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Writing for the Web, Part One: Basics

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If your business is so well established that you don't have to go looking for customers, great! Stop reading this and go have a drink. Most of us, though, have to make an effort. Part of that effort is describing what we do and why we are the ones you should hire to do it.

In the old days, these descriptions were written to be printed on paper: brochures, packaging, and signs – collectively known as "marketing collateral." Paper media are still with us, of course, but websites now shoulder a big chunk of the marketing burden. Yet surprisingly, although websites and online marketing have been with us for years now, companies often give little thought to creating copy that's appropriate for the web.

What should be on your website for potential clients and customers to read? Here are some basic guidelines for getting it right.

1. Don't dump in everything but the kitchen sink. Your home page and sectional landing pages should contain clear, concise text — more than slogans, but less than essays. Every business can be summed up in a paragraph. If you can't come up with a paragraph that succinctly and accurately describes what you do and why you do it well, you may need some outside marketing help.

2. If you have multiple lines of business, or several aspects of your product or service each of which needs to be explained, create separate pages for them, all linked from the main (home) page. If you're not sure what deserves its own page or section and what doesn't, there's one obvious and effective way to figure it out: visit competitors' sites and note which ones are clear and concise, easy to navigate and understand, and which aren't. Use the good ones as models for your own site.

3. Include words and phrases that will optimize your site for search engines. There are many sources of information available on search engine optimization (SEO). About.com has some articles on the subject, including "Website Optimization in Ten Easy Steps". (Your mileage may vary in terms of how "easy" the steps are. But despite what some advertisements suggest, you can definitely do your own SEO).

Next week, we'll look at some well-crafted sites and see what makes their textual content effective.

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