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January 30

Writing Effective Web Copy for Higher Education Marketing


Writing copy for the web can’t be a second-thought, left-to-chance job for the higher education marketer—the online world is native to your audience. So today I’m sharing five copywriting principles for the web that the greatest marketers use to keep their audience engaged.

Implementing these five web writing tactics into your web copy, along with the previous web writing tips I wrote earlier, will encourage greater user interaction with your website and higher conversion rates.

But before we get to them, this needs to be stated up front: Make sure whoever is writing your website copy is more than just a “good writer.” They need to understand the finer points of persuasive copy.

Writing web copy is as foreign to the academic writer as bobsledding is to Jamaicans.

Remember Disney’s movie Cool Runnings?

Writing for the web is as unnatural to most writers as Jamaicans bobsledding in the winter Olympics.

The movie is based on the true story of how the first Jamaican bobsledding team had to learn through trial and error how to translate what they knew from running and pushcart racing into the nuances of bobsledding, a winter sport these Caribbean natives had no experience in at all.

There are, of course, similarities between the sports of running, pushcart racing, and bobsledding, but they’re all different sports with different tactics, strategies, and rules.

In higher education marketing, I see way too many websites where an overloaded (sometimes understaffed) marketing department simply tells each organizational department to write the copy for their pages on the website.

The resulting copy is dense blocks of jargon and academic gobbledygook that scares the target audience away.

Academic writers have to learn the art of web writing just like the first Jamaican bobsled team had to learn how to bobsled.

Don’t just grab anybody from the English department. You don’t want a novelist. You want a copywriter.

By the way, have you ever wondered about the real story of the first Jamaican bobsled team from the Winter Olympics in 1988? Then you’ll want to check out this short Canadian news story on them “Cool Runnings: Truth Behind Original Jamaican Bobsled Team.

Web Writing Secret #1: Start with the main point.

A common structure in academic writing is to tell the reader what you’re going to say, say it, and then conclude with your main point.

But this structure is an epic failure on the web because your audience is sifting through an ocean of information in search of one thing…

Answers to their questions.

Your target audience is searching for answers to their questions about your college or university when they arrive at your site.

And when they first land on one of your pages, you need to give them answers right away so they’ll stay longer.

Journalists have been using this technique for a long time to catch the eye of readers who’re scanning through the news headlines.

They call it the “inverted pyramid” and it looks like this:

inverted pyramid

For decades, the “inverted pyramid” structure has been a mainstay of traditional mass media writing. Following this structure, the “base” of the pyramid—the most fundamental facts—appears at the top of the story, in the lead paragraph. Non-essential information appears in the following paragraphs, or “nut” graphs, in order of importance. – Purdue University

Your reader should be able to read quickly over the first few sentences of your article or web page and walk away knowing what the page is about.

Web Writing Secret #2: Keep it simple… son.

I’ve been a long time fan of the KISS method: “Keep it simple, son.” Or more to the point: “Keep it simple, stupid.”

Your reader is on the hunt for answers to their questions. They don’t have time to consult their dictionaries while reading your article.

So, don’t try to be clever or vague.

Say what you mean. Simply. Clearly. Quickly.

Web Writing Secret #3: Use words your reader uses.

It may be the source of grief for English language aficionados, but there are some words that are used more than others… and some words that are just not used at all.

As Web readers, we are hunter-gatherers once again – only this time, instead of scanning the horizon for prey, we scan pages for carewords. When we see these words, we click, we act. – Gerry McGovern

As the web writer, you must use these “carewords” in your copy. Some notable (perhaps exaggerated) examples are:

  • “Cheap colleges” instead of “cost effective higher education”
  • “Safe colleges” instead of “secure educational environment”
  • “Best colleges” instead of “universities that pursue academic excellence”

Web Writing Secret #4: Expect your audience to land anywhere at random on your site.

Your website is not the next great American novel where readers start with chapter 1, then go on to chapter 2, and so on, until they arrive at the climactic ending you’ve got waiting for them.

No, web readers land on pages at random—just as if you’d picked up a book and started reading somewhere in the middle.

This means you’ll need to write web copy on all your pages that points the reader back to the main content pillars of your website, like your homepage.

Web Writing Secret #5: Use rich content.

Design and copy should support one another.

Your audience expects a rich, immersive, and visual experience when they come to your website.

Make sure you write copy with these visual elements in mind:

  • Quote bubbles
  • Callout bars
  • Featured images
  • Photos dispersed throughout the text
  • Testimonial or explainer videos

This isn’t an exhaustive list of all the visual and interactive elements available on the web, but this is the foundation of rich media—and it’s just as important as the words on your page.

No better time to begin than now.

Start using these web writing secrets in your higher education website and begin tracking your results using tools like Google Analytics.

Cut down the word count on most of your web pages, and make sure your copy is giving the audience what they’re looking for without all the hassle of reading through a forest of words.

And by the way, if you need assistance with your web writing, segmentation, marketing strategy, or web development, we’d be happy to help. Contact us today!

Cool runnings to you, my friend.

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Featured image by undrey via Adobe Stock
Inverted Pyramid image via CoSchedule

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