14.4 Long Copy
- Know what long copy is and how it should be used in online copywriting.
Online copywriting is not just about short, sharp, call-to-action copy; however, Web users tend to scan pages quickly to determine whether or not they will read further. Even when writing longer copy, you need to take this into consideration.
Longer online copy allows you to foster a relationship with a reader, whether it is on a blog, through e-mail communications, or through articles and news releases. With more words and space available to use, you are able to establish a voice and a personality to make your copy more convincing and personal.
Getting Read: Titles and Subject Lines
Titles and subject lines are there for a very important reason: they inform readers whether or not they are likely to want to read further by giving a sneak preview into what is to come in the article. They are the gateway to your content.
Consider the following two titles:
- Guide to Online Copywriting
- Ten Steps to Writing Online Copy That Sells
The second title conveys more information to the reader that helps the reader decide to read further. Minor word manipulation that tells the reader how he or she will benefit from reading that content can make a huge difference.
Subject lines are like titles for e-mails and can make the difference between an e-mail being deleted instantly and being opened and read. Subject lines also work hand in hand with the “from” field of an e-mail. Both fields usually appear side by side in an in-box and are used to determine relevance, familiarity, and trust.
Use a consistent and easy-to-recognize sender aliasThe name that is chosen to appear in the sender or “from” field of an e-mail.—the “from” field—so that readers can recognize your e-mails easily. With familiarity and trust established using this field, the subject line can be used more creatively, allowing you to build on the already-established relationships with your readers.
As with a title, use the subject line to make clear what the e-mail is about. For example, if there is a promotion in the e-mail, consider putting it in the subject line as well.
Titles, headlines, and subject lines need to be both persuasive and enticing. Consider what need your copy is meeting for your readers and express that first. Be honest and straightforward and never misrepresent the content of an e-mail as this will prevent readers from opening them in the future.
Copywriting for Search Engine Optimization
As well as the copy on the Web page, HTML (hypertext markup language) tags and metadata are also used by a search engine optimization (SEO)Aiming to improve rankings in search engines. copywriter. In addition to assisting you with structuring your content, these tags indicate relevancy and context to search engines. Some of the tags are used by screenreaders, and so they assist visitors with disabilities to access your content. The meta description can also be used by search engines on the search engine results pages (SERPsWhat you see when you perform a search on a search engine.).
A keyword refers to the word or words that are used in a search query on a search engine. Multiword keywords are sometimes referred to as key phrases.
The first step in SEO copywriting is keyword research. Having identified the themes of your Web site and Web pages, keyword research should be used to identify what keywords your target audience uses when searching for you.
Each page should be optimized for a primary key phrase and can be optimized for a secondary and tertiary key phrase as well. Usually a Web page is optimized for three key phrases but can be optimized for up to five (though only if the page is very long). Any more than that and you are better off creating new, niche Web pages.
In Chapter 6 "Search Engine Optimization", there is more detail on the process of keyword discovery and keyword selection.
The following are guidelines for using key phrases on a Web page:
Remember that each page on a Web site must have a unique URL (uniform resource locator), title, meta keywords, and meta description.
Each page on a Web site must have a unique URL, title, meta keywords, and meta description.
The main key phrase for the page should be used in the URL for the page. Often, the URL is generated from the page title, so using the key phrase in the page title should ensure that it is in the URL as well. This also helps readers to glance at the URL and get an idea what they are reading about.
The page title appears at the top of a user’s browser and should be able to tell the user (and the search engine spiders, of course) what the main theme of the page is. The page title is limited to sixty-six characters (including spaces). The key phrase should be used as close to the beginning of the title as possible—keeping it relevant and interesting.
The meta description is a short paragraph describing the page content. This summary is usually shown on the SERPs if it contains the search term searched for, which means that it needs to entice users to click through. The spiders use the meta description to deduce the topic of the page, and the use of targeted key phrases is important here. Copy is limited to no more than 166 characters (including spaces).
Keyword stuffing refers to putting too many keywords into the meta keywords’ tagging and using keywords that are not relevant to the Web page. Search engines can penalize this as a spam practice.
The meta keywords are a list of the words and phrases that are important on a Web page. The use of targeted key phrases is important here, but remember: no keyword stuffing. The meta keywords are limited to two hundred characters (including spaces). Take time to consider how to make this relevant as well as convincing enough to get a searcher to click on your page instead of your competitor’s.
Headings and Subheadings
Spiders assign more relevance to the text used in headings, so it is important to use your key phrases in the headings on your page. It also helps to structure your content.
Heading structures include the following:
<h1>Page heading. What the page content is about</h1>
<h2>Subheadings. “Chapters” of content breakdown</h2>
<h3>Information under the subheadings. Elaboration of main headings and more detail</h3>
Having a good heading hierarchy is important as spiders use it to move through your page. The hierarchy indicates what is more important and how the content is broken up. It also makes it easier for the reader to take in your content if it is arranged in a way that makes sense to her.
