How to Write Compelling Website Content That People Love
September 27, 2019
Website content is what makes your website work. Although elements like your site design, theme or user experience are very important, none of those elements really work if the actual content of your site isn’t very compelling.
But how do you write compelling website content?
Well, the obvious answer is to hire someone who’s good at content, but even then, it’s still important to understand the principle of good website content. Your business is your business, not some freelancer’s, so you need to know how to present your business in a way that works for people–even if you’re not always doing the actual writing.
In this article, we’re going to talk about tips for creating website content that creates a meaningful, helpful, compelling experience for your target audience. In other words, we’re going to talk about how to create website content that sells.
Sound like a plan? Let’s get started!
Who is Your Target Audience?
All good writing starts with thinking about your target audience. To be honest, all good communication—in any form—starts with thinking about your audience.
Unfortunately, most people don’t think about their target audience when they first put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard). Many experienced writers even fall into this trap. Instead of thinking about what their audience wants or needs, they write something that suits their own wants or needs.
But, by approaching things this way, they forget a key business principle: you are not your customers.
Just because you think your website content is clear, clever or compelling, that doesn’t mean your customers will agree. Often, things that seem obvious or interesting to you will be confusing or frustrating to your audience.
So, before you start typing, ask yourself the following questions:
- Who am I talking to?
- What do they want?
- Why are they on my website?
- How are they getting to my website?
- What does my audience value?
- How informed is my audience about what I’m trying to sell?
- What sorts of words do they use to describe my business, products or services?
- What will make my audience excited…even if it’s boring to me?
In the end, does it matter if you love your own writing? Not really. You’re writing to please your audience—your potential customers. If your writing pleases them and fills your bank account, that’s your number one goal—regardless of whether or not your website would make you excited to buy your product.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that you should write bad content just because you think it’s what your customers will like. As with all aspects of website design, you’ll want to test out different types of website content to see what people respond to best. Then, once you know what works, keep writing that way—regardless of whether or not it works for you.
What Matters Most?
According to Chartbeat, 55% of website visitors spend less than 15 seconds on a website. That means most people are forming their opinion of your site in just a few seconds.
That’s not a lot of time to work with.
With that in mind, you can’t save the best for last. If you do, no one will ever see your best, most compelling content. Instead, you want to get to the point as quickly as possible…and then fill in the details further down on your site.
In many ways, you can think of each page on your site like the front page of a newsletter. The biggest, most important information should be immediately obvious at the top of the page. For example, a local newspaper might run the headline, “Man in coma tries fried chicken for the first time in over 50 years, says, ‘It tastes delicious.'”
Obviously, this is a very silly example, but it gets to the point (man in a long coma woke up) and presents relevant information (his first meal was fried chicken) in an engaging way (he really liked it).
Beneath that, you can get into the details a bit more, but the information should still be fairly broad and answer the biggest, most important questions. For example, “A Wisconsin man who had been comatose since he was twelve finally woke from a 60-year coma. A friend of the family brought him his first meal in decades: fried chicken from KFC…”
Once you’ve covered the basics, if people are still reading, it usually means one of two things: either they’re confused and trying to figure out what’s going on, or they’re really interested and want to know more.
In either case, you can think of the rest of your website content like the “Turn to page 7 for the rest of the story” content in a newspaper. People want more information, so you can finally get into the details. In the case of our hypothetical news article, this would be things like why the man was in a coma, what hospital he was in for all that time, how his family feels, what the doctors have to say, etc.
How Can You Make It Easy to Process?
Although the phrase “surfing the web” really isn’t all that popular anymore, it’s still a great description of how people engage with most online content. Most people are just cruising by—they aren’t that emotionally invested in the details of what you have to say.
As a result, good website content should be easy to skim. Without having to think too much, people should be able to get the gist of your content and track down the information they’re after. Thinking too much doesn’t really match the surfer mindset, so if you make people think, they’ll usually bail on your website.
