Is your website working hard? Are you regularly receiving enquiries through your website? Are great clients coming to you with good-paying work – and interesting projects?
Or have you resigned yourself to having to hunt high and low for so-so clients? Do you regard your website as a pointless gewgaw? Is your website one of your greatest assets, or is it just an abandoned relic?
Whatever the state of your website today, there are things you can do right now to improve its performance. And by ‘performance’ I mean how many people it brings to your door. You don’t need a marketing budget, coding skills or a flair for self-promotion to improve the effectiveness of your website. However, every ounce of energy and hour of time that you devote to your website will reward you with more enquiries and a better calibre of client.
So what’s stopping you? The only good reason for not improving your website is that you’re overworked. So if you’ve got too much great work already, stop reading.
For everyone else, this article will take you through all of the aspects that combine to create effective websites. So in addition to questions of website layout, content and design we’ll look at the off-site factors that decide how many people will discover you. Let’s start with the on-site elements of your website…
Gerry McGovern, a highly-regarded content strategist, is a proponent of a task-focused approach to creating websites.
- Don’t create a website based on what you want to show or share.
- Do create a website by helping your users complete tasks.
Start by thinking about what your users want to do. For a freelance copywriter, we can assume that your ideal user is someone who wants to hire a copywriter. So what is the client looking for? What tasks does the client want to complete?
Clients looking for copywriters might have the following questions:
- Relevance: is this copywriter right for our project?
- Experience: does this copywriter have experience in my industry / marketing field?
- Attitude: could I work with this person?
- Location: can we collaborate face-to-face?
- Expertise: has this copywriter worked on big projects or as part of a team?
- Price: is this copywriter a beginner or a seasoned professional?
- Trust: can I trust this person?
- Availability: is it worth contacting this freelancer?
- Signs of life: is this copywriter still an active freelancer?
- Contact: how easy is it to contact this person? Can I email or call – or do I have to fill in a form?
- Legitimacy: is this copywriter a proper business – or just a chancer?
- Social proof: would this copywriter’s clients recommend them?
- Recognition: has this copywriter been awarded for their work?
- Credentials: has this copywriter been trained, or are they self-taught?
- Social connections: can I follow this person online to get a sense of who they are?
If we translate these questions into actions, we can see that potential clients may have lots of questions to answer before they initiate contact. So a typical client may spend some time reading your words, clicking your links and trying to evaluate you.
I’m stating the bleeding obvious, but with good reason: it’s important to remember that you will only get enquiries if clients can complete these actions without too many interruptions, distractions, frustrations or roadblocks.
Too many freelancers make life difficult for potential clients. And this is precisely why many freelancers do not get enquiries online. Let’s look at the various elements that your website must get right in order for clients to complete their tasks.
As a copywriter, you will inevitably spend a long time thinking about the words you use. And that’s good because potential clients will scrutinise those words and look for all kinds of clues. They won’t just check your spelling and grammar; they’ll be making assumptions about you based on your work. Remember that some clients will assume that the way you write on your website is the only way you write. So write in a way that is most likely to appeal to the broadest audience of your desired clients. In this light, humour becomes even more risky than usual. An abundance of puns or witticisms might not just prompt groans; it might result in clients assuming that your bad jokes are as good as you get.
Clients will also get a sense of your attitude from your words. For example, a pleading tone and excessive superlatives can make you seem desperate. And desperation is never attractive. So while you want to seem keen to receive enquiries, play it cool and don’t beg for work. Try to appear calm, confident and as though you have plenty of work already.
Check that your ice-cool exterior doesn’t come across as frosty though. Many clients will look for freelancers as though they were choosing a friend; and they’ll steer clear of anyone who sounds like an enemy.
Ask a friend to check your copy. Ask them: what impression does this give you? Would you want to work with me? Would you have any concerns after reading this copy?
You know you’re great, but potential clients have no way of knowing if you’re the best copywriter since Ogilvy, or a delusional fraudster. Your ‘about’ page is a crucial space, because it gives you a chance to prove that you’re a decent human being. You don’t need to write your autobiography – just give a sense of you as a person, and how you got into copywriting.
You can also use this space to reinforce the claims you make elsewhere. For example, if you write for a specialist area like technology or medicine, you might talk about your relevant hobbies or qualifications. Try to build a consistent picture of yourself as a reliable, trustworthy professional.
You probably have a good idea of what clients usually want to know about your services. So make sure you customise your approach to suit what you know about your clientele. For example, SEO clients might be more analytical, and interested in the percentage increase in traffic you can bring, while advertising clients may be looking for clues that you’re a conceptual genius. Social media types may need evidence that you understand the evolving web, while B2B clients may need stolid content that doesn’t rock the boat. Think about your audience and give them what they want.
A few examples of things you might cover:
- Your copywriting process
- Benefits of your services
- Services offered (e.g. writing, editing, blogging, social media, strategy, reports etc)
- Experience / expertise / preferred type of client
- USPs (i.e. why you are better than your competitors)
Don’t assume that anything is obvious. Your clients may have never hired a copywriter before. You can help them by explaining what they can expect when they contact you. If you can be the one copywriter who makes them feel smart and in control you stand a better chance of winning their work.
Your portfolio is one of the single biggest factors in whether you get a job or not. The best portfolio of work is one filled with projects that are relevant to your ideal client. If you want to work with local businesses, talk about your work with local businesses. Looking for clients in the entertainment industry? Highlight your entertainment clients.
As well as simply listing clients, try to give some context, such as what you did and how it helped the client. If you can tell stories about your work experience, you are more likely to persuade potential clients that you can help them – even if you don’t have expertise in their industry.
If you can’t mention your clients because of non-disclosure agreements either say so, or work around this by anonymising the case studies and talking about the size of the client, their industry and the work you delivered.