The number of times you use the key phrases is entirely dependent on how long the page of copy is. You want to optimize the page for the key phrases without their use being overt.
For SEO effectiveness, a page of Web copy should not be less than 250 words. On a 250-word page you could use the primary key phrase eight times (this includes use in metadata, headings, title, and body copy) and the secondary key phrase four times.
Why should you avoid requiring the user to scroll many times to read a page of content?
The average Web page should not be so long that the user needs to scroll and scroll to get to the end of it. If you find the page is getting exceptionally long, consider breaking it into different sections. This way you could add more pages of optimized copy focused on one theme, instead of one very long page. This also allows for you to optimize pages for more keywords, targeting various search queries.
Links to Your Optimized Page
The text used to link from one page to another is considered important by the search engine spiders, so try to ensure that your key phrase is used when linking to the optimized page. The anchor text of links should include the key phrase of the page being linked to and not the page being linked from.
Images: Alt Text and Title Tags
Alt text refers to the “alt” attribute for the IMG HTML (image HTML element) tag: this is the text that appears in the caption. It is used in HTML to attribute a text field to an image on a Web page, normally with a descriptive function, telling a user what an image is about and displaying the text in instances where the image is unable to load. While this is handy for readers, we also do it for another reason: search engine spiders can’t read images, but they can read the alt text. The image title tag is what shows when you hover with your mouse over an image and can also be read by the search engine spider. It also appears on a page where images may have been blocked or take time to load.
Neologisms and Buzzwords
Sometimes the World Wide Web is referred to as the “Wild Wild Web,” as it can seem to be an environment where anything goes. The ever-expanding numbers of social media participants play fast and loose with grammar.
With new services and products being developed daily, it can feel like the list of new words, and the new ways to use words, is building faster than you can keep up with it. Dictionaries and reference guides celebrate this regularly with a “word of the year,” usually one that has been in heavy use by the Internet audience for the three years preceding its entrance into a dictionary.
For example, in 2009, “unfriend” was voted the word of the year by the editors of the New Oxford American Dictionary, while “w00t” had its day in 2007 when it was featured on Merriam-Webster’s selection for word of the year.
Firefox is a free, open-source browser developed by the Mozilla Foundation. As well as having improved and safer browsing, you can download extensions that let you customize your browser. You can download it for free from http://www.mozilla.org.
Online services can quickly become verbs in everyday language, so we talk of “googling something” instead of “searching on Google” and of “friending someone” on Facebook rather than “adding someone as a Facebook friend.”
Always remember to tailor your content to your target audience. If your content is aimed at cutting-edge early adopters, then litter it with the latest buzz words. If your audience does not know the difference between Firefox and Internet Explorer, then be cautious when using one of these new words.
Users dictate the direction and content of your copy. It’s up to you to make it worth the read!
A Brief Synopsis on the Process of Writing
The following is a brief list of the steps for writing online copy:
- Research and understand your audience.
- Establish your tone using copy guidelines.
- Establish your business objectives (what your copy aims to achieve).
- Conceptualize the angle you will take to get this across in your copy and meet your business objectives.
- Write the framework, that is, the <h1> tags that will dictate the hierarchy of the content as well as a powerful title. Then elaborate in the body of the copy under the subheadings.
Things to Avoid
Even if you are a brilliant copywriter, the moment you stop sticking to online copy rules and regulations, your writing will hold very little weight on the search engine. These are some of the examples of bad practice that can have some very serious repercussions:
- Keyword stuffing. If you try to squash too many targeted phrases or keywords into a piece of copy, the search engine spiders will immediately pick this up, and you will stand the chance of being wiped right off the SERPs. Keyword stuffing makes copy sound forced and unnatural and is unpleasant to read. Stick to relevant content that offers the readers real value; this will naturally attract links and visitors.
- Misrepresented titles. Titles are often the first touch points that readers come across before deciding to pursue a page of copy. Therefore, they need to encompass what the page is about and get the gist of the content. Be sure to be true to your title; otherwise readers will feel cheated and taken advantage of and there is a strong chance that they will not want to visit again. Misrepresented titles breed mistrust—avoid this at all costs!
- Irrelevant content. No reader wants to go through the mission of searching a search engine only to land on a page that has no relevance to him. Your content will be seen as waffle, and you will lose authority as a credible source—in fact, you will probably chase many visitors away.
- Copywriting for SEO involves optimizing copy for select key phrases in order to give context to search engines. A page can be optimized for up to five key phrases, but it is usually optimized for three of them. SEO copywriting involves the metadata and title tags, as well as the copy that is read on a page.
- The dynamic nature of the Internet means that new words are entering a user’s vocabulary every day. For best copywriting, know your audience and use the language that resonates most strongly with them.
- Why should users dictate your content? List some ways that users’ needs determine content.
- For some real online copywriting practice, choose an article in a magazine or newspaper and rewrite it for an Internet audience.