8 ways to sharpen up your website copy

Copy is, without doubt, one of the most effective needle-movers in Conversion Rate Optimisation (CRO). In our standout split tests – the ones that show a 20 or 30 per cent uplift or more from a single test – website copy has nearly always played a big part. Sometimes just a handful of words make all the difference.

However, just like a winning goal in football where the scorer gets the glory, it’s actually the whole team that helps to set it up. Copy is successful in CRO because it builds on the in-depth research and analysis that comes first. That said, there are some website copy issues that come up time and again.

In this article, I show you how to look at your web copy and share some tricks of the trade that you can use to get the words on the page working harder for you. 

1. Pay attention to the first word of your product copy

Take a look at how your product copy starts. Do they all begin with a passive word like ‘A’ or ‘This’? Starter words like this lead to unengaging, unimaginable sentences like

  • “A brightly-coloured rug to add a splash of colour to your home”
  • “This dress is perfect for…”
  • “This spray means you’ll never have to…”

Instead, grab the reader from the off by using active words like ‘Discover’, ‘Enjoy’ or ‘Relax’. Then your sentences instantly become more compelling

  • “Brighten your home and add a splash of colour with this cheery rug”
  • “Discover the perfect dress for…”
  • “Free yourself from the chore of…”

2. Use you/your more than we/us/our

Who is your customer interested in? You? Your company? Or themselves?

Put like that, the answer is obvious. They are only interested in themselves. Yet, again and again, companies seem to forget this basic fact. This comes through in copy that is littered with statements about the company. “We are one of”, “Our success”, “We’ve worked really hard”.

There’s an easy way to check whether you’re guilty of this. Simply take a look at your home page, count up how many times the word ‘you’ or ‘your’ is used and how often ‘we’, ‘us’, ‘our’ or your company name is used.

The ratio should be equal at the very least (and then only on a page like ‘About Us’, where you are expected to talk about yourself). Aim for a ratio of 2:1 or 3:1. This may be as simple as simply removing the offending company-centric words. Or you may need to re-write by thinking through what the statement means for the customer.

Here are some examples:

Company-centric statements Benefit for the customer
“We have one of the largest warehouses in the UK” “You’ll get your goods fast, because we hold huge stocks, ready to ship to you”
“We’ve won lots of awards for amazing service” “You can trust our award-winning service”
“We’ve developed a new service” “Discover a new way to buy”

In product copy, avoid saying “We love…”. This phrase is something journalists frequently use in magazines – but they have the authority, because their role is to give their opinion to readers. As the person selling the product you have to explain why the customer will love it, not why you love it. Customers only want to know what’s in it for them.

3. Tell readers what they need to know

Do you let your customers have all the information they need to make a decision to buy? One of our clients sells homewares, and when we started doing usability testing, it became obvious that customers would buy more if they had better product descriptions.

For example, one customer mentioned a lampshade and wanted to know what sort of pattern it cast on the ceiling. Another was interested to know how a rug was knotted and how thick it was.

Remember that your web visitors can’t touch your products. They have no idea whether something feels soft or rough, warm or cold, heavy or light. You have to explain the things they cannot tell just by looking at the photograph. If there are compatible products, (such as, say, a sunshade for a toddler’s buggy) they need to know the options.

This may mean a change to your internal processes, so that the buyers pass on the right information to the marketing team. Only they know why they were moved to buy that product, and all the features and benefits – but they are often so busy buying, they forget to share their fount of knowledge.

However, it’s worth making the effort. In one test, the increase from improving the copy was over 30% in additional revenue per visitor.

4. Don’t bombard readers with information all at once

If you sell complex products, there may be information that customers need in order to buy – but they don’t need at the start of their buying journey.

For example, if you’re buying lights for the garden, you may need to know how long the cables are, what connectors you need, whether the sockets are waterproof, what type of bulbs you need and so on. There may be legal information you are obliged to state.

For the customer, this is essential information before they can actually buy. However, before they get to that point, they will be browsing various garden lights and making up a shortlist. At that point, they don’t want to be hit with a load of technical data and disclaimers. It’s off-putting.

The solution is to separate the information you give them and present the ‘early stage’ copy first. One way to do this is with tabbed copy – hide the ‘dull but necessary’ stuff in a tab so it can easily be found but doesn’t make for a daunting read to early-stage buyers.

CoxCox-control CoxCox-winner
Before After

5. Make your delivery costs easy to read

When customers are about to put something into the basket, their next thought is “How much is delivery going to be?”, “What will it cost me if I need to send it back?”

At that point, they want a straight answer.

They don’t want to have to hunt all over the website to find it. And they certainly don’t want to be confronted by pages of waffle, littered with caveats.

There are two solutions to this. Firstly, make the top line delivery costs clear. Have a pop up, lightbox or tab which gives the cost of standard UK delivery and returns and then a couple of other options, such as next day or Saturday. If you offer free delivery over a certain threshold, start with this. Then have a link to the full delivery page details for other delivery options and international costs.

Then look at your delivery and returns page, and simplify it. Make it sound reassuring. People want to know that their goods will arrive quickly and they can return without hassle. Make it sound like it was written by a human being, not your legal department.

6. Pay attention to your microcopy

Microcopy is the words that give instructions, and is mainly in the checkout. It often gets overlooked by the marketing team because it’s just a few words, usually in quite small print.

However, when the customer is reading that text, they are in an emotionally-heightened state, and are highly involved with the copy. Wording such as “You have made an error” when they are filling out their postcode can make them abandon the purchase. Root out these hidden non-persuaders and re-word carefully.

7. Introduce a guarantee

Guarantees work because they create a feeling of reassurance, trust and credibility. If you don’t have one, you’re missing a trick.

The chances are you offer a guaranteed level of service. Presumably if someone wasn’t happy with your product you’d offer a refund, pronto? If so, that’s a guarantee.

Simply write a few words to let people know, slap the word GUARANTEE on to it, and design a device that looks like you mean it.

Many clients think this will encourage people to return stuff, and their warehouse will be flooded with returns. Experience shows this simply doesn’t happen. Sure, the odd person will try it on, but they are a tiny, tiny percentage. You can blacklist them. They will be more than offset by the additional people who decide to give you a try.

8. Use voice of customer

One of the most powerful ways to sharpen up your web copy is to mirror the vocabulary and syntax that your customers actually use.

But how do you tune in to their tone of voice so that they connect with you and want to buy?

This is where Conversion Rate Optimisation plays a major part. You’ll pick up clues at every stage. Here are some of the research sources an optimiser uses to develop the hypotheses that lead to split testing:

  • Usability testing
  • Online surveys
  • Live chat transcripts
  • Listening in to real-time phone calls
  • Email surveys
  • Social media interactions
  • Reviews
  • Ask an owner/ask a question sections

All of these sources let you hear, and read, the voice of your customers loud and clear. Be sensitive to it, adopt the same tone of voice in your copy and your visitors will reward you by opening up their wallets – the ultimate seal of approval.

If you want to achieve double-digit increases in your sales for your e-commerce website, A/B split testing is a powerful and profitable tool when used as part of a complete Conversion Rate Optimisation (CRO) programme. Download our guide to A/B Testing here:


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Posted in: Conversion Rate Optimisation

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