The Secrets to Writing Really Great Website Content

MagazinesBefore you read, we’d like to let you know that this post is littered with links. Some go to other posts of value, and most go to Amazon. No, we’re not trying to be sleazy. We’re recommending books we think you should read, because we’ve read them ourselves and know – beyond a doubt – that they will make you a better website content writer, more so than any writing course you’ll ever take. Enjoy.

Writing website content is one of the trickiest jobs a writer can take on. It’s unique, it’s special, and it’s an exotic blend that can do magic. Get it right, and you can make a story go viral, or watch a business soar to success, or see someone get hired over and over. Website content is built to influence, persuade and compel, after all.

But get it wrong, and you just cost someone a lot of money.

Granted, writers aren’t miracle-workers (yet). Many factors go into a site that works and a site that doesn’t. Writers don’t have final say over everything that goes on in building a good site. Some factors are out of your control. Some are definitely right there in the palm of your hand.

Are you going to seize them?

Just What Is Website Content, Anyway?
Website content isn’t just a bunch of pretty words flung at a website. There’s an art to the whole affair, and it takes a delicate hand in creation. Writing well comes into play, of course, because having a website full of typos or errors isn’t going to create a credible image.

But website content involves way more than that.

Good website content isn’t really about good writing. The best writers in the world wouldn’t be able to make this type of content work unless they knew what really counts – and what counts isn’t grammar or sentence structure.

In fact, the best website content uses influential elements that have nothing to do with spelling and punctuation at all. Website content breaks the grammar rules all the time. You’ll find fragments and impact words hanging out there in the air – and they work.

You see, that’s the problem with learning how to write for websites.

The common myth is that it’s all about being a good writer, but website content has more to do with sales and marketing, branding techniques, shopping habits, storytelling and fiction and plain old human psychology.

What counts with website content is the power to influence people, the psychology behind why we buy, and what triggers our decisions to stay and read or click away. It uses storytelling techniques and social proof. It relies on impulse buying, scare tactics and mental appeal.

And maybe just a little bit of magic.

What You Need to Learn to Write Website Content
If you want to learn how to write website content, then ditch your diplomas, put down Dickens and forget about coming up with the next best classic. None will help you be a better writer in this special-blend area of the technological world.

That means, yes, you can even throw away The Elements of Style by Strunk and White. (How shocking, I know.)

Get a copy of Influence by Robert Cialdini. Read the Heath brothers’ Made to Stick. Pick up Paco Underhill’s Why We Buy, enjoy a Whack on the Side of the Head by Roger von Oech, and if you want to go really crazy, grab a Consumer Behavior book. Any one will do.

Then settle in and read.

You’re going to learn very little about writing. These books focus on the truth of website content, the knowledge of trigger events, impulse reactions, influential words, ideas that resonate and getting people to gravitate to the words you write.

Because getting people to gravitate to your words, click the link, sign up for the opt-in and hire the business is what website content is all about, isn’t it?

Post by James Chartrand

James Chartrand is an expert copywriter and the owner of Men with Pens and Damn Fine Words, the game-changing writing course for business owners. She loves the color blue, her kids, Nike sneakers and ice skating.

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  1. Yeah, this is why I pay you for good copy. I’d rather focus my time on building up the things that the good copy will sell. 😉

    Alex Fayle | Someday Syndrome´s last blog post…Discipline is not enough – by Isabel Joely Black

  2. James,

    I keep meaning to read Influence. Once I get through the pile on my bed, I will. I promise.

    I love A Whack. It’s one of my top five life-altering books (but you knew that). Everyone should read that one. I really loved Predictably Irrational, too.

    Last year I read Waiting for Your Cat to Bark? which is another super book on consumer behavior. Anybody with a big amazon gift card left from the holidays should toss that into their cart, too.

    Great recommendations!

    Regards,

    Kelly

    Kelly´s last blog post…Inspiration Points: David Ogilvy on Lying

  3. I swear if I didn’t know better I’d say you were in my kitchen last night during a conversation I had with my fiancee!

    It went something like: I don’t know if my writing is good enough for what I want to do but I don’t know how to learn more or get feedback…I wonder what Harry and James have to say on that matter.

