Writing copy for a website’s homepage is a tricky business. There are many challenges. The copy needs to grab browsers attention, maintain interest, explain, intrigue and support a group of second level pages.
There’s no right or wrong way to achieve this. Some companies even decide to ditch content for beautiful images, it all depends on your company’s target audience and key messaging.
Here are a few tips to nail your homepage copy:
Do it last
Only approach your homepage once all the other website copy is in place. Your homepage is a synopsis of the site as a whole, so you can’t write about something that does not exist yet.
Once the rest of the site’s words are in place, grab key elements and start writing your homepage.
Build your homepage from the bottom up. From the heart of the page’s content to the introduction of your page and then the title. Writing a homepage is effectively a process of distilling down your company’s vision and ethos.
First-time visitors arrive at your site with a clear purpose in mind. They are looking for something.
Your headline must clearly and quickly communicate quickly the primary value proposition of your site.
In other words, you must explain why is it better than all the competing sites out there offering similar services or products.
This is a tough job and you need to cut down the waffle. Remove adjectives and adverbs. Stay focused. Understand what your audience is looking for. Communicate that promise and your value as clearly and quickly as possible.
Clarify headlines with introductory text
It is impossible to communicate ever value proposition in ten words or less. If you have a business that offers a number of different products or services, keep your headline simple and then use some short introductory text to expand your message and clarify its meaning.
Put this introductory text beneath your headline so it flows. You need to be aware of your readers’ eyepath. For example, if you want someone to read a block of text immediately after reading your headline, place it within the same column, with the same margins, one following directly after the other.
Give visitors help finding what they want
You must help visitors find the second-level page that best matches their immediate interest. It’s an obvious point but homepages are often cluttered with too many features and links.
If 90% of your visitors end up visiting two or three second-level pages first, make links to these pages as obvious as possible on the homepage.
Unless you are a globally recognized brand, visitors may feel unsure about your business.
Give them reassurance. Your copy can achieve this through the tone of your headline and other text on the homepage. Don’t be too blatant or salesy in your approach. Write in simple, clear and honest language to draw visitors in. Go for the hard sell on second level pages – not a visitor’s first port of call.
There are many other elements to writing a great homepage, but these points cover the basics. When I write a homepage, I aim for simplicity and clarity. I keep the end user in mind and want them to feel confident that they have come to the right place.
If you need help with your web copy, drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. I can take the horror of writing a homepage away.
These two words are emblazoned on my grey matter after working with a brilliant, but sometimes rather stern, editor in my early writing career. But these words of advice have been thrown to the wayside recently as my opinion about freelancing has not remained objective.
I bloody love it. And I'm not alone. Only two per cent of freelancers want to work as an employee and almost nine out of ten are very satisfied with the way that they work, according to research from the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self Employed (IPSE).
But, on National Freelancers Day 2015 and in the name of objectivity, I thought it time to share some of the downsides to freelancing:
1. Money, money, money
Freelancers command higher rates of pay than permanent employees. But there are many flip-sides to such weighty rates.
There are constant money worries when working as a freelancer: there isn't a day that goes by that I don't worry about money. I worry when I'm snowed under with bylines and articles. I worry when I haven't written a commissioned word in days. I worry when I turn up the heating or switch on the lights. I worry when I feel ill, but there's no one to call in sick to.
Then there's the tax. How much should I pay? And when? Should I be a limited company? Sole trader? What the hell is the IR35? Tax is taxing and I'd always recommend getting a specialist freelance accountant to help you navigate this minefield and dodge any unexpected bills or fines, should you miss a deadline from the HMRC.
2. It's oh so quiet
I crave silence. I have two boisterous boys and an ongoing house renovation so five minutes of silence is a luxury. But it's easy to go stir crazy when you're self-employed thanks to the isolation of working totally alone, and usually from home.
There's no impromptu chat with my team, free birthday cakes or person to grab a bite to eat with over lunch. There's me, a screen and a radio.
