Writing for websites

A funny thing comes over some businesses when they start putting together their web copy. Rather like having a posh ‘telephone voice’, they write about themselves in an artificially ‘proper’ way.

Instead of saying ‘we run coaching workshops for new businesses’, they’ll write ‘we facilitate training sessions to leverage success for business.’

It’s a bit like having Hyacinth Bouquet answering your office phone. More than a little off putting.

When I’m writing web copy, I imagine I’m telling someone in the same room. My tone is conversational.  I use the same words to explain something that I’d use if you were sitting next to me.  Good web copy makes a connection with its reader.  Lacing your sentences with unnecessarily long words puts your readers at a distance, and that’s not where you want them.

Sometimes I think it’s a confidence thing.  People don’t feel they’ll be taken seriously if they talk in everyday language.  Big words are good for hiding behind. My advice would be to take a deep breath, and just tell it how it is.

My top six web writing tips

1.  Be clear. Say it out loud before you write it down.

2.  Use short sentences. They’re easier to understand.

3.  Keep technical language to a minimum. Of course some pages demand it – especially if your offer is a technical one. But your Home page and About Us copy should certainly be straightforward.

4.  Be accurate. A conversational tone doesn’t mean you can forget your grammar. Good grammar makes your writing make sense.

5.  Get to the point. There’s no room for rambling digressions in web copy. Users want information fast, so cut anything superfluous and give important stuff room to breathe.

6. Be yourself. Connect with your reader.

Anything I’ve missed? I hope the list is useful.


[For younger readers, here is Hyacinth in action: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vsZGHxb4caA]

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  1. Kristina Hughes

    That makes perfect sense – there’s nothing more off-putting than having to re-read a paragraph to try to weed out the crux of the matter. And bad grammar sends me straight back to the search engine. There’s a lot of choice out there. Unlike face-to-face dealings, there is no emotion involved. Content needs to draw people in straight away.

  2. Sharon Tanton

    Good point Kristina about the difference between copy and face-to-face dealings. You can’t catch someone’s eye and smile to secure attention, so you need to make sure your words do that for you.

  3. Elinor Barbary

    Sharon – you’re brilliant!

    I come from a fairly corporate background and it took me a long time to disentangle myself from corporate-speak. It was like someone flicked a switch in my brain every time I tried to write the copy. I’m slowly getting there and beginning to find my authentic voice, but it’s been a struggle!

    I love your point about imagining your reader sitting next to you – I’ll definitely try that in the future!

  4. Sharon Tanton

    Thanks Eli, glad you found it useful, and that you’re clawing your way out of the jargon jungle! Writing works so much better if you just tell it as it is.

  5. Heather Townsend

    Great blog Sharon. I write very conversationally and my book ‘the financial times guide to business networking’ is very conversational in style. I think this is a major factor in people telling me that the book is very ‘readable’

  6. Sharon Tanton

    Thanks Heather, glad you like it. I’m looking forward to reading your book – sounds really useful.


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