Without knowing it, most freelance designers are following a script. That’s because every industry develops its own acceptable language—a way of talking that is so familiar, it starts to seem like the only way to communicate.
As a result, your attempts at writing your own website copy are probably similar to what you’ll find on the sites of other freelance designers. It’s easy to get so used to the language of your industry that when you’re writing, it’s almost like you’re filling in a template.
“Memorable copy helps you capture the attention of new clients.”
But not only is this a sure-fire path to boring copy, you’re missing the chance to stand out in a competitive marketplace and capture the attention of new clients.
Memorable copy will help you do just that, and there’s no better place to start than copy that’s above the fold. First impressions are crucial, and the copy that greets people who land on your website sets the stage for what they think about you and your brand.
These above-the-fold copywriting strategies will help you stand out and get the right people to keep scrolling.
Make it meaningful
Copy above the fold should be minimal. The idea is to show the user what you’re about and capture their interest in a matter of seconds. Are you feeling the pressure?
The key to making a good impression is to make sure the few words you do use really count. You can help ensure every word is pulling its weight by avoiding these common pitfalls.
Avoid words that don’t mean anything
Generic words like beautiful, stunning, and awesome don’t add much to your copy. Since they could be used to describe anything good, they don’t offer your potential client any meaningful information. For that same reason, this generically positive language is unconvincing and could make you seem less trustworthy.
Cut these words out in favor of more specific words that couldn’t be used to describe every decent product and service under the sun—such as functional, user-friendly, creative, or modern.
Also, make sure you’re not using industry jargon that your clients won’t understand. If you tell people you’re an “innovative multidisciplinary design strategist,” they’re more likely to be confused than impressed. Instead, go for language you might use in everyday conversation so potential clients get what you mean.
Avoid words that mean everything
Marketers like to say that if you’re talking to everyone, you’re talking to no one. Trying to appeal to everyone makes your copy bland and forgettable. So it’s important to write specifically for the people you most want to work with.
For example, I once wrote copy for a web designer who creates branding for small businesses, along with some work for medium-to-large businesses. Because her brand had a nautical theme, she had drafted a tagline that read ‘Branding for big and little fish’. This was a good start, but I pointed out that the phrase “big and little fish” captures pretty much everyone, whereas it would be better to be more specific. What type of branding is it, and for who?
“Trying to appeal to everyone makes your copy bland and forgettable.”
With a few small tweaks, the tagline became “Big branding for little fish.” The words big branding reflected her bright, colorful design style, as well as the big-agency experience she brings to the table. The words for little fish specified her primary target, which is smaller businesses. That doesn’t mean bigger businesses never get in touch; it means the ones that do are looking for the personal touch her services provide.
Don’t start with “I”
As a freelancer, it’s easy to launch into talking about yourself when you write your website copy. After all, your business is you and the services you offer, so the most obvious place to start is to tell people about that.
This is why, when you cruise around the websites of freelancers, you’ll be hit with a lot of “I” statements above the fold. Here are a few examples:
- I’m a freelance web designer and front-end developer
- I’m Katie, a freelance designer based in Brooklyn
Here are a few reasons why above-the-fold copy that revolves around the word “I” isn’t as effective as it could be:
- It’s boring. If you say “I’m Jess. I’m a web designer and brand strategist,” that doesn’t tell us much about what makes you different. It’s a competitive world out there, so you need to give people a reason to choose you.
- No one cares who you are until they know whether you can help them. Your potential clients want to see that you understand their problem, because that’s the first step towards solving it.
So think about your ideal client—the one who loves what you do and is great to work with. Whether you’re picturing a real person or an imaginary one, try to put yourself in their shoes and think about why they love you so much. Why are your services exactly what they’re looking for?
“No one cares who you are until they know whether you can help them.”
Now turn your tagline around so it focuses on the value you offer, without the word “I.”
For example, instead of “I build customized, responsive e-commerce websites,” try “Responsive e-commerce websites, custom-made for your business.” That way, it’s all about them—you haven’t mentioned yourself directly at all. But it still clearly communicates what you do. Result? Your ideal client feels you’re a good fit and you understand what they need.
Don’t follow the formula
You know those phrases you just type without thinking? The ones that feel safe and natural? They’re draining your copy of personality and clouding the meaningful messages you want to shine through.
If it’s the first thing you think of to write and you don’t feel at all uncomfortable when you write it, it’s probably because you’re staying well within the bounds of what most other freelance designers write on their portfolio websites.
For example, a common above-the-fold copy formula in the freelance world looks something like this:
I create websites that make small businesses more money.
I design brands that help businesses grow.
First you say what you do, then you add that you help people make more cash or grow their business.
“Always put the user first.”
But isn’t every freelance designer ultimately helping people make money and grow their business? It’s not so much a point of difference as just the basic goal of capitalism.
So unless making people more money really is your thing—say, you specifically measure how your work makes clients more money and you have the data to back that up elsewhere in your copy—focus on something else. Assume the client knows you want to make them more money. That’s a given. Now what else is left? What’s your point of difference?
Maybe you’ve previously studied or worked in another area that informs your current work. Maybe your point of difference is that you care about your clients’ results even more than they do, or that you have an eye for detail. Maybe you specialize in working for startups or coaches.
For example, instead of “Website design to grow your business,” how about “Websites so crafted, you’ll want to lick the screen.” It feels more risky, because not everyone will like it. But when it comes to which one you’re more likely to remember, there’s no contest.
Related: 10 UX copywriting tips for designers
By getting creative with your words, you’ll make more of an impact and avoid blending into the crowd. Yes, you’ll need to work your keywords into your website copy, but don’t do it in a boring way. Google’s guidelines make it clear—you should always put the user first.
Focus on your client
Because above-the-fold copy is so concise, you shouldn’t waste words saying what doesn’t need to be said. That might sound obvious, but it’s surprisingly easy to do.
If you’re not clear on what you need to say, you’ll probably write the first thing that comes to mind, edit it a bit to make it sound okay, and hope for the best. The problem is, the first things that pop into your mind are generally what matter to you—not your clients.
Always remember to focus on what your potential clients care about, rather than what you care about.
Here are some common pitfalls to avoid.
Don’t get technical
It’s tempting to be specific about your favourite skills when you’re writing copy above the fold. For example, you might write, “Designer and PHP developer based in Texas.” After all, you spent ages learning and honing your PHP skills and you want the world to know it.
But the problem is, your clients don’t primarily care which coding language you use or how you get the job done; they care about the results you can get them. Sure, you want to talk about your specific skills somewhere on your website, but not usually above the fold because it’s not the most important thing for the client to know. Plus, they might not even know what PHP is or what makes it great.
Avoid unnecessary personal details
When you meet someone new, one of the first things you’ll probably learn about them is where they’re from. So stating where you happen to work from might seem like a good thing to do. After all, it’s an easy detail to share about yourself, so you might be tempted to drop it in when you’re not sure what else to write.
But does the client care where you’re based? Maybe, if most of your work is local and you meet clients face-to-face—or if you live in the 1990s. But if you tend to do meetings via video calls and you’re open to working with people from anywhere, don’t mention your location above the fold.
by Ross Gaither
Ross Gaither is the Director of Product Design at Splash (and employee #10) and has over 8 years of design experience in the digital world. Formerly, he's built products for Salesforce and Scrollmotion. Currently, he leads the design and development of the Splash platform. Eternally, he loves a good stout. (p.s. Splash is hiring product designers!)