3. Don't take this personally, but...
Losing a client is a natural part of the freelance existence, but it can be difficult to accept. The left side of my brain accepts such losses for what they are: finances are tight and I am just collateral damage in a much wider corporate picture. The right side of my brain is less logical: why have they dumped me? Was my writing terrible? Surely we can work something out?!
Clients come and go, but being dumped for reasons outside of your control can be a dent in the confidence of the most successful freelance writer.
4. Scraping the barrel
Sorry, I can't do it. I am desperately trying to come up with a fourth reason why freelancing isn't always so fabulous. The problem is, and here's where I throw objectivity out of the virtual window again, I love freelancing.
For every downside, there is a much brighter, bigger and brilliant upside. Worried about money? Yes, but freelancing has allowed me to build up a cash reserve to weather those rainy days. Don't understand your IR35 from your ARS3? Get an accountant. Struggling with a lack of human interaction? Start writing from a coffee shop and get involved in the freelancer community (and be grateful you don't have to attend another office party). Lost a client? Start pitching to new ones. Learn from the experience. Move on.
So Happy National Freelancers Day one and all. I will be celebrating. Celebrating the freedom, flexibility and other benefits of working as a freelance writer.
And to that former editor, I'm sorry but I will remain objective about every aspect of my writing with one clear exception: freelancing. It's my life and I love it.
To find out more about National Freelancers Day, click here.
Will Wheaton I, a humble copywriter and science journalist, salute you.
The former Star Trek star, now barrelslayer, tweeted this after a small dispute over pay with Huffington Post:
The tweet was then followed by another:
And a brilliant blog post fully explaining the situation also followed.
It's an important message in today's world where we are drowning in words. Tweets, status updates, emails and instant messages flood our screens giving the impression that words are an expendable commodity that anyone can use to good effect. To quote Mr Wheaton again: "50,000 monkeys at 50,000 typewriters can't be wrong."
But they are wrong. Good words don't come cheap. Good copy don't come cheap. I'd like to share with you a similar experience that I had.
Once upon a blog post..
A couple of months ago, I was in talks with a potential client about writing a series of blog posts for his technology start-up's website. It was a familiar scenario. He was snowed under with the usual ins and outs of setting up a business and wanted to hire in a writer with technical knowledge to establish his brand, connect with customers and boost the SEO of the website. He just didn't have the time to write the blog himself.
Then I received an email from the prospective client, let's call him Marmaduke, telling me he had decided to enlist a mutual friend who was only charging £10 per post.
We parted amicably and I thought that was that.
The other day, I had another email from Marmaduke. He was concerned about the blog posts. The writer had not captured the company's ethos, understood the technical side of the business and not thoroughly spell checked the posts. But then a competitor called to say one of the posts was pretty similar to one of their posts.
Marmaduke did a little more research on the blog and soon discovered his writer had been copying competitors' blog posts or regurgitating old news stories. The work was not original. In fact, it was downright plagiarism. No wonder it only cost £10 a post to produce.
How does cheap copy affect your business?
Bargain basement copywriting is a false economy and it can cost you and your business in more ways than one:
1. Your reputation
Readers will not realise your copy is written by a third party. They will assume it is you and your business so it's your reputation on the line. This is especially true for ghost written content. So remember, even if you didn't write the copy - your business and its values are at the forefront of your readers' minds.
2. Your business
A dodgy blog will not just raise questions from competitors, customers will notice. They will notice the typos, the incoherent messages and the dull copy. Rather than building a brand and connecting with customers, you'll end up alienating or boring them.
3. Your website
Google penalises copied content and copy that shoehorns in obvious keyword phrases. But it can get more serious than that. A site hosted in the US may be hit with a DMCA takedown notice, where the content must be removed from the website. If the owner does not comply, the entire site can be taken offline by the ISP.
When you invest in a professional writer, you don't just pay for a few lines of text. You pay for years of experience, original content, in-depth research, someone who will take the time to understand your business, brand, customers and voice, a certain level of professionalism and high-quality copy that's not littered with spelling mistakes and inconsistencies.
