Q/ Should I acknowledge Covid-19 on my business website?
Of course – well, probably. While the temptation may have been to avoid mention of it altogether, your customers need to be informed about your business now more than ever. One of the basic principles of web content writing / copywriting is clear and open comms – so, to the best of your ability, let people know what your current and future plans are.
Even now, countless business have not updated their websites – possibly because they don't have ready access to their content management systems, but, more likely, they're too busy or don't know what to say.
Q/ So what kind of website content is appropriate in the midst of the coronavirus crisis?
If you own a business with a web presence – and upwards of 60 per cent of businesses do – your world will probably have been turned upside down over the past few months.
In the race to try and ensure cash flow didn’t dry up, staff were looked after, supply chains kept functioning and orders were met, it would have been forgivable to overlook the role of your website as a communications tool.
But a tool to communicate what, exactly? This can be a truly baffling question for some business owners.
Let’s look at it from the customer’s perspective:
Your website and the content it contains is your customer's window on your business.
To put it another way – your website (alongside any social media messaging you may be putting out) gives your audience a glimpse into your world. Possibly the only real, live view of what you're up to.
So what kind of message do you want to give them?
The kind of website content that you or your copywriter/web content writer should be putting out right now will be different for every business, and it definitely requires some thought putting into it. If you don’t have a dedicated writer to take care of your web content and you opt to do it yourself, here’s a few considerations...
1/ Pause. You’ve had a chaotic few months. For most businesses, it will have been horrible – and the prospect for things getting better any time soon may be slim. Don’t write anything before you’ve weighed up the benefits of writing it and you’ve developed a clear idea of what you want to say.
2/ Write it offline. It’s all too easy to load up your Squarespace or Wix site and start hammering away – don’t. Far better to write it offline, run it through a spell-checker, maybe show it to a friend or two and then sleep on it before posting.
3/ Remember that the whole world is having a rough time, too. Because of that, you might want to think twice before you start your 10,000-word, get-it-off-your chest blog posting about the horrors of what you’ve been through. This is only my opinion, of course, but I would suggest there’s a couple of better approaches…
4/ Be open. This is your opportunity to keep your customers informed about any issues you are facing. Yes, they want to know if there will be delays to orders (and why), but your first goal is to let people see that you are indeed still open for business. I would argue that any website which makes no mention of the coronavirus is at risk of looking like it has actually gone out of business – especially if it is a small e-commerce site. Might potential customers think they’re looking at the online version of a ghost town and go in search of a website that looks like there’s someone actually still running it?
5/ Be positive. If you’ve been able to fulfil all your orders, why not say so? If you’ve been able to keep all your staff and not had to make use of the government’s furloughing scheme, consider shouting about that. New stock, new lines, innovative ideas that you’ve had about supporting the community or changing the way you work – in all likelihood, these are all worth sharing (without being boastful).
If you can find the right words to let your customers know that you’re soldiering on and doing everything you can to keep the trains running on time (so to speak), they’ll likely be impressed by your positivity.
Q/ I want a real-life example of this kind of web content writing in action!
Let's pick a product at random – let's say you run a brand of organic hair care products. We'll make some other assumptions:
1/ You're selling via supermarket retailers and you're also selling D2C via your website.
2/ Stocks have been getting through, but you're wary of delays within the supply chain.
3/ You've moved some of your staff – marketing and sales – to work on production in your warehouse.
We can broadly break down the website content you might want to create into three areas:
Starting with informative, something like the following may be appropriate:
Important covid-19 update!
We wanted to let you know that we ARE currently able to fulfil all supermarket and online orders – you should still be able to find us in Tesco, Asda and Waitrose. If you’re having trouble locating any of our organic products, you can order them direct from us – to make this easier, we are now offering free delivery for all orders over £20.
When ordering for home delivery, we will let you know at the checkout – i.e. before you complete your purchase – when we expect to be able to get your order on its way to you. This gives you the opportunity to change your mind if you feel that the wait time is too long.
The manufacture of our products is dependent on more than 20 key ingredients from all around the world, and while some supplies have been slower to arrive than others, we believe – based on current information – that this will not impact on our manufacturing process or our orders in the coming weeks. If that changes, we will let you know on our website.
