Friday, September 12, 2008

6 tips for writing sharpshootin' bullet points

Each day (hopefully), strangers ride over the cyber horizon and mozie on into the streets of your website.

As the copywriter in these here parts, it's your job to be mighty accommodating to the new folk.

You have to help them find what they need fast - because, as we know, web readers have real itchy trigger fingers.

To make your body text more appealing to those darting, squinting eyes, think about loading up your page with some bulletpoints. They're a clean, effective way to get the important bits across when time and space are short - the ideal choice of weapon for the fastest pen in the web.

When using bullet points, always remember that this is a business website and not the OK Corral. And if you start blasting holes all over the page it may well begin to resemble reBoot Hill.

Instead of making a fist full of dollars you'll spiral from good to bad to downright ugly as visitors jump back in their blazing saddles and gallop out of town on the mouse they rode in on.

So compadre, let's load up the six-shooter with some tips to help keep your bulletpoint copy on target:

1. Offer benefits and promises (or problems and issues).
Your impatient reader is scanning. Grab their attention with your bulletpoints, peak their curiosity with its message and give them a reason to dive in deeper.

2. Include keywords, and keyword related phrases.

3. Hyperlink keywords or action words in your bulletpoints. This makes the words and bulletpoints more alluring to search engines, while helping to move readers deeper into your site and encouraging them to take action. For example (not linked)

  • Check ACME conference dates in you city
  • Find out more about your ACME conference speakers
  • Register for the conference

4. Create parallel items in your list
Parallel form bullet point lists are a bit like a story in short, sharp steps. Using a strong action verb at the start of each point can be an effective way to give instructions some punch. For example:

To enrol at Widget university online:

  • Visit the university website enrolment page
  • Choose the course you want to study
  • Answer the ‘key questions’
  • Complete the student declaration
  • Accept the terms and conditions
  • Select your preferred payment method.

5. Make your layout simple.
Don’t mix subheadings, bullets and sub-bullets or the copy becomes difficult to follow so nothing stands out for your audience.

6. Keep your bullet groups themed.
An example of how simple, keyword-inclusive bulletpoints could be used to promote several benefits of a digital photography lesson website might be:

  • The truth about digital vs film cameras
  • Discover 6 easy point-n-click photo taking techniques
  • Learn the fast way to create high quality jpeg images

In summary, to grab the attention of impatient web readers, few online writing tools work better than sharpshootin' bulletpoints. Not only will strangers stick around longer, but there's a better chance they might come back now, ya hear?

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Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Why Page Titles Are The Jan Brady Of Web Copywriting

Want to know an easy way to attract search engines and drag readers away from your competition? Spend some quality time with the most neglected member of the web copywriting family - your page title.

Web copywriting tips can be worse than moving back home with your parents. There’s mum in one ear yelling, ”Did you include a catchy headline? Where are your paragraphs and subheads? Don’t forget your keywords!” while dad just grunts, “If you don’t build those incoming links, you’ll never get a decent search engines ranking.”

It’s enough to make you run to your room, turn up the stereo, and forget you ever heard the words optimised web copy. But before you flip over the “Do not disturb” sign on your door, there’s something we really need to talk about – how and why you should write better page titles.

So where are these page titles anyway?
Look up. No, higher. In the blue bar above the address bar and menus at the very top of your screen. That's the page title.

On a webpage it usually displays the name of the website or page that you are on, followed by “Windows Internet Explorer” or “Mozilla Firefox”, depending on the browser yu use.

On a blog it will usually say the full name of the blog or the heading of your post.

One of the reasons people forget about their page titles is because they're added into the page code, rather than onto the page itself. This means the job of writing title copy is usually handed over to the web designer. So if the designer isn’t a search engine optimisation expert, or hasn’t been briefed to write the title copy, titles are usually left to their own devises and look something like: - Windows Internet Explorer

or at best

The Widget Store - Windows Internet Explorer

In this state they are little more than a band of alphabetical castaways, stranded in a deep blue sea of pixels - dull, unfulfilling and meaningless to all but the website owner.

Yes it’s a sad tale, but one that sinks into tragedy of ancient Greek proportions when you realise the overlooked potential of well-crafted title copy.

Why should we write effective page titles?

  • Titles are used as the heading for your site listing in search engines.

  • They influence search engine rankings. Greater relevance, higher ranking

  • People dismiss search engine listings with titles unrelated to their search.

  • A relevant title draws search engine surfers to your site.

  • When someone adds your page as a favourite, they can easily find you later

  • The title is stored in your visitors History

  • Other sites often use titles as the text link copy to your page.

  • Search engines place high importance on relevant text links.

  • RSS generators use page titles to create headlines
Once you realise just how hard page titles work to help attract search engines and site visitors, is it any wonder they see themselves as the Jan Brady of online copywriting, constantly living in the shadow of their flashier, prettier or cuter siblings such as headlines, subheads and hyperlinks?

Here are some tips to help you bring the best out in your page titles.

  • Keep your title to no more than 60 - 65 characters

  • Make the description clear and in plain English.

  • Write a unique keyword focused title for each page

  • Don’t use ‘clever’ or teaser titles that don’t explain what the page is about

  • Put you keywords to the front.

  • Don’t use your keyword more than 3 times

  • Make your title a call to action or benefit for the reader

  • Omit unnecessary words. Instead of “Are You Looking For A Cheap Place To Buy Widgets?” write “Looking For Cheap Widgets?

So next time you are writing copy for your website or blog, by all means play with those boistrous headlines and subheads, pander to those pretty paragraphs, keywords, and hyperlinks, and make your bullet points look as cute as a button.

