How to write good website copy cringe and cost free
When I was six, my brother was one, and every suburban home had a battery operated hand camera, I would force my dad to film me jump on the trampoline until we were both weak with hunger. If he needed to dip off to take a leak or, god forbid, capture my brother’s first moments on two legs, I would shriek at him to redirect the camera back to where it belonged. On me. Duh.
“WhhhhhhYY aren’t YooooUUU filming MEEEEeee?” I’d screech as I continued to jump up and down, afraid to lose momentum before my next trick. Which was jumping up and down some more.
At that age, we are shameless self-promoters. We give absolutely zero about how others judge our self-delight. We are vein, impatient, attention seeking. And it’s cute. You can deny your own participation in this rite of passage, but I wasn’t the only tantrum-throwing trampoline tyrant in the late ’90s.
Fast forward a couple of decades, post high-school sweat patches, social hierarchies and first time heart traumas, and the unlucky among us have completely lost that blind sense of confidence in the value of our own doings. We’ve learned the importance of deodorant and other such methods to mask our humanness from other humans, but we’ve applied it far too thickly. Too much Lynx Africa can be disorientating.
When someone asks our story, we look up, away and to the side, mumble or reduce our achievements and dreams, horrified that if we communicate them too clearly we might jinx them – or worse, open them up to criticism. The same goes for writing our story down. So we avoid doing it, or doing it sincerely, because then if it sucks it’s easier to say we didn’t try.
Who am I to be giving such tough love?
I write website content for a living, which includes, on many projects, clients’ ‘About Us’ or bio sections.
I love doing this. I get to ask questions about come-uppances and dig deep into people’s values and visions. I choose to work only with brands whose morals I align with so it flummoxes me when such benevolent and entrepreneurial powerhouses cringe at the very idea of having to spruik themselves.
But despite this being my livelihood, I know not everyone with a start up or side hustle has the cash flow to pay for such services. I also know the exchange of money can be an effective tool for avoiding responsibility that makes us feel uncomfortable, like a kind-of ‘currency condom’.
If a couple of bucks is all you can afford, crack open a Bintang, swallow your pride with the first sip and use these tips lean into a bit of that “I’m awesome and here’s why” discomfort. Let’s see if we can’t help you come up with something you’re proud to have on your website.
Type like you talk
Your website copy should be grammatically and linguistically correct because that alludes to professionalism, but bear in mind, your readers are likely not all astrophysical engineers blueprinting the next spacecraft for NASA. So keep it chill, drop the jargon and be natural. It’s so painfully obvious when someone has used theasaurus.com for every second word and it can be isolating for the reader. In the age of the emoji, people don’t need any more interpreting on their schedule.
Do Your Detail Due Diligence
Be precise when you are describing yourself, your business or your brand. While you may have learned in Digital Marketing for Dummies that too much specificity means you diminish your audience potential, you’re better off ripping that page out of the book and keeping it as emergency toilet paper. Advice like that belongs in the sewer – Digital Marketing for Dunnies. You’re not trying to appeal to EVERYONE. You’re trying to be believable, and believable is in the nuance.
We all like a good before and after, so here’s an example. This is the ‘My Story’ tab of an ethically sourced, all size embracing winter wear label.
VAGUE SPECIFICTY (BEFORE)
After working New York’s high-end fashion industry for over a decade, I began to feel physically and mentally burnt out by its emphasis on Western beauty standards as a yardstick for worthiness. Eventually I mustered the courage to leave my 9-5 and start my own label, where my efforts could be focused on the functional aspects of clothing (rather than purely the fashionable) and celebrate people of all sizes. Thus, Woolies for Weirdos was born.
VALUABLE SPECIFICTY (AFTER)
Every morning I’d roll out of bed, squeeze into my corporate blazer and pencil skirt and cry into my cup of Nescafé as I began yet another day of commandeering the public’s money by making them feel fat, flat or sick. Eventually, the greedy snaggle-tooth grins of my superiors became too much and following a series of dramatic emails, I removed my 1L tub of hummus from the communal fridge on our 18th floor office and farted in the elevator one last time. I went home, poured myself a cup of Nescafé, cried and then opened my laptop to design a line of ethical wooly sweaters that kept people of all shapes warm during the winter. Introducing, Woolies for Weirdos!
A touch overkill, yes, but you get the point. No one is going to read the second example and say, “oh, actually I prefer Moccona to Nescafé. I guess I won’t be buying anything from this website.”
Being ambiguous or cliché won’t get you anywhere. People won’t remember you or your products. If you want them to pay attention, colour your copy with some specificity.
Move Into Mentor Mode
This bit is fun. Apply a public speaking technique to your copy writing. If you’re having trouble typing the way you want to be read, slip into a character and write from their mindset. Sounds lame and year 12-drama class-y, but your imagination is a powerful tool. Essentially, this is what I do when I write ‘About Us’ sections and other website copy for my clients. I play the character of their business.
You can build a character from your customer avatar (how would they talk to their likeminded comrades over a beer/coffee/kombucha?), you can emanate a business mentor or someone in your industry you respect, or even invoke that super assertive friend in your group who always getting the best deals on booking.com.
This technique can also work when you are wheeling, dealing and sealing off on business transactions via email. If a client or customer is being unreasonable with your price, time or systems and you need to push back, engage your character to reply with an email kindly setting your boundaries.
Free the Fluff
Here are a few redundant phases (their technical name is ‘limiting modifiers’) to stay right away from.
- just / only / quite
- kind of / sort of
- fairly / pretty / really
- a little / a touch / a tad/ a bit
- more or less (seriously, WTF does that even mean – is it more or less?)
- simply / merely
- somewhat / almost
- it would seem / it appears that
- I believe / I feel / I think
These expressions limit the impact of other words used in the sentence, usually the ones immediately following. This is great if you want your ‘About Us’ section to read the way a leftover burrito tastes – floppy, flavourless and unfulfilling. Type your draft copy into a word processor and use the search, find & delete tool to cut the surplus out. You’re writing will have much more punch to it and command it’s audience to do or believe as it says.
There you have it! All it cost you was the Bintang you were going to drink anyway and seven minutes of your time to read this article. So save it, print it, stick it on the back of your bathroom door because even if you can’t afford a copywriter, you can’t afford not to have a good copy.
 Australian slang for toilet