advisor sway people to make a purchase / booking
A car salesperson can talk about the features of a new car until the cows come home, but it’s not until its been test driven that a decision is made to buy. The customer has experienced the benefits for himself / herself first hand.
An emotional response comes into play when we appeal to a prospect’s heart, not their heads. with that in mind ask yourself these questions:
- How can my product or service make their life better, easier, or more fun?
- What will make them talk about my business to family and friends?
- What is the prospect missing without my product or service?
- How will the prospect justify the purchase to themselves, their partner or family?
Focusing on these four questions will help you to discover the benefits that will attract your prospective customer, always sell with your prospect in mind.
Practical Guidance – Selling Benefits
- Think about your product or service in terms of a benefit, rather than a feature
- Look beyond the obvious - What other benefits can you find in your product / service to express to your target audience?
- Write a list of benefits associated with your product or service
- Do your research – Use social media as a tool for asking customers what they want from a product /service and then deliver on this
- Different audiences –Establishing the benefits of your product or service for one audience may not necessarily involve the same benefits for another, so find the right ones for each target audience
- Allow your product service to sell itself – Offer free trials, samples, visits to see your product or service in action. Often this is all the confirmation a prospective customer will need to make a purchase
- Deliver clear benefits without over promising, back up benefits with evidence – facts, figures and testimonials
Clear Calls to Action
Calls to action come in many different forms. These can be buttons, text, images and infographics to name but a few.
Calls to action are the most critical inbound marketing tool for your website; they are used to lead a user to complete an action like:
- Download a form
- Make an enquiry
- Register for a free gift
- Or make a sale
Without strong calls to action on your web pages, users are likely to exit your page.
When creating your calls to action, it pays to use actionable language which is brief and immediately understandable. To encourage users to follow a call to action, it has to communicate a benefit for a user to respond.
Incentives might include:
- Discounts, entry into a competition or a free gift
- Complimentary gift with each item ordered
- Free postage and packaging
- Free delivery
- Clickable titles - Benefits-packed headlines and titles, e.g. ‘How To’ guides and top tips on…..
Practical Guidance – Calls to Action
- Placement is key – Are your calls to action clear and visible? Do they take into account the fact that more and more people use mobile phones and tablets to surf the net?
- Consider using the same call to action at the top and the end of your page
- Avoid using the word ‘submit’ on buttons – The users need to understand what will happen when they click the button, so use the right words to describe what clicking the button will do, e.g ‘Download now’ or ‘Free guide’: these are much more likely to be trusted and are therefore more clickable
- Make them visible – Choose a colour which does not blend in with the background, does not clash, works well with your brand and stands out enough to get your call to action noticed
- Keep wording simple – people scan read, so use words or short sentences which they can grab instantly. Remember benefits are what users are looking for so be direct and succinct
- Attractive calls to action – give plenty of white space around each call to action, this helps them to attract more attention: there’s nothing worse than cluttered page
General Web Pages
The general pages of your website could include the ‘About’ page, ‘Contact’ page and returns policy pages etc. Although they may not be changed as often as other pages on your website they are just as important and it pays to keep them regularly updated.
- The ‘About’ page – Keeping it current helps to convey a professional image and shows you’re growing as a business
- Company news section – update on a regular basis: this shows your users that you’re evolving as a company
- Staff & Team members – Keep your staff bios and profile photos current
- Media – Update new videos, images and infographics to stay abreast of your user’s experiences
- Testimonials and reviews – Keeping these current will help your visitor gain trust in you as a company
- Check your copy – Get every bit of copy checked after each edit as having poorly punctuated, misspelt content can damage your reputation as a company
2. Effective Headlines and Titles
In traditional print, such as newspapers or magazines, the article’s headline is usually complemented by images. Along with the body text it comes as a complete package. This means that though the headline is important to grab initial attention, it does not have to do all of the work by itself as there are other things going on at the same time to keep a reader’s attention.
Not so for online headlines, blog lists and email newsletters which either don’t have an image or only a small thumbnail image to accompany the headline. Therefore, online headlines have to work extra hard, to get the reader to click through.
A few facts about online headlines:
- 80% of people online read headlines / titles
- Only 20% of people online go on to read the rest of the content
- Having a title that appeals to readers and makes them want to click through can mean make or break for your website, blog / articles
Let’s take a brief look at Ineffective headlines - What to avoid:
- Headlines which are too vague: 'Women's Fashion' (this doesn't specify an age, a style, an era, Doesn't say what angle the article is from.)
- Headlines which make outrageous claims that cannot be fulfilled: 'How to Make Him Fall for You in 2 Days‘
- Headlines which use too much hyperbole 'Super Awesome Cakes that Will Win Awards‘
- Headlines which are too much like the traditional hard sell: 'Buy Our Face Cream for Less Wrinkles‘
- Long headlines: 'How to Use Visual Hierarchy to Create Clear and Easy to Read Web Pages‘
- Headlines with too many adjectives: 'Lovely Beautiful Super Cakes'
A headline should act as an introduction to the content - This may seem obvious but it’s really important to get this right. Don’t try and summarise the whole of the content of the copy but instead think “What is it I’m trying to say to my audience?”
Take a look at the example of the blog posts in this list, the titles are short and benefits-focused.
