• Create BookmarkCreate Bookmark
  • Create Note or TagCreate Note or Tag
  • PrintPrint
Share this Page URL

Chapter 4. Why Good Copy Counts > Chapter Checklist

Chapter Checklist

  1. Words matter more when you have few resources.

    The language of your site is the element that you have the most control over, and it requires little in the way of technological or financial expenditures.

  2. Good copy can elevate a low-budget site.

    If you do not have a big budget for design, the copy can become the hero of your site. Clean, straightforward, well-written language can elevate the site by giving it a mood and tone that is appropriate to your product. This can be as powerful as—and perhaps even more powerful than—the work you do on the visual design.

  3. Write in a way that is honest and straightforward.

    When people read on the web, they have less patience with copy and are slightly more skeptical than they are with other media. Avoid hyperbolic statements and marketing talk. This style might work in print, but it is off-putting on the web. Keep your ideas on target, and tell users what they need to know.

  4. Keep it simple but not simplistic.

    Again, dare to do less. Use language that is simple and straightforward. Keep sentences short and to the point. Do not, however, dumb down your content, which will make your company look silly and insult your users. Remember, too, that the shorter the copy is, the less expensive it will be to edit.

  5. Avoid spelling and grammatical errors.

    Nothing undermines a beautifully constructed site like spelling and grammatical errors. Allocate resources to allow for a full copy edit on all new content.

  6. Free real estate.

    Take advantage of free real estate and the power that only words can deliver: Use title tags, email signature files, error messages, and other content areas to your advantage.

Clever words are not as good as straight talk.

—Chinese proverb

Words are the low-tech, platform-independent, inexpensive glue that hold a site together. When used well, words compel users to make purchases, lead people from an email newsletter to your site, entice users to stay on your site, and even keep them on your site when they come upon well-crafted error messages. Words distinguish your site from your competitors' and let your visitors know that a human rather than merely software is behind your web presence.

Words are the only aspect of a site that you have complete control over. The display of graphic design always depends on the user's receiving device, whether that is a handheld device, a voice browser, or a plain old web browser whose display settings might customize away your design. You have no control over your users' preferences for plug-ins, typographical display, or any other presentation options. Words, however, display in the exact same sequence that you type them.

Words have the power not only to shape your site's literal message, but also to tell the user who you are and what you care about simply through the voice they establish. When words are used ineptly, your site might ring of apathy, empty bravado, or anonymity. If the language of your site is full of spelling and grammatical problems, words can give the user the impression that you have weak attention to detail, that you might not know what you are talking about, and that you are not that smart. When used well, however, words can infuse your site with a sense of smarts, warmth, concern, humor, or whatever else you want to convey.

The wise shoestring designer pays careful attention to a site's copy and directs significant resources to writing and editing. This does not mean that your copy needs to be a literary masterpiece, nor does it mean that you have to hire an expensive copywriter for your site—although if you can, do so. Careful attention to copy does mean that you must dedicate a good portion of your production time to writing, editing, and copy editing, and that the text on your site must be genuine, human, and to the point.

This chapter is for web professionals who are responsible for many aspects of web production and who probably can't afford to hire the recommended writer and editor.

What Is Good Writing?

Nick Usborne, author of Net Words and the expert who I consulted while writing this chapter, left me with the perfect way of describing good copy and what it can do for a low-budget web site:

“When you write well, everything else takes care of itself. Good writing is always simple. Good writing is clear. It is honest. It is free of hyperbole. It is free of drama, exclamation points, and excessive bolding of the text. If you feel that your sentence needs special emphasis, write a better sentence; don't dress it up with bold words and extra colors.

“Can good writing elevate a potentially 'cheap' site? Absolutely. The core value of the site is found in the quality of the writing. Good writing can elevate anything! But then, I am a little biased—correct, but biased.”

  • Creative Edge
  • Create BookmarkCreate Bookmark
  • Create Note or TagCreate Note or Tag
  • PrintPrint