Website copy “basics” that every small business should (be able to) get right


What I learned from running Pop-Up Copy Reviews at Vibe Coworking

On July 16, I partnered up with Vibe Coworking over in Cary to run an afternoon of copy reviews – open to everyone.

All of the Pop-Up Copy Review attendees were unsure if they were doing the right thing with their copy, whether in describing themselves and their services, or in engaging their email subscribers.

Despite being in different industries, most of the websites had the same challenges that are often perceived as the “101 Marketing” challenges.

Being “basics” doesn’t preclude them from being important or foundational (generating traffic to your site is helpful.... but only if potential customers are able to find what they're looking for once they reach your site. If they come away not knowing why they should hire you, why would they?).

If you are a solopreneur, some thoughts on how you can improve your copy, even if you're not ready to hire a copywriter to help you out (yet).


Having lots of pages because “that’s what big businesses do” doesn’t help your website visitors

Instead, make sure they can find the information they need without clicking around for 5 minutes (which they won’t do anyway… would they?)

The more pages – the more trustworthy a business?

Or, rather…

…more pages – harder to find information & easier to get lost.

Knowing what the goal of your website is & understanding what you can (and can’t) expect at an early stage – and balancing that against your responsibilities and resources – is a tough spot to be in.

Does it make sense for your business – right now or in the next 3 months – to follow the “This is good for SEO” or “Content is king” advice, if you mostly get clients through referrals, are drowning in projects and don’t have time to write blog posts, or if you don’t really know the reasons why people hire businesses in category X?

Only you know the answer to this question.

I think the less stressful – and potentially more efficient – way to approach website-building is to accept the (sad) reality that you’ll never be done with your website, and treat it as a gradual improvement project.

Which means starting small, constantly listening to the customers and prospects, and knowing whether or not your website is doing what you need it to do right now.

It means tracking the behavior of your website visitors via Google Analytics. It means watching session recordings on Hotjar. It means trying to get as much information as you can about the people who come to your website. You need to know how your visitors, however many there are, make use of your site. So that you can improve.

Nailing your voice: sounding professional *and* human

Corporate-speak is good for Dilbert cartoons

One consequence of the feeling that “I want to make a professional impression” is the tendency to write corporate-speak copy (which makes it harder to encourage people to feel they can trust you).

I think we all intuitively know that first impressions matter (even when they’re unfair), and website design is one of the things that can give potential customers their first impression of you. Wherever you stand on the apparently divisive issue “never use stock images” vs “stock images are fine, as long they are not creepy smiling business people in suits”, I’d love to see more small business owners and solopreneurs add photos of themselves to their websites (even if you’d rather brainstorm 20 value propositions for your homepage than book a photo session).

Even if your initial instinct is to go with the “corporate version”, the photos don’t have to be the professional-business-suit-wearing-type of thing (and if you can tie them to a story behind the business, or a story about your why, even better!).

Another common aspect of “keeping things professional” is not having a lot of supporting copy on a contact page. This creates a not-quite-welcoming impression instead of a “yay, let’s work together” feel.

You can help website visitors choose to contact you by helping them see what the next steps look like – instead of leaving it at “Contact us today”.

HubSpot has a collection of contact pages that are encouraging, warm, and friendly.

Related to the “I need a professional-looking website” expectation is the perception that you really just need to tell people how amazing you are.

Which is not the same as showing how working with you will help your prospective clients solve their problems.

More on that below.


“The main point of my website is to explain what I do”

But what’s in it for the customer?

Your website = what you do + who you do it for + what’s in it for them

Of course, if people are looking for a particular type of services, it’s likely that they recognize their needs.

But how badly do they need this service?

If they need to figure out anything accounting-related, like, yesterday – they probably just want to make sure that you’re trustworthy, so they can dump their spreadsheets on your desk (and run - or is it just me?...).

If they’re checking out different providers, then you need to a) differentiate yourself, and b) talk about the ways in which working with you will help them achieve their goals.

For small businesses that get most of their clients through referrals or networking, going to the trouble of speaking to people who don’t feel like they need the offered services, or are still not sure how to solve the problem they have, is likely not a priority.

To write compelling copy focusing on what your customers want (or are afraid of, or aren’t sure about), you need to get into their heads.

Marketing Stages: Awareness, Sophistication, and Intent by Benyamin Elias is a great a high-level overview of how to talk to customers in different stages of awareness and with different degrees of sophistication.

This is a great testimonial: “Pleasant to work with. Would work again.” Or not?

Do the testimonials on your website help me see the value of working with you? If not, dig deeper

“What’s in it for me?” also counts for testimonials – it’s not just about “This business is awesome”.

Who is the reviewer?

What was the problem they were facing?

How did you solve their problem?

How did their life change after working with you?

Geek out & get all of the questions around testimonials – and the even more effective case studies – answered on Case Study Buddy blog.

You *do* know the answer to the question “Is my copy good enough?”

Here’s what to do if the answer is “no”

When I talk to solopreneurs and small business owners, they can always tell  if their copy has the potential to engage their customers, or potential for improvement.

The “gut check” works!

If you cringe at the thought of sharing your website with potential clients, then you know that something has to change. Knowing what exactly should be improved, and why, is a different matter.

The resources in this blog post can help you with “why” and “how”.

When all else fails - look at the website copy on the websites you adore, can’t live without, or buy from.

What are they doing right?

How can those things be applied to your business?

And, if you don’t have the bandwidth to deal with the “how” and “why”, you can get a website review to take the guesswork out of your website improvement project. 

Ekaterina Howard: website and email copywriter, translating your business ideas into impactful copy

Ekaterina Howard is an email and website copywriter, translating business ideas into impactful copy.

She also helps small business owners and solopreneurs get their websites into shape by offering website reviews.