Small business websites – Writing for the Web

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As a small business owner/operator, how is writing for your website different from all the other writing you do? You might think there is no difference at all but in fact there is and you might be missing the mark and losing customers and sales because of it.

Fonts say things on their own

Look at the following two slogans. The first is fictitious and the second (at the time of writing) is real. They are the same sentence with only the font changed.

First, our fake law firm…

8_slogan1

Which of these inspires confidence that you are getting the best legal minds on your case? Most would say the second one. The bold, block lettering gives an unmistakable no-nonsense feel that says their firm knows how to take care of you and your legal affairs. What does the style and font of the first sentence say? Cute. Whimsical. Playful. All those are good attributes as well, if I’m looking for a cake decorator.

Now, how about a well-known car company…

8_slogan2

Well, there is nothing “wrong” with the first line is there? Perhaps not wrong, but does the flat, mono-spaced font conjure up luxury in your mind? Clearly, what they are trying to say with “The best” in this case is elegance and style. If the fonts were clothing, the first sentence would be khakis and the second would be James Bond in a tuxedo.

Look at the two groups of sentences again. It is just a different font, but that one change has an undeniable effect on our perception of the two companies. If these simple, out of context examples demonstrate this plain truth imagine how much more powerful they are when combined with all the other marketing devices like photography, graphics, color scheme, video and so on.

It’s important for you too

You might be thinking that Mercedes-Benz has millions to throw at a marketing staff and a firm like 360i to get their message perfect. You on the other hand are just trying to run your small business and take care of your customers. Right? However, the concept of writing well for the web is still as important for you as it is for Mercedes-Benz. In fact, it might be more important. As a small business, every single customer is significant so you don’t want to lose opportunities because of poorly crafted web content.

So what should I do?

First things first. Get serious about your website. Do an honest review of all the text (copy) on your site and compare it against some baseline principles. Better yet, get someone else to do it for you that will not bring any bias to the process. The person reviewing your site should have a solid understanding of language, grammar, spelling, syntax, and punctuation. It would also help if they knew a bit about web specific writing, which includes topics like content focus, SEO, and scannable sub headings.

Here are a few fundamental concepts. There are of course exceptions to all rules so read these with that caveat in mind. Compare the copy on your website and see how you stack up.

  • Fonts
    • Select a base font and stick with it throughout the website.
    • Selective use of bold, italic, font size and other font decorations is perfectly okay. The use of several completely different fonts is usually not in good taste.
    • Fight the urge to change the font color. Again, there are exceptions but many different colors violates the same rule as many different fonts. It is distracting and not in good taste.
    • If you do need to change the color, avoid blue for text. Generally, blue text on a web page is understood to be a hyperlink that a person can click and get an action. If they are clicking blue text on your site and nothing happens, they might think something is broken.
  • Have your copy proofread
    • If you use MS Word to write your copy, it has some great proofing tools. Use them all!
    • If you do not have access to MS Word or word processor with similar tools, you can use the web.
    • One great site for readability testing is the folks over at Readability-Score. They have an online tool that allows you to paste your text and get readability metrics instantly.
    • Typos happen to all of us despite built in correction software. It might be hard to get 100% in this category but spelling errors look sloppy and may give the impression that you are sloppy as well. Best to run it by someone else before you put it on the web.
  • Make it as easy as you can for the reader to scan
    • Many studies have been done on how people read websites. The overwhelming evidence is that they like to scan for information instead of read. Therefore, anything you can do to help them scan for the information they want is probably better.
    • Lists (like this one) scan easier than paragraphs.
    • Short copy scans easier than long pages of text.
    • Sub headings (such as the above one called “So what should I do?”) make the copy easier to scan.

The copy on your website is one component of your overall design concept. What and how you write will be used to form an impression of your business. Make the copy the best it can be. Small Biz Media will consult with you about the copy (and everything else) on your website. Contact us today to discuss any needs you may have.

 

 

Posted in Digital marketing, Web design