Top 10 Website Features #7: Storytelling Copy

wordyby Mark S. Burgess, Page Mountain LLC

Who wrote what’s on your website?

When was the last time you read through it?

As mentioned in earlier editions of this series, human beings in the West, read. They read top-to-bottom, left-to-right; see faces before objects; objects before colors; colors before text and finally text…where they spend most of their web browsing time. (With the onslaught of video, I would argue that duration may no longer be a good measure of valuable attention span – more on that in the next installment.)

The Series So Far

  1. Backup at the same frequency as changes
  2. Finding the Contact Us Button
  3. A responsive “mobile” design
  4. Website Logistics
  5. A Clean Well Lighted Home Page
  6. Building Your Agile Website
  7. Storytelling Copy

When Tim Berners-Lee envisioned the Web as a means for presenting research papers with embedded links connecting material and images inline with the text, I believe he saw images as illustration of the text, as an addition and not a primary focus. He thought then that people would still spend most of their time reading.

That’s still true.

Consider what dominates each of these top 6 sites in the US:

  • Google: text
  • Facebook: text
  • Youtube: video
  • Yahoo:text
  • Amazon: text
  • Twitter: text

Images and video are making inroads on Facebook and Twitter. #5 Youtube (according to Alexa) is mostly video and not text, but that just highlights the contrast between your site and Youtube. How likely is it that you deliver your message in the real world using only video?

Most companies have a narrative – a body of text – that describes their products, services, promises and procedures. Who writes that stuff? Professional copy writers? Trained writers?

In a welcome moment of candor, the web designers at MightyBites tell a good story about how most websites get built in “Stop Writing Web Copy that Over Explains Everything”

It’s a common tale: a graphic designer lays out a site with filler Lorem Ipsum content that a writer is then assigned to fill in. Garbage ensures

Start with the Story

If you want to get your site placed highly in search engines, the first thing to do isn’t to hire an SEO (search engine optimization) firm, it’s to get your story told well. If it’s told well, it will contain the keywords and phrases that attract your customers. Google fails if its visitors do searches for “best local Italian” and the first page of results fills with keyword optimized, black-hat link-farmed pages for political candidates. The first step in building a quality website is a well conceived, well written and appropriate story.

Think of it like this:

You’re at a networking event. Someone asks “So, what do you do?”

Do you reach into your pocket and pull out a photo of your office or of your product and hold it up to them? No, you tell them a story. If you’re practiced and successful at telling that story, it comes out of you quickly and your listener digests it easily.

So it should be with your website.

Show don’t Tell

“Showing” doesn’t mean start carrying photos around, but good website writing always uses imagery and not lecture. Which of the next two sentences engages you:

You should use more adjectives and metaphors in the descriptions for your products so you say more about what they do and make sure people understand how good they are.


Singe the eyebrows of your customers when their eyes wander onto your home page. Light a fire with stories about your customer heroes that burns the quality of your products into the visitor’s brain like a branding iron red hot from that fire.

A local and very successful company, who obviously doesn’t depend on its home page for much, as the only copy on the page asks: “Why do we want what’s just around the corner to be in front of us today?” and before you can even read the unspecific and generic copy underneath and click the Learn More button (unlikely) – a survey pops up asking for your feedback. A spectacular user interface failure. If you are already a billion dollar firm like they are, then you might not notice, but if you’re working hard to sell the next click into your website, tell a story and make sure it’s well written and presented.

With a good story, you show a reader why they need to engage with your company. Good stories draw them in so they aren’t even conscious they are reading.

Another local and large employer has it right. First you see the smiling photo of what must be a smart person (they have glasses on, after all) and then you read “Impact your community as a teacher, accelerate your career with an MBA or secure your future in cyber security.” If you’re their target market, that well crafted sentence is fuel to the clicking engine you become to find out more.

Yes, more people are watching more video, but it pales in comparison to how much writing the users of the web consume. If your site is well written, properly structured and tells a good story, you’ll get the attention you seek.