In 1989, the movie Gross Anatomy featured the struggles and relationships of a group of premed students. There was a poignant scene where one student, Laurie, asked her classmate, Joe, how he could goof off so much and still pass while she had to study so hard.

He explained that while she was reading the whole textbook, he was only reading “the stuff in bold,” which left him with plenty of time for fun.

The “stuff in bold” gets attention.

When it comes to the text on your website, you only have seven seconds to convince a web visitor to explore your website. Your content must be good enough to capture and hold their attention.

People don’t actually read web pages from top to bottom because they’re hurried, and everyone tends to skim. Studies show that people’s eyes jump all over a webpage.

Reading a website is different than reading a book, and therefore the copy on your website needs to be written in a different style than your book. As an author, you are used to writing a 90,000-word book, but your web copy needs to be extremely brief.

If you want anyone to read anything you’ve written on your website. It must be the most interesting thing to them on the Internet at that moment. If there is anything else more interesting on the Internet, they will stop paying attention to your website.

How do I write web copy that people will notice and read?

The key to getting and keeping a reader’s attention is to focus on thrilling that reader who is interested in your website at that moment.

Here are some tips to get you started writing better and more interesting copy for your web visitors.

Think Short

How many times have you thought to yourself, “I need to read that blog,” but you never go back to it? Or perhaps you have printed out articles you want to read, and yet they sit in a pile on your desk, unread. You must convince your web visitors to read right away. Short texts allow the visitor to read right away.

One rule of thumb for writing on your blog is to limit your blocks of text to four lines. If you spill over to a fifth line, your next line should be a single line, such as a single sentence or a heading. Chunks of text longer than four lines certainly work in a book, but they do not work for blog posts online.

But for a webpage, such as your home page, even four lines is too much.

Write Web Copy in First Person

Novelists know that the most intimate way to communicate directly with a reader is through the first-person point of view.

You want to communicate directly and intimately with your website readers, so write your web copy in first person.

The only exception is for authors who have to try especially hard to rank for their own names on Google.

For example, if you have the same name as a very famous person, write your copy in third person so that your name, rather than the pronoun “I,” shows up in the copy repeatedly. The repeated use of your full name tells Google that your website is the website people are looking for when they type your name.

You may also want to include testimonials on your site where people quote your name so that your name appears more often on your webpage.

Opening Lines

The first sentence in your web copy is even more important than the first line of your novel.

If a novel has an unconvincing opening line, the reader may muscle through the first line, the first paragraphs, and even the first chapter before giving up. The effort they’ve made to download or purchase the book provides just enough motivation to read beyond the first line.

However, a web visitor has made an infinitely smaller investment of time by clicking on your webpage. They are not usually willing to muscle through poorly written or unconvincing web copy. In a matter of seconds, they will click away onto something more interesting.

In seven seconds, your web copy needs to communicate three things.

  • Who you are
  • What you offer your reader
  • Why they should continue reading your website

If your website is hosted on a slow host and it takes several seconds for your page to load, those seconds are wasted, and you only have five seconds to grab your reader’s attention.

That is a big task for a short opening line, so be sure to think it through.

Don’t Use This Opening Line

I’ve seen it repeatedly over the years, and it’s the most uninteresting and unconvincing way to grab attention: “Welcome to my website. “It takes up another valuable second of your reader’s time, and it communicates nothing about who you are, what you offer, or why they should stay.

It doesn’t inspire, educate, entertain, or provoke your visitor. It’s like the “wah wah wah “of Charlie Brown’s teacher. You’ve done nothing but bore them, and the sentence is entirely about you, the author.

Your web visitor wants to know “what’s in it for me.” They want to know you will educate, entertain, inspire, or provoke them.

Sentences like “Welcome to my website” fail on all counts.

You can, however, earn more seconds of their time by thrilling them with your opening line. If you can immediately offer education, entertainment, inspiration, or provocation, they will give you several more seconds.

If you write humorous books, your goal is entertainment, and your first line should be entertaining.

If your books are deep, your first line should inspire or provoke your readers to deeper thinking.

Figure out what your books are about, and that will tell you what you need to offer on your website. If you need help discovering your brand, listen to our episodes on branding.

Test It

In ye olden days, circa 1995, people used to write on paper, but they had no idea when or where readers would stop reading. The magic of the digital age is that you can tell how long people have stayed on your website. E-readers even allow you to know when they stopped reading your book.