If your budget will not stretch to paying a freelance writer, it's usually best to write your blog posts and copy yourself. You can ask friends and family to proofread your work if you're unsure of your abilities. Or you could ask an experienced writer to proofread and provide feedback on the content for you - it will be cheaper than getting them to write a post from scratch.
Or you could take the same approach as the Huffington Post and convince writers to work for your for free. But, to paraphrase Mr Wheaton again, a writer can't pay their rent with "the unique platform and reach our site provides."
The ‘paperless office’ has been the stuff of legend since the late 90s. When I worked as a technology journalist, I was constantly bombarded with press releases claiming the paperless office was only a few years away.
Let’s skip to 2015. The paperless office is no closer now than it was back then. I’ve just moved house and I have no idea where my printer is. So I’ve decided to run a little experiment.
I work from home as a freelance science and technology writer and everything I do relies on technology in some form. I work in a digital world, but can I survive without paper? Can I exist in my own paperless office?
For the last month, I have shunned all things print. No newspapers. No books. No pen and paper. Nothing other than digital copy.
I’ve had to come up with some savvy solutions to work around a paperless existence. Business cards were replaced with LinkedIn requests. To do lists on the back of envelopes replaced by Wunderlist. Sketches were done on whiteboards instead of scraps of paper.
There have been highs and lows. Let’s look at those now:
The paperless positives
I was wrong to assume a paperless existence meant I would read less. If anything, I have read more. Online copy is littered with related articles, which meant I have consumed more news and soundbites than ever before. I’ve read articles on sites I may never have looked at before and relied on some social media favourites to recommend pieces that I may want to read.
I have also shared content and connected far more than ever before. My Twitter feed is full with interesting articles I have glanced online as I am spending all my time online. I’ve made more connections and learnt more about a wide range of topics as a result.
I’ve also been a little lighter on my feet. My bag is a paper dustbin. Articles, press releases, books and other such bumpf seem to collect here but I only had a phone and a Kindle to cart around. And, surely, I may have saved a few trees into the bargain as well?
And the negatives…
It’s not a new argument but I have to bring it up. An ebook is not the same as a real book. I would prefer my children to see me reading a book on the sofa than flicking through an iPad. And many books, particularly rare and older editions that I love to read, are just not available in a digital format.
The benefit of reading more also has a downside. Sure, I read a lot more but with quantity did not come quality. I flitted between articles without really focusing on the copy I was reading in the here and now. I was easily distracted and felt like I didn’t really take anything in.
Lastly, for me there was one deal breaker: interviews. I work as a freelance writer. I interview dozens of people every month and I need to be able to understand and take away quotes on some incredibly complex topics. I usually rely on my shorthand and a notebook, but these were swapped for Skype, digital recordings and a keyboard.
This is where the paperless office failed. Sure, the tech allowed me to record my interviews but navigating through hours of chat to find a couple of quotes wasted a lot of time. As a freelance writer, my time is now my money. It just did not work.
Falling off the wagon
OK, confession time. I didn’t last. I was 3 weeks and 5 days in when I relapsed and called on my trusty business cards, notebook, pen and shorthand. I was tasked with running the sole coverage of the Fuse 2015 event in London. I didn’t want to risk tech failure and career suicide should my recorder fail to pick up on the killer quotes and insightful talks held during the event aimed at building corporate and startup alliances.
As fate would have it, my digital recordings from the event did work. But so did my paper notebook.
Maybe the paperless office isn’t suited to the world of a freelance writer. Maybe four weeks was not long enough to evaluate a paperless existence.
Or maybe electronic books will never replace paper tomes. E-magazines will not replace glossy magazines. But having digital recordings on had to double check my quotes and listen to the context behind some pretty complicated topics did help.
Just as I found during my paper relapse, both will exist side by side. Paper side by digital side. It’s the best of both worlds.
