Persuasive copywriting is the cornerstone of an effective website, yet, when it comes to writing for the web, most companies are content to fill their pages with lists of product features and over-hyped marketing messages. These are the things that your CEO likes to read – that you are "the industry leader," that your products are "the most secure," that your "encryption methods are the most unique in the industry." All of that is great, and I'm sure that your company is really special, but it doesn't address the needs of the prospect who has come to your website.

The purpose of writing for the web is to convince your prospects – not your CEO - that your company has something to offer them that will solve a problem or fill a need. There are a lot of ways to get them to your home page, but once they are there, you want them to take the next step – fill out your form, download your free trial, or even just sign up for your newsletter. Truly persuasive copywriting can get them there.

Identify What's Important to Them

Persuasive copywriting is more than stringing together a subject, a verb, a couple of adjectives, and your CEO's favorite catchphrase. When writing for the web, you need to speak to your potential customers in their own language about the things that are important to them – which, unfortunately, are usually not the same things that your CEO thinks should be important to them. Company insiders tend to think that people will be impressed by features, while in actuality, prospects are much more likely to be swayed by writing for the web that explains the benefits those features offer.

Of course, your CEO is always there telling you what he or she wants to read in the copy, but how can you find out what a prospect considers to be important? You could always ask, if you happen to have a spare prospect handy. Or, you could put yourself in the customers' shoes – the ability to do so is crucial to persuasive copywriting. Engage in some role playing. Create a character who represents one of your prospects – how old is he? What is her name? What's her job title? What has brought him to your website? Once you have figured out why your imaginary prospect is looking for your products or services, the questions that he or she is likely to need answered come up naturally. Persuasive copywriting for the web should include the answers to those questions in a language the customer understands.

Speak Their Language

All of this focus on the customer doesn't mean that persuasive copywriting won't pass approval with your CEO – in fact, done properly, persuasive copywriting should appeal to both your CEO and your prospects with a discussion of features as well as benefits. For example, if your company offers a cutting-edge software product, your CEO might want people to know that you can use it "right out of the box" and that it "integrates easily with existing software." If you are writing for the web about this product, you might write:

"Our software integrates easily with existing software right out of the box."

However, if you are writing for the web using the principles of persuasive copywriting, you might write instead:

"Our software integrates easily with existing software, so you won't waste time or money upgrading your existing systems or learning new programs. And, our software works right out of the box, so you'll be up and running in minutes."

The second example will still thrill your CEO, but it also speaks to your customer about why he or she should care about these features – they'll save time and money, two very important motivators in most purchasing decisions. The format of writing about a feature and then explaining the benefit of that feature is common to persuasive copywriting, and if you aren't using it, you may not be writing very persuasively. This is true whether you are writing for the web, a sales letter, or even a company brochure.

Don't Skimp on the Good Stuff

One of the major fallacies about writing for the web is that it is very, very different than writing for any other medium. It's not. When you're writing for the web, your copy doesn't need to be shorter. You don't need to convert the entire page into bullet points. You do, however, need to use correct spelling and punctuation. You do need to visually break up the information using headings, bulleted lists, and emphasized text. There is no magic number of words at which your visitors will stop reading, and there is no magic length that all of your pages should be. Your website copy should be long enough to convey your message, and not one single word longer. In persuasive copywriting, what is important is that you speak to the customer about the things that are important to him or her.

Do it right, and your website visitors will be flocking to your sales pipeline. Then, your CEO will be really thrilled.

Discuss this article in the Small Business Ideas forum.

April 17, 2007

Erin Walker is the Director of Conversion at Medium Blue, a search engine optimization company.

Search Engine Guide > Erin Walker > Persuasive Copywriting: Writing for the Web Instead of Your CEO