The Best headlines are:
- Set realistic expectations
First Impressions Count
'Your headline is the first, and perhaps the only, impression you make on a prospective reader. Without a headline or post title that turns a browser into a reader, the rest of your words may as well not even exist'
By providing clickable headlines your readers are more likely to come back for more and tell others about your business. This means more visitors to your website and potentially more links in, which will also help to improve your search engine rankings.
Practical Guidance - Headlines / Titles
Consider the first word carefully:
- If your headlines begin with common words such as 'A,' 'An' or 'The', they are going to get lost in article title listings
- Choose an opening word that conveys information to the reader: for example, a name, a person or a concept: Instead of 'The Ultimate Guide to SEO by Fresher & Prosper,' consider: 'SEO Simplified: On-Page Factors Made Easy‘
- Using headlines with numbers - Can give readers an idea of what to expect in the article (if something is '5 Ways' it is going to be a useful introduction, not an exhaustive compendium)
- The above headline gives a clear example of how to use colons as 'hashtags' to draw attention to a wider topic: after the colon you can hone in on the specifics of the topic
- Establish what you’re trying to say - Think about what you want convey? What do you hope to answer? Is your article, short or a detailed guide? Is it a review of a product/service?
- Include keywords – Using your keywords in headlines will definitely help your search engine ranking, but be careful not to do this to the detriment of the reader: make sure your title is still relevant to them and their needs
- The word 'simple' in a title can appeal to the emotions: if a reader fears that the topic is too complicated / scary for them, the word ‘simple’ reduces this fear
- Negating benefits 'How Not to...' is proven to be just as effective: it shows the reader how to avoid doing badly at something
- Get to know your target audience: what are their concerns, what are the questions they need answering? Offer them a solution to their problem
- Be friendly – Be rich with ‘you’ and ‘yours’ : readers like to be directly addressed, as it shows you have them and their needs in mind when producing your content
- Convey the benefit you are proclaiming as unique - this draws attention to your content and highlights its usefulness to the reader
- Keep the headline short: the optimum is 7 words (or up to 60 characters), so that you whole headline appears on a search engine results page intact
3. Effective Email Subject Lines
How many times do we press the delete button on emails which don’t attract us? The topic may not be unique enough to draw our attention, or worse still, it looks like it could be spam?
The point of creating an email marketing campaign is to encourage users to click through, lead them to a web page, which will eventually lead the user to take action.
- Keep it short – Try to make your point in around eight words, two or three words is even better. In most browsers, email subject lines get cut off after 60 characters and mobile devices allow even less. With more and more people using mobile devices it pays to keep your email subject lines as short as possible
- Try and ask a question which targets the sort of problem your recipient may have for which they may need a solution
- Using humour can increase your click through rates, but use it sparingly and keep it in line with your company voice
- Use a sense of urgency – Types of subject lines, like: ‘One day sale’ or ‘Exclusive offer’ work well. People don’t like to miss out.
- Personalise your emails by using the person’s name or company name, but always make sure you have your recipient’s current details
3. Blog Posts and Articles
Once you've attracted your readers to your website with some short, benefits-focused headlines, it’s time to deliver what your headline has promised.
Blogs and articles on your website are your opportunity to shine, to showcase your expertise and genuinely help your readers with questions and problems they have.
At the risk of repeating myself, the first thing to remember about online content, and copy in general, is that it is there for your customer’s benefit. Keeping this in mind as you come to plan, write and develop your content strategy is the single most important thing to do.
Blogs are your chance to show your expertise, but it is important to keep focused and not go off in a tangent. Keeping your reader in mind at all times and asking yourself at regular intervals: ‘Is this really useful for my readers?’ is going to help you keep that focus.
Don’t be afraid to ask for feedback from your readers / potential readers. Constructive criticism can help you pave the way for more useful articles and blogs.
How will this help me to make more sales? - By producing effective blog posts /articles you’ll go a long way to:
- Encourage your audience to visit your website on a regular basis
- Encourage them to share your information, which in turn can bring links into to your website
- Encourage other businesses to share your information on their websites with a link to your website. Google likes websites which are regularly updated and have a lot of links in from other websites. So it sees websites like theses as a good option to offer up to users who have searched within your niche market
The higher up in Google your website gets = more enquires and sales
Practical Guidance - Blogs / Articles
- Familiarise yourself with other blogs – Read other blogs from your competitors or in your field, take notes on what’s interesting and how much interest they have generated
- Addressing your readers - Show your expertise but without sacrificing your reader: they should always be at the centre of what you talk about
- Encourage the reader to ask questions – When people feel that their questions are being addressed they’re likely to come back for more
- Try reading your first drafts out aloud - if there are any parts that are unclear, that wander off-topic or there are sentences that are too long and complicated, consider altering them for clarity
- Formatting is important - It’s not just what you say but how you present it. Consider readers who are going to access your content and how they might be accessing it: for ease of reading on a mobile device or tablet, using headings, bullet points, images, white space and short paragraphs are all ways of allowing your readers to skim read your articles to find exactly what they want easily and quickly
- Write regular blog posts - write at least 2 blog posts per month, readers will come to expect your posts and look forward to them. More visits to your website provides more Google juice = higher ranking website
- Clarity - Keeping your content free of unnecessary jargon and using simple (but not simplistic) language can help readers to feel that they can rely on you for straight-talking information
- Keeping your promises: with headlines / titles that accurately describe what your readers will get from your articles
- Fulfil their needs: giving your readers articles which address their issues and queries will help to them to gain trust in you and show you as an expert in your field