Write a Website, Not a Novel

Stack of keyboards

Write less. Write better.

Never use ten words, when you can say it in five. Never use a ten-buck word, when a five-buck word will do.

These are old phrases that I remember from my days working as a journalist. The idea was not to dazzle people with your thesaurus, but to communicate and report your story. Save the flowery language, they used to say, for your novel.

If you’re developing your content strategy for your new brand website, be sure to include a section in the style guide about writing. Let your whole team know that the purpose of your website is to serve the needs of your users. It’s not an opportunity to stretch your legs as a writer and express yourself with brilliant prose.

  • Nobody is going to read your web copy and wonder, “gee, that was a nice big word that I don’t quite understand…I wonder if the copywriter has written a novel.” Not that it matters anyway, since most corporate websites do not have a byline or even an editorial masthead. It’s a wasted effort.
  • You aren’t serving the needs of the user, if you’re only trying to satisfy your needs as a writer. Your job is to communicate and motivate with the user and (in most cases) get them to convert. Long-winded writing rarely does that.
  • It’s still not getting your novel completed or published. Seriously, write the novel. Maybe you are meant for better than this.

The less-is-more approach can lead to fantastic results on your website, so be sure to tag your site with website analytics like Google Analytics. The data will give you insights into how people actually use your website and which calls to action are actually driving conversions. Content strategists and copywriters should sit together to analyze what content is actually driving the conversions and other key performance indicators (KPIs).

If you want to know if the copy is too long, ask a web designer. They need to make it work on the page and will be able to explain why your content doesn’t work from a visual perspective.

So yes brilliant copywriter, we do know what you’re doing and we’re going to make you stop. Big words (for the sake of using big “10-buck words”) and flowery sentences are probably not going to be effective on most brand websites. It may work for a few brands, but for most, it’s just not the right way to write for the brand.com that hired you or your agency.

Go ahead and write well. Nobody is saying you shouldn’t craft smart, tight copy. Nobody is saying you need to intentionally make your copy boring. Quite the opposite. Write well. That’s what you’re being paid to do.

Just leave the meandering prose and James Joyce-length sentences where they belong…in your novel.

Oh, and one more thing. Stop using the word “plethora.” It doesn’t work on the web, nor does it work in your novel. It’s a fake big word that makes you look like someone who just discovered a new big word and can’t wait to use it.

Seriously, cut it out.


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