If your website content does not engage and convert, then your website is a waste of time and money — even if you have a great website design. To ensure your website copy makes a positive impact on your audience, put the following best practices to use.
Format Your Content for Easy Scanning
According to the Nielsen Norman Group — a leading user experience consulting group — 79% of people do not actually read content online. Instead, they scan and pick up words and phrases as they go. Accordingly, Nielsen Norman suggests formatting your content to make it as easy as possible for visitors to scan your site, while also conveying the information you believe is most valuable. Some of the best ways to format for scannability include:
- Writing engaging headlines and subheads
- Using bulleted lists
- Highlighting key words or phrases (e.g., using bold, different color text, hyperlinks)
- Using succinct language
- Incorporating graphics to break up heavy blocks of text
- Diversifying content through use of images, infographics and video
Follow the Inverted Pyramid Writing Style
Also according to Nielsen Norman research, users prefer to first read a summary or conclusion before diving into the body of a web page. Avoid writing introductory paragraphs that are full fluff. Instead, introduce your conclusion at the outset, then provide supporting information that entices your website visitor to read (scan) further.
Write to Your Audience, Not to the Search Engines
Optimizing your content for search engines is important, but you need make smart choices when it comes to how you optimize your site. Google no longer rewards repetitive use of overly optimized phrases (e.g., Chicago Personal Injury Lawyer), and people don’t like to read it, either.
You can succeed, however, if you focus on your audience. When you write, write to your prospective clients, not search engines. Craft each page around a single idea or concept. If you write thoroughly and smartly about that topic, the keywords will flow naturally and the search engines will follow.
Think about Your Mobile Audience
According to comScore’s 2014 U.S. Mobile App Report, mobile users now account for 60% of all online traffic. This means you need to put mobile users’ needs to work when writing your content. Keep two things in mind:
- Mobile users are impatient. They want to quickly find the information they are seeking. Let them know they have found the right resource immediately upon landing on your site. Write engaging headlines that grab their attention. Follow those headlines with short, succinct sentences and paragraphs. Avoid filler content. Do not use overt marketing phrases.
- Mobile screens are small. There is very little room on a mobile screen when compared to desktop monitors. Nielsen Norman recommends prioritizing content in a way that helps mobile viewers find what they want without having to wade through unnecessary text. Determine what your most important message is and then make sure you deliver that information first.
Answer Your Prospective Clients’ Questions
I cannot emphasize this enough. When you write your website copy, address your prospective clients’ concerns. If you answer their most pressing questions, your website will convert those prospects into clients.
Tell Your Readers What to Do Next
One item that all great law firm websites have in common is a clear call to action — telling the reader what his or her next step is. Do not leave it up to your readers to decide what they should do once they land on your website. Explicitly state what you want them to do, and then make it easy for them to do it.
Two More Content Best Practices for Lawyers
While the above best practices apply to all websites, here are two recommendations geared specifically to lawyers seeking to write their own website content:
- Stop using legalese. Your website is a marketing tool meant to attract prospective clients. It will not succeed if you use legal terms of art or write in the same way you would write a legal brief. One way to help you focus on marketing writing instead of legal writing is to pretend you are talking with a good friend. This will make your content more conversational and engaging. It will also keep your content at a more accessible grade level. This is important, as Jakob Nielsen of the Nielsen Norman Group estimates that 30% of Internet users have low literacy.1 Another way to keep your content free of jargon is to write in plain English. This particular style of writing is extremely precise and persuasive, but takes some practice to do it properly. Here’s a list of 39 rules to get you started down the path of writing in plain English.
- Remember your ethical obligations. As mentioned above, your website is a marketing tool. As such, it should comply with rules regarding ethics in advertising. Don’t make promises about representation or results. Don’t be misleading in any way. Provide disclaimers where necessary to make it clear you are not providing individual legal counsel with your general legal marketing copy. Also state that any contacts from your website do not automatically create an attorney-client relationship. Finally, write honestly. As one lawyer stated during a conversation about online marketing and lawyer ethics, “If you wouldn’t feel comfortable being questioned about your posts in a deposition, you shouldn’t put it there.”
Put these best practices to work when writing (or rewriting) your website content, and you can create better website copy that engages your audience and encourages prospective clients to act. Above all, keep in mind the one central theme running through each of these practices: write as clearly as possible for your audience. Your site will be better for it.
Originally published 2014-12-04.
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You can check the grade level of your content through the Spelling & Grammar feature of your preferred word processing program. ↩