Tag Archives | copywriting

How to write your own website (part 2)

Here are some more top tips for effective web content.

Follow the F-pattern

Eye-tracking studies show that website visitors tend to glance along the top two lines of text, then scan down the left hand edge taking in only the first two words of each line, and perhaps look across the page once more. They spend very little time looking at the bottom right hand corner of the web page. In fact, the pattern of their views looks like the shape of an F!

When you know about this F-pattern, you can arrange your content to suit it. For example, write a powerful headline at the top of the page that answers ‘what’s in it for me’. Add a sub-heading mid-way down the page, especially if the first couple of words are significant ones. And avoid putting anything important in the bottom right hand corner.

Keep it simple

Because reading light on screen is harder than reading ink on paper, your web copy should be about half the length of your printed copy.

– DON’T use long paragraphs of prose
– DO use bullet points and click-through links for those who want to access more detail

Pass the we we test

Write from your customer’s point-of-view instead of your own. To do this, you need to include the word ‘you’ more than you use ‘I’ or ‘we’. For example:

– DON’T write ‘We sell wonderful widgets’
– DO write ‘If you want wonderful widgets, you’ve come to the right place’

Call to action

As with any piece of marketing, you need to tell readers what you want them to do. It might be ‘Click to read more about noodle-bending’, or ‘Phone now to book an appointment’ or ‘Fill in the enquiry form today’.

Make the language strong, for example

– DON’T write ‘You can contact us on…’
– DO write ‘Please contact us on…’ (or, even better, ‘Click the Callback button now and we’ll contact you within 5 minutes / 24 hours’)

Moving images

Our expectations of on-screen viewing are set by TV and cinema. What’s more, we can’t help looking at something that moves. You have probably noticed this when you’re in a pub with a TV on the corner, and you just can’t help watching even if you don’t want to!

You can use this tendency to make your site come alive. I don’t recommend animated gifs (dancing clip art) or unnecessary Flash, but video is excellent to include.

You don’t always need BBC-quality. You can record your videos cheaply on a Flip camera or smartphone, and upload them to your own YouTube channel at no cost. Be sure to add your keywords in the description (remember, YouTube is the world’s second-largest search engine). You can embed videos simply by clicking the ‘share’ button.

Make sure your videos don’t play automatically — that’s just annoying, especially for anyone viewing your site in an open plan office. And people are busy and impatient, so it’s best to keep each video under 2 minutes long.

I originally wrote this article for Fresh Business Thinking


No, no, no!

Dear Letter-writers,

I’ve just received a letter from a charity that starts: ‘As a valued supporter I thought you’d be interested to hear about our exciting plans…’

No, no, no!

Do NOT write from the sender’s point of view; write from the recipient’s point of view, i.e. ‘Since you’ve kindly supported us in the past, you may be interested to hear that…’

Use the word you more than the words I or we, and see your results soar.

How many times do I have to tell you? Go to the back of the class.

Me x


I *nearly* won a competition!

Doug Jenner of Copy Lounge invited entrants to ‘pick this copy to pieces':

As a highly respected and passionate operator in the world of traditional and old-fashioned cuisine, Zarbo provides a highly flexible and personalised service  that is tailor-made to accommodate the distinctly discerning needs of small, medium and large clients alike. Having a varied, interesting and evolving clientele that includes private sector, business and industry, we shall warmly welcome any opportunity of a formal or informal discussion so that we can discuss your bespoke needs.

My entry

To put it another way:

“We are highly respected” > Then prove it with testimonials and case studies. What other people say about you is more convincing than anything you can say yourself.

“We are passionate” > Who cares? Besides which, it is an overused and irrelevant word in business. In my view, ‘passion’ should be saved for the bedroom (or the kitchen table…)

“We provide traditional and old-fashioned cuisine” > Don’t be general, be specific. Give examples.

“We provide flexible, personal, tailor-made service” > Yes, that’s what service should be. Again, don’t just tell us, show us what you mean.

“Our clients are varied, interesting and evolving” > Ooer!

“Our clients are small, medium and large” > You will never sell to ‘everybody’. It’s better to target a specific niche.

“Our clients are from private sector, business and industry” > Tautology alert! Anyway, it’s better to give examples, list their names, show their logos.