Something like the above would likely put customers' minds at rest, bring them up to speed – and show that you are still very much open for business.
Moving on to brand-building, you may find space on the website or your blog to explain how you have been able to keep all of your staff and find plenty of work for everyone by moving some of your office-based team into production. You might talk about how this was a gratifying alternative to furloughing, perhaps detailing how you arranged round-the-clock shift-work and re-arranged the production plant to ensure no two people need to work right next to each other. Maybe you could evoke some of the team spirit you're trying to embrace – possibly with a photo or two of the employees in action?
There is an opportunity in the current climate to show that you're going the extra yard for both customers and your team – why not make the most of it?
Finally, it's worth thinking about what you could do to be proactive and helpful. What are your customers' pain points right now? In the organic hair care scenario, it could be the fact that they're struggling to get to the hairdressers. Given that hair care is a core competence for your brand, could you be part of the solution by getting a guest blogger – a hairdresser who is an authority on DIY hair-cuts or making the most of longer-than-normal hair, for example – to write something for you?
It is conceivable that they would jump at the chance to help out in return for a link to their own website. Perhaps you could offer some of your own product as a competition prize for their Facebook page or similar?
Whatever your business, your team will likely be glad to help and be full of ideas.
I wish all business owners the very best of luck during this crisis – and if you've a specific question, feel free to email me.
Q/ Why do I need a freelance copywriter for my website?
A freelance copywriter is someone who understands how to communicate key messages in a succinct way. Most business owners, of course, have an idea of what they want to say, but they sometimes over-complicate things – especially when writing content for their websites. On top of this, they sometimes make grammatical mistakes, forget all about 'signposting' (giving visitors a clear idea of where they are and where to go next) or they simply overlook some of the basics. For example, they might:
1/ Write web content that is boring or downright confusing.
2/ Fail to develop a 'brand tone' (tone of voice) so that visitors aren't sure whether this is a serious brand, a fun brand, or something else entirely.
3/ Forget to regularly update their website with relevant keywords.
4/ Fail to build up a body of work that demonstrates expertise in their chosen field.
A freelance copywriter with knowledge of writing for websites can help a business owner create crisp and compelling copy for their website – as well as helping advise on what pages to include, blog content strategy and more.
Q/ Is a freelance copywriter and a freelance content writer the same thing?
Yes and no. Copywriting is a job which has its roots in advertising. Copywriters historically are creatives who use words to convey a message that will form the backbone of advertising/marketing material. Freelance (and salaried) copywriters like this still exist, and are behind some of the amazing ad campaigns you see today.
Content writing, by comparison, can be as bland as "written content to fill a hole on your website" – but it can be a more appealing hybrid of article writing plus the kind of creative wordplay that copywriters engage in. The result is content that will inform, entertain and inspire action all at once.
For my own part, I have a history of both creative copywriting and also article writing. By merging these two skills I can deliver easy-to-read content that also seeks to inspire people to take a certain action, such as moving forward to another web page (and through your sales funnel), making contact, signing up to a newsletter and so on.
Q/ Why do I need a tone of voice for my website?
Think about all of your favourite brands. Innocent smoothies, for example, have a very distinct and singular tone of voice for all of their communications. Each touchpoint – from their packaging to their website to their social media postings – features content that seems to have been written by the same person. This is because Innocent have a well-defined tone of voice.
Settling on a tone of voice can be a great way to breathe life and personality into your brand. Customers love to feel they are connecting with the businesses they buy from on a personal level, and as a general rule, the right tone of voice that speaks the customers' language can forge stronger connections and loyalty.
More than this, having a tone of voice can be a great way for a business owner (SME or larger enterprise) to "feel" his/her way through the trials and tribulations of launch and, hopefully, the continued growth of the business. If you truly know what your business stands for and, by association, how it speaks, it can help not just with comms but with decision-making as well.
A freelance copywriter can help you find your tone of voice and provide guidelines relating to how you can ensure its consistency going forwards.
Q/ Do I need a blog for my website?
