You’ve likely heard that people generally don’t read websites or blogs word for word. Rather, they scan, “picking out individual words or sentences.”
Short vs Long Copy
It’s a short leap of logic to assume that readers prefer short copy. That assumption would be wrong. In fact, studies show that longer posts perform better. They tend to rank higher in search, get more social shares, attract more inbound links, and convert better.
So the secret to better online copy-writing isn’t to write shorter copy. It’s to write text that:
- is easily scannable
- includes the use of headlines and subheads
- uses bold or italicized font
- uses different font sizes
- includes bullet lists
If your copy isn’t formatted to be scanned, readers will merely see a big blob of words on your page.
And since they’re busy people with short attention spans, they’ll quickly click away to find what they need elsewhere.
As in just about every other facet of communications, there’s an art to formatting text.
Joanna Wiebe, the co-founder of CopyHackers.com, recommends making your online copy look like a children’s book. “The more your site feels like it could have been created by Dr. Seuss (minus unclear language), the better.”
Short sentences, big fonts, a lot of white space, and “chunks” of text make copy feel as if it’s easier to read.
Online Copy-Writing Best Practices
1. Use Short Sentences and Paragraphs
If you have a tendency to write run-on sentences, break them up into 2 or 3 shorter ones. I’d add that using different sentence lengths throughout your copy makes for a more interesting read. A blog post filled only with 15-word sentences will quickly put your reader to sleep.
Same goes for paragraph length. Paragraphs (or “copy chunks” as Wiebe dubs them) should be no more than 4 lines.
Not 4 sentences. 4 lines.
She also advocates for single-sentence paragraphs to make reading easier and faster.
Here’s an example from Wiebe’s book demonstrating the use of short sentences and paragraphs:
2. Write Strong Headlines
Headlines are the most important element of your article. They are your first (and maybe only) opportunity to grab the potential reader’s attention.
A cautionary note though before you get carried away . . . the headline needs to be audience (which includes search engines if writing for SEO) and topic appropriate, and still needs to convey what the article is about – don’t get too cute or leave your reader guessing.
You can use Advanced Marketing Institute’s EMV Headline Analyzer to checkout your headlines.
When in doubt, don’t forget the power of using numbers in headlines (i.e. 9 Secrets of Online Copywriting for Advisors)
3. Use NUMERICAL Characters for Numbers
Journalists and public relations professionals take note: if you’re writing for the web, use characters for numbers.
Forget everything you learned at school (and from American Press style books), where the best practice is to write out numbers 9 and under.
According to eye-tracking data, readers scanning your website or blog are more likely to pick out a number such as “nine” when it appears as the numeral “9.”
The only caveat I’d add is if there are too many zeros in a number, many audiences will find them hard to understand. Once you get past a billion, use the numeral for the 1st digit, then write out the rest, as in 2 billion.
4. Break Up Lists with Bullet Points
Bulleted and numbered lists are standard fare in every copywriter’s arsenal.
Wiebe suggests no more than 5 bullets per list, ordered as follows:
For those who learned in writing class to order your ideas with the most important first and the least important last, Weibe’s advice may come as a surprise.
Keep in mind you’re writing for people who scan, not for people who read every word.
When scanning a bullet list, we typically read the first few bullets and then hop to the last one. Afterward, we may go back to the middle of the list, but middle bullets are often skipped entirely.
Here’s a simple trick from Wiebe to improve the likelihood that your middle bullets get read: use odd-numbered lists. When there is an odd number of bullet points in a list, the middle one sticks out and catches the reader’s eye.
5. Sprinkle in Awe-inspiring, Jaw-dropping Power Words (just be careful to not overdo it)
What are power words? Well, according to Jon Morrow on SmartBlogger,
“Power words are persuasive, descriptive words that trigger a positive or negative response. They can make us feel scared, encouraged, aroused, angry greedy, safe, or curious. Authors, copywriters, and content marketers use ‘power words’ to spice up their content and compel audiences to take action.”
6. Include Sub-headers for Improved Scanability
Readers want to scan, at least initially, to see if the article is of interest to them, or answers the question they’re looking to answer. Subheaders make an article more readable, easier to understand, and helps the reader find the content that is most important to them.
7. Additional Copywriting Tips for Readability
Other tips by Wiebe for improving the likelihood that your online copy gets read include:
- Use ellipses to separate longer parts of a statement . . . or a sentence
- When possible, use Em dashes—also known as long dashes—in place of commas
- Capitalize Words You Want To Emphasize (but avoid all caps)
- In headlines replace ‘plus’ with ‘+’
- Increase the size of your font
8. Add an Image
While search engines like text, people like images, and you’re ultimately writing for people. Articles with images get more views and more shares.
According to Hubspot:
- Tweets with images receive 150% more retweets (Buffer)
- Articles with an image every 75-100 words receive double the social media shares (Buzzsumo)
- Facebook posts with images get more than 2 times the engagement of posts without images (Buzzsumo)
9. Incorporate a Call-To-Action (CTA)
Your copywriting efforts have been rewarded with an engaged reader, what would you like them to do now – subscribe to your newsletter, purchase a course, or download a white paper? Whatever it is, this is your opportunity to guide them to that step. Don’t miss this opportunity by failing to include a strong call-to-action.
Remember, your prospects will only become your customers if they have enough information to make a buying decision.
It’s not enough to simply put the information in front of them and hope they absorb it. You must supply it in the appropriate medium. And when that medium is text, you should do everything in your power to ensure it gets read.
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published by Shelley Pringle in January 2019 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.