Today I woke up around 9:30 am. I sauntered downstairs, made a cup of tea and went to my laptop. I wrote a couple of lines, answered some emails and then continued to waft around the house watching daytime television, had a couple of naps and helped myself to a few gin and tonics in the afternoon as I sat in the garden, sunning myself.
This is the life of a freelance writer. This is a complete lie.
I have survived my first week of work as a freelance writer. It's early days, but the reality is very different from the preconceptions I and others hold.
I'm not going to commence with a diatribe about how tough my life is. I'm lucky. I love my job, I love the freedom of working from home and being my own boss. It works well for me and I have found myself asking - why didn't I do this sooner?
There are many reasons why I could not have survived as a freelance writer until now. I've also received quite a few contradictory comments about being a freelance writer. Let's go over them now:
1. I should have done this years ago
No. The years of experience I have built up as a research scientist, science journalist, a technology writer, and web developer give me a strong skill set and extensive contacts list. If I'd tried this track any sooner, I would not have had the know-how, confidence and stability to go it alone.
Every individual is, erm, an individual so it depends on your business model and level of experience. Now is the perfect time to start my business. Find the time that works for you and run with it.
2. I'm a lady of leisure
This one does make me laugh. The concept that setting up your own business, finding work, maintaining that business and doing the odd bit of writing takes time and commitment.
If I did just sit on my bottom all day then I will fail. It can be difficult to resist the urge to switch on the television, pick up a book or do a little DIY. I have a rule: 'if it's unacceptable in the corporate office, it's unacceptable in the home office'.
3. I will be rushed off my feet
Yes, I will - and that's what I'm working bloody hard to achieve. One of my primary motivations to set up as a freelance writer is to spend more time with my family and have a better work/life balance. Goodbye to the commute and hello to a more flexible way of working.
But I want to be swamped with work and for my business to go as far as is possible. I want to have a busy business and to be rushed off my feet - that's a sign of success, not a sign of failure.
4. I will struggle to find work
This was one of my biggest fears when shifting to freelance. I'm happy to say that the opposite has been true so far.
The freelance life is very much one of famine or feast. I am in the honeymoon period. I'm at the feast and stuffing my face with interesting work - it's brilliant. If I do struggle to find work I have a number of contingency plans in place and I am building up a cash reserve for those rainy days.
What comments and bizarre assumptions have you heard about freelancers? I'd love to know - please share in the comments below!
Since I ditched my day job, I have been busy trying to cultivate a growing customer base as a freelance writer.
I won't bore you with the usual list of benefits of having a Twitter feed, Facebook page or LinkedIn presence. Or how to write a killer CV, interesting blog or enthralling cold email. There are far more qualified posts about such marketing methods.
But I have stumbled on some more unusual ways to find clients and win business as a freelance writer. Here they are:
1. Scour the job boards
How do you know if a company needs your services? As a freelance writer, I scour the job boards for companies looking for bloggers, copywriters, marketers and PR experts. I will then contact the company in question and offer my services in the interim as they try to fill that position.
Some companies use me on a temporary basis to fill a much-needed hole in their resources - giving me a new contact. Others sign me up on a more permanent basis as they realise the benefits of outsourcing their copy and not employing a permanent member of staff.
2. Think local...
As a freelance science and technology writer, I'm perfectly positioned to approach the vast range of science and technology companies based in Cambridge. The city is a hub for innovative startups and established tech businesses alike, matching my skill set and writing specialisms perfectly.
The ability to meet up with potential clients and have a face-to-face meeting is a huge benefit - highlight this fact. Ask a potential client you can pop into their office - it's helped me to bag some big names and also learn a lot from the individuals I've meet up with.
3. ... don't discount going global
The world is a tiny space thanks to technology. Businesses and individuals have contacted me from all over the world so I've perfected a way of working with international clients. Collaboration tools are a must. Use Skype, Google Drive and other such systems so you can easily demonstrate to such clients that you can work closely - even when you're working remotely.
