The 5 Necessary Pillars of Effective Website Copy

When they act as conversion engines, there’s one thing all effective websites have in common. Five things, actually. Websites that drive a commercial objective—engaging qualified visitors, then converting them into leads or buyers—feature copy that guides people through a compelling but familiar journey.

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When they act as conversion engines, there’s one thing all effective websites have in common. Five things, actually. Websites that drive a commercial objective—engaging qualified visitors, then converting them into leads or buyers—feature copy that guides people through a compelling but familiar journey. And yet: the best sites won’t ever seem formulaic or templated, or let on that they’re following any rules at all. 

That’s right: We’re suggesting that five principles apply to all websites—and yet allow for infinite creativity, unqualified uniqueness, and unlimited range. Here they are, along with takeaways you should definitely try at home.

1. Stop visitors in their tracks, without thinking

According to Contentsquare’s 2021 Digital Experience Benchmark report, the average time spent on a webpage is 54 seconds, regardless of industry. That’s less than a minute to get your audience to stop whatever they’re doing, look, and listen.

In the case of website copy, that means the first headline or sentence must captivate—and do so in a visceral way. 

  • Takeaway: Is your hero caption relevant to a reader who might not know your brand yet, or (let’s face it) care? We suggest sparking emotion: could be delight, urgency, hope, peace of mind. Then, ground that flash of feeling in something substantive and contextual. An astonishing declaration, a sharply felt pain point, a broadly impactful piece of data, a simple contextual cue, or some other connective showstopper. And yes, do it all in 3-8 words.
  • Do: use the words “you” and “your”—and do it more throughout the site. If you talk about your audience in the third person, the reader has to work that much harder to “get” that you’re talking to them. There’s just no need to throw up a barrier like this. 
  • Don’t: At this early stage, refrain from name-dropping your brand. We remain surprised at the number of websites that still begin with “We”—before they’ve earned the right to pitch. Also: make sure your web design, UX, and load speed will not be demotivators. At this early stage, websites lose readers turned off by a dated or chaotic look and feel, confusing navigation, and slow load times—make these easy wins! 

2. Encourage engaged readership

Your next mission is to get them to read…something. Think about the last book you bought. Maybe you read the synopsis, the first page, and a review or two before diving in. 

Website visitors are like that, too: they test the waters before moving forward. Research shows 79% of readers scan website pages—either in lieu of reading or to decide whether the page is worth their time. A quick visual scan gives the first indication. Is the font appealing to look at, easy to read, and a nice, digestible size? 

If everything checks out, readers may begin to read or skim. Is the jargon thick and the context confusing? Do things immediately sink under the weight of unnecessary detail or wordiness? Would a reader’s eye fall on a word or two, only to blink back cartoon question marks of comical confusion? Be clear. Don’t risk losing readers from the get-go. 

Your safest bet? Instead of having your reader settle for a quick scan or skim, you want to encourage reading—actual reading—from the very beginning, through all sentences, entire paragraphs, full pages and near-whole websites. Impossible? Nah, it’s totally possible. What if your brand’s website were to read like an exciting novel, packed with so much insight into the reader experience that they’re turning every page in anticipation? Hey, nuttier things have happened. 

You’d basically need to bake those same principles of clarity and connection into every phrase. Ideally, the rhythm of your web copy matches the rhythm of the human brain: easy and soothing, with a pleasing lilt and cadence. Ideally, there’s a sense of progression from thought to thought, so that readers feel like they’re gaining insights, receiving value, moving ever forward. In a perfect world, your sentences are balanced and believable, introducing and resolving suspense in a constant and yet satisfying way (um, novelistically). Read on, for how to build on these attributes to gain credibility and generate rapport: the next necessary ingredients to conversion. 

  • Takeaway: Your audience is being bombarded with scores of web pages every day. In order to lighten the cognitive load this creates, they’re unlikely to give your page full attention. Stand out among would-be scanners by turning them into captivated readers. 
  • Do: Use subtitles, be intentional with your words, and treat brevity as key. Website visitors have shorter attention spans than normal. 
  • Don’t: Hide what you’re trying to sell. As much as you might want to provide context and storytelling, don’t bury your value proposition in jargon, hyperbole, or too many visuals.

Learn why the best return on your marketing dollar comes from copywriting.

3. Build trust, while also generating rapport 

Think about how often you stumble upon a new website. It’s safe to say that not everyone who arrives on yours was necessarily looking for you, but that doesn’t mean you can’t build a relationship with them once they’re here. Building a relationship begins with showing your audience that your brand cares—demonstrated by an understanding of their unique needs. 

However. Copy that focuses on trust may neglect rapport. For example, a website may brag about the number of years a brand has been in business; another may talk about accolades and awards. These proof points are great—but they can’t be very the first things that readers see. Where’s the connection? 

Conversely, if you build connection without also developing trust, this may come across as hollow and inauthentic. Think of a surgical practice that hooks you in by promising a nurturing bedside manner and comfortable rehab facilities, but doesn’t actually address the surgeons’ core competencies. Would you submit to an operation, without knowing more? Stats and other proof points play an important role in making readers feel confident in their choices. 

  • Takeaway: What are the stakes for your audience? Does your web copy make note of these? If so, you are generating rapport. What represents reliability? 
  • Do: Develop rapport as you are building trust—and sharing proof points. 
  • Don’t: Do one without the other. As with most things, good copy is all about balance. When you balance trust with connection, you’re on the right track.

