Posts Tagged ‘web copy best practices’

Extreme Web Makeover II: The Good People Fund

Monday, April 23rd, 2012

The Good People Fund (GPF) is a wonderful philanthropy that supports small to mid-sized, grassroots non-profits that are finding creative, hands-on ways to help alleviate poverty, hunger, social isolation, homelessness and more in their home communities.

I should know. I’m on their Board of Trustees. I’ve also been helping GPF redo their website, which needed a major overhaul to better represent the organization’s great work. We just went live with the new site last week, which is already starting to generate more traffic and donations.

Here’s the back story:

Founded in 2008 when its predecessor foundation closed doors, GPF has been growing steadily for the past four years, carefully screening, mentoring and supporting non-profits in Israel and the U.S. that meet its criteria of low overhead and highly effective programming. The organization created a website soon after it went into operation in order to have an online presence.

The site served its purpose, providing a basic explanation of the philanthropy’s mission and vision, listing information about leadership and financials, providing links to grantee’s websites, and sharing heart-felt stories about how people benefited from GPF grants through the Tzedakah Diaries, written by Executive Director Naomi Eisenberger. The site had a form for online donations and educational materials for families and Jewish educators.

So far, so good. But as GPF grew, the site needed work. The Board agreed that there were several major issues:

  • Upgrade the website’s amateur design with a friendly, professional image.
  • Update content to better explain GPF’s mission and focus, as well as the value-added of giving to GPF (screening, mentoring, matching donors to grantees).
  • Explain the work of grantees, replacing links to their websites (which drew traffic and potential donations from GPF’s site) with clear and compelling descriptions of their work.
  • Convert the Tzedakah Diaries to a subscription-based blog, distributed via social media as well as email.
  • Create user-friendly navigation and add graphic images and videos to enhance the user experience.
  • Ensure that the Donations call-to-action has a prominent place on the site, on every page.
  • Improve search optimization.

Working with the Board, Naomi, a wonderful designer who prefers to keep his contribution to the project anonymous, and Ed Booth of Insight
Dezign, I directed the site upgrade. I came up with a new tag line, “Small actions, huge impacts,” which our designer incorporated into a beautiful new logo that expresses the global nature of our work as well as GPF’s Jewish roots. He adapted the green and blue color scheme of the original logo and created an upbeat design for the website that alludes to earth and sky, and to the Jewish art form of paper-cutting. The text is set in Verdana, a clean, web-friendly typeface, and titles are in Mrs. Eaves, adding a touch of sophistication.

Naomi and I spent many hours writing and rewriting content for the site. Much of the program description text was adapted from GPF’s Annual Report, revised for the web to make it easy to skim. I wrote all of the key marketing content for the homepage, and revised the Mission, Vision and Overview with input from Naomi and the Board. We reviewed all of the text from the old site, tweaking and tightening for readability. I conducted keyword research that guided my creation of search-optimized, branded urls for each page, as well as site content.

Naomi collected images for many of the grantees, and we added videos that were created by editing and repurposing existing footage, thanks to Eli Katzoff of Stormport Productions.

Ed worked wonders with all of the design direction, executing many rounds of refinements with equanimity and attention to detail. He tied the site into the original back end of the old website, which was a key criteria for the project’s success.

Now we are working with Ross Plotkin, Head of Paid Search for Kahena Digital Marketing, to enhance search with Google AdWords. Thanks to Ross, GPF received a Google Grant for an AdWord campaign that has already begun to generate more donations.

It’s been a huge project that has stretched over many months, but the Board is thrilled with the results, and we look forward to growing our donor base, enabling GPF to help support even more worthy endeavors.

Marketing consultant Evelyn Herwitz loves to help you tell a great story about your good work. She specializes in search-optimized web content that positions you as an approachable expert in your field and helps you grow your business. Contact Evelyn for a free half-hour consult for new clients.


How to Write Great Web Copy? Mind Your Strunk & White

Monday, March 26th, 2012

There are some great online resources for how to write excellent web copy. But the best guide was published nearly 100 years ago.

That’s right, I’m talking about The Elements of Style, that writer’s bible first published by William Strunk, Jr., in 1918 as a handbook for his Cornell students and revised in 1959 by one of his most notable former pupils, E.B. White (he of Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little fame).

Strunk & White, as it’s fondly referred to by writers who love to write, nailed all the basics in this slim book. Here are six rules worth committing to memory when you write for the web (or any other genre, for that matter):

Use the active voice.
Your sentences read faster and sound more forceful with the active voice; the sentence’s subject performs the action instead of being acted upon (it’s even clunky to explain passive voice):

Our sales team listens closely to our customers. (active)


Our customers are closely listened to by our sales team. (passive)

Put statements in positive form.
Don’t waffle. Make clear, firm assertions about your product or service. The more certain you are about what you do for your clients, the more your clients will trust you (just be sure you can deliver):

We match you with your dream home.


We try our very best to find you a home that fits your lifestyle.

Use definite, specific, concrete language.
This is one of my favorites. The more clear and precise your word choices, the better. All too often, you run across language that’s convoluted for the sake of sounding intelligent. Bureaucratic prose comes to mind, as well as legal documents. For the web, in particular, you need to catch your reader’s attention in the first few seconds. Choose strong, active verbs and precise nouns, be direct and clear in your writing, and you’ll hook them.

Omit needless words.
For web content, this is essential. Most readers skim; make every word count. You can still include detail. To quote S&W, just make “every word tell.”

A few quick fixes that can help you trim words:

  • Turn “of the ____” prepositional phrases into possessives (“the customer’s” rather than “of the customer”).
  • Use active verbs instead of forms of to be. (“We work with you to find a solution.” NOT “Our goal is to help you find a solution.”)
  • Trim phrases who is, which was, and other similar padding (“Bob Cratchit, our accountant” instead of “Bob Cratchit, who is our accountant”).

Avoid a succession of loose sentences.
Another way to say this is vary your sentence structure. Nothing bores more quickly than a long paragraph of clunky sentences that are all the same length, especially if they also violate the first four rules, above. Be careful not to go on and on in one sentence, then another and another, without furthering your point, as I’m doing here. Use connectives—and, but—selectively. End with a short, punchy thought.

Express co-ordinate ideas in similar form.
Follow this principle of parallel construction, especially when constructing lists or bullets.  This is a qualification of the previous rule: don’t get caught in the trap of thinking you have to vary your sentences for the sake of variety. When lists, bullets or subheads have a similar form, your reader will see the connections more readily. Notice how each of the six rules I’m borrowing here from S&W are all short commands. You can skim them as headings and see how they build a basic set of skills.

You’ll find more clear, timeless guidance about excellent writing in Strunk & White, on correct usage (grammar and punctuation), composition and form. The entire, concise manual is viewable online, but I prefer my battered copy that I’ve had for decades.

Whichever form you choose, refer to it often. Whether you’re just beginning to write web content for your own site or are an experienced content developer, I guarantee you’ll find it helpful.

What about you? What are your favorite writing resources?

Marketing consultant Evelyn Herwitz loves to help you tell a great story about your good work. She specializes in search-optimized web content that positions you as an approachable expert in your field and helps you grow your business. Contact Evelyn for a free half-hour consult for new clients.