A client-focussed copy style guide

Let’s be fair, few customers are professional writers and few hire one when making a web site. That is why I now include professional copywriting into every estimate as a non-removable item. When customers are adding their own copy to a site, I give them ten simple tips to follow.

Avoid using abbreviated ‘and’ (‘&’) (an ampersand as it is properly known), as if you do your pages will not validate. Although breaking validation will not make the world fall apart, being valid is a mark of a professional web site. So you should strive for it as hard as possible. Ampersands are more acceptable in headings. If you really, really must use an ampersand, you must write it as &.

Do not type words in all uppercase letters. Just don’t. All uppercase words are bad for accessibility (a screen-reader reads each letter separately, not as a word) and are harder to read. They look, well, just plain unprofessional too.

Do not use exclamation marks (!) except, if absolutely necessary, in headings or for branding purposes. Exclamation points cheapen your content rather than enhance it and you should make your point effective by what you write. You should not need to use an exclamation point.

Choose your capitalization case carefully and stick to it. This is particularly important in headings. So choose to use sentence-case or title-case and then stick to your decision. I find that sentence-case is easier to read and easier on the eye. It is also less formal and friendlier in tone.

Avoid using numerals in your sentences as they make text harder and slower to read on screen. Instead of writing Our course lasts for 3 days… use the word ‘three’ instead. Reserve numerals for dates and prices and other numeric data.

Avoid referring to yourself in the third-person. So don’t say things like [Stuff and Nonsense] are leaders in…. Instead refer to yourself and your company as ‘we’. We provide…, we love… etc. This makes you sound more personal and approachable.

Avoid referring to your customers as our customers, instead refer to you. For example instead of writing [Stuff and Nonsense] provide their customers with the best experience…, say instead We provide you with the best experience… or possibly At [Stuff and Nonsense] we provide you with the best experience….

While SEO is important to get visitors to your site through search-engines, it is also important to give them the best reading experience when they arrive. Keep your copy short and focussed. Keep repetition to a minimum, particularly of your company name. Above all, keep your copy short, content-rich and free from hard-sell or marketing speak.

Avoid confusing the issue. Try not to put too much or too varied information on a single page. If you do have a large amount of copy, break up that content into easily scannable sections through the use of headings and lists.

Keep your use of links focussed on the important calls to action. For example, if your page contains ten links and only one goes to the booking page, the visual importance of that booking link will be reduced. Try to avoid diluting your calls to action.


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