4. Create urgency 

Perhaps the most essential component of website copy strategy is the creation of urgency. How do you push the buyer along in their buying journey without always resorting to tactics like discounts and exclusive offers? 

Simple. You don’t push. You pull.

Take a pizza shop. You can tell your audience they need a slice of pizza now; maybe give them $5 off a pie, ending tomorrow at noon. As a campaign, that’s fine. But I don’t really want that to form the crux of your website copy strategy. It’s much better to pull your audience in instead, by describing (and posting pictures of) well-crafted crusts, mouthwatering toppings, and succulent sauces. That old writer’s trick—showing vs. telling—lights up urgency within readers, shifting the role of follow-through to them. They’re now the ones researching where to go, what to order, how they can get their hands on that hot, gooey, tantalizing slice. 

There’s an analog here to every industry and every service or product under the sun: 

  • A pizza shop makes a customer’s mouth water. 
  • A SaaS product puts a game-changing solution within easy reach. 
  • An educational program inspires target students with what they’ll learn, how they can use it, and why they’ll complete the program. 
  • An investment firm eases access—and implies how the rewards may be well worth the risks.  

With a coveted prize in sight and major hurdles mitigated, urgency rises to the top. The only catch? In order to work, it’s got to be informed by your customer’s real mindset, in all its varied, layered nuances. 

  • Takeaway: All effective web copy needs to make the jump between “nice to have” to “must have this now.” To get there, we suggest pulling your audience, not pushing them. 
  • Do: Study your target and ask yourself what your qualified lead knows and doesn’t know, what they think, and how they feel (both positive and negative)—and why. Next, figure out your reader’s hurdles (why haven’t they succeeded without you?), pain points (what’s their struggle like to get this done?), and vision of success (how would the world change for them, once they’ve gotten that thing?). Then you’ll have the correct mindset and emotional state. Taking these now into account, paint a picture of success—focusing on showing vs. telling. 
  • Don’t: Go for the low-hanging fruit. You’ll only turn a smart reader off your company if you try to market products using gimmicky approaches.

5. Point to a compelling call to action

At the end of all of this, there has to be a takeaway. Much as we might all like to reach through the web and ‘make’ a visitor do the thing you want, that’s not possible. The only thing we can really do is point the reader to their next step, whatever it may be. All other elements of your web copy contribute to this moment: Is your audience ready to move forward with you—even just to step B? 

So first, point the way: spell out the action you want—and tie it to a pain point you’ve already mentioned or something desirable that your audience wants. Make the step easy: give them the link or form, or make sure your checkout process works. If you’ve done your job right, they’re already on their way to requesting more information, signing up, scheduling a call, or making a purchase. 

This step is crucial and unskippable. But even if it doesn’t work, you’re still in a great place; with steps 1 through 4, you’ve engaged the reader and created a sense of urgency. They will remember, and many will return.

  • Takeaway: Say what the next step is. Do they download something? Click somewhere? Read something? Book an appointment? 
  • Do: Be very clear and prescriptive. Make it as easy as possible for your potential customer to convert. Make the action effortless. 
  • Don’t: Be ambiguous, or provide too many choices (multiple options are confusing!). If your reader has to jump through too many hoops or guess where they need to go to fulfill their need with you, they may end up looking somewhere else.

MarketSmiths Case Study 

Edy Oakland, Communications Manager at De’Longhi, wanted a refresh of the company’s product copy to better engage younger audiences. That’s when she tapped the copywriting team at MarketSmiths. Whenever a new draft came in, Edy was newly impressed by the team’s clarity of messaging and strategic alignment with her goal of marketing home comfort and kitchen products. Acerbic, highly versatile copy provided by the team elevated De’Longhi’s marketing efforts and resulted in  “inspiring and engaging copy that’s taken our sell through to the next level.”

> Read the full study 

Don’t miss an opportunity to amplify demand for what you offer—then capitalize on it 

Arguably, this is what a website is: a demand engine that amplifies your audience’s overt or latent desires or needs, then shepherds them—quietly, undetectably—into a sale. The sale leads to a relationship, the relationship to a lifestyle. Meanwhile, they never knew what hit them.  

Inarguably, your website is often your first or primary opportunity to capture attention, then hold on tight. Yet many brands miss this opportunity—and go on to populate their blogs, publish case studies, offer downloadable ebooks, and more from a website platform that doesn’t do their brand justice. They may get traffic and readers, but systematically fail to convert. That doesn’t feel like a budget well invested.

Opt for an easy-to-navigate, well-positioned, cohesively designed, crisply written, accurate, and goal-driven website. 

At MarketSmiths, we have a crew of elite content strategists and website copywriters who will amplify the chances your brand’s website copy is read, absorbed, and acted upon. Get in touch with our growth team today.

Jean Tang

Jean Tang

A champion of high-end content, Jean is a living tribute to copywriting for humans. In 2012, at a TEDx talk, she declared her now widely viewed “War Against Bland.” The visionary founder of MarketSmiths, Jean leads her growing team to captivate, inspire, and motivate readers. She has helped thousands of global clients generate revenue from words (up to 12,000% ROI), and transformed the writing of hundreds of seminar attendees at the SXSW Interactive Festival (2014 and 2015), SXSW V2V (2014), the Small Business Summit (2014, NYC), and other venues.

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