How to Write Effectively Online

EngageTitle

Much of the available advice on how to write effective copy for your online business urges you to engage your readers and suggests how this might be done: build a relationship; make them feel comfortable; demonstrate your understanding; show your skills; invite them to subscribe; use their language; know their pain points; highlight your experience; appeal to their sensitivities and so on.

But in terms of the actual writing, what does all this really mean?

This post focuses on 5 concrete ways to increase reader engagement in your online copy, with ‘before’ and ‘after’ examples that show you how it’s done.

After reading, I hope you can review and edit your own online copy to make it more engaging.

Writing engaging online copy

TIP # 1: keep it simple

Creative entrepreneurs are usually overflowing with ideas and enthusiasm about their offerings. The problem is, this doesn’t necessarily translate into engaging online copy.

Engaging online copy is clear and concise. The clearest sentences are often short and convey a single idea, although longer sentences can work if carefully phrased (and see below Tip # 3: rule of three). Dot points can be helpful in focussing readers’ attention.

Example

I’m grateful to Katie Bennett, talented photographer and director at www.embellysh.com.au, for allowing me to share from our writing collaboration.

One of Katie’s signature offerings is Y Session photography, designed for entrepreneurs who want out-of-the-box creative images to help build a strong online presence.

Before – Katie’s rough notes

Reading Katie’s rough notes, you can feel her creativity, passion and energy. We agreed, however, that the message needed to be simplified in order to be more effective as online copy.

KatiesNotes

Katie’s notes: passionate & energetic

After – draft 1, simplified and more engaging
KatiesFinal

Our first draft: clear & focussed

Note: the last sentence in draft 1 is relatively long, but I think we get away with it thanks to the rule of three. See TIP # 4 below.

TIP # 2: use verbs

You may recall from school that verbs are ‘doing words’.

If most readers of your business website are potential clients, remember that clients need things to be done. Engage them instantly by using verbs to show them that your products and/or services do something for them.

Example

Directed by Nicky Leonti, Tiny Chefs (tinychefs.com.au) is an innovative online business that assists Early Years teachers to include lessons and activities in gardening and health for  3-8 year olds.

This copy engages readers through the use of carefully selected verbs:

TinyChefsVerbs500

Carefully selected verbs are highlighted to engage readers

The verbs offers, saves, provides, includes, facilitates and ensures come from the discourse of education, and therefore speak directly to Tiny Chefs’ potential clients: teachers. These dot points clearly show that Tiny Chefs provides products and services that represent comprehensive support. This is exactly what teachers need and therefore engages them as they read.

TIP # 3: use questions

The use of questions in online copy can engage readers by showing that you understand the problems they are facing – and can solve them. In mirroring readers’ own thoughts, the use of questions makes copy effective through being personal.

Example

Here’s another extract from Tiny Chefs:

TinyChefsAllQs500

Questions engage readers by mirroring their thoughts

You can ‘reverse engineer’ a draft list of questions for your copy by brainstorming the products and services your business offers, then creating a question for each one.

TIP # 4: follow the rule of three

Pro copywriter Steve Plummer (steveplummer.com) taught me the rule of three. According to Wikipedia,

“The Rule of Three is a writing principle that suggests that things that come in threes are inherently funnier, more satisfying, or more effective than other numbers of things … 

The reader … is also more likely to consume information if it is written in groups of threes …

A series of three often creates a progression in which the tension is created, built up, and finally released. Similarly, adjectives are often grouped in threes to emphasize [sic] an idea.”  

(my emphasis)

Examples

The following examples show the rule of three at work:

  • in a phrase
  • in a sentence
  • twice in one sentence
  • in a paragraph
  • in a tagline
Chefs3

Rule of three – a phrase
Source: Tiny Chefs (tinychefs.com.au)

AJG3

Rule of three – a sentence
Source: Alison J Green: Editor | Proofreader | Writer (alisonjgreen.com)

Embellysh3

Rule of three: twice in a sentence
Source: Embellysh (embellysh.com.au)

KateToon3

Rule of three – in a paragraph
Source: Kate Toon Copywriter (katetooncopywriter.com)

MGBanner655

Rule of three – in a tagline
Source: The Micro Gardener (themicrogardener.com)

TIP # 5: use the present tense

I deliberately use the present tense on my Get a Quote page when describing to potential clients what happens when we work together.

I could have used ‘will’ to outline the steps involved, but the present tense adds immediacy to the writing and the sense that the actions involved are happening right now. I use the present tense to engage my readers by subtly positioning them to feel that we’re already working together. From here, the step to actually working with me is relatively small.

Here’s a table where you can directly compare ‘will’ with the present tense. Or, you can see the examples in context here. Can you sense the difference?

willTable

Which of these 5 tips strikes you as the most effective? What other methods do you use in order to engage your readers online? Feel free to share this post in your online business networks.

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Comments

  1. Hey Alison, just found this blog via an image search for myself. Embarrassing but true! Thanks for featuring my home page snippet, nice to know I’m doing something right.

  2. Great article. I will bookmark and refer back to it!! Thanks

  3. I’m a big fan of the rule of three! I never thought about the power of using the present tense. This is a great tip to put into practice! Thanks for sharing!

  4. Alison Hirst says:

    Comfort, quality and great customer service! Yes, it could be me I’m describing but in fact it is a B&B I’ll be staying at in England later this year. I had no conscious idea of the rule of 3 either Alison. Thanks for enlightening me!
    Alison

  5. great tips – thanks!
    I never knew about the rule of three, so will try to employ it. And great reminders about the other ways to engage, understand and connect with your readers. (see what I did there? 😉 )

  6. These are great tips! I especially like the use of present tense; I hadn’t considered the difference before. Thanks for sharing, Alison!

    • It’s great that my tips have taught you something new, Anne. Thanks for taking the time to comment. Feel free to sign up for my weekly posts – they often include writing tips.

  7. The rule of three is my favorite. As a former TV writer, I have a love affair with this rule! 🙂

    • Hi Camesha, thanks for your comment. I’m finding that since I’ve been thinking about it, I’m seeing the rule of three everywhere: from book titles to advertisements to movies etc. Enjoy the Easter weekend.

  8. Alison great tips… I struggle with simplicity… it all makes sense. Thanks cheers Di

    • Hi Di, you’re definitely not alone in struggling with simplicity, and I’m glad you like this tips. This Friday’s post also covers how to simplify long and ‘heavy’ sentences, so please check it out. Feel free to sign up to be sure you don’t miss it. And I’d be more than happy to offer suggestions on how you could simplify a piece of your writing – complimentary of course. Alison 🙂

  9. Funny, I felt this post was speaking directly to me. I struggle with simplifying and present tense. The present tense examples are particularly helpful. I am going to post these tips right next to my computer. Thanks for the tips!

    • Paul, I’m so glad these tips make sense for you. It’s a great idea to post them on your desk – and that starts me thinking about another type of resource I can give my readers: desktop reminders. It’s so easy to forget about these things if they’re not right in front of you when you write. Write well!

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