Good web copy is boring

, . Filed under Web.

One of the most difficult things about writing web copy on a day to day basis is taking some text from a colleague and reforming it into an often brief missive.

Where have my lovely adjectives gone? is what they’re thinking but not saying. Most people are very polite and will save their disapproval for another time (or person. But I digress).

Untrained web writers often make these mistakes:

  • They assume that not having much to say about their product or service means it somehow lacks gravitas, substance &c.
  • They think words can mask the fact there’s not much content
  • They think that writing unadorned by adjectives is dull
  • They think that short, simple, active sentences are dull
  • They think that their adjectives enhance the description of their product or service; that they help paint a picture
  • They think bullet points, bolded keywords and short, bitty paragraphs look ugly

The problem with adjective–laden writing is that readers couldn’t care less whether your product is innovative and new _because they haven’t come across a product that is _unoriginal or dated in the last 10 years of browsing the web. These types of adjectives have less than zero meaning.

Readers want to know how the product you’re offering will help them, so a quick summary of its benefits will suffice. Structure this is in a way that helps them scan your text, paint pictures with, erm, pictures, and you’re pretty much there.

On paper (or screen) it may seem boring, and a million miles from the original author’s conception of their product, but your readers will appreciate it. Conversions really do increase after copy is stripped down to communicate a clear message.

Getting the boring message across

Ben Locker explains how clients don’t value simple copy. I try and demonstrate its purpose to colleagues by:

  • involving them in the content writing process by showing them drafts and explaining why I’ve made certain decisions
  • sitting them in on some simple, low–fi user testing. It doesn’t have to be related to whatever it is they’re interested in; witnessing how impatient real people are in real web situations is often an eye opener
  • getting them to perform a fact finding task using a real site which uses overly complicated copy (note their frustration)

The key is getting clients or colleagues to see with the user’s (or customer’s) eyes. It’s not easy, but it can help build trust and make future work a lot easier.