The many faces (and uses) of website copy

Globe covered in different human faces

Website copy, in all its forms, is the workhorse of your business site. It informs, proves, persuades and ultimately sells your thing, whatever that thing may be. So it’s important. But knowing which form of copy to use is important too because you can then tailor your messaging to achieve specific goals.

Firstly, let’s make sure we’re talking about the same thing.

The difference between website content and website copy

Content is anything and everything that populates your site. It includes images, graphics, videos, forms, comments, surveys/polls, forums—and copy.

Website copy is all about the words. It includes the wordy bits on your homepage, blog posts, profiles, case studies, reports, articles and features. These are all different and you can use them to achieve different things. Knowing what they are and applying them to your content strategy can help you engage different visitors to your site, particularly when you want to reach more than one target group.

Five different forms of website copy and their uses

1. Case studies

Case studies prove credibility by giving evidence of how your product or service meets clients’ needs. They’re detailed, so they’re usually quite long. And because they’re meant to be authoritative, they’re written in a more formal style.

A typical business case study follows a storyline like this:

  • Client’s back-story and problem
  • How/why they came to you
  • The first consultation
  • The solution you came up with and how you employed it
  • Initial results and how you measured them
  • Any revisions or tweaks
  • Summary of results
  • Final outcome and client’s last word

Case studies should be matter-of-fact in tone. Concentrate on what can be measured and proven but get quotes from your client and let them add in the colour. It’s their story after all; they’re just allowing you to share it.

Happy clients usually don’t have a problem with being featured as case studies. It’s good publicity and their story has a positive ending. Occasionally a client will balk because they created the original problem and they don’t want that broadcast. Respect their wishes and ask for a testimonial instead.

2. Profiles

Profile pieces on a business website tell someone else’s story to prove a point. The point may be subtle or overt. An employee profile might demonstrate you’re a caring employer who likes to celebrate your staff’s achievements. Or it could subtly show what a cool workplace you’ve created. Then again, it might be a way of increasing your company’s reach because you know the featured staff member will share the profile on social media.

A customer profile provides many of the same benefits. It shows you value your client, it can attract other people in similar situations, and generate some free publicity on social media. If your customer is highly-regarded in their industry or is a big networker, so much the better.

Profiles put a human face on a business and they can be very effective in building relationships. They’re a good vehicle for humour, especially if you’re profiling staff. Come up with a list of 21 questions, break them into groups of seven so they can be rotated, and ask a different team member each week. Use your phone to take a photo of them on the job and you’re set!

3. Articles

Articles should inform. These include “How to” pieces and  “listicles”  (short articles based around numbered or bullet-pointed lists, such as ‘Top 5 holiday spots in New Zealand’; ‘7 budget ways to jazz up an old chair’).

Genuine “How to” articles always do well.

The Web is an information resource first and foremost and if you can explain something clearly and use lots of good-quality images, you’re on to a winner. Listicles are popular and can be useful tools but don’t over-use them. Some people associate them with dumbing down of content.

Make sure your articles contain unique content and are not simply a re-hash of someone else’s.

4. Features

You’ll often see the words “article” and “feature” used interchangeably. Newspapers use these terms to differentiate their content from straight news stories. Magazine features are generally one-off lead stories, as opposed to regular columns.  In both cases, they’re longer and more detailed than the standard content.

The same applies to digital features.  At 1,500 words minimum, they’re longer than “How to” articles, listicles and typical blog posts. Features therefore fall into the category of long-form content.

Features provide in-depth analysis and put a human face on an issue or news story. They typically introduce two or three people affected by the issue and tell their stories in detail. Features rely heavily on expert opinion, statistics and research to make their case.

They take a lot of time and work but well-constructed features can be very effective at building your brand’s authority.

5. Blog posts

Blogs in their original “journal” sense are vehicles for announcing news, chronicling events and helping visitors get to know you. If that’s how you’re utilising your own blog, chances are the posts will be fairly short. Try to use  300 words minimum—search engines aren’t interested in anything shorter. On the other hand, don’t waffle and bore people just to make up a word count.

Many businesses use their blog for all their content but it can be a mistake to lump everything together. There’s no point slaving for a week over an authoritative case study if you’re going to sandwich it between posts about the staff karaoke night and the Top 5 Things to Do While Stuck in a Traffic Jam. Some companies get around this by operating more than one blog on a single website.

HOW DO I KNOW WHAT TO INCLUDE IN MY BUSINESS BLOG?
This really boils down to three things:
1 how you describe the blog  (i.e. its name)
2 what you use it for
3 how much flexibility your site design has for displaying different types of copy

If you call your blog “News”, it should feature news; don’t use it for “How to” articles.  If you call it “Insights”, there’s more room to open it up and include some long-form content or listicles. You also have more options to mix things up with “Latest”. But label  it “Blog” and it becomes meaningless. The word is too vague and doesn’t offer your site’s visitors any immediate value. Your existing customers might check it out because they know what you’re offering but newbies will probably need more convincing. And that’s a shame if it’s where you’ve stashed all your best content.

Some site designs have options to display News and Portfolio posts separate from general blog posts and articles. Others have “Featured Content” sections. However you choose to display your website copy, make sure it’s being presented to its best advantage. If your homepage was a shop window (which it is), what would you place front and centre?

Mix and match your website copy according to its purpose and your target market

Writing good website copy takes time and it’s hard work. So if you’re going to go to all that trouble, decide in advance what you want your copy to do and then present it in the form that best suits. Remember:

  • Case studies to demonstrate expertise and authority
  • Profiles to tell stories that illustrate a point
  • Articles to inform and entertain
  • Features to analyse issues in depth and give them a human face
  • Straight blog posts to announce news, highlight events and enable people to get to know you and your business a little better

You may only ever need to use one or two of these copy styles. It all depends on the nature of your business and the market you’re targeting.

If you’re not sure what sort of content/copy you should be producing, have a look at your competitors’ sites. Then experiment, come up with your own unique mix and monitor the progress of  every page and every post. If it’s not working and you need some support, get in touch. I’ll do my best to help.

This post was originally published on 11 September 2017 at nikimorrell.com. It has since been updated for relevance.

Niki Morrell

Niki is Bold Communications' creative director. She's a writer, broadcaster, trainer, photographer and one hell of a dancer.

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