    In fact I even went on to consider asking you James if you have any intention of setting up a course to teach this kind of stuff? I mean your mate Brian is the first to say Teaching Sells right?

    Marc – Welsh Scribe´s last blog post…What The Phantom Of The Opera Can Teach You About Writing

  4. Great list of some I’m more familiar with than others. Definitely going to have to check out the Heath book 😀

    Of course, all the things you talk about: storytelling and fiction of course, but psychology, branding and shopping habits too, go into the making of just about any best-selling piece of writing.

    After all, what’s a best-selling author if not good at selling?

    Terry Heath´s last blog post…God. What Could I Actually Call This Post?

  5. This is a really good article, but I was surprised there was no mention of keywords or SEO. In my experience, there’s a very big need for copywriters to learn the basics of SEO copywriting and infuse techniques into their work.

    Monica Valentinelli´s last blog post…10 Things You May Not Know About Me

  6. Influence looks like a great read! Thanks for the recommendation.

  7. @ Monica – I didn’t include SEO because of a few reasons:

    1. It’s not rocket science and really doesn’t require a book.
    2. Keywords don’t sell. Content does.

    @ Terry – That’s actually quite true. More than once Harry and I have agreed that our ability to write great fiction has a lot to do with our success as business writers. It’s surprising to many people, but not us!

    @ Marc – Ahhh, you read my mind. The thought’s crossed it a few times!

    @ Kelly – I’m going to check out that book this morning – you sent me Whack and that was dead on, so I figure any recommendation from you is a good one!

    (Except Seth. Please.)

    @ Alex – I’ve found that to be the smartest way of working. You can invest a lot of time learning, but that time could have gone to active doing. Hire someone who *knows* and do what you do best.

  8. Dude. Tribes. Moved into the #3 spot on my list of life-altering books. Srsly, get it.

    Plus it has a picture of moi on the book jacket. What more do you want?

    Kelly´s last blog post…Inspiration Points: David Ogilvy on Lying

  9. @ Kelly – ARGH!!! Did I NOT say NO SETH?

    *ARGGGGHHH!*

  10. @ James You don’t need me preaching the benefits of a paid writing course to you so I’ll just ask; when are the doors to the James Chartrand School of Writing opening?

    Marc – Welsh Scribe´s last blog post…Are You Really Wasting Your Time Blogging?

  11. James:

    It all sounded good until you advised aspiring writers to toss Strunk & White.

    That’s not good advice at all. It’s like telling an art student not to bother learning how to use a paint brush.

    BTW: where’s the copy for https://menwithpens.ca/author/james

    Thorne´s last blog post…The Work of the Eyes

  12. @ Thorne – Ah, but you see, I’m not trying to teach aspiring writers how to write, nor do I think the Strunk and White crucial to learning how to write well in the first place.

    As for the author page… I didn’t even know we had that! Where’d you find it? What is it? *pokes at it* Did I create it?

    You can find our bio copy here: https://menwithpens.ca/about

  13. @James, I see your point about the book. 🙂 I agree that content sells, but I may have a different perspective than you do because of my experiences.

    LOVE the site by the way. You guys did an excellent job with the new template.

  14. Hi James,
    I read WHACK a long time ago and once more since but I need to see if I still have the old copy and read it again. I do remember it as one of the first marketing books that made sense because it talked about the human experience.
    I have never thought about web writing as more marketing than writing before but you are exactly right. Even if we just want to share our ideas and beliefs we have to “sell” them to others.
    This post was a great way to start my day.

    Andy@no carb foods´s last blog post…No Carb Snacks For A Low Carb Diet

  15. Ahem. Mr. James, you scandalous lad you. I knew when you sent the holy grail of writing to the recycle bin folks would have seizures.

    My site IS a writing site. Lots of “how to” and such over there. I do not advocate writers nervously checking each sentence against Strunk or anything else. They are setting themselves up for fear and frustration and it just ain’t worth it. I encourage people to find their writer’s voice and run with it. I write fragments all the time. Really. I do. But I’m not worried because I have a great voice and it’s real, it’s me. That counts for way more than any grammar rule I can think of. Oh and dangling participles are something else I’m not afraid of. Hehe. Oh, I do crack myself up sometimes.

    Thanks for the reading list.

