As a Los Angeles and Vancouver freelance copywriter and marketing communications specialist, I often write website copy for entrepreneurs in the start-up phase — folks with tight budgets and DIY attitudes.

This market is interesting because usually these guys and gals are not trained marketers. Therefore, though they generally understand the need for a professional website designed to sell, they’re not always aware of the level of skill it takes to develop website copy that effectively promotes their products and services.

As a result, as their businesses morph and they quickly find themselves with professionally developed websites that no longer reflect their current venture, they frantically try to keep up on their own, re-writing some of their website copy themselves. They’ll remove a phrase here and add a sentence there, assuming it won’t make a difference.

News flash: it makes a difference. Whenever I find my copy rewritten by a client (and oh my god, it’s usually on the homepage!) it’s often a poor attempt at ‘writerly’ prose — lots of awkward sentences, misused catch-phrases, and ill placed exclamation marks. Unfortunately, this means the website is no longer doing the job of selling the client’s product or service. In some cases a site like that may even be doing the client harm.

With that in mind, I think it’s time to offer you DIYers some quick tips on writing web copy that works. Here they are.

1. No matter what the designers tell you, remember this: content is king. Forget about flashy intros and pretty colors. It’s your site copy that is going to keep visitors interested and clicking through to buy. And, it’s going to keep them coming back to your site to buy again and again. So, put as much emphasis on the message as you do the medium.

2. Stop worrying about trying to sound like a writer. Keep it simple. Write like you speak. Talk the words to yourself as you put them on paper. That way, you’re more likely to get natural language that makes sense, is easy to read, and conveys your sincerity.

3. Don’t muddle your messages. One thought per paragraph is key. And don’t put too many different topics on a page. Focus your message and you’ll focus your customers’ attention. Focus their attention and they’ll know where to look and what to buy.

4. Use language to establish credibility. Don’t mislead your audience. Your potential customers need to trust you to want to buy from you. Hollow claims of ‘guaranteed success’ can spell disaster, so mean what it is you say. Ensure you can back up your claims in the real world. And another thing: exclamation points don’t make things more true! So use them sparingly and trust your customers’ ability to discern fact from fiction on their own.

5. Consider who you are talking to. Who is your target market? Are your potential customers of a particular culture? Is English their first language? Are they versed in a particular industry? What is their gender, age, education and income level? Factors like these will help determine your content, style and tone as you learn to speak to your specific audience in a way that touches them.

6. Make it personal — talk your potential customers directly. Use ‘you’ not ‘we’ and you’ll make it about them, about the benefits rather than the features of your product or service. Will you save your customers time and money? Will you increase their level of safety or sense of well-being? Etc, etc.

7. Keep sentences short and active. Remove unnecessary words, rearrange passive sentence structures and break up long sentences. Here’s an example:

Original – “We take you to some of world’s top alpine resorts, in Europe and North America, and give you the opportunity to ski the terrain with Olympians and World Cup ski racers. It’s a vacation experience that doesn’t come along every day, but it’s offered by us!”

Revised – “Ever wanted to ski world-class alpine terrain with Olympians and World Cup ski racers as your guides? Get away from the everyday. We can take you there.”

See the difference? With a few simple changes this sentence becomes more personal. It contains fewer words, so it’s easier to read, and it’s more exciting. Use simple, active sentences and your website content will be clear, concise and high-impact.

8. Proofread, proofread, proofread! There’s little that lowers your credibility online more than a site full of typos. I see it all the time and can’t figure out why the offending website owners don’t simply ask a friend to read over their work before they publish it for the world to read. It’s one of the easiest things you can do. So, do it.

9. Finally, don’t rely on your designers to tell you your copy sucks — because, they won’t. I’ve heard many designers whine to me about a client’s terrible copy, but the client never hears a word of it. Remember, designers are about the graphics not the language. If you want straight-up feedback, ask your customers, a close family member or good friend willing to tell you the truth, or find a professional copywriter who offers website reviews.

If after that you still find you can’t get your copy right, put your money where it counts. Hire a professional website copywriter to write it for you. The investment will be worth it.

The bottom line: In our fast-paced world of information overload you’ve only got a few seconds to hook and keep your website visitors. And by now you should know that your Flash intro isn’t going to do it. On the contrary, it’s your messages that give meaning and draw in your potential customers.

Be clear and honest. Write tight and active. If it’s easy to read, it’s easy to understand. If it’s sincere, it’s trustworthy. If it’s active, it’s exciting. That’s what makes for a website that gets your message across effectively, gets your customers buying you and your products and services, and puts money in your pocket.

Reprint. Originally published in’s The Server Room, Vancouver, BC