Think back to when you were in grade school. Do you remember the types of writing assignments you were given? There were research papers, book reports, project reports, maybe a little poetry, and then there was creative writing. If you look at the different types of writing styles you learned, you’ll see that there really were only two predominant ways you learned to write in school: Research and creative writing.
The Writing Spectrum
I like to think of writing styles on a spectrum. On the one side you have incredible
objectivity for things like academic papers, literary critiques, or anything that's research based. When you write in this style you are employing literary techniques and writing in the third person or passive voice.
On the other end of the spectrum you have creative writing. Creative writing has the most flexibility when it comes to technique and employs more of a narrative because it tends to be written in first or third person.
In school, you learned how to write from both sides of the spectrum and only in first or third person. It’s only natural that when you sit down to write copy for your website, you default to one of these two. Unfortunately, those writing styles are not effective for website copy (or sales copy in general). There is one type of book however you most likely read as a child that you should model your website content after: a Choose Your Own Adventure book.
What Are All These Voices You Speak Of?
The type of voice you write in can have a huge impact on your readers. Without trying to make this seem like a grammar lesson, here’s a short refresher on the different voices.
When you write in the first person, you are writing as yourself. The narrator and main character of your story is you. “I went to the store” rather than “The woman went to the store.” For first person, use the pronouns “I” and “we”.
When you write in the second person, you are addressing the reader. Second person should be written as if the reader were a part of your story because you are talking to them. This entire blog post is written in second person. See how I’m writing to you? Second person uses the pronouns “you”, “your”, and “yours”.
When you write in the third person, you are writing objectively. You, as the narrator are not part of the story. Instead of “I went to the store” you would write “She went to the store”. Pronouns used in the third person are “he”, “she”, or “it”.
When you write in the passive voice, you use the form of the verb “have” or “to be” in your sentence structure. In the passive voice, you make the object of the action the subject of the sentence. For example, the sentence “The fox ate the mouse” in the passive voice would be “The mouse was eaten by the fox.”
When you write in the active voice, the subject of the sentence is performing the action. In the example above, the sentence “The fox ate the mouse” is in active voice.
The Secret to Writing Great Sales Copy
I know what you’re thinking and I promise I haven’t lost my mind! If you want your website to be more effective you need to do two things - the same two things used in Choose Your Own Adventure books:
Write in the active voice.
Write in second person.
That’s the secret to writing great sales copy.
I didn't know that until I became a copywriter. The definition of copywriting is: the use of words to promote a person, business, opinion, or idea. It’s “getting across the perfect message, with the perfect words.” (dictionary.com) In order to do that, you've got to put things in your reader’s point of view. Instead of talking about you, you need to set the scene up and talk about them. Think about the choose your own adventure books you read as a child. Why were they so exciting? Because you got to take an active role in the book. You were in control of the story - you were the story!
Your website should be the same way. It should be focused on the user. Like a choose your own adventure book, your website visitors should have an immersive experience as they dive down the rabbit hole of pages on your website.
Setting Your Website Up Like A Choose Your Own Adventure Book
Here are three ways to set-up your website like a Choose Your Own Adventure book:
1. Take Them On A Journey
Navigating a Choose Your Own Adventure book would be confusing if there weren’t prompts to help you know where to go. You should do the same for your website. Every page should direct the reader to an action, but that action needs to be spelled out for them. What do you want them to do? Fill out a contact form? Call you? Sign up for your newsletter? It’s up to you to tell the reader what to do.
2. Make the Story About Them
Everything on your website (except your about page) should be written in the second person as if the reader was reading about themselves. You want them to be an active participant in discovering what you have to offer and how it will help them. This can only be accomplished if you write in the second person.
3. Decide How the Story Ends and Then Lead Them There
There are only a few different endings in a Choose Your Own Adventure book. What makes it so exciting is that the reader got to choose how they got to their ending. You’ve got to set up your website the same way. There may be several different paths that each user embarks upon, but you need to set an end goal where all points lead to a conversion. “Yes, I want more info” or “yes I want to make a donation”… whatever that conversion is for you, you need to make sure every visitor gets to it.
Why does this work? Because making it more about the user is that subtle change in perspective that will make world of difference!
If you want help writing your website's own adventure, join me for my class in Richmond. In my hands-on workshop, you will be given exercises and tools that will help you learn copywriting skills while you create content for your own website. If you don’t live in Richmond, consider making it a weekend trip. There are so many fun things to do here! In fact, Richmond was recently named a Frommer’s Top Destination for 2014 and The Next Great American Food City. If you’re coming in from out of town, just shoot me an email and I’d be happy to make suggestions for things to do over the weekend.