“Our clients have distinctly discerning and bespoke needs” > Of course they do, we all do.

“We want to talk to you, formally or informally” > Of course you do. You want my money.

The good news

I could have won :-)

The bad news

I was disqualified for being a fellow professional wordsmith :-(


How to write your own website (part 1)

These days, more and more businesses have a Content Management System (CMS) website, or use a blogging tool such as WordPress to build their own.

Quite right too. Why should you have to pay a web professional every time you want to update something? But if you don’t know what you’re doing, you might be losing custom. Here are my top tips for effective web content.

Your home page

Don’t use a ‘splash page’ (any extra click e.g. ‘enter site’ is a chance to lose site visitors). Please don’t start ‘Welcome to my website’ – it’s dated and unnecessary! In my view, your home page copy should be more about your customers than it is about you, so they know they’ve landed in the right place i.e.

• DON’T write: ‘We are X, based in Y and we specialise in Z’.

• DO write: ‘Looking for A, B or C? You’ve come to the right place!’

More than any other, your home page should answer ‘What’s In It For Me?’ from the customer’s point of view.

DOs and DON’Ts

• DO use direct language (it makes your copy more persuasive and appealing)

• DON’T write: ‘in order to allow the client to concentrate on their core business’

• DO write: ‘in order to allow you to concentrate on your core business’

• DO write as though you are talking to one person, not lots (they are reading it one at a time)

• DON’T write ‘We work closely with our loyal customers’

• DO write ‘If you want to work closely with friendly local experts, you’ll find our door is always open. We’re here 24/7 at the end of the phone or email ready to help you.’

• DO write so it doesn’t go out-of-date

• DON’T write ‘We have been in business for 17 years’

• DO write ‘We have been providing wonderful widgets since 1992′

• DON’T have wasteful Flash animations (or even worse, ghastly dancing clip-art animated gifs) as they take up bandwidth and search engines can’t ‘read’ them

• DON’T include irritating typos or broken ‘404 not found’ links

• DON’T use wildly inconsistent fonts and sizes, and avoid Comic Sans which is perceived as truly amateur

About page

People do business with people. They like to know whom they’re dealing with, and what goes on behind the scenes. It’s therefore wise to include a Letter from the MD, Meet the Team biographies, and/or picture/s of you (especially when YOU are what you are selling).

People are busy! They are easily bored and click away. So make sure your most important information is first. If you include a company history, write it in reverse chronological order, so what you are doing now is at the top and how you started is at the end.

Added value page/s

21st century marketing is about sharing not selling. So include ‘added value’ such as FAQs, glossary, useful articles or hints and tips. Call the page ‘Free resources’ and see your pageviews soar!

I originally wrote this article for Fresh Business Thinking


Estate agent #Fail

There is a sign in a local estate agent’s window, which reads:

All types of properties
urgently required to
meet the demand we
are currently

It fails the Who cares test, doesn’t answer What’s In It For Me, and there isn’t any call-to-action.

Instead, it should be written from the landlord’s point of view e.g.

Want to rent your property
quickly? We have 100s
of tenants on our books.
Call in today, and find
the right tenant for you!




I’ve rarely seen so many clichés in one piece of text:

  • “Working in partnership”
  • “Integral part of the team”
  • “Only ever as good as our last job”
  • “No matter how big or small”
  • “Going that extra mile”

What’s more, all these phrases are meaningless. Every supplier wants to ‘work in partnership’ with their clients. They all want to ‘build a lasting relationship’. Of course they want to be ‘an integral part of the team’. Suppliers just want clients’ money, on an ongoing basis!

If you want to say that you ‘go the extra mile’, that you do projects large and small, and that your last job was pretty good actually, don’t tell me, show me! Clients need to see evidence or they just won’t believe you.

Top tip: If you can’t think of anything original to say, don’t say it! (Or pay a professional, like wot I is, to write compelling copy for you.)


7 ways to be a good writer

As well as knowing about spelling and grammar, a writer has to be many things. In this article, I share my top seven writerly attributes.

1. Psychic: To get inside the mind of the reader – to work out what message needs to be communicated, what channel will be most appropriate, and what tone of voice will achieve the desired response.