According to the much-respected digital marketing guru Neil Patel – among many others – the answer is a resounding yes. When a business adds blog postings over a period of several years, it steadily allows that business to amass relevant content on a wide range of subjects relating to its sector. In doing so – and assuming the articles are helpful to readers and well-written – this helps to establish credibility in the business' chosen niche, which Google typically rewards by boosting the site's rankings.
A copywriter can help with blog content by making sure that it is well-written, well-researched and contains appropriate keywords... whilst, at the same time, reading 'naturally'. Google doesn't like blogs that are stuffed with keywords and have clearly been written with SEO ambitions in mind. What Google ultimately wants when someone goes looking for "green energy" or "small business finance" or whatever sector you are in, is to lead them to the best website on that subject. If your content clearly demonstrates that you're a force to be reckoned with, then Google will push people your away accordingly.
Q/ Do you know anything about my industry? If not, why would I hire you?
Excellent question! I probably don't know anything about your industry at all. But the strange thing is – I don't need to. Not yet, anyway.
Let me explain...
My time is split between copywriting and content writing for websites (and, occasionally, magazines). I've been doing this for more than 20 years, and have written about literally hundreds of subjects. Often, when a brief comes in, I don't know anything about what I've been asked to write about.
If that sounds daunting... it isn't! I know from experience that with research and finding the right experts to talk to, I can uncover the information I need to write a great article. If I were a true expert in that field, there's a chance the article would become too technical and assume too much knowledge of the reader. It's why editors and content managers hire me – they know I can turn a tricky subject into an interesting read that will be readable by all.
This approach also works when it comes to blogging. I have written business blogs on a regular basis for businesses in the hospitality, creativity and medical sectors, among others, as well as helped to create web content for clients who work in fashion, luxury travel, advertising... even a stuntman.
If I genuinely think your sector is too niche or complex for me to grasp, I'll tell you straight away – and yes, it does occasionally happen. Most of the time – as it says on my home page – I 'just get it'.
I do have help, of course. I lean on the business owner's expertise – or that of external experts – to glean the information I need that will add authority to a website's written content. Copywriters like being thrown in at the deep end... so long as their feet still touch the floor.
Q/ Where do you work?
From home – always. My clients are across Europe and, indeed, the whole world, and basically... it just works. Many of my business engagements are likely to last just a couple of days or less, which makes face-to-face client meetings unnecessary. Everything can be done by email, WhatsApp, Skype or Zoom – it saves time and, therefore, money.
At present, I work as a freelance copywriter and freelance content writer for clients in the UK, Belgium, Finland, Switzerland and – further afield – Dubai and Singapore. I have also written web content in the past for businesses based in Australia and Canada, and done some radio advertising copywriting work for a company in Los Angeles.
As I have a decent grasp of French, I have recently helped a number of clients who have a French-language website to convert it into English. Nothing ever translates directly (sorry, Google Translate!), so a freelance copywriter and content writer who understands French can be a godsend to a business that needs a bilingual approach.
Q/ Do you do copywriting for email campaigns or video content?
Absolutely. I recently finished a month-long series of marketing emails for a client, and have also just completed a video script for an advertising agency. There are a multitude of instances in which a client knows roughly what they want to say, but don't have the time, inclination or, perhaps, the skillset to do so. This is where a freelance copywriter comes in. Give me a try!
Q/ How about business writing?
For the past five years I have been writing business articles for a number of outlets, including major UK bank NatWest/RBS, small business finance specialists IWOCA and Be The Business, a UK 'movement' aimed at boosting business productivity.
Alongside this, I write about industry news for companies in several different sectors, including accountancy, maritime and transport.
The content I create is usually intended for the web, and more often than not will take one of the following formats:
A 'how to' article, which involves sourcing and interviewing experts and then turning their thoughts and my own observations into helpful content that steers SMEs and start-ups in the right direction. I have covered topics as diverse as marketing, cash-flow, recruitment, investment, cyber security and dozens of other subjects.
A listicle, in which I round up the best examples in a given category, be that apps, accounting software, gadgets, travel destinations or something completely different.
A reported article in which I speak to several key players within an industry and then deliver a topical story to be used on a business' website – often about their own involvement in that sector.
A Q/A-style interview with an industry leader, CEO, business founder or similar. I have interviewed well over 1,000 people during my career and can turn an interviewee's words into clear, concise copy.