    George

    Tumblemoose´s last blog post…85 writing posts and counting

  16. Tumblemoose:

    Do you know what’s in Strunk & White?

    It’s not a grammar guide.

    Thorne´s last blog post…The Work of the Eyes

  17. Ooh, some great books there. I’ve been meaning to read Influence. Writing is selling in so many ways. Thanks for the ideas for getting better at it.

    Monica´s last blog post…Twitter Basics from Janet Barclay

  18. Thorne. Are you serious? Of course I have a copy at my fingertips. of course it is used for the purpose of referencing correct grammar.

    But I’ve seen you here before, and I’ll not get sucked into some nit-pik comment diatribe with the likes of you over something as inane as this. Anal-retentively clinging on to something just because you are *supposed* to is sheep behavior, one in which I’m not willing to engage.

    George

    Tumblemoose´s last blog post…85 writing posts and counting

  19. Whoops, hang on there, Tumble. I’m glad to have you here and commenting, and I’m all for polite debate, but that one went over the line.

    I’m going to have to ask that everyone’s comments stay civil and away from personal attacks.

  20. *Deletes his comment while muttering profusely about that Can…deletes that as well* 😉

  21. Thank you for the first-rate post on writing great content. It’s easy to forget that web content has to be effective. Thanks also for recommending those books. I’ll take a look.

    Another excellent book on the subject is Letting Go of the Words by Ginny Redish.

  22. No problem, James.

    Apologies

    George

    Tumblemoose´s last blog post…85 writing posts and counting

  23. I have a copy of Strunk and White and almost two years into an MFA I’ve hardly cracked it (and never used it as a reference). I’ve learned the most about writing blog posts by studying ad copywriting . . . for that matter, just about any good book on marketing will help just about any blogger.

    But . . .

    I’ve just come back into blogging a year after closing a fairly successful blog (another story). During that time I learned a lot more about “writing” and I am sure that contributes to the quality of what I post as well (although you might not be able to tell during my recent “experimental” phase).

    Terry Heath´s last blog post…Three Ways to Make Your Inner Critic Neurotic

  24. Engaging and useful, as always. Now that I’ve clicked every post you linked to, I guess the next step is to start on those books…!

    I’ve actually never read Roger von Oech, but I’ve been looking for an excuse to do so.

    Zoe´s last blog post…How to Meditate, or Why I’m Not a Complete Procrastinator

  25. I hate writing copy. Hate hate hate HATE it. But my 10+ years online has shown me that hype-filled content actually does get tons of results. I’d love to see an example of a how-to book regarding the Internet that DOESN’T ooze with hype….but DOES sell. Please. Show me. I beg you.

    (and yes, I know the copy about which you are talking is far different than the copy upon which I’m focusing. I like the concept of writing honest compelling copy sans blood-curdling hype). 🙂 Barbara

    Barbara Ling, Virtual Coach´s last blog post…2 Tier vs. 1 Tier Affiliate Marketing programs

  26. @ Barbara – Um… none of our ‘how to’ books contain hype-filled content. Just because it’s on the internet doesn’t mean it’s junk 🙂

  27. Everyone of the books you recommended have gone into my wishlist.

    Thanks for sharing.

    Bamboo Forest – PunIntended´s last blog post…Your Pun Intended Universe is Getting a Redesign

  28. Hi James – I haven’t read a single one of those, so I’ll be checking them out. On my blog, I’m guilty of writing whatever comes out, when I really should be thinking more about the words I’m using.

  29. I’d have to agree with Alex. I’d rather hire you, the professional, to do it for me. Because it’s not my joy in life, I’ll never be as good as your.

    However, I think it’s still a good idea to read books like these even if you aren’t going to be a professional copywriter. We are, after all, bloggers who write all the time. We should at least have a basic grasp on this.

    I must admit though, lately I’ve been slacking on my content writing knowledge. I think I’m just tired. I’ve go so much to do, ya know.

    John Hoff´s last blog post…Understanding The Psychology Of Your Website Visitors

  30. Good stuff.

    I thought it was just “all in the wrist.” 😉

    > in this special-blend area of the technological world
    Beautiful phrase.

    Check out Married to the Brand for your collection. It’s a book of surprising insights and data around the emotional connection with your customers, the factors that influence it, and how to actually measure it.

