Writing for Your Website is Not the Same as Writing a Brochure

(Does Anyone Still Write Brochures?)

I got a call from an old friend and colleague who works in fundraising. He wanted some advice on how to make his organization’s web site work harder at getting visitors to give them their email addresses and ultimately to make donations. I took a look at the site and realized that the core problem was not that the organization failed to ask for email addresses and donations (and did so in several key places) but that it was not applying smart web-writing skills to achieve its goals.

My for-profit clients (unlike too many of my nonprofit ones) are very disciplined about creating web copy and content that is conceived with their online visitor in mind; choosing words carefully to leverage and optimize search; letting go of the straight prose writing style to give its visitors an exceptional online experience; and always giving the visitor something of value before asking for anything.

Recognizing that writing for the web is not at all like writing a straight piece of copy for a brochure or a report is essential if you want visitors to return to your site and become real supporters of your organization. As I told my friend the fundraiser, making your web site more engaging by writing in a web-centric style can be done quite easily and once learned and consistently applied, will reap the benefits you expect.

Here are few pointers:

  • Think from the user point of view. We call them “visitors” for a reason. They are our guests who drop by and have the power to leave at a moment’s notice. Understand the various pathways that a visitor may take to get the information/engage with your organization online. Create and place chunks of content in logical, intuitive, easy-to-access parts of your website.
  • Develop a list of words that help define your organization and its work. Consider investing in a search optimization service that will guide you to build your list of key words and phrases that can help drive traffic to your site. Then use these words and phrases strategically in creating your web content.
  • Put priority content on the homepage and keep its length short. People will read enticing small bites of content in any number of different defined areas on your homepage and if it interests them, they will click deeper to learn more. Respect your visitor’s time and level of engagement. If the content is compelling and relevant, the right people will dig deeper.
  • Work closely and collaboratively with your tech team. You need their good guidance to get the best wireframe possible. They need you to tell them clearly what your needs and expectations for the site are. Only with your good direction can they deliver a web site frame that will deliver the results you want. So, explain your top priority content needs, where you want visitors to go most, and what you are going to give back to visitors to provide them a satisfying experience.
  • Remember, you want to give visitors reasons to revisit your site. So, take a lesson from the for-profit world and offer real value for free. Information is valuable – most nonprofits have tons of information and knowledge to share. Just because you don’t have Bruce Springsteen tickets to give away or coupons for free air travel, you do have lots of things that people need and want. Figure out what your typical supporter is like and that should guide you to create a list of benefits that you can readily turn into free, valuable online content that will keep your web site visitors coming back and becoming the supporters you seek.

Gail Hyman is a marketing and communications professional, with deep experience in both the public and private sectors. She currently focuses her practice, Gail Hyman Consulting, on assisting Jewish nonprofit organizations increase their ranks of supporters and better leverage their communications in the Web 2.0 environment. Gail is a regular contributor to eJewish Philanthropy.