4. Competition time!
The technology sector contains many specialist outlets with a narrow niche of target audiences. If you already work with a company that develops, for example, specialist pharmaceutical software - you want to approach other companies that work on similar products under the proviso that you understand and have experience with this niche market.
Finding these specialist outlets is difficult - but it can be done. Try searching through industry-based competition entries to find businesses within your targeted niche.
5. Remember me?
My USP as a freelance writer is that I've worked in the science and technology industries I write about for the last 10 years - giving me a level of expertise and experience that many writers cannot offer. I've been amazed at the number of previous employers and old contacts that signed up to my services through LinkedIn and the odd introductory email letting them know about my new venture as a freelance writer.
As I continue to work as 'the freelance writer who gets tech', I'm sure I will stumble across more weird and wonderful ways to find clients. What experiences have you had finding business as a freelancer? Let me know in the comments below.
The deed is done. The notice is handed in. The new job title is "freelance writer". Bloody hell.
Today has been quite a day for me. I have decided to leave my steady, well paid and wonderful job as a web developer to fully immerse myself in the world of freelance science and technology writing.
It's not been an easy decision. I love working in the technology sector, particularly within Cambridge where so much innovative work is happening. I love my current role, the company and the team I work with. They offer me the flexibility to see my children, the right level of career progression where I feel challenged yet not overwhelmed and, perhaps most importantly, an awesome coffee machine and free biscuits.
So, how have I done it? Why leave a secure job? Can I self motivate as a freelancer? Can I survive without the free coffee? These are all questions that my colleagues, and I, have all asked as the announcement was made.
Let me take you through a few of the answers now:
How have I done it?
Becoming a freelance writer is not a snap decision. Like so many that decide to leave the world of regular work and go freelance, I have been quietly building a client base and combining my 'real' job with my freelance writing.
It's been quite the juggling act. It has involved resurrecting old contacts from my time as a science writer and making new contacts. So far my approach has been broadly reactive to inquiries from those wanting my services and I'm hoping to be more proactive in the coming months (you have been warned).
During this time of testing the water, I have had a lot of help and advice. I've picked anyone and everyone's brains about whether this decision is the right one to make.
One standout source of help has been specialist accountancy firm Nixon Williams. I signed up to their services a few weeks ago and they have made the process of setting up as a limited company as seamless as I think is possible. This takes the strain out of one of the most stressful parts of freelancing - getting the right advice on my finances.
And this would be the biggest bit of advice I can give anyone planning to go freelance - outsource as much as possible. Don't waste your time and energy researching the nuances of tax legislation or SEO or whatever specialism you need help with. It wastes your time and takes your focus away from your business.
And now, my time is also my money.
Why leave a secure job?
I've reached the point where my freelance work is demanding more time but paying better rates than the world of permanent employment. I know I cannot commit fully to both roles so something has to give. It's time to take a calculated risk and become a freelance writer.
And there have been plenty of calculations over the last couple of weeks. Projected incomes. Worst case scenarios. Best case scenarios. Business plans. The cost of an awesome coffee machine.
With all those figures to back me up, plus the promise of a more flexible way of working and a better work/life balance, it's a gamble I want to take. I can quite confidently predict my income over the next few years if I remain within the realms of permanent employment - but the sky's the limit now I'm fully in control of my finances and future as a freelance writer.
Now the deal is done and the resignation letter has been signed, it's up to me to answer the next couple of questions over the coming months. Can I self motivate as a freelancer? I believe so. Can I survive without the free coffee? Maybe.
Between my usual posts on technical wizardry, scientific discoveries and Lego, I will be sharing my experiences as I become a full time freelance writer. I'm hoping it will be a worthy and interesting read. A story of success. Or a tale caffeine withdrawal woe.
Whatever the outcome, I'm ready for the ride. Now the only question left is - do you need any copy? Contact me at email@example.com and I'll answer your questions.
Hello. I'm the freelance writer who gets tech. So, I blog on three core topics:
Science and Technology
And I explain science with Lego in Sunday Science.
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