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Copywriting Rules For Great Web Content

by Kale McClelland

Copywriting is the art of creating clear nonfiction prose for specific business and communications purposes - like advertising, sales copy, press releases, and similar items. Much of the writing you'll find online is simply copywriting that has been adapted to the special needs of the Internet.

Web copywriting follow certain guidelines:

1. Have a keyword phrase in mind. Without knowing exactly what you want the search engines to target, you don't even have a plan. Everything else hinges upon this critical phrase.

2. The title can make or break you. Your title needs to contain your keyword or keyword phrase first. An example of this would be: Widgets: Everything You Wanted To Know About Widgets. Note that the word Widgets is the first thing the search engine spider will fine. It will expect that the rest of the article to revolve around your keyword.

3. You will then want to write a short, great description for your description metatag. The description is what the search engine lists in the small paragraph accompanying the link and title. A clear, concise description is necessary to get a prospective visitor to click, so you really need to consider carefully and write clearly. Your metatag description should contain your keyword phrase as close to the beginning as you can possibly manage, and keep it short like 20 words or less or about two text lines. This is the introduction of your article.

4. Clear writing with short paragraphs and short sentences is vital for the web. Jakob Nielsen, the great usability guru, long ago stated that people looking at computer screens have much shorter attention spans than those looking at paper. He suggests that paragraphs be kept to about three or four sentences, that sentences be simple in structure, and that text should be broken into bullets and numbers.

If you find yourself writing long paragraphs, shorten them, or break them up. Same with sentences.

People want facts. Don't be artsy or write a bunch of fluff. Get to the point, and omit needless words.

S&W, available at provides an excellent reference for this. Read it - it's free and it will present the point clearly and quickly.

6. Standard rules of spelling, punctuation and grammar apply. Avoid kittespeak, hacker rap or texting shorthand except to punctuate a point and then only very rarely. Proofread everything and get a good spellchecker to minimize obvious typos.

7. Use the inverted pyramid structure popular with journalists and newspapers. Just like with newspapers, people seldom read all the way to the end unless it is very, very interesting. Get your facts in upfront. They will be skimming the rest which is why bullet and number lists are so popular - they are very skimmable. If you start with your most important fact first and work downward to the least important, you will be successful in communicating the most essential before the person starts skimming.

8. For sales copy, start with a compelling question. Because online readers don't read from beginning to end, you absolutely must capture their attention at the beginning. A great trick used by fiction writers is to start with a question the reader desperately wants answered, then don't answer it til the end. The trick is keeping the reader moving through your text in order to get to that answer. If you figure out how to do this well, you can break every other rule above whenever you want.

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Published March 25th, 2008

Filed in Home Business, Marketing

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