    J.D. Meier´s last blog post…Avoid Mental Burnout

  31. @ JD – Oh, that sounds like a good one. I’m building my list based on some comments here, so I’ll look for that too.

    @ John – What I’ve appreciated from these books is not just the ‘write better copy’ aspect, but the whole business knowledge they’ve provided.

    @ Cath – Hehe, I love your blog. You do fine.

    @ Bamboo – You’re welcome!

    @ Zoe – We’ll give you all the excuses you need. Only you can’t say, “James told me to!”

    @ Terry – Experimental content. I like, lol

    @ Charles – I’ll check out that suggestion as well!

  32. Hey I am SO glad you mentioned Made to Stick. We are so sold on it we are making it part of our marketing system. As you know we are Duct Tape Marketers, and so we’ve go the whole marketing system thing down cold. But we didn’t have a really rockin’ system to get a Strong Idea out of our clients (i.e. one that changes behaviour) till we found the Heaths. They have been very cool about letting us use their stuff, and clients love it.

    Now you are also realizing that this is a referral, right? That’s because we love the book, and also because we are rabid supporters of Make A Referral Week, coming up in March. Yes the big guys are getting bailed out, but we small business owners have to help ourselves. Hope you can get behind it.

  33. I’ve read Cialdini’s ‘Influence’ a few years ago, however hadn’t made the connection between it and website content. Doh! (slaps forehead) I’ll add it to my growing pile of books to read and go through it again with a different focus this time.

    And I’ll add more books as I go! Thanks for the list of suggested reading, both in the post and in the comments. 🙂

    Melinda´s last blog post…Are You Encouraging Visitors to Leave Your Site?

  34. If I didn’t know better I’d say you were in my kitchen last night during a conversation I had with my fiancée! It went something like: I don’t know if my writing is good enough for what I want to do but I don’t know how to learn more or get feedback…I wonder what Harry and James have to say on that matter.

  35. Website content breaks the grammar rules all the time. You’ll find fragments and impact words hanging out there in the air – and they work.

  36. Not enough time to write and comment, now I have to read as well? Grumble, grumble. These sound like good, but scary, recoomendations. Scary because I’ve always been allergic to marketing. Scary because I’m afraid of what I’ll learn about the mind of the typical consumer. I’m with Barbara Ling on the crazy yellow-and-red font-switching consumer sell thing. However, if and when I ever get to retirement (four years away if the economy recovers in time), I’ll need ways to fill the great expanses of time and can read all these fine books and more. 🙂

    Dot´s last blog post…OpenOffice Extensions

  37. I just wanted to thank you for recommending Why We Buy…but then got so engrossed in reading your comments section…haven’t been over here to see you guys in a long time: Hi! I see you’re still up to really good writing. This is a good post because I need to rewrite some web pages over at coachingmatters.com and I need your help.

    Patsi Krakoff aka The Blog Squad´s last blog post…Recession Proof Your Business: List 5 People To Be Grateful For

  38. @ Elizabeth – Made to Stick was fantastic for me – totally all about creativity, thinking outside the box (and within it) and grasping the right idea. Loved it.

    @ Melinda – Influence is a fun read too, and the good thing is, you’ll be able to recognize what your family is doing, haha!

    @ Dot – They’re fun reads, trust me. I hate boring books. And also, most of them aren’t really ‘marketing’ per se, but about how people think. I know you enjoy that, and I know you’d like them.

    @ Patsi – Why We Buy was a hoot. Every time I go in a store now, I mentally measure their ‘landing pads’ and where they put the baskets!

  39. Great post – compelling and realistic. Now to get some great copy…
    .-= Phil Bolton´s last blog ..Secrets to your Successful Career – Part 2 =-.

  40. It’s an innovative notion to consult these texts not to learn about writing but to learn about audience, marketing, and what constitutes valuable content.

    Motivating, too.

    I’m an English teacher.

    I meet people all the time who tell me how they loved to write until such-and-such English teacher criticized them and so they lost their drive.

    Thanks for making the distinction between correct mechanics and effective writing!

Trackbacks

  1. […] read as much as I can to improve my writing. When I saw a post recommending a some books on the psychology of selling (an area I’ve been meaning to learn) by a blogger that I respect and read regularly, I […]

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