Posted by: wordsmithsuk | January 10, 2011

Websites that work

This week I am delighted to have a guest post from Lesley Morrissey whose work I have been admiring for some time. She is a communications consultant, brilliant copywriter and an expert in readability and usability. You can find out more about Lesley on her website.


Making a website work has many elements that need to be considered.   They’re interdependent, so no matter how good one element is, it won’t work unless they all work together.

  • First you need an attractive and easy to use website.  This means a design that looks good and a means for the user to find their way around easily.
  • If you have a site that does clever things, like gathering user information or has forums, chat rooms, e-commerce or other interactive media, you’ll probably need a website developer as well as a designer.  They’re not the same thing.
  • Next you need compelling copy and a message that the visitor gets quickly and easily.
  • Then the message needs to be presented in a way that the reader finds easy to see and easy to read.
  • There needs to be a clear call to action on every page – or people don’t do anything!
  • Finally, you need traffic – people visiting the site regularly who are looking for what you’re offering.

How does the website visitor get your message?

This is the critical bit!  Firstly you need to be very clear what your message is.

The first question I ask clients is ‘Why do people buy you/your services/products and not someone else who does what you do?’  It’s rarely just because you are the cheapest, best or smartest.  Everyone is unique and people buy people.  Most companies find that people choose to engage them or buy their products not for what they do, but for how they do it.

If you don’t really know, or would like to check, why your current clients buy you – ask them.  Ask them:

  1. What do we do for you?
  2. What is it like working with us?
  3. What are the outcomes/results/changes that you’ve got as a result of what we’ve done/supplied?

This will help you to focus on your unique selling proposition (USP) and what your existing clients will buy, so will others.

What are web visitors looking for?

What words have they typed into the search engine that will bring them to your site?  Don’t imagine that they will use the same words you do – they won’t.

For instance, if I want a personal development coach, I might type in:

  • How to get my life on track
  • How do I get promoted at work?
  • How do I get work/life balance?
  • How do I manage my workload and get home on time?
  • Etc.

People often type in questions.  They don’t use your industry language, so keep your message at customer level, give them what they are actually looking for, not what you think they should have.

What keeps people reading?

People don’t read on the screen, they scan and pick up words here and there and the odd sentence or read a list.  It’s a bit like being at a party with lots of people chatting; you can’t hear every conversation, but if someone says your name you hear it.

If someone is looking at a web page, the words they were searching for will stand out for them.  So having key search words in bold helps them to find what they’re looking for (but don’t go mad, there’s nothing worse than copy peppered with bold words and phrases).

Don’t put great wodges (a technical term) of text in front of your reader, it looks overwhelming and ‘hard’.  I learned ‘one idea per paragraph, one thought per sentence’ – stick to short paragraphs of only 4-5 lines and short sentences too.  Any sentence that runs onto a third line probably needs editing into two.

Plenty of white space between paragraphs and lines that are not jammed tightly together all promote easy reading.

Know what you want

Before you begin writing a web page, be clear about what you want people to do on each page of your website.  What do you want them to find out and then what action do you want them to take?

Make action simple – put hyperlinks into the instruction so:

Explore our custom designed sofas now.

Click here for our custom designed sofas.
Explore our custom designed sofas.  (and then hope that they’ll scroll back up and find their way there via the menu!)

Don’t tell them anything that’s not necessary

It’s very difficult to write your own marketing copy online or offline – most of us know far too much about our businesses and want to tell the potential customer everything!  Be ruthless, cut copy that doesn’t help people to decide to take action.  Get someone who isn’t in your business, and is not a friend or family member to review before you publish.

A good customer or someone who is a potential customer is a good choice.


Your website is always ‘work in progress’.  If you don’t update it regularly the search engines will gradually lose interest – and so will potential clients.  Keep it fresh, add a blog or a news page or your latest newsletter.  Promote it everywhere and you’ll soon get interested visitors who are prepared to take action.

New Year news from Word Smiths

We’ve just published our January newsletter – have look at it, and the new Word Smiths website. Do you think they reflect Lesley’s points? We’re still checking!



  1. So useful, thanks.

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