Cut the BORING Out of the Web Copy

Ever have to write a few dozen, 100, even 1000 web pages on a very similar topic? Then you’ve likely discovered what I consider to be one of the biggest challenges for a web copywriter: overcoming zombie writing. Starting off with a compelling argument and interest in the first couple of pages isn’t an obstacle. You may have adequately mustered the essential excitement for the project or topic, but after a half dozen pages or so you might notice a pall roll in and settle like a fog over the first few sentences of each page. It all sounds the same: same tone, same lackluster transitions, same so-so lead-in.

Web copywriting is significantly different from print copy for this reason: if you don’t engage your target audience within a few seconds of a page view, they are gone–they’ve clicked away because they already know there are many more search engine results from which to choose …back there with one quick click of the BACK button.

You can make ANY topic appealing, over and over again if you

  • know how this frustrating zombie web copy cycle works,
  • how to recognize it immediately when you’re stuck in it,
  • own up to it and
  • overcome it.

Know when to amputate. Write your boring few sentences, or even your entire tortuous paragraph. Then cut it off, amputate it. Start reading from a few sentences down or a paragraph in and I think you’ll start to see a more compelling start to the page. But don’t be afraid to just begin writing the boring stuff–you may need a running start. Just be ready to lop it off in favor of a stronger start. In fiction writing a common tactic is to enter in the middle of the story or a scene (in media res). Doesn’t make complete sense for informational web copy, but you get the idea…be there already on topic and diving in, you can backfill later.

Formulate a keyword targeted headline. The webpage is not unlike an advertisement: your reader arrived via any number of links that likely were promising a particular piece of information. If you don’t make that clear–that you will deliver on this soon, they’re gone. The headline will not get it done alone on general web copy (it can be THE most important element on a piece of sales copy or a landing page, however). But pay particular attention to the headline and the subsequent subheads.

Take frequent short breaks. If you’re on a large website project — a few dozen, 100, even 1000 pages of web copy — you will need to keep your brain and body alert and firing in all directions. Stretch, step outside, grab a coffee or juice, exercise or just take a quick break for a different project, a blog post of your own, or even grab a read of your favorite magazine or a chapter in a book you’ve been reading. Nothing long that’s going to completely wipe your brain slate clean, mind you.

Get inspired by photos: If you’ve ever checked out the reference shelves in the bookstore you may have seen a book or two designed to unblock writer’s block. Most of them have photos and other images intended to disrupt your mental state or inspire fresh ideas and thoughts. You dont’ necessarily have to invest in a book. You can simulate the same with a cruise through Morguefile.com or iStockphoto.com archives.

Let copy rest overnight. I’ve rewritten entire chunks of copy after I’ve let it rest overnight. I come back to it fresh, with editor’s eyes and much more able to attack it objectively. Here you start to smooth out confusing copy and punch up the point you’re trying to make. If you couldn’t see the true beginning of the copy yesterday, then today you will.

The goal is to get the audience as into the topic as possible immediately. If you can muster some excitement for the topic even better.

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