Last June, I came across a blog by Henneke Duistermaat titled “How to Write Gobbledygook-Free Content.” Let me be honest, I had no idea what a gobbledygook meant until I read this blog and it made me sit up and take notice. Gobbledygook essentially means words that don’t appeal to the audience. Words such as ‘flexible,’ ‘robust,’ ‘scalable,’ ‘mission critical,’ ‘groundbreaking.’
For a complete list of gobbledygook, refer David Meerman Scott’s ‘The Gobbledygook Manifesto,’ which is a great piece on words that we use but rarely realize that it is not adding any value to our readers. I have been guilty of using those meaningless words not just in daily conversation, even in the web copy that I wrote.
Henneke's website Enchanting Marketing hosts a wealth of information on copywriting, where she’d also mentioned about the book titled “How to Write Seductive Web Copy: An Easy Guide to Picking Up More Customers” that she’d authored.
That book became part of my reading list and I am glad that I read it now than later. And the fact that the book was available on Kindle made it easier to finish it. To me, this was an eyeopener for many reasons and here are the 5 things that I found really useful in this book:
1. Avoid Unnecessary Words
Writing engaging web copy is not easy, more so, when you are starting off. Only a trained hand can spot the unwanted junk hanging around in a document that makes it heavier than it needs to be.
Heavy content drives off readers. The author deals with this in Chapter 3 where she explains the need to break down long headings.
Of course, you want your headings to stand out (well, who doesn’t want to do that?) But, we all tend to crunch too many things in one headline such that it becomes really crowded and the reader is already lost even before he moves to the first paragraph.
The author says web visitors are merely scanning your text and are deciding if they should trust your product/company or not. A clever way to make your headlines smoother is by breaking it into a subheading – so the headline calls out what you are offering and the subheading has the clear value proposition.
2. Write For 12-Year Olds…Seriously!
When I read this, I was taken aback. 12-year olds? You got to be kidding me! But, then I realized that she wants us to write content that is simple. If a 12-year old can understand your text, that means your text is brilliant. And trust me, it is very difficult to get there.
“To be simple is to be great.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson
She explains that every paragraph must not have more than 4 sentences and each sentence must have 12 words on average. Did you notice the previous sentence calls out the numbers in figures than words? That is because it is easier to notice it.
One other great example that I found very useful is about writing bullet points. Each bullet point must be a heading in itself and should focus on a benefit or a problem. If you have started a bullet with a verb (‘Learn,’ ‘Discover,’ ‘Know’), ensure all the rest are also following the same trend. Remember your web visitors are simply scanning your website looking for information. And just so that we know – this book can be read by a 12-year old.
3. The Action Plans
Each chapter has an action plan at the end of it. Some of them need you to download a few worksheets, while others need you to think about your business. One of my favorite takeaways from the book was the ‘So what’ exercise.
Henneke explains that in order to identify the real benefit that you should call out on your web copy is an outcome of this exercise. Keep asking yourself the question ‘So what’ until you have really figured out the true value that you give your customers. It might look something like this:
You run an online shop that sells fresh fruits in downtown New York.
- So, what? Customers can order fruits online from your store.
- So, what? You can process orders and deliver fruits faster to your customers.
- So, what? Customers can get fresh fruits at any time of the day or even if they’re running late for something.
In this way, you keep stripping the benefit to the core so your customers can clearly identify how you are solving their problem. Make that as your central theme when writing web copy.
4. The Things We Have Been Taking for Granted
Let us admit it – all of us have been guilty of making certain assumptions about our readers. We expect our audience to already know some of the jargons we write. Remember we spoke about gobbledygook? Here are a few more: ‘innovation,’ ‘world-class,’ ‘breakthrough,’ ‘cutting-edge,’ ‘best-of-breed.’
In reality, using them really reduces the value of your web copy. Henneke prefers words that sound more human.
And then, what about captions below the pictures? Don’t we all look for descriptions of a picture that we see on the web or on a newspaper? It is quite natural to do that. Yet, we become lazy when it comes to writing captions. Don’t forget to use keywords in your captions because Google scans them too.
Then there are customer reviews. How many times have we come across customer reviews that say the product/service they used was ‘fantastic,’ or ‘mind-blowing.’ Seriously?
That’s what Henneke clears the air about. Never include customer credentials that are too pretentious or bombastic. Getting customers to say what didn’t work for them is perfectly fine – people are likely to trust honest reviews more than artificial ones.
5. Drive Personalization Everywhere
This resonates with the approach that we follow at Paperflite – where every customer is special to us and all his problems are ours.
We often make the mistake of writing for a business when it is actually real people who take the decisions to buy from us. Henneke explains this in chapter 1 of her book. A website cannot appeal to non-living things.
You need to write it for a specific audience. Try and understand your ideal reader's challenges, needs and desires. If you want all sorts of people to come to your website, your web copy is bound to be wishy-washy. People will be confused about how your website is helping them.
Talk about what are the benefits you’re delivering to your customers and the problems that’re being solved. You could also explore why people aren’t buying from you and address those specific areas. Are you helping them save costs? Are you enabling them make more money? Are you helping them live heathily? Answer these questions before you begin writing your web copy.
What are the books you've read on copy-editing? What are the best practices you follow while writing your web copy? Let me know your thoughts at Karthik@paperflite.com.