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FutureNow Article
Monday, Mar. 17, 2008

What is Web Copy and How Should I Use It?

By Holly Buchanan
March 17th, 2008

Pearce responded to our “Ask the Experts” post, looking for a definition of “web copy.”

If you look up its definition, copy refers to any “written matter intended to be reproduced in printed form” (e.g., “The text of a news story, advertisement, television commercial, etc., as distinguished from related visual material”). The word was originally used in the context of the printing press, but it essentially means the same thing online.

Since all copy is content, but not all content is copy, some people separate the two. They use “copy” exclusively to mean text that is written to persuade visitors to take action. “Content,” meanwhile, doesn’t imply an intent to persuade. (For example, think of a website that features celebrity news Content, with a page urging visitors, via persuasive Copy, to subscribe.)

So, “web copy” refers to any and all words published on your website. And without it, your site looks something like this.

I don’t know if this is all that helpful for Pearce, but here’s what is important…

Web Copy is different from Offline Copy.

Offline copy (like a billboard) isn’t interactive. Web copy (like what you read on this blog) is. Web copy needs to be formatted in easy-to-read chunks. It’s hard to read a lot of copy online. Break up your copy with headers, subheaders, short paragraphs and bullet points.

Web copy has a powerful advantage over offline copy: Hyperlinks.

Hyperlinks create persuasive momentum. They provide a clear pathway for your visitor to accomplish his or her goals, and your business to accomplish your goals. What actions do you want your visitors to take? Your website should be planned with visitor goals and company goals in mind. Use your web copy to answer your visitors’ questions, address their objections, and provide hyperlinks that move them toward the actions you want them to take.

How do I plan goals for my website?

Pearce’s second question (“”Do you have any ideas on how to come up with goals for college websites?”) helps illustrate where web copy fits into the overall process of planning, building, and optimizing a website.

To find your website’s goals and use copy to support them, ask yourself these three questions:

  1. Who is my audience?
  2. What actions do I want them to take?
  3. What information do they need in order to feel confident taking action?

Pearce should look at all the different types of visitors who might come to a college website (prospective students, current students, faculty, alumni, people in the community), then map out what each of these visitors is trying to accomplish. What questions are they asking? What information are they hoping to find? What information would you most like each of these groups to see?

For Pearce, this involves looking not only at his visitors’ goals, but the goals of the college itself. (Do they have a new program they want to push, a special event, or a special benefit that prospective students would love?) Once he has this information, he can plan pathways and provide information that is relevant for each of these types of visitors.

All pathways should lead toward an action you want your visitors to take. After all, how can you measure success if you haven’t defined what success looks like?

Thanks for the questions, Pearce!

. .

[Editor's Note: Got a question for FutureNow? All you have to do is "Ask the Experts".]

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Comments (10)

  1. Excellent post. Knowing how to use web copy effectively is an integral part of any business trying to make money online. The trick is writing it so that readers will want to read, which requires research to determine what your visitors want.

  2. Great post, thank you so much :)

  3. Excellent post! It amazes me how simply something can be put when you’re able to write well :-)

    One objection, though: I think the end statement “All pathways should lead toward an action you want your visitors to take” is looking at things from the wrong angle.

    Users don’t visit a website to meet YOUR goals or actions.

    Users have their own goals, and you should do everything you can to map out a path to where they can be fulfilled. Forget what it is that you want to tell users or what you want them to do. Focus on what the user needs.

  4. Nice Post. Thank you for reminding readers to focus on copy and not keywords. As a web marketing professional, I find that many of my clients have been so focused on ‘trying to get seen’ in search engines that they forget the original purpose of their website which is to get customers. As you pointed out knowing who your target audience is essential and having good copy that appeals to that customer will get them to click or call.

  5. [...] As I was reviewing some of their most current information I ran across a blog post that hit be between the eyes. When I read it, I knew I had to share it with our DeskPing members. Read On… [...]

  6. I came across this post because I was looking for suggestions on how to explain to prospects the best approach for their web site. I had considered the first two of your list. But I especially like the third – What information do they need in order to feel confident taking action? To me this sums up the entire objective of a web site.

  7. Very informative article, thanks for taking the time to post it!

  8. This was informative. It helped me with my goals for my website.

  9. web site. I had considered the first engines focused on ‘trying to get seen’ in the best approach for their search that purpose pointed out knowing who your of their website they forget the original which is to get

  10. @Jacqueline Stubbs thanks.

    “This was informative. It helped me with my goals for my website.”

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Holly Buchanan is a marketing to women consultant specializing in marketing to women online. You can read her blog at http://marketingtowomenonline.typepad.com She is the co-author, along with Michele Miller of The Soccer Mom Myth - Today's Female Consumer - Who She Really Is, Why She Really Buys.

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