Making your audience think too much can cause other problems, too. You see, when people are in surf mode, they aren’t sweating the details. They draw broad conclusions based on first impressions and how your website makes them feel. That’s good news for you, because it means they aren’t thinking critically about your products or services.
The moment that people have to think about your content, however, all of that changes. As soon as people have to think to figure out what you’re trying to say or where they can find a piece of important information, they enter critical thinking mode. All of sudden, it isn’t about the feeling or the experience. They start evaluating everything you’re saying and trying to figure out if they actually want what you’re selling or agree with your opinion.
Confused, frustrated or critical people don’t become customers.
So, to avoid that problem, you want to keep people “in the zone”. You want them to stay in surf mode, where the answers are easy and life’s good.
To do that, you have to think hard about how to best present your website content. Break things up. Make it easy to skim your page. Write sentences that flow nicely and are easy to follow and understand. If you’re trying to connect very different ideas, keep at it until your explanations are so simple that the answers seem obvious.
Pictures, video and judicious use of whitespace can help a lot with all of this. In some cases, a picture really can be worth a thousand words, so including the right images in the right places can make getting the gist of your content much easier. However, the wrong image can also derail your content, so make sure that your images are helping—not distracting—your readers.
Overall, the goal of your website content should be to communicate your message in such an easy, simple, obvious way that people don’t have to work to figure it out.
By the time they’re done scanning your page, people should understand what you’re saying and how it applies to them. At that point, the only thinking they should have to do is deciding whether or not they actually want what you’re selling.
Is It Simple, Is It Safe?
Sadly, while the writer inside of me would love to write beautiful, eloquent sentences like Victor Hugo or J.R.R. Tolkien, that sort of writing violates the principles above. Most people read at a 9th-grade level or lower, which is why most major news publications write for a 5th-grade reading level.
Why? Because if people have to think to figure out what you’re trying to say, that engages their brains and…we’ve already talked about why that’s a problem.
Fortunately, there are several tools out there that you can use to evaluate the readability of your writing:
While these tools are great for helping you evaluate readability in broad terms, there are a couple of rules of thumb that I like to use in writing website content.
First, if you have to ask, it’s too hard to read. Honestly, if you write a sentence and think, “Is that too hard to read?”, the answer is probably yes. You don’t need to run it through software, your gut already knows that you need to revise things. Just go back and rewrite it until it flows better.
My second rule of thumb is this: “Write like you talk”. People hate the stuffy, academic style of writing that they teach you in high school and college. Believe me, I’ve written everything from patents to academic research papers and nobody wants to read that style of writing—not even lawyers or scientists.
To make sure that you are writing like you talk, read your writing out loud!
More than almost any other exercise or software evaluation, reading your writing out loud exposes all of its flaws. Here are a few things to look for:
- Sentences that seem clear in your head but are confusing out loud need to be rewritten.
- If you can’t get through a sentence without taking a breath, it’s probably too long.
- When you can’t read through a sentence without stumbling over the words, change up the words or punctuation until it flows.
- If you find that you keep accidentally adding or deleting words when you read out loud, make those changes to make your content feel more natural and readable.
The point is, when people read through your content, they should feel like it’s coming from a person, not a corporate robot or a writing professor. The simpler and more approachable your website content is, the safer people will feel and the more likely they will be to respond the way you want.
Writing Great Website Content
Writing great website content can be a challenge—especially if you don’t consider yourself a “writer”—but understanding the principles of good website content is essential to succeeding online. After all, you don’t have the luxury of selling your business in person, so your website content has to do that for you.
You wouldn’t hire a mediocre salesperson, so why would you publish mediocre website content?
Fortunately, by applying the principles we’ve discussed in this article, you should be able to put together solid content for your website—even if you aren’t the world’s best writer. Just focus on your audience, what they care about and the best way to communicate your message to them. Do that in an approachable way and your website content will be set up for success!
How do you approach website content? Any additional suggestions you’d like to add? Leave your thoughts in the comments!