By far, the most requested service I provide is website copywriting, and it is no mystery why this is. Most people loathe writing, cannot write, do not have time to write (well), or all of the above. Factor in things like SEO, usability, and the need to say a lot with a little, and you have a frustrated author with a shortage of clients. Fortunately, common sense rules on the Internet. The guidelines for writing good web copy are no exception.

The following is my personal checklist for writing copy that is not only search engine friendly but will have your visitors asking for more of what you sell:

1) When in Rome, do like the Romans. I have used and abused this adage because it truly does apply to all things marketing, copywriting included. Write the way your target audience thinks and speaks about the products or services you offer. Unless you are writing for Scientific American, avoid technical jargon. It annoys almost everyone, academics included. Adopt the lingo your audience would use, and they will feel right at home.

2) Use a conversational tone. While grammar and good sentence structure remain important, strike a balance between sounding stiff and just being sloppy. Think of your content as an extemporaneous speech and your audience will warm to your content immediately. (Sorry about the jargon, but you’ll have to look that one up.)

3) SEO guru Jill Whalen (2003) said it best: “Don’t make your site look dumb” (p.14). It is more important that the text flows naturally than it is to write to a predetermined keyword density. While it might get you some temporary fame with the search engines, keyword stuffing will make your visitors will think you are as incompetent as your sales copy appears.

4) Most people surfing the web are in a hurry and don’t care to read each and every word of your online dissertation. Instead, users haphazardly dart around pages, skimming for relevant information. When their eyes land on a phrase that speaks to them, they will dig in for a nanosecond or two. Make use of bolded, informative headlines, and be sure the content they describe does in fact provide useful information.

5) Benefits first, features later, all about you—never (or much, much later). Your visitors just want you to solve their problems. Only if it will build trust and enhance the likelihood of a sale or a qualified lead should you include an “About Us” or “Profile” page. But please, stick to what matters. The goings on of your quirky aunt Hilda who smokes cigars and wears army boots may be entertaining to those who love her, but I assure you, no one else will be amused.

References: Whalen, J. (2003). The Nitty-gritty of Writing for the Search Engines, p.14.

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June 15, 2006

Karri Flatla is a business graduate of the University of Lethbridge and principal of snap! virtual associates inc., a virtual consulting firm providing business communications and Internet marketing services to the progressive entrepreneur. Karri also produces Outsmart, the email newsletter for small business with big purpose. Visit for more information. Click to follow Karri on Twitter.

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