Plain-spoken Online Conversion Rate Newsletter - covering web design, sales, marketing, copywriting, usability, SEO, relationship marketing and consumer psychology.


The “Grok Notes” for Web Writing

Cliff Notes are cool, aren’t they?  When you want to cut to the chase, you buy one and it reveals exactly what you were supposed to get out of, say, Moby Dick.  Saves you a lot of life energy if you are the sort who isn’t into plowing through the original, but wants a clear understanding of the salient points.

So I figure it’s time I assembled The Grok Notes on writing for the web – the short and sweet of what we’ve shared over the past months.  I’ll even give you links to the originals, for those who crave that full immersion experience!

Know your audience

Elena Fawkner discovered this snippet of copy from the Web site of a professional Web copywriter:

"Today's readers and Web browsers demand frankness and verisimilitude, so your written communications require exacting professional integrity with accurate and adequate research. For concrete, colorful and dynamic written material that willfully attracts customers, Bob Tony* will work with you to develop unrivaled written communications for your marketing materials, grants, newsletters, Web site, or other publications and articles. To ensure your writing tasks with pacesetting presentation and unparalleled, consistent editorial power, give your deadlines to Bob Tony*."

* Name changed to protect the ostentatious and largiloquent.i

Verisimilitude?  Willfully attracts?  Ensure with pacesetting presentation?  Editorial power?  What a mouth- and headful of gobbledygook!  Bob Tony is definitely not the fellow you want as your copywriting model!

Where do you look?  To your customers!  Folks are out there talking.  So listen to what they have to say and how they say it, then model your copy to reflect their needs and concerns.  If you’re going to invest time doing “adequate research,” dig in here!

Keep your copy customer-centered

Ditch self-serving copy that promotes how wonderful you are.  Focus on the powerful perspective of the second person (YOU!) to help your visitors put themselves inside the picture, and always let your visitors know what’s in it for them by communicating the benefits of your product or service.  Appeal to their emotions by showing rather than telling and by engaging the senses.

Create a personality

For all its interactivity and dynamism, the Web isn’t very personal.  And you want to get as nose-to-nose with folks as you can.  Do it not only by writing as you (and they) would speak, but also by creating the impression of an appealing personality.  Give your writing a distinctive, memorable style that captivates as it persuades.  And keep in mind:  who you are is far less important than who your visitors imagine you to be. 

VERBal power

Verbs get your visitors excited, and they should form the backbone of your writing.

Using active verbs will not only help keep your visitors engaged, it will also help improve your credibility.  The passive voice occasionally may help you set the right tone or focus on the activity rather than the actor, but for persuasive purposes, it tends to sound shifty and overly academic.  In general, avoid it in your Web copy.

Imperative verbs are commands.  Act.  Drive.  Click.  See.  Go.  Download.  Pair them with benefits and you have effective calls to action.

Be credible

Your copy sends out credibility vibes all the time.  Over-promising and spouting lots of marketing hype won’t work in your favor.  Neither will typos and grammatical errors.

Make your copy usability-friendly

Understanding human eye-tracking behavior helps you optimize the organization of your copy on your Web pages.  It also helps to understand how folks scan and skim copy.

  • Use bulleted points to detail critical information (including your value proposition)
  • Get important information to your visitor first; elaborate later (think newspaper articles)
  • Highlight important text by using bolding, color, a highlight feature, or making the critical text a link (as appropriate)
  • Use “white” space to separate your points
  • Keep your paragraphs concise and small –eyes glaze over when they encounter impenetrable blocks of text
  • Use font sizes that don’t require magnifying glasses
  • Avoid light type against a dark background (reverse type) – stick with contrast combinations that are comfortable on the eye

Is that everything?  Sheesh, you know me well enough by now to know that when it comes to your online copy, I could keep going till the cows come home.  But then, these wouldn’t be The Grok Notes, would they?  And you wouldn’t know which areas I think are most important to your efforts.

Now you do!


1. “Writing for the Web.”  Elena Fawkner.  Internet Day, 14 December 2001. 


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GROK is taken from the landmark novel "Stranger in a Strange Land", by Robert A. Heinlein. It is a Martian word that implies the presence of intimate and exhaustive knowledges and understanding. Our "GROK" is a keen observer of the world around him and he takes a particular interest in the World Wide Web. The folks at Future Now like him a lot because he's taught them that "sometimes the price of clarity is the risk of insult."

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