How to turn dry text into fresh, digestible words
Is your website text about as much fun as gridlock traffic?
Are you getting lost in industry jargon and acronym land?
Or do you have trouble translating your knowledge into words that the layperson will understand?
Complex subject matter and seamless communication don’t always go hand in hand, and finding the intersection between the two is a delicate balance. It’s about putting yourself in your audiences’ shoes, untangling the topic and injecting personality.
I know, it sounds like a lot to juggle. But taking these 10 simple actions will help to clarify your message.
Done well, you’ll be on the way to educating your audience and genuinely building connections. And isn’t that what we’re all here for?
Let’s jump in.
1. Check your contractions
Contractions are the shortened form of a word. It’s replacing “you are” with “you’re”, “they are” with “they’re” and “have not” with “haven’t.” The list goes on.
Using contractions helps you appear friendly, human and approachable. Why? Because you’re writing how you speak.
Read through your content and contract words where necessary. To make the process quicker, use the Microsoft word “find and replace” tool.
2. Shorten sentences
Keep your sentences short, sharp and snappy.
By writing unnecessarily long sentences, your message can drown in a sea of flowery language. Here’s a quick example…
Bad: Raised garden beds are an absolutely great and practical way to grow a small plot of vegetables as they help to prevent the occurrence of weeds, avoid compaction from footsteps, improve drainage and prevent pests like slugs and snails from taking over.
Good: Raised garden beds are a great way to grow vegetables. They improve soil drainage and prevent weeds, pests and soil compaction.
Don’t be afraid of the full stop. Just like the example above, break up long sentences into two short ones and remove flowery or redundant words.
3. Use plain english
Are you using words like discombobulated, obstreperous and unabashed?
Well, maybe not those exact words. But this point is all about minimising big, technical words that don’t speak to your target audience.
After all, your audience are likely busy, tired and life-living people. They’re on your website looking for a quick solution to their problem — not to read a technical report.
If there’s a smaller word for something, use it. For example…
1. Buy instead of purchase
2. Help instead of assist
3. End instead of terminating
4. Extra instead of additional
Run through your content and replace large words with plain, everyday English.
4. Use imagery
Images break up text, enhance your message and keep your audience engaged. But there’s a fine balance: there should be enough images to support your point, but not so overdone that it looks like a Pinterest board.
Choose images that complement your message and add them to your content. The recommended number of images for each web page and blog post varies, but there should be enough to avoid any large slabs of text.
Prefer I put a number on it? One image per 200 words is my rule of thumb.
5. Use subheaders
The internet is full of serial scanners.
They’re the people who sweep over your content and decide whether it’s worth pursuing.
Rather than having large slabs of text, subheaders help to keep these serial scanners engaged. They guide them down the page and tell them what they can expect within each section.
Done well, subheaders keep your audience scrolling, clicking and interacting.
Add subheaders throughout your content to give insight into the content that follows. Always follow through with what the subheader promises.
When you’re writing your subheaders, prioritise clarity over creativity. It should give your audience good insight about what’s to come (rather than leave them befuddled).
6. Add white space
Ah, the power of white space.
Just like we think clearer in a clutter-free space, your content will be a whole lot sharper when it has empty space around it. Add it between images, text, headings and subheadings to give those snappy one-liners a chance to sink in.
Go through your content and make sure your line spacing is at least 1.5. Add a little extra space around headings, images and subheadings, too.
7. Use footnotes for citations
When you’re writing about a complex topic, it’s often necessary to link to further research, articles or resources. This is a great idea because it builds authority, helps with SEO and shows your audience you’ve done your research (and not just published any old thing). Win, win, win.
But adding lengthy links within the text can appear clunky and disrupt the flow. Enter, footnotes.
Remove all clunky links within the text and replace them with footnotes, followed by a detailed reference list down the bottom of the page. This will give those eager beavers an option to learn more (without disrupting the text for everybody else).
8. Avoid jargon
Unless you have a very niche target audience who understands your industry, avoid jargon and acronyms like pineapple on a pizza (gross). If you need to use them to explain your point, make sure you spell out what they mean first.
For example, I might talk about SEO. But the first time I mention it I’ll explain that it stands for Search Engine Optimisation (which is building and writing your website in a way that helps you rank on Google).
See what I did there?
Go through your content and pinpoint any areas where you’ve used industry jargon. Replace this with language the layperson will understand.
If you’ve been in your industry for a while and you’re having trouble separating what’s industry knowledge and what’s common knowledge, ask someone else (outside of your industry) to read it. If they understand it, you’re in the clear.
Adding an author bio box at the bottom of your blog post content does a world of good. It builds credibility, improves SEO and adds a human touch to your writing. It serves as a reminder that the words we’re reading have been lovingly put together by a real human.
If your content is missing a bio, add one at the bottom. Include a quick summary of what you do, why you do it and who you do it for. Keep it brief (ahem, don’t list every single qualification you’ve done) and put a face to the name with a photo.
10. Inject personality
Here comes the most cliché (yet relevant) saying of them all: be yourself.
If I sat down for coffee with you and asked about your business, I bet the words would naturally flow. But often, when we’re tasked with the job of writing about ourselves (shudder) we freeze.
Inject personality into your content by writing how you speak. Be fearlessly authentic. And if you’re worried people will think differently of you? Well, they aren’t your people.
Read your content aloud and ask yourself, is this how I would talk to a friend or colleague? If not, it might be time to humanise your content and sprinkle in your quirks.
These 10 actionable tips will help you view your website copy through the eyes of an engaging copywriter.
Share them with your colleagues.
And hey, if you’re proud of your copy transformation after you’ve followed these steps, I’d love to hear about it.
Finally, this isn’t every ingredient that makes up fresh and delicious website copy. And they won’t necessarily apply to *every* business. But it’s a great place to start.
If you’d like more feedback, my Short Stroller Website Review allows you to bring forward your website problems, then I’ll provide easy, tailored directions to improve it.
Sam is an environmental copywriter and storyteller for conscious brands. Based on the Mornington Peninsula, she’s a former environmental scientist, barefooted nature lover and SEO geek with a knack for writing clear, heart-led and personality-packed words (that also wiggle their way into Google’s good books).