Just don’t forget there is a page title looking down from the bedroom window, wondering if you are ever going to really appreciate its many hidden talents.

Give page titles the encouragement and attention they deserve, and you’ll be amazed at what they can do for your web writing objectives and visitor numbers.

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Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Short Copy Speaks Words

I'm no mathematician, but if it's true that 4 out of 5 people only ever read headlines, then creating an enticing headline is 80% of a copywriter's battle.

While loitering in my street the other day I noticed a shark-suited real estate looking character banging a sign in grass outside a house.

"Open For Inspection"?
"Open House"?

Try "Open Home". Now doesn't that sound so much warmer, fuzzier and appealing to the target market than the usual suspects above?

It made me think about a couple of copywriting lessons that apply to both headlines and bodycopy:

  • Readers may like familiar language (particularly online), but it won't get them excited. As long as you don't get ambiguous, a unique and enticing alternative can make all the difference.
  • A few short words can often express your benefits and entice impatient readers far better than a whole bunch of long ones.

Now if the agent can just do something about that outfit he might really be onto something.

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Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Are You Blinded By Love For Your Website?

One of the main reasons websites don't work as effectively as they might is because owners, and their internal designers/copywriters, look at the site through rose coloured glasses.

This is not to say that they believe they are infallible, and have created the perfect online sales tool. It's usually because they are too close to the business to make an objective call on what customers really need.

For example, throwing in as much relevant information as possible is not the same as presenting and organising content effectively.

Sometimes content is difficult to navigate, or the copy is written in industry jargon rather than everyday language. If there is too much information on each page, it makes it very difficult for visitors to absorb and act as want them to.

The content might all make sense to you and the people in your company, but it might not be clear at all to people outside your business. If not, it means you need to spend a bit more time stating the obvious and making important information easier to grasp.

See if your copy can be seperated into clear categories. You could use sub-heads to help guide customers through each step. There might be areas where you need to spell out how something works, or link to another page for further details.

You might also be including information that visitors don't need. This all comes down to your research and knowledge of the market. A simple way to get some answers is to ask a few people outside the company (no not your mum) to try a few things on the site and get their feedback.

Another option is to look at your competitors sites to see what they have included, and view their FAQ's. These usually give you a good idea of the things people are asking. of course, your business is unique, so don't base it all on what the guy next door is doing or you will suffer. If you have any existing site, analyse your customer service emails and phonecalls to see what people are asking your staff about. Is there something you could include or spell out more clearly on the site?

The time it takes to get this right is well worth the effort. Not only will your conversion rates and sales numbers increase but you'll spend less time answering questions from frustrated customers.

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Saturday, September 23, 2006

Is This The Ultimate Lowlife In Email Marketing Scams?

It's been a while since I've received any generous offers of wealth creation from friendly strangers in West Africa. Then this email arrived yesterday.

Obviously the conversion rates on the original sales letters have declined, so the parasites are now working on readers heartstrings as well as our lust for the riches of deposed leaders of third world countries.

"So what", you say, "using emotional triggers in slaes letters is nothing new". I agree, but when scam artists start using real deaths and tragedy to prop up their fiction, you have to wonder what's next.

Ladies and gentlemen, Nominee for Email Marketing Scam Scum 2006.

My Dear,

I crave your indulgence at this mail coming from somebody you have not known before. I decided to do this after praying over the situation. You should please consider the transaction on its content and not the fact that you have not known me before. I need not dwell on how I came by your contact information because there are many such possibilities these days.

My name is Mrs Andrea Thomas a nationality of New Zealand. I am married to late Dr. Evans Thomas who worked with one of the New Zealand High Commissioners in Africa for nine years before he died in a plane crash in the year 2003. We were married for twenty years with no child. He died along with the Lebanese plane that crashed near the Atlantic Ocean.

When my late husband was alive we deposited the sum of usd$4.2Million (Four Million Two hundred Thousand U.S Dollars) with one of good banks here in Cotonou Benin Republic. Presently, this money is still with the bank. But recently my Doctor told me that I would not last for the next three months due to my cancer problem, though what disturbs me most is my stroke. Having known my condition, I decided to donate this fund to a credible person, either a New Zealand/Australian national, or better an American Citizen that will utilize this money the way I am going to instruct here in. I am writing from my sick bed.

I have willingly decided to take this initiative looking for an honest person to whom I will pass the right of next of kin. I do not want a situation where my family hard earned money will be used in an ungodly manner. Hence the reason for taking this bold decision. You will apply to the bank and request for the transfer of the fund to your bank account after I must have authoritatively issued the order. This is on the condition that you will keep 25% of the fund for yourself, 5%
used for any expenses, while the remaining 70% will be utilised for the welfare of the less privileged people in the society. This is in fulfilment of the last request of my husband that a substantial part of the fund be used to carter for the less privileged.

If this condition is acceptable to you, you should contact me immediately with your full names and contact information so that I will ask my lawyer to prepare the authorization that will give you the right of next of kin to the account in the bank

I cannot predict what will be my fate by the time the fund will be transferred into your account, but you should please ensure that the fund is used as I have described above. You can have a close look at me as I attached my picture with my doctor to this mail.

I look forward to your early responds.

My regard to you and your family,

Mrs Andrea Evans Thomas.

Ok, maybe I'm being to harsh on Andrea. After all, it's not easy writing an email sales letter any time, let alone lying in bed suffering from cancer and a stroke, while trying to come up with an opening gem like "My Dear, I crave your indulgence...".

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