2. Clear-headed: To make sense of confusion and obfuscation.

3. An agony aunt (or uncle): To identify the problem and solution – to highlight the problem to be solved or goal to be achieved, and how the communication fulfils that need.

4. A story-teller: To structure the content with a beginning, a middle and an end – a beginning that attracts attention, a middle that contains all the information required and nothing more, and an end that prompts action.

5. A brutal pair of scissors: To cut, cut and cut again – leaving only the words necessary to communicate the message. And that’s all.

6. Back-to-front: Start from the end and work your way forwards. First, decide the objective; what action you want your readers to take. Is it to pick up the phone, visit the website, agree to funding or something else? Write everything with that end in mind.

a. For printed documents, write the body of the text, then write the heading and introduction.

b. For websites, you don’t know what order people will navigate the pages. Each page should stand alone. Still, it’s easier to write the content page(s) of the site before the home page.

c. For speeches, write the conclusion before the introduction. Why? Because, until you know what you are going to say, you can’t introduce it!

7. Patient: It takes longer to write something short than to write something long.

I originally wrote this article for Fresh Business Thinking


Great slogans and rubbish slogans

When Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic played tennis at the O2 in November 2010, there was a pause while Novak had a contact lens attended to on court. Some wag in the crowd shouted: “Should’ve gone to Specsavers” — five words that have proved very effective for the company.

It’s harder to write something short than something long. So, in this article, I’ve analysed a range of slogans and suggest the reasons why they work (or don’t).

Positive emotions

People buy because of how you make them feel, not because of what you tell them. These examples all contain positive emotions:

– Terry’s Chocolate Orange: “Smash it to pieces. Love it to bits.”

– Recruitment agency: ‘Love Mondays.’ That’s just it. They don’t sell jobs. They sell happy Mondays.

– Head & Shoulders: ‘Making heads happier.’

Anthropomorphising is a commonly used technique (that is, giving human qualities to something).

NLP in slogans

In Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) terms, people have a preference for Visual, Auditory or Kinaesthetic sensory inputs. That is to say, they like pictures, words or feelings.

– Canon: ‘Take more than pictures. Take stories.’ By combining a visual word ‘pictures‘ with an auditory word ‘stories‘, the slogan appeals to a wider audience.

– Lloyd Grossman sauces: ‘Sauces with a distinctive voice‘. It fits. And I like the fact that they have combined the sense of taste (a sauce) with the sense of hearing (voice).

Repetition in slogans

Repeat something three times, and maybe add a touch of innuendo. It sticks in the memory!

– Deep pan pizza: “Real deep. Real good. Real thing.”

– Martini: “Anytime, anyplace, anywhere.”

– Aldi: ‘Great food, great prices, pass it on‘. It has the benefit and a call to action. Like on Twitter, saying ‘Please Retweet‘ (or ‘Pls RT‘), it results in more people actually doing what you say.

Weasel words

You have to be careful about literal meaning:

– Anadin: “Nothing works faster.” So take nothing, because it works faster!

– ‘Renault build a better car’. Better than what?

Rubbish slogans?

And these examples don’t work for me at all!

– Dolland & Aitchison opticians: ‘We promise to treat you like a person, not a sausage.’ Assumes that other opticians treat people like a sausage factory while I’m not sure that they do, do they?

– Haulage van: ‘Customer driven.’ It’s clever, as it has meaning on more than one level. But it’s stupid, because the customer doesn’t drive the van. If it were on a self-drive vehicle, that would be a different story.

– Oasis Drinks: ‘Fruity drinks and lunchtime dreams.’ Just doesn’t make any sense!

What you want from your slogan

Magnum ice-cream: ‘World Pleasure Authority.’ This slogan was used with an on-pack promotion to give away £3m-worth of pre-paid Mastercards, so winners could buy whatever they like. That’s because Magnum don’t sell ice-cream, they sell pleasure. And what’s the usual response to pleasure? “Mmm, that’s nice.”

Similarly, I don’t sell marketing and copywriting services. I sell ‘Writing Without Waffle‘, to which the usual response is “Ooh, that’s useful“.

So what do you sell?

Is it something that people really, really want? Does it make them go “Mmm” and “Ooh“?

If not, perhaps you’d better change it!

I originally wrote this article for Fresh Business Thinking