How to Write Your Website (Without the Anguish)

For many business owners the prospect of writing their own website content arouses memories of the dreaded term paper. They set deadlines that slide in favor of completing client work, they open Word and stare at the blank screen, and they regress to updating their Facebook pages and Twitter feeds instead of facing the perceived challenge in front of them.

If you think you’re alone in your fear and procrastination: think again! Nearly every client I’ve worked with has gotten into their head about writing their own web content. But it doesn’t have to be that way! Here’s a step-by-step guide to getting it done. Complete one step each day and you’ll be done in no time!

  • STEP 1: Create an outline. Most websites follow a similar plan, and for good reason—it helps prospective clients quickly find the content they’re looking for, and it makes your site SEO-friendly. The basic site map contains: Home, About, Products (or Services), and Contact. Additional pages may include: Location (if you’re a bricks and mortar business), Blog (for adding fresh, SEO-friendly content), Site Map (for search engine optimization), Resources (for linking to other sites), E-Newsletter Sign Up (this may just be a button that links to an external form) and Testimonials. Think strategically about which pages make sense for your business and people coming to your site, then put it down on paper. There! You’ve just completed step one!
  • STEP 2: Be your target market and find your competitors. This step has two goals: first, to discover and record the key words your clients may be typing into their web browser to find you (and your competitors). Record the key words that brought the most relevant results in your web search: those are words you’ll later want to incorporate into your writing. And second, to review your competitors’ sites to take note of what you like about how they describe their products/services, and consider what you’d do differently. Make notes to yourself as they relate to the outline you created in step 1.
  • STEP 3: Bullet-point your web content. Using your site outline as a guide, list key points to include on each page. Don’t worry about word-smithing here; just get the content down! Think about the key words you wrote down in step two, and work them into the appropriate pages of your site content (use them early and often for best results!). For inspiration, review any other printed materials you may already have, or just think about what people ask you about your business and what you tell them in return and write that down. Now take a break—you’re over a huge hurtle!
  • STEP 4: First draft. Ok, I realize a lot of you just broke into a sweat at the mention of a first draft. Take a breath. Relax…this is only a draft! Not the real thing! At this point, we’re going to turn those bullet points from Step 3 into sentences, no big deal. Now, here’s some advice on how to do that:
    1. DO: Talk about your client: who they are, and how your product/service will make their lives easier/better/more fulfilled. Example: “At XYZ Co, we help small business owners like you create innovative storage solutions that help you maximize your office space.” DON’T: Talk about yourself. Nobody likes a bore who goes on and on about how great they are. Example: “At XYZ Co we sell office storage solutions that are the best in the industry.”
    2. DO: Use keywords that your clients will be typing into their browser search box to find you.
    3. DO: Organize long paragraphs with sub-headings to break-up the content. DON’T: Make your website a comprehensive treatise on your company and/or industry! Consider the average time a person spends at any given website is about 3 seconds.
    4. DO: Be conversational. Put in writing the things you say about your business every day—on the phone, at networking events, to your friends and family!
    5. DON’T: Sweat over every word. Remember, this is just a draft! In fact, websites benefit from regular content updates. Plan from the start that you’ll update your website content regularly; tweaking it to include new products or services, to change a focus or reach a new audience, or just make it fresh to your clients.
  • STEP 5: Review and Revise. Ok—you’re in the home stretch now! You have a draft in place; it may not be perfect, but it’s 100% more than you had before you started! This is a great point to bring in a professional copy writer to do some fine tuning of the tone and apply some editing (a writer would also be a good resource after step 3!). I know what you’re thinking—”I thought this was supposed to be how I can write my own site!”. But hear me out…with much of the work done already, you can benefit from just a few hours of their time. And it’s your business, for goodness’ sake! Spend the money where it counts to ensure consistent branding. HOWEVER, if  you don’t have money or access to a writer, and you fancy yourself a Pretty Good Writer, this is a good time to print out your draft and read it with red pen in hand. Look for:
  1. Grammar/Spelling errors
  2. Speaker Inconsistencies. Don’t switch between first, second and third-person voice.
  3. Active vs. Passive verbs. I prefer to write using present tense, active verbs: “Have office clutter? We supply you with storage solutions to optimize your space!” vs. “With our storage solutions, your office problems are solved”
  4. Adjectives. Descriptor words are your friends! Use them generously to describe how your audiences will feel upon using your goods/services.
  5. Key words. Do one more check to make sure you’ve included the key words that users will be searching to find your site on each page.

That’s it! Now send it off to your designer/web programmer and kick back with your feet up and a cocktail in hand to celebrate your accomplishment!

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