Even though we work with words, why is it so difficult to nail the copy on our websites?
As editorial business owners, it’s literally our job to help others write with precision and clarity … but writing for ourselves is a different kettle of fish.
It can be pretty uncomfortable writing about ourselves and – gasp – selling our services. We’re the tea-sipping, cardigan-wearing type. We’re not used to putting ourselves in the spotlight.
When I first set up my website, I scoured the internet to see what other people were doing. I read as many articles as I could find about what to put on a business website. My website has changed over the years as I’ve taken on some pieces of advice and reject others, followed my instincts and experimented – and it will keep evolving as I keep learning.
After being in the business for a good few years and helping a fair number of editors set up their own websites, I have some ideas on ways editorial business owners can improve their website copy.
Here are a few tips.
Focus on what your clients need, not what you want
It’s a common mistake to think your website should be all about you. It may seem that prospects are coming to your site to learn more about you and your editorial services, but they’re actually sussing out whether or not you can help them with what they need.
It’s a subtle but important difference.
I’ve seen editors write copy like this on their websites:
It’s my aim to help you write the best book possible. Nothing pleases me more than turning tangled prose into something beautiful. I love romance and mystery novels, and I would be so excited to work with manuscripts in these genres. Working with books is my dream. I can’t wait to hear from you.
The passion that comes across here is admirable, but this copy makes it seem as though the author will be doing the editor a favour by hiring them. That already puts you in a weakened position when it comes to negotiating the terms of the potential project.
But the prospect might not even decide to get in touch after reading copy like this. Why? Because it doesn’t easily get across what the client is looking for. It’s all about the editor and what they want. Remember, the prospect is trying to determine how you can help them – not how they can help you.
It’s important to consider the client’s aims, since they’ll likely differ from yours. You might want to help someone write ‘the best book possible’ but they might just want someone to tidy up their grammar and punctuation.
Saying that, it’s also important that your website copy and the services you offer appeal to clients that match the vision you have for your business. For instance, no matter how good a proofreader you are, you won’t be able to help an author improve the foundations of their text by correcting typographical errors! Make sure your services match your website copy, and both match the aims you have for your business.
On top of considering the aims of your prospects, it doesn’t matter to the client whether you enjoy your job (though I suppose it’s nice to know); they want to know that you can do your job.
So if you’re going to talk about why you love being an editor, make sure it’s not the focus of your copy. Prove first that you’re competent, capable and can help the client with their needs, then throw in a few personal touches to help prospects connect with you.
Be transparent about who you are
If you don’t have a team of editors working with you, don’t try to give the impression that you do. You might think it gives you more authority, but if people see through the façade it won’t reflect well on you.
If you’re the only person in your business, that’s completely fine. Be open and honest about this fact. By doing so, you’ll demonstrate that you’re trustworthy. And people want to hire people they trust.
There are pros and cons of running a one-person business, just as there are pros and cons of running a business with a large team of people. Some people like to hire bigger companies, but others like to hire individuals, since this often means getting a more personal service. It makes sense to try to appeal to potential clientele that match the kind of business you’re running.
On your website, write your copy from your own viewpoint using ‘I’ instead of ‘we’ if it’s just you in your business. Mix this in with plenty of ‘you’ statements (e.g. ‘Are you looking for a proofreader?’), and your website copy will read like a conversation between you and your potential client rather than an impersonal sales pitch.
Don’t use the phrase ‘make your words shine!’
Or sparkle, or gleam, or any variation of this. I must admit – this phrase drives me bonkers.
I imagine this metaphor comes from the idea of editing and proofreading being the equivalent of ‘polishing’ a piece of text, but there are two huge problems with this.
Firstly, I see this metaphor being used all the time.
Which means if you use it, you’re going to sound like every other editor out there – and that’s not a good thing. You want your website copy to reflect the nuances, personality and values only your business brings to the table. By standing out in this way, it will make it easier for your ideal clients to choose your business over the competition.
Secondly, it doesn’t connect with the needs of the client.
And this makes it weak copy. One of the lessons I learned from taking some of Ash Ambirge’s amazing copywriting courses (sadly no longer available) is to tailor your copy to solve the specific problems your clients are facing.
Ash uses a method she calls the ‘wake up sweaty’ test. What are the exact thoughts that wake your potential clients up at night in a cold sweat? These are the problems you want to indicate you can solve.
Writers do not worry about how shiny their words are. They don’t lay awake at night thinking, ‘Oh god, what if people don’t think my sentences sparkle enough?’ They might worry about typos making them look unprofessional, sure, but does this over-used metaphor get this idea across in the best way?
Here’s one of the best editing metaphors I’ve come across:
When an author’s text is clear and accessible to readers, it’s like a key that turns easily in a lock. The reader can open the door and step inside the author’s world.
Brittany Dowdle, Word Cat Editorial Services
Not only do I think this is an original and beautifully written image, but it gets across one of the main concerns potential clients might have. ‘What if readers don’t connect with my writing?’ Brittany presents the solution elegantly: a clear and accessible text (made so by editing) allows readers to fully enjoy the author’s writing.
I hope this has got you thinking about how you might tweak the copy on your website to make it more effective. In essence, keep the needs of your clients in mind and write with honesty and originality.
If you’d like more help creating or revamping the website for your editorial business – from setting up your hosting and domain, to designing your site and filling it with content – take a look at my online course: The Visible Editor.