The Internet also allows you to split test your copy and see which opening line is more appealing to your readers.

Your Website is Not About You

It requires a major shift in thinking for most authors to realize that their website is for their readers. Readers do not visit your website as a favor. They visit because they believe you can do something for them.

A Case Study

Which person do you want to talk to?

“My name is James L Rubart. I have been a professional marketer for over 20 years. I’ve written over 1000 radio and television ads and website copy. I’ve consulted and trained many high-profile businesses as well as authors.”

Do you want to talk to that guy? Maybe.

But what if it was worded like this:

“My 20 years of marketing experience will help you build a powerful brand and reach more readers faster than you’ve ever dreamed.”

Which guy would you like to visit with? Which do you want to work with? You probably want to talk with a guy who can help you reach more readers. That is what he is offering you.

Whether you like it or not, you are a salesperson and a marketer. You have a product to present to people, and you must present it in a way that makes them say, “That’s exactly what I need. “

It doesn’t even matter whether you like your website. The only thing that matters is that your readers like your website.

Many authors approach their website the same way they approach buying a dress. They don’t want to be at a party with the same dress everyone else is wearing, but that is the wrong approach to your website’s text and design.

You should view your website the same way you view a car you’re considering purchasing. A car that works should get you from point A to point B. You want a reliable car, and if you look stylish while driving, that’s a bonus.

But a fancy car that can’t leave the driveway is a piece of junk.

Your website needs to work. It must move your reader from point A to point B. If the goal of your website is to sell your book, then focus on the benefits your reader will get from reading your book. If your story will thrill, focus on that benefit so that readers are convinced to buy your book.  

Focus on your reader.

Randy Ingram Manson, the owner of AdvancedFictionWriting.com, used to have the ugliest website you’ve ever seen. But since he was meeting the need of the readers visiting his website, the ugly design did not matter.

For years, I used him as an example of how content is so much more important than design. Eventually, I designed him a new website, so he no longer has the ugliest website in the world. But the improved design only increased his sales by a small margin. Even in the digital age, content is still king.

Use Headings

Long blocks of text scare readers away. Use headings to break up sections of text. On your homepage, you want to rely mostly on headings or bullet points that are easy for readers to scan.

If you’re using lots of commas, consider turning those phrases into bullet points. Web visitors are scanning and looking for bullet points to skim.

Communicate Through Images

You probably weren’t taught to use images in your writing. A typewriter did not allow authors to insert images, and if an image was necessary, they were expensive to print.

In this digital age, communicating with images is powerful, provocative, and inexpensive. Images engage different parts of the brain and unlock communication tools such as simile and metaphor.

Images can stop a person from scrolling. They can grab attention. Think about your own habits on Facebook. Are you more likely to stop scrolling for four lines of text or for an image that grabs your attention?

Consider how you can use an image to communicate the offer you’re making your reader.

If you’re not a great photographer, you can use stock photo sites like DepositPhoto.com. You can also use icons, or what used to be known as “clipart.” The Noun Project offers icons for nearly every noun you can think of.

Final Thoughts 

Writing interesting web copy takes practice. You won’t master it after listening to a 15-minute podcast. Copyblogger offers great resources for writers who want to learn how to write better web copy.

But if you only make one change to your copywriting habits, begin to put yourself in your reader’s shoes every time you write something for your website.

Remember that people don’t care about you. They care about themselves. Pretend you are a stranger visiting your website. The stranger cares about how you can make their life better. If you focus on that, everything else will be easier.

Novelists understand they must work and practice the craft of novel writing. With the same tenacity, you must practice the craft of writing excellent web copy.

Authors often believe they can easily write the copy because they are writers, after all. But learning how to write is like learning how to run. Learning to run is not like running a marathon, and running a marathon is different than sprinting. They all require different kinds of training.

Writing web copy is not like writing a book. It requires different training. If you have the time, learn the craft yourself. It will pay huge dividends. If you don’t have the time, consider hiring a professional to do it for you. Your website’s ability to attract and keep readers depends on it.

Liked it? Take a second to support Thomas Umstattd Jr. on Patreon!

Want more help?

Get a weekly email with tips on building a platform, selling more books, and changing the world with writing worth talking about. 

You have Successfully Subscribed!