Whether working on or offline, here’s the 4 simple rules I follow for writing effective copy.
#1 Less is more: Typically web users scan a page, they don’t read it longhand. We know that a web user spends a maximum of 20-30 seconds on a web page so you don’t have long to capture their interest. Consider the ratio of text to images/design. Use short sentences, bulleted lists etc. be succinct, concise and clear. If in doubt, write it and then ask someone to look at it for the first time and get their honest feedback. Ask them what they think the main message is and tweak as needed.
#2 Create light and shade: Messages and information are understood best when some are prioritised against others. In the writing trade this is known as a hierarchy of messaging. If all messages and information have the same level of emphasis, it’s difficult for the reader to take away the key information they are looking for, or find most compelling. Before you put pen to paper (or digit to keyboard), decide on a hierarchy of messages for each page/section. Something like one primary message and two to three secondary messages and then build your text accordingly. Use design elements such as highlighted text, different colours, boxes and shapes or images to ensure the primary messaging jumps off the page.
#3 Write it, leave it, edit it: Once you’ve written some text or content, walk away from it. Don’t look at it again for at least half a day, or preferably sleep on it. Once you return to it, a fresh pair of eyes will help you see it again as if for the first time, helping you to assess its length, relevance and strength in communicating the right things. Then start editing. I can guarantee you’ll want to strip superfluous text out, probably spot some typos as well as reviewing how it flows from one point to the next.This is probably one of the most crucial parts of creating effective web content and copy.
#4 Apply the ‘So What?’ rule: A really useful exercise is to read any text you’ve written and ask yourself “So what?” afterwards, (or get someone else to do it for you). What is the key message you take away from it? If it doesn’t communicate a feature or benefit to and for the end user, then it probably needs tweaking. The more you can focus on the benefits of something to a client, rather than the process of delivering it, the better. Remember that powerful web copy is created when it is not about you, but about your client or customer.