Website Writing Guidelines for Small Businesses

The words on your website are the key to turning visitors into leads and customers. The web writing guidelines below will help you determine what content should be on your web pages.

How effective is your website? Is your website regularly producing phone calls, leads and/or sales? Or is it as useless as a Store-For-Rent sign in a ghost town?

If your website isn’t helping you bring in business, the cause could be the words on your web pages. Whether you call the words “copy” (as in ad copy), or “content,” the words that visitors see are critical to the success of your site as a business development tool.

The written words on your website are so important, in fact, that a website that looks plain and boring to web designers can bring in significant business. Meanwhile, a beautifully designed website using the latest technology and high-end graphics will produce little or no business without appropriate written content on the page.

Make the Page Title Relevant

Every page on your website should have a unique title. Depending on the software that’s being used to create your web pages, the page title may or may not be the same as the main headline on your page. The important thing to know, however, is that each page title should focus on a specific term your customers might look for on a search engine. Unless you or your business are so well-known that people already search for you by name, the title (and headline) on your pages should not start with your name or the name of your business. Thus, if you are a consultant named Jane Doe, your home page title probably should not read “Jane Doe, Consultant”. Instead, it should focus on your specialty, like this: Environmental Impact Assessments – Jane Doe Associates.”

Capture Attention and Interest With Headlines

When a person visits a website, they are usually looking for something specific. That “something” may be company information, a specific product they want to purchase, a reservation they want to make, or information about a topic they are interested in. If they can’t quickly find what they are looking for they’ll click the back button and leave.

How quick is “quickly”? Unfortunately, it’s just a few seconds in most cases. Thus, the first job of every page on your website is to let the visitor know if they are in the right place to get what they are looking for. 

To do that, each page on your site has to immediately let the visitor know two things:

  • What’s here?
  • What’s in it for me?

Although images can help with the “What’s here?” question, ultimately it is the words on a page that provide the answers that keep a reader on the page and help them move towards whatever action you want them to take.

Because most people skim web pages before they read them in detail, the first words the typical visitor sees  (and therefore the ones that are most important) are the main headline on the page and the subheads and bullet points that can be seen without scrolling very far down the page. If there’s an image with a caption, the caption may get read on that first quick scan of the page, too.

If those parts of the page answer the “What’s here?” and “What’s in it for me?” questions, the visitor will then go back and read in more detail, and if they will be more likely to contact you, sign up for a newsletter, or place an order online.

What should the headline and subheads say to interest the reader?

The answer varies somewhat depending on which page of your site a visitor lands on. Good advertising copywriting dictates the headlines should be benefit-oriented, appealing to something desirable the prospect wants to achieve. And on the Internet, the first thing people want to achieve is finding what they are looking for.

Home Pages

The main headline on your home page should identify what you sell or what the focus of the site is. It should also indicate the type of customer or clientele you serve.

For instance, if your site is promoting your event planning business, your main headline should let people know that you plan events and what types of events you plan. Does your “wonderful events” service help consumers plan unique destination weddings or parties on a budget? Do your clientele want to host elegant affairs in high-priced venues, or corporate team building events at conference locations? The headline should let them know.   

Unless you’re a skilled advertising copywriter, the best place to put any other benefits that set you apart from your competitors is in a tag line under the main headline and in the subheads and bullet points the reader will look at on the page

Remember, the main headline and the subheads on your home page and most other pages on your site should be about the customer’s interests, not yours.  Headlines that read “About Us,” “Our Mission Statement,” or even, “Welcome” should not be the focal point of your home page. Your mission statement – while it may talk about customers –  is your mission, not the mission of the visitor to your website. Thus it does not belong on your home page, and probably doesn’t belong on the site at all.  

You should have an About Us page on your website, but it should not be your home page. Instead, include a navigational link to a separate About Us page that makes information available for those who want to read it. And, if you must include a “Welcome” message, make that a separate link, too.  The word “Welcome” is just a pleasantry that doesn’t convey any information about the nature of your business or how you’ll help the visitor, so it has no place in the home page headline.

Product and Service Description Pages

If the page is a product page or a page promoting one of your services, the first headline on the page should be what a person would have typed into a search engine to find what you sell. For instance, suppose you sell supplies for pet lovers who pamper their pets, and some of the products you sell are coats for cats that go outdoors. The main headline on the page might be “coats for cats” or “cat coats.” That page would have some text, photos of each of the coats you sell for cats, with captions under each that include the actual product name.  

Each product photo would lead to a page that has a headline with the name of the specific product (eg: Princess Meow Leather Coat) and might include benefits for the individual product listed in bullet points. Pricing and a prominent call to action (add to cart, or buy now) would help the customer decide to buy and then take the action and make a purchase.

Body Text

What about the text under the headlines and subheads? That’s where you would use wording that helps you build desire for what you sell. (Eg: “Celebrate your wedding in this private, luxurious Mediterranean Villa ..”)  Keep the copy focused on the benefits the customer wants, not on you, or what you want to announce. The customer really doesn’t care what you are proud of, they are interested in themselves, and what they will be proud of or glad about after making a purchase.   

If you have earned some accolades that might help sway a decision, put them on the About Us page.

Testimonials can be used in the body copy and even highlighted, but don’t load the home page or product page with them. One or two great, but brief, testimonials work. If you have more, put them on a “What our customers say” page and link to them.

Call to Action

Your headlines, photos, subheads, bullet points, and body text should all lead the visitor towards the action you want them to take after viewing the page. Depending on your business and page, that may be view a demo, sign up for an email list, register for a free consultation, place an order now, or simply call you. Whatever the action is, the step you want the person to take next should be highlighted and easy to find without scrolling very much on the page. Simple colored images that say Buy Now, or Call Today (with a phone number) work well.

RELATED: How to Write a Call to Action to Boost Your Website Sales

Your Contact Information

Your phone number should be prominent on every page of your website. If you are selling products or services, you should put it in at least two places on every page. The first spot is somewhere prominent near the top, such as in the center of the page under a headline that says what you do, or at the top of any navigational elements or column you may have on the left or right side of your page. The second spot is the center of the bottom of the page. The phone number should be a readable size font. Since so many people use their smartphones to access the web, it’s beneficial to have your programmer set up the phone number so people using mobile phones can call you by tapping the number.

The other bit of information that should be easy to find on every page of your site is your address and hours of operation. If your business is a local business, your street address and the name of the area you serve should be easy to find on your site. If you have a home business and don’t want to display your home address, consider getting a post office box, a virtual office service that will accept mail for you and forward it to you, or just use a city and state along with your phone number.

Even if you do business nationally or internationally, having an address on your website is advisable, since it helps establish your credibility.

By making sure each page on your site tells visitors what they want to know and making it easy to find your contact information and the steps you want the customer to take next will significantly improve the results of your website.

Related: Do These 5 Things to Your Website and Attract More Clients

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