One of the biggest mistakes that freelancers make is failing to update their portfolio regularly. If you want the best clients you can get, you must diligently update your portfolio to include the very best examples you have to share. You should use every piece of work as leverage to prise open new opportunities.
The next piece of work you add to your portfolio could win you a big job. I’ve had clients tell me that they only got in touch because they saw a competitor in my portfolio. Without an up-to-date portfolio I would never have got the enquiry, or the work.
Yes, you do the words, but prospects will judge you on the appearance of your website. I know. It’s horribly unfair. But it’s true. If you can’t create (or buy) a beautiful website, aim to create (or buy) something functional. It’s better to focus on function than to bodge together an abomination.
Does your website look out of date? Clients may think you’re out of date too. Signs of dereliction could cost you enquiries, especially if your competitors look modern, relevant, and in control of their business.
Squarespace and WordPress are both good options if you want a better website but don’t have technical skills.
Is every link still active? Do sliders or sidebars include relevant content? Do forms open and close as they should? And does everything still work if you switch browsers? Or move to a different device?
Have you resorted to cheesy stock photography of people in suits? Or did you opt for those graphics of bobble-headed people? Photography is difficult to get right – so choose carefully, and try to avoid anything that is out-dated or amateur. Better to have no photographs than something embarrassing.
It is helpful to include a picture of yourself, mainly because it helps to prove that you are a real person. Again, remember that people will look for clues to help them judge you, so something fairly neutral is probably best. For example, you might be a mad keen cyclist but most clients don’t want to see you stretching your best Lycra. Unless of course you write about cycling or are specifically looking for clients in the cycling world.
If you want to get clients through your website, you should be blogging regularly. The less work you have, the more blogging you should do. There are two primary benefits to blogging. First, potential clients can read your blog, check you out, see what you think, and make sure that you’re still operating. Second, a busy blog tells Google that you’re active. If Google thinks you’re active, it will send people to you.
Blogs are a good place to be less formal, to let down your guard and share your views on your craft. But you should still be professional and still give every word due care and attention.
Contact forms. Ugh. Sure, sure, you want to protect your email address from spammers, so you put up a contact form. And potential clients debate whether they want to fill in a form that may go nowhere, to contact a copywriter who may have retired. When I encounter contact forms I give up and look elsewhere. You may have a popular and well-used contact form, but do you know how many potential clients never bother to fill in the blanks?
Make it easy for people to contact you. Offer a phone number. And make sure you can either answer your phone, or offer a personalised voicemail message. Give your email address. And respond to emails quickly. The less work you have, the quicker you should reply to emails.
Don’t bore people with your latest tweets, but do make it easy for people to find, follow, connect and like you online. If you use social media, offer links to your accounts. Some agencies go scouting for freelancers and will follow a few to get to know them.
Have you got a degree in marketing? Or a qualification in copywriting? If you have relevant achievements, be sure to make them obvious.
Testimonials are a good way to build trust with prospective clients. They are stronger when you can identify the author and the company they work for. LinkedIn includes a recommendation request feature, which is great because then your recommendations are attached to a real person. And of course you can re-use these recommendations on your own website.
The best websites respond to fit the size of the screen they’re viewed on. If your website is not responsive, it should at least be legible and functional on smaller screens. Try to read the pages of your website on a mobile phone and a tablet. Is it easy? Can you click the links and use the menus? Does your contact form work? Can people find all of the important information from any screen?
Hard-working websites are really made off-site, because if you don’t create connections to your website, nobody will find it in the first place. You can’t convert people who aren’t there.
Links to your website
The basic rule here is that good, honest activity leading to good, honest links from good, honest websites will tell Google that your website is reputable, useful and relevant.
Google is more likely to include your website in search results if it sees other websites linking to it.
Good places to get links:
- Local business directories
- Professional organisations
- Web directories
- Social media
- Blogs – leave a comment!
Yes, social media is a good way to show Google that you are an active freelance copywriter. But social networks can also be useful as a way to find clients.
LinkedIn – take time to create a complete profile and connect with your clients and colleagues. As mentioned above, it’s great to get recommendations here because they are attributed to the author – so any curious client can check the pedigree or your referee.
Twitter – a popular hang-out for certain groups, especially those in media, marketing and some business areas. I’ve seen many clients go looking for copywriters on Twitter. It’s a great place to get recommendations – but you have to be there and you have to get to know people first.
Instagram – a photo-sharing app isn’t an obvious home for copywriters, but that could stand in your favour.
Facebook, G+ and everything else – If a social network helps you get in front of your clients, or helps you build good quality links to your website, then it’s probably worth your time.
Your website is never finished
Websites are not like books. They’re never finished. Your website is more like a magazine. You need to assemble a new issue every month or two. Otherwise your website will begin to stagnate. Your competitors will overtake. You’ll lose enquiries.
Hard-working websites need regular maintenance. The less work you have, the more maintenance you need to do.
A common trap for new freelancers is that they do great work with their website for a few weeks, win some work, then neglect their website. They finish the work and realise they have no other clients lined up. To avoid this scenario, you need to keep up the web marketing even when you’re busy. As your career develops you may find that you can ease off the marketing efforts, but in the early days it’s especially important to be relentless in your marketing – unless you can afford big gaps in your work schedule.
Is your website failing?
Hopefully the above 2500 words above will give you a few ideas about how to improve your website. But if you’re really struggling to get work through your website, let me review it for you. I’m offering to review the website of one freelance copywriter, for free, and record the review as a video.
If you’re tempted, but wary of public humiliation, fear not; I will only offer constructive criticism that might help you – and others in your shoes – to have a more effective website.
Interested? Leave a comment below.