Don't make it about you

An introduction to copywriting for the web

Warning:
I’m about to bruise your ego.

It’s going to hurt a little.

But it’s for the best, I promise.

Here goes…

Your clients/customers don’t visit your website because they like you.

And they don’t care that much about your latest news, your new hire, or your cute studio dog either.

Ouch.

What are your customers interested in then?

To quote UX designer Samuel Hulick on this:

“People don’t buy products; they buy a better version of themselves”

And I think the same holds true for service-based businesses too.

Companies aren’t interested in what you do; they’re interested in how you can make them more awesome.

I’ve noticed that design studios and freelancers often structure their websites something like this:

It’s a tried and tested formula, and it works… ok.

But unless the copy is very carefully constructed, there’s a vital piece missing from the picture:

THE CUSTOMER.

Oops.

Think about why a person might come to your website in the first place.

In the case of a design studio, it’s usually because they need a better website, logo, or brochure.

Or to be simplistic: because something is broken, and they want it fixed.

Yes, your potential customer wants to know that your studio creates great-looking designs. But ultimately they are looking for a solution to a problem, not evidence of how cool you are.

(I’m not saying that perceptions and first impressions don’t matter — but that the emphasis is wrong).

So…

You need to switch the focus of your copy

Teehan+Lax (a design studio who are sadly now defunct) used to do a great job of explaining their work by telling stories.

Here’s how they opened their case-study for Shipwire:

“Imagine you’re a company with an incredible new product. You’ve been perfecting your idea, growing your business and marketing. Now people are placing orders, and you need to send your products around the world—thousands a day to dozens of countries.”

You don’t get to see any of Teehan+Lax’s visuals until halfway down the page. (Almost 600 words later).

But this makes sense…

You need that background information to understand their thought process, and thus their design work.

Designers aren’t the only people overusing ‘we’ on their websites of course — I’m just starting with the industry I know best.

So let’s switch focus from services to products now.

What superpowers does your product give people?

This might seem like an odd question.

Don’t worry though, it isn’t about skintight lycra outfits…

Have a read of this opening paragraph from the description of a new cycling jacket:

“We’ve gone all out to produce the finest waterproof in cycling. We’ve re-thought how to keep you comfortable. When the rain comes and doesn’t stop, this is the jacket. We have spent the greatest amount of R&D time ever on our jacket, and we’re hugely proud of it.”

Count them: four mentions of “we”… and only one of “you”.

This is the copywriting equivalent of shouting “Me! Me! Me!”

Yes, it’s reassuring to know how much R&D time has been put into the jacket. But the reader is more interested in how the jacket will make him feel, not how the company who made it feels about it.

I see this problem with a lot of copy on the web…

It’s back-to-front.

So how do we fix it?

Basecamp’s Jason Fried nailed it with this 3-sentence blog post:

“Most copywriting on the web sucks because it’s written for the writer, not for the reader. Write for the reader. That is all”.

Improving your copywriting really is this simple:

Construct your sentences with the emphasis on “you” rather than “I” or “we”.

Make it about your reader, not yourself.