Building Your Business on the Web (Part Two): Turning Online Visitors into Customers

Q&A with Rick Sloboda, Senior Web Copywriter for Webcopyplus

(Part two of a two-part series. Also see Generating Online Traffic.)

clip_image002So you’re getting people to your website, which was covered in Generating Online Traffic, the first part of this two-part series. Now, how do you turn these visitors into customers? Rick Sloboda, Senior Web Copywriter at Webcopyplus, which produces professional Web copy for businesses around the globe, including Scotia Bank and AT&T, answers your questions.

How important is the first impression on a website?

It’s essential. Studies show you have no more than a few seconds to make a positive first impression on the Web – and as little as .55 seconds. Your website should have a clean, appealing design, with relevant, engaging and informative Web copy, and intuitive navigation and information flow. If you don’t answer key questions right off the bat, Google, Yahoo and Bing will take your visitor to a competitor that does.

What are the key questions?

Am I at the right place? Can these guys help me? What makes these guys different? Several factors are already at play. For instance, is the design professional looking, does it generate trust and credibility? If you get your niece or nephew to do website design and development for $500, chances are it’ll show. That’s like selling retail products or consulting services from a lemonade stand. Also, is your Web copy clear and customer centric? Does it explain why people should choose you over competitors? Or is it full of self-centered, empty hype? Business owners need to that when a person arrives at your website, the visitor doesn’t really care about your business. They care about what your business can do for them.

That’s where experienced copywriters and marketers come into play?

Whether you write the web copy yourself, or hire a copywriter, make sure you flesh out and promote your benefits. Most business owners and copywriters write exclusively about features – what the product or service is, or has. Benefits are what the visitor gains as a result of the features. For instance, binoculars might have oversized lenses. Fine. But what will engage a visitor is the fact that they deliver low-light performance.

Benefits engage people emotionally, which is how we make decisions. We then rationalize decisions logically. For instance, does a person really need a $120,000 luxury vehicle? No. They might desire it for status, which is an emotional desire. And then they’ll justify it with rational, practical reasons, such as cutting edge brake technology, safety rankings, and so on. Benefits appeal to a person’s self-interest, and get people to act. People purchase things for three basic reasons: to satisfy needs; solve problems; or make themselves feel good. That’s why experienced copywriters often say, “Features tell, benefits sell.”

If benefits are so important, why do most websites promote features?

Because it’s easier to list features. A copywriter has to really understand a product or service, and have a good marketing mind, to define and convey benefits effectively.

So isn’t it better for a business owner to write their own web copy, as they know their business best?

Well, most people can write. But most people can also take photos. Take your own photos, and chances are you’ll have an amateurish website representing your business. The same goes for copywriting. Moreover, business owners tend to write what they want to say rather than what website visitors need to hear. A copywriter can bring an objective view to the table.

How much information is necessary on websites?

It varies. For instance, if you’re in fashion selling perfume, and want to build presence and nurture a brand, a few words might do. Visuals would play a key role. But, if you’re actually trying to get visitors to purchase a product from your website, or sell a subscription to a publication or software, you’d need a lot more web copy to make the sale.

As a general rule, web copy should be about half of what you’d use in traditional print, such as brochures. This is partly because it’s harder to read content on monitors and handhelds, and people tend to be impatient and easily distracted when using the Web. So it’s good to keep web copy concise.

What other elements are important to engage and convert visitors?

Since about 80% of people scan copy on the web, meaning they don’t read word for word, it’s helpful to provide visitors web copy in digestible chunks. To achieve this, web copywriters and designers often apply information layering techniques, using links to let visitors drill down to get more detailed information. It allows visitors to quickly access info relevant to their needs, without having to wade through huge chunks of text.

In line with keeping web copy lean and clean, you should kill any filler and clichés. Also, keep the language at about a grade 8 to 10 level, which is in line with Time and Newsweek, so you don’t alienate visitors. And include lots of testimonials. Third-party endorsements effectively generate trust, credibility and sales. Just edit them down to a sentence or two, and be sure to include a full name and city, when possible. A vague “John S.” reeks of spam on the already suspect Web. 

And, finally, ask for the sale. What do you want visitors to do? Whatever it is, it’s in your best interest to ask. This is your call to action. We might be writing copy for the cutting edge Internet, but the old-fashioned ‘ask for the sale’ still applies.

Note: This is the second of a two-part series. Also see Generating Online Traffic.


Rick Sloboda is a Senior Web Copywriter at Webcopyplus, which helps designers and businesses boost online traffic, leads and sales with optimized web content. Clients range from independent retailers to some of the world’s largest service providers, including AT&T (formerly Cingular), Quest Diagnostics and Scotia Bank. Rick advocates clear, concise and objective website content that promotes readability and usability, and conducts web content studies with organizations in Europe and the U.S., including Yale University. He speaks frequently at web-related forums and seminars, including Small Business BC, Content Convergence & Integration, SUCCESS and HRMA. Rick also serves as a consultant to various organizations, such as the Web Development Advisory Committee at Vancouver, B.C.’s Langara College.

By Adam

June 02, 2010