How to Write Engaging Web Copy

If you want to keep visitors to your web site engaged and make them come back for more, you need to appeal to their emotions. If you want them to do something in particular (buy a product, sign up for a newsletter, etc.), that kind of appeal is a must. Keep reading for some great tips.

Copy writing as a profession predates the Internet. While you must write differently when your audience will view your copy on a web site rather than in some other form, many important principles stay the same. Indeed, a recent post on Mind Valley Labs’ web site mentioned legendary copywriter Eugene Schwartz, saying that “we still swipe his material today.” Schwartz died in 1995, right when the web was just beginning to catch on. If we can still learn from him, we can certainly apply some “old school” ideas to our web copy.

But back to our main topic. How do you appeal to your visitors’ emotions? First, you need to know what concerns them. That means knowing your target audience intimately. Schwartz advised those who went to his seminars to “be the best listener you ever met.” He’d ask questions of cab drivers when he took a taxi, because that’s how you learn what people are thinking. He also advised watching the top 10 box office movies to get a handle on what the market is thinking and feeling. Once you know your audience’s concerns, you can write directly to those concerns.

Say you now know your audience. Your next move is to make a promise that will appeal to them. Are your visitors busy, budget-conscious moms? Write an article on “Seven Cheap Ways to Get Organized and Save Time.” (Heck, I’d read an article like that and I don’t even have kids!). Or you can appeal to their desire to see their children do well with “Five Ways to Foster a Love of Reading in Your Kids.” The point is to start out right in the headline or title of your text with a promise that appeals to your visitors’ emotional needs. The more basic that need is, the more strongly that promise will draw them in.

And sometimes images can do the job; here Google draws us in on Earth Day with a redone logo that appeals to our basic need for a clean, life-supporting environment.

{mospagebreak title=Tell Your Story}

Okay, you know your audience’s needs and you’ve made them a promise guaranteed to attract their attention. Now you need to show them how your product, service, article or whatever will fulfill that promise. You start that process by telling them a story.

I don’t mean that you give them a song and dance. We’ve all seen that far too often. I mean you show them how your offering will give them what they need. For example, I have a friend who used to sell encyclopedias for a living. He told some of his prospects about children who grew up with a set of these books in their home going on to excel in school and business, because they had such a handy resource at their fingertips. While this was one of many sales techniques he used, he was probably the best salesman in his region during the three years he worked for the company.

Simply telling a story isn’t enough, however. Visitors to your web site have five senses, and if you really want to draw them in, you need to stimulate all of them. I don’t mean that you should go crazy with music or Flash animation. I mean you should paint a picture with your words, one that appeals to more than just the eyes.

My salesman friend used to put a leather-bound volume of the encyclopedia he was selling in his prospect’s hands as soon as he could. It made them feel as if they already owned the set. They could run their hands over the smooth, warm cover, feel the weight of the volume, smell the leather, hear the rustle as the pages turned when they looked something up, see the beauty of the craftsmanship that went into each book…do you see where I’m going with this? 

Just because you might not be able to literally put your product in your visitors’ hands to try out, doesn’t mean you can’t do it figuratively. After all, this is the Internet. Everything is virtual. Paint your prospects a full picture of what their life will be like with your product or service in it, and you’re halfway to converting them.

{mospagebreak title=Keep it Simple}

If you’re trying to appeal to your visitors’ emotions, you probably shouldn’t break out your biggest polysyllabic words. Talk to your readers as if they were sitting on the next bar stool. Some direct marketers claim that you should write your copy as if you expect it to be read by an eight- to fourteen-year-old.

It sounds ironic, but thanks to the stilted tone many of us sometimes use with business correspondence (for example, cover letters for job applications), it can be difficult to make our copy sound conversational. Don’t give up hope. There are a number of ways you can make your writing sound more relaxed if it doesn’t come naturally to you. Try reading it out loud. If you find yourself stumbling over some of the words, you aren’t there yet. Better yet, try reading it out loud to someone else. If they look bored or their eyes start glazing over, it needs more work.

Another way to keep it simple is to imagine having a conversation with your best friend about your product or service. Explain to them what makes it special. You’d use plain language, right? Now go ahead and write down that conversation.

Eugene Schwartz would tell his seminar attendees to “write to the chimpanzee brain – simply and directly.” Your prospects aren’t chimpanzees, of course, but in their busy lives, they engage their brains for many tasks, whether they’re homemakers or CEOs. If they don’t have to think too hard, and you can get them to relax, you’re more likely to get the conversion. Answer their questions before they need to think of them – and remember, their biggest question will be “what’s in it for me?”


{mospagebreak title=Keep it Honest}

Everyone has highly sensitive BS detectors these days. Readers can tell when you’re trying to “sell” them. They don’t mind so much if your passion is sincere and you believe in your product or service. But you can expect them to spot it – and click elsewhere – when they detect even a whiff of dishonesty. And trust me, they’ll pick up on it.

So start out by not lying in the first place. Okay, that’s a negative; I’m telling you what you shouldn’t do. Let me balance that with a positive: know as much as possible about your product or service before writing about it. Know it inside and out. Learn how it can be used – no, better: learn how it is intended to be used, then come up with a few unconventional uses for it. If you’ve taken the time to know what you have in that much detail, you’ll be able to talk honestly about everything it can do for your customer.

In fact, that takes us to another point Eugene Schwartz used to make: think about what your product “does,” not “is.” He also advocated discussing the benefits of what you’re offering, even ahead of the features. For instance, an 8-mega-pixel camera may have a 10X optical zoom. That’s a feature. What’s the benefit? It lets you take pictures that get you closer to the action. Even the gadget freaks who geek out over features aren’t responding to the numbers so much as the emotional appeal of being on the cutting edge.

There are nearly two million pages on the web that will tell you how to write winning copy. It’s an even bet that many of them will cover the same ground I covered here. To sum it up: know what concerns your prospects, because that will be foremost in their minds. Write your copy to show them what they will get out of your product or service; appeal to their emotions. Tell a story, paint a picture, but don’t get fancy and don’t lie. Keep these basic ideas in mind and you’ll be well on your way to